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ADELINE PAULINA IRBY Bosnian Heroine. Noble Humanitarian. Protestant Believer.




Boyland Hall. Adeline’s childhood home.

Rear Admiral Hon. Frederick Paul Irby

UPBRINGING Adeline Paulina Irby was born into the comfort of upperclass English life on 19 December 1831; the daughter of Rear Admiral the Honourable Frederick Paul Irby, a handsome British naval captain whose decorated career began when he enlisted at the age of twelve, and Frances Wright, a wealthy banker’s daughter. G row i n g u p i n B oy l a n d H a l l , a n Elizabethian estate in Norfolk, one hundred and seventy-five kilometers to the northeast of London, Adeline enjoyed all of the privileges afforded people of her wealth and standing. At the age of twenty, when her mother died (her father passed away eight years earlier) she moved to London to live with her sister, Frances, and Frances’ husband, splitting time between their town home on the northern edge of Hyde Park and their nineteen bedroom 623 hectare country estate, Monks Hill. It was in London that Adeline began to grow more interested in education, taking courses in the classics, various languages and the sciences. But Adeline was not one to be satisfied with

theoretical learning, she was more tactile, prefer ring to lear n by doing and experiencing. While in London she met Georgina Muir Mackenzie, who had moved to London from her home in Scotland with her mother following the death of her father, and they began to travel together; at first on the mainland of Europe - spas in Switzerland, tourist spots in Italy and Holland - with Georgina’s mother, and then to less traveled locations. In 1859, the two ladies began a trip from Vienna, through Bratislava to Cracow. Instead of taking the faster and more secure route by train, they decided to go by cart, staying in roadside inns on the way, over the Carpathian mountains. This little adventure proved more important than they could have imagined. While lodging in a spa at the base of the Tatra Mountains, they were awakened before sunrise by a loud banging at their door, the source of which, they soon discovered, was two Austrian Gendarmes sent to arrest them. The two ladies were detained for a day on accusation of being Russian spies and Panslavistic sympathizers.

“Irby was the noblest and foremost of English women”
Nobel Winning Author

Ivo Andrić

Neither Adeline nor Georgina knew what a Panslav was, but they made it their aim, once released, to study and understand who were the Slavs and why was the Austrian government so afraid of them and their sympathizers. CONNECTION TO BOSNIA After a year of compiling notes from their Carpathian adventure, forming them into a travel book (Across the Carpathians, published anonymously in 1862), and researching the history of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, Adeline and Georgina decided to travel east to Turkey. They were specifically interested in the area known as Turkey-inEurope (today, the Balkans) and the condition of the Slav people living there under Turkish rule. Carrying with them the Sultan’s firman, an all-encompassing visa entitling them to free passage and the support of Turkish and local officials throughout the Sultan’s land, they crisscrossed the Balkans five times over the next three years. During that time they studied the history of the South Slavs; learned to speak Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian and a little Bulgarian; shared meals with Princes, Governors, and Consuls as well as farmers, priests, and teachers; traveled by horse and hay cart, often escorted by armed guards; visited schools, churches, and mosques; and spent significant time in modern day Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Greece, and Macedonia. By the end of their three years in the region, they could have been truthfully classified as Slav-sympathizers. Back in England in 1864, they again compiled their notes into a travel book, a handsomely-bound and illustrated seven hundred page hardback titled Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey-in-Europe which was published in London in 1867 (and published in Belgrade the following year as



Putovanje po slovenskim zemljama Turske u Evropi). During their journey they had been struck by the poor condition of the lowerclass raja, who often faced intolerable taxation and injustice from landlords and local officials, and by the lack of education available to children, especially the girls. The literacy rate in Bosnia was under one percent and in Sarajevo, there was not a single bookstore. Wanting to do more to help than simple write about the state of life in Turkey-in-Europe, the ladies decided to open a school for girls They chose Sarajevo as a location because so few missionary endeavors were ongoing in Bosnia and only one, small and struggling, school for girls existed in the whole country. In January 1870, the newly constructed school for girls opened to serve the children of Sarajevo. (It was located where the yellow government building now stands catty-corner to the new BBI shopping mall). Adeline and Georgina raised money from f r i e n d s , f a m i l y, a n d l i k e - m i n d e d philanthropists in England so that education, lodging and food could be

“I have never witnessed a nobler or simpler example of entire selfdevotion to the cause of good. They have voluntarily sacrificed whatever attractions are the found in the gilded saloons of London to devote themselves to unceasing and wearying labour.”
four time British Prime Minister

William Gladstone,




“When I came to Bosnia I met one great and good-hearted people, and the misery of these people aroused in me feelings of compassion, and I decided to give them all my life in order to heal their sufferings and to make their misery less.” Adeline Paulina Irby (1908)
provided free of charge to all children regardless of nationality or religion. Two years after the opening of the school, Georgina was forced to retire from her work in Bosnia due to health; she soon after married Sir Charles Seabright, the British Consul General to the Ionian Islands, and moved to Corfu where she died on 24 January 1874. Adeline continued her work with a new English compatriot Priscilla Johnston. REFUGEE WORK The summer of 1875, Herzegovinian peasants from the Nevesinje district east of Mostar began fleeing into the mountains to avoid state taxes they were unable to pay because of widespread crop failure the year before. When the tax-collectors responded with violence, the remaining farmers retreated and began arming themselves for resistance. The uprising quickly spread across Bosnia, flooding neighboring countries with refugees; their numbers reaching up to 250,000 by the end of 1876. Adeline and Priscilla were just arriving back to the Balkans from a summer in England when the conflict hit Bosnia. After quickly evacuating the school, they began to contemplate how they might be of assistance to the refugees who were huddling along the roads in Slavonia, barely surviving on thirty cents per day (those over 14 receiving half of that) with the winter fast approaching. With the help of Adeline’s friend Florence Nightingale, they began raising money in England, creating the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Fugitives’ Orphan Relief Fund’ and appealing for funds in The Times. Within three months they were back in Croatia, opening schools for the refugee children across Slavonia. The schools provided a healthy distraction for these displaced kids and gave the ladies centralized locations from which to distribute food, clothing, and provisions to the refugees. By June 1876 they had opened eight schools with four hundred children, and had fed over three thousand women and children. But their work was only beginning. Over the next three years, Adeline and Priscilla worked tireless for the thousands of refugees, expanding their work to the Dalmatian region near Knin. By the summer of 1877, twenty schools had been established; twelve hundred children taught, fed and clothed; twenty-eight orphans in boarding homes. Sir Arthur Evans, the famed British archeologists, writer for the Manchester Guardian, and friend of Adeline, reported on a trip he made with the ladies to a village four hours from Knin: Adeline and Priscilla distributed corn for eight straight hours to over three thousand people, with another distribution planned on the next day for those who had received nothing. The December 1933 edition of Prosveta (Bosnian-Serb cultural magazine) celebrating one hundred years since Adeline’s birth recounts: When the food was given out to people, Miss Irby and Miss Johnston would start alone at 8 am and without a break continue giving food out till late night. All day long they would spend time in the dust where the corn was grown and given away. What even servants could not stand, they did, and we never saw a change of their facial expressions. They were not tired. One time someone told them: “Your good deeds and efforts for Serbs, history will truthfully note and reward.” Adeline laughed and said: “Support for the one inferior to you is holy, Truth is holy. History is not holy because it is full of lies, as are people who write it. Thank you very much! What I do here is enough for me.” In total, from 1 October 1875 to 13 June 1879, Adeline and Priscilla distributed £41,000 (equivalent to over $3 million today) in provisions, housing,

and education, saving countless refugees from certain death. RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND & MOTIVATION Adeline was strongly influenced by the example of her family, the values of Victorian England, and her Protestant faith. Her father, Rear Admiral Irby, was an active philanthropist who contributed to the abolitionist efforts of his friend and Norfolk neighbor, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, the leader of the movement in the British House of Commons deter mined to eradicate slavery. Admiral Irby had been directly involved in the suppression of the slave trade while stationed as a captain off the coast of Africa; a period in which he personally rescued three African boys destined for a life of chains, brought them with him on his return to England, and had them declared free men. This courageous activism shaped Adeline from an early age. Incidentally, Sir Thomas was Priscilla’s great-grandfather, and a key reason that Miss Johnston chose to join Adeline and her work in Bosnia. Both ladies grew up in the Victorian Era of the United Kingdom when progress, education and freedom were held as high values. These standards clearly motivated Adeline in her labor in the Balkans: working towards the education of the Bosnian raja and the advancement of women; chaffing against the lack of progress she saw at the decline of the Turkish Empire; hoping for the day when the South Slavs would be free to govern themselves, worship openly without discrimination, and improve their position through hard work and education. She was surprisingly modern and openminded for a woman born at the beginning of the 19th century. But perhaps her motivation can be best u n d e r s t o o d t h ro u g h t h e perspective of her Protestant faith. Within the Anglican church in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a movement of philanthropic-minded evangelicals for whom humanitarian work and the spread of the gospel were not mutually exclusive. William Wilberforce, who is credited with ending the British slave trade, was prominent in the fo r m at i o n o f t h i s l o o s e association as were many of Adeline’s Norfolk neighbors. They were driven by the belief Miss Irby Reading. that the truths found in the Bible could not only transform individual lives but also society; that Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself ” was an imperative part of the Christian life; that the grace of Jesus’ sacrificial death given to believers to meet their deepest needs should motivate those same believers to graciously and sacrificially give themselves to meet the needs of others; that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brought not only spiritual life to believers but also the ability to live better and different lives. When Adeline and Georgian first left London for the Balkans, they were sent out by the British and Foreign Bible Society, and throughout their travels, they distributed Slavonic New Testaments to the people the met along the way. The Philanthropic Funds they founded in order to raise money for the school in Sarajevo and their refugee work were heavily



“Cast yourselves then on [God’s] undeserved mercy; he is full of love, and will not spurn you: surrender yourselves into his hands, and solemnly resolve, through his Grace, to dedicate henceforth all your faculties and powers to his service.” William Wilberforce, A Practical View (p454)




“It is hard for me to say goodbye to this dear house in which I knew no sorrow nor poverty. I was happy. I have a Father in Heaven and my mother is the noble one. I’m losing everything now but my dear Father in He aven to whom I always pray and hope He will be there for me forever, be my guardia n. . . Adeline did more good to me and had seen more bad that had happened to me then my own mother whom I don’t even remember. Let the dear Lord make it up to her, I will pray and I will not forget her till the day I die. I tell you again dear friend, with sadness in my heart I think of leaving this house, and it’s hard to think I will never see Miss Irby again.” One of Miss Irby’s Students upon leaving the school
supported by members of the Anglican clergy and private missions societies. Miss Irby and her associates cannot be separated from their Protestant faith, especially since it seems to be source of their motivation, energy, and perseverance. AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN PERIOD The summer of 1879, a year after General Phillippović led Austrian troops across the Sava to occupy Bosnia, Adeline and Priscilla returned to Sarajevo to restart their school. Much had changed in the four years since their flight from the city; Adeline was now well-known in England, her name synonymous with the cause of the Bosnian people, and wellrespected by the majority of Bosnians, many of whom called her Plemenita (The Noble). The school, reopened and expanded, was full (sixty-six children) and now included orphans and boys. Over the next few years, the ladies settled into their work, educating Bosnian children; teaching them reading and writing, German and arithmetic, history and literature, industry and trade. They utilized every opportunity to develop their students with the skills they would need to succeed. The children mended their own clothes, kept the school clean, and assisted the cook in the kitchen; that is, except for Sunday, when, after a special teaching from the Bible and the singing of hymns, the children could be seen sitting under the trees in the gardens reading the scriptures in their native language. Despite the emphasis on the Bible and Christian teaching, the children all attended their own churches and observed their own religious holidays and festivals. When Priscilla returned to England in 1885 and retired from her work in Bosnia, Adeline remained. For the next twenty-five years she continued her work, funding much of the Institute’s budget from her own pocket, providing education as well as a moral and cultural foundation for impoverished girls who would not have received it otherwise. At her death, on September 15, 1911, there was a great outpouring of mourning throughout Sarajevo - flags flown at half-mast, black material hung from windows and balconies, flowers sent from all around Bosnia and the region. She had left instructions that her funeral would be modest and without ceremony, but her orders where largely ignored. Starting from the school, a procession assembled that included students from all the schools of Sarajevo, children and teachers from her school, the English Consul and his wife, representatives of the English community, government officials, priests, foreign representatives, and citizens of Sarajevo that led to a service at the Orthodox Cathedral. The only speaker at her funeral was the

MIS IRBIJEVA Stupila si nama... Usred noći tavne Mučenika zemlju, koja nema zore, Privila si duši, gdje planete gore, O velika ženo Britanije slavne! Preko naših polja, gdje kupine stoje, Neumorno, kao sijač bogom dani, Sijala si ispod magla neprestani' Sve zvijezde srca i ljubavi svoje. I svuda gdje pade tvoje zrnje čisto Plod obilan, zlata n suzom jezablistô, Na slavu i hvalu tebi, naša mati!... I vijekova mnogih kada konac bude, Ovdje na oltaru ove srpske grude, Pred tvojijem likom kandilo će sjati. Aleksa Šantić (The most famous Bosnian poet) MISS IRBY’S SONG You came to us in the darkest of night, Martyr’s country, which has no dawn, You gave your soul, where planets above, Praise you O great English woman. Through our fields, where the berries stand, Tirelessly, as a sower God-given, You shone underneath the continuous mist All the stars of you heart and love. And wherever your grains fell clean Abundant fruit, with golden tear shines. The glory and praise to you, our mother! ... And when many centuries have passed, Here at the altar of this Serbian soil, Before your image a lamp will shine.



to one of my little brothers, you’ve done to me as well.” After the service, she was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. LEGACY Adeline Paulina Irby’s presence is still felt in Sarajevo: Mis Irbina Ulica (Miss Irby Street), which runs from Opcina Centar behind the Presidency building, has survived many rounds of street renaming; the museum attached to the Old Orthodox Church contains some of her personal items and a painting of her when she was young; most importantly, her gravestone, which was moved when the Protestant cemetery was destroyed, stands in the large cemetery in Ciglane (an area of Sarajevo). But she left Bosnia more than road names and memorials. She left the example of her life, which was lived “in self-devotion for the general good.”

President of the Protestant Church in Bosnia, who praised not only the work she did but the character with which she did it: “What great stance, what a wide horizon that defines her in her own goodness and all of her work; Not even the simplicity of confessionism nor the short breath of nationalism ruled her – she was a member of one Church, which thinks elevated, a child of a

noble nation. She did not ask if the orphans speak English or are they were evangelicals by faith, but wherever she had seen misery she helped. Who doesn’t know the story of a good Samaritan? Here we have a Samaritan like the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. And once she had felt the happiness of knowing what it means to be able to help the Lord, there was no other way for her. She understood the words of God, completely and utterly: What you’ve done

May some of this noble value come to us and inspire us in all of our work. Let her character remain among us, in our memories as a symbol of that which is the best in us and of all people. Ivo Andrić, speaking of Miss Irby

Miss Irby’s Gravestone in Sarajevo