From Killyleagh to South Pacific in the footsteps of Victorian woman makes great story

From Killyleagh to South Pacific in the footsteps of Victorian woman makes great story

3 August 2022

A KILLYLEAGH woman, who travelled from the shores of Strangford Lough to the South Seas in the footsteps of a pioneering Victorian adventurer, has written a fascinating book about her exotic pilgrimage which lasted for four months.

For most people journeying by boat through the Panama Canal and then across the Pacific would be the trip of a lifetime. But Diana Gleadhill has voyaged up a river in Papua New Guinea, come face-to-face with bears in the Russian Far East, learned to waterski in Mexico and travelled extensively in Africa, South America and Central Asia.

No better person then to tell the story of the remarkable Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw in her book Shadowing Miss Grimshaw — From Ireland to the South Pacific.

Beatrice Grimshaw was born in Dunmurry in 1870 into a well-to-do family. Educated privately, she defied her parents’ expectations to marry or become a teacher, instead working for various shipping companies including as a publicist for the Cunard Line.

She had long harboured a desire to travel the world, especially the largely unexplored Pacific Ocean, and in 1903 she was engaged by the Daily Graphic newspaper to report on the Pacific. She was commissioned to write travelogues for shipping companies to promote the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, and Tonga.

She sailed to Papua New Guinea on a commission from The Times and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, intending to stay a few months but remained for 27 years.

She had a keen sense for adventure and joined exploration parties into the jungle and uprivers, possibly rubbing shoulders with cannibals along the way. She established a tobacco plantation, but after a period of illness, she moved in 1936 to New South Wales where she died in 1953.

Grimshaw was a prolific writer and her works were published in various newspapers and magazines. She wrote six books about her travels and more than 40 novels, many of which became bestsellers in Australia, the United States, and Britain.

Although ahead of her time in many ways, she had some of the attitudes and mannerisms of the period which would now be construed as racist.

Diana Gleadhill first became aware of Beatrice Grimshaw in 2015 when she was giving a talk in Portaferry Sailing Club about some of her earlier travels. A man came out of the audience and asked Diana if she had ever heard of Grimshaw. After being told about her extraordinary life, Diana was hooked.

“I thought I would like to write a book about Beatrice and then I decided I would like to go the places she had visited,” Diana explained. “I wanted to 

go by ship because that is the way Beatrice travelled, but it proved difficult getting the right ship.”

After spending months sorting out the travel arrangements, Diana set sail from London on October 16, 2016 accompanied by her close friend from Portaferry, Joyce Brown, who sadly died two years later.

The voyage took them down the Atlantic Ocean, then through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific where their first stop was Tahiti. From there they sailed to New Zealand and then flew to Fiji, Vanuatu, back to New Zealand and Australia for Christmas.

Along the way Diana explored many of the places which Beatrice vividly described in her writings and also tried to imagine what it must have been like for a woman travelling across the Pacific a hundred years earlier.

“There is a huge difference between how Beatrice travelled and how I travelled,” she said. “There were no aeroplanes back then. For her, everything was by ship. Her clothes and personal belongings were in trunks and there were porters to carry them. Also, she did not have to bother with security checks or passports, because there weren’t any back then.

“As much as possible I wanted to visit the places she had been to. I was able to stop at villages where she stopped. I met communities which had chiefs and elders as in Beatrice’s day. I had little travel books which Beatrice had written and many of the places I visited were well off the beaten track.

“We were treated very well and I think many of the people we saw were fascinated by what we were doing. Beatrice Grimshaw set the trail and I really felt we were following in her footsteps. The whole thing was just incredible.”

Diana began writing her book during her trip. She finished writing in 2019, but owing to the Covid pandemic it has only recently been published. It is available through Amazon.