In 1862, the Cunard Line mail route from North America terminated in Liverpool. The city’s position as terminus reflected a long history as a significant English port for Atlantic trade. In this commercial city, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, her husband, and his cousin had their first experiences of England. They spent a day touring the city’s sites and pursuing a lost bag.
Those sites consisted of St. George’s Hall and the Free Museum. As the group made their way to the first, a clever Liverpudlian identified them as Americans and offered his services as guide. “He added very much to the visit,” Wheaton noted. The guide doubtless imparted the facts that she recorded about the “massive, grand, and beautiful” edifice—its courtrooms and concert rooms, and its marble floors and pillars of Aberdeenshire Marble.
The travelers parted with their guide and proceeded to the Free Museum and Library on their own. On finding that the museum was not open that day, they explained that they were Americans, in town only for the day. They received a private tour. “We were surprised,” Wheaton wrote, “to find a very extensive collection of natural curiosities of every description.” She remarked especially on the “most beautiful coral specimens.”
The group spent the afternoon riding around the city and its docks in a carriage. Wheaton noted that they rode “some 8 or 10 miles in pursuit of my lost bag, which was finally found and brought to me.” A satisfactory end to a first day in an unfamiliar country.
Liverpool now boasts eight National Museums, including the International Slavery Museum, which grew out of a permanent exhibit on Transatlantic Slavery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Though the Wheatons favored the abolition of slavery, it is unclear how familiar they might have been with Liverpool’s long connection to the slave trade. Laban Morey Wheaton had served in the Massachusetts Assembly as a member of the Liberty Party, and David Emory Holman had served briefly in the Union Army, earning the lifelong recognition of that fact in the honorific that memorialized his rank, “Major.”
Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.
Charles Robert Gibbs, Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of the North Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day (New York: Staples Press, 1952).