The 1900-01 lecture tour of the United States and Canada was a less than happy experience for the 26-year old Winston Churchill, who had recently been elected as a member of parliament. He found the tour, on which he would speak on the Boer War and his escape from a prison camp in Pretoria the year earlier, tiresome, less financially lucrative than hoped, and, at times, mildly embarrassing. The source of most of the trouble emanated with Major James B. Pond, his booking agent for the tour.
Arriving in New York in December 1900, Churchill was quickly embarrassed by Pond’s promotional efforts, which he thought were “odious” and “vulgar.” The agent advertised Churchill as “the hero of five wars,” “the author of six books,” and “the future Prime Minister of England,” when the lecturer had served in four wars, written five books, and not yet taken his seat in the House of Commons. Worse still was that Pond created a reception committee of prominent citizens for the New York event, releasing a circular, but did not trouble himself to actually ask the 75 individuals if they wished to be associated with Churchill and his lecture. Edward Van Nees, a lawyer, was irate to find his name included and wrote his own counter-circular, every line of which demonstrated that he had been “extremely angry when he wrote it.” Pond could not have been surprised by the reaction as Van Nees was well-known as a prominent Boer sympathizer. While publically the agent dismissed the uproar and said he would release a new version without the names of any dissenters, he actually thought it was a great affair, telling Churchill the spat had resulted in “columns of free advertising, and the sales of tickets have taken a sudden bound.” Attendance for the early lectures was mixed, with several sellouts but also a sea of empty seats for the stop in Baltimore.
Shortly before going to Ottawa for Christmas, Churchill lectured in Fall River, Massachusetts on December 21, 1900. It was the oddest engagement of the tour. Churchill was disgusted to discover he had been booked to speak at a private party at the home of a local industrialist, John S. Brayton (probably at the residence pictured above). Even though he thought he had been hired out like a “conjuror,” Churchill spoke for 50 minutes to the 200 guests, complete with an Orpheus orchestra, in the house that was decorated for Christmas. The audience found him a “charming personality.” He was paid £40. The appearance in Fall River further damaged Churchill’s trust in Pond. The relationship reached its breaking point while Churchill was in Ottawa, the story of which is fully recounted in “A Vulgar Yankee Impresario: Churchill, Major Pond, and the Lecture Tour of 1900–1901” in the Finest Hour (No. 174) by the writer of this blog. The issue is available here.