Death of an Intrepid Traveller

Elizabeth Justice, writer of the first female-authored book of travel writing to be published in English, died on 15 March 1752.

Illustration from Voyage to Russia, 1739.
Illustration from Voyage to Russia, 1739 © The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo.

Elizabeth Justice was not alone in being unhappily married in 18th-century London. Where she was singular, however, was in how she responded. She left her husband after he ‘struck her such a blow on the head that it swelled much’. Then she found herself a job – in St Petersburg.

Justice was insouciant. ‘I left England to sail three thousand miles with only a splendid-shilling in my pocket [and] without the least anxiety’, she wrote to a friend. She spent three years there as governess to an English merchant family and wrote a memoir, Voyage to Russia, published in 1739. It is the first book of travel writing by a woman to be published in English.

Hers is a vivid portrait of life in a city adapting to western fashions: French gowns, twice-weekly Italian operas, the occasional Dutch play. She has a sharp eye for detail. ‘The green trees are become so white’, she writes of a winter scene, ‘that they put me in mind of the rosemary upon cakes at twelfth-tide.’

Justice also wrote a novel: Amelia, or The Distress’d Wife: A History (1751). A line on the title page – ‘Founded on Real Circumstances’ – reveals it as autobiography, thinly veiled.

She died aged 49 on 15 March 1752. ‘Every body loves me’, she had Amelia write to a friend, ‘but he that should.’