About Isabella Bird Bishop (1831-1904)

Isabella Bird Bishop was born in Yorkshire in 1831. She was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments.

Advised by her doctor to travel she went to America to visit relatives, which produced the first of her travel books.

Subsequently Isabella travelled to Canada and to Scotland — visiting her sister Henrietta on Mull.

She supported her further travels through her writing, much of which was compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister.

Australasia and North America

Isabella travelled to Australia and New Zealand, and in North America to Hawaii and Colorado. There she dressed practically and rode not side saddle but frontwards like a man — though she threatened to sue 'The Times' newspaper for saying she dressed like one.

She covered over 800 miles in the Rocky Mountains. Her journey was enlivened by her acquaintance with Jim Nugent. Jim was a violent, yet poetic, one-eyed outlaw of whom Isabella said: 'A man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry'. Less than year after she left her 'dear desperado', he had been shot dead.

Eastern travels

She also travelled the far-east including Japan, China, Vietnam and Singapore. When nearing 60, she went to India, Tibet, Turkey, Persia, Kurdistan and Tehran. In her late 60s she travelled in China, Korea.

Her last journey, started in 1901 at the age of 70, involved riding 1,000 miles alone across Morocco and the Atlas mountains.

Isabella died in Edinburgh in 1904 within a few months of her return, just shy of her 73rd birthday. She was still planning another trip to China.

A household name

Her travels and her travel accounts made Isabella a household name, and she became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society.

She travelled to places were often no Westerner, never mind a Western woman, had ever been. Her correspondence and books offered a colourful and fascinating insight into the people and places she travelled. She was also a keen observer of natural habitat and animal life and her works are full of such descriptions.

Some of Isabella Bird Bishop's travel photographs have been digitised and are available in the National Library's Digital Gallery.


Isabella Bird Bishop