Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Emily P. Cape Journal, 1926-1927

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, June 1998

Summary Information
Title: Emily P. Cape journal
Creator: Cape, Emily P. (Emily Palmer), b.1865
Inclusive dates: 1926 –1927
Extent: 278 pages
The Cape journal documents a round the world trip undertaken by Emily P. Cape, a wealthy New Yorker traveling aboard the S.S. Belgenland in the golden days of passenger ship travel.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1997. M-3419.5.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Preferred Citation:

Emily P. Cape Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


In November, 1926, 60 year-old Emily Palmer (Mrs. Henry) Cape embarked upon a round the world cruise aboard the S.S. Belgenland , a ship of the Red Star Line. Departing from her native New York City on December 14, 1926, the cruise was scheduled to last 132 days, passing through the Panama Canal into the Pacific, and touching at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu, before heading to Asia.

The Belgenland offered a routine typical of luxury cruises of the 1920s, though spread over an outrageously luxurious period of time. The days were spent in leisurely activities -- swimming at the pool, reading, playing games, sunning, and socializing -- and the evenings were enlivened by dinner parties and expert lectures on the ports of call. Cape consumed it all eagerly, leaping into the shore excursions, and fortifying herself by reading appropriate books in advance, such as Dhan Gopal Mukerji's Caste and outcast before landing at Calcutta.

Cape displayed a curious blend of tolerance and intolerance in her attitude, and she could be as repelled by difference as she could be attracted. Although she complained about some "ignorant" Catholic priests on board, exclaiming "No wonder their 'flocks' are 'low in education'" (1927 January 15), she was eager to indulge in Asian exoticism and to experience it directly for herself. The shore tours were carefully controlled by the cruise line, designed to provide a taste of a foreign culture, a view of the cultural and natural highlights, and a perspective on the history of the country, but all within a carefully and safely regulated framework. In all this, Cape thrilled. She was particularly taken by the antiquities of Japan and by a visit to a kabuki theater, and she was awed by the sweltering crowds in Hong Kong, Manilla, and Thailand. Thailand, she felt, qualified as the most primitive of places. When a crowd of poor Thais flocked around the group of white tourists, Cape might easily have reacted claustrophobically, but in this instance she commented only that "their nudity was picturesque." A few days later at Benares, India, the thousands of pilgrims, beggars, lepers, the blind and diseased, left her overwhelmed with emotions difficult to describe, but as in Thailand, she was enraptured with the "crowds of humanity much nude & many handsome bronze bodies!" (1927 March 6).

Cape's other shore visits were taken in Java, Singapore, Calcutta, Sri Lanka, Bombay, and Cairo. In some ways, Egypt was the culmination of her tour. Imbibing in the famous archaeological sites at Ghizeh, Memphis, and Cairo itself, Cape was toured through the mosques and Coptic Christian churches, through the bazaars, back alleys, and gardens in an enervating, but exhausting few days. She chirped, "Cairo! It's fascinating!" From Cairo, the Belgenland cruised to France, letting its passengers tour European sites. Cape arrived home in New York on July 24.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Cape Journal documents a round the world trip undertaken by Emily P. Cape, a wealthy New Yorker traveling aboard the S.S. Belgenland in the golden days of passenger ship travel. Written in a "log" provided by the cruise ship company, Cape wrote most extensively during the periods in which she was able to take on-shore excursions, leaving interesting records of tours in Japan (Yokohama, Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara), Thailand, India (particularly Benares and the Bombay area), and Cairo. Her entries while the ship was cruising between ports are briefer and less informative, but provide some idea of ship-board routine.

The pages of the diary were provided by the tour company, with each day pre-printed with an itinerary and description of the ports visited. The space provided for diary entries is correspondingly small, and blank pages appear not to have been provided (or if they were, were not used by Cape), therefore it may be that the printed form of the diary hampered Cape's ability to write at greater length. More certainly, the precision of the printed descriptions and the exact timing implied suggests how carefully regulated the entire cruise was, and how restricted the tourist's view of the foreign countries would be. The journal also contains a complete printed list of passengers.

Cape laid in a few ephemeral items, including a program for an equator-crossing party, a postcard of the ship, and some samples of Japanese writing.

Subject Terms

    • Ocean travel--History--20th century.
    • Steamboat travel--History--20th century.
    • Women--Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Emily P. Cape journal,  1926 December 14-1927 July 24 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Bangkok (Thailand)--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 16
    Belgenland (Steamship)
    • passim
    Benares (India)--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 4-6
    Bombay (India)--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 16-22
    Cairo (Egypt)--Description and travel
    • 1927 April 1-6
    Calcutta (India)--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 3-7
    Catholic Church--Clergy
    • 1927 January 15
    China--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 3-9
    • 1926 December 25
    • 1927 March 30-April 6
    Egypt--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 30-April 6
    Havana (Cuba)--Description and travel
    • 1926 December 18
    Hawaii--Description and travel
    • 1927 January 7-10
    Hong Kong (China)--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 3-8
    • 1927 January 15
    India--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 2-7, 16-22
    Indonesia--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 20-22
    Japan--Description and travel
    • 1927 January 20-30
    Memphis (Extinct city)
    • 1927 April 1
    Ocean travel--20th century
    • passim
    Panama Canal (Panama)
    • 1926 December 22
    Philippines--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 10-11
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Description and travel
    • 1927 January 1
    • 1927 February 18
    Singapore--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 24-25
    Sri Lanka--Description and travel
    • 1927 March 11-13
    Steamboat travel--20th century
    • passim
    Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
    • 1927 March 18
    Thailand--Description and travel
    • 1927 February 15-16
    Tokyo (Japan)--Description and travel
    • 1927 January 24
    Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924
    • 1926 December 28
    • passim
    Yokohama (Japan)--Description and travel
    • 1927 January 20-23