Before her first journey, no one would have guessed that Isabella Bird would become the heroine of Victorian travel. A middle-aged spinster on the Isle of Mull, she suffered from all kinds of strange diseases and was too frail to hold up her head without a steel support. Nonplussed, her doctors packed her off to the Pacific, the antipodean version of the spas of Switzerland, hoping for a cure.;Once there, her transformation was dramatic. Suddenly in Hawaii, she could climb the world's highest volcano - and was the first woman to do so; she rode an elephant through the untravelled jungles of Perak, she arrived in Hong Kong just in time to see it burn, and in Colorado she fell in love with a one-eyed desperado called Rocky Mountain Jim. But whenever she came home, her illness returned, making another trip essential.;Ultimately, she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (another female first), adviser to Gladstone and friend of Queen Victoria. She also became the mistress of her own mythology; insisting that her books reproduced the fresh impressions recorded in her letters.This selection reveals not the Isabella Bird we thought we knew, but instead a tempestuous, self-obsessed woman, occasionally at odds with the idea of Empire, deflecting proposals right and left. The letters also throw light on a fascinating relationship with Hennie, an equally clever and curious sister who had to stay behind.