About Ella Christie (1861-1949)

Isabella (Ella) Robertson Christie was born on 21 April 1861 in Cockpen, near Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, into a wealthy land-owning family.

From an early age Ella travelled widely with her parents across Europe.

After her mother died, she continued to travel with her father or with a friend, as well as on her own. She visited Egypt, Syria and Palestine and began to write about her travels.

After her father's death in 1902, she began to make even more adventurous journeys into India, Kashmir, Tibet, Ceylon, Malaya and Borneo.

Adventurous streak

Counter to what was considered acceptable behaviour for women at the time, Ella Christie had an indomitable adventurous streak. This saw her camping in the snow at Chorbat Pass in modern-day Pakistan, sailing in a cargo ship full of pigs or travelling by pack horse and cart in the Kashmir wilderness and trekking by foot for 60 miles in the Desoi mountains in the Himalayas.

She also travelled extensively in the Far East, including China and Japan. While in Japan she became fascinated by the Japanese formal style of gardening. It would inspire her to create a Japanese garden at Cowden Castle, the estate her father bought in 1865 and which is still managed by her family today.

Russian Empire

In 1912 Ella made a trip to the Russian Empire. Starting in Saint Petersburg she travelled by train, steamer and droshky to Tashkent, Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan.

She was the first British woman to visit the Khanate of Khiva which had covered present-day western Uzbekistan, south-western Kazakhstan and much of Turkmenistan before the Russians arrived at the second half of the 19th century.

Ella's travels then took her to Constantinople across the Black Sea, through Georgia to the Caspian Sea and onwards to Ashkabad and Merv. She travelled by train and boat along the Silk Road, visiting Buhkhara, Samarkand, Kokand, and finally to Andhizan in modern-day Uzbekistan.

She kept an account of her travels in her diaries and she later wrote about her trips to the Russian Empire in the book 'Through Khiva to golden Samarkand' [National Library of Scotland shelfmark: S.18.b].

Royal Geographical Society

Ella Christie was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Scotland and in November 1934 she became a Vice-President of the society. She was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

In 1913 the Royal Geographical Society voted to allow women to be elected to become members of the society and a month later Ella was in the first selection of women to be elected Fellows.

That an organisation which was, up to that point, a bastion of the Victorian establishment and solely a male preserve saw fit to welcome Ella to its ranks was testament to her brave spirit of adventure and pioneering travels.


Ella Christie