East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Rosita Forbes


We breathed the same air for one month.

NPG x16614; (Joan) Rosita Forbes (Mrs Arthur T. McGrath) by Howard CosterIf it has to start somewhere, my personal gallery of travellers, explorers, adventurers and assorted daredevils, it has to start with Rosita Forbes.

Joan Rosita “Sita” Forbes neé Torr, was born in England in 1890.
She owed that distinctively un-British name to a Spanish grandmother.
She left home at seventeen and married at twentyone – but the marriage did not last long.
She only kept the Forbes surname.
Now calling herself Rosita Forbes, she drove an ambulance during WWI.

Then, with a friend called Undine, she left London and travelled the world – thirty countries in thirteen months.
She wrote a book about it.
In Paris, she planned to cover the Peace Talks, as a jounalist, but the newspaper for which she worked sent her as a reporter in Casablanca.

… alias Sitt Khadija

And then Karthoum, and Abyssinia, and finally Cairo, and from there the Lybian desert – possibly as a spy, certainly pretending to be the widowed daughter of an Egyptian merchant, and calling herself Sitt Khadija.

She explored the desert, found a lost city, came back and wrote the book.

The complete list of the travels and adventures of Rosita Forbes, between the 1920s and the end of the 1940s, sounds extremely unlikely.
Asia, Africa, South America (piloting her own plane)…
She inspired incidents portrayed in movies like The Wind and the Lion (she did actually interview the Raisuli, master of tha Atlas tribes) and The English Patient.

In 1930s she crossed the Caucasus, from Turkey to Afghanistan.
That’s how I found her – while I was doing research for my “adventurers on the silk road” ebook.

She wrote novels and travel books, invented two cocktails, filmed documentaries, and generally had a hell of a good time.

She died in june 1967 – exactly one month after I was born.

From-the-Sahara-to-Samarkand-Bald-Margaret-9781604190304Today, not many books by Rosita Forbes are readily available (we’ll talk about it – maybe another time), but interested parties might like to check out Fron the Sahara to Samarkand – Selected Travel Writings of Rosita Forbes, 1919-1937 – a nice thick paperback (or ebook) edited by Margaret Bald, which offers extracts from many once popular books by Rosita, together with an excellent gallery of photographs.
Forbes’ writing is fresh and amusing, with a great attention to details and a pleasant approach to exotic places and peoples.

By 1949, Rosita Forbes had travelled through all te countries of the world – except for New Zealand and Tibet.
Now that’s my kind of lady.
We’ll have to talk again about her, one of these nights.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

9 thoughts on “Rosita Forbes

  1. “Now that’s my kind of lady.”
    Mine too!


  2. What a lady and what a life, a real traveller for sure. To me people like Ms. Forbes are the demonstration of a concept: humankind needs a frontier, to face the unknown. Today it looks like the whole of our world has been explored (not true) and that there are no more frontiers (not true too). Maybe the new Silk Road lies under the sea surface or will be virtually tracked in our solar system. Both waiting for the next generation of bold women and men, ready to face the unknown.


    • I agree (damn… my awful english doesn’t allow me to write something more smart than this. sorry Angelo, and sorry Dave, too)


  3. I agree completely.
    We need challenges, we need adventure.
    Maybe in the old days it was easier.
    Maybe it’s just us, being to cautious…


  4. I love all the stories about adventures and strong women but the thing love most in this post is
    “We breathed the same air for one month”
    it sounds so romantic!!


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