Touring Robbie Burns’ Country

Previous blog postings introduced The Trip of a Lifetime that the Flemings took in 1903 to the British Isles and Europe and described their ocean voyage on the R.M.S. Tunisian. In this posting, we follow them in their pilgrimage to Ayrshire, land of Robbie Burns; a quick trip to Belfast; and a tour through Loch Lomand and the Trossachs. Many thrills lay ahead for Roy, his cousin Minnie, their Aunt Jennie, and James (Minnie’s father, Jennie’s brother), as they visited places they had read about in literature and Scottish histories.

They travelled at a pace so dauntingly fast it would challenge young people today, let alone more senior-aged travellers like Jennie and James. On arrival in Liverpool, July 6, 1903, the Flemings moved quickly, taking a cab to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Station on Lime Street in the centre of town. Not a moment to waste, they visited St George’s Hall and Walker’s Art Gallery (where they noted the statues of Michelangelo and Raphael at the entrance), before boarding the London and North Western Railway to head north to Robbie Burns’ country. With their luggage – we hope they were travelling light – they changed trains in Carlisle to the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway, which passed through Gretna Green (famous for “runaway marriages”), and arrived in Dumfries at 7 pm that evening. After finding their hotel – the Palmer’s Temperance Hotel – and seemingly energized, they went for a walk around town – for Dumfries was where Robert Burns had lived his last three years.

Palmer's Temperance Hotel, Dumfries
Palmer’s Temperance Hotel, Dumfries

Jennie found Dumfries a “beautiful clean city – streets so pretty and clean and situated on the Nigh River.” They came upon the Globe Inn where Burns used to drink. Jennie did not dare to enter, but Roy and James did and James, sitting in Burn’s chair, sang a stanza of “Willie brewed a peck o’ malt”. They made their way through narrow, crooked streets to 16 Burns Street where Mrs. Brown, Burns’s granddaughter, showed them the house in which he had died in 1796.

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R.M.S. Tunisian – Montreal to Liverpool – June 27 to July 6, 1903

R.M.S. Tunisian - postcard postmarked Sarnia June 25, 2003
R.M.S. Tunisian – postcard 1903.  Courtesy Simplon Postcards, The Passenger Ship Website

Boarding in Montreal, the Fleming party settled into their quarters on the Tunisian at 7:30 pm Friday, June 26. Roy noted – “We put baggage in our rooms. Mine is Room 126 Berth 2, Uncle James 126-4. Aunt Jennie 128 – 2 – Minnie 128-4.” They were on the Upper Deck, in cabins on the outside wall. The Saloon Deck with the dining, music, and smoking saloons for second class and first class was above. The two top decks were the Bridge for First Class and the Promenade deck .

The Norway Heritage website has a full history of the Tunisian with postcards and the cabin floor plan.

With advances in steamer technology and ship design, travelling to Great Britain and the continent had become more comfortable and increasingly fashionable. They were travelling second (cabin) class in rooms that accommodated four people. Roy immediately remarked, “Rather neat appearance of rooms and dining rooms. Music Room and Smoking Room.”

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Trip of a Lifetime: Introduction

jennie-fleming-1935-passport
Jennie Fleming – Passport photo – c 1903

Nearly sixty years to the day that the Fleming family arrived in Quebec City from Glasgow, Scotland, Jennie Fleming, with her nephew Roy Fleming, her older brother James Fleming, and his daughter Minnie, boarded a steamer in Montreal bound for Liverpool, England.

Roy-Fleming-NewYork-1906-050.tif
Roy Fleming in New York City, 1906

They were embarking on an eight-week trip through the British Isles and Europe that included a pilgrimage to their homeland in Perthshire. Roy had proposed the trip to his family in October of 1902 and they decided at Christmas. They must have been very busy over the next few months deciding on itinerary, arranging accommodations, and contacting family in Scotland.

It was Friday, June 26 1903. Their ship was the passenger liner R.M.S. Tunisian, built in 1900 for the Allan line. They were comfortably settled in two second-class cabins, the men in one with two other cabin mates, and the women in another across the passageway. James, who had been only a boy of thirteen when his parents Alexander and Jean emigrated from Perthshire Scotland with their children, must have remarked more than once on the luxury of the modern steamer with its dining saloons and decks compared to the cramped and harsh conditions of the Jeannie Deans, the wooden three-masted barque that had brought them to Canada.

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