the romance of travel

Edward Wortley Montagu (1713 – 1776) was an English author and traveller.

image found here

In spite of Mr Wortley’s incurable habit of travelling, or because of it, he was equally addicted to matrimony, though he was as much a wanderer in this activity as in any other for he married, first a washerwoman, and then, bigamously, Caroline Dormer.

washerwoman found here

Nor did his thirst for domesticity content itself with these two ladies, for he deserted Miss Dormer for a Nubian girl, and, as well, eloped with Miss Ashe. His death took place at Padua in 1776, and he no doubt left several inconsolable widows.

Nubian mummy found at this fascinating site

Louis de Rougemont (1847-1941) was also a traveller, but not quite as adventurous a one as he claimed to be

Louis found here

“De Rougemont” was born Henri Louis Grin in Paris, France. He left home at the age of sixteen. He became a footman to the actress Fanny Kemble, servant to Swiss banker de Mieville in 1870 and butler for the governor of Western Australia, Sir William Robinson. In that job he lasted less than a year.

Fanny Kemble found here

He tried various ventures with very little success. He worked as a doctor, a ‘spirit photographer’ and an inventor. He also married and abandoned a wife in Australia.

spirit photography found here

In 1898 he began to write about his invented adventures in the British periodical “The Wide World Magazine” under the name Louis De Rougemont. He described his alleged exploits in search of pearls and gold in New Guinea and claimed to have spent thirty years living with Indigenous Australians in the Australian outback. He claimed that the tribe with whom he had lived had worshipped him as a god. 

Larapinta Dreaming found here

Various readers expressed disbelief in his tales from the start, for example, claiming that no one can actually ride a turtle. De Rougemont had also claimed to have seen flying wombats. The fact that he could not place his travels on the map aroused suspicion. Readers’ arguments in the pages of London newspaper, the Daily Chronicle, continued for months.

Flying Wombat found here

Rougemont said he could not specify exactly where he had been because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with a syndicate that wanted to exploit the gold he had found in the area. He also refused to talk about Aboriginal languages he had supposedly learned. 

Then it was announced that a certain F.W. Solomon had recognized De Rougemont and identified him as Louis Grin who had presented himself at Solomon’s firm as an entrepreneur. Grin had collected tidbits for his exploits from the Reading Room of the British Library. 

more great libraries here

Grin tried to defend himself by writing a letter to The Daily Chronicle, in which he expressed his consternation that anybody would confuse him with Louis De Rougemont. The Wide World Magazine exploited the situation and prepared a Christmas double issue. Sales of both papers soared. De Rougemont himself disappeared from the public view.

In 1899 Grin travelled to South Africa as a music-hall attraction: ‘The Greatest Liar on Earth’; on a similar 1901 tour of Australia, he was booed from the stage. In July 1906 De Rougemont appeared at the London Hippodrome and successfully demonstrated his turtle-riding skills. During World War I he reappeared as an inventor of a useless meat substitute. He died a poor man in London on 9 June 1921.

turtle riding a jellyfish found here

it grows and it grows

Hans Zinsser was a bacteriologist who wrote a memoir called As I Remember Him. In this excerpt he writes about a classic prank perpetrated by an American student upon an unsuspecting French housewife

french maid

French Housewife found here

“His rooms were on the third floor and under them the proprietress of  the first floor shop had on her windowsill a goldfish tank in which she kept several fish and a very small turtle. My friend, leaning out of his window, could look down directly into the tank and he often watched her as she broke breadcrumbs for her pets and muttered terms of endearment. One evening he suddenly conceived a brilliant idea.


The next day he went to the fish markets and bought a series of 6 turtles ranging in size from one like a 5 franc piece to one about 6 inches across. At the same time he bought wire, cheesecloth and a bamboo fishing pole which he smuggled into his rooms after dark and from which he fashioned himself a very small net. Each day after that, very early in the morning, he would lean out of the window, fish out the turtle and put in a bigger one.

two-headed turtle

The first she didn’t notice but when the second one went in she muttered “Tiens, tiens.” When the third one appeared she began to show signs of excitement, calling first her husband, then the neighbours. There were animated discussions. The fourth turtle turned the place into a public sensation. The fifth one started a riot – not without some tragedy, for this turtle started to chew the fish. A reporter came in and wrote a headlining story, Madame Perrier became famous.


image found here

The student never put in the 6th turtle as the tank wasn’t quite large enough but he had a still more brilliant idea. He began to make the turtles small again. He skipped the fourth one and put in the third, which diminished the animal to half size in a single night. Now the excitement really began and the shop did enormous business. The student skipped to the original beast and Madame Perrier became a national heroine by giving her “Magic Turtle” to the Jardin des Plantes so the biologists there could observe it should it ever start enlarging again…..


Turtle cartoon from here

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 7:39 am  Comments (24)