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Isabella Bird Bishop
could have foreseen that the feeble daughter of an English clergyman would one
day be described as “the boldest of travellers”? Isabella Bird began life, not
in some romantic setting, but in the cold north of England. A sickly child, she
spent her childhood dreaming of travel and planning her domestic escape. That
happy day occurred in 1854, when her father permitted her to visit relatives in
America. While no great adventures unfolded on that trip, Isabella began to live
life in increasingly bolder doses. She next sailed to Australia, then pushed on
to Hawaii, where she explored the island on horseback by riding astride ! The
clergyman’s daughter explored the Rocky Mountains and flirted with a one-eyed
outlaw. She ventured through Japan. She investigated China. Tibet couldn’t
hold her. Persia didn’t stop her. Kurdistan didn’t frighten her. She was at
In 1892 her homeland honoured Isabella by naming her the first female Fellow of
the prestigious Royal Geographical Society. When she died, just shy of her
seventy-third birthday, her saddle was sitting next to her bed. Her plans to
ride across Morocco had been thwarted only by her death.
|On Horseback in Hawaii
A Canter Across the Sandwich Isles in 1873.
First published by John Murray in 1875
Think of all the clichés that come to mind
when you consider the romantic word “Hawaii.” Palm trees, hula dancers,
sun-drenched beaches, an untouched tropical culture. Now interject a group
of hard-riding Mexican vaqueros chasing herds of imported wild cattle across
the lush green mountain sides. Throw in a crew of Yankee swindlers and
missionaries bent on conquering the island. Bring on board the local king,
who is trying to preserve his realm from outsiders, and you will begin to
understand the equestrian kingdom of Hawaii circa 1872.
It was into this equine
maelstrom that Isabella Bird
had wandered by mistake.
Bound from New Zealand to San
Francisco, Isabella had come ashore at Hawaii on an impulse. What she
discovered was not what she had been expecting. Soon after cattle were
introduced onto the island, they went wild and could not be managed by
islanders on foot. The King therefore enlisted the aid of imported Mexican
vaqueros, who brought with them not only their horses and saddles, but also
their sense of equestrian panache.
When Isabella Bird landed she
discovered a still untrammelled tropical paradise. However, the once
pedestrian Hawaiians had taken to the saddle with a vengeance. The islanders
rode – everywhere – and the clergyman’s daughter soon joined them. Having
never ridden astride because of the English cultural taboo, Isabella was
reluctant to cast aside her native equestrian traditions. When she did, the
greatest female equestrian traveller of the Victorian age came to life.
This book recounts the first of
Isabella Bird’s remarkable mounted adventures. Though she went on to explore
the Rocky Mountains, Japan, Persia, and Tibet on horseback, Isabella first
stepped into the saddle and onto the pages of Long Rider history in Hawaii.
This classic account of thrilling equestrian adventure tells the story of
one woman’s discovery of both her own soul and the wide world beyond.
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|A Lady's Ride in the Rockies
Travels on Horseback in 1873
First published by John Murray
American West of the late nineteenth century had seen its share of foreign
travelers but none could compare to Isabella Bird, the archetypal
Victorian Lady Traveler. Bird was on
her way back from Hawaii when she decided to stop off to investigate the Wild West.
Life in the Rocky Mountains” is told through letters the intrepid author
wrote to her sister in the winter of 1873 regarding this equestrian
sojourn during which she explored the magnificent unspoiled wilderness of
Colorado, ascended the highest mountains, observed the abundant wildlife,
and life on the remote frontier in all its phases.
This remains the most popular book the prolific author, and
indefatigable traveler, ever penned. Enormously entertaining and amply
illustrated, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” remains a vivid
account of an astounding equestrian journey.
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|Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
Travels on Horseback in 1878
ISBN 159048150X and 1590481518
First published by John Murray in 1880
Tracks in Japan” is one of
solo ride through Japan was a monumental mixture of mounted adventure and
keen cultural observation.
from an unspecified illness, Isabella left her English home in 1878
journeying to Japan to “improve her health.” Her unorthodox cure consisted
of buying a local horse and exploring the islands of the reclusive Japanese
homeland. The Long Rider author carefully documented various aspects of the
fascinating culture she discovered, describing a host of subjects ranging
from “Children’s Games” to “A Narrow Escape.”
"I lived among the Japanese,
and saw their mode of living, in regions unaffected by European contact. As
a lady travelling alone, and the first European lady who had been seen in
several districts through which my route lay, my experiences differed more
or less widely from those of preceding travellers," she wrote.
quest for equestrian adventure was to turn her into a compulsive traveller,
Isabella’s famous lone trek through the interior of Japan remains a classic
and is presented now in its original two volume set, complete with
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|Journeys in Persia and
Travels on Horseback in 1890
ISBN 1590481625 and 1590481534
First published by John Murray in 1891
A small ship made its way up
the Tigris river in the winter of 1890. Bound for Baghdad, the steamer
Mejidieh was carrying what would prove to be a historically significant load
of singular humanity.
On board were two of the most
important equestrian travellers of the Victorian era – Lord Curzon and
Isabella Bird. Though he would later become the most celebrated Viceroy of
India, George Curzon had initially made a name for himself by becoming the
first Englishman to ride through the remote Pamir mountains of Central
Asia. The Long Rider turned politician was now entering Persia to ascertain
its political importance to the British Raj.
had already survived so many
mounted adventures that the Times of London had dubbed her “the boldest of
She was intoxicated with the
freedom she discovered on horseback and praised the “charm of the nomadic
life” she had chosen to lead.
The story she weaves in
“Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan” celebrates the indomitable horsewoman’s
mounted explorations in this once enchanted portion of the world. It is
replete with both the dangers and observations Bird was famed for. Meeting
the Shah of Persia by chance, cantering away from ruffians, or wandering the
bazaars in disguise were all part of her daily fare. Though her quest for
equestrian adventure was to turn her into a compulsive traveller, Isabella’s
ride across Persia remains a forgotten equestrian travel classic. It is
presented in its original two-volume set, complete with delightful drawings.
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|Among the Tibetans
A Legendary 1893 Journey
|“Among the Tibetans” is one of her five famous equestrian trips. She
had ridden throughout the Hawaiian paradise. She had crossed the mighty
Rocky Mountains on horseback. She explored Japan and went on to canter
across Morocco when she was in her seventies. But of all her equestrian
adventures, her ride through Tibet takes precedence. For it was here, in
this vast, windswept, frozen northland that the intrepid English woman
nearly met her match! She and her little horse, “Gyalo”, were dashed
into icy rivers. They crossed passes so high that the porters begged for
mercy. They saw more adventure, and covered more miles than had ever been
experienced by a female equestrian explorer.
“Among the Tibetans” is that most wonderful of books, a rousing
adventure, an enchanting travelogue, a forgotten peek at a mountain
kingdom swept away by the waves of time.
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