Dorothy Anderson, Member, on 6 November 2003

Many Victorian ladies who travelled and wrote about their travels are still remembered, and admired for their fortitude, zeal, and industry. It is surprising, therefore, that the two women, Georgina Muir Mackenzie and Adeline Paulina Irby, held in high regard during their lives, are now almost forgotten. They were exceptional, intrepid travellers, and so much more - scholars, educationalists, relief workers, and (according to Florence Nightingale) political agitators.[1]
Looking back at their lives, it would seem that the impetus for all that they undertook and achieved as travellers, and for the dedication and enthusiasm with which they pursued their subsequent undertakings, originated from one incident, unpleasant, frightening, which they suffered during a stay at a small spa in the Carpathian mountains in 1859. It gave a purpose to their lives, a career and a mission.

fig.1 Adeline Paulina Irby Glasnik Drutra Prosvete July 1934:56

fig.2 Georgina Muir Mackenzie (painting in private collection)

To appreciate these changes is to reflect on their background, to consider the demands and restrictions of the society into which they were born. Both were ladies of quality and independence, and in 1859 neither had reached her thirtieth year. Georgina was the eldest daughter of Sir John Muir Mackenzie of Delvine, Perthshire. Paulina Irby was the youngest daughter of the second son of Lord Boston. There was a tendency to consumption in the Muir Mackenzie family, and Georgina was delicate. Paulina was more robust in temperament and health. They were well-educated, interested in literature and antiquities, not politically active.
They set out on their travels in 1858, making an extended tour of Germany and the Austrian Empire, travel-ling leisurely, with visits to spas, to 'benefit [Georgina's] delicate health by change of air and scene'. In the summer of 1859 they decided to travel from Vienna to Cracow, not by train, but directly and slowly across the Carpathian Mountains. They went alone, without a maid, journeying in hay carts. They disregarded warnings of danger, were confident in their abilities to cope with awkward situations, and they had faith in their British passports. A month later they were back in Vienna, having found the journey 'easy in its transit and rich in its rewards'.
This was not quite accurate: their mode of travel (hay carts and such like) may have been pleasant and 'easy in transit', but they had suffered a particular indignity. At the hotel at the small spa of Schmocks, they had been arrested as spies, accused of 'Panslavism'. The incident had been unpleasant, of some duration, followed by further police interference. On their return to Vienna they registered a serious complaint with the British Ambassador.
In the PRO documents [FO7/575]: the original letter from the ladies, the Ambassador's complaint to the Austrian Ministry of Police on their behalf, the Minister's apology and explanation. Their joint letter (four foolscap pages) written in alternate paragraphs - the angular disciplined hand of Georgina contrasting with Paulina's untidy scrawl - gives a full account of their arrest, how they were woken at 4.a.m., their baggage and their persons searched, and of the bullying by gendarmes and officials. The Minister, in his apology, justified the officials' actions, claiming that the two women 'had rendered themselves liable to be charged with impru-dence by their demeanour, their intercourse with other persons, and the expressions used by them...' The two women, however, saw no reason to apologise for their conduct. The incident proved not a deterrent, but the motivation for further travel, research, and investigation. At the time of their arrest, they were ignorant of the term 'Panslavism'. They now set themselves the task of learning about the Slavonic people, not those in the countries of the Austrian Empire but the more remote South Slavs, those living within the Ottoman Empire. For the next three years they travelled back and forth across the Balkans: from Con-staninople to Belgrade, through Serbia, Bosnia and Herze-govina, to Dalmatia, the Ionian Islands, from Thessalonica to Northern Albania, from Trieste into Croatia to Belgrade.
They made five journeys, travelling in four-wheeled carts, covered wagons without springs, litters slung between horses, and more comfortably by horseback. From three to twenty Dragomen and guards always accompanied them. To improve their investigations, they learnt Serbo-Croat, some Bulgarian (and they were already fluent in German). Wherever they stayed, they inquired into, and examined, the conditions of Christian Slavs under the Turks, made copious notes, accumulated evidence of Turkish misrule. They also made comparisons with 'free' Serbia (a Principality that had been self governing since 1817) where there were schools, passible roads, and no need for guards.
Fig.4 shows where they went and how far they travelled,

but gives no indication of the geographical features of the region and the physical obstacles they faced: the mountains of Northern Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Montengro; the difficult passes, turbulent rivers, swamps, and roads which were little more than tracks. A brief account of one incident, gives a flavour of their problems, and of their fortitude and energy in combating them.
Early in their journey north from Salonica towards Vodena and Monastir there were problems with the drago-men, demands for payment in advance, but they stayed firm: 'We required obedience and would listen to no terms'.
Their insistence won through, and they finally set out, but so late that they rode in the full heat of the day. At Vodena they stayed in comfort in the home of a Swiss merchant, but 'caught a fever'. They travelled on, and were forced to stay in a miserable khan [inn], 'in a tiny room, with mud walls and floor, no glass in windows, and some difficulty in fastening the door'. In the morning they were too ill to continue: 'we found our only course was to lie still, drink hot tea and imbibe medicine so as to tide over the fever fit, and be able to take quinine.'[2] They were not better the next day and 'faced up to the fear of dying in this detestable khan'. They were rescued by the British Consul at Monastir, and though their strength 'was not sufficiently re-established to allow any lengthened expedition', they visited the schools,distributing books (mostly spelling books). They made plans for the next stages of their journey, this time given their weaken state, by carriage, 'a sort of covered wagon drawn by two stout horses... assisted by oxen'. They carried on, and the problems of transport, payment of guards, wagons, horses, were ever with them.
Their resolution and stubbornness won through; strength-ened by their certainty that nothing disastrous would happen to them because they were British. In each small town, they heard tales of another Turkish atrocity, and asked questions about the position of women and schools for girls. They had became ardent champions of the South Slavs, and had identified and determined on their own special mission: to improve the conditions of Christian Slav women through education.
They also wrote of their experiences and their investig-ations. Across the Carpathians, was published anonymously in 1862, giving an account of their 1859 journey and the spy incident, and written as though by one author, travelling with her 'aunt'. In among the descriptions of bad beds, fleas, waterfalls, picturesque peasants, are chapters on aspects of the complexities of the Austrian Empire - and one on 'Panslavism' -, which revealed scholarship and a forceful pen. For indeed, both women had contributed to the text, and were as different as authors in style, interests and scholarship, as they were in personalities. (And the anonymity was conventional rather than serious, with a dedication to Lady Muir Mackenzie 'under whose roof these pages were written'.) There was further pretence of anon-ymity in a lengthy article, 'Christmas in Montenegro by I.M.', which appeared in an anthology of travel in 1862. [3]
For three years they travelled, but in the end delicate health, neglected in their enthusiasm, could not be ignored. However slowly they travelled, whatever precautions they took, they found themselves succumbing to the persisting evils of 'Danubian fever, indifferent food and lodging'. Finally, 'when health and strength failed us, there was nothing for it but to come home'.
This they did in 1864. At the meeting of the British Association in Bath, Miss Muir Mackenzie, the only woman speaker, contributed a paper on travel in the South Slavonic countries of Austria and Turkey. Her paper in extended form was published in 1865, with a lengthy title and again anonymously. [4] At the British Association meeting in Birmingham in 1865, the two, the only women speakers, presented a paper on the characteristics of the Slavonic races.
The extent of their travels and knowledge of the Balkan countries was revealed in 1867 with the publication of their major work, Travels in the Slavonic provinces of Turkey-in-Europe, a substantial volume, 688p., with maps, appendices, illustrations, glossary and footnotes, evidence of much research. The names of the two authors, with initials, appear on the title page, but within the text there is no identification of either woman: 'our gloves', 'we asked', 'the horse of one of us bolted'. But after the contents pages, there is a note: 'The greater portion of the text is contributed by the writer whose name stands first on the title-page' [5]. Georgina was acknowledged as the scholar, writing with authority, enthusiastic yet detached, committed yet critical.
The two had also been active in looking for ways to advance their special mission, to provide education for Christian Slav women and girls. They directed their attention to conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where, they believed, there was more servitude, with customs that were medieval. Their first step, in 1865, was setting up in London the 'Association for the Promotion of Education among the Slavonic Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina', and Georgina began correspondence with the British Consul in Sarajevo about setting up a girls' school there.
The Association attracted little attention, and there were increasing difficulties about how its aims were to be pursued practically. Georgina's health was failing, and she could no longer contemplate lengthy visits and responsibilities in Sarajevo. Paulina had found a new enthusiasm: she had met Florence Nightingale and had become one of Miss Nightingale's circle of devoted friends. A solution was found whereby the funds collected were entrusted to the Protestant Deaconesses at the Kaiserswerth Institution in Germany (Paulina had had some training there, and earlier Miss Nightingale ). Land was bought in Sarajevo, a schoolhouse built, and the school opened in 1869.
This could well have been the end of their endeavours, for Georgina and Paulina had come to the parting of ways. Georgina had travelled to Corfu, in search of improved health and to renew a friendship made when they had visited the Ionian Islands and had stayed with Sir Charles Sebright, now British Consul in Corfu. In 1871 Georgina and Sir Charles were married. He was much older than her, a widower of dignity and charm, with a Scottish background like herself, and had held official appointments in the Ionian Islands since 1842 (when the Islands were a British Protectorate). When the Islands became Greek in 1864, he had stayed on as British Consul, with a reputation for ability and honesty. But it was perhaps a surprising decision for Georgina. She died three years later, and was buried in Corfu.[6] She had not forgotten the South Slavs, and in her will she set up a trust fund to provide for the training of Slav
teachers. [7]
The school under the Deaconesses did not prosper. There was dislike of their uniforms and suspicion of their religious aims. In 1871 they withdrew, and Paulina accepted the challenge to take on the direction of the school herself (perhaps with Miss Nightingale's encouragement).
In Sarajevo she faced considerable problems. It was difficult to persuade Bosnians that daughters were worthy of education, and even more difficult to convince them that the aim of the school was education, and that all girls, whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Moslem, would be welcome. Her position became more comfortable when a new companion, Priscilla Johnston, joined her in 1872. Priscilla had a family connection with Paulina and a family tradition to follow. She was the granddaughter of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, the anti-slavery campaigner, and was the great niece of Elizabeth Fry. Together Paulina and Priscilla succeeded in establishing the school securely, with their own routine of responsibilities, spending most of the year in Sarajevo, returning to England for a summer vacation, Paulina with Miss Nightingale, and Priscilla with her family.
This pattern was broken when revolt against Turkish rule erupted in Bosnia in August 1875. In Sarajevo there was something akin to panic, and Paulina and Priscilla acted promptly, carrying out their emergency plan, taking their five best pupils to a girls' school in Prague. As they fled Sarajevo, they saw the first evidence of the uprisings, refugees crowding over the river to seek the safety of Austrian soil. It gave them the impetus for a new endeavour, more challenging and public: they would return to the frontier to bring aid to the refugees and establish schools for the refugee children.
In England they set about gathering funds. An appeal letter for the 'Bosnian and Herzegovinian Fugitives' Orphan Relief Fund' was published in The Times, November 1875, setting out the aims of the Fund, with a list of distinguished friends and supporters. At the end of the year they returned to Croatia, and through the winter months worked along the frontier, in snow, mud, smallpox and typhus, distributing corn and blankets. By the summer when they returned to England, they had also established eight schools where over four hundred refugee children were fed, clothed, housed, taught.
In England they were caught up in the emotional fever of the Bulgarian atrocities agitation. The reporter from the Daily News had described in detail scenes he had witnessed in Bulgaria - impaled bodies hanging like scarecrows on riverbanks featured largely. Other accounts, no less sen-sational, appeared in other papers. Throughout the country hundreds of meetings were being held, and thousands of pounds were pouring in to help the suffering Christians under Turkish rule. There were many relief funds, with names and aims differing only slightly, some of dubious motivation and responsibility, but there was no hesitation among the British public, just an overwhelming response that extended on into the next year.[8]
For Paulina and Priscilla the situation was bewildering and infuriating. Little notice had been taken of the Bosnian uprisings, but now because of descriptions of atrocities in Bulgaria, money flowed. A more balanced view, more accurate accounts of conditions throughout the Ottoman Empire were required, and they were fortunate to have many supporters, well established in high places and eloquent with pen and voice. There were the Irby and Johnston family connections, which included bankers, MPs, humanitarians, Liberals, and there was the influential circle around Miss Nightingale. It was their relief fund that featured as the front cover of the Illustrated London News in October 1876.
More effective in publicising their Fund was Paulina's visit to Mr Gladstone, who found her outspoken indictment of Turkish rule admirable. He lectured on conditions in the Ottoman Empire, making use of their book, referred to it in the House of Commons, and contributed a preface to its second edition, which Paulina was preparing early in 1877. Paulina, in her appreciative letter to Gladstone (10 April), noted that she had sent the preface to Miss Nightingale, and that 'it had done her good to read it'. [9]
There was a well-attended public meeting in support of the Fund, at which Mr Gladstone spoke at length in praise of Miss Irby and Miss Johnston. The Times, 17 July, provided a two-page account of the meeting, reporting Gladstone's speech at length, with shorter extracts from those of the other distinguished gentlemen present.
At the end of 1876 Paulina and Priscilla resumed their work, making their headquarters in the small town of Knin in Dalmatia. Arthur Evans's (Manchester Guardian) descrip-tions of refugees dependent upon the 'relief trains' of Miss Irby and Miss Johnston ensured that questions were asked in the House of Commons with Liberal MPs quoting from Miss Irby's letters.
Paulina had left the business affairs of the Fund in the hands of Miss Nightingale, but in her Paulina lacked method, common sense, and had difficulty in distinguishing between the 'orphans' that featured in the Fund's title and refugee children with mothers. Miss Nightingale was critical and exasperated, and her written comments at the bottom of Paulina's letters were cruel: 'If only she would give us some facts instead of writing like a German newspaper'; 'If only she would make up her mind whether she is a political agitator or a reliever of distress'; 'How many lies I have told!'. But she ensured that the name of the Fund was now more accurate: 'Fugitives and Orphans'.
The revolt in Bosnia simmered into 1878, the number of refugees swelled, and still Paulina and Priscilla distributed food, cared for orphans, maintained schools (at one time twenty one schools with over twelve hundred children). Miss Nightingale did as much as she could to help: revising appeals, rewriting reports, and trying to curb Paulina's involvement in politics.
Paulina continued to be pro-Slav, violently anti-Turk, and had no wish to be discreet. It was not surprising when after the Treaty of Berlin, June, 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina
were placed under Austrian jurisdiction, that the Austrian authorities were reluctant to allow Miss Irby and Miss Johnston to return to Sarajevo. It was not until her influential friends interceded that permission was given. There was a great welcome in Sarajevo, and their school overflowed and prospered.
In 1885 Priscilla returned to England, and went to live with her sister near Carlisle. She died in 1912, with that early active period of her life 'in the Balkans' forgotten by her family. One relic: a 'Bosnian boy's costume' is preserved in an attic, its source and history unknown.
Paulina stayed on in Sarajevo until her death in 1911. Her last account of the school was presented at an international conference on education in Chicago 1893.[10] She remained the staunch advocate of the greater Serbia, looking towards the creation of a South Slav state that would incorporate Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Dalmatia. Within the school, Austrian edicts were largely ignored, and pupils were encouraged to be Orthodox in their religion, Serb in their speech and customs. In the inner circles of political conspiracy that enveloped Bosnia in the early 20th century, Miss Irby, the English lady, old, nearly blind, immobile, had her place as a Serb patriot. At her funeral, mourners came from all over Bosnia and the Kingdom of Serbia. The issue of the Sarajevo journal, Prosvjeta, October 1911, presented as its frontispiece a portrait of Miss Irby in old age.[11]
In 1934 celebrations in commemoration of the centenary of her birth (she was actually born in 1831) were held in Sarajevo and throughout Yugoslavia - her dream, the South Slav state created in 1918. In the years following on 28 June (the anniversary of the day when the student, Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that precipitated WWI), a ceremony was held in the Orthodox Church at the plaque that commemorated the conspirators; then those assembled moved from the church to the cemetery, and a prayer was said over the grave of Paulina Irby.[12] Sarajevo believed that she had been as much a Serbian patriot as Gavrilo Princip.

Dorothy Anderson


1. See the biography: Anderson, D., Miss Irby and her friends (1966)

The National Portrait Gallery plans an exhibition of women travellers in

2005, but has no record of either women in its data base. The two illustrations

for this article are from Miss Irby and her friends.

2. Marsh fever [malaria] was believed to be carried by the wind, particularly the evening breeze.

3. Published in Vacation tourists and notes of travel in 1861. Edited by Francis

Galton. Macmillan, 1862. Chapter 11, pp.357-418

4. Notes on the South Slavonic countries in Austria and Turkey in Europe,

containing historical and political information added to the substance of a

paper read at the British Association at Bath, 1864. Edited by Humphry Sandwith.Blackwood, 1865.

In the BRLSI Archives there is a photograph of the 1864 BA meeting, the members visiting a local quarry, Georgina Muir Mackenzie in the foreground.

5. Travels in the Slavonic provinces of Turkey-in-Europe; the Turks, the

Greeks, and the Slavons. Bell & Daldy, 1867.

6. A plaque to Sir Charles and Lady Sebright was installed in the Anglican Chapel of the British Vice-Consulate: see: Cecil, R., The cession of the Ionian Islands, History Today,14(9)Sept 1964.

7. Money was to be paid annually to:

‘a Christian youth and a Christian woman of Serbian race and language,

who shall best qualify themselves for teaching the poorer classes in the

most ignorant parts of their own country.’ Anderson, D., Miss Irby and her friends 1966), p.71

8. See Shannon, R.T., Gladstone and the Bulgarian agitation 1876 (1963);

for an account of the work of the various relief funds and the personalities

involved, see Anderson, D., The Balkan volunteers (1968)

9. 2 vol., 1877. Vol.1 includes Gladstone’s ‘sonorous’ Preface, followed by additional chapters, with accounts of atrocities by Evans and Irby, followed by the text of 1867 edition; ILN review, 25 August 1877: ‘A tendency in Miss Irby’s recent additions to adopt the tone of the accuser and denouncer instead of the formerly more descriptive style’.

10. Irby, A.P., ‘English orphanage and training school on Bosnia, 1869-1892’, Proceedings of the International Congress of Education, Chicago, 1893.

New York, National Educational Association, 1895, pp.900-3

11. See also: Evans, Arthur, ‘The late Miss Irby: a tribute’, The Contemporary Review, December, 1911, pp. 844-6

12. She was buried in the Protestant cemetery, and when that was destroyed in town planning operations, the Orthodox church asked permission for her re-burial in their cemetery. In 1965 I visited her grave: there was a fresh bouquet of flowers lying there.



Adeline Paulina Irby [from: Glasnik drustra prosvete, July 1934, p.56]

Georgina Muir Mackenzie [painting in private collection]

Map: Miss Muir Mackenzie’s and Miss Irby’s travels

in Turkey-in-Europe 1861-4