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.
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?)

Sports fishing at Sorg, Waller, 1874

Waller arrives at Sorg. He sends his guide, Bjarni, off to Reykjavik on errand. Waller enjoys sports fishing and he asks the local farmer to take him to fish. When they arrive at the river bank, the farmer says, “It’s cloudy. That’s good. The flies won’t bother us. The farmer tells Waller some stories about how dreadful the flies are and Waller dismisses it all as exaggeration.
He has a wonderful day fishing. Every time he casts his rod, he catches a fish.
When Bjarni returns, Waller asks him to go with him to the nearby lake. But, this time, the sun is hot. When they get close, they can see “a sort of mist hanging over the shore.”
“ ‘Oh, Helveta!” said Bjarni, “the flies are up.’ “
Suddenly, Waller begins to feel hundreds of sharp little stings. A wind comes up, chases the flies away, then the sun goes behind a cloud and all seems well. Waller begins to fish.
Iceland may have not fierce tigers or lions, no venomous snakes, no rampaging elephants, but it has its hoards of midges and just after Waller has hooked his first fish, the sun comes out again and, in a moment, “ ‘the devil was unchained’ “…from the earth, the grass, the rocks, in fact, from everywhere rose a living fog of countless myriads of long winged flies.
“Sting, sting, sting, on they came. It was useless to attempt to beat them off. We had our handkerchiefs out in a moment, and tied them round our heads, leaving a small slit for one eye….We pulled our socks up over our trousers, put the wading boots over the socks, tied string round our sleeves, and attempted to get away.
“our poor horses, maddened by the attacks…had galloped away….My broad-brimmed hat was weighed down upon my shoulders by the heaving masses of these insects. Not a spot of colour of my coat was visible…(Bjarni) had the  appearance of a  man wrapped in a living cloak, and as he walked, solid lumps of flies fell from his back on to the ground.”
Bjarni chases after the horses, gets them and brings them to Waller. “They (the  horses) were covered with blood, and much frightened….Murder’s white coat showing the (blood) stains very vividly. His eyes were swollen and full of flies, as were the nostrils of both.”
When they get back to the farm, Waller discovers that his face, neck, and wrists were swollen dreadfully, and covered with bites, and his right arm was covered in a rash from the shoulder downwards.
No crazed berserker could have been more formidable than the tiny Icelandic flies for what they lacked in size, they made up in numbers. Myvatn, midge lake, takes its name from them, midge water, but the name seems harmless enough. Even in Canada, Mosquito Lake doesn’t conjure up a desperate fight for survival against a tiny enemy. Although, when I taught at Snow Lake, Manitoba, I went fishing in a creek when the black flies were out and my daughter’s sweat shirt came loose at the back without our noticing it for a few minutes. By the time we did notice, it looked like she had a cluster of grapes on both sides of her spine.
The farmer, on the first fishing expedition, had said to Waller, that two horses had died from fly bites and Waller had thought it a gross exaggeration. By the time the second fishing trip is over and he and Bjarni are back at the farm, he knows it was no tall tale.
The next time you visit Iceland and go to Mývatn, think of Waller and his desperately running for a mile before he escapes from the midges.