The Times/1924/Obituary/Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming
Miss C. F. Gordon-Cumming, whose death is announced elsewhere, was one of the most travelled ladies of the last century. Although she was in no sense an explorer, still the narratives of her widespread travels, written with humour and intelligent observation, did much to diffuse among the general reading public a knowledge of countries of which most people were fairly ignorant. In 1904 she published her "Autobiography," which is full of interest. She had very fair artistic taste and produced, as the result of her wide wanderings, many sketches, both in black-and-white and in colour, which she was always ready to exhibit whenever desired to do so. She was a woman of great vigour, both of body and of mind, and was always a welcome companion to her many friends and acquaintances.
Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming was born at Altyre, in Morayshire, on May 24, 1837, the twelfth of the 15 children of Sir William Gordon-Cumming, second baronet, and head of the Clan Cumming, or Comyn. The Comyns played a great part in the early days of Scottish history, and Miss Gordon-Cumming was proud of her ancestry, which she traced back to Charlemagne. By inter-marriage they were related to many of the leading Scottish families and not a few of those of England. Miss Gordon-Cumming tells us she "started in life with 50 first cousins, about twice as many second and third cousins, and collaterals without number, for the family tree had roots and brahces ramifying in every direction; and as each group centred round some more or less notable house it followed that England and Scotland were dotted over with points of family interest in those good old days when it was held that 'blood is thicker than water,' and kinship, however much diluted. was freely recognized."
She spent her early years at Altyre amid beautiful and happy surroundings. Her brother, Roualeyn Gordon-Cumming, the celebrated South African lion-hunter, was 17 years older than his sister, and his return when she was six years old was a great event. Other brothers made their way to India, Ceylon, and other parts of the world. so that she may be said to have been brought up in an atmosphere of travel and adventure. At the age of six "Eka" as she was called, went to live at Cresswell Hall, Northumberland, with her eldest sister, who had married Oswald Baker Cresswell, From here she was sent to school in London, where at intervals she spent several years. After the death of her father in 1854, Miss Gordon-Cumming lived with relatives in Northumberland, London, the Highlands, and elsewhere. Thus she passed her life until in 1868 at the age of 31, she mad, with much hesitation, her first venture in foreign travel by paying a visit to her sister, who had married an officer stationed in India. She took ample advantage of her opportunities to visit much that was worth seeing in India, including the Himalayas. here she had what she called a "a year of enchantment." On her return she recorded her experiences and impressions in her first publication, "From the Hebrides to the Himalayas]]," a bulky work, afterwards divided into two—"In the Hebrides and "In the Himalayas and on Indian Plains." On her visit to India, she was able to get a glimpse of the attractions of Ceylon. Her desire to see more of the island was gratified in 1872 when on the invitation of her old friends she visited the island and the results were published in her "Two Happy Years in Ceylon."
Miss Gordin-Cumming made no pretensions to be an explorer, like Mrs Bishop (Miss Isabella Bird) and other adventurous ladies of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the first two records of her travels show her to have been a keen observer, interested in man of the aspects of the regions she traversed—in the geography, their geology, their people, and their works, their beliefs, superstitions, and folk-lore, in social and political conditions—so that her narratives, full of brightness and humour and human sympathy, were for the time substantial contributions to knowledge. She had been home only for a few months when she had the opportunity of visiting Fiji, which had been handed over by the chiefs to the Great White Queen. In March, 1875, she accompanied the first Governor, Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon (the first Lord Stanmore), and his party. En route she spent some weeks at Sydney, arriving at Fiji in September. Here she spent the next two years, of which "every day was full of interest and novelty," as recorded in her narrative "At Home in Fiji," including her experiences of a visit to new Zealand. It was in 1877, while in Fiji, that she was offered the opportunity of a voyage in the Pacific in a French man-of-war, visiting Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, and other groups, finishing up in California. The result was one of her most interesting narratives, "A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War." Her sis months in California furnisher her with material for her "Granite Crags of California." In August, 1878, she left San Francisco for Japan, where she spent several months, the only account of which is contained in her "Memories (1904), occupying five chapters full of interest on many aspects of Japanese life. From Japan she passed on to China, to which she devoted six months, the story of which is told in her "Wanderings in China." In September 1879, she returned to San Francisco with General Ulysses Grant and his family. From San Francisco she visited the Hawaiian Islands, where, among her other experiences, she climbed the great volcano Mauna Loa, many aspects of which she recorded in those sketches which formed some of the most attractive and instructive results of her worldwide travels.
Altogether what Miss Gordon-Cumming accomplished in those years of almost incessant travel is remarkable. and her voluminous records of the results. not only in books but in dozens of magazine articles, are far above the flimsy narratives of the mere globetrotter. On her return she took up her residence at Crieff, and there she remained for the rest of her life, devoting herself to her neighbours, rich and poor, and th her numerous relations. She also spent much time in developing the invention of the numeral type for the use of illiterate Chinese, both blind and seeing.