1784 - 1830
Sibbella Maclean, often referred to simply as Miss McL-, was romantic interest-turned-lover and correspondent of Anne Lister from their first meeting in 1820 to her untimely death in 1830. Intimate details of her life, health and family affairs are often documented in the pages of Lister's journals and letters. This profile celebrates her life.
Table of Contents
Sibbella Maclean, Lady of Coll: A Brief Introduction
Sibbella Maclean was born in 1784¹, the third child and second daughter of Alexander Maclean 14th of Coll², and Catherine Cameron of Glendessary.
Maclean of Coll
Maclean of Coll is a branch of the Clan Maclean³, a Highlands Scottish clan. The Clan Maclean has several branches including Maclean of Duart (the clan chiefs), Maclean of Ardgour, and Maclean of Torloisk. They owned large swathes of land in Argyll and the Inner Hebrides. The hereditary line of Maclean of Coll ended in 1882 upon the death of John Hector Norman Maclean, son of Hugh Maclean 15th of Coll (brother to Sibbella Maclean), but the laird had already been passed to the Stewart family on the selling of the Maclean estates in 1856.
The Macleans of Coll owned extensive lands in the Hebridean Isles, including Coll, Rum and Muck, and estates on the Isle of Mull such as Quinish and Aros. In 1818, Alexander Maclean (c.1753-1835) was laird of Coll, Quinish, Rum and Muck - it was the purchase of some of these lands that landed the family in significant debt.
Following Anne's tour of Scotland in 1828, she wrote to Sibbella to confirm the quantity of the Maclean estate, and records the following passage from Sibbella's reply in her journal:
The Maclean family had wide-reaching social connections both in Scotland, and further afield. The family enjoyed further society through Janet Maclean's marriage to George Vere Hobart, son of the Earl of Buckinghamshire. This side of the family tree includes many members of England's aristocracy including Earls, Barons, and even Prime Ministers.
Maclean Clan Motto: 'Virtue Mine Honour' meaning 'virtue is the mark of my honour.'
Maclean Tartan: The Maclean dress tartan is red, green, blue, black, white, yellow and pale sky blue. The Maclean hunting tartan is green-based with black and white checks. Anne Lister was given a shawl in the Maclean dress tartan by Isabella Norcliffe in 1824.
The style of this tartan is evidenced in the accounts of her trip to the Pyrenees in 1838, and in several journal entries.
- It is often challenging to find accurate dates of birth for individuals at this time in history, and there is question over Sibbella's birth date. On the 21st February 1820, Sibbella told Anne that she 'will be 35 the 21st of June next,' but the Coll Kirk Minutes note the 20th June as a date of birth/baptism.
- Coll is a small island in Scotland's Inner Hebrides.
- The spelling of Maclean is not important - it can be spelt McLean, Maclain, MacClane, etc.. Other families also help to make up the Maclean clan including the Rankin family, pipers of the Maclean of Coll (History - Duart Castle). Piper, Coun Douly (Condulli) Rankin (c.1774-1852) cared for baby Vere Hobart on Janet Maclean Hobart's return voyage from Grenada, on account of Janet's ill-health (MacKinnon 2003).
Basic information about Miss Maclean
Birth/Baptism: 20 June 1784 - Baptised at Tiree, Argyll, Scotland
Death: 16 November 1830 - Grove End, St John’s Wood, London
23 November 1830 - Vault 63 of the crypt at St Marylebone Parish Church, London (original burial location)
22 October 1982 - Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey (reburial)
Eye color: Blue
Hair color: Brown
Also known as: Frequently referred to simply as Miss McL- in Anne Lister's journals. She is occasionally called the 'Lady of Coll.'
Sibbella herself signs her letters in two different ways - S.ML and S. MacLean (both pictured). She also refers to herself as “your friend Sib” in a letter to Anne Lister dated 23 November 1828 (SH:7/ML/287).
Life companion: Whilst Sibbella had no spouse or life companion she maintained correspondence and friendship with a number of individuals including Anne Lister, Elizabeth Campbell (wife of Duncan Campbell of Barcaldine, and sister to Hugh Maclean's first wife, Janet Baird Dennistoun), and a man referred to as 'the Quaker.'
Sibbella's Early Life
There is little information known about Sibbella's early life. We can, however, pick up small details by reading Anne Lister's journal entries (1820-1830) and correspondence shared between 1824 and 1830. It is also important to take note of other collections relating to the Maclean family e.g. Papers of the Campbell Family of Barcaldine, and the Maclaine of Lochbuie Papers where titbits of information may be discovered.
Sibbella's mother died on 10 February 1802 having suffered from ill-health for several years. It is possible, although not confirmed, that she may have been suffering from consumption. Following Catherine's death, it is likely that Sibbella was involved in the care of her younger siblings; Catherina, Maria, Marion, and Breadalbane. Sibbella's older sister, Janet Macleod Maclean, died on 26 April 1804 of a pulmonary complaint (also likely consumption), and it was several months before this that Sibbella's niece, Vere Hobart, entered her care.
It is perhaps these domestic concerns that Sibbella alludes to in 1822 in correspondence with Anne Lister:
Sibbella was an unmarried woman, and this status had caused some anxiety for her brother, Hugh Maclean. If Sibbella was to be unmarried, it would fall to her family to take care of her financially.
However, her unchanged marital status wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of suitors:
Sibbella Maclean and Anne Lister
Sibbella Maclean and Anne Lister were first introduced by Mariana Lawton at a party on 15 February 1820. The party was held at the Maclean residence on York's Coney Street⁵ with Mariana's sisters, Anne (Nantz) and Eliza (Eli), also in attendance.
The romantic relationship between Sibbella and Anne is one that differs significantly from Anne's relationships with other women in that it is a relationship primarily gained and maintained by pen. Sibbella began a correspondence with Anne in January 1822, this first letter containing an update on her failing health - she had just begun taking mercury. Their correspondence continued throughout their friendship until Sibbella's untimely death in 1830. They exchanged upwards of 200 letters in this eight-year period.
Sibbella and Anne's relationship is, for the most part, easy to follow due to its documentation and the preservation of the correspondence exchanged. In 1850, 'Paper parcel with Private letters to Mrs Lister & her letters to Miss MacLean', was noted in the Shibden Hall Muniments (Liddington 2010). Today, 53 of these letters are catalogued in the West Yorkshire Archive Service’s Shibden Hall collection far outnumbering those of Mariana Lawton and Ann Walker. In Sibbella's will, such as it was, she desired for a selection of Anne's letters to be returned to her and it is possible that Anne's correspondence with Sibbella (1824-5) held at the WYAS are these letters.
It is, however, important to remember the biases of Anne Lister's personal accounts and the one-sided nature of much of this correspondence. Where Sibbella Maclean's letters survive, Anne's half of the conversation is lost, and vice versa; there is little overlap in their surviving correspondence thus leaving us reliant on limited excerpts noted in Lister's journal.
Whilst Sibbella and Anne corresponded regularly, exchanging letters each month and more frequently in later years, the pair met infrequently. Despite a desire to see one another, travel, illness, and responsibilities to close family often put plans on hold. Following Sibbella's departure from York and return to Scotland in April 1822, she and Anne would not meet again until a whirlwind visit to Esholt Hall⁶ in May 1824.
Esholt represents a pivotal moment in the budding romance between Sibbella and Anne. It is an event that carried their friendship, sustaining a steady correspondence, over the following years. Esholt is mentioned, referenced, and considered by both women in their correspondence during this time.
Four years - and several failed attempts at meeting - after their reunion at Esholt, the pair were reconnected at Edinburgh, ready to embark on a tour of Scotland.
Sibbella and Anne spent the next two months travelling north through Scotland, arriving at Quinish⁷ on July 22nd. It is during this trip that they became physically intimate with one another, and it is important to note Sibbella's initial reluctance toward this connection.
At Mull, the pair spent the week with Sibbella's family, touring the estate and the island, and visiting nearby islands of Staffa, Iona, and the Treshnish Isles.
Anne departed from the Isle of Mull on August 1st with hopes of seeing Sibbella in Paris. Unfortunately, on account of Sibbella's gradually failing health, and Anne's desire for her to consult with John St. John Long, a Quack doctor in London, the Paris Plan would never materialise.
John St. John Long
Sibbella entered the care of Mr Long in October 1828, and remained in his care until shortly before her death in November 1830. The pair met for a final time in London in March-April 1829 before Anne departed for Paris with Vere Hobart.
Anne, however, was arguably less than impressed with the empiric's conduct and treatments, despite her initial recommendation. Mr Long's treatments included 'inhaling' and rubbing the skin of the chest and back with a corrosive substance so as to promote the expulsion of 'matter' that he believed to be the cause of disease within the body - in this instance, consumption (Hempel 2014).
Sibbella's correspondence with Anne continued throughout 1829 and 1830, but her health was in steady decline.
Sibbella died at Grove End, St John's Wood, London on 16 November 1830, aged 46.
Sibbella was buried in Vault 63 of the crypt at St Marylebone Parish Church on 23rd November 1830. Here she remained for 150 years before the exhumation of the crypt in 1980. This event saw the removal of over 800 coffins from the premises.
These coffins had identifying plates in various states of decay, and many were illegible - a surviving plate is that of Sibbella Maclean's footplate (pictured). The 863 individuals exhumed were reburied at Brookwood Cemetery on 22nd October 1982 and the plot is marked with a memorial cross.
Elegy on the death of Miss M'L—n of Coll
'You will find me a strange compound and a very great spice of mischief lurking in me would you believe that I once was the greatest madcap I ever knew or perhaps anyone else mixed up with all the timidity of a fool - a great deal of the latter still hangs about me -'
Sibbella Maclean - 22 February 1822 (SH:7/ML/E/5/0104)
'You would like to peep at Palestine - no, no, I do not agree to this, unless I am with you - to torment you, can you not fancy the rapturous delight of visiting Jerusalem - the feeling of being there, would be utterly inexpressible'
Sibbella Maclean - 15 February 1828 (SH:7/ML/239)
More about Sibbella Maclean
There are several wax seal designs mentioned in relation to Sibbella Maclean throughout Anne’s journals, including ideas for seals meant as gifts. Gifted seals were special, and were used by both Anne and Sibbella in their correspondence to one another - Anne, particularly anxious to keep her seal safe, would leave it at home during travels abroad where it might become lost or damaged.
Feal and Leal (this seal was not bought nor gifted) - In musing on her friend Sibbella, Anne planned a seal for her. Initially thinking of feal and leal (meaning faithful, and loyal), she decided against this, and instead chose to write Sibbella’s initials, S.Mc.L., in Court hand⁹.
Dinna Forget - This seal was gifted to Anne by Sibbella in 1822. The seal, cut in stone from the Isle of Rum, bore the symbol of a thistle and the encircling motto 'Dinna Forget' meaning 'do not forget me.'
The Rose (this seal was not bought nor gifted) - Following the receipt of the 'Dinna Forget' seal, Anne thought…
Il Faut Me Chercher - This seal was gifted to Sibbella by Anne in 1825. Cut in Paris by Mellerio into amethyst, the seal details a violet in a tuft of grass with the motto 'Il Faut Me Chercher'. 'British Wild Flowers' by Mrs Jane Loudon, published in 1846, details the symbolism of the violet with mention of this lady's seal.
Rose and Thistle - This seal can be seen in use by Sibbella in correspondence both with Anne, and friend Elizabeth Campbell (GD170/2856, National Records of Scotland). Sibbella primarily uses the 'Il Faut Me Chercher' seal in correspondence with Anne (as seen in the letters held by the WYAS), but this example of a rose and thistle can be spotted on SH:7/ML/331.
A series of important figures are mentioned by Anne in her journals in relation to Miss Maclean, including both immediate and wider family members.
Alexander Maclean 14th of Coll (c.1754-1835), father of Sibbella Maclean, succeeded his father in Coll in 1786. Serving in the Argyle Fencible Regiment, and the Breadalbane Fencibles, he had previously studied Law. He abandoned his education following the death of his older brother, Donald, in 1774. Alexander married Catherine Cameron (c.1756-1802), daughter of Allan Cameron of Glendessary, by whom he had 10 children, 7 surviving into adulthood.
Catherine Cameron (c.1756-1802), mother to Sibbella Maclean. Catherine died at Bristol in 1802, possibly of consumption. Her body was returned to Coll where it is said to have remained for a year in a 'packing case' whilst the building of the Maclean tomb at Crossapol Bay was completed (Haggard 1899).
Before being destroyed by lightning, the inscription was recorded by H. Rider Haggard in his book 'A Farmer's Year.' It read as follows:
Janet 'Jessy' Macleod Maclean (1781-1804) was the eldest child of Alexander Maclean and Catherine Cameron. She married George Vere Hobart (1761-1802) in April 1802 before leaving for Grenada, where George died of Yellow Fever on 5 December. Together they had one child, Catherine Vere Louisa Hobart, later Lady Vere Cameron, who was born on 24 January 1803. Janet died at Bristol from a pulmonary complaint sometime after her return from Grenada on 26 April 1804.
Hugh Maclean (c.1782-1861), was the first and only surviving son of Alexander Maclean and Catherine Cameron. He married first Janet Baird Dennistoun (1791-1819, daughter of James Dennistoun, 15th of Colgrain) with whom he had four daughters - Margaret, Catherine Cameron, Elizabeth Dreghorn, and Isabella Sibella. The four girls spent time in Sibbella's care following the death of their grandmother in 1822, and are referred to by Anne as 'your children.' In 1825, Hugh Maclean married Jane Robertson (d.1872), by whom he had a further six children - Juliet Alexa, Alexander, William, John Hector Norman, Evan, and Jane Breadalbane. Hugh succeeded his father in Coll - he was the last Maclean Laird of Coll, selling his estates in 1856 on account of financial difficulties.
Catherina Maclean (1787-1863) married Donald Macleod 6th of Talisker (c.1769-1838) by whom she had 12 children. They spent a period of time living with the Macleans at New Breachacha Castle on the Isle of Coll before emigrating to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in 1821, Donald having 'outlived his fortune' (Lister 27 April 1822).
Maria Maclean (1789-1862) married Alexander Hunter, writer to the signet, in 1819, by whom she had 9 children. Following her husband's death in 1858, she can be found living with her sister, Breadalbane, on the 1861 census.
Marion Christina Maclean (1791-1821) married George Lloyd (d.1844) of Bootham, York in December 1820. She died only six months into her marriage and is buried at St. Michael le Belfrey in York.
Breadalbane Maclean (1793-1887) was the youngest child of Alexander Maclean and Catherine Cameron. In an entry made in the journal of James Robertson (Sheriff Substitute of Mull) on 16th August 1845 he describes Breadalbane to be 'exceedingly like her brother; only she has blue eyes and a pale complexion, which last perhaps is not natural to her.' On census records, Breadalbane can be seen living at St. Helier, Paddington, Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne. Breadalbane never married and is buried alongside her lady's maid-turned-companion, Elizabeth Metchear (d. 1889) at Kensal Green.
Photo by Kat Williams.
Catherine Vere Louisa Hobart Cameron (1803-1888) was Sibbella's niece, the daughter of Janet Macleod Maclean (1781-1804) and George Vere Hobart (1761-1802). She later married Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 23rd Chief of Clan Cameron, and had 6 children - Anne Louisa, Donald, Julia Vere, Sibella Matilda, Albinia Mary, and George Hampden.
Sir Hector Maclean K.C.B (1756-1848) was Sibbella's uncle. He served under the East India Company and spent his military life in India. Climbing the ranks, he was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1821 and created K.C.B (Knight Commander) in 1815. Following retirement from active service, he lived in London, finally residing at 3 Northwick Terrace (NW8) where he died in December 1848.
Sibella Maclean (d. 1839, née Maclean), daughter of Allan Maclean of Brolas, was 1st cousin once removed to Sibbella Maclean. She married John Maclean of Inverscadell, and was mother to Mary Anne Maclean (c.1786-1853). Sibbella stayed with the family in Cheltenham in the winter of 1823, during which time Sibella is described as being 'quite outrageously mad' having 'several times attempted to destroy herself,' (Lister 20 Dec 1823).
Mary Anne Maclean Mackenzie Grieves, later Mrs Bury (c.1786-1853), was second cousin to Sibbella Maclean. Mary Anne married first Andrew Mackenzie Grieves (c.1754-1823) in 1807. Andrew Grieves - taking the name Mackenzie from his first wife, Anna Mackenzie - died in his position of Inspector of Hospitals at Paris. Mary Anne and Andrew had three children: Sibella, John, and Allan. Mary Anne later married her sons' schoolmaster, Walter Haynes Bury - much to Anne's disapproval - and resided at Boulogne. Walter Haynes' brother, Richard Bury, married Miss Sarah Staveley of Halifax.
Sibella Mackenzie Grieves (1809-1890) was goddaughter to Sibbella Maclean. Following consultation with Anne, little Sibella was sent to school at Miss Shepherd's in Bromley, the same school attended by Rosamund Best, Isabella Norcliffe's niece.
Notable family members, friends, and acquaintances
Sibbella entered the care of empiric John St. John Long in October 1828. Following the deaths of two patients under his care (Miss Catherine Cashin and Mrs Colin Campbell Lloyd), Mr Long was tried twice for manslaughter (1830, 1831). He died in 1834, possibly of consumption, and is buried at Kensal Green. Breadalbane Maclean, Sir Hector Maclean K.C.B, Louisa Meynell Travis Belcombe (sister to Mariana Lawton), and Major General Norcliffe Norcliffe can also be found in this London cemetery.
Sibbella was friendly with the Thackeray family - Frederick Rennell Thackeray (1775-1860), and his wife, Elizabeth Margaret Carnegie (daughter of the 7th Earl of Northesk) - who resided in Edinburgh. Sibbella stood as a proxy-godmother at the christening of their daughter Georgina (b. 3 Aug 1828) in 1828 . Frederick Rennell Thackeray was 1st cousin once removed of Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).
John and William Parish Robertson, brothers to Hugh Maclean's second wife, Jane Robertson, were merchants and authors. Several familiar names including Anne Lister, Ann Walker, Charlotte and Isabella Norcliffe, can be found listed in the subscribers' section of their book, ‘Letters on Paraguay,' published in 1838.
Through Vere Hobart's relation to the Stuart de Rothesays, Virginia Woolf can be spotted in this extended family tree. Virginia Woolf's great-aunt, Virginia Pattle, was the wife of Charles Somers Somers-Cocks, 3rd Earl Somers, Lady Stuart de Rothesay's nephew.
Sib in other people's words
“Among all I have yet seen, next to Mariana, I would rather spend my life with Miss Maclean than anyone - there is a something about her that interests me in lighter hours of gaiety, in sadder ones of pensive thought - there is a something that attaches itself to my heart and mind, that steals so gently on my memory 'tis there before I feel its coming - it tells me she is amiable, and wins away the wish and power to forget'”
Anne Lister - 10 August 1822 (SH:7/ML/E/6/0032)
“You will have no rival in me with regard to Miss Maclean, tho' I daresay I shall admire her manners. Brilliant abilities, or interest are the only qualities that can ever attract me, and when you meet with a woman who can read Homer in the original, or cry over Moore, introduce me instantly, but shield me from all lady Ann Becketts, as you would from a pestilence.”
Isabella Norcliffe - 9 July 1824 (SH:7/ML/E/8/0014)
“One of the most ladylike, pleasing women I ever met with in my life. I have seldom seen manners that I prefer; and, when seated at the head of her own table, she is perfect.”
Isabella Norcliffe - 28 September 1824 (quoted in SH:7/ML/149)
Sibbella in the archives
The largest collection of material directly connected to Sibbella Maclean is the Shibden Hall Collection, specifically Anne's correspondence (SH:7/ML). There are 53 total letters, 31 of which were sent from Sibbella to Anne.
Sibbella Maclean in media
Miss Maclean hasn't been portrayed in media... yet.
An Teachdaire Gaelach, O BHEALLTUINN 1830 GU BEALLTUINN 1831. 1831. Glasgow: W. R. McPhun; Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, and MacLachlan & Stewart. https://deriv.nls.uk/dcn23/7674/76743243.23.pdf
Currie, Jo. 2010. Mull The Island And Its People. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: John Donald, Birlinn Ltd.
"History - Duart Castle". Duart Castle. https://duartcastle.com/maclean-clan/history/
Haggard, Henry Rider. 1899. A Farmer's Year: Being His Commonplace Book For 1898. London, New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Hempel, Sandra. 2014. "John St John Long: Quackery And Manslaughter". The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60737-6/fulltext.
Anne Lister journals, Anne Lister papers, SH:7/ML/E. WYAS, Calderdale.
Anne Lister letters, Anne Lister papers, SH:7/ML. WYAS, Calderdale.
Liddington, Jill. 2010. Presenting The Past. Pennine Pens.
Johnson, Malcolm. 2013. Crypts Of London. Stroud: The History Press.
Kenneth A. MacKinnon, “RANKIN, COUN DOULY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rankin_coun_douly_8E.html
Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas. 2007. From Clan To Regiment. Great Britain: Pen and Sword Aviation.
MacLean, J. P. 1889. A History Of The Clan Maclean From Its First Settlement At Duard Castle, In The Isle Of Mull, To The Present Period. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co.
Sinclair, Rev. A. Maclean. 1899. The Clan Gillean. Charlottetown: Haszard and Moore. https://digital.nls.uk/dcn23/9660/96605999.23.pdf