A LITTLE known journal written by a Scottish diplomat’s wife 200 years ago in Turkey has been published for the first time in a new book.

Henrietta Liston, a botanist and diarist, spent eight years in Istanbul - then Constantinople - from 1812 to 1820 after her husband, Robert Liston, was appointed British ambassador to the Sublime Porte - the Ottoman Court at Constantinople.

Her diaries range from the couple’s arrival in Constantinople in a “little flotilla” paid for by the sultan Mahmud II and their welcome by a “great crowd – male and female, of Turks, Greeks, Jews and Christians”, to her first taste of a kebab.

“Henrietta Liston’s Travels: The Turkish Journals 1812–1820’, published by Edinburgh University Press, is a collaboration between scholars at the National Library of Scotland and Bilkent University, Ankara, and is coupled with a digital resource hosted by the National Library.

National Library Curator Dora Petherbridge, co-editor of the book, said: “Over almost eight years’ residency in the Ottoman Empire, Henrietta, as diplomat’s consort, kept up ‘a friendly intercourse with all mankind’. She also kept travel journals which are preserved in the Liston Papers archive here at the Library.

“Henrietta’s enquiring voice takes us with her to walk through Constantinople ‘as much incognito as possible’, to watch pilgrims depart on the hajj, to see burial grounds full of victims of the plague and to marvel at Mount Olympus. She is fascinated by the mosques, the practice of Ramazan, and by sultanic power.

“Full of opinion, curiosity and wonderment, Henrietta’s writing shows her consciousness that she looked at Turkey with the ‘eye of a stranger’ and reveals her awareness of her role in the Anglo-Ottoman relationship.”

Henrietta, or Hennie as she was known, was born in Antigua to a family of planters, of Scots descent. Orphaned by the age of eight, she and her brothers were sent to live with an uncle and aunt in Glasgow. She was 44 when she married Liston, then the British Minister to the United States, in 1796.

As diplomat’s wife, she swapped her private life in Glasgow for a public one of politics, royal courts, travel, and socialising on a grand scale. By the end of their four-and-a-half year posting to the US, the Listons had won the trust and admiration of leading figures including the first US President George Washington thanks to their “personal charm and cultured diplomacy”.

She and her husband are also credited with helping to forge the first “special relationship” between the governments of Britain and the USA before their departure in 1800, and later travels to locations such as The Hague, Copenhagen and Constantinople.

The new book and digital resource invite readers to observe Liston’s informal diplomacy at work, and accompany her as she rode ‘à la Turque’ (astride) on a Turkish saddle, compared her clothes with those of Turkish women she met, and ate kebab for the first time.

On leaving Turkey, Henrietta said: “Every local object […] became interesting to me, by the painful idea of seeing them for the last time.”

Dr Patrick Hart of Bilkent University said it was hoped the “celebration of Henrietta Liston’s writing” would inspire readers as much as Turkey inspired her.

He added: “Henrietta Liston’s travel journals of 1812-1820 offer a unique and colourful view of the Mediterranean and of Constantinople and its environs. Until now they have been almost completely unknown, never having appeared in print.

“Together our book and digital resource will introduce Liston’s writings to a wide readership by providing a modernised, readable edition alongside free access to digital facsimiles of the manuscripts and semi-diplomatic transcriptions.”

Henrietta’s journals are part of the extensive Liston Papers archive which comprises hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts primarily reflecting Robert Liston’s career. Until recently, it is Robert who has been the focus of research.

Ms Petherbridge added: Women’s writing, history, and lives have often been neglected over the years. In addition, Henrietta was not from an aristocratic family, which has compounded how little known she has been. Now there is a fresh interest in diplomatic consorts and spouses and much research into their key roles in diplomatic society and international relations.

“Over the past few years researchers have begun to explore the extent of Henrietta’s writing and her varied experiences in many different parts of the world.

“Henrietta writes about Sultan Mahmud II, the Ottoman elite and the European diplomatic corps with discernment and wit.

“She was an informed observer of international politics. Her journals demonstrate her political nous and sensitivity to the politics of character. Henrietta looks at the reputation of the men she encounters and weighs it in the balance.”

The Library will host an online event celebrating the launch of the book and resource today. The book’s editors - Dora Petherbridge, Dr Patrick Hart and Associate Editor Dr Özden Mercan - will offer insights into editing Liston’s manuscripts, and her views on life in Turkey, her observations on sultanic power, the plague and Ottoman women in an empire on the cusp of reform. Registration is free via the Library’s website.