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The Life and Travels of Isabella Bird (ePub)

The Fearless Victorian Adventurer

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > Explorers & Adventurers Women of History

By Jacki Hill-Murphy
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Trailblazing Women
File Size: 7.7 MB (.epub)
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 25 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526763259
Published: 30th March 2021


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Isabella Bird travelled to the wildest places on earth, but at home in Britain she lay in bed, hardly able to write: 'an invalid at home and a Samson abroad'.

In Japan she rode on a 'yezo savage' through foaming floods along unbeaten tracks, and was followed in the city by a crowd of a thousand, whose clogs clattered 'like a hailstorm' as they vied for a glimpse of the foreigner. She documented America before and after the Civil War and was deported from Korea with only the tweed suit she stood up in during a Japanese invasion. In China she was attacked with rocks and sticks and called a foreign dog, but she never gave up and went home. 'The prospect of the unknown has its charms.'

Transformed by distant lands, she crossed raging floods, rode elephants, cows and yak, clung to her horse's neck as it clambered down cliff paths, slept on simple mats on the bare ground, unable to change out of wet clothes or get out of the searing heat.

Her travels and the books she wrote about them show courage and tenacity, fuelled by a restless spirit and a love of nature. She is as unique now as she was then.

Author as featured in

Deeside Piper

Author featured in

Dunfermline Press

Featured in the Scottish Field

Scottish Field

The extraordinary life and times of a Victorian lady adventurer and traveller, of whom I had not previously heard.

Books Monthly

Isabella Bird was indeed fearless. And what a fascinating life she led! She was curious, adventurous, and could not stay long in one place. If she wasn’t traveling, she was planning her next adventure. Even while at home in she was constantly relocating from one house to another. When she could no longer travel due to her health, she was nonetheless planning her next trip.

Bird wrote about her travels and published her first book in 1856. The proceeds from her books enabled her to spend her entire life traveling. She traveled without a chaperone, quite daring for her time, but always had letters of introduction to people who could help her and she always hired guides. Bird didn’t seem to mind, for the most part, discomfort while traveling. She was willing to sleep anywhere and put up with innumerable inconveniences, dangers, and even fleas in order to reach her destinations.

The Life and Travels of Isabella Bird by Jacki Hill-Murphy is a well-written, absolutely captivating look into the life of a trailblazing woman, as well as a picture of life over a hundred years ago in numerous countries. Bird’s description of people and places takes the reader along with her, only from a much more comfortable vantage point. According to the author, Bird’s letters and books left “elaborate details of traditions, ceremonies, life-styles and culinary habits” of peoples and cultures from over 150 years ago. Many of them are included in this book, which I decidedly recommend.

NetGalley, Connie Yen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At the tender age of twenty-three, a petite woman named Isabella Bird embarked on a trip from Liverpool, England to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The purpose of this trip was to improve her health, according to both her father and her physician, but this journey turned out to be a defining moment in her life as Isabella would never again be able to stay in one place for very long before she felt the urge to travel again, no matter what dangers she faced from nature or humankind. She was, in the author’s words, a fearless woman.

Author Jacki Hill-Murphy recounts the life and travels of Isabella Bird, the pioneer who defied societal expectations by traveling to remote places on earth and documenting her experiences for publication during the second half of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. Based on published travel narratives and personal correspondence with her sister, Henrietta, and close friends, we get a sense of Bird’s awe of nature and different cultures during her expeditions. During her travels around the world, Bird has several close calls with death, falls in love with an Irishman living in the Rockies, and is labeled a devil and attacked by locals on more than one occasion. But nothing will stop her from continuing her expeditions well into her late years. The excerpts from Bird’s letters and her published travel narratives contain imagery that give the story authenticity, while Hill-Murphy’s historical narrative engages readers from the start. One can clearly tell how much the author admires Isabella Bird's courage as an explorer and a writer during a time when it was quite difficult for women to do one or the other.

NetGalley, Monica Babaian

Article: ‘Adventuress leading way on women’s day’, words by Maxine Irving

Somerset Guardian, 11th March 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I first became familiar with Isabella Bird when I read her "Unbeaten Tracks" while living in Japan as an expat. Although I lamented the fact that the writing of her travels within the country predated her photography, I was captivated by the way she was able to paint a picture through her precise descriptions of her adventures and discoveries. I had no idea of how far, wide and fearlessly Bird had traveled and was thrilled to learn more about her in the pages of this book. Author Jacki Hill-Murphy gives readers this well-researched biography - that reads like a thriller - of Bird told through mostly through her correspondence and writings. The explorer's utter restlessness and thirst for adventure is palpable through the book and the descriptions of Bird's harrowing travels left me astonished and eager to do further research on her as well as read her other writings. I can see this book appealing to a wide range of curious readers and am eagerly awaiting its publication date so that I may recommend it and secure a copy for myself.

NetGalley, Erin Loranger

About Jacki Hill-Murphy

Jacki Hill-Murphy MA, FRGS, is an explorer, writer and speaker who has travelled to some of the most inhospitable places on earth to re-create the journeys of daring women adventurers from the past. Isabella Bird is one of those great women and she saw, while walking in her footsteps across the Lower Himalayas, that the valiant Miss Bird had left her inhibitions at home and journeyed into the unknown seeking freedom through wilderness and curiosity.
Jacki is the author of Adventuresses and The Extraordinary Tale of Kate Marsden. She is the director of Under the Sky Events, giving adventure holidays to care experienced adults to increase their well-being.

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