"In Burma he had an American machine
of a make I had never seen before and have never seen since.
It was very low with 4 cylinders running fore and aft,
and the sight of Blair, over six feet tall, astride this midget was ludicrous,
as his knees almost came up round his ears, or so it seemed...."


"While teaching in a suburb of London, on the Sunday,
with a characteristic disregard for the realities of the wintry weather,
Blair went off on his motor-bike, carrying the manuscript of Burmese Days
and wearing his usual sports coat and flapping trousers,
without even a scarf or a pullover..."

To Orwell Today,

Hello Jackie,

I am working on an illustration regarding one of our favorite authors, George Orwell. More specifically, this illustration concerns the motorcycle he owned when he was living on the Isle of Jura. I have been researching this but have yet to find out much more than the stories contained in the booklet "Jura and George Orwell", along with some of the excerpts from the book "Inside George Orwell" that you have on your page.

I am planning on ordering "Inside George Orwell" of course, but was wondering if that, or any of the other volumes in your library may have other details that may give more information about Mr. Orwell's motorcycling exploits, or details about the motorcycle itself. I have looked everywhere for a photograph, but it seems that there were very few photographs of the man, and none as far as I can tell of him with a motorcycle.

Thank you very much for your time, and for your wonderful web page; it is a fantastic and fascinating resource.

Dan Leventhal,

Greetings Dan,

Yes, the excerpt from the booklet "Jura and George Orwell" was written by Mrs Nelson who was the wife of the Laird of Ardlussa, Robin Fletcher, from whom Orwell leased Barnhill in 1946-50. I met their son Jamie when I visited Barnhill during my Pilgrimage to Orwell in the summer of 2004. I walked along that road between Ardlussa Manor and Barnhhill where Orwell infamously rode his motorcycle. Here's the excerpt you no doubt had in mind from my article ORWELL'S LIFE ON JURA:

"...Transport was varied and unreliable. To begin with they had a rowing boat with an outboard engine and a motor bicycle which was constantly breaking down. Eric spent many hours sitting beside the road tinkering with the engine and hoping that someone would appear who had more mechanical knowledge than he had. My older children remember him often coming to the house, usually in oilskins, wanting help. He often carried a scythe on the back of his motor bike with which to cut the rushes which grew rapidly in the middle of the road..."

That would make an interesting illustration - Orwell bouncing along the Jura road, in oilskins, in the rain, on a decrepit motorcycle, with a scythe over his shoulder.

On a google search I found an article describing Orwell's motorcycle as a "Rudge":

"...I saw some correspondence in the Sunday Times last month on the subject of George Orwell's stay at Barnhill, Jura. The original article described a visit by a journalist, Allan Brown, to Barnhill in search of Orwell's Rudge motorcycle which was rumoured to have been abandoned by Orwell when he left Jura in 1950. Brown found no sign of the bike and the locals were unable to help him in his quest. However, a couple of weeks after the article appeared, a letter appeared in the ST from someone who knew a little more of the story. It seems that Orwell took the Rudge down to the jetty on the day of his departure and sold it to the skipper of a small boat who plied a trade selling Calor Gas around the islands. He in turn sold it to a man at his next port of call (Colonsay) who used the bike until the end of its life and then scrapped it..."

However, it is not possible that Orwell took the motorcycle down to the jetty on the day of his departure from Jura because he left in a state of medical emergency shortly after Christmas in 1949, having physically collapsed after typing and mailing the final manuscript of "1984". But the type of motorcycle it quotes may be correct, in which case you could perhaps find out what a Rudge looks like and reproduce it in your illustration.

Another interesting "Orwell on a Motorcycle" illustration would be from the following anecdote described in the book THE UNKNOWN ORWELL by Stansky & Abrahams (the first biography ever written, 1972). It contains an anecdote from a fellow police officer who trained with Orwell in Mandalay when he first arrived in Burma in November 1922. Here's the background, from pages 136-139:

...Mandalay in the early 1920s was still essentially two cities: the British fort and the native quarter. Fort Dufferin had originally been built as a palace-city by the Burmese king Mindon in 1856, and captured by the British in 1885, at which time they dethroned Mindon's successor, Thibaw, and transferred the capital of the country to Rangoon. The Fort was a mile square, enclosed on all four sides by twenty-foot high walls of rosy brick - in each side a great stone gateway guarded by a pair of stone dragons - and surrounding the walls a wide moat, dense with red and white lotus, and shaded by a border of tamarind, acadia and cinnamon trees. Within the enormous area of the Fort were various Regimental Messes and barracks, the Upper Burma Club - whose members included most of the Europeans living in Mandalay - the sometime royal palace surrounded by an inner moat of its own, bungalows for Regimental officers and senior Government officials, a polo field, a nine-hole golf links, tennis courts and a chapel.

That was the Fort, an outpost of England. Beyond its rose-coloured walls was the other city, with a pulsing life of its own; the unpaved roads leading out into the dense countryside and native villages; the hundreds of shrines, temples and pagodas...

In order to see more of the country outside the city, Blair decided to buy a motor-cycle, about which he was entirely a novice, and Roger Beadon, who had a New Hudson 2-stroke and was an experienced rider, agreed to teach him how to ride it. The lesson was to take place within the less crowded precincts of Fort Dufferin.

'He had an American machine of a make I had never seen before
[Beadon writes] and have never seen since. It was very low with
4 cylinders running fore and aft
, and the sight of Blair, over
six feet tall, astride this midget was ludicrous, as his knees
almost came up round his ears
, or so it seemed.

'All went well until we came to one of the gates which, so we
thought, would let us out of the Fort, and we were moving
along splendidly when I realized it was not one of the exits,
but a gate that was permanently shut. I shouted to Blair to
stop, but he lost his head apparently and instead of slowing
down, stood up, and the bike went on under his legs and hit
the gate
. Luckily we were not going fast, and no damage was
done, but it was an amusing incident.'

Another "Orwell Motorcycle" story is about how, in December 1933, Orwell almost died from pneumonia after riding his motorcycle in the freezing rain a couple of weeks after delivering the final manuscript of his second book - BURMESE DAYS - to his publisher. At the time Orwell was in his second year as a teacher in a boys' school in a southern suburb of London, and he was famous for never wearing warm clothing, a habit he adopted while researching his recently published first book DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON.

Here's a description of him from ORWELL: THE TRANSFORMATION by Stansky and Abrahams, page 50-52:

...His appearance was unforgettable, very different from the neatness and trimness that the schoolmaster of the day affected. Blair, in his thirty-first year, had the looks that he would keep for the rest of his life. He had lost the robustness and weight of the time when he was playing in the Wall Game at Eton, or the spruceness and firmness of the young officer in his first year in Burma. Those years in the Delta had taken their toll, as had ill health and the years of living on the cheap since his return. He was tall and weedy, and his style of dress, which was permanently decided upon by this time, helped to create an effect not easily forgotten. Graham Bennett still remembers a certain shabbiness: Blair in bags - trousers with wide turn-ups - a frayed sports jacket and checked shirt. He would be dressed much the same a year later when Rayner Heppenstall met him: 'He wore shabby grey flannel trousers and a leather-elbowed sports coat, with a khaki or dark-green shirt, and a pale, hairy tie. He continued to favour this style of attire in the days of his prosperity.' Years later, in the early 1940s when T.R. Fyvel knew him, he still dressed like this - to Fyvel's mind a mixture of the seedy sahib and a French work-man. Perhaps it would be simplest to say that in 1933 he had begun to dress as George Orwell: a transformative process that would work from the outside in.

Towards the end of November he wrote to Leonard Moore to say that the novel was finished, truly finished as far as he was concerned - 'I am sick of the sight of it' - and to ask if he might bring it over to Moore's house in Gerrards Cross the following Sunday, 2 December. On the Sunday, with a characteristic disregard for the realities of the wintry weather, Blair went off on his motor-bike, carrying the manuscript and wearing his usual sports coat and flapping trousers, without even a scarf or a pullover, despite the urgings of the Bennetts and the Stapleys. This was how he had dressed since coming back from Paris, how he would continue to dress, whether dashing about on the motor-bike, or walking through the streets of London, or visiting his sister Marjorie in the north, not wearing a topcoat even on the coldest days of winter, through Ruth Pitter had begged him to take care of himself.

The result was predictable. In the middle of December, while out on his motor-bike, he was caught in an icy rainstorm, got thoroughly drenched, and came down with a terrible chill - Graham Bennett remembers him being blue with cold. At first he was nursed at the school by Mrs Bennett and the matron. But the chill developed into pneumonia; with his weak chest, his condition worsened perceptibly; and at the advice of Dr Bennet-Coles, whom the headmaster had called in, he was transferred to the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital, just up from the school on Hartfield Road.

He was terribly ill; in fact it was thought almost certain that he would die, and the Bennetts sent for Mrs Blair from Southwold. Avril [Orwell's sister] drove her down, but by the time they arrived in Uxbridge, the crisis had passed and the chances of his recovery had notably improved.

Avril remembers the nurse telling her that when Eric had been delerious, he had talked incessantly about money: one of the obsessions of his life emerging, as it were, from the unconscious and demanding to be heard. Now, as she and Mrs Blair sat by his bedside, 'We reassured him that everything was all right, and he needn't worry about money. But it turned out that it wasn't actually his situation in life as regards money that he was worrying about, it was actual cash - he felt that he wanted cash sort of under his pillow.' Dr Bennet-Coles recommended that he must have at least six months' rest once he was discharged from the hospital, so there was no question of his continuing with his job at Fray's. He took the doctor's recommendation one dramatic step further in a letter to Moore at the end of December: obviously he couldn't be back at the school at the beginning of term; therefore he had decided to chuck teaching, imprudent though that might be. Out of every misfortune a blessing, however; for now, without the distractions of having to teach, he would be free to work uninterruptedly at the next novel - that would be A CLERGYMAN'S DAUGHTER - and with the enthusiam of a prisoner on the point of liberation, felt he would have it finished within six months...

I hope those above stories of Orwell and his motorcycles give you material that will help you in creating your Orwell illustration which I would be very interested in seeing when you have it finished.

All the best,
Jackie Jura

...discussion continues


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com