A guest blog from Raymond Howgego whose work featured in Hedley Sutton's last post -
In 1936 the normally staid London publisher, Chatto & Windus, published a stirring account of two women travellers’ adventures in a distant outpost of empire. Entitled Through Darkest Pondelayo, and written by the appropriately christened adventuress Serena Livingstone-Stanley, it was presented in the form of letters back home, edited by one Rev. Barnaby Whitecorn D.D., the author’s ‘next door neighbour’.
The author, together with her female travelling companion Francis and long-suffering maidservant Placket, sail from Harwich on ‘May 14th’ (year unspecified), and via the Mediterranean and Suez Canal reach Ceylon on 12 June. Ten days later they sight the island of Pondelayo and anchor off Bogtuk, ‘its white sandy beach much like Eastbourne, except for the grass huts and palm trees’. Lodging at the Mission House, they are entertained by Judge Wiggins and his topless black female ‘servant’ Rosie, and in mid-July they set out to explore the remote interior of the island accompanied by Wiggins, Rosie, the Hon. Mrs Pringle (whose bare legs and short skirt feature alluringly in the photographs), Mrs Garble and Captain Fitzkhaki-Campbell (in faithful ‘Worms XI’ cricket jumper).
From Dead Mother-in-Laws Cove the party negotiates the crocodile-infested Swamp of the Blue Lily, and on 27 July arrives at Tikki Bahaar, the first native village. They investigate the Lake of a Million Fishes, where Francis gets lost in the jungle and Placket gives a month’s notice; and in late August they cross the notorious Bobo River (by convenient plank bridge), negotiating the infamous Parrot Gully, and climbing on the slopes of Mount Blim Blam, a volcano in active eruption. From the Great Cataract they beat their way through the dense jungles of Upper Timwiffi to arrive back at Dead Mother-in-Laws Cove on 18 September. The narrative ends at the Mission House on 1 October with the author telegraphing the Revd Whitecorn for the loan of five pounds to cover the cost of her return passage. She arrives safely back in the English Channel on 7 November.
Through Darkest Pondelayo was published in a single edition in 1936, illustrated with thirteen comically edited photographs of the party in various unlikely situations, and of fearsome witch-doctors and decorated tribesmen, their pictures lifted from Hutchinson’s Living Races of Mankind. As one reviewer would note, the publisher ‘entered fully into the spirit of the thing, presenting the book on exaggeratedly thick paper in the true manner of offering a book of tremendous importance’. The stirring poem printed on the title page was similarly contrived, both its author (M. Hodgson) and his Anthology of the Homeland being non-existent. The extent to which the author’s real name was known to reviewers is uncertain, some simply stating that her name ‘is something very different’, and others that ‘she is an Australian’.
In fact the book was an early flight of fantasy by the Australian author Joan Lindsay (1896-1984). Born in Victoria, the daughter of a prominent judge, Lindsay studied painting at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne, and in 1922, while in London, married Daryl Lindsay, a fellow painter who became director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Joan became Lady Lindsay when her husband was knighted in 1956. Her most famous work, Picnic at Hanging Rock, a mystery surrounding the disappearance of girls on a school trip to the Mount Macedon area of Victoria, was turned into a major feature film. She died in Melbourne in 1984.
Independent traveller and writer; officer of the Hakluyt Society
Read Through Darkest Pondelayo at the British Library