"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

17 Jun 2013

A Philosophy of Tramping—Bart Kennedy's Life and Times

The notes of this post provided the background material for Chapter 3 of
Published by Feral House February 2020


Bart Kennedy from 17th Nov 1922 edition of Bart's Broadsheet

This post attempts to reconstruct aspects of the tramping career of Bart Kennedy (1861-1930). Kennedy’s A Tramp's Philosophy is the subject a separate post. Biographical information on Kennedy is very thin, and most of what I gathered from four of his texts is devoid of dates or chronology. A Man Adrift and A Tramp in Spain are available in digitised form, but I had to obtain rare hard copies of A Sailor Tramp and In a Tramp Camp, unavailable electronically and out of print. Interestingly, a 1922 silent movie version of A Sailor Tramp is still available. As with Thomas Manning Page, Kennedy's publishers, to date at least, have been unable to provide any information other than obituaries. Neither (as with Page also) have I been able to locate a photograph of Kennedy. This is surprising given what is a very respectable list of published works, and the fact that he carried a camera on his later travels. Who's Who describes Kennedy as having picked up education in knocking about the world [and that he] drifted into writing. In the New York Times obituary of Kennedy he is described as 'the tramp novelist ... pioneer of the staccato method of short story writing, and The Times obituary describes his writing as, written with vigour, but in a curious jerky style.

Below is Kennedy's bibliography so far as I have established it from several different sources:

Darab's Wine Cup, and other tales, etc. (1897)
The Wandering Romanoff (1898)
A Man Adrift (1899)
London in Shadow (1902)
A Sailor Tramp (1902)
In a Tramp Camp (1902)
A Tramp in Spain (1904)
Slavery (1905)
The Green Sphinx (1905)
Wander Pictures (1906)
The German Danger (1907)
A Tramp's Philosophy (1908)
The Hunger Line (1908)
The Vicissitudes of Flynn (1909)
The Human Compass (1912)
Soldiers of Labour (1917)
The Voice in the Light: tales of life and imagination (1917)
Thought-Coin (1921)
Brain-Waves (1923)
Golden Green (1926)
Footlights (1928)
Founder and proprietor of Bart's Broadsheet (a weekly started in 1921)

Potted Family History

Kennedy was born in Leeds of Irish parents, Patrick (a shoemaker) and Catherine. According to the 1881 census, at the time Kennedy struck out alone for America aged twenty, there were six younger brothers living with Kennedy in the family home at 145 Pollard Street, Manchester: John, Thomas, Phillip, James, Patrick and Joseph. I have been unable to establish whether Kennedy kept in touch with any of his family following his adventures as a tramp (discussed below).

Kennedy married his wife Isabel Emma Priestly (daughter of a Major Arthur Gore Priestly) at Holborn, London in 1897. After some time at an address given as Cambray, Sandcross Lane, Reigate, Surrey the couple moved to an affluent fourteen room house at 20 Devonshire Place in Brighton. Isabel Kennedy was born in 1865 in Langar, India. The 1911 UK census gives Isabel Kennedy's employment as journalist and editor, athough there is no further information as to whether this was in relation to her husband's writing or an independent career. The couple had only one child, Rolf Darab Kennedy (1899-1918), a second lieutenant with 23 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. Sadly, Kennedy's son was shot down and killed aged only 19, flying a Spad SV11 over the Western Front on 27th March 1918. He had been stationed at La Louvie Airfield in France. It is interesting to note the link between Kennedy's son's name and the title of his first book, Darab's Wine Cup, published two years before the child's birth.

In my continuing search for a photograph of Kennedy, The British Library has unearthed information that Kennedy made several applications to The Royal Literary Fund, established in 1790 for 'the provision of grants to writers in distressed circumstances' (the same mission it continues to this day). In his applications, Kennedy gives his occupation as 'tramp'. Details of his applications and amounts received are: 15 Dec 1912 (£100), 28 Aug 1923 (£75), 31 Oct 1924 (rejected), 27 Oct 1926 (£50). Kennedy's case file from the RLF contains 43 items of correspondence.

There is an interesting obituary on Kennedy from the Ottawa Citizen dated December 10th 1930, which states that: Bart Kennedy had a curiously mixed career. Probably it would best be described as being built upon sand. But in any event Kennedy obviously enjoyed every minute of it until two years ago, when his wife died. It seems that after his wife's death aged 61 in 1927, Kennedy gave up any further interest in life, eventually being taken to the then Brighton County Borough Mental Hospital in Haywards Heath Sussex in the summer of 1930. A friend found him there dying without food and ambivalent to life or death. Kennedy died on 6th December 1930 at the age of 69. The rest of this post will chronicle Kennedy's life and adventures from his own accounts, principally from A Man Adrift. Where other texts are used these will be identified.

How Kennedy Became Accepted as a Sailor

Working from the age of six in Manchester factories, at around the age of twenty Kennedy
arrived in Liverpool with one shilling in his pocket. His career as a tramp had begun...

I had never seen ships before the morning of that day. But I had thought and dreamed of them ever since I was a lad. And now they seemed so beautiful to me, just like the pictures I had of them in my mind. They looked so calm and strange; their tall, straight masts and their furled sails and rigging looked so fit and beautiful. They had a curious air of travel and great distances. You felt that they had come from places a long way off, and that they were going to places a long way off. About them was something magical, fine, and strange.

Having been well and truly smitten with the wanderlust, Kennedy then relates some of the practicalities of securing his passage on board one of the vessels that so seduced him. He is shown to a lodging house, not fully understanding the reason why he is provided with free board and lodge; a mystery which is soon made clear to him:

‘... every man who ships gets an advance note for two pounds. This note isn't paid till the ship is a few days out at sea. You give this advance note to the boarding-house master. He keeps you and finds you an outfit, and after you are safely gone he gets the money.

A system that ensured the inn keeper a regular supply of paid lodgers and the merchant ships a reliable stream of new recruits—albeit they were not always willing parties to the contract. The ship Kennedy signed with was the John Gough, a large steamer bound for Philadelphia, carrying freight and passengers, and with an average crossing time of twelve to fourteen days.

Like several of the other tramps in my 'philosophy', Kennedy was something of a fighter, employing his pugilistic skills at times to subsist as well as survive. Here he recalls his first fight out of England. Having been victim of the scam to enrol him as an able seaman when he had never stepped foot on a ship before, he was soon to find out just how cruel and inhuman the treatment of new recruits by experienced sailors could be. Just a few days into the voyage, and in spite of being so seasick that he could not eat, and only barely walk, he was nevertheless expected to put in a full days work. The following piece illustrates not only the hardships suffered by Kennedy, but also the elation of being a free spirit out for adventure with—as seems to be the thrill of many carefree and penniless tramps—nothing to lose but one's life.

I was shown scant sympathy by my mates on watch. They acted impatiently and brutally towards me. And this was hardly to be wondered at, for they had to take upon themselves my share of the work. I had come aboard under false colours.

How I got through that watch I never knew. I remember falling down, and one of the men kicking me. I could not, of course, do anything back, but I turned round so as to see his face, and keep it well in my mind. The moon at this time was shining brightly. This man had kicked me, but there was nothing for it but to wait my time. There was no use of repining, or, indeed, of saying anything while I was powerless. ... I was sick for two days and a half, during which time I had to do my four hours on and off with the rest of the watch. All that time I could eat nothing, and I got very weak indeed. The man who kicked me was especially brutal. Some time after that he struck me in the face, blackening my eye. I could hardly stand up at the time, but I looked him steadily in the eyes, and said: "You shouldn't hit a sick man. Besides, this sick man will get well."

And gradually I got well. I believe thinking of this man helped to cure me. Whenever I saw him I smiled. Whenever I met him I looked straight in his face. And as I felt the power coming back to my limbs I was filled with joy. The time would soon come!

At about the sixth day out, when we were nearly half way across the ocean, I was thoroughly used to the motion of the vessel, though, of course, I knew very little of the work. Still, I was beginning to be of use, for I was quick, and I could haul powerfully on the halyards and braces. The strong air of the ocean was putting a vigour of life into me such as I had never felt before. It was a wonderful sensation, after being shut up all one's life in a dull, sodden, black town, to be out in this vast open of moving waters. It was fine to feel the clean, fresh, sharp wind striking full into the face.

On the seventh day out I felt fit for anything, and I thought the time had now come for me to settle matters with the sailor who had struck me when I was sick. It was our watch below in the fo'castle, and I noticed him standing near his bunk. My eye was still sore and black from the blow, and when I thought of it I smiled to myself. I had him now. He was there, and I would see what he was made of. I looked carefully over him, noting where and how I would hit him. ... the shame of the blow swept through me as I walked up to him and said : "You struck me when I was sick and not able to do anything back. Now's your time to strike me again."

The rest of the watch, who were sitting about talking, looked at us, and became quiet. Something was going to happen! It was a rare thing for a green hand to talk in such a way to a sailor. "And you kicked me, too, when I was sick," I said again to him, keeping my eye fixed on his eye. "Come on. Don't be afraid." I gave him a push with my open hand, and backed quickly a couple of paces.

He said nothing, but came for me. I backed again it was a big fo'castle and then I sank myself down a little to the left and reached out. It was a feint. And as he followed over on that side, I turned to the right like lightning jumped and landed my fist heavily on the side of his face. The ship chanced to be lurching towards me at the instant I struck, making the blow more effective. He staggered against the side of a bunk and before he knew where he was I was right close up to him, pounding him in the face and ribs. ... And now he was down in a heap, his face all over blood. I dragged him up by the collar, and asked him if he had had enough. He had! Dropping him again, I turned to the rest of the watch who were all eyes and said quietly, "I'll fight the best man in this watch." There was no response.

Many of the chronicles Kennedy relates, such as hand to hand combat with Indians, rescues and gales on the high seas, or his desperate escape from the desert riding the rails, read as though straight from a Boy's Own adventure story. In turn, the stories that Kennedy listened to from sailors on his first sea voyage further fuelled his own sense of adventure.

Dredging for Oysters

On his arrival in Philadelphia Kennedy writes that he had not a penny in his pocket, but tramped the streets in a state of elation at the prospect of having a whole new world before him. ‘After many days tramping, he says, ‘I found my-self in the city of Baltimore. Here I shipped on an oyster-boat to dredge for oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The wages were fifteen dollars a month, and one had to ship for a month at least.

Kennedy had more fights and near death experiences during his time as an oyster dredger, including being washed overboard from the steamer in a hurricane and having his yawl surrounded by ice in the Chesapeake bay. The following passage illustrates just how dangerous this particular work was. It is also discourse on friendship:

Poor Dublin! He was drowned. He was lost at night in one of the sudden squalls that come up in the winter time in the Chesapeake Bay. He was sculling a little yawl to the schooner he belonged to. The squall struck the yawl and capsized her, and Dublin died fighting in the cold waters. God rest him! He was a brave, fine man, though he did get drunk, and though he did fight, and though he had been in prison often and often. He would give the last cent he had to a stranger if the stranger needed it. He was sympathetic and noble, and, above all, brave. He was my pal my friend. ... I never knew his real name. Everyone liked him. Dredger though he was, tramp though he was, though he had known the inside of prisons, I am proud of having known him, of having taken his hand, of having been his friend.

In the following passage we can see the beginnings of a principle concerning 'work' that Kennedy develops more fully in A Tramp's Philosophy:

At last I grew tired of dredging. I was as hard up as when I began. Labour had brought me nothing but hardship and degradation. I had worked the blood and muscle out of my body to create wealth for others. I had lived in the midst of absolute filth in a place not fit to kennel a dog in. If I hadn't been a dangerous, fighting brute of a man I would have been struck and ill-used into the bargain. Aye, I had worked my life out to create wealth for others, and for my reward I had neither a place to sleep in nor a bite to eat. What was the use of working at all, I thought? I got neither reward nor respect.

So I faced about and became a tramp.

A Tramp Education

At this point in A Man Adrift, Kennedy writes a bitter reflection on tramping that I have added to my separate post, A Tramp's Philosophy. There it can be read in conjunction with Kennedy's more general discourses on tramping. The despair indicated by this piece of writing reflects a particular mood that was not evident when Kennedy wrote about his first tramp on mainland America. A time when his was mood was rather one of elation. It is, nonetheless, a very important chronicle on the harsher aspects of tramping. But for now, in September of that year—we are not told which year—Kennedy headed off on dry land for Baltimore. It was on this journey that Kennedy fell in with an older tramp, Billy, whom he describes as: ‘an English gentleman who had drifted away from his bearings, and come down in the world just a piece of human wreckage.’ The following passages concerns not so much Kennedy's initiation into tramping as his introduction to letters. It is also another tender exposition on friendship:

At the time I met Billy I was all but an illiterate man being hardly able to read and write. But still I had had a wide experience of actual living, and knew something about men. ... It was Billy who first gave me the idea of trying to educate myself. He did not do so knowingly, however. It was rather that I was struck with the great difference that lay between us. He had style; he knew things; he could express himself easily and surely. Though he was but a tramp like myself, still he had an advantage over me. True, this advantage had not been able to stop him from coming down in the world. But I felt it to be an advantage, nevertheless, and I longed to possess it, for it seemed to me that if I had it I would have a chance to raise myself.


I chanced to have in my pocket a little ten-cent dictionary. How or where I got it, I forget now. It was dog-eared and grimy, but it answered the purpose.

My first task was to learn to pronounce the big words in it properly. Billy would tell me the right pronunciation, and I would repeat and repeat it after him till at last I got it.

And so it went as we slowly tramped on our way to Baltimore. Billy took the greatest pains to teach me as much as possible. When I made a slip in speaking he would tell me of it and explain to me why it was a slip.

He went into the history of the world and of the nations of the world. He told me of the mysterious origins and vagaries of religion. He told me how the geologists had wrested from the earth and rocks their dim secrets.

These days were for me wonderful days.

Kennedy must have been a fast learner, for the first book he read was Goethe's Faust while still with Billy.

Billy and I were partners. We tramped along looking for work together; we slept in the same haystack together; we whacked up what little money we got for doing odd jobs. When things were absolutely tight, we shared the food that we begged from the farmhouses we passed on the road. Who Billy really was I never had the least idea. Where he is now I have no idea. He came suddenly into my life, and went out of it in a like way. He told me his name was Billy, and that was the end and beginning of anything tangible he had to say about himself. True, he spoke now and then of his life in the past, but only in a vague, distant sort of way as if he were speaking more to himself than to me.

We were just two outcasts who met by chance, and who stayed by each other while circumstances permitted.

More Hard Labour

The pair eventually arrive in Baltimore tired and hungry, with only $1.75 between them. But Billy knew a boarding house where they could get a bed for ten cents and a meal for fifteen. At this point of the book it becomes difficult to follow a chronology of events. Chapters follow separate episodes of Kennedy's American tramping exploits, but also themes, such as a whole chapter titled 'Shovelling' which Kennedy describes as the most trying and monotonous kind of labouring work there is. Kennedy's essay on shovelling starts in Columbus, Ohio shovelling gravel on railroad tracks, moves to digging sewers in Cincinnati, then continues as follows:

Perhaps the hardest shovelling of all is the shovelling of sand. I had an experience of this in British Columbia. I worked there or four days unloading sand-scows in the harbour of Vancouver. The pay was thirty cents an hour a rate of three dollars a day. After the first day's work I was so tired that I felt as if I could lie down and die. I had a strained, sore feeling all over my body. I was hardly able to eat my supper.

If my reader wishes to understand the finer points of the art of shovelling, I strongly recommend reading the full text on the subject (pages 94-105) in A Man Adrift. We now find Kennedy working in a mine an 18 mile walk outside of New York City. Although Kennedy describes the work in detail—the drilling, dynamiting and shifting rocks—he does not tell us what they were mining for:

At seven o'clock I stood with a crowd of men in the cage. We were ready to go down the shaft. There were two cages. One went up as the other went down. The corners of them fitted into slides that were fastened along the straight, steep sides of the shaft. They were pulled up and let down by a powerful engine that stood off about thirty yards away. If the wire broke to which the cage was suspended, a powerful spring suddenly pushed out two immense steel claws or catches, which fastened on to the big wooden beams lining the shaft. Thus the cage was held, and the men were saved from being dashed to death at the bottom. They could wait calmly till help came. So said the man who invented the spring and catches.

In Prison ...

In the chapter 'In Prison' Kennedy provides a fascinating description of New Orleans and some very happy times he had there in good company, with abundant good food, and musical entertainment. Unfortunately, Kennedy and some friends were arrested on a trumped up charge of vagrancy because the police had been ordered to clear the streets prior to a local election for fear that vagrants would be recruited to vote by the opposition party:

We were taken, and that night we were shut up with some others in the calaboose on the levee. There were about twenty of us in all negroes and white men. The fact of being arrested did not seem to weigh much on any of us. We were comforted by the curious philosophy that goes with poverty and misfortune. None of us had had the requisite ten dollars necessary to ensure us our liberty. So we made the best of it. I sent out for some beer with the two dollars I had we were allowed this privilege if we paid for it and we made merry. It is easy and natural to make merry with people who are in the same boat as yourself. We told stories, compared notes, and sang songs. 

Instead of spending just twenty-four hours in jail and then being released, Kennedy got into an argument with the judge for being falsely imprisoned in the first place, and received a one month sentence for his trouble. It was during this month in jail that Kennedy started to formulate his philosophy on crime and the justice system that he developed later in his Tramp's Philosophy:

In prison, a man who is given to the habit of thinking passes through many mental stages. Shut off from the world outside, the whole of his mind as it were passes in review before him. He sees into its most obscure fold and depth. His imagination becomes freer more powerful. The small, harsh world into which he has been thrown has no power to cramp it. He passes through a curious, ripening experience. The reason, or crime, for which he is made to suffer can have no effect upon him in the way of making him downcast, for it will require but a slight effort of his intellect to show him that he is being made a scapegoat that he is being made to suffer because he has been bold enough to realise in action an idea he shares in common with other men. The partition that separates the criminal from what is called the honest man is made of the thinnest tissue paper imaginable.

It is interesting to note in the following passage, the manner observed by Kennedy in which civilisation in jail mirrored that of the outside world:

There were about fifty men in the cell in which I was, and we governed ourselves while in there by a code of laws. These laws had been made by prisoners, and had been handed from one set to another for years. They were based on the same principles as the laws governing a country or any society modified, of course, by the surroundings. We had a president, a judge, a sheriff, and other officers. If a man showed a particular aptitude for the exercise of any function, he was remembered for it, and when he came back again to the prison he was elected to the office, if it were at all possible. The warders never interfered with the laws of the prisoners.

But the laws of the prison itself were far more brutal than anything meted out by prisoners to each other. Something that clearly influenced A Tramp's Philosophy:

Though there was hardly any discipline, still the breaking of the few prison-rules that did exist was punished terribly. Men were bound up and tortured in a contrivance called the stocks. The stocks was really a rack. A man was tied up, laid upon it, and tortured by means of stretching and twisting the joints of his legs. The place where this racking was done was in a small shanty painted black which stood off over in the corner of the yard. I never saw a man racked, but I have seen a man hustled into the shanty ; and afterwards I have heard him groaning and screaming. The screaming of a man in agony is a thing that can never be forgotten.

The effect upon us as we listened to it in the yard was awful. We stood in groups, cowed and disheartened, for no one knew whose turn would come next. The cries of the tortured man seemed to get into the blood, and affect the beating of the heart The cowed negroes and whites would look at each other fearfully. In these horrible moments even the sense of distinction of race was lost. We were fellow-prisoners before we were negroes or whites.

After being tortured the man would be taken to the hospital.

... and on Jesus

In another anecdote from Kennedy's first prison sentence he describes the pleasure he got from attending the prison chapel, not because he was religious, far from it, Kennedy had nothing but contempt for organised religion, as discussed his Tramp's Philosophy. Rather, Kennedy sought inspiration from Jesus, not as the son of God, but identifying with him as a fellow tramp and lawbreaker:

On Sundays we attended Divine Service. We all looked forward to this, for it was a pleasure and a relief to feel that one was a man once more, if only for an hour. We knelt before the altar on the same terms as other men. And indeed the founder of our religion was One who was hard up and despised. His image was there before us, showing Him as He suffered an awful and ignominious death. He would have understood us absolutely. The Man whose name would live while the world lasted had been a tramp and a criminal.


The society in which we lived was based upon the principle of theft. Not such theft as the burglar's theft, but mean, cowardly, safe theft. Christ would sooner have taken the hand of the burglar than the hand of the business man. The meanest and worst criminals got off scot-free. ... As a rule the criminals who were put in prison were those whose crimes savoured somewhat of nobility. To conquer the world, cunning, fraud, and underhand violence had to be used. What was the use of blinking the fact? I thought. Ministers of religion were traitors who warped the teachings of Christ so that themselves and the State might profit.

Or could it be, I thought again, that to follow out the teaching of the Galilean was impossible? Could it be that cowardly theft and meanness, and lying, and underhand violence was the right thing after all? Was even the very essence of Religion but a subtle

For further reading on the theme of Jesus as a tramp, see Thomas Manning Page's discussion on this subject and my own characterisation of Jesus as a Cynic philosopher.

It is interesting to note in the following passage that Kennedy's release from prison coincided with a similar flooding of New Orleans to the one in 2005 caused by Hurricane Katrina:

I was puzzled as to what to do. The country was flooded, and there seemed to be no chance for me to go in the direction I wished to go. Water, water was everywhere the yellow water of the Mississippi. The big river had made a twelve-hundred-yard crevasse in the levee below New Orleans. It was swallowing up the country from three directions the south, the east, the west. The only way of escape was by a narrow strip of hill-land which ran to the north up into Texas. 

Kennedy's Canadian Adventures

The story now proceeds to Kennedy sailoring on Lake Ontario and tramping around Toronto, before deciding to make the 3,000 mile trip to the Rockies. This could be done by train on only one dollar; as experienced seamen—which by this time Kennedy was—were in short supply in British Columbia. Kennedy talks of the gruelling monotony of that 5 day journey, describing the prairie as more desolate than the ocean and wishing that he could have replaced the endless grinding of wheels for the roll of a ship. Arriving at Fort Donald in the foothills of the Rockies, Kennedy found work building 'snow sheds' at $1.50 for a ten hour day, less $3.50 a week for his board and lodge. After two months and with $30 in his pocket, Kennedy set out on a thirty day tramp to cover the 500 miles to the Pacific coast.

One had to sleep out every night, to be sure, and to take chances on being done
up either by the Indians or wild animals. But a hardy man will take big chances when he wants to be on the move. ... So I started one morning. I remember the morning well. It was clear and bright and beautiful in the middle of June. I was so glad to get away from the monotonous labour, even though I was going to I knew not what. ... My outfit consisted of a pair of blankets, which were strapped across my back, a pannikin, some biscuits and bacon, and some coffee and sugar. And I was well heeled as far as weapons were concerned. I carried a forty-four calibred [sic] revolver and a broad sheath knife, and I had fifty cartridges in my ammunition belt.

And here Kennedy shares some similarly negative observations concerning the so called beauty of nature, to that which Morley Roberts describes in a previous post; though again, his attitude to the open air was clearly more idealised by the time he came to write his Tramp's Philosophy. In the following piece, alone in the wilderness, Kennedy also has time to take some stock of his life—such as it had been so far.

I suppose I ought to say something about the magnificent scenery of the Rockies, but, to tell the truth, at that time the scenery impressed me but little. It was great and wild and finely coloured. But I had had enough mountain scenery to last me a lifetime. I had been working hard in the middle of it for two months. The poetry had been knocked out of me.

Fine scenery doesn't impress a man much when he's hungry, or when he's alone and tired and wondering if he'll get out of it alive. The lonesomeness of it all is what strikes him in a time like this. ... These frightful, lonely mountains made me think. I was face to face with things face to face with myself. I used to listen to the tramp, tramp of my feet, and wonder where I was going, and why I was going. I knew I was going to the Pacific Coast but what then? I had been going ever since I was a lad. And I was so tired of it all. What had I done that I should be a pariah and a labourer and a vagrant ?

The desolation of being alone in the Rockies had clearly put Kennedy in a very bad way, and in the following passage he describes in some detail how he wrestled with the notion and the practicalities of taking his own life:

And one day I grew sick of the whole business, and I unslung my revolver and determined to take a rest for good and all. I had seen men shot through the brain, and I knew exactly what the effect was like. One jumped violently, and then one sank down like a rag, and over the face came a peaceful look. ... I mapped it out, all out, in my mind, and I put the muzzle of the revolver under my right ear so as to get the base of the brain.

But just as I put my finger on the trigger I began to think in a way I had never thought before. My whole life, and everything I had done in it, suddenly came up before my mind. Everything was so clear and vivid. I seemed to see things from many sides at once. This is the way that men think when they are drowning, I thought. And I brought down the muzzle of the revolver. But I intended to kill myself nevertheless. However, I'd try and analyse my feelings first. And I sat down on a log and wondered. Why shouldn't I kill myself? What was there before me but misery and hard knocks? People said that everyone in the world got at some time or another a square chance. Honestly, I felt that I had never had such a chance.
I had been born in the mire, and I had stayed in the mire.

No, it had not been my own fault, I felt. I had been moulded and crushed to a certain shape by circumstances. I was no more to blame for being what I was than the Indian was to blame for being what he was, despite what any well-fed liar from the pulpit had to say about it. And I stood up again and cursed the earth and everything in it. And I felt that the time would come when men of my breed men from the gutter would get even with it.

I put the muzzle of the revolver against my head for the second time, and then well, something came over me. I couldn't tell what it was I couldn't tell even to this day. It wasn't fear; it wasn't remorse. I just wanted to live just wanted to live for no particular reason.

And so Kennedy continues his journey to Kamloops were he worked for a while laying rails—not without more adventures and another near death experience—before continuing on to Vancouver. Here we learn that he actually had a passable baritone voice and spent some time on the stage. But the following chapter finds Kennedy on a ship heading from Yokohama to Vancouver, after which he decides to try and make it rich at gold prospecting in Similakameen, some four hundred miles east of Vancouver, half of it a treacherous trek through forest clad mountains proceeding at only twelve miles a day. And here again, Kennedy mixes feelings of the futility of the whole expedition with those of elation and a carefree attitude towards his own mortality. Such is the existential existence of the tramp where the past and the future give way to the passing of the present. One's destiny, if it exists at all, is no more than reaching the next bend, a mouthful of food or simply the arrival of one's death, or denial of death.

We were in the wild, hard country of the Chilkats, the Indians who always kill. Many of us would leave our bones here. A few of us would come back laden with gold. And we were all going slowly on. ... it was a fine thing to fight along mile after mile through the clouds. It was a fine thing to feel that one was doing something that was hard and worthy of achievement. It was something to climb across an almost inaccessible mountain chain to this Similakameen, even if in the end we did not get the gold! If we died well, other men had died before us! Other men's bones had lain whitening. We were not the first men who had gone off and grappled danger in search of treasure. If Fate willed it that we were not to come back, what of it? It was as good to die one way as another.

How glorious and terrible were the mountains! And how silent. The distant roar of the torrents seemed but to make more clear this strange, universal silence. We passed through gloomy, terrifying, vast canyons. We saw glaciers hundreds of years old giving forth the rays of the sun in a shimmering blaze of wonderful colours.

After arriving at Similakameen, Kennedy and his friend Bob staked a claim and begin their first placer mining enterprise, sieving out the gold deposits from the sand in and around the creek. For the first time, Kennedy actually experienced joy in shovelling. The pair did not make the fortune that gold prospectors dream of, but, with the assistance of Bob's luck at gambling, they came away with a respectable $4,000 dollars after having been relieved of half that amount for provisions during their stay. The pair then headed back by a different route to try their luck at the Fraser River (see Morley Roberts account of the same location). On their journey they met two Canadian prospectors who warned them of reports that the Chilkat Indians were in the area. I provide here an account of that escapade as it has a direct bearing on Kennedy's writings in his Tramp's Philosophy on war and killing. It was not until after the American military had massacred large numbers of the Chilkat with the aid of Gatling guns, that this tribe of Indians ceased to pose a threat to white settlers and prospectors. Be that as it may, switching again from the genre of philosophy to that of the adventure story, here is Kennedy's account of his close encounter with the Chilkats:

The Chilkats were coming down upon us! We were in for it. As there were only four of us, they would be sure to try and rush us. "Down!" shouted Bob, throwing himself flat. We dropped, too, barely in time to miss a volley that seemed to come from everywhere. It was hardly the place where we would have expected the Chilkats, for we were nowhere near
a canyon.

We stayed down flat for a few seconds it is hard to hit a man when he is lying prone on the ground and then all at once there broke out a most horrible whooping and screeching. Still, we could see no one as yet. The screeching was enough to upset one, but by this time we had got a hold upon ourselves. We would work for all we were able. The bad part of it was, however, that we were not under cover, and it would not have paid to try and get to it. Where the Chilkats were it was hard to tell. Indians can hide behind nothing. The noise seemed to be going on all around us. "I don't think there's so many of 'em after all," said the Canadian with whom I had been having the argument.

Suddenly an Indian seemed to spring up out of the ground. He was hardly over twenty feet from us, and was rushing full at us with a yell, when the Canadian raised himself easily and dropped him with his Winchester. The ball had gone through his body, and he fell over on his face. The knife he had brandished shot out of his hand towards us, and Bob grabbed it. "Up ! Up !" I shouted and we were up to meet the rush, back to back. They came for us, yelling wild, savage-faced men, clad in skins and leggings. They had dropped their guns, and were on us with their knives. It was then that I found out that there is no weapon like a revolver of big calibre for close, sharp work.

The whole thing was over. The Canadian was right. There were not so many Indians, after all no more than a dozen, but they made noise enough for a hundred. Poor old Canadian! He was gone. A big Indian had knifed the life out of him. It was a slashing up-stroke. The Canadian would have been all right, but somehow the barrel of his Winchester got in his way when the Indian was close up to him, and, as he was trying to turn, the knife went into him. This Indian gave more trouble than all the rest put together. After finishing the Canadian, he gave Bob a jab in the shoulder, and would have finished him, too, only that I got in on him in time with the revolver. When he was out of the way the fight slackened, and finally what was left of the Chilkats drew off.  

In spite of this incident, Kennedy also had very agreeable relationships with native Americans as will be discussed further. But after stitching up Bob's shoulder with needle and thread and having to leave the dead Canadian behind, the remaining trio set off, first for Fort Hope and then, because Bob was ill and needed rest, back to Vancouver to rest and recuperate. But in no time at all, the pair had run out of funds. As Kennedy put it: ‘Making valiant efforts to relieve the Saharan thirst of bar-room crowds soon eased us of what we had brought from Similakameen.’ It seems to be the custom of most of the tramps I have encountered through my writings, that although any money they get is often very hard earned, when they do have it they are compelled to share it with those down own their luck. A custom that is nearly always reciprocated, thus providing the tramp with a built in insurance against hard times.

And so it was to be, for the pair arrived broke in the coal mining town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Kennedy managed to raise $14 singing in a local tavern and so cheated destitution once again. After narrowly escaping being shanghaied, the pair then headed off for Departure Bay where they spent time with people Kennedy describes as the Siwash Indians of that region (it should be noted here that siwash, from the French sauvage—savage, became a generic insult for native Americans, although that is clearly not the way Kennedy intended it at the time). In the piece below, Kennedy recalls the hospitality he received with the Siwash, a generosity that outmatched even that of the tramp, and an experience that made Kennedy question again the 'uncivilised' European races, a theme he is to return to in his Tramp's Philosophy. But here is an account of the hospitality Kennedy received in Departure Bay:

Soon after we got fixed up comfortably in our shack, all of us white men were invited by the Siwashes to assist in a most curious ceremony, that is, it was most curious from the standpoint of practical, civilised ethics.

A potlatch was given. A potlatch was a big feast, and it was got up in the following manner: A Siwash would save up all he could for years. Sometimes, indeed, he would be saving up all his life. He would deny himself everything so as to be able to gather together wealth of all kinds rifles, blankets, fishing-nets, knives, ammunition, money, and everything. When he had become rich he would give a feast. To this feast everyone would be invited; it mattered not whether they were of the tribe or not, it mattered not whether they were strangers, friends, or enemies. Even race did not matter. The stray, passing white man of the race who had crushed them and robbed them of their country was invited to the potlatch as warmly as if he were of the tribe. And the feast went on. Presents were given to everyone. Everyone ate and drank and made merry till the last of the wealth was gone.

This was a potlatch.

The Indian who gave it had, as reward, the knowledge that he was honoured by his tribe as a good and generous man. ... The religion of the Indian taught him to amass wealth so that he might give it to others.

At this potlatch a feeling of disgust and shame came over me when I thought of the men of my own race who had the presumption to try and thrust their religion on a race who possessed a religion of their own that could impel them to such noble and fine acts. By the fruit shall one know the tree. By the acts shall one know of the worth of religions.

The potlatch was given in a great tent far away in the forest, and Bob and I got for presents blankets, ammunition, and some things of which we were in need for our shack. The feast lasted four days. We had the finest time men could have singing and dancing and eating and drinking. We felt so much at home.

This Indian hospitality was so sincere. You were not asked because they knew you, or because you might be interesting. You were asked because you were a human


The only drawback was the missionaries. They were a lot of loafing hypocrites, who corrupted the Indians, and who tried to spring a religion upon them that was not so good as their own! ... One would think that to conquer and subjugate a race was bad enough, without afterwards sending out men to insult this race by telling them that their religion was a false one. Besides, even when looked at from the low standpoint of expediency, it is impolitic to allow the religion of a race that is called "savage" to be interfered with. Men will forgive you for beating them in war, but they will not forgive you for interfering with their inherited ideas of what is sacred and holy.

The Siwash tried to persuade Kennedy to stay and settle with them, and although the simple life impressed him, his wanderlust had returned. He was missing metropolitan city life and headed to San Francisco with a notion that he would embark on a stage career, arriving in that city with $4.50 cents. Bob stayed with the Indians and Kennedy never saw him again. Kennedy did go on the stage for a short spell. We learn that he had been a big fan of the opera since childhood and studied reading music while mining in New York. But frequent fights with conceited members of the cast lost him his job. Nevertheless, Kennedy  stayed for a long spell in San Francisco and has much to say about the agreeable climate and lifestyle he enjoyed in California. In one adventure, a friend from the opera house asks Kennedy to act alone as both captain and crew for his yacht, an escapade that although it had its pleasures, again sees Kennedy facing more than one near death experience.

Following his description of this enterprise in the chapter titled 'Lounging Through Sunshine', a homage the virtues of Southern California, Kennedy pauses to write: ‘I would like to say a word as to the tramp in America.’ The largest part of Kennedy's depiction of the American tramp is reproduced below:

He is a man who has come to the conclusion that hard, sustained labouring work is bad for his general health. A little of it now and then is all right; but to keep at it for a month or a year is not to be thought of.

Reasoning thus, he becomes a tramp. He goes from place to place, from spot to spot. Gradually he develops his gift for thinking. He becomes a full-fledged philosopher upon the subject of work.

Don't run away with the idea that our tramp walks very much. Don't imagine that hour after hour he is climbing up hill and down dale. No, he is too clever for that. And besides, America is a big, wide country. It abounds in immense prairies and chains of lofty mountains. Walking it would smack of the nature of toil.

No, our tramp rides. He presses the railway companies into his service. He takes advantage of the resources of civilisation. At bottom he is really the most civilised of persons. Don't forget this. He is a voluptuary without income.

Also he has a certain sense of honesty. He is too honest to rob any poor man out of a day's work. He would rather perish.

He is not particular as to his accommodation when he is taking a ride on a train. He doesn't want something for nothing, and that something of the very best, as people usually do. He is that rara avisan uncritical deadhead. He doesn't cry out for a stall. No; a gallery seat will do.

He will take his ride on the cow-catcher of the engine, or on the front of the blind-baggage, or, if needs must, in under the engine on the trucks. Or he will ride in a box-car or on the bumpers. He is not particular. And when the brakesman tells him to get off he does when the train stops. But he gets on again when the train starts.

[in the following paragraph we have a sense of why, in A Tramp's Philosophy, Kennedy regarded the tramp as a Conservative]

In common with all men who have nothing whatever to do with the governing of the State, he takes an intense interest in politics. He picks up old, thrown-away papers, reads them, and discusses what they say and what they don't say with his fellow tramps. He is interested in the workings of the tariff, in the Chinese question, in the negro question. He would like to see America prosperous and respected by foreign countries. He thinks the Government ought to build more ships and increase the strength of the Army. He is not, however, very strong on the rights of the working man. The working man is always striking or growling about the rights of labour. This doesn't appeal to the tramp, for deep continuous thought has shown him that in the nature of things labour can have no rights. Either a man must work and shut up about it, or he must avoid working altogether.


Occasionally the tramp becomes weak enough to do some work. But this weakness doesn't last long. He soon resumes his wonted vigour. The work, however, is usually of a light and pleasant nature. ... The tramp's real means of livelihood is begging. He can tell at a glance a house where he will get a "hand-out." A " hand-out" is a parcel of food, which derives its name from being handed out through a half-opened door.

Yes, the tramp develops into a skilful and expert beggar. Some people may think that there is no art in begging, but if they do they are much mistaken. It takes a clever man to know what stranger to ask for money. As he goes along the street he must be able to single out at a glance the giving type of man; for, as the tramp will inform you, there are really in existence men who like to give money to anyone who asks for it. They are rare, but they do exist. The thing is to be able to single out this man, and then to know if he has money in his pocket, and if he be in the right mood. To do this requires genius.

NOTE: The modern day literary vagabond, traveller and artist, Jim Christy (subject of a future post), who has himself tramped the same area of the Canadian Rockies as did Kennedy, and also a 400 mile tramp through Saskatchewan in 1972, is yet doubtful of the acuracy of some of that writer's geography as he shared with me in the following email:

'I like Bart Kennedy's writing, though his British Columbia geography is way off. It's about 150 miles from Van. to the Similkameen and the mts. he crossed were the Cascades -- which are 450 miles west of the Rockies. Cascades are, however, just as rugged. There were never any Chilkat Indians anywhere near the Similikameen Valley. They've always been located in coastal areas of Alaska. The Indians Kennedy would have encountered were Interior Salish.'

From the Land of Sunshine to New York, and back to England

On Kennedy's return to San Francisco he managed to join another comic opera company as first bass, singing in such productions as Der Fledermaus, Boccacio, The Beggar
Student and The Pirates of Penzance. This company toured the whole of the US Pacific coastline, often without making enough to pay the cast their wages, but it was a happy time for our hero and he put his tramping skills to good use for his fellow performers when times were hard. There were also occasions when things went well, as the following anecdote illustrates:

In Los Angeles the ghost walked we were paid our wages. And when the month was over the landlord of the hotel where the bulk of us were staying gave a champagne supper to the whole of the company. I will never forget that supper. I was sitting next to the prima donna, and I was astounded to hear her tell the waiter that she wanted beer instead of champagne. I thought that she must be a very democratic prima donna indeed, but I afterwards found out that the worst beer is better than the best Californian champagne.

After leaving this company, Kennedy claims that he dined and performed with Sarah Bernhardt for a season at the Baldwin Theatre: ‘I looked quite critically at the great actress to see if she were as thin as report said. She was not. I suppose she had picked up somewhat.’ And a short time later Kennedy took an engagement to sing ballads in the Eureka Music Hall on Kearney Street; where at least he received regular pay. But following a string of similar engagements, including failing as an actor, Kennedy became weary of the Californian sun and way of life, and determined to travel to New York.

On Kennedy's arrival in New York, he took lodgings just off the Bowery and his chapter of that title, in contrast to his eulogy of California, is a delight for the abject and thoughtful characterisations he sketches of that district. But by now Kennedy was beginning to weary of America altogether, and longing to return to England, specifically to try his luck in London.

I was getting tired of America. Its air of blatant, sham democracy disgusted me. When labouring men were struggling for the right to live they were shot and crushed down by the military with more mercilessness and for less provocation than they would be under the most despotic and ruthless Government in Europe. ... I have known people to get a year's imprisonment in New York for saying things that they might say with impunity in Hyde Park in London. In fact, the English policeman would not allow them to be interrupted while they were giving forth their ideas. I am not saying that England is a perfect place to live in. That, of course, would be nonsense. But I do say, from personal and absolute knowledge, that England is a freer and more democratic country than is America. 

The final chapter of A Man Adrift, titled 'No Place to Sleep', is a lyrical contemplation of being down and out in London at night. We learn nothing further of Kennedy's adventures but are instead transported into the soul of the man. Here are Kennedy's fears, fascinations, sorrows, regrets, and the objects of his anger, fused into a thirteen page lament for the homeless man or woman, alone in the largest city in the world:

The hour of midnight tolls out and London becomes strange and quiet. It becomes at once alive and dead. The people leave its streets. And soon there is nothing left but shadows. Gigantic, weird shadows. Nameless shadows of the past and present. Monstrous, changing, weaving.

In the waters of the old river are reflections of a strange and glorious beauty mingling with shadows foul, black, and unspeakable. Terrifying shadows. Forbidding, louring; and waving and moving into frightful shapes.

London of the shadow. Formless, distorted London. Silence, blackness and dim light unite. Everything is vague, uncertain, and elusive. Here is mystery. Here is darkness and sadness and the unknown.

London in shadow.

And from same piece, in the same style, there is a critical reflection on the hypocrisy of Christianity and those who profit from it; a critique that complements Kennedy's all to brief reference to Christianity in A Tramp's Philosophy. For this reason I have copied the relevant section of 'No Place to Sleep' into my separate post discussing Kennedy's philosophy, the better to complement that exposition.

In a Tramp Camp

The abstract of 'In a Tramp Camp', published by Wide World Magazine in 1902, provides the following introduction:

In the course of his wanderings the author came across a curious tramp settlement, where a couple of hundred tramps of all kinds and nationalities were gathered together ... he describes the daily life of this strange fraternity of work-haters, and the final catastrophe which brought about the break up of the camp.

The camp, with similarities to other camps and jungles described elsewhere on this blog, was in Maryland, a mile from the state border with Delaware (and it's much harsher tramp laws), and within site of peach orchards that provided a plentiful supply of nourishment for the tramps. Sometimes they worked at picking the fruit to earn money for coffee, tobacco and other essentials, at other times they just helped themselves. A railway siding nearby full of empty box cars made comfortable sleeping quarters. Kennedy had heard of the camp from a tramp he had met some twenty miles away.

I must frankly confess that I enjoyed myself very much indeed whilst I was a member of this curious camp. [...] The life was idylliclazy but idyllic. And my mind improved and grew as I listened to the pithy and philosophic views of my comrades as to life and the way to live it. [...] We were composed of broken-down Continental counts, "tired" labourers, scallywag English gentlemen, broken-down professional men, men who have made mistakes, and men who in all their lives had never made the mistake of tallying with toil.

Most of the piece describes the various characters that Kennedy met and the nature of the community with its own cliques and fraternity: ‘We were what might be called a democracy that declined work.’ A daily ritual at the camp was the roasting of a pig, driven to the camp from from various places several miles away so as not to draw attention to the camp. Chickens were also in plentiful supply, but given that there were two hundred in the settlement, they took it in turns to eat meat. But all good things come to an end, and in this case not just because of the end of the peach season and the arrival of colder weather. A posse of police rode into the settlement to advise the tramps that if they did not break camp, the State Governor was preparing to send in troops to clear it. A combination of local farmers no longer requiring the tramp labour and protests about a series of thefts in the locality, even if they were not all down to the tramps, resulted in the community hastily breaking camp and moving on. In this way did one of the happier moments of Kennedy's tramping adventures end as abruptly as it had begun.

A Sailor Tramp

I read somewhere that A Sailor Tramp [1902] was one of Kennedy's few autobiographical works. Yet, unlike A Man Adrift or A Tramp in Spain in which Kennedy is clearly chronicling his own travels and adventures, a reading of A Sailor Tramp shows that it is rather an autobiographical fiction. Of course, most autobiography contains an element of fiction. But A Sailor Tramp, although heavily informed by the author's own experiences (there is no evidence that Kennedy 'researched' his subject matter, he did not need to), allows Kennedy to fully exploit both his imagination and his personal philosophy in what is a very fine literary novel.

A word of caution though. For readers who are unable to cast off the straight jacket of political correctness that defines our current age, and appreciate this text for what it is, this book may offend. Personally, I consider this book to be an undiscovered and sadly overlooked treasure on many levels, and will certainly be reading more of this writer's fictional works.

A Sailor Tramp is an unsentimental essay on the brutality of human life; a critique of deprivation, desperation, physical and spiritual survival. It also concerns longing and desire; for through his principal character, Sailor, Kennedy exposes the human face of the tramp, even his ambivalence to tramping itself. An example of this vulnerability can be found in the one romantic interlude of the book, where Sailor is wooed by the daughter of a wealthy businessman he is chopping wood for. She sees something authentic in him that her father and his rich, conceited friends lack. He desperately wants the love of a woman but realises the hopelessness of his situation:

Being a tramp was sometimes well enough, but the great drawback about the life was the fact that a man was closed out altogether from knowing women. The conditions under which he had to live made the knowing of them impossible.

But for most the book, Kennedy voices the harsh and unsentimental spirit of tramping. A resolve that turns its back on the comforts of steady work, a home or female companionship:

When men know how their bread is to come from day to day the time at last is at hand when they are no longer men. They are either slaves or parasites. They have become weak and puerile, for it is not given to man that he can stay at one point.

The book opens with Sailor and five other tramps, having made a tortuous journey following the railway line on foot through the desert from New Orleans, eventually arriving in the Texan port of Galveston, where a large part of the story takes place—before eventually being thrown out of that town and making the perilous tramp back to New Orleans. We know that Kennedy was a fighter and not averse to helping himself when the need was upon him. Whether or not he ever mugged anyone during the torment of hunger we shall never know, but the chapter titled 'The Highway Robber' deals with the morality and anguish of Sailor, near to starvation, deciding to hold up a prosperous looking drunk he sees staggering out of a bar.

Desperate situations require desperate measures, and Sailor wrestles with his conscience only to steel himself to the task. He approaches the man face-on rather than sneaking up behind him. He is prepared to kill or be killed in his desperation: ‘It was the way of the world. Was he to lie down and die of hunger like a dog? Not much! Sailor is fortified by Kennedy's philosophy on human hypocrisy. Nations plunder other nations with impunity and ruling cliques rob and murder their own citizens—yes, it is the way of the world. Having relieved his victim of a roll containing 150 dollars, Sailor, does not enjoy his first meal. He is haunted by guilt and the possibility of being caught and serving a long jail sentence. And when he does start to justify his situation and make plans to use the money to change his life, over 100 dollars of his remaining booty is in turn stolen from him and once again he finds himself begging for food.

Another brutal life or death moment occurs later in the book when Sailor, along with some other tramps, are arrested for vagrancy and then left by marshals at the edge of the desert with warnings not to re-enter the town. After several days tramping the sun baked railway line, he and two companions arrive at a water-tower knowing that if they do not jump the next train through that stops for water, they will die there in the desert. When the train stops, two of them climb up on the cow-catcher at the front of the engine while a third boards the blind carriage behind the engine. When the conductor threatens to club them from their perch, Sailor thrusts the muzzle of his revolver in the man's face and Kennedy's dialogue proceeds as follows:

   We're goin' to ride on this train, he shouted. We're goin' to rideme and my partner and the Norwegian. We're goin' to rideby the livin' God.
    Youyou will!
    We will! And I tell you that in any case I'll ride, if its only to go for a trial and a rope the end of it. I'm not goin' to stay in this desert because of a cruel hound like you. I'll lay your brains out here on the track. I will by God!

Once again Sailor's resolve pays off and the rest of their journey is uninterrupted, by the conductor at least. Kennedy's description of the rest of the ride is quite chilling, and the following chapter well illustrates his ability to switch his writing style and voice to fit the occasion:

The hard, sharp wind pressed and cut into them and almost froze their blood. It came onthis windkeen and sharp as a sword ... If they died here on the front of the engine it would still be better than dying in the desert...


The men began to lose sense of themselves as men. They began to be lost in a chaos of wind and smoke and fire and motion. They began to lose even the sense that the whole thing might be an illusion. A vagueness and blankness came upon them.
     And at last their minds were gone from them altogether. They had gone back to the primal life-stage when all life was but motion. ... And now a train was rushing thunderously over the desert. On the front of it were crouched two peering things with blanched faces.

Sometime later the train stops and the fireman, by now in wonder at the tramps tenacity, pleads with them to step down and complete their journey in the carriage:

Their faces were blackened, and holes were burnt into their clothes with the flying and dropping sparks.
    But they did not answer. They could not hear him. The eyes of the bigger man stared at him vacantly.

As much as the fireman pleaded with the tramps to come down, they were frozen to their  perch on the beam above the cow-catcher. They continued their journey until the sun came up the next morning and gradually life returned to them.

As well as switching from first person to third person narrative, A Sailor Tramp also allows Kennedy to stand outside his storytelling altogether for the purpose of expounding his philosophy. The following commentary concerns the episode where Sailor and others are arrested for vagrancy:

The crime they were accused of was not supposed to be in itself a grave one, but it was a crime which is the chief basis of all crimesPoverty. In a society based upon and extended upon the principal of successful theft it is, of course, anomalous and against the very nature of things that man should be discovered guilty of the possession of nothing. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that as a thief he is not a success. He is therefore unfit to hold up his head in the halls and habitations of smooth, effective thieves.

Kennedy's wider philosophy of tramping is reinforced in a chapter titled 'Tramps and Outcasts':

   To tramp.
    Perhaps it is a fine thing to tramp through the world without aim or plan or ambition or care for the morrow. Who knows but that in the ultimate reckoning up the careless, easy, come-day, go-day tramp may not count for as much as the persistent man ... Who knows that the men the world casts out may not be after all the best men? Who is to say that their philosophy has not potency? ... Remember that all the misdeeds they are guilty of are committed safely by other men under the aegis of the law and morality and virtue. [...]
    Tramps and outcasts. Be easy with them. For it may come to pass that they will be held up to honour as the brave rebels and pioneers, who guided men up the tortuous path of intelligence and happiness.
    Be easy with them.
Here we have also Kennedy the tramp prophet, further evidence of which is to be found in his Tramp's Philosophy. Note in particular his claiming of Jesus as a tramp, and how the corruption of Jesus (as a sage rather than a deity) by Christians, means that if one such as Jesus were to appear in our city centre streets today, he would indeed be rejected and treated just as any other tramp. But just as with the ancient Cynics, Kennedy does not present himself as a philosopher or a prophet, he is too self-deprecating to pump himself up in that way. He simply holds up a mirror to corruption and stupidity, speaking his own truths with the passion of one who cares what a mess human beings have made of the world. As with Kennedy's prophesies about the banking crisis and the bankrupt state of education in his Philosophy, here from Sailor Tramp is a prophecy about humanity itself:

Man must go back to the earth if his race is not to become extinct in the world. He must leave the horrible, crowded noisome cities and go back to the earth. If not he will shrivel up and die out.

A Tramp in Spain

My account of Kennedy's life now jumps to some future date when, clearly an older man and a writer of independent means, our hero embarks on further tramping adventures. The difference on this occasion, although making most of his expedition on foot, is that Kennedy has the means to pay for his board and lodgings. Even so, he does experience hardships and dangers on the way. For the most part, A Tramp in Spain (1904) is a travelogue in which Kennedy describes his journeys, adventures, and the places he visits, just as any tourist would, albeit from the standpoint of an experienced tramp. I will not then dwell on the usual tourist memoirs such as going to a bullfight, the theatre, art galleries, climbing mountains, etc., but rather highlight those passages from the book that relate to Kennedy the tramp and his contemplations on tramping.

The book opens with Kennedy aboard a steamer entering Gibraltar harbour from where he crosses the bay to the Spanish port town of Algeciras. From there Kennedy travelled to Seville by train in order to catch the end of the bullfighting season and then onwards in a southwest to northeast zig zag tramp across Spain taking in Granada, Jaén, Madrid, Guadalajara, Zaragoza, west to Lleida in Cataluña, and from there north through the mountains into Andorra and the French border. Kennedy's reasons for his trip are recorded thus:

I was going to Spain armed with a revolver, a passport, a knapsack, and no knowledge of the language. My mission was at once unique and roving. I was to travel right from the south to the north to see how things looked to the absolutely new eye. I was to see as much of the life of the country as I could to go into and explore the towns, to go through the mountains, to tramp through country parts, to see the cathedrals and places of art on my way, in fine, to see Spain from as many view-points as possible. My first definite point was Seville. I was to see a bull-fight there, and then I was to go on as my fancy led me. I was bound to the wheel of no plan.

The fact that Kennedy was planning to explore Spain with no knowledge of the language was regarded by him as an advantage:

No one would be able to tell me this or that or the other thing. I would have to use my eyes. ... I would see things from an absolutely outside standpoint. And this was what I wanted.

Kennedy is prompted to reflect again on the misfortunes of those who are down on their luck when he comes upon a homeless man at night in a square in Seville:

Cruel and cold fools say that if a man is hard up it is his own fault. But this is only the saying of those who are at once ignorant and cowardly. Circumstances may force the mightiest man to the gutter. If I had my way I would put all men through the mill. I would make all men pass through the fine, stern test of hunger and cold and loneliness. Then they would know something of the real meaning of life. They would know enough not to condemn.

One notable and highly entertaining incident from Kennedy's Spanish tramp was his being arrested in Granada for firing his pistol during a brawl. Kennedy had been drinking with some acquaintances he had made while in that city—even though he still understood little Spanish and they no English—when a fight started between Kennedy's friends and another group of men. When one of the other men threw a knife that only narrowly missed Kennedy, he decided to prevent anyone coming to further harm by drawing his pistol and firing a shot at the ground in front of his assailant. This action had the desired affect of clearing the street outside the bar, but the loud report brought the police to the scene and Kennedy was arrested. After spending an amicable night in jail in the company of police and jailers, Kennedy attended court the following day and was released on payment of a fine. As none of the police had witnessed the shooting, Kennedy was advised by his interpreter and counsel, to confess that the gun had fired by accident when he was showing it to his friends; as firing a gun 'with intent' was an altogether more serious affair. That night a long party was held in Kennedy's honour, following which he departed from Granada for his next destination, Jaén. I will reproduce only the ending from this very long and comic account to provide a flavour of the proceedings:

The trial was over now, and everybody looked satisfied. Even the stout Spaniard who looked like an English County Court bailiff even he wore an air of contentment. I felt contented myself. The trial had lasted something over an hour.

Suddenly I noticed the judge looking at me. And then he spoke to me from his chair of judgment. Constant translated what he said. He was asking me if I were pleased if I was satisfied with the trial.

I stood up and answered through Constant, that I was very much pleased that I was very satisfied indeed and that I was more than delighted to have had the honour of meeting the judge. The uniqueness of the question of a judge asking one who had been a prisoner if he were satisfied with his trial appealed to me. I wondered if an Englishman had ever been asked such a question before.

And then Constant and Santiago and Joaquin and Castro and I rose and shook hands with everybody in court. I even grasped the hand of the stout bailiff looking Spaniard with fervour. And I managed to make the judge understand as I shook his hand for the second and last time that I hoped to see him again soon in London!

On the road to Jaén, Kennedy came across a tramp of around 60 years, making his way to Madrid. The two fell in with each other and a bond quickly developed even though they did not share a common language. Here Kennedy recounts how, even though he was not hungry himself, they stopped for a meal, as the tramp had obviously not eaten for some days: 

‘[I] would have given worlds to have been able to talk with him. I would have liked to have found out his view point of men and of things and of the world. He must have had a philosophy of his own concerning life just as all men have whether they are able to express it or not. He must once have had ambitions, even though they were now perhaps dead. This little old tramp with the brown, wrinkled face and the white hair I watched him as he broke his bread and slowly ate it. I noticed the change that gradually came into his face as he drank his wine. What could he be thinking of? What memories were coming up before him? Did the wine bring back to him some feeling of the magic of his youth? He was a Spaniard and I was an Englishman. We were men of a different race. We could not exchange a thought. We could hardly even exchange a word. And still and still there was a link between us. Had he suddenly told me his history in words that were clear to me I felt that it would have been a history the like of which I had known of before.

There then follows a commendation of the way in which Spain treats its beggars:

... the reason for the presence of the beggars is a simple one. Spain possesses not that triumph of Anglo-Saxon administration the atrocious and abominable workhouse system. They don't shut up their beggars as though they were lepers. There are places of shelter to which they may go, but they may please themselves as to whether they stay in them or not. They are allowed freedom. They are allowed to come out into the open and worry the society that has produced them. And this is both a just and good thing. Why should beggars be shut up any more than the thieves who sweat, and steal from, and rob the poor under the aegis of the law? The giving of freedom to the beggar of Spain is a fine and a humane piece of statesmanship. Indeed, it is more than a fine piece of statesmanship. It is a fair piece of statesmanship.

The rest of the book is an entertaining and interesting historical and sociological record of Spain in the early part of the last century: of the food, the housing, the people and their customs, including comparisons between the different regions Kennedy tramped through on his way. But there is little further here to embellish my philosophy of tramping other than the episode marking the close of Kennedy's Spanish adventure.

After many other close encounters with death, the end of Kennedy's Spanish excursion was nearly the end of the adventurer himself. On leaving the capital of Andorra, the innkeeper where Kennedy had spent the night warned him not to attempt to cross the summit of the Pyrenees' mountain pass in one day, a nine hour tramp. He had been told to spend a night in the village of Soldeu with a friend of the innkeeper, before making his final push across the French border the following day. However, Kennedy was in a particularly buoyant mood and ignored the advice, imagining he could easily make the nine hour journey in one day. On nearing the summit a blizzard set in that covered the trail both in front and behind him; he was now lost. After crossing a river, whereupon his shoes and trousers froze solid, he was fortunate to come across a conical stone shelter where he spent a freezing and sleepless night until it stopped snowing and the sun came up the following morning. He would later come across the party of drovers that sensibly had slept the night in Soldeu, arriving safely in the French border station of L'Hospitalet in time for breakfast.


Kennedy’s first book, Darabs Wine Cup, was published the same year (1897) that the tramp author married, at a time when he was still only 36 years of age. We do not know if Kennedy’s tramp through Spain took place before or after his marriage, but given that he seemed very close to his wife, that his son was born 2 years later, and that he had published seven works between marrying and the publication of A Tramp in Spain 1904 (5 years after Rolf’s birth), it is a fair assuption that the Spanish expedition occurd prior to Kennedy’s marriage in 1897. This still leaves the largest part of Kennedy’s married life and literary career unaccouted for. All I have been able to establish are the three locations where Kennedy lived between his marriage and his death in 1930, and the contradictory facts that, on the one hand he was able to occupy a 14 roomed house in one of the most prosperous neighbourhoods in Brighton, yet between the dates of 1912 and 1926 (only 4 years before Kennedy’s death), he was making applications to an organisation providing grants to ‘writers in distressed circumstances. And furthermore, that he was still giving his principal occupation as a ‘tramp’. Such is the enigma of Bart Kennedy the husband and author. What we do have though, are very rich first hand accounts of Kennedy’s early tramping career and his philosophy on life.

If anyone is able to shed any further light on Kennedy’s later life, I should be most grateful to hear from them.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Zoe Stansell, Maps & Reference Service, and Lee Taylor and Adrian Shindler, Humanities Reference Service, of the British Library, for their very helpful assistance in tracking down key documents relating to Bart Kennedy. 

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