The 4th Adventure Club Podcast: First Encounters, Germany & Grog

In which we discuss our plans to re-enact the classic spy novel ‘The Riddle of the Sands’. This week we talk about Day 4 of the adventure – September 26.  Today is a day of first encounters – with Davies the yachtsman, Dulcibella the boat and with Flensburg & Germany.

We discuss: a brief introduction to Flensburg and the knotty Schleswig Holstein question (1:50); the making and tasting of Admiralty strength grog (7:00); our frankly rather sketchy knowledge of late 19th century German history(10:48); spy novelist Jeremy Duns speaks from his lair in the Baltic about Ian Fleming’s love of ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ and the book’s influence on many other famous spy writers (13:13); Winston Churchill is revealed as yet another famous ROTS man (24:39); and finally we snare some Club members who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to boats and sailing (26:51). Ahoy Kass, Jerry and Rob!

Grog. Check. Pipe & Baccy. Check. Book. Check. This week’s podcast is go.

Missions for next week – members assistance required.

Word of warning – Lloyd is out of town for a few days, and we’re also cooking up a very important announcement about how The Handbook Edition of The Riddle of the Sands is getting closer to becoming a reality.

Next week’s podcast therefore will include quite a lot of pre-recorded material including:  an interview with a proper solo ocean sailor at a London club, an important update on pipe tobacco, and a Club member’s forensic analysis of Davies’ unreliable story about what he was up to in the Frisian islands before Carruthers appeared. There are still a couple of items we need your help with:

Dulcibella: it’s around this time in the book that we start to get a lot of detail about Davies’s boat, and as part of the Adventure in September we really would like to get out on to the water in a vessel that is as much like Dulcibella as possible. So if you know of any Dulcibella doppelgangers, or boats of a similar kind that we can take a trip in, even for one day – either in the Baltic or in the Frisian Islands, please do get in touch.

Swimming: Carruthers gets up on September 27 and dives straight into the fjord. Brrrr. Any cold water or ‘wild’ swimmers out there who want to give us some advice about how to prepare for such a shocking immersion, sign up and share your expertise and experience with us.


‘soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway’

Like any sensible young gentleman, Carruthers arrives in Flensburg on September 26 with a suitcase crammed full of fashionable yachting outfits, including ‘cool white ducks’, ‘neat blue serge’ and a ‘snowy-crowned yachting cap’. That’s my outfit sorted then.

Alas, he’s in for a rude awakening when he meets Davies, who would rather Carruthers made do with a single small Gladstone bag and a few scruffy tweeds, flannels and a pair of muddy boots. The man has no sense of style, clearly.

Edwardian clothing, suitable for yachting designed by  J. J. Mitchell Co. and advertised in The Sartorial Art Journal in 1905 – via

I thought Childers was rather over-egging the joke about Carruthers’s ‘pyramid’ of luggage nearly sinking the dinghy, and his portmanteau being too large to get through Dulcibella’s hatch, but when you go searching for early 20th century luggage you begin to realise that people like Carruthers really did travel with an enormous amount of luggage – and each piece of luggage was HUGE.

Vintage luggage – tan leather Portmanteau bag (large) by W. W. Bridge Ltd. – currently being auctioned at

For a start, a portmanteau isn’t necessarily a single suitcase, but can be two or three strapped together. And there’s a different piece of luggage for each type of clothing. Here, for example, is a hatbox – a case made only for hats – and it’s a 0.5m cube!

Leather Hat Case by W.W. Bridge – auctioned at

I’m going to suggest, btw, that W.W. Bridge could be the  brand of choice for Carruthers. The company was going great guns in 1898 taking over the premises next door on Wormwood Street. And as a supplier, it’s just a stone’s throw from the Minories, not far from where Carruthers picked up his rigging screws and his oilskins.

The East End of London generally was full of leatherworkers and in the case of portmanteau makers, a lot of the people making these things were women. Mary Harkness mentions them in her 1889 book ‘ In Darkest London’, and it’s suggested that the portmanteau making industry of the late 19th century was a hotbed of suffragettism. I’m not sure what Carruthers would have made of that.

Portmanteaus were big then, and made by strong socialist women – and they were also bloody heavy. A quality portmanteau would be made of thick leather and would have had separate heavy locks to boot. I’m beginning to have a great deal more sympathy for Davies’s idea that the bally thing should’ve been left at the local hotel.

If you want more details of about the top makers of the day, go to where you’ll find an excellent brief history.

The Schleswig-Holstein question

Don’t worry. We’re not going to try to explain the Schleswig-Holstein question in detail here. This is a fun blog about a great book, not a historical treatise. And we do rather subscribe to Lord Palmerston’s view:

The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.

"Schleswig-Holstein" by Ulamm 19:02, 5 February 2008 (UTC) - Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Schleswig-Holstein” by Ulamm 19:02, 5 February 2008 (UTC) – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s almost impossible to imagine today that two modern European democracies like Germany and Denmark could be at each other’s metaphorical throats over a territorial dispute. But at the end of the 19th century, Germany – or, more accurately, Prussia – had spent three decades establishing the borders of its state. In the north, this had meant decades of squabbling over what came to be called the Schleswig-Holstein question.

It’s not that complicated really. This is about land, and about expansion, and about two empires, the Danish and the German, crashing into each other. Schleswig and Holstein were two ancient duchies. Holstein in the south was entirely German-speaking. Schleswig in the north included a good many Danish speakers. The question came down to this: would the two duchies be part of Germany, or part of Denmark, or would they be split?

In 1864, a year before Lord Palmerston’s death, the question was answered in the traditional way: with a war. The Second Schleswig War, to be precise, between Denmark on the one hand and Prussia and Austria on the other. Not surprisingly, Prussia and Austria were victorious, and two years later, Prussia defeated Austria in yet another war, and the whole of Schleswig-Holstein was subsumed into Germany.

That’s the state of affairs that was in place at the time of The Riddle of the Sands. The question was finally, and permanently (we trust) answered after the First World War, when a plebiscite saw Schleswig split into two, the northern part going to Denmark, the southern remaining with Germany.

For our purposes, though, remember this: Childers is, we believe, making a point by starting the German part of the book here in Schleswig-Holstein. And the audience for his book would, we believe, have understood the point he was making. It would be like starting a book about modern Russian realpolitik (to use a relevant Prussian term) in the Crimea.

“Then northward to Flensburg”

September the 26th is the day it happens – Carruthers meets Davies at last, and then he meets the third character in this adventure: Davies’s boat, the Dulcibella. And the location for all these encounters is Flensburg – which means this is also our first encounter with Germany.

We’ll be talking about the Dulcibella and about Germany a good deal over the coming weeks, but for now, here’s an introduction to Flensburg, which for a good many reasons is a particularly interesting location for Childers to choose for this first meeting.

Panorama Flensburger Rumregatta 2008" by Jan Kuchenbecker.Original uploader was Fumaro at de.wikipedia - Transferred from de.wikipedia(Original text : selbst gemacht); Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons -
Panorama Flensburger Rumregatta 2008″ by Jan Kuchenbecker.Original uploader was Fumaro at de.wikipedia – Transferred from de.wikipedia(Original text : selbst gemacht); Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s how the 1911 Enclyclopaedia Britannica described Flensburg:

FLENSBURG (Danish, Flensborg), a seaport of Germany, in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein, at the head of the Flensburg Fjord, 20 m. N.W. from Schleswig, at the junction of the main line Altona-Vamdrup (Denmark), with branches to Kiel and Glücksburg. Pop. (1905) 48,922. The principal public buildings are the Nikolai Kirche (built 1390, restored 1894), with a spire 295 ft. high; the Marienkirche, also a medieval church, with a lofty tower; the law courts; the theatre and the exchange. There are two gymnasia, schools of marine engineering, navigation, wood-carving and agriculture. The cemetery contains the remains of the Danish soldiers who fell at the battle of Idstedt (25th of July 1850), but the colossal Lion monument, erected by the Danes to commemorate their victory, was removed to Berlin in 1864. Flensburg is a busy centre of trade and industry, and is the most important town in what was formerly the duchy of Schleswig. It possesses excellent wharves, does a large import trade in coal, and has shipbuilding yards, breweries, distilleries, cloth and paper factories, glass-works, copper-works, soap-works and rice mills. Its former extensive trade with the West Indies has lately suffered owing to the enormous development of the North Sea ports, but it is still largely engaged in the Greenland whale and the oyster fisheries.

Flensburg was probably founded in the 12th century. It attained municipal privileges in 1284, was frequently pillaged by the Swedes after 1643, and in 1848 became the capital, under Danish rule, of Schleswig.

Those allusions to the battle of Idstedt (Isted in Danish) and the Lion monument should give the reader a clue that Flensburg is not just any city. At the time of The Riddle of the Sands, it is at the frontier of a disputed region: Schleswig-Holstein. For a quick primer on the politics behind this region, see our post on it. Suffice to say that two wars were thought over the region: the first in 1850, which ended with the Danes victorious at the battle of Idstedt; the second in 1864, which saw the Danes defeated by Prussia and Austria, and the whole region absorbed into the German Empire. The relocation of the Lion monument mentioned above from Flensburg to Berlin was a potent symbol of this defeat.

"Marineschule Foerdezugang" by I, VollwertBIT. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
“Marineschule Foerdezugang” by I, VollwertBIT. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Childers is saying something by setting this scene in Flensburg. He is saying something about Germany’s power and ambition, and he was not the only one to think Flensburg was a potent symbol of this. In 1910, less than a decade after the publication of The Riddle of the Sands, Kaiser Wilhelm II opened a naval academy in Flensburg. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Admiral Dönitz was declared President of Germany after the death of Hitler. He and the other surviving admirals and generals set up a government of Germany in the face of the advancing Allies. They did so in the only territory they still held: the Naval Academy at Flensburg. And for twenty days, Flensburg was the capital of Germany.

He knew what he was about, did Erskine Childers.

"Marineschule Sonwik Flensburg2007" by VollwertBIT - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Marineschule Sonwik Flensburg2007” by VollwertBITOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

‘I remembered, later on, the prismatic compass’

One of the last items on the shopping list of things Carruthers has to take to Flensburg is a prismatic compass. It proves to be the most difficult thing to find – and is also the one item that seems to arouse suspicion in Carruthers about what this sailing and shooting holiday is actually about. Why would Davies need a technical surveying instrument if all the two men are meant to be doing is laying up and taking pot-shots at water fowl?

It turns out that several club members who actually know about sailing (please try to remember that Lloyd and I really don’t know much about anything…) think it would not be at all unusual to have a prismatic compass on board. It can be particular useful for coastal sailing where precision might be required. Maybe the several references in these early chapters simply is Childers’s way of suggesting that there’s going to be some slightly more adventurous sailing about to happen than would be to Carruthers’s liking.

Thanks to Paul Crespel for supplying us with these photos and a wealth of information about prismatic compasses. When we get Club badges sorted, Paul will have earned one.

I have, though, managed to make contact with an expert compass restorer and repairer, Paul Crespel, via his website at and he is adamant that a prismatic compass of that era was almost certainly a military item, used mainly for precision artillery. On a boat he felt a precision instrument of that nature would be pretty useless, and an ordinary compass would suffice. Even on land, prismatic compasses can be hard to use with unerring accuracy. Paul claims that in the heat of battle errors of up to 5 degrees can creep in, and, to his mind, inaccurate use of compasses are likely to be the cause of  a large proportion of ‘blue on blue’ casualties in recent U.S. campaigns.

As to what make of compass Carruthers would have been buying, Paul has some firm views:

“I’ve had a good think, and have attached a series of photographs of more or less what the compass would have looked like, in my opinion. I am sure that it would have been the smaller version, 2 inches in diameter excluding protrusions, and one of the photos shows it sitting on top of the more traditional 4 inch version. (see above)
I wondered if it might have been the then rather new version with a hinged lid, but then I thought a very new model would be unlikely to be found in a pawn shop, so this one is probably what the author had in mind.  The brand could have been one of many, but most were made by F Barker & Son Ltd of 12 Clerkenwell Road, London, and supplied wholesale and unbranded to the other “makers” who then put their own names to the instruments before selling them.  For example, the compass shown in the following photos was manufactured by F. Barker & Son Ltd., but was sold as if it had been made by T Armstrong & Son of Manchester.  Such business practices are still in use today.”
unnamed (2)
An F Barker prismatic compass

If you want to know more about F Barker, Paul has written a whole book about him, which you can download from his website here  – for free!

Lloyd and I, though, are rather sold on the idea that Carruthers acquires not a Barker compass, but a Stanley. Why? Well, we’re both people who live just off the Norwood Road, and I was rather pleased to find that William Stanley was a Norwood man. His factory was sited at Norwood Junction (near Arthur Conan Doyle’s house btw), he founded a technical school in Norwood that is still there today, the clock tower at South Norwood was built by him and, to top it all, there’s a pub down that way called the William Stanley – only a short bus ride away.

South Norwood clock tower

I guess we could compromise and say that our compass is an unbranded Barker that was then labelled up as a Stanley. Some might say this is an unimportant detail – but they would be Adventure Club members who  aren’t really getting into the full spirit of our project.

‘one of those showy shops which look like jewellers’ and are really pawnbrokers’’

One other point Paul made was that a prismatic compass was not a difficult item to find in London in 1898 – there would have been plenty of shops that would have stocked one. So the fact that Carruthers is forced to get one at a pawnbroker is an odd choice. Was he perhaps attempting to buy said instrument incognito so that he wouldn’t arouse suspicion – or was he simply in a rush?

The same pawnbrokers that Carruthers would have visited is still there in Victoria Street.

Whatever the reason, I’m happy to say I’ve found a pawnbrokers in Victoria that would have been around at the time in question. It’s Suttons & Roberstons and has a rather illustrious and glamourous history:

“Some of the fascinating and exceptional items we have valued and held as pledges over the years include a famous recording artist’s first recording contract…a 19th Century Russian side cabinet that belonged to Tsar Nicholas II…artwork by Salvador Dali, David Hockney, and Damien Hirst…a first edition X-Men comic … rare pink, green, and blue diamonds… and antique Victorian erotic pocket watches among them.”

Now, do we think Carruthers is perhaps the kind of man to own an erotic pocket watch? I’d like to think so. Maybe that’s one extra item we could be taking to Flensburg in September.



‘A ticket for Hamburg in my pocket’

victoriastationAs has been stated previously, we are fairly sure of two things:

1. That Childers sailed his own boat to the East Frisian islands before writing The Riddle of the Sands, and thus would not need to make use of Flushing steamers and railways as Carruthers does.

2. That the action of the book is based in 1898 – this is entirely on the basis of the entry for October 22nd, which includes the phrase ‘it was Saturday.’ If October 22nd was a Saturday, the year must have been 1898.

So how would Childers have done his research in to getting Carruthers from London to Flensburg in 1898? He would have done the same thing that K— does on his own return from holiday:

‘Carter, bring me a Bradshaw’ – (an extraordinary book, Bradshaw, turned to from habit, even when least wanted, as men fondle guns and rods in the close season).

It’s a bit of an odd one, that passage – why does K— reach for Bradshaw, and not Carruthers? Perhaps Carruthers has already sneaked a peek. Or perhaps he always knew which way he was going to go.

Bradshaw was shorthand for a series of guides to railway and steamer timetables which were first published by printer and cartographer George Bradshaw in 1839, and which outlived him by over a century: the last Bradshaw was printed in 1961. The books combined railway timetables from Britain’s confusion of private train operators into a single volume and, as the railways spread throughout the continent, so too did Bradshaw, launching Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide in 1847.


This was a time before rail nationalisation and then privatisation, before regulation of any kind. Railways were a private enterprise, and railway timetables were, too – analogous to football fixture lists or cinema listings in our day. Bradshaw collected them and then organised them in a triumph of data design; I have in front of me the British railway guide from 1910, and it runs to almost 1,200 pages, of which 200 are adverts for hotels and almost another 100 for steamers. This was the Good Hotel Guide, the railway timetable and the airport departure board combined into one volume.

The 1910 has a page for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (which combined the old South Eastern with the old London, Chatham and Dover railways) which offers a ‘Table of THROUGH SERVICES from LONDON to the CHIEF TOWNS OF EUROPE.’ One could take a steamer to Calais, Ostend, Flushing or Boulogne, leaving from Charing Cross, Victoria, Holborn, Cannon Street, St Paul’s or Herne Hill (my local station). We know that Carruthers sails to Flushing in 1898, which meant an 8.35pm train from Victoria, a 10.35pm steamer from Queenborough in Kent to Flushing (see my previous post on this). If all went to plan, in 1910 this meant getting to Hamburg just after 5pm, for an onward train to Flensburg.

Carruthers obviously didn’t use the 1910 edition of Bradshaw for his book – but he may have used the 1888 Continental Bradshaw, and thankfully, for our purposes, somebody has kindly scanned this book in, in its entirety, a Herculean task only appreciated by those of us who find the beauty in timetables which my colleague so sadly lacks. Here is the relevant page showing through routes from London (click on the image for a full-size version).


In 1888, this journey would have taken Carruthers just over 24 hours, getting him to Hamburg at around 9pm London time, or 10pm local time. So, it appears that between 1888 and 1910, the journey time was shortened by perhaps four hours. In 1898, Carruthers steps down onto the platform at Flensburg at 10pm local time, which would not have been possible in 1888, but was relatively straightforward by 1910.

There are two types of people in the world: those who stopped reading this post at the first mention of timetables, and those who got all the way to the end. To the latter – I salute you. We are brothers and sisters in scheduling.


The 3rd Adventure Club Podcast: On Compasses & Timetables

This week we talk about Day 3 of the adventure – September 25. We discuss the need for a prismatic compass (2:03), and get frighteningly immersed in the world of Edwardian train and steamer timetables (10:20). Also featured: how to revive your old oilskins (20:46), the true location of ‘The Stores’ (24:52), the Kaiser’s shotgun cartridges of choice (27:14), other spy writers with maritime connections (28:01), and valuable corrections and clarifications from among others… Erskine Childers (30:02)!

Yes, we have gone on about this prismatic compass quite a lot already, but Childers does place a lot of emphasis on it in the opening chapters of the book, and we have now found someone who really knows their stuff (a separate post on this coming soon).

Talking of people who know their stuff, you’ll be amazed how much Lloyd can say about Edwardian timetables. Impressively, he does prove that Childers had done his homework – although there is a question mark over whether Carruthers is operating on local Continental time or GMT. Do you know what the time difference would have been between Flensburg and London in 1898? Let us know. And if you haven’t already, sign up here to become an Adventure Club member.

A Bradshaws and a prismatic compass. Essential items for Adventure Club members. (Thanks to Paul Crespel for the compass photo)

Missions for next week – members assistance required.

1. Flensburg. In particular we’re looking for a carpenter in or near Flensburg. If you’ve ever been there, or know any interesting facts about the place, get in touch. And does anyone know why Childers bothers to start the adventure here, rather than anywhere else?

2. Flat-bottomed boats. The Dulcibella makes her first appearance on September 26 and her interior in particular is nicely described. Has anyone out there got a Dulcibella-like boat and/or photos of the cabin(s) they’d like to share with us – so we can get some sense of the space (or lack of it) we might have to endure on the adventure proper?

3. Portmanteaus. Suitcases have changed a lot since 1898. And where’s a porter to carry your portmanteau when you need one? We need one of a particular size. Do you own one or know where we can acquire one? (Tim would also like to get hold of a “snowy crowned yachting cap” to put in it.)

4. Grog. What is it? How do you make it? And how much should we try to drink during the next podcast?

‘the Stores’

In the last podcast, I suggested that Carruthers might have got the Rippingille stove at the Army & Navy store on Victoria Street (now part of House of Fraser). By the end of the 19th century the Army & Navy was a hugely successful operation with outposts in Leipzig and Mumbai. Its roots in providing officers with group discounted goods seemed to me to be another of Childers’s attempts to suggest that the trip to Flensburg is a bit more of a military expedition, and a bit less of a duck shooting holiday. The Army & Navy even had a gun department , for goodness sake.

image from the House of Fraser archive:
image from the House of Fraser archive:

But club member Jon Ratty disagrees with me and has come up with a compelling argument for the Stores actually being the Civil Service Supply Association. He writes:

“Another distinct possibility is it was the Civil Service Supply Association, which had a store in the Strand.

It was set up by members of the civil service as a co-op to get decent prices on various things, and by the end of the C19th, all members of the service (like Carruthers) could pay a membership fee (2s 6d?) to use the store – initially in Victoria, then moving to bigger premises on the Strand – and I think (*think*) that they referred to it among themselves as the ‘the stores’.

My family link is that my father was a senior inspector at the Inland Revenue for many years, with a lovely corner office in Somerset House (you can still see the Inland Revenue sign in the stone over the end of the building) – and did a lot of his shopping for stuff in the CSSA building, although by then it was open to all as a private company, although there might have still been discounts to civil service staff.

I remember the building well – the clock on the corner was one if its most recognisable features.

The shop closed when the building burned down in the 1980s.”

Jon also supplied links to a picture of the original building and also a description of the fire of 1982 from the London Fire Journal. The clock, by the way, is still there.

The Civil Service Supply Association clock
The Civil Service Supply Association clock (image by Paul Downey, psd on Flickr)

Following up on Jon’s fine research, I found a newspaper article from the time that adds the intriguing fact that the fire was made all the worse by a serious of large explosions caused, allegedly, by “butane tanks displayed  in the store’s camping department”.

A camping department! I can’t help feeling that the camping department in the Civil Service Supply Association Stores is precisely where Carruthers would get his Rippingille stove. And one has to wonder – might a Rippingille also have exploded in1982 and caused the demise of ‘the Stores’?


‘Pacing the deck of a Flushing steamer’

An admission – I had always imagined a ‘Flushing steamer’ to be a steamer of a particular kind, following the usual landlubber’s rule of assuming that a strange word in use alongside something ship-sounding must be a proper noun of unknown provenance.

But this turns out to have been idiotic. Flushing is the English vernacular for the Dutch port of Vlissingen, which should have been obvious given there is a district of Queens in New York with the same name.

A Flushing steamer, then, is nothing more than a steamer to Vlissingen. This is what the place looks like today, courtesy of

Vlissingen - Stadtstrand und Boulevard mit Hotel- und Appartmentgebäuden

A hundred years ago, this was a thriving port. The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Vlissingen/Flushing thus:

FLUSHING (Dutch Vlissingen), a fortified seaport in the province of Zeeland, Holland, on the south side of the island of Walcheren, at the mouth of the estuary of the western Scheldt, 4 m. by rail S. by W. of Middelburg, with which it is also connected by steam tramway and by a ship canal. There is a steam ferry to Breskens and Ter Neuzen on the coast of Zeeland-Flandres. Pop. (1900) 18,893. An important naval station and fortress up to 1867, Flushing has since aspired, under the care of the Dutch government, to become a great commercial port. In 1872 the railway was opened which, in conjunction with the regular day and night service of steamers to Queenborough in the county of Kent, forms one of the main routes between England and the east of Europe. In 1873 the great harbour, docks and canal works were completed. Yet the navigation of the port remains far behind that of Rotterdam or Antwerp, the tonnage being in 1899 about 7.9% of that of the kingdom. As a summer resort, however, Flushing has acquired considerable popularity, sea-baths and a large modern hotel being situated on the fine beach about three-quarters of a mile north-west of the town. It possesses a town hall, containing a collection of local antiquities, a theatre, an exchange, an academy of sciences and a school of navigation. The Jakobskerk, or Jacob’s church, founded in 1328, contains monuments to Admiral de Ruyter (1607-1676) and the poet Jacob Bellamy (1757-1786), who were natives of Flushing. The chief industries of the town are connected with the considerable manufacture of machinery, the state railway-workshops, shipbuilding yards, Krupp iron and steel works’ depot, brewing, and oil and soap manufacture. The chief imports are colonial produce and wine, wood and coal. The exports include agricultural produce (wheat and beans), shrimps and meat.

This, then, is Carruthers’s first stop in continental Europe. But how does he get there? The journey is surprisingly straightforward: by train from Victoria station to Queenborough in Kent, and then by steamer to Flushing. The station at Queenborough was right next to the pier – Carruthers would not have had far to go, a porter presumably staggering under the weight of a pile of luggage which included a Rippingille stove!


The steamer service from Queenborough was operated by Stoomvaart Maatschappij “Zeeland” (SMZ – the Zeeland Steamship Company in English), which began operating a service in 1875 using two former Confederate blockade runners, the Southern and the Northern, which were renamed the Stad Middelburg and the Stad Vlissingen. The new route became possible because the London, Chatham and Dover railway had opened a new branch line from Sittingbourne to Sheerness. This caused another peculiar little echo for me – the conclusion of my first novel, The English Monster, took place in Sheerness. And the London, Chatham and Dover railway had two lines running into London: one to Victoria, and one to Holborn. They joined at Herne Hill, my local station.

Queenborough itself is on the River Swale, the waterway which divides the Isle of Sheppey from the mainland, and which opens out into the River Medway, and then into the Thames estuary at the region known as the Nore, the ancient muster point for England’s navies. Nelson is said to have learned his nautical craft in the waters off Queenborough, and rumour has it that he and Emma Hamilton kept a house there for illicit trysts alongside the creaking masts.

Barely a century after Nelson’s dalliances with Lady Hamilton, daytime and overnight steamship services were being operated by the SMZ – Carruthers takes the 10.30 sailing for Flushing/Vlissingen on September 25, which would have arrived at just before six the following morning. There is a rather beautiful passage of writing at this stage in the book, too:

An air from the west, cooled by a midday thunderstorm, followed the steamer as she slid through the calm channels of the Thames estuary, passed the cordon of scintillating lightships that watch over the sea-roads to the imperial city like pickets round a sleeping army, and slipped out into the dark spaces of the North Sea.

Carruthers may be a pampered brat, but he certainly has a nice turn of phrase.

As for the ship he took, there are several possibilities, according to Simplon Postcards, the passenger ship postcard website: the Prins Hendrik (1880-1902), the Willem Prins der Orange (1883-1909), the Duitschland (1886-1916), which was later renamed the Zeeland, the Engeland (1887-1910) and the Nederland (1886-1910).

The Zeeland in wartime use as a hospital ship, with black-and-white ‘dazzle’ camouflage. Source:
The Zeeland, after the First World War. Source:


The Zeeland in wartime use as a hospital ship. Source: Simplon Postcards,
The Zeeland in wartime use as a hospital ship. Source: Simplon Postcards,


I like to think Carruthers took the Duitschland, if only because the ship was renamed in 1916 in the middle of the First World War, so this is another of those odd little pre-echoes. And I like to think he was humming something like this as he went.

The 2nd Adventure Club Podcast: On Guns & Pipes

Since ‘The Riddle of the Sands‘ is so specific about dates, we’ve decided to tackle the book a day at a time. In this podcast, it’s all about September 24, in which Carruthers has the task of responding to the  various requests in Davies’s letter (listen to last week’s episode for full details).

Specifically, the task has been to find a pound of Raven Mixture tobacco, a gun and shells for duck shooting, and a portable stove.

In this episode, we discover the addictive delights of pipe smoking, track down a place where we might all go and learn how to shoot, discuss the portability of Rippingille stoves and mourn the fate of Dresden  – and then, bathed in a nicotine haze, we cover a range of ‘Club Business’ items. From Hugh Childers setting us straight about his grandfather through to the near-universal love of Arthur Beale (although Aunt Liz prefers ‘The Welsh Harp’…?) and on to themed biscuits, membership badges, the sizing of rigging screws and the delightful offer of day’s small boat sailing in the Dengie peninsula. Surely you want to join the Club now.

We’ve taken up pipe smoking – and Lloyd has found us our own version of Raven mixture.


Missions for next week – members assistance required.

1. Flushing steamers and European train timetables for 1894. We need to be accurate about how Carruthers gets to Flensburg. Can you match Lloyd’s impressive (if not to say obsessive) interest in timetables and transport? Can you confirm what a Flushing steamer is and where it would have set sail from?

2. A prismatic compass. It’s the trickiest and most unusual thing that Carruthers has to find and take on his adventure. But why is it needed, how does it work and where would we find one today? In particular, we’re interested to know if this is a normal nautical item, or is Childers trying to drop a hint that there’s something more militaristic going on here…?

3. Oilskins. We’re going to need the old-fashioned orange kind. Anyone out there got any? And what exactly do they smell like?

4. The Store. We think this is the Army & Navy on Victoria Street. Do you think any different?