1874: Kneeland, stormy trip

How easy it is nowadays to travel to Iceland. Hop on a charter and fly over the Pole. Or even take a regularly scheduled flight from Seattle or Minneapolis. The most one can complain about is seats that are a bit tight, or some turbulence. A few years ago a plane was hit by lightning but no one was the worse for it. There’s a bit of jet lag when you get to Reykjavik but a cup or two of Icelandic coffee, a day’s meeting relatives, visiting the various shops, then a good night’s sleep and all is right with the world.
Think of our poor Samuel. Things weren’t so easy for him.
“The wind began to increase, turning more to the westward, and with it the waves; the clouds looked black and angry, and the rain drove us all below. The barometer kept falling, and the captain, knowing a gale would soon be upon us, changed his course more to the west, and more in the face of the gale. At midnight we reached the Westmann Islands; after a severe buffering from the storm, every thing above and below decks wet….
“So furious was the gale that we tried to put into the Westmann Islands, sending up rockets and blowing the whistle all the time; but as it was midnight no notice as taken of our signals, and we were forced to breast the gale. Had we sails only, we must have been driven on a lee shores, whose jagged rocks would  have instantly destroyed us; but armed with steam we defied the wind and waves, and pushed on our course, though our staunch little craft fairly staggered under the heavy blows she received, rolling and plunging so that it was quite impossible for any of us to walk or even stand….The coast was now and then visible, enabling us to keep at a safe distance. The gale increased during the night, and in the morning, I think, the breakfast table was deserted…We passed a miserable forenoon, but now and then caught a peep of high mountains…At noon we sighted Cape Reykianess.”
If you had to go through that, how often would you go to Iceland? Thrown about so wildly that all you can do is try to jam yourself into your bunk so you aren’t thrown onto the floor. So tossed this way and that you can’t hold down food. Waves and rain so fierce that everything in your cabin, including you, is soaking wet. 
Samuel is someone who really, really wants to go to Iceland.
And, after all this being tossed about, what does he say about his first view so Iceland? “white clouds appear on the horizon, which soon become the outlines of mountains; and finally are recognized as the magnificent piles of snow-capped peaks, the so-called Jokuls; Snaefells is seen more than one hundred and forty miles from land; and Hekla, glittering in the sun, its internal fires, at present, not powerful enough to melt the snow from its summit, gives you the first grand emotion on visiting Iceland, long before you touch it.”
I have not been fortunate enough to see Iceland from a ship but I’ve seen it a number of times from an airplane and, each time, its mountains, its jokuls, its coastline are a thrill. I’m not sure that I’d have been as brave and adventurous as Samuel, ready to risk life and limb to be at the granting of Iceland’s constitution but I think I get the same thrill, seeing this vast land of fire and ice.

Advertising Iceland, 1900

If you’d been traveling to Iceland in 1900 and bought the Handbook to Iceland, you’d have been assured by an advertisement that Thistle Scotch Whiskey is pure, old, and reliable. It has been awarded five diplomas. It is recommended as a palatable spirit.
You’d have been pleased to know that if you took Somerville’s export whiskey with you, you’d be drinking a liqueur blend of selected old highland whiskeys bottled in pyramid-shaped bottles.
The analytical laboratory, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh stated on the 12th of May, 1899 that it had made a careful analysis of John Somerville’s Export whiskey and that it was clear and well flavoured and free from impurities. So says W. Ivision Macadam, analytical and consulting chemist.
And, if your photographs didn’t turn out, that is if you took a large, bulky camera and all its accoutrements, you can buy F. W. W. Howell’s Photographs of Iceland, the best and most comprehensive collection in existence.
There’s also an ad for The London and Edinburgh Shipping Company’s First Class Screw steamships, the Fingal, Iona, Malyina, Marmion which are lighted by electricity. There are also other company vessels available unless the weather, casualties or strikes interfere. A ship will leave Victoria Dock, Leith, every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and from Hermitage Steam Wharf, Wapping, London, E., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
The fares seem quite reasonable. These include the Steward’s fee. First class cabin, 22 shilling. Second class, 16 shillings. Deck accommodation available only to soldiers and sailors for 10 shillings. Round trip tickets can be purchased but must be used within twelve months.
There is an assurance that Shas. Mackinlay & Co’s celebrated scotch whiskeys, B.O.B. and Benvorlich Blends will be available. It is so fine a whiskey that it is supplied to the Houses of Parliament, the officers of H. M. Ships, also the principal clubs, hotels of the United Kingdom, India, and the Colonies.
Of primary importance is that you can purchase it at all the principal merchants in Iceland and at the Hotel Iceland in Reykjavik.
I
f you are an angler, Turnbull and Co, the eminent Edinburgh fishing tackle makers who fit out anglers for all parts of the world will outfit you. Thornton & Co. will provide registered waterproofs. They have an astounding number of different waterproofs. Pocket, cycling, driving, ventilating, shooting, regulation, fishing, tweed, livery, plus, The Cavalier Waterproof Cloak, the best ever produced, perfectly ventilated. There are ladies’ waterproofs. You know that these waterproofs will be waterproof even in Iceland because the firm has won seven gold medals for its waterproofs.
If you still haven’t got those damned horse boxes finished, you can purchase some for Icelandic travel with a few day’s notice.
And if these boxes are stressing you out, you can buy very old scotch whisky from Daniel Crawford & Son, distilled entirely from the finest Malt. This whiskey is so good that it is supplied to the P.&O. and other large shipping companies, to leading  hotels and clubs throughout the world and to officers’ messes of the Royal Navy and Regiments serving abroad.
If, with all this fine Scotch whiskey, you think you can stay sober enough to stay on a horse or cast a line, you can call on R. Anderson & Sons, the fishing tackle makers to Her Majesty the Queen. From their long experience in catering for fishing in Iceland, they are in a special position, or so they say, to supply anglers with the tackle which former visitors to Iceland have found to be best suited.
If you manage to swim through all the fine whiskey to Hotel Leith, it is near the docks and close to the railway station. Buses and cars to Edinburgh and Granton pass the door every few minutes. It’s 1900 remember and there is a telephone, No. 58S.
Thorgrimur Gudmundsen, he who has helped with the guidebook, has an ad. It says that he furnishes tourists with excellent English-speaking guides, ponies and anything needed for your trip.
Thorgrimur has been in business since 1873. Gracious! That’s just when our families were packing up to leave Iceland. It is now 27 years later. All the time people were dying on the voyages to North America and were being buried at sea, traveling to Nova Scotia, to Kinmount, building shelters on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, dying of smallpox, he’s been managing quite well. So well, in fact, that he has the very best recommendations.
He’s been a guide for Rider Haggard, the Prince of Hesse, etc., etc. He is highly recommended to tourists by the current British Consul. He speaks English, Danish and French. And his charges are moderate.
It’s the year 1900. The beginning of a new century. Things are looking up in Iceland. The emigration is turning from a flood into a trickle. 
Our good Thorgrimur has hung on, found a business supported not by sheep, cows and fish but by tourists, tourists with ready money, who paid in silver, who could afford the supplies, the travel costs, the food, the accommodation, the horses, the guides. He’s an entrepreneur because his ad says that he doesn’t just guide himself. He provides guides and horses and anything else that might be needed.
The world has grown smaller. The miles may be the same but the time taken to cross them has shortened. Travel has become more reliable with steam ships. In England and Scotland, getting about is much easier with those cars, buses, trains. Travel is no longer just for the very wealthy who can afford to own or rent a yacht. The Industrial Revolution is starting to spread around the new wealth. Thorgrimur is in the right place at the right time.
   
(Any chance that any of my readers are related to Thorgrimur?)