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Voyages from the Past (ePub)

A History of Passengers at Sea

Maritime P&S History > Social History WWI > By Year > 1915

By Dr Simon Wills
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
File Size: 10.0 MB (.epub)
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 16-page plate section
ISBN: 9781473842731
Published: 22nd October 2014


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From the days of sail to the majestic ocean liners of the twentieth century, this is a history of British sea travel from a passenger's point of view.

Each chapter narrates one traveller's voyage based on their first-hand description, and the day-to-day details of their experience. Their stories, some previously unpublished, illustrate the evolution of journeys by sea, exploring three and a half centuries of maritime travel. Simon Wills transports readers from Elizabethan times to the eve of the Second World War, on voyages to destinations all over the world.

The passengers featured in this book came from all walks of life, and travelled for many different reasons. There were emigrants seeking a new life abroad, such as the pilgrims on the Mayflower, and others hoping to be reunited with their families like Phoebe Amory on the ill-fated Lusitania in 1915. The author Henry Fielding travelled to improve his health, whilst the wealthy George Moore crossed the Atlantic on Brunel's Great Western to do business.

Yet, whether travelling in steerage or first class, every passenger could experience trials and tribulations at sea – from delayed sailing schedules and poor diet, to the greater hazards of disease, enemy action, and shipwreck.

This engaging collection of stories illustrates the excitements, frustrations, and dangers of sea travel for our forebears. Family historians will perhaps identify with a voyage taken by an ancestor, while those with an interest in maritime or social history can explore how passenger pursuits, facilities, and experiences at sea have developed over time.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book that talks about people travelling via ship during the century. Diffeent types of travels, ships, social classes.
I liked how the different travels were based on real life cases and was fascinated by the descriptions of the itinerary and how they travelled.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

I thought this book was very interesting indeed. I remember my parents telling me that they were lucky to have migrated to Australia by plane, as so many others had to do it by ship and it took 3 months if you did. I can't even imagine being on a ship for that length of time, especially if you have small children with you as well.

Ship travel for passengers was fraught with danger, especially in the early days. Having to bring your own food, water and bedding, and hope that you didn't get sick or that the ship doesn't sink - they were very brave, those early pioneers! Even when my parents migrated, it was with the thought that they probably wouldn't see their relatives again, or at least, for years, but when you are migrating in the 1600's, just GETTING to your destination was not exactly guaranteed.

Very interesting first-hand accounts of travellers in different strata of society and going on these voyages for a variety of reasons.

4.5 stars from me.

NetGalley, Monica Mac

Rating: 5 out of

I really enjoyed this book by Dr Simon Wills. It was very well written and I would definitely recommend this to anyone.

NetGalley, Sarah Pesnell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I have long been interested in all things ships. I have no idea why. I have never been on anything but a small yacht. When I discovered this book on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it.

This book uses the journals of passengers aboard various ships. They were journeying all over the world. It begins with a gentleman's account on a voyage to America in 1599 on a sailing ship.. The stories carry the reader all the way through the growth of the passenger trade and the modernization of ships.

What a difference! The inaugural passenger ships were primarily cargo carriers. In the early days, the travelers’ “cabins” were made of sheets of wood to separate the individuals and families and were no bigger than a twin size bed. In this space, the families were supposed to live, store their bedding (they had to bring their own), and their implements needed for farming or whatever trade they were seeking upon arrival. Pirates were also a concern on early voyages.

The crews on the early ships were not kind to the passengers. They derided those who were seasick and said some heinous things to them.

Paddlewheel steamships made their entry into the England to New York passenger trade in the mid-1930’s. As the ships improved on propulsion and building materials, so too did the passenger accommodations.

These original before unpublished stories are both illuminating and interesting. I very much appreciated hearing the passengers' own voices. (And how English changed throughout the years.) This book is edited very well and includes all kinds of stories from the first passenger ships including some that foundered. I liked how the passengers were a mix from the very wealthy to the poor immigrants. There were some great photographs at the end of the book.

NetGalley, Joyce Fox

'Simon Wills learns about a fascinating Scottish family history society project to capture the stories of local convicts over a period of nearly a century'

Family Tree, June 2018

Author article 'My ancestor went to sea' as featured in

Discover Your Ancestors, issue 7

Author article 'Headstone hunter' as featured in

Family Tree, April 2018

Author article as featured in

Family Tree, February 2018

Author article on finding Peterloo roots as featured in

Family Tree, January 2018

Author article on preserving the past online as featured in

Family Tree, January 2018

“Voyages From the Past” fascinates and entertains while rejuvenating the maritime adventure genre. It is worthy of a spot on your bookshelf alongside the finest adventure thrillers.

The Indy Squadron Dispatch

As featured in part of author article

Family Tree, October 2016

As featured in part of author Q&A

Family Tree, September 2016

As featured in.

Family Tree Magazine May 2016

As featured in.

Family Tree - April 2016

As featured in...

Family Tree - March 2016

This is an engaging review of a way of life and travel that is now long gone. This is perhaps a genealogist's view of the subject, bringing it to life through the people who took passage, the sailors, and the people who built and operated the ships. This is a book that deserves a wide audience because it contains so many fascinating cameos and a great period in history.


This book covers a huge and fascinating subject in a manageable style and clear format. Its major strength is in introducing a range of important historical sources in an accessible way.
For family historians who want to get a flavour of what their forebears may have experienced on board, there is much to reflect on in these stories.
This is a book that whets the appetite, and the clearly structured bibliography will be useful for readers who want to become more familiar with the sources that Wills has chosen.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

A hugely welcome guide to the history of sea travel from the passenger's point of view. Laden with descriptions of adventurous sea travel from the passenger's viewpoint, 'Voyages from the Past' is a must for fans of British sea travel. A well-assembled collection of first-hand accounts of sea voyage and a lovely read for those with seafarers in the family.

Your Family Tree
Dr Simon Wills

About Dr Simon Wills

Dr SIMON WILLS is a genealogist, historian and journalist and a regular contributor to Family Tree, the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and other magazines. He writes mainly about maritime history and genealogy, but he also has a special interest in health and disease in the past. He has given presentations and interviews all around the UK for history, genealogy and literary festivals, and for organisations such as the BBC, National Trust and National Archives. His most recent publications include a guide to maritime photographs, Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors, and a popular account of our forebears' illnesses, How Our Ancestors Died.

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