Out for a jaunt

Around the turn of the 19th century, if you wanted to get around in Ireland, it seems that a jaunting-car was the main way to go.  These light two-wheeled carriages (which come in “inside” and “outside” varieties) make a number of appearances in our novel collection, and can also be found illustrating a number of works in the British Library Labs images.

irish idylls - jaunting car
Road trip, rural Irish style.  (From Jane Barlow’s Irish Idylls, published 1898.)  This jaunting car, like the vehicle in the featured image, seems to be one of the “outside” style, where the passengers sit back to back.

Maria Edgeworth’s characters make use of jaunting cars for a variety of purposes.  In chapter 6 of The Absentee, Mrs. Raffarty travels to and from her villa in Bray via jaunting car, and excitedly invites a friend to take a similar conveyance to a social event, which is to include an aristocratic new acquaintance:

MY DEAR JULIANA O’LEARY, I have got a promise from Colambre, that he will be with us at Tusculum on Friday the 20th, in his way from the county of Wicklow, for the collation I mentioned; and expect a large party of officers; so pray come early, with your house, or as many as the jaunting-car can bring. And pray, my dear, be ELEGANT.

Unfortunately – like many a 21st-century text message – this invitation is mistakenly forwarded to its subject, Lord Colambre, rather than its intended recipient.

Jaunting-cars make an even more unfortunate appearance in Castle Rackrent.  When Lady Isabella Rackrent’s marriage breaks down, she leaves the estate of her husband Sir Condy in a jaunting car:

The next morning my lady and Mrs. Jane set out for Mount Juliet’s Town in the jaunting-car. Many wondered at my lady’s choosing to go away, considering all things, upon the jaunting-car, as if it was only a party of pleasure; but they did not know till I told them that the coach was all broke in the journey down, and no other vehicle but the car to be had.

The impropriety of leaving your husband on such a vehicle is proven when Lady Isabella and her maid meet with an accident on the road.  As another character describes it:

“Didn’t ye hear of it?” says they that were looking on; “it’s my Lady Rackrent’s car, that was running away from her husband, and the horse took fright at a carrion that lay across the road, and so ran away with the jaunting-car, and my Lady Rackrent and her maid screaming, and the horse ran with them against a car that was coming from the fair with the boy asleep on it, and the lady’s petticoat hanging out of the jaunting-car caught, and she was dragged I can’t tell you how far upon the road, and it all broken up with the stones just going to be pounded, and one of the road-makers, with his sledge-hammer in his hand, stops the horse at the last; but my Lady Rackrent was all kilt and smashed…”

As the narrator explains, however, “kilt and smashed” is a colloquialism that does not necessarily mean “fatally injured”.  Happily, Lady Rackrent recovers and survives to become embroiled in a lawsuit over the Rackrent estate after her estranged husband’s death.

rotunda hospital
Early 19th-century Dublin:  Two jaunting-cars can be seen in the foreground of this engraving of the Rotunda Hospital, at the corner of modern-day Parnell Street. (From Dublin Delineated in Twenty-Six Views, 1837).

In The Nun’s Curse, by Charlotte Riddell, we find that jaunting cars are a convenient, if by no means comfortable, means of getting around (at least when no other options are available):

“How did you come?” asked Mr. Stirling.
“On a jaunting-car I think they called the infernal contrivance, that was returning to Letterkenny.  I suppose I can hire some sort of conveyance hereabouts.”
“I don’t know where,” said Mr. Stirling.

Anthony Trollope’s account of the jaunting car, from Can You Forgive Her?, tallies with this description:

On this Christmas Day they all went to church, the Squire being accompanied by Alice in a vehicle which in Ireland is called an inside jaunting-car, and which is perhaps the most uncomfortable kind of vehicle yet invented […]
“Alice, my dear,” said the old man to her when they were together in the jaunting-car, “you ought to get married.” The Squire was hard of hearing, and under any circumstances an inside jaunting-car is a bad place for conversation, as your teeth are nearly shaken out of your head by every movement which the horse makes. Alice therefore said nothing, but smiled faintly, in reply to her grandfather.

leaves from my notebook - inside jaunting car
Carlsberg don’t make light carriages, but if they did, they would probably be the most uncomfortable kind of vehicles available in the early 19th century.  (From Leaves from my Notebook, 1879.)

The narrator of The House By The Church-Yard notes that jaunting cars largely replaced the “the one-horse hack vehicle of Dublin and the country round” known as the “noddy”, which is the vehicle which was current at the time that the bulk of his story takes place.  We can only assume that the noddy must have been an even less ideal form of transport than the jaunting car, under the circumstances.

You can experience of one of these infernal contrivances yourself, in modern-day Killarney, if you so choose!  Just try to avoid carrion and roadworks…

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