Featured Borrowers: Mrs Macleod of Cadboll

Books of travel and exploration were popular across our Books and Borrowing Libraries. As Maxine has shown, such books were the favourites of the students of Edinburgh’s Royal High School. Perhaps readers sought adventure and escape or maybe they just liked stories that took them across the world. Travel books were available across our libraries and any savvy owner of a circulating library would be wise to have a selection in stock.

One prolific borrower of travel books from Chambers’ Circulating Library in Edinburgh was Mrs Macleod of Cadboll of 45 Moray Place. She took out a subscription for ‘new books’ in May 1829 and went on to borrow 158 times between then and October of the same year. Her husband Roderick was an advocate, landowner, and MP – he appears as a borrower from the Advocates Library in our database. From her husband’s documentation, we learn that he married Isabella Cunninghame in 1813.[1]

The Chambers’ register shows that Isabella was an avid borrower of travel books. Without leaving Scotland, she went as far afield as Mexico, Tonga, the Continent, North America, Turkey, Persia, and Egypt. She followed the armies of the East India Company and Wellington’s campaigns in India, Spain, and France in John Blakiston’s Twelve Years Military Adventure in Three Quarters of the Globe. Here are just a few of her borrowings: note that they were all recently published. Isabella clearly took advantage of her ‘new books’ privileges.

  • George Alexander Thompson, Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico (London, 1829)
  • Robert Walsh, Narrative of a Journey from Constantinople to England (London, 1828)
  • William Hazlitt, Notes of a Journey through France and Italy (London, 1826)
  • George Head, Forest Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America (London, 1829)
  • Richard Madden, Travels in Turkey, Egypt, Nubia, and Palestine in 1824-27 (London, 1829)


One of Isabella Macleod’s two borrowing pages from the Chambers’ Circulating Library. NLS Dep.341/413, f. 152. Copyright Chambers family. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence

Isabella also favoured novels with foreign settings and characters. Among her borrowings we find Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw; James Fenimore Cooper’s Lionel Lincoln; or, the Leaguer of Boston and The Last of the Mohicans; James Baillie Fraser’s The Kuzzilbash, a Tale of Khorsan; Catherine Gore’s Hungarian Tales; and Anne Catherine Monkland’s Life in India, to give just a few.

Did Isabella ever travel herself after these armchair adventures? It’ll take us beyond our usual Books and Borrowing remit of the long eighteenth century, but she did.

The National Library of Scotland holds five volumes of a manuscript collection of materials relating to Dante dating from 1842 to 1848 (MS 2212 (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland papers)). These were assembled by none other than Isabella Macleod of Cadboll. The Macleods were in Florence in the 1840s. Isabella was part of a British circle obsessed with Dante and his works. She and her daughters Elizabeth and Anna were the most eager and industrious researchers of the family: they tracked down every trace of the Italian poet, visiting libraries, making drawings, and copying manuscripts.[2] Roderick and Isabella Macleod subscribed to the Gabinetto Vieusseux, a subscription library in Florence that was a source of foreign books and periodicals – a nice echo of Isabella’s use of the Chambers’ library in 1829.

21 Dec. 1845: One of five subscriptions to the Gabinetto Vieusseux taken out by the Macleods of Cadboll in the 1840s, Il Libro dei Soci del Gabinetto Vieusseux, vol. 4, f. 93

[1] Francis J. Grant (ed.), The Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, 1532-1942, with Genealogical Notes (Edinburgh, 1944), p. 140.

[2] Nick Havely, Dante’s British Public: Readers and Texts, from the Fourteenth Century to the Present (Oxford: OUP, 2014), pp. 214-42. Isabella’s daughter Elizabeth is credited with forming the collection, but Havely argues, based on her correspondence, that Isabella was the leading light of the Dante project in the 1840s.