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In her book, The Golden Chersonese (published in 1883), Isabella Bird records an account of her visit to the Tung Wah Hospital in Hong Kong on 10th January 1878 (pages 90-94).

She is a first-class writer and observer of the lives of the people in all the countries she visits. The dates below are the dates of publication of her many books: America (1856), The Sandwich Islands – Hawaii (1874), Australia (1877), The Rocky Mountains (1879), Japan (1879), Malaya (1883), Mount Sinai (1886), Persia (1891), Tibet (1894), Korea (1898), China (1899), Morocco (1901).

In this same book, is a searing account of a visit to the main prison and execution grounds in Canton earlier in the week, 6th January 1878 (pages 74-89). This would be of great interest to all those interested in prison reform, where “up to 100 heads can fall in one morning” and 25 and 35 heads a day are not unusual.

Later in the book, she comments very positively on the Kling people she sees in Malaya. I feel that any Kling people who read this entry on Gwulo would like to be aware of this appreciation from so long ago.

The Kling men are very fine-looking, lithe and active, and, as they clothe but little, their forms are seen to great advantage. The women are, I think, beautiful - not so much in face as in form and carriage. I am never weary of watching and admiring their inimitable grace of movement.

Isabella contrasts this unfavourably with European women tottering painfully on high heels in an ungraceful heap of poufs and frills.

I want to recommend Isabella Bird’s books to all those who want to view a world from a woman’s point of view, before political correctness set in. The later books are the best. Her comments on Japan and Korea anticipate many events awaiting in the future.


The book is available to read online at

Hong Kong is the subject of Letter I, Letter II, and Letter V, and there's a brief mention of the Hong Kong Prison in Letter IV.