Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bishop, Isabella Lucy
BISHOP, Mrs. ISABELLA LUCY (born Bird) (1831–1904), traveller and authoress, born on 15 Oct. 1831 at Boroughbridge Hall, Yorkshire, the home of her maternal grandmother, was eldest child of the Rev. Edward Bird (d. 1858). The Bird family was long settled at Barton-on-the-Heath, Warwickshire, and William Wilberforce [q. v.] and John Bird Sumner [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, were kinsmen. Miss Bird's mother, Dora, second daughter of the Rev. Marmaduke Lawson of Borough-bridge, was her father's second wife. Both parents were strongly religious, and Isabella inherited pronounced evangelical views. Her childhood was passed in her father's successive benefices, Tattenhall in Cheshire from 1834 to 1842, St. Thomas's, Birmingham, from 1842 to 1848, and from 1848 onwards at Wyton, Huntingdonshire. At Tattenhall, Isabella, who suffered through life from a spinal complaint, lived much in the open air, learnt riding, becoming in after years an expert and fearless horsewoman, and was trained to observe objects of country life. At Birmingham she began to help in Sunday school work, and started her literary career by writing in 1847 an essay in favour of fiscal protection which was printed for private circulation at Huntingdon. At Wyton she learnt rowing on the Ouse. In 1850 she underwent an operation for spinal trouble; and in the summer of 1854, when she was twenty-two, being recommended a sea voyage for her health, she visited a cousin in Prince Edward Island. Seven months were spent on this trip, which extended to Canada and the United States. It was the first of her travels, and she recorded her experience in 'The English-woman in America,' published in January 1856 by John Murray the third (1808-1892) [q. v.], who became at once her publisher and her personal friend for life.
In 1857-8 she revisited America for the sake of health. At the suggestion of her father she studied the current religious revival in the United States, and described it in serial articles in 'The Patriot,' which were collected in 1859 as 'The Aspects of Religion in the United States of America.'
Meanwhile Miss Bird paid, with her family, constant visits to Scotland, and on her father's death in 1858 she, her mother, and only sister, Henrietta, made their home in Edinburgh. For her sister she cherished the closest affection, and after her mother died they continued to live together, when Isabella was resting from travel, and letters to her sister from distant parts formed material for many of her books. Her sister had a cottage, too, at Tobermory, in the Island of Mull. Miss Bird grew to be especially interested in the social and spiritual welfare of the people in the West Highlands; she co-operated with Lady Gordon Cathcart in crofter emigration to Canada (1862-6), and in 1866 personally visited the settlers in Canada. She also wrote much for magazines, including papers on hymns in the 'Sunday Magazine' (1865-7), and in the 'Leisure Hour' she described in 1867 a tour to the Outer Hebrides in 1860. In 1869 she attacked the slums and povertv of Edinburgh in 'Notes on Old Edinburgh.'
Miss Bird's health was still bad; much of her writing was done while she lay on her back, and she failed to benefit by a trip to New York and the Mediterranean in 1871. In July 1872 she started for Australia and New Zealand, and recovering her health went on in 1873 to the Sandwich Islands. There she stayed for six to seven months, and then spent the autumn and early winter of 1873 in America, mainly in the Rocky Mountains, where her riding powers came into play. This tour lasted in all eighteen months, and the outcome of it was two notable volumes 'The Hawaiian Archipelago. Six Months among the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Vol- canoes of the Sandwich Islands' (1875), a book of interest to men of science as well as to the general reader, and 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains' (1879), a collection of letters originally published in 1878 in the 'Leisure Hour,' which was subsequently translated into French.
While at home at Edinburgh in 1876-7 she closely studied the microscope, and engaged in the promotion of the national Livingstone memorial, to take the form of a college for the training of medical missionaries. These interests brought her the acquaintance of her future husband, Dr. John Bishop, who was her sister's medical adviser. In April 1878 she set out for Japan, where she spent seven months travelling through the interior and visiting the country of the hairy Ainos in the island of Yezo. After five weeks in the Malay Peninsula (January and February 1879), she reached England in May 1879 by way of Cairo and the Sinai Peninsula, where she contracted typhoid fever. This tour supplied material for 'Unbeaten Tracks in Japan' (1880) and 'The Golden Chersonnese and the Way thither' (1883). In June 1880 her sister died, and on 8 March 1881 she married Dr. Bishop, ten years her junior, at St. Lawrence's Church at Barton-on-the-Heath, the Warwickshire home of her father's family. Her husband died after a long illness at Cannes in March 1886.
Thenceforth Mrs. Bishop largely devoted herself to the cause of medical missions, which she considered 'the most effective pioneers of Christianity' (Stoddart p. 325). In 1887 she studied medicine at St. Mary's hospital, London, and in 1888 was baptised by Spurgeon by way of consecration to the missionary cause, not as joining the baptist denomination. At the, end of 1887 she was in Ireland while the 'Plan of Campaign' was in operation, and described the episode in 'Murray's Magazine' in the summer of 1888. She left for India in February 1889. Proceeding to Cashmere, where she came into close touch with the Church Missionary Society, she went on to Lesser Tibet, and described it in 'Among the Tibetans,' published by the Religious Tract Society in 1894. She was back at Simla in October, and soon travelled from Karachi to Bushire, thence to Bagdad and Teheran, an 'awful journey' ; and through the Bakhtiari country, Western Persia, Kurdistan, and Armenia to Trebizond on the Black Sea. She reached London again in December 1890. An intention to establish a hospital at Nazareth was frustrated by the opposition of the Turkish government. Instead, she founded in the early stages of this long and adventurous journey the John Bishop Memorial Hospital in Cashmere, and the Henrietta Bird Hospital for Women near Amritsar in the Punjab. In 1891 she published 'Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan,' as well as two articles in the 'Contemporary Review' on the persecution of the Christians in Asiatic Turkey, entitled 'The Shadow of the Kurd.' Her meetings with the Nestorian Christians on her difficult tour added to her zeal for mission work. In a missionary address given by her in 1893 on 'Heathen Claims and Christian Duty' (published in 1905 by the Church Missionary Society as 'A Traveller's Testimony') she said that she had ' been made a convert to missions, not by missionary successes, but by seeing in four and a half years of Asiatic travelling the desperate needs of the un-Christianised world.'
By 1890 Mrs. Bishop's fame was fully established as a traveller and a missionary advocate. She addressed the British Association in 1891, 1892, and 1898, was made in 1891 a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and in 1892 a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, to which no lady had previously been admitted.
In January 1894 she left England once more, and was absent for three years and two months, till March 1897. Through Canada she passed to Japan, Corea and China. Four visits were paid to Corea ; on the first she explored the Han river and crossed the Diamond Mountains to the east coast of the peninsula. After a visit to Chinese Manchuria, she went up the Yangtze and into the interior of China, through the province of Szechuan to the borders of Tibet, thus spending fifteen months and travelling 8000 miles in China alone. On her way she founded three hospitals as memorials to her husband, parents, and sister, one in Corea and two in China, as well as an orphanage in Japan. On her return to England she published 'Korea and her Neighbours' (Jan. 1898) and 'The Yangtze Valley and Beyond' (November 1899) dedicated to Lord Salisbury.
Mrs. Bishop was a keen photographer, and in 1900 published a collection of 'Chinese Pictures,' notes on photographs made in China. In December 1900, though nearly seventy years of age, she went to Morocco for six months, but illness prevented her from writing more than an article in the 'Monthly Review' on her experiences. Another visit to China was contemplated, but her health entirely gave way, and after many months of illness she died at Edinburgh on 7 Oct. 1904; she was buried at the Dean cemetery. In 1905 a memorial clock to her sister's memory, the 'Henrietta Amelia Bird' memorial clock, was erected at Tobermory from funds bequeathed by her for the purpose.
Mrs. Bishop was small in stature, quiet in speech and manner, and was a traveller of extraordinary courage. Fearless on horseback, she explored alone the most dangerous and barbarous countries. A keen observer with a retentive memory, she was a fluent speaker and had great power of vivid narrative. A restless disposition led her, even when not travelling, constantly to change her home in England and Scotland. Her love of travel was stimulated by chronic ill-health, the repeated losses in her family, which produced a sense of loneliness, and above all by her missionary enthusiasm. 'A critical but warm supporter of missions, especially of medical missions,' she held that Christianity should be presented to natives as far as possible through native teaching. She combined with a sympathetic interest in native races love of adventure and zeal for scientific study. Her valuable records of travel and the extent of her wanderings give her a place among the most accomplished travellers of her time (Geographical Journal, July to December, 1904, p. 596).
[Life of Isabella Bird (Mrs. Bishop), by Anna M. Stoddart, 1906; Women of Worth, by Jennie Campbell, 1908 the Adventures of a Lady Traveller; The Story of Isabella Bird Bishop, by Constance Williams, Sunday School Union, 1909; Annual Register, 1904; The Times, 10 Oct. 1904; Geographical Journal (Roy. Geog. Soc.), July to Dec. 1904.]