Thomas Cook The Pioneer of Modern Travel
R. Seymour Ramsdale
Reproduced from Chambers’s Journal
IN one of his letters, written from Paris during the Exhibition year of 1878, the late George Augustus Sala, after referring in terms of high praise to the management of “Cook’s Tours” to the French capital, went on to say: “I think I first met him (Thomas Cook) at Venice in 1866. It used to be the fashion to sneer at and disparage “Cook’s Tourists”; and the late Charles Lever, as Cornelius O’Dowd” in Blackwood’s, once went out of his way to libel in a very cruel and uncalled-for manner the travelers who were trotted round Europe under the auspices of the “personal conductor.” Mr. Cook has got over all that long ago, and can afford to smile at his detractors and forgive the shade of Charles Lever. Of a truth, the great pioneer of modern travel came to have the laugh on his side, and to leave a name behind second only to that of George Stephenson, of whom, al-
most the contemporary, he was a truly worthy follower. From beginnings the most humble, he built up a mighty organization which to-day marshals more than four million travelers annually to every part of the globe, and furnishes employment to upwards of three thousand persons.
On the 22nd of November, just one hundred years ago, at Melbourne in Derbyshire, was born this Thomas Cook, whose name was destined to become even more famous than that Cook who was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Nothing was there in his surroundings, however, to presage future greatness. Plis father, employed in humble capacity on the estate of the first Lord Melbourne, dying when the boy was but in his fourth year, his prospects were indeed of the slightest. At the age of ten he was already a wage-earner at the
munificent pay of one penny per day, after receiving only the merest fragment of schooling. One chance, however, came in his way which seldom then fell to boys in his condition of life. For means of livelihood, his mother kept a shop, a very small one, and amongst the goods she.sold were a few books, mostly such as were used in schools. To these the child applied himself with avidity, and thus managed to enlarge and extend the meagre share of education which had been his portion. From the first his soul was possessed by a “noble discontent” and the notion that he must go forward and never stand still. The first step on the ladder was to persuade an uncle who worked as a wood-turner to take him from the fields to his work-bench, and at this craft he soon became an expert. Still, this was but one step, and not quite in the desired direction, for he had less time than ever for his books. Having often to make the journey to Loughborough for his master, he had many a time gazed with longing eyes at the shop of Josepr Winks, a printer, from whose press issued many of the books published in connection with the General Baptist Association. After much assiduity, he persuaded his uncle to release him, and, more than that, induce Winks to take him as apprentice. That he must have thrown himself heart and soul into his new vocation, and had within him some wonderful latent capacity, is evident from the fact that before he was twenty he had received the appointment of Bible-reader and village missionary for the County of Rutland. What a worker must this youth have been! Already, if but as a pedestrian, what a traveler! In his diary—a work he began when but eighteen—for 1829 he records that during that year he had covered two thousand six hundred and ninety-two miles, of which two thousand one hundred and six were done on foot. In his twenty-fourth year, having married, he set up in busi-
ness for himself at Market Harborough, at his first trade of woodturning.
Soon after he entered with his usual ardour into a movement of whose principles he had all along been an exponent : that of temperance. Having become secretary to the South Midland Temperance Association, he printed and published a number of pamphlets on the question, and in 1840 founded the Children’s Temperance Magazine, the first publication devoted to the advocacy of that cause.
One hot summer day in the June of 1841, young Cook set out on a walk which was to mark the turning-point in his career. It was to Leicester, where he was to be one of the speakers at a great temperance demonstration. The distance was but fifteen miles—a mere nothing to such a pedestrian as he was ; but as he strode along he read something which set him thinking deeply. It was the newspaper report of the opening of that portion of what was then known as the Midland Counties Railway, which connected Leicester with Loughborough. Now, it had been arranged to hold another demonstration shortly at Loughborough, and all at once it flashed into his mind what a wonderful success it might be made if the people could go by rail instead of having to walk ; hundreds might then go where dozens would not otherwise. Full of the idea, he explained it to his audience that night. All were struck; but said some, “What about the cost? How many workingmen could afford it?” “Leave that to me,” exclaimed Cook. “All of you who would like to go hohl up your hands.” So full was the response that early the next morning he betook himself to the office of John Fox Bell, the then secretary of the railway company, and unfolded his plan. It was that lie would guarantee to fill a train if the company would take the people from Leicester to Loughborough and back for a shilling. Mr. Bell at oncç
fell in with the idea, and himself gave a contribution towards the preliminary expenses. Within a few hours the arrangements were set forth in print, thus making it the very earliest publicly advertised excursion train. This done, Cook went on to Loughborough to arrange for the feeding of his party. On the 5th of July the excursion duly started, numbering five hundred and seventy passengers, amidst great popular enthusiasm, a band of music accompanying them to the station, whilst all Loughborough turned out to welcome them. Thus was in-
augurated a new era in the world of travel, and an object-lesson set before the railway companies as to the power of small profits and quick returns. In no long time the new organizer was inundated with applications for advice and assistance by those who desired to arrange for special trains.
During the summer of 1842, and two years following, he followed up his system with characteristic energy and remarkable success, arranging a great number of excursions of temperance associations and Sunday schools between various points. The
fares were such as but a short time before would have been deemed perfectly ridiculous, and so they would have been had not the number of passengers been so large. As an example, he took four thousand four hundred people from Leicester to Derby and back in the September of 1843 a charge of one shilling for adults and sixpence for children. All this time gratitude and growing fame had been his sole reward, for he made not a penny for himself; but in 1844 he took thought that he might strike out for himself as a carrier of travelers. The theory he quickly reduced to practice, and interviews with the directorates of the railways of the Midlands brought about agreements to place trains at his disposal whenever he desired. Then he set to work to organize an excursion on a more ambitious scale than any hitherto attempted. When, in the early summer of 1845, folks read the advertisement of Mr. Cook’s pleasure trip from Leicester to Liverpool by rail, thence to Dublin and the Isle of Man by steamer, and back for fourteen shillings first-class and ten shillings second, they fairly rubbed their eyes in astonishment ; but the excursion proved a splendid success. So thorough was Cook’s grasp of the conditions needful to ensure success that he became the compiler, printer, and publisher of what stands as the very earliest illustrated travelers’ guide-book, a little volume describing all the places to be visited and many of those en route.
Although the thing was as complete a novelty as was the journey of the ‘Rocket’ from Liverpool to Manchester sixteen years before, it was fully successful. All the tickets were sold a week beforehand, and so great was the desire to obtain them that many were resold for double the money. Moreover, all were satisfied, so thoroughly had their comfort been ministered to. Still more ambitious was the next attempt, for the difficulties appeared at first quite insuperable. “From
the heights of Snowdon,” Cook records in his diary, “my thoughts took flight to Ben Lomond, and I determined to get to Scotland.” But how to get there was the question, for the English railways then terminated at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and he had to make two preliminary journeys before the plan of campaign was decided upon. In the end it was determined that the journey should be made by rail to Fleetwood, thence to Ardrossan by steamer, and from that point on again by rail to Glasgow or Edinburgh. Although the entire distance to be covered was not less than six hundred miles, the charge was only a guinea per head, and the trip turned out as great a success as any of its predecessors. At both the great Scottish cities the “per sonally conducted” and their mentor were received with the firing of canon, musical honors, and great popular enthusiasm. At Edinburgh they were entertained at a public banquet presided over by William Chambers, who warmly welcomed Cook and his party to the capital of Scotland. Before the end of 1850 Cook had perfected arrangements with all the leading railways of the United Kingdom, and become the indubitable founder of the modern holiday system.
Now came the time to carry these conquests beyond the seas, and the great Exhibition of 1851 (which as much as any man he helped to make a success) being closed, Cook commenced to organize the invasion of Europe. Having first, in accordance with his invariable practice, gone thoroughly over the ground to be visited, he issued his advertisement of a “Grand Circular Tour on the Continent.” Eagerly was such opportunity embraced by numbers who once would almost as soon have dreamed of a journey to the moon. Starting from Harwich, the expedition in succession visited Antwerp and Brussels, went over the battlefield of Waterloo, steamed on the Rhine, and returned home by way
of Paris, Havre, and Southampton. This new enterprise once set agoing, Mr. Cook never looked back, and within a few years there was scarce any region of the civilized world which had not been visited by “Cook’s Excursionists.” Lever and others might carp and sneer ; but, all the same, folks continued to go in ever-increasing numbers, and soon there was not a railway or city in Europe where CookL tickets and coupons were not available.
It was in connection with great Exhibitions that some of his most notable triumphs were scored. He was the making of the Exhibition of 1851 in a pecuniary sense, and in 1862 he not only conveyed to London from every part of the kingdom over twenty thousand persons, but housed and fed them during the term of their visit. To Faris in i878 he piloted seventy thousand persons from our shores, and actually paid over to the French Government a sum amounting to one-thirtieth of their total receipts from the Exhibition. When first dealing with his European tours, one of the greatest difficulties he had to encounter was the apparent almost universal impression which obtained in Continental towns that Englishmen were made of money and could be bled with ease and impunity. This, like almost all other difficulties to be encountered, he soon contrived to surmount by unfailing courtesy, fair dealing, and resolution. A strikinginstance of determination and resourcefulness was afforded on one occasion, when the proprietor of a leading hotel in Rome at the last moment broke his contract. Failure was a thing not to be contemplated, so Cook grappled with the emergency by hiring for the use of his party the palace of Prince Torlonia for the immense sum of five hundred pounds for a week. During all the early years his work was a labor of love; or, if a profit was made, it was devoted to charitable or philanthropic objects, the great organizer relying for his livelihood upon the
printing business which for many years he continued to carry on at Leicester.
If we wish to obtain something like an adequate notion of the wonderful scope of the gigantic concern which has been evolved from the tiny germ first planted by the “pioneer of modern travel,” it will be well to glance over the programme of some of Cook’s globetrotting expeditions of to-day. Of quite a number which have started from our shores during the past autumn, half-a-dozen there are which at once arrest attention. Each and all are what are designated as “Round the World Tours,” four of them east-bound—that is, wending outwards by the eastern and returning by the western hemisphere—and the remaining two in the opposite direction. All the chief points of interest in the four continents are to be vsited, the lands of classical antiquity, those of the “burning Orient,’ China, and the ‘awakening East,’ with “young Australia” and America. To meet the taste of those whose ideal is ocean-travel, one of the east-bound tours wras announced as “all-sea,” there being not one yard of land-travel throughout a journey of more than twentythousand miles ; no need, if you wish not, ever to step ashore from the time that the port of London is left until it is again sighted some seven months later. Then, indeed, one must surely feel that one is in the hands of “Captain” Cook and emulating the first great circumnavigator.
At a first glance the first cost of holidays such as these reads not a little startling. The cheapest of the six means four hundred and forty-six pounds five shillings per head; whilst for “Party No. 2,” one of the east-bound trips, the membership of which is restricted ito twelve persons, it reaches to six hundred and three pounds fifteen shillings each ! Surely the most costly excursion ever heard of! is the conclusion which will, not un-
naturally, be come to; and, indeed, it is for the moment calculated to stagger the imagination. Yet let L be subjected to but a little examination, and it turns out, after all, to be one of the cheapest ever known or even dreamed of. To start with, the total distance by sea and by land is no less than thirty thousand miles, so that the cost actually works out to no more than fivepence per mile ! Then, as the party, which started on the 13th of November, is not due back until the 23rd of July next year, the holiday will extend over a period of two hundred and fifty-one days, so that the cost per day for each member will consequently amount to no more than two pounds eight shillings, which includes practically almost everything which is necessary or can be wished for. But few of the party, it is probable, could live at home for very much less. Let this be placed in comparison with the cost of a trip from Liverpool to New York in one of the luxurious steamers of the Cunard Line. For such a journey, occupying only some five days, with not very much to be seen en route, the fares en suite for a single passenger rangeas high as four hundred pounds, or eighty pounds a day. Contrasted with this, it is impossible to deny that even the costliest of Cook’s tours stands out most distinctly a marvel or cheapness.
Little doubt can there be that the secret of Cook’s marvelous success lay in his extraordinary energy, an enthusiasm almost as of a Crusader, and accuracy of observation ; above all, the sterling probity and conscientiousness which marked all his dealings, small as well as great. From his mind the desire of making or amassing money for money’s sake was entirely absent, this, one may well believe, being a prime factor in the astonishing results he attained. When organizing his trips to the [851 Exhibition he lent a helping
hand to poor people by the establishment of money-clubs in which the necessary funds could be accumulated. Again, if any member of his parties fell short of money he was always ready to become their banker without any charge. Ever, too, he had in mind the educative and humanizing influence that travel must always possess, and was anxious to afford facilities for it to all. What a born leader he was stood fully revealed when as time went on tasks were entrusted to “Cook’s” which would have taxed the powers of great Government departments. When, in 1877, the Cabinet of Lord Beaconsfield was contemplating the acquisition of Cyprus, appeal was made to the famous firm for information regarding its resources, as being the most likely people to know. Again, when the Gordon relief-expedition was to be sent out, to “Cook’s” was confided the formidable task of transport of an army of eighteen thousand men and all their impedimenta, with one hundred and thirty thousand tons of stores, to Korosko, on the Nile. Last, but not least, King Edward, when Prince of Wales, confided to Mr. Cook all the arrangements for the Eastern tour of the young Princes. Whatever was to be done, none, it was recognized, could do better than he. Not until he had reached the ripe old age did he seek even a small modicum of rest, and then not until he had become almost entirely blind. Even when so afflicted, the veteran lost not a whit of his pluck and Christian cheerfulness, actually accomplishing a journey of eight thousand miles through Europe and Asia, in addition to one tour through the Highlands. When he passed away in the autumn of 1892 he left behind a name untarnished by a single stain, and one which is indissolubly bound up with the history of railway enterprise.