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Isabella Bird Bishop

Who 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 home anywhere.
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.

ISBN 1590481542

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

ISBN 15904810333

First published by John Murray in 1879

The 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.
“A Lady’s 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

“Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” is one of Isabella's five famous equestrian trips. This 600 mile solo ride through Japan was a monumental mixture of mounted adventure and keen cultural observation.

Suffering 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.

Though her 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 delightful drawings.

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Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan

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.

Isabella had already survived so many mounted adventures that the Times of London had dubbed her “the boldest of travellers.”

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

ISBN 1590481143

“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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