Around the World with Ida Pfeiffer

Ida Pfeiffer dressed for a collection foray with an insect net and a specimen container slung over her shoulder

Ida Pfeiffer dressed for a collection foray with an insect net and a specimen container slung over her shoulder

On October 28, 1858Austrian traveler and travel book author Ida Laura Pfeiffer passed away. Pfeiffer was one of the first female explorers, whose popular books were translated into seven languages. On her voyages, she travelled more than 240.000 by sea and 32.000 km on land over four continents. During her travels Ida Pfeiffer collected plants, insects, mollusks, marine life and mineral specimens.

Ida Pfeiffer was born in Vienna. She was well educated and at the age of five, she traveled to Palestine and Egypt. She married the lawyer Dr. Mark Anton Pfeiffer in 1820 and during their marriage, Ida gave drawing and music lessons to increase the family’s poor financial situation.

After her husband passed away, Ida Pfeiffer began traveling to foreign places. In 1842 she traveled along the Danube river to the Black Sea and Istanbul. From there she continued to Palestine and Egypt before returning home via Italy. She managed to publish the insights from her journey in “Reise einer Wienerin in das Heilige Land” in 1843. Further travels were also financed from the success of the publication. Pfeiffer explored Scandinavia and Iceland and published her work “Reise nach dem skandinavischen Norden und der Insel Island” in 1846.

In the same year, Ida Pfeiffer began her journey around the world. She visited Brazil, Chile and other countries of South America, Tahiti, China, India, Persia, Asia Minor and Greece, and reached home in 1848. She published her travels in “Eine Frau fährt um die Welt” in 1850. During the 1850s, Pfeiffer traveled to England and South Africa later proceeding to the Malay archipelago, spending eighteen months in the Sunda Islands, where she visited the Dyaks of Borneo and was one of the first persons to report on the behavior of the Bataks in Sumatra, and the Malukus. She further visited California, Oregon, Peru and the Great Lakes. Ida Pfeiffer came back home in 1854 and published her work “Meine zweite Weltreise” two years later.

During the later 1850s, Ida Pfeiffer set out to explore Madagascar, where at first she was cordially received by the queen Ranavalona I. She unwittingly allowed herself to be involved in a plot to overthrow the government together with a few other Europeans, namely Jean Laborde and Joseph-François Lambert in apparent collaboration with crown prince Rakoto. The queen executed the Malagasy involved in a coup attempt but spared the Europeans, whom she expelled from the country. Ida Pfeiffer contracted an illness, probably malaria, during her passage from the capital of Antananarivo to the coastal port of departure and never fully recovered. She died in Vienna in 1858. Her travelogue titled “Reise nach Madagaskar” was published in 1861 and also includes a biography written by her son Oskar Pfeiffer.

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