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Agatha Christie's Grand Adventure, 1922

Fascinating Facts About Agatha Christie’s Travels, 1922 – Part 1

To celebrate Agatha Christie’s life of adventure, we delve into Christie’s life-changing 1922 trip around the world.

Far from her first adventure abroad, Agatha travelled a lot during her childhood and teenage years. As a young girl, Agatha spent summers in France whilst their Torquay home was rented out. She journeyed to Paris at the age of 15 to finish her formal education, and also had her, then traditional, coming-out season in Cairo, Egypt. Her early trips prompted a love of travel which would make the 1922 trip she took with her first husband Archie even more exciting.

Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson reflects on “Nima’s passionate desire to see the world” in his introduction to The Grand Tour, a book which explores this 10-month trip in charming detail. The couple joined Archie’s boss, and a wider working party, as part of a trade mission to promote the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition in London. Setting off on 20th January 1922, Agatha returned to England in December 1922.

We’re lucky enough to know plenty about the author’s trip, owing to countless letters she wrote home to her mother, sister and daughter, Rosalind, as well as photographs she captured on the voyage. Her own words display an independent spirit, and gaiety which we don’t always get to appreciate fully from her fiction. They also showcase her humour, her powers of observation, and her insight into the time she was writing about, which readers of Christie will be very familiar with.

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Agatha on the Kildonan Castle, © The Christie Archive Trust

Setting Off to Madeira

It was a rocky start to the trip in late January, with Agatha suffering from a dreadful bout of seasickness. We wonder how Hercule Poirot would have fared. She writes, with good humour and incredulity, as a fellow passenger seems to fear for her life on board the boat:

I continued to groan and feel like death, and indeed look like death; for a woman in a cabin not far from mine, having caught a few glimpses of me through the open door, asked the stewardess with great interest: ‘Is the lady in the cabin opposite dead yet?’
Agatha Christie, "Setting Off", The Grand Tour

Her sickness meant she was unable to get off the boat at Madeira, but did enjoy viewing it from the deck with Archie. As their journey progressed, she was able to indulge in the events on board though, including Quoits, Bridge, the daily Sweep, and even a fancy dress dance. Her social and observational skills clearly kept her busy too:

Very hot now and lots of porpoises leaping, and I’ve just seen a flying fish! We passed the Grand Peak of Tenerife on Wednesday, and saw the Cape Verde lights last night.
Undated letter to her mother, January 1922
There is a Mr Edge on board, a rich elderly bachelor, who takes thousands of photos all day long. He has made nine voyages to the Cape and back, never lands – just likes the trip.
Letter to her mother, 4th February 1922

Visiting Africa

My memories of Cape Town are more vivid than of other places; I suppose because it was the first real port we came to, and it was all so new and strange.
Agatha Christie, “Setting Off”, The Grand Tour

Agatha Christie would relish her trip to Africa, visiting fascinating places which now form parts of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. From Table Mountain to a diamond mine, fruit farms to museum tours, and even the opening of Parliament, Agatha would witness plenty of unique experiences here. She loved bathing, and learning to surf, seeing the landscapes via train and cars, and collecting carved wooden animals as souvenirs of the wildlife she observed.

We know plenty of these details owing to the letters she wrote home, frequently signed off with “Your loving Agatha”. She took plenty of photographs too, of Archie, her fellow travellers, and the unmissable scenery (some of which are featured in The Grand Tour).

She provides hilarious insight into the temperamental Major Belcher, who would become a character in The Man in the Brown Suit. Indeed her sense of humour, and playfulness comes through very strongly in her account of this trip. Mr Bates, Belcher’s secretary, was a respectable man who took his role very seriously, but Agatha and her fellow travellers would use that to their advantage when playing a practical joke on the man:

We sent him a [postcard] yesterday with a picture of a Puff Adder on it, and an earnest warning purporting to come from the ‘Society of the Protection of Visitors’ and Bates has been busily looking them up in the Telephone Directory, and cannot understand why no one seems to know where their offices are!
Letter to her mother, 15th February 1922
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Agatha about to board a boat on the Zambezi river, © The Christie Archive Trust

She felt fortunate to be able to spend plenty of time with Archie, attending garden parties and visiting Kenilworth races, but also enjoyed setting out to discover parts of Africa with other members of the party when her husband’s work took him to Durban.

The group’s visit to Johannesburg was curtailed by a strike, which became an uprising, but they were lucky enough to visit the Matobo Hills, Sir Cecil Rhode’s grave, the Zambezi river, Mazoe Valley Citrus Estate and Victoria Falls as part of this leg of their tour. The author had also received positive news of the reception of her 2nd novel, The Secret Adversary, by this time. Her high spirits are evident in her letters home. Although her camera was stolen on board a train, she quickly replaced it, to ensure she could continue snapping her surroundings for longevity.

Their plans to travel to India were curtailed, instead they would sail directly to Australia, leaving on the Aeneas on Saturday 8th April 1922.

Australia and New Zealand

To be continued...

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