Sibbella Maclean

1784 - 1830

Kat WilliamsPublished on 17 August 2022  · Last updated on 15 November 2023
Cover image:  Jill Dimond

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.

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a black and white silhouette of Sibbella Maclean, whihc shows her wearing a white bonnet and white shawl. her hair is depicted in shades of grey
A silhouette of Sibbella Maclean.Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/214).

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. 

'they are lessening their establishment she writes I am sorry to say both he  that is her brother   and my father have of late involved themselves deeply in debt with purchasing several estates that once belonged to the Macleans without having the cash to pay immediately and paying high interest for these when from the state of the times nothing can be got in shape of rent is really a sad business this makes my father urge Hugh to search for a wife with fortune -' 3 Nov 1822, SH:7/ML/E/6/0065

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:

‘In Coll there are 11,000 acres - (remember they are all Scotch acres) - Rum 22,000, in Isle of Muck 1,000, Quinish 6,000, Aros, 9,000, Penmore [and] 2,000 - This is all the Coll property’ Sibbella Maclean, 10-11 Aug 1828, SH:7/ML/260

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.

'She has sent me (it is not yet arrived) “a cloak made of the Maclean plaid” - the prettiest of the thought - the implied compliment from an old friend to a new one, delights me -...The plaid is come - the prettiest tartan I ever saw -' 11-16 August 1824, SH:7/ML/143

The style of this tartan is evidenced in the accounts of her trip to the Pyrenees in 1838, and in several journal entries.

'Pour trouver le manteau rouge (my tartan cloak) to be given to the man who found it yesterday near the cots at Lys where we had stopt to refresh the horses' - 4 Sep 1830, SH:7/ML/AC/30

'went to the quarry in my red Tartan Cloak' - 18 Jun 1836, SH:7/ML/E/19/0061

'so hot sat in my red cloak till near dinner time then had Josephine –' 14 Sept 1838, SH:7/ML/E/22/0017

the crest of Clan Maclean, showing a tower in the centre with the motto "virtue. mine. honour" around it.
The Crest of Clan Maclean.Celtus (Celtus @ english wikipedia), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
the Maclean of Duart dress tartan (red and dark green)
Maclean of Duart dress tartan. The clan's hunting tartan (thought to be the oldest recorded tartan) is green. Image by MHist01 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Section Footnotes
  1. 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. 
  2. Coll is a small island in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. 
  3. 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

Burial place: 

23 November 1830 - Vault 63 of the crypt at St Marylebone Parish Church, London (original burial location)

22 October 1982 - Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey (reburial)

Physical Attributes

Eye color: Blue

Hair color: Brown

Height: Unknown

Also known as: Frequently referred to simply as Miss McL- in Anne Lister's journals. She is occasionally called the 'Lady of Coll.' 

'Till near 1, looking over Stacey's vol. 1 of Selections from the British poets - for some pretty sentiment about saying farewell etc. to the lady of Coll - How easily we are led to waste time!' - 17 Apr 1822, SH:7/ML/E/5/0118 

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.' 

a black and white signature reading "S MacLean"
Sibbella Maclean's signature. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service Calderdale (SH:7/ML/274).
A black and white signature reading "S. McL-"
Sibbella Maclean's abbreviated signature, sometimes found in letters to Anne Lister. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service Calderdale (SH:7/ML/287).

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. 

'says she is sitting for her picture which she promised to give to her darling Vere (her niece Miss Hobart whom she brought up from the age of 11 months)' - 6 Jun 1822, SH:7/ML/E/6/0014

It is perhaps these domestic concerns that Sibbella alludes to in 1822 in correspondence with Anne Lister:

'many I have found different from what I had at first judged them to be but I never had time to search for friendships so much occupied from early life in domestic concerns -' Sibbella Maclean, 7 Jul 1822, SH:7/ML/E/6/0022

This portrait of Sibbella Maclean appears to be a miniature by Alexander Galloway of 6 James's Square, Edinburgh. Painted in 1807. From Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas. 2007. From Clan To Regiment. Great Britain: Pen and Sword Aviation.

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. 

'she said her brother had once been very anxious for her to marry but she had had no disappointment' 23 Apr 1822, SH:7/ML/E/5/0121

'I observed that Scotch entails were very strict and younger children of very old families were often slenderly provided for; in fact I should not have thought of her having anything beyond paraphernalia. It seemed as if my companion was wondering whether Miss Maclean and Breadalb[ane] would be no better off. I said it was a different thing if girls did not marry then their families fathers and oldest sons always took ample care of them and I believed our two friends would be very well provided for.' 28 May 1824, SH:7/ML/E/7/0140

However, her unchanged marital status wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of suitors:

'It was her brother's friend Colonel Hepburn of the guards whom she felt the only inclination she ever did feel to love, but they mistook each other. She had not seen him of sixteen years, and did not care for him now. She had never loved anyone half so well as me' - 4 Jun 1828, SH:7/ML/E/11/0006

'Sat an hour tête à tête with Mrs Maclean talking about Miss Maclean - Very fine, very handsome girl in her youth. Very much admired. A Colonel Hepburn in love with her. Would have been a match, but there was interference. Some young ladies said she was engaged to a Mr Wright and the Colonel immediately paid attention elsewhere but was nevertheless still unmarried' - 4 Jul 1828, SH:7/ML/E/11/0029

Section Footnotes
4. Likely Sibbella's cousin, Marion Maclean (daughter of Roderick Neil Maclean).

Sibbella Maclean and Anne Lister

York, 1820-1822

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 Street with Mariana's sisters, Anne (Nantz) and Eliza (Eli), also in attendance. 

'Bless me! Who’s that? She’s an elegant-looking creature! Perhaps I was a little surprised, and mortified, and shamed, at Mrs Lawton’s significant smile as she wondered at the question, and answered, “Miss Maclean!” Come! Come! said I, after we have taken a turn or two up and down the room, you have seen Miss Maclean several times, take me up to her; you know, I am blind as a beetle; let me see her a little nearer” - 13 Aug 1824, SH:7/ML/143

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. 

'Turned to my journal of 1820 to see something about Miss Maclean - could not resist tracing the dates of the progress of her acquaintance with me - read her 1st letter to me (received Friday 11 January 1822) and the copy of my answer -' 10 Jul 1824, SH:7/ML/E/8/0015

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. 

'The only record of her intentions was a slip of paper, in a very unsteady hand, with a memorandum of her watch and my picture to you...with a heap of your letters which she desired might be returned to you' - Letter from Vere Hobart to Anne Lister, 22nd Nov 1830, SH:7/ML/E/13/0110 

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 Hall in May 1824. 

Esholt, 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.

'Our meeting at Esholt completely changed the style of my regard for you' - Sibbella Maclean, 12 Mar 1826, SH:7/ML/E/9/0069 

an old sketch of a country house (Esholt Hall) and environs
A view of the Estate at Esholt Hall, Yorkshire.

Scotland, 1828

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.

'Had hardly dined when at 6 ¼ Miss Maclean came in… Looking miserably thin and ill and aged with a bad cough and wanting a pad behind and tho always elegant and ladylike yet wanting a little Parisianizing in dress' - 19 May 1828, SH:7/ML/E/10/0162

Sibbella and Anne spent the next two months travelling north through Scotland, arriving at Quinish 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. 

'Two beds in our room last night, but mine very cold and perhaps not quite dry so went to Miss Maclean. Began immediately to fidget. At last sucked her right breast, she resisting, but not preventing and not being angry, merely saying it was not fair as I endeavoured to get my hand down to her moustaches. Said she was not like other people, cold etc. She denied being cold but said it was not right, she had scruples, two females ought not.' - 4 Jun 1828, SH:7/ML/E/11/0008

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. 

'Your wish is granted, I am under Mr Long's care - if I am restored to health, it is to your request and information I shall owe it' - Sibbella Maclean, 13 Oct 1828, SH:7/ML/279 

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). 

'I continue daily getting quit of quantities of matter tell Miss Hudson, when you see her, that my back is now twice as large as my side she saw - which delights me, the sooner cured the better -' 10 Nov 1828, SH:7/ML/285

'I am not so easily taken with a man esteemed a quack whatever may be his talents  I have my way to make in society and cannot identify myself with Mr Long' - 5 Nov 1828, SH:7/ML/E/11/0087

Sibbella's correspondence with Anne continued throughout 1829 and 1830, but her health was in steady decline. 

'found letters from the Embassy 2 ½ pages from Miss Maclean the 21st ‘my birthday aged 46’ the very age at which she had always fancied she should die –' 28 Jun 1830, SH:7/ML/E/13/0057

'well! all things draw to an end here, and there is almost an end to Earthly friendship with Sibbella – Romantic dream! farewell my dearest Sibbella – I shall perhaps remain yet a little while to remember and enjoy the good you have done me, and then perhaps the same mysterious mansion shall contain us both! –'  28 Jun 1830, SH:7/ML/E/13/0058


Sibbella died at Grove End, St John's Wood, London on 16 November 1830, aged 46. 

'She is the 1st friend I have ever lost - I know not quite what is my feeling, but it is one of great heaviness, and heart-sinking, tho' I know that her release was a mercy, and what all must have desired' - 19th Nov 1830, SH:7/ML/E/13/0108

'Letter 4 pages of common sized letter paper from Miss Hobart with particulars of poor Miss Maclean's death and enclosing nearly 2 pages of letter (the last she ever wrote to me) that Miss Maclean had begun to me on the 27th and wrote partly on the 28th of August having desired Vere or Breadalbane to finish it - poor friend dated 'Bridge House' (I know it was in St. John's wood) and the last thing she wrote of was her perpetually thinking of my aunt and myself and our going to England in consequence of the revolution here, and that till our plans were arranged we could nowhere be so comfortable as where she was - …'Lady Stuart 'the 1st day she called, said 'you have got into paradise' and with these words ends what was thus unexpectedly the last letter my poor dear friend would ever write to me - she is now no more - she is gone - it seems to me like a fearful dream - 'she slept soundly (Vere's letter page 1) 'for a couple of hours, a thing she had not done for many days or nights, she then roused and asked Jessy for some gruel, but when she tried to taste it, her head fell back on Jessy's shoulder then there was a struggle for about ten minutes, and all was over' - 22 Nov 1830, SH:7/ML/E/13/0110 

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. 

Sibbella Maclean 'footplate' from the St. Marylebone coffin plate collection. Image courtesy of Lettering, printing and graphic design collections, Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading. 
The memorial cross marks the location of the burial plot in which Sibbella Maclean and other individuals exhumed from St Marylebone Parish Church were reburied. Photo by Sarah Wingrove.
A close-up of the memorial to the people entombed in the crypt of St Marylebone Parish Church. The inscription reads:  "The mortal remains of those laid to rest during the last century in the crypt of the parish church of St Marylebone London were here buried in the year of our Lord 1983".  Photo by Sarah Wingrove.
Section Footnotes
5.  It is noted in 'From Clan to Regiment' by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol that Alexander Maclean, Sibbella's father, was first recorded as being in York in December 1819. 6. Esholt Hall was the estate of the Crompton family. The Cromptons appear semi-regularly in Lister's journals as members of York society. Anne maintained a limited correspondence with middle-sister, Henrietta Matilda Crompton (1793-1881). 7.  The Maclean property on Mull. 

Elegy on the death of Miss M'L—n of Coll 

Cumba do nighean Thighearna

Chola, Baintighearna dhiadhaidh

a chaochail ann an Lunnainn 1830.

Séisd, Iorram na truaighe. 

Och! 's mis' tha fuidh airsneul,

Tha m'inntinn 'cur thairis le bròn;

Ainnir uasal na h-àilleachd,

De'n fhuil Leathanaich àghmhor, cha


'Se so 'mheudaich mo thùrsa

Nach d'fhuair do luchd-dùthcha g'ad


Ach gun Athair, gun Bhràthair, 

Ann an Lunnainn 'gad chàramh fo'n


'S iomadh buaidh bh'ort r'a innse,

'Sa chaidh cheana chur sìos ann an dàn, 

Bha thu àluinn a'm pearsa,

Bha thu iriosal, macant' thar chàch;

Meur de'n chraoìbh thu a thuinich

Ann an caisteal ud Dhuairt nan sàr;

B'e so geamhradh na dunach, 

Chrìon do f hreumh, 's fhrois do dhuill-

each gu làr!

'S mò 's buan leinn do chodal, 

'S fad'an oidhche gun mhaduinn'na déigh!

Cha rulg ceòl ort no alghear, 

'S an tìgh chaol tha thu tathaich leat


Dh' f halbh do chàileachd, 's do chlaisd-


Dh' f halbh do léirsinn, do mhaise 's gu


'S tu, gun déigh air bhi fuasgailt',

Ann am prìosan dubh fuaraldh an éig!

Och! nach deach' do thoirt dhachaidh

O mheasg nigheana Shasuinn 'san uair;

'S do chàramh le mòrachd,

Ann an cois na traigh-mòir' mar bu dual;

Fuidh dhìdein bhallacha àrda,

Far am bheil do chaomh-mhàthair 'na


'S far ain feudadh do chàirdean

Dol gach feasgar'chuir fàilte air t-uaigh!

Ach, nach suarrach mo ghearan'

Bhur dà uaigh a bhi sgairte an dràsd?

Thig an uair anns an éirich

An ùir sin gu h-éibhneach o'n bhàs:

Tha 'ur n'anamanna àrda

Le chéil' ann am pàras an àigh,

Ann an càirdeas tha maireann

Ann an dùthaich an aigheir'sa ghràidh!


Eilean Chola, 1831.

(An Teachdaire Gaelach, O BHEALLTUINN 1830 GU BEALLTUINN 1831. 1831) 
Section Footnotes
8.  'Mactalla' was the pseudonym of Lachlan Maclean, or Lachainn na Gàidhlig (b. 1798). (Maclean-Bristol 2007)

'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)

'Perhaps were I more happy at home, my thoughts would not so incessantly wander to you'

Sibbella Maclean - 27 September 1824 (SH:7/ML/148)

'It is a strange world and the longer we live, the more so we shall find it'

Sibbella Maclean, 15 February 1828 (SH:7/ML/239)

'I long to be settled in quietness with you'

Sibbella Maclean, 6 October 1828 (SH:7/ML/277)

'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


"As you have so much time for musing, do muse on paper and send it to Quinish - Your sheets can nowhere be more welcome - nor could you send them to any more truly interested in all that concerns you" (Sibbella Maclean, 22 November 1826, SH:7/ML/214)

"Speaking of working a border for a stair carpet (I like your mixture of colours exceedingly - will it not be very pretty?) 'the thought of me is entwined in every shade' at least if it is ever finished……" (8 July 1825, SH:7/ML/175)

"Can you read this? I can get no [French] book to read but old novels - I have taken up one which was in my days of romance a very great favourite - I have not read it for sixteen years - Corinne - was she a favourite of yours?" (Sibbella Maclean, 10-11 August 1828, SH:7/ML/260)

"What can have possessed you that I am a dabbler in poetry? I have not read, and certainly not written 'the Improvisatrice' - I wish I had, since you admire it - I know not that I can get it here, but will inquire for it on my return home -" (Anne Lister, 27 September 1824, SH:7/ML/148)


"Do you know that green is the most unbecoming colour in the world! it would make us look like ghosts - and would look dismal -" (Sibbella Maclean, April 1825, SH:7/ML/169)

"You mistake me [mind] my friend, I do in truth, dislike entering into much society and were I near you at this moment - we should argue the point - None enjoy the company of a few friends more than I do but a party - no, no, I like it not by nature or principle - At all events I never could bear to seek often society of any kind - the best must seek me, or, what I prefer, do without me." (Sibbella Maclean, 21 November 1826, SH:7/ML/214)

"Why are you not writing?" (Sibbella Maclean, 25 October 1828, SH:7/ML/281)

Wax Seals

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. 

'Do not wonder at my not sealing with your seal - I could not make up my mind to bring it with me - Ah! said I to myself, if I should lose it -, if any accident should befal[l] it, what can recompense me? - nothing - She cannot give me another that can ever be to me like this - She cannot give me anything towards which I can have precisely the same feeling - I have, therefore, left it in the midst of the very few things that are of consequence to me; and you must excuse the little pelican you used to have at first, or take a wafer according to the fashion universally prevalent here -' 18 Aug 1824, SH:7/ML/147 

'dawdled away the morning planning a seal to give Miss Maclean and most pleased with not the motto feal and leal but - [Court hand initials]' - 8 Apr 1822, SH:7/ML/E/5/0116

Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/E/5/0116).

"Small parcel of tooth powder for me, and the parcel from Miss Maclean… 2 1/2 pp.[pages] altogether I think the kindest I have ever received from her dated 10th i.e. Saturday 10th June 1822… one of the most-to-my-taste netted purses (striped brown and light blue) I ever saw, and a very handsome seal - 'the stone is from the island of Rum my father's property - I have left it open that you may see my conceit in putting a lock of my hair in the hinge being very stiff, else you might break it in sealing a letter, if ever you honour me by making use of it' - 'tis a thistle beautifully cut, with the encircling motto 'Dinna forget' - I have looked at it with many a feeling of interest and regard -" (Anne Lister, 10 August 1822, SH:7/ML/E/6/0032)

Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/139).

'I should like her to have a similar seal from me with the emblem of a rose instead of a thistle - cut on sapphire, dark and true blue: - if I cannot manage this, aqua marine -' 10 Aug 1822, SH:7/ML/E/6/0032 

'enclosed the amethyst seal I got cut for my friend by Mellerio (rue de la Paix, Paris) a violet flower among a tuft of grass - motto, 'Il faut me chercher' -' 11 Jun 1825, SH:7/ML/E/8/0160

'She says the seal is 'most magnificent'... 'what fault do you find with it, unless too good for me, this you will not at present allow - thank you however - and 'may you in truth ever enjoy the heart's ease you bestow on others' - I laughed on reading this - I ordered a violet - and till now believed it was a violet hid in a tuft of grass with 'il faut me chercher', the device and motto my friend mentioned at Esholt -' 27 Jun 1825, SH:7/ML/E/8/0163

a photo of a black wax seal adorned with a rose and a thistle
Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/331).
Section Footnotes
 9. Courthand is a Medieval script, later used by lawyers and clerks etc.. 

Who's Who?

A series of important figures are mentioned by Anne in her journals in relation to Miss Maclean, including both immediate and wider family members. 

Immediate Family 

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: 

The latter cemetery of the family being nearly over

whelmed by sand blowing, this was erected, and 

the remains of his family and ancestors removed

to it by Alexander McLean of Coll, upon the 

occasion of the lamented death of his beloved 

companion, Catharina Cameron, the beauty of whose 

person was only surpassed by the virtues and 

amiable disposition of her mind. 

OBT. Clifton 10 FEB 1802, AE. 46.

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.

Breadalbane Maclean's gravestone at London's Kensal Green Cemetery. She is buried here with her lady's maid-turned-companion of over 40 years, Elizabeth Metchear (d.1889); her uncle, Sir Hector Maclean K.C.B (1756-1848); and Alexander Robertson (c.1828-1854).
Photo by Kat Williams.

Wider Family 

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 

A timeline of Sibbella Maclean's life

Explore a timeline of Sibbella's life below, or open in a new window.

Sib in other people's words

Spent a pleasant evening talking to one or other among the rest to Miss Maclean who is very ladylike and whom I admire

Anne Lister - 21 February 1820 (SH:7/ML/E/4/0033)

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)

I rarely meet with those who interest me, who have the charm that brings me back to that disguised, and hidden nature, that suits not with the world

Anne Lister, 1 May 1825 (SH:7/ML/169)

I like my friends to have some energy, - that sort of energy whose strong polish shows its worth, yet suits the temper of the sex

Anne Lister - 8 July 1825 (SH:7/ML/175)

You are rich enough Sibbella - rich in that which wealth can never buy, the aptitude of communicating happiness to those you love

Anne Lister - 8 July 1825 (SH:7/ML/175)

Come what may, I am convinced that all things work together for good, and shall be always satisfied that I have once, at least, loved a person more than worthy of my regard

Anne Lister - 9 August 1825 (SH:7/ML/E/9/0007-0008)

Research about Sibbella Maclean's life and times

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.


See also the author's talk about Sibbella Maclean at the Anne Lister Research Summit from 16 Oct, 2022:

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