Robert Louis Stevenson in New Jersey

On this page you will find information about Robert Louis Stevenson’s travels through New Jersey. You will find details of his first visit, when he was passing through Jersey City en route to California in 1879. You will also find information about his second visit, when he stayed in Manasquan New Jersey in 1888.

Jersey City, New Jersey

“The landing at Jersey City was done in a stampede. I had a fixed sense of calamity, and to judge by conduct, the same persuasion was common to us all. A panic selfishness, like that produced by fear, presided over the disorder of our landing. People pushed and elbowed, and ran, their families following how they could. Children fell, and were picked up to be rewarded by a blow. One child, who had lost her parents, screamed steadily and with increasing shrillness as though verging towards a fit [. . . ]. At last we were admitted into the cars, utterly dejected, and far from dry”
(RLS, “Across the Plains” in Across the Plains with Other Memories and Essays [London: Chatto and Windus, 1892], pp. 6-7)

On 7 August 1879 RLS boarded the Devonia at Greenock. The ship was bound for New York and he himself was bound for California to see Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, the woman who would soon be his wife. RLS arrived in New York on 17 August. The following evening, 18 August he took a river boat from New York to Jersey City – from here he took a train “across the plains” to California.

You can read about RLS’s experiences in “Across the Plains: Leaves from the Notebook of an Emigrant between New York and San Francisco” in Across the Plains (1892). The quotation above gives the sense of anxiety and depression of emigrant travel – at Jersey City the people were panicked, overcrowded, hungry and stressed about the journey ahead. They waited in the cold and rain before boarding the train, but the train itself offered no real comfort. Again, the conditions were overcrowded, but also filthy and certainly damaging to RLS’s health. You can read about the route the train took in the “Across the Plains” page in the Footsteps section by clicking here.

Manasquan, New Jersey

“We are here at a delightful country inn, like a country French place, the only people in the house, a cat-boat at our disposal, the sea always audible on the outer beach, the lagoon as smooth as glass, all the little, queer, many coloured villas standing shuttered and empty; in front of ours, across the lagoon, two long wooden bridges; one for the rail, one for the road, sounding with intermittent traffic. It is highly pleasant, and a delightful change from Saranac. My health is much better for the change; I am sure I walked about four miles yesterday, one time with another – well, say three and a half; and the day before, I was out for four hours in the cat-boat, and was stiff as a board in consequence”
(Letter from RLS to Sidney Colvin, c. 7 May 1887, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol vi [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 175)

After spending the winter of 1887-1888 at Saranac Lake, RLS returned to New York. His health was poor, however, and he resolved to go to Manasquan, New Jersey to recuperate. He arrived on 2 May 1888, staying until 28 May.

At Manasquan, he stayed at the Union House, a small and quiet inn on the Manasquan River. Here, he finalized plans for his upcoming journey on board the yacht Casco. While his mother and Lloyd stayed with him, Fanny was meanwhile making arrangements for the South Seas trip in San Francisco.

During his stay, RLS was still angry and hurt about his quarrel with W.E. Henley over Fanny Stevenson’s short story “The Nixie”. After its publication in March 1888, Henley had accused Fanny of plagiarizing Katharine de Mattos’s own story. Stevenson jumped to his wife’s defense. You can read more about the quarrel in the page devoted to W.E. Henley. Regarding the quarrel, RLS wrote to Charles Baxter from Manasquan:

“O, I go on my journey with a bitter heart. It will be best for all, I daresay, if the Casco goes down with me. For there’s devilish little left to live for. And don’t think me ungrateful, my dear; God bless you, for your kindness and your wisdom. [. . . ] For this wooden incapacity to understand any feeling that can inspire one word of my correspondence or one act of my life, is the sorest blow of all”

(21 May 1888, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol vi [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 191).

On 28 May, RLS returned to New York City where he prepared for his journey to California. He left New York on 2 June, and arrived in San Francisco on the 7th. On 28 June 1888, RLS began his journey of the South Seas on board the Casco.