Annette Mary Budgett Meakin (1876-1959)
Yes, I fully expect all my readers at this point to be saying, who? And yes, in all honesty, I dont blame anyone in the slightest for that. And until that point a good number of years ago now, when I picked up an anthology on travel on the Trans Siberian Railway, I would have said the same thing.
What she was, was along with her mother, she was the first English woman to travel the full length of the Trans-Sib (for short) on the route as it was then. Many believe they were the first non Russian women to do so, certainly without male company. But thats just the least of her talents, as I will mention later.
The thing is, her section wasnt written as a travel journal, this was wonderful, ;warts and all’ stuff, of a railway in its early existence in the wilds of Siberia, and she told it as it was through her journey. if you can track down any section of ‘Ribbon Of Iron’, you will see what I mean. Just remember this was written around 1900-1901, and attitudes were very different back then. Poor folk were poor, and Miss Meakin doesnt always hide her distaste for their behaviour, as culture was so different back then.
But strictly, thats half the story. What happened was her, and her mother set out for the World Fair in Paris in 1900 (yes, same time as the Olympics), and got caught up in the PR there for this amazing new railway through Czarist Russia, on wonderful trains. Nowadays we”d probably make notes, do some planning, and then maybe book the trip. Annette, nothing of the sort, her and her mother (I assume they had decent wealth) set off for Moscow by train, to travel on this journey to Siberia! Unsurprisingly, the trains when they got to Moscow didnt match up to the claims. But undeterred, off they went! And yes, after a few social mismatches and the like on the way, they reached Vladivostok. Now unlike today, they couldnt just hop on a plane and fly back, no one had even flown at that point! So what do they do, board a ship to Japan, cross the Atlantic, go across Canada, down to New York, and boat back home! The whole trip took about a month and a half!
All very wonderful you might say, but…this wasnt her only trip! She is widely believed to be one of the first women to travel through Turkmenistan (pre WW1) pretty much on her own, and interact with the natives. She also visited the USA in 1906(?), writing up her adventures for more books. By modern standards, her comments about blacks in America are far from flattering, indeed quite racist, but attitudes have changed since then, I suspect her views were the norm back then.
Oh, and she trained as a chemists assistant during WW1 as well, and some reports state that she actually qualified as a nurse too. Yes, details are unfortunately hazy, a hazard of trying to find out information about a less than famous person nearly one hundred years ago! She was also a strong campaigner for female rights as well, though there is no mention of Suffragete involvement.
Sorry, I’d love to tell you more about this amazing woman, but even tracking down more than the years of birth and death have pretty much drawn a blank. The only thing I do know is that she never married! I know at some point she lived near Reading, another period in Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire, but no details of how long, or when have come from my searches. Place of birth and death, not a clue!
What I do know, is that at a time when most women were shy, quiet creatures, she wasnt! And I so admire her for that, and what she did in her life. Hopefully now at least a handful more people know of her, and what she did.
The musical choice, purely random I think its fair to say. But its a group I knew as a young child, a group manufactured for TV, an irony nowadays given X Factor and the like. I assume there is a place called Clarksville in the US, but I know no more than that. Were there trains there, are there still trains there?
Enjoy one of the great Monkees songs