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Series One: Women, Travel & Empire, 1660-1914

Part 1: Early travel accounts by women, and women’s experiences in India, Africa, Australasia and Canada

This Part starts with a section on early travel writing by women, featuring works by 11 pioneers of the genre. The earliest of these is Katharine Evans (d1692), a Quaker missionary, who was imprisoned with her friend, Sarah Cheevers, for 3 years in Malta by the Inquisition. Her Short relation of some of the cruel sufferings .... (1662) recounts their experiences and shows how they bore up through such adversity.

Less exotic travel is described by Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) in her posthumously published Through England on a side-saddle, which describes a journey she made c1680. Fiennes lays the foundations for the guide-book as we know it, which further develops in A companion and useful guide to the beauties of Scotland and the Lakes (1799) by Sarah Aust (1744-1811) and Travels in Italy, between 1792 and 1798 (1802) by Marianna Starke (1762?-1838).

Other early women travel writers featured include Elizabeth Justice (1703-1752) (Voyage to Russia, 1739); Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) (Letters ... during her travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, 1763); Elizabeth Anspach (1750-1828) (A journey through the Crimea to Constantinople, 1789); Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) (Letters, 1796 - describing travels in Scandanavia); Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) (A Journey, 1795); Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839) (Memoirs, 1845, and Travels, 1846); and Charlotte Eaton (1788-1859) (Continental Adventures, 1826, and Narrative of a residence in Belgium, 1817). In the latter, Eaton describes a visit to the field of Waterloo and revels in "English greatness and glory," foreshadowing imperial attitudes.

These works are an essential preface to the remainder of this project, establishing the foundations of the genre and exhibiting many of the tropes that later reoccur.

The vast majority of Part 1 is composed of women’s writing concerning the main seats of Empire: India, Africa, Australasia and Canada.

More than a dozen writers describe their lives and experiences in India.

Eliza Fay (1756-1816) left England for India in 1779. Her Original Letters from India (1817) gives her views of suttee ("rules to render the weaker sex subservient to authority") and details her imprisonment in Calicut, her legal separation from her husband, and her many schemes to make money and survive. Other early accounts of life under the Raj are provided by Maria, Lady Callcott (1785-1842) (Journals of a residence in India, 1812, and Letters on India, 1814) and Anne Elwood (1800’s) (Narrative of a journey over land from England by the continent of Europe, Egypt and the Red Sea to India, incl. a residence there and voyage home, 1830).

Emily Eden (1797-1869) had a rather privileged view of India, as her brother was Governor-General of India. Her Letters from India (1872), Up the country (1866) and Portraits of the Princes and Peoples of India (1844) show India as it was seen through the eyes of the colonisers. The breakdown of such authority is shown in A lady’s escape from Gwalier, and life in the fort of Agra during the mutinies of 1857 (1859) by Mrs R M Coopland.

Some of the best accounts of life in India in the 19th century can be found in novels written by residents who could use the devices of fiction to satirize imperial society and rule. Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929) is perhaps the best known, but only a handful of her novels have been reprinted. We offer nine novels and story collections as well as The complete Indian housekeeper and cook, by two twenty year’s residents (1890), which was also penned by her. Other novelists featured include Charlotte Maria Tucker (1821-1893), Jessie Cadell (1844-1884) (Ida Craven, 1876), Bithia May Croker (1849-1920), and Sara Jeanette Cotes (1861-1925).

There are also anonymous advice books concerning life in India and a History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (1847) detailing missionary work.

Sources concerning life in Africa are equally rich.

Accounts of the slave trade are given in Anna Maria Falconbridge’s Two voyages to Sierra Leone, during the years 1791-3 (1794), voyages in which she accompanied her husband, the surgeon, Alexander Falconbridge. Slightly later, Hannah Kilham (1774-1832) also provides a Report on a recent visit to Sierra Leone (1828), describing a woman’s experiences in the colony for freed slaves.

North Africa is the focus for Elizabeth Broughton (1800’s) (Six years residence in Algiers, 1839), Lucie Duff Gordon (1831-1892) (Letters from Egypt, 1865, and Last Letters, 1875), and Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) (Pharaohs, fellahs and explorers, 1892, and other works).

Mary French Sheldon’s Sultan to Sultan, adventures among the Masai and other tribes of East Africa (1892) shows the tenacity of women explorers. This 41 year old American punted around lakes in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro and braved primeval forests for the benefit seeing "the whisking myriad of monkeys" and hearing the "hooting of white-hooded owls."

All four publications by Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) are included, relating her travels in West Africa after she had been freed from a life as a housekeeper and a nursemaid by the death of her parents and her brother. A sensitive ethnologist and naturalist, she did much to record tribal customs and beliefs. Florence Dixie (1855-1905) also respected her African hosts and courted controversy by siding with the Zulus against the colonisers.

A less ecologically friendly journey is recalled by Agnes Herbert in Two Dianas in Somaliland, the record of a shooting trip (1908). Other items include anonymous guides for missionaries and travellers in Africa and Pictorial Africa (1891).

Many of the works relating to Australasia and Canada have a broader interest to those exploring imperial themes. For instance, The ABC of colonisation (1850) by Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877), and The female emigrant’s guide (1854) by Catharine Traill (1802-1899), are equally relevant to emigrants to India and Africa.

Over 20 volumes describe life from the Australian outback to the backwoods of Canada. These include Colonial Memories (1874) and Station Life in New Zealand (1891) by Mary Anne Barker (1831-1911); Tales from the Bush (1845) by Mary Vidal (1815-1869); Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838) by Anna Brownell Jameson (1794-1860); and Where the sugar maple grows (1907) by Adeline Teskey (1850’s-1924).

Part 1 is rounded off with some general works including A Turkish woman’s European impressions (1913); Geography for little children (1880) by Antonia Zimmern; accounts of the worldwide plant expeditions of Marianne North 1830-c1880). Finally, there is The handbook for girl guides, or, How girls can help build the Empire (1912).

These rare printed sources offer many potential dissertation topics from the role of women in Empire to their understanding of the lives of women of other cultures.


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