Diary Rediscovered: Franz Ferdinand's Journey around the World

By Matthias Schulz

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Czech Countess Sophie Chotek , circa 1914. In 1892, the archduke took a fantastic journey around the world. Zoom
AP

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Czech Countess Sophie Chotek , circa 1914. In 1892, the archduke took a fantastic journey around the world.

Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian archduke whose assassination triggered World War I, started a trip across the world in 1892. His newly published diary from the journey reveals a world of extremes, from island cannibals to skyscrapers.

He shot over 5,000 stags before a bullet ended his own life. Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este, died on June 28, 1914 when a Serb nationalist fired two shots at his open motorcar as it drove through the streets of Sarajevo.

One bullet ruptured the archduke's windpipe, while the other penetrated his wife's abdomen. They both died.

The assassination cast the Belle Époque into a worldwide conflagration. But who was this man whose violent death triggered World War I? Historians have described the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne as "volcanic" and "irascible." They have called his passion for hunting (he brought down 274,889 game animals) "feudal mass slaughter."

At the same time, however, he had plans for far-reaching reform in the Balkans. Karl Kraus, a contemporary Austrian writer and journalist, actually took a liking to the royal grouch and concluded that the archduke was not a warmonger.

Now, it's possible to take a fresh look at this contradictory figure. This week will see the publication of travel notes -- abridged and illustrated with original photos -- that Ferdinand made during a journey around the world.

In December 1892, Ferdinand, who was 28 years old at the time, set sail from the Mediterranean port of Trieste on board the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, a cruiser bound for North America via India. He was accompanied by over 400 people, ranging from a navy chaplain to a royal treasurer. During the voyage, "FF," which were his official initials, penned over 2,000 pages of notes. It is a nearly forgotten account of his adventures.

In his powerfully elegant style, the globetrotter describes the narrow streets of Aden and the allure of the South Pacific. He climbed the rubbish dump of Calcutta and lamented the exploitative colonial system of the Western powers. When he first caught sight of the Himalayas, he started to yodel.

The Wild West, which the archduke visited with only a small entourage, turned out to be the "disappointment of the tour." As editor Frank Gerbert explains: "The hoped-for grizzly bears refused to run in front of his rifle, cowboys cavalierly put their feet on the table in his presence, and smoking was prohibited everywhere."

The destruction of the wilderness also bothered FF. He wrote from Vancouver about a "ruthless war of extermination" fought against "500- to 600-year-old cedars, hemlocks and Douglas firs." The entire horizon, he noted, "is smoldering and glowing, and the sound of axes can be heard everywhere."

India and the Dutch East Indies

But this member of the Habsburg nobility was surely not an environmentalist. On the contrary, he loved to go hunting.

Even as he was approaching the coast of India, he fired into the water with a shotgun to kill skates and rays. Later, he bagged vultures, elephants, koalas -- and even skunks, storks and birds "whose ornithological classification I was unaware of." He described his battle against a monitor lizard on Ceylon as follows: "I approached the lizard as St. George approached the dragon."

Animal lovers may be satisfied to hear that this man paid for his trigger-happiness with permanent damage to his eardrum.

It was above all in India that the royal tourist found a captivating firing range. Near Delhi, his porters carried 87 tents -- some with bathing cabins and golden ceilings -- into the jungle. Shortly thereafter, the British governor of Nepal welcomed him when he arrived with an entourage of 203 working elephants for a tiger hunt in the foothills of the Himalayas.

When the gold-bedecked Nizam of Hyderabad invited him to dinner, the table bowed under the weight of exotic dishes. A flock of brightly colored birds flew out of the cake when it was cut. Later, they drank champagne in the jungle.

Only the music was not to the visitor's liking. The Indian orchestra had a "penchant for off-key, screeching clarinets and flutes," he noted reprovingly. He also wrote that the Austrian national anthem could "hardly be recognized" because "some of the musical imps playing for us were constantly a number of bars ahead of the rest."

There were also other places where the author paid no heed to political correctness: He thought the Chinese were "deceitful" and Bombay's fakirs were work-shy. He called the towers where the Parsi laid out their dead to be consumed by vultures "sites of human humiliation."

Nevertheless, he generally had an understanding for proper etiquette. He looked dapper in his white uniform, with a riding crop and mustache.

His hosts showed their appreciation with dashing parades. They shot off fireworks in his honor -- and he once even received a military salute from a Japanese mountain battery. It was only on the Moluccas that it was too much for Franz. A hoard of village children surrounded him and repeatedly sang "long may he live" in Dutch.

This occurred in the Dutch East Indies, which stretched all the way to New Guinea.

It was a part of the world where the one could live in style. In April, FF and his entourage arrived at Jakarta, where he shot a crocodile. Afterwards, he had an opportunity to admire "conspicuously pretty Dutch women" wearing knotted skirts in the humid heat.

However, the royal heir made no secret of how harshly the whites ruled at the time in Asia. Between 1825 and 1830, the Dutch had 200,000 people slaughtered to suppress a rebellion on Java.

When the ship attempted to call at Siam, the archduke -- who was suffering from diarrhea and tropical fever -- nearly witnessed a naval battle. French gunboats blocked the coast off of Bangkok and forced the Siamese king to cede control of Laos.

Colonial politics in action. The tourist had to change course.

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