SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Transcript of Letter from Isabella Bird

This is a letter written by Isabella to her publisher John Murray, during one of her later journeys in Isfahan. It shows the fearlessness she possessed while travelling – here describing a chase by fanatics for two miles, an event which hardly seems to have fazed her. She also gave some clues as to the logistics of her travels, making use of a military geographical expedition heading to the same region.

Church Mission House Julfa Isfahan April 11/90

Dear Mr Murray

When I last wrote to you my plans were uncertain. My going to the hitherto unexplored parts of the Bakhtiari and low country is now settled and I purpose to start on the 28th of this month. I have letters from the Persian Government for Luristan and Arabistan (much the same thing as it would have been 2 years ago to take letters from the Irish chief secretary to Clare and Kerry) and the Ilphone the powerful chief of the Bakhtiaris is going to send a chief with retainers to ensure a pleasurable reception.

At intervals I shall camp alongside the camp of a military geographical expedition going to the same region and have the advantage of the goodwill which it expects to secure very valuable presents. It is supposed that for 50 days no supplies will be procurable for man or beast so much forethought has to be exercised. I rode the 300 miles or thereabouts from Teheran in 12 days, and though no European woman has made the journey alone before, I met with no difficulties at all till I reached Ispahan where the fanatics infuriated by the Europeans of Julfa having sheltered the Bakis who fled after the massacre a month ago (of which you have doubtless read) pursued me with howls and curses through the bazaars for two miles on ordeal which I would not willingly encounter again.

Since then the general commanding the troops here has sent his own charger and a cavalry escort whenever I wish to go beyond the precincts of Julfa. Both at the Legation in Teheran and here I have seen a great deal of the Persian upper classes and find most of the men very enlightened, courteous and agreeable, nearly all speaking French fluently and well disposed to England. Sir Drummond Wolff whose kindness and hospitality I experienced for 3 weeks is doing much to help Persia and is very powerful as well as very popular.

I wonder if I shall ever return to tell the tale of my coming wanderings? I am pledged to send anything I write, before publication, to the Intelligence Department of the War office in India for censorship, a truly hampering arrangement. I was very far from well at Teheran and under medical advice but the gallop over the desert down here did me great good and I am riding 3 times a week here to keep myself in training for this great expedition and what are literally “Unbeaten Tracks in Persia”. More than the risks and possible eventualities of the journey I dread the heat which another three weeks will bring.

It was already hot in Teheran but on a pass over 8000 feet in height on the way here I encountered a “blizzard” and snow more than two feet deep. I hope you are all well, and that the publishing season was a successful one.

My best regards.

Yours very sincerely

Isabella L Bishop

Kindly send Japan and the Sandwich Islands [proofs of her previous books], registered to

Dr Bruce
Church Mission House

Sent May 16/90

Bruce. Dr
April 11. 1890