November 20, 1889

bell on old ship

Nellie Bly’s heart pounded as the Augusta Victoria docked at Southampton harbor, exactly six days and 21 hours after leaving New Jersey’s Hoboken Pier.  It had been a relatively quick crossing, despite brutal headwinds and choppy seas.

She could barely contain her excitement. England!  This was her first time in Europe and the first official stop on her itinerary.  She stood on deck, admiring the sheer beauty of the fishing village with its cluster of exquisite stone buildings clinging to the rocky cliff.

She took in a deep breath of fresh sea air and instantly choked into a coughing fit.  She covered her nose with her gloved hand. “What’s that horrible smell?”  she asked a passing deck hand.

“Welcome to Southampton,” he said with a knowing grin.  “She stinks, but we love her.”

invitation from Jules Verne

Bly opened the invitation from Jules Verne.

As Bly stepped onto the pier, Niles Watson, the dashing London Correspondent for the New York World Newspaper, greeted her.

“Welcome to England, Miss Bly,” he said as he kissed her hand.  He offered her a basket filled with dozens of telegrams wishing her luck on her race.  It was a handwritten invitation that caught her eye. She pulled it from the pile and scanned it quickly.

“I can’t believe my good fortune. Jules Verne has invited me to visit him and his wife in their country home in Amiens France!”

“That’s lovely,” he said.  “But I’ve been given strict orders by Mr. Cockerill.  You’re not to veer off course by a single kilometer.

“I know,” Bly said, mimicking Mr. Cockerill.  “Or I will lose my race, humiliate Mr. Pulitzer, defame his newspaper, and…

“And I will lose my job,” Watson added.  “I’m sure Mr. Verne will understand why you had to decline his offer, Miss Bly.”

“Nonsense. This is the opportunity of a lifetime!”

“Of course.  I must send my regrets to Mr. Verne.”