Diary Rediscovered Franz Ferdinand's 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.
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.

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.

Foto: Anonymous/ AP

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.

Kangaroos, Prisoners and Cannibals

In Australia, he came across fresh signs of violence once again. Aborigines had just murdered 31 settlers. Amazingly enough, the guest showed sympathy for their actions. The attack, he explained, was only in revenge for the "often cruel way" in which the indigenous people "are forced from their ancestral lands and simply eradicated." He wrote that the settlers even left the Aborigines poisoned bread as "deadly bait."

But FF didn't let this spoil his hunting pleasure. At the invitation of large landowners, he boarded a special train into the Outback on a number of occasions to shoot kangaroos.

Later, on board his cruiser in the port of Sydney, he hosted a lavish party attended by 500 members of the city's high society. Everyone danced to the melody of "The Blue Danube" waltz by Johann Strauss.

But he was also attracted to the dark side of life: the filth of the prisons, the opium dens, the slaughterhouses and the execution sites. In June, he headed for a particularly gruesome destination: New Caledonia, an enormous prison at the time.

Some 8,000 prisoners lived on the island, crammed into 50-man barracks. Already when he arrived in the port, the future heir to the throne gazed into the grim faces of criminals building quay walls and breaking rocks. Others toiled in the nickel mines. If an inmate managed to escape into the forest, he was usually killed by the natives. Every fugitive brought a 25-franc reward.

The visitor even ventured to the offshore island of Nou, where there was a prison for those convicted of the most heinous crimes. In the windowless cells, he felt as if he were standing before "the dregs of humanity." His verdict: These individuals had, "without exception all behaved outrageously." At the end of his visit, he had the prison director explain the use of the guillotine.

Even stranger things lay ahead: On June 7, they dropped anchor in Owa Raha, an island in the Solomon Islands. Here, the crew was met by people who wore necklaces made of dogs' teeth and nose rings made of tortoiseshell -- and indulged in ritual cannibalism.

The Austrian delegation armed itself and penetrated the interior of the island, hacking its way through a jungle of palms, pandanus trees and climbing plants. In the undergrowth, FF bargained with a "dark cannibal woman" for a bag of betel nuts. He also obtained a spear in exchange for two cigarettes.

This weapon and 14,000 other souvenirs from the journey are now in the collection of the Museum for Ethnology in Vienna.

The return to the ship was a bit tricky. Part of the expedition lost its way and was surrounded by the "savages," whereupon the "ship's ensign" fired a shot straight into the crowd. It is possible, as the archduke wrote in his journal, that he "reacted too vigorously."

Japan and the Wild West

The hunting trips were over, at least for the time being. In Japan, Ferdinand was only able to feed goldfish. Instead of rich hunting grounds, he witnessed a nation in the throes of radical change, where the power of the samurai and the shoguns had long since faded. In 1853, the West had forced Japan to open its economy to outsiders.

"We no longer glance up to ideals, but rather at factory chimneys," the foreigner noted.

They called at the port of Nagasaki on August 2, then proceeded to see the Tenno, the emperor of Japan, in Tokyo -- traveling part of the distance by rickshaw. Armed guards lined the roads. There were even patrol boats at sea. The reason: Two years earlier, the czar's son, Nicholas, had been attacked by a Japanese policeman wielding a sword, and seriously wounded.

Dapper Franz was spared this treatment. He was only poked by a tattooist who pierced him 52,000 times with a needle to create a dragon on his arm. This marked the end of his state visit to Japan, and His Highness and a smaller entourage subsequently boarded a Canadian steamer bound for North America.

The blue blood immediately noticed a difference when he boarded the ship. Surly waiters served him. Instead of the "Radetzky March," they now heard the "stamping of blacks," he complained. Nonetheless, a "charming, little American woman" sweetened the passage for him by playing tennis on the upper deck.

This last stage of the journey, the New World, prompted the globetrotter's most emphatic observations. The scion of Austrian nobility had arrived in the land of quick money. Shortly after disembarking in Vancouver, and still shocked by the large-scale clearing of forests there, the visitor booked a rail journey clear across the Wild West.

The iron horse charged across the endless prairies. The Habsburg heir saw dying forests and ragged Indians pumped full of firewater -- and he was outraged at their disgrace and humiliation. While 423 Canadian reservations were "arable," he wrote that the US federal government was fobbing the Indians off with "worthless" land.

And he was constantly irked by the ills of the modern age: Hotels with bans on smoking, people without manners and restaurants with bad food. In Yellowstone Park, he saw families who drove their carriages through the countryside just for fun -- the archetype of recreational vehicle tourism.

In New York, the curious traveler strolled along Fifth Avenue and Broadway, with its fashion shops, jewelry stores and "stupefying traffic." He finally climbed the 94 meters (308 feet) to the top of the Pulitzer Building, the tallest building in the world at the time.

From this vantage point, he gazed at this bustling city of 3 million inhabitants and was seized with awe over the "almighty dollar." The "citizens of the Union," FF wrote, have the stuff "to be larger than life, to be Übermenschen."

But the visitor always mixed praise for the US with criticism. He said the country had a "heroic, enterprising spirit," but that this was "often enough coupled with unparalleled ruthlessness."

There were apparently also tactical reasons for all his complaints. While FF was in Manhattan, large influxes of immigrants were passing through the inspection station at Ellis Island, not far from the Statue of Liberty. Many of the newcomers came from the Alpine region, and this was a disquieting development for the ruling elite in Vienna.

The Austrian archduke did it differently -- he was traveling from west to east, back to the old country with its steaming, sweet desserts and anti-democratic customs, where everything seemed far more cordial and homelike to him. After 10 months of traveling, he finally reached his beloved Vienna, the city that he called "forever young."

How wrong he was. In reality, he returned to a country whose demise would soon become intertwined with his own.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
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