From one perspective, travellers to Iceland in the 19th century were a homogeneous group: many were upper-class, well-educated Englishmen, including such luminaries as Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Jackson Hooker, Sir Richard Burton, and William Morris. The focus of their curiosity was also quite similar: the stark, volcanic and glacial landscape (the Great Geysir being a prime example that almost all visited and described) and their fascination with Þingvellir and the Alþing as the foundation for modern democracy. Beyond this, though, their travels and accounts varied in motive (Ebenezer Henderson's two-year stay in Iceland, for example, was religious in purpose, while Burton's visit leaned more towards geography and science). Too, not all the travellers were men: notable women included Miss E.J. Oswald, Mrs. Disney Leith, and Madame Ida Pfeiffer. The tone of their accounts differed quite remarkably as well: compare the Californian artist and travel writer John Ross Browne's humorous and sympathetic narrative with that of the ill-tempered, supercilious Austrian noble-woman, Pfeiffer (one wonders why she ever left home, so determined does she seem to have been not to enjoy her travels!).

As you will see by looking at the Bibliography on the Sources page in this website, I have been able to identify more than one hundred accounts of travels in Iceland between 1750 and 1914, most of them in the form of books, although there are some magazine articles as well. As time goes on, I plan to include text and illustrations from as many of these sources as I can locate. To begin with, though, I have concentrated on the four books that I own (Nicol, Dufferin, Browne, and Leith), together with brief paragraphs from other books that I quoted in my master's thesis on the historical geography of Iceland (University of Calgary, 1970), and books held in the collections of the library of the University of Alberta.

Travels in 19th-Century Iceland home page