Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Ida Pfeiffer

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When I was but a little child, I had already a strong desire to see the world. Whenever I met a travelling-carriage, I would stop involuntarily, and gaze after it until it had disappeared; I used even to envy the postilion, for I thought he also must have accomplished the whole long journey.

download (1)I must thank my friend Angelo Benuzzi for introducing me to the remarkable Ida Laura Pfeiffer.
Born in 1797, Ida was an Austrian merchant’s daughter, and as noted in the opening quote, she had a great curiosity for the world and a yearning for travel – the fact that, contrary to the customs of the time, she was given “a boy’s education” probably had something to do with her desire to travel.
She had been in Palestine with her father when she was five, but she started to travel seriously much later, when she was 45.

In 1842, Ida followed the course of the Danube to the Black Sea, and then visited Istanbul. She then continued south and west through Palestine and Egypt, then she came crossed the Mediterranean, traveled the length of Italy, and got back home.
She wrote a book about it.
The book sold nicely.
She used the money to travel north, to Scandinavia and Iceland, in 1845. She wrote a two-volume travelogue.

What should she do next? Success had increased her courage and strengthened her resolution, and she could think of nothing fit for her energies and sufficient for her curiosity but a voyage round the world! She argued that greater privations and fatigue than she had endured in Syria and Iceland she could scarcely be called upon to encounter. The outlay did not frighten her; for she had learned by experience how little is required, if the traveller will but practise the strictest economy and resolutely forego many comforts and all superfluities. Her savings amounted to a sum insufficient, perhaps, for such travellers as Prince Pückler-Muskau, Chateaubriand, or Lamartine for a fortnight’s excursion; but for a woman who wanted to see much, but cared for no personal indulgence, it seemed enough to last during a journey of two or three years. And so it proved.
(THE STORY OF IDA PFEIFFER And Her Travels in Many Lands, 1879)

Screenshot from 2018-04-17 02-25-53In 1846 Ida left for her first trip around the world: visiting Brazil, Chile and other countries of South America, Tahiti, China, India, Persia, Asia Minor and Greece before she got home in 1848. Obviously she wrote a book about it.

Ida was on the road again in 1851 visiting Malaysia, Sunda Islands, Borneo, Sumatra, Australia, then going up and down the length of North and South America, and she was finally home in 1854.
She wrote a book about this voyage, too1.

During her travels, Ida collected specimens of flora and fauna.
She was not just a traveler – she was an explorer.

In 1857 she traveled to Madagascar – where she met queen Ranavalona2, but was expelled when with other Europeans she was involved in a failed coup to overthrow the queen. On her voyage back to Europe she contracted a disease – identified as malaria by most sources – that finally killed her in 1858.

As I said, quite a remarkable lady.


  1. I was unable to find an online text – if anyone’s got any idea, please let me know in the comments. 
  2. the one that appears in Flashman’s Lady 

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.

One thought on “Ida Pfeiffer

  1. Always glad to be on service. 🙂

    Like

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