Researching Victorian Era Travel

My books, of course, are entirely fiction. The people don’t exist beyond my head (and yours) and the things they do, their families and friends… none of it actually exists. OF COURSE NOT.

But my books are, at the most basic, all historicals because they are set primarily in Victorian era England. That much is true. I take a great deal of pride in researching the Victorian era to be sure my details are correct.

It’s like the skeleton, the details of the era, the clothing, the places, the language, the people, the books and stories, these are all the bones of my story. They hold it together and give it structure and support.

My people, my characters, are the muscle of my story, they do all the heavy lifting. Their characterization is what draws you in and makes you forget we live in the 21st century.

The supporting characters, some of whom are based actual people I’ve come across in my research of the Victorian era could be considered the organs, keeping the blood flowing from the setting to the muscles and the flesh.

Then there are the smaller things, like specific hairstyles or clothes, or designs of houses and decorations, these things are the flesh of the story that make it pretty.

Without these pieces we don’t have the whole.

But without research we don’t have anything beyond the characters.

In my coming book THE HEIR AND THE SPARE, the hero, Calder, takes off for India. Now India from London is a mere 14 hour flight. No big deal. But in the Victorian era we had no planes, we had no cars or busses, we had some trains, but trains didn’t quite go EVERYWHERE yet. So I had to figure out how to get Calder from London to Jodhpur, India in less than a month. Less than a month because otherwise the entire timeline of the story was going to be blown to smithereens.

I started with trains, I knew they would have to get to Calais, France from London and from there the Express D’Orient could take them as far as Constantinople (not Istanbul yet) From there the Taurus express could get them as far as Basra, in Iraq. There were no complete lines going across Iran and Pakistan yet, which meant he would have to travel overland by horse or carriage for quite a bit of the story, and  didn’t want that.

Next step was to look into ocean travel. Steamships were huge in the Victorian era and opened up a lot of possibility for travel. Adding to that the Suez Canal opened in 1869 making the trip from Marseilles, France all the way to Bombay (Mumbai) India on a single vessel.

From there I was back to trains to get from Bombay to Jodhpur. The trip had already lasted 27 days, so I needed to get there in THREE days.

I found two historical railway maps for India, the first is for 1871 (12 years early) and the second is for 1909.

As you can see from the blue line, that’s the rail line that travels to Ajmer, about 120 miles from Jodhpur. Even in the 1909 map there is no rail line that travels to Jodhpur. (Jodhpur is the blue dot to the left)

But in the 1871 map, there is no rail line, there is a dashed line which denotes a PLANNED line.

More research… when was that line completed?

Because if it was completed before 1883, I had my train and two days from Bombay to Ajmer, and the rest by horse, carriage or cart.

Those two days put me at 29 days travel time. With 120 miles to go, walking would take 40 hours. Horse would take dramatically less than that, as well as carriage. I had my travel time from London to Jodhpur set just a few details to finalize, like making sure the river there is passable, making sure there weren’t any other land features that would have thwarted travel on the trip.

I also downloaded a few other maps that came in handy, maps are my favorite. I love maps.

Jodhpur is in Rajasthan, India. The following map from 1875 refers to that part of India as Rajpootana:




There are a few other names that differ from one map to the next, Ajmer is called Ajmeer on the older maps. So that needs a little research.

Obviously theres the Istanbul/Constantinople thing, and there’s also the Bombay/Mumbai change. But the next map is one of my favorite kinds of maps because it specifically deals with languages.



The languages listed for this map are: Aryan, Dravidian, Kolarian, Tibet-Burman, Khasi, Tai and Mon-anam. You can see three distinct colors in India alone, and Calder will be traveling from one to another. Luckily for me, they both fall into the same Aryan group of languages, but within that group are several regional languages I’ll need to check out to be sure I know what people are speaking.

So in the end:



Calder and Rakshan will take the pink route from London to Bombay, and then trains from there. 31 days in total. Now to make sure the railways weren’t down and nobody was stopping the steamships in the Suez canal.


An historical writers research is NEVER done.




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