Lost and FoundOn January 29, 2020 by Elyse
My terrible sense of direction reared its ugly head, and I got horribly lost. It’s hard to put into words how awful this makes me feel. It isn’t really that I’m afraid I’ll never find my way (although I suppose that’s a tiny, irrational part), but the sense of helplessness and frustration it evokes. I feel like such an idiot every time it happens. . . there’s nothing I can do but stare futilely at the maps (plural!) and hope something clicks.– Me, my travel journal from London, June 14, 2016
Spoiler alert for my younger self: It never clicks.
I began melodramatically recording the minute and mundane details of my travels as a teenager, and my journals—from then and now—read like a comedy of errors. Time and time again, I hop on the wrong train, fail to recognize buildings directly in front of me and turn left, despite maps, helpful bystanders and common sense shouting at me to turn right.
It’s a wonder I’m not still wandering around a labyrinth-like Tube station in the bowels of London. However, it brings me some comfort to know I’m not the first person in history to take a wrong turn or two. . . or a dozen.
Speaking of labyrinths, at least I’ve had the good sense not to meander into the beginning of a horror movie—not yet, anyway:
On Sunday last a gentleman, whose curiosity had induced him to examine the internal parts of St. Paul’s Church, misled himself, by the multiplicity of passages into the North front tower. . . and from which he was unable again to find his way.
There he remained till Monday in the afternoon, when by tying his waistcoat and handkerchief to a flick, and repeatedly waving them, for at that height his voice could not be heard, he attracted the notice of some workmen in the church yard. Accompanied by a verger, they went to his assistance, but, from the intricacy of the passages, had almost bewildered themselves in their return.– The Gazette of the United States, January 8, 1790
I half expected a zombie/poltergeist/anachronistic chain-wielding murder to get to him before the workmen did. Stories like this only reinforce the panic I feel when I get lost, no matter how benign the surroundings.
Being lost in a church is bad, but you know what’s even worse? Being lost in the bush.
Three centuries’ worth of newspapers are filled with articles about the terrible fates of men, women and children who lost their way in rural Australia. Most were not so fortunate as to be rescued with a simple wave a handkerchief.
Eventually, you’d think they’d put up some “Do Not Enter” signs. But then again, not everyone would be old enough to read them:
For indomitable pluck, endurance, and vitality, Johnny, aged 2½ years. . . will take a lot of beating. The child was looking for mushrooms on Thursday afternoon of last week, and wandering away from his home got lost in thick mulga scrub.
Not returning in the evening his mother became very anxious, and started out on an unsuccessful search. Not finding any trace, Mrs. Connor went to the mail coach change, where a search party was organized. The party consisted of five or six persons, and as they separated in the scrub, in order not to lose themselves they cooed to one another frequently.
However, despite the signals, Mrs. Connor, who was in an anxious and excited state, became lost herself, and was compelled to remain in the scrub all night, but at daybreak was able to find her way home.
Still, there was no tidings of the little wanderer. . . it was feared, as the weather was bitterly cold and he was but thinly clad, that he had perished from exposure. On Sunday afternoon Mr. Backs, one of the searchers, found the child about nine miles from his home, trudging along quite happily, as though returning from school, and seemingly not much the worse from his marvelous experience. . . Fortunately there were no dingoes about.– Wellington Times, June 13, 1904
So many questions:
- What parent lets their toddler pick wild mushrooms?
- What parent lets their toddler pick wild mushrooms alone?
- What parent waits to start panicking until hours after last seeing said toddler?
- How does one coo? This sounds like a strategy I should try next time I’m lost.
- Is there any better way to put in perspective whatever problems you may have than reminding yourself, “Fortunately there were no dingoes about?”
I was given a map for a historical walking tour and enjoyed the quarter of it I got to before predictably getting lost. Still can’t decide if the problem is me or every single map I’ve ever tried to use.– Me, my travel journal from Royal Tunbridge Wells, August 21, 2017
It’s definitely me. I’m just lucky there were no dingoes about.
While aimlessly wandering around the 18th-century English spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, I was also fortunate to ask for help from a kindly older gentleman. After determining I was in no way competent enough to follow his directions, he proved that chivalry isn’t dead—at least, not on that side of the pond. He went out of his way to escort me to my destination and even walked on the outside of the sidewalk, just to complete the town’s quaint ambiance.
During the 30 minutes we walked together, our scintillating conversations ranged from British and American culture to energy policy, immigration and politics. As much as I enjoy historical excursions, I can imagine no more worthwhile travel experience than my personal tour of Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Dave Knight, if you’re reading this, many thanks for your kindness! If you were on TripAdvisor, I’d give you a five-star review.
I wasn’t the only one to come across a good Samaritan in the United Kingdom:
One evening in the summer of 1868, a young sportsman lost his way in the wild district around and begged shelter at [the Scottish estate] Guisachan, the home of Sir Dudley Marjoribanks. The sporting owner of the house gave this stranger a Highland welcome, and presently it transpired that the youthful sportsman was the Earl of Aberdeen, who had recently succeeded to the earldom.
This romantic meeting led to an attachment between Lord Aberdeen and [Sir Dudley Marjoribanks’ daughter] Miss Marjoribanks. . .– D. MacDougall, ed., Scots and Scots Descendant in America, 1917
Despite the potentially dramatic buildup, this story is more Jane Austen than Emily Brontë.
After their serendipitous initial meeting, the Earl of Aberdeen, also known as John Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, crossed paths many times over the next several years with Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks. Her crush on him was obvious. As an 18-year-old, she wrote in 1875 that while at church:
. . . from the moment I caught sight of him at the 8:30 sacrament service – from that moment my whole being began to be in a whirl and it seemed literally impossible to fix my mind on anything I was doing, saying, hearing, or reading – least of all could I truly pray.– Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, quoted in Liberal Hearts and Coronets: The Lives and Times of Ishbel Marjoribanks Gordon and John Campbell Gordon, the Aberdeens, 1875
John appeared to reciprocate her feelings but then came down with a case of cold feet, running back home to Scotland in the summer of 1877 without proposing. What a cad.
However, the Marjoribanks refused to take “no” for an answer. Ishbel’s indignant mother wrote a letter giving her daughter’s erstwhile suitor a piece of her mind:
. . . allow me to venture to tell you that I am very sure you are deceiving yourself & that you do care for my child as a Christian man should care for the woman he wishes to make his wife – What is the highest, truest love but that sympathy of soul which enjoys the fellowship & mutual interchange of thought & feeling with one suitable in age & personally acceptable to our taste?
. . . Continued introspection is a fatal error in this matter as in others. Feelings cannot stand this sort of scrutiny. . . For your own sake I would not have you lightly throw away certain happiness and a priceless blessing.– Lady Isabella Marjoribanks, quoted in Liberal Hearts and Coronets: The Lives and Times of Ishbel Marjoribanks Gordon and John Campbell Gordon, the Aberdeens, 1877
For once, parental interference had its desired effect: John returned to London and proposed, and the couple lived happily ever after.
So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong! If I ever want to get married, I evidently need to ditch the dating apps, get lost more often—preferably in the Scottish Highlands—and have my mom shame boyfriends into marrying me. Got it.
Now, we know what people did before Google Maps:
Forget trying to read a map; next time I’m lost, I’ll just use a pub homing signal.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.