Sightseeing on the Grand Tour Franklina's Adventures & Explorations

When they were not shopping, socializing, or sleeping Grand Tourists made every effort to see the great displays of culture and history Europe had on offer. From Buckingham Palace and Versailles to the Great Pyramids and the Colosseum, you'll find that Victorian Grand Tourists followed similar itineraries to modern travelers!

Particularly interested in art and history, Franklina drank in all that she could during her time abroad. Unlike other ladies (her mother included) Franklina did not let notions of ladylike behavior hold her back from seeking adventure and exploration.


Having disembarked the S.S. Bothnia, the first stop on their Grand Tour was England. Arriving in London, the Hewes party made sure to visit St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Madame Tussaud's.

Disappointed as she was with English hotels, Franklina enjoyed her days seeing the sights.

The immensity & perfect symmetry of St. Paul's Cathedral impressed us much."

Journal, Friday, July 23, 1875, London, England

Although at Westminster Abbey, Franklina took issue with the marble sculptures inside: "very nude warriors" and female figures "clutching their scant drapery."

Scarcely my idea of tombstones."

(Pictured: St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England, circa 1890. Library of Congress.)

You may be surprised to learn that Franklina also visited Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. French artist Marie Tussaud opened her waxwork exhibition in London in 1835 as the Baker Street Bazaar. By the time Franklina saw it, Madame Tussaud's was much as it is today, featuring life-like wax figures of celebrities and scenes of daily life. She wrote:

Almost all the noted characters of history are to be seen there in gorgeous apparel & so lifelike as to be often mistaken for human beings. I stood for some time by the side of one old gentleman before I discovered that he was a statue."

Journal, Friday, July 23, 1875, London, England

An empty room? A gallery in Madame Tussaud's waxworks, circa 1880s, Courtesy of the Westminster Archives.


Moving on from England, the Hewes party made their way East to Germany. There they visited numerous castles and ruins along the Rhine River. At the Prussian Imperial Palace in Coblenz, Franklina was surprised upon viewing the Empress's rooms:

We were charmed by the home-like look of everything... In her boudoir were numberless elegant ornaments which made us realize that our Empress lives, moves and has her being like any other woman."

Journal, Thursday, August 5, 1875, Coblenz, Germany

(Pictured: Queen Augusta of Prussia by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1853.)

At Castle Heidelberg, she was impressed and amused by the wine cellars:

In the cellars of the castle is a wine cask which will hold three hundred thousand bottles of wine... In front of the first is a statue of the court jester whose smallest allowance was 18 bottles of wine a day."

Journal, Friday, August 13, 1875, Strassberg, Germany

(Pictured: the wine cellar of Castle Heidelberg from Karl Pfaff's Heidelberg und Umgeung, 1902.)


Having had their fill of castles and ruins, the Hewes party made their way south to take in the natural beauty of Switzerland.

One August morning, Franklina and the other guests at the Hotel Schreiber awoke at 4 a.m. to watch the sunrise from the peak of the Rigi mountain.

In the presence of such grand beauty what a little thing life seems; how paltry its joys & sorrows!"

Journal, Thursday, August 19, 1875, Rigi-Kuhn, Switzerland

(Pictured: The Hotel Schreiber Rigi Kulm and its surrounding landscape, circa 1890. Library of Congress.)

Taking advantage of the Swiss Alps, Franklina & Co. went on several hiking expeditions. In Mürren, the group ascended the Schilthorn peak:

Mr. H & I on horseback, Mamma & Rose en chaise. These chairs are slung between poles & carried by two men, with a third to change off. The scent was exceedingly steep & precipitous."

Journal, Saturday, August 28, 1875, Interlaken, Switzerland

Atop the mountain they experienced incredible views while enjoying a picnic lunch. On the way down, however, they witnessed an avalanche. Franklina seems to have been fearless in the face of such a dangerous occurrence writing only:

We were favored by an avalanche en route... which resounded through the hills like muffled thunder."

Journal, Saturday, August 28, 1875, Interlaken, Switzerland

(Pictured: Hiking the Chamonix Glacier, 1867, Thomas Cook Archives.)

Franklina and Hewes, robust as they were, most often decided to ride or walk during such explorations. Matilda and Rose, if indeed they ventured out at all, typically chose to be carried in the fashion shown below. The men who carried these tourists "en chaise" must have had incredible stamina!

Two ways of ascending a Swiss mountain. Top: Alpine Chaise a Porteur, engraving, circa 1891. Bottom: Ascending the Rigi, engraving.

There were many man-made wonders to visit in Switzerland as well. Franklina was particularly moved by a trip to the Lion of Lucerne.

Erected by the French in memory of the Swiss guard of Louis 16th who died defending the Tuileries... I was never more solemnly impressed. The Lion 28 feet long is carved out of a solid wall of rock... The whole formed a picture I shall never forget."

Journal, Sunday, August 22, 1875, Lucerne, Switzerland

Left: The Lion of Lucerne, circa 1890, Library of Congress. Right: A metal pocket knife modeled after the Lion, purchased by Franklina in 1875, Camron-Stanford House Collection, gift of Tracey Bartlett, 2018.

Another memorable night was spent on the terrace of their hotel overlooking the Giessbach Falls. For the viewing pleasure of Grand Tourists such as Franklina, the Falls were illuminated with Bengal Lights – a calcium glow created by a chemical reaction in the water.

Suddenly, like a fairy scene, red, blue, purple, and white calcium lights revealed the water dashing from the topmost bridge of the precipitous mountain fall after fall."

Journal, Wednesday, August 25, 1875, Interlachen, Switzerland

Franklina learned about this phenomenon in chemistry class at the Patapsco Female Institute. Despite her scientific knowledge, when she came face-to-face with the illuminated Falls, Franklina likened them to:

Some strangely beautiful dream or some wild fairy tale of childhood."

(Pictured: The Falls of the Rhine by Bengal Light, Shaffausen, Switzerland, circa 1890. Library of Congress.)


Franklina marveled at the charm of Vienna, Austria which she described as, "a great handsome new city which has never pretended to be anything else." She was wonderfully enchanted by the wide wide streets, stone buildings, and cheerful atmosphere. During her stay, Franklina wandered through the Austrian National Library and visited the Imperial Stables at Hofburg Palace, but what impressed her most about Vienna were the local beer and music.

In a letter to William, Franklina, who throughout her trip had become accustomed to champagne or wine with her meals, remarks on her newly discovered taste for beer,

I wish you could drink some of this delicious Vienna beer! It is better than Champagne. You would laugh to see us go into a cafe & each drink a great Dutch tankard of it."

Letter, September 22, 1876, Vienna, Austria

Drinking in cafes aside, one of Franklina's favorite pastimes in Vienna was undoubtedly enjoying performances by Johan Strauss and his symphony. On no less than two occasions during her brief stay in the city, Franklina sat in the audience and marveled at Strauss' compositions, calling him, "music in human form."

Indeed he waltzes standing still. It is perfectly charming to see his enjoyment as he smiles and nods and fiddles away. When they played the Morgenblatter, I thrilled with excitement and grew so dizzy I could not see."

Letter, September 29, 1876, Vienna, Austria.

(Pictured: Johan Strauss Jr. and his Orchestra by Theo Zasche, 1886.)


Perhaps seeking a warmer climate, the Hewes party traveled south, to Italy. Franklina was generally disenchanted by the cities they visited there. Her ideals of Venice were shattered following an "unromantic" gondola ride which left her filled with "gloom & disappointment." In Florence, she admonished the Arno River: "A muddier, dirtier more thoroughly uninteresting a stream could not easily be found." Pisa, she deemed a "stupid little city of crooked celebrity."

Upon reaching Rome, however, Franklina changed her tune. Its rich past and vibrant present combined to create a magical city in her eyes.

Among her first stops was the Pantheon, "that heathen temple with its eye ever open to heaven." Devoutly Protestant as she was, Franklina couldn't help but feel a spiritual power at work in the ancient structure:

There is something beautifully appropriate in this open centre of the great dome; it seems to point the petitioner so directly to the God whose house is equally in the Heavens and in the hearts of those who pray.

Journal, Friday, October 29, 1875, Rome, Italy

(Pictured: The interior dome of the Pantheon, Rome by Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji, 2017.)

Franklina undoubtedly learned about the Roman Empire at school. On her first glimpse of the Colosseum she wrote:

all my dreams of Rome stood before me realized."

Enamored as she was with the scale of the amphitheater, Franklina knew well that this was originally a site of violence for the sake of amusement:

Tier upon tier the seats in which patricians and plebs, men and women, warriors and pure Vestal virgins, watched the shedding of human blood.... Oh: if these stones could speak!

Journal, Friday, November 5, 1875, Rome, Italy

(Pictured: Coliseum interior, Giorgio Sommer, Catalog No. 8757.)

The Vatican is one of the most popular tourist destinations, even today. Despite her religious differences, Franklina still made the effort to see the famous picture gallery and Sistine Chapel. She had this to say:

The Sistine Chapel was a great disappointment to me, Michael Angelo's Last Judgement being much faded & from the bad light almost indistinguishable."

Journal, Sunday, November 21, 1875, Naples, Italy

Unfortunately for Victorian Grand Tourists, by the 19th century, the Sistine Chapel's frescoes were covered with three centuries of candle smoke, dirt, glue, and periodic restorations. No wonder Franklina left unimpressed! Thanks to late 20th century restorations, visitors to the Vatican today see a much clearer picture.

(Pictured: Interior of the Sistine Chapel, circa 1855-77. Library of Congress.)


Cairo was Franklina’s introduction to a truly foreign world. All of Europe, despite language and cultural differences, would have seemed at least slightly familiar. Ever the adventurer, Franklina’s curiosity triumphed over trepidation and she fell in love with the city.

I can not tell you how beautiful the Mosques of Cairo are. Here, Saracene architecture is seen in its perfection. The curving domes, the beautiful arches & columns & the tall needle like Minarets make a most exquisite whole.

Letter, Sunday, February 6, 1876, Cairo, Egypt

(Pictured: Cairo, the pyramids and fellahs, circa 1890. Library of Congress.)

Unfortunately, Franklina's travel companions often had different ideas when it came to sightseeing. This was especially true in Egypt. Between her infirm mother and travel-worn aunt, Franklina often found herself "at a loss for a companion."

Luckily, Hewes hired a guide – Yussef – who took it upon himself to see Franklina safely shepherded around Egypt. In Cairo, Yussef indulged Franklina in what her aunt deemed an "insane curiosity about dingy old trash."

Since I have been here I have gotten off by seven every morning & mounted on a donkey with Joseph as a guide & companion have explored all sorts of queer nooks and seen old Cairo in its dirtiest picturesqueness."

Letter, Wednesday, April 12, 1876, Cairo, Egypt

Franklina particularly delighted in the latticed windows: "Every one is different and carved in patterns to intricate and various as those on lace." Notice the mashrabiyas – wooden projecting oriel windows – pictured here.

(Pictured: A Street Scene in Cairo, circa 1905. Library of Congress.)

As the Hewes party traveled the Nile river on their dahabeyah boat, they stopped and marveled at many ancient temples, tombs, and monuments. Yussef escorted Franklina on a solo tour of the Temple of Karnak which she called "the grandest ruin in this land of ruins."

Franklina noted one particular dinner spent at the Philae Temple:

We dined on the flat roof of the temple of Isis and saw the sun set on one side of us while the full moon came up on the other and the Nile changed to a thousand hues."

Letter, Saturday, March 11, 1876, Asssayan, Egypt

Of all the places she visited, Franklina seems to have been most enchanted by the total unfamiliarity of Egypt.

(Pictured: The Island of Philae, Egypt. Campbell House Museum, St. Louis, MO.)

Michel & Yussef

The success of the Hewes party's Nile cruise was largely in part due to the two on board guides that accompanied them. Michel Shyah, a Beirut native, served as dragoman for the Nitetis.

While Hewes sporadically hired local guides during their time abroad, a dragoman was considered a must-have of sailing the Nile.

Nothing is easier than for a rich man to go to Cairo and to engage a dragon. By signing a single written contract, all trouble as to what he shall eat, drink, see or pay, where he shall sleep or go, will then be taken off his hands. The same useful personage will, as a rule, with more or less accuracy, answer his every question on every subject."

Frederic Eden, The Nile Without a Dragoman (Henry S. King & Co.: London, 1871).

(Pictured: Michel Shyah from a carte de visite in Franklina's collection. Camron-Stanford House Collection, gift of Tracey Bartlett, 2018.)

The Nitetis was further outfitted with assistant-dragoman Yussef. Franklina formed a special bond with Yussef during her time in Egypt. While her mother and aunt fell prey to bouts of fatigue and illness, ever-adventurous Franklina refused to be left out of the adventure. While the men of the party often went off on their own, Yussef escorted Franklina to the various temples and historic sites of the Nile Valley himself.

Michael & Yussef make a perfect pet of me, waiting on me & saving the best of everything for me. Yussef climbs all possible and impossible places to get my specimens of flowers & plants, shoots me pretty birds & haggles by the hour making bargains for me. The sailors bring me flowers & help me up banks, carrying me sometimes, no easy task I can assure you... You see they are spoiling me rapidly. But I can stand any amount of that sort of thing.

Letter, Sunday, March 19, 1876, Near Thebes

Yussef spoke four languages and proved so valuable that he continued to accompany the family to Jerusalem and Beirut.

Many tourists today find international travel daunting. Adding a language barrier, a lack of cultural understanding, and no digital communication, a Victorian woman in abroad could face serious difficulties. Without local working guides like Michel and Yussef, Franklina would not have been able to experience the Grand Tour as she did.

(Pictured: Tourists and their guides at the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt, circa 1870. Library of Congress.)

These are only a select few of the destination spots Franklina toured while abroad. Her company visited 22 countries over the course of two years. Wherever she went, Franklina had strong opinions – from hats and haircuts to education and religion – and rarely did she hold back her feelings! The letters and journals that survive have been published as Franklina C. Gray: The Grand Tour; you can read more of Franklina's travel thoughts there.

The last few weeks of their Grand Tour was spent slowly traveling back to Liverpool, where they would once more traverse the Atlantic aboard the Bothnia. Franklina visits some favorite spots, including the Louvre in Paris, and crammed in a few more museums in London before their departure.

Continue to the next section to return back to Oakland and the Camron-Stanford House.

Franklina C. Gray: The Grand Tour / An Online Exhibit Presented by Camron-Stanford House.
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