Hannah Miller Hanlon (1916-2007)

Holiday Memories of Hannah Miller Hanlon

article by Dr David M Munro

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Anna Hanlon, Bridge of Orchy, May 1948.

In June 2005 the Society took possession of a remarkable collection of slides and accompanying diaries recording over half a century of world travel.  Immaculately annotated and catalogued, the photographs were generously gifted to the RSGS by Ms Hannah Miller Hanlon (known as Anna) of Govanhill, Glasgow, whose desire to explore the world took her to nearly 150 countries and territories between 1943 and 1996.

From time to time the Society’s collections are augmented by donations of maps, books and photographs.  Together, this body of material forms not only an important educational resource but also an archive documenting the activities and achievements of Scots who have travelled to all corners of the world.  When I (as the then RSGS Director) visited Anna Hanlon in Govanhill, I was astounded to be shown a collection of slides, all numbered and listed in neat catalogues and accompanied by beautifully illustrated diaries recording journeys that had taken place over a period of more than half a century.

Anna Hanlon’s travels began in 1943 when she was in her mid-twenties, and from the outset she recorded her wartime journeys around Scotland in diaries entitled ‘Holiday Memories’.  Volume one (1943-45) includes daily entries that are typed and accompanied by postcards and colourful hand-drawn maps.  Later excursions are recorded in neat legible handwriting, and the entry for February 1948 notes her “First outing with the Rolleicord!”  Thereafter, the diaries are liberally illustrated with black-and-white photographs that record people and landscapes, mostly on the west coast of Scotland.

RSGS - Hanlon

Lake and pavilion, Lhasa, Tibet, September, 1980.

On several occasions Anna made the long journey by train, boat and on foot to the tiny settlement of Kilmory on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.  Her diary, as she approaches Kilmory at the end of a long hike in 1950, reflects her love of this remote corner of the West Highlands.  “I reached the road at Ockle as the sun, in a dying burst of splendour, flooded my world in purple and gold.  By 10.30 I was beginning to tire and, as I neared the last turn of the road before Kilmory, I walked straight into the arms of Margaret and Cathie who had come out to meet me.”

One of the earliest records of overseas travel is a trip to post-war Paris, recorded in the diary of ‘Holiday Memories’ for 1949.  Three years later, on a journey to Austria with her local camera club, Anna Hanlon started to take 35mm slides which she put together into a series of illustrated talks which usually began with a title slide and a map.  Each slide, contained within elegant hand-made boxes, was carefully numbered and catalogued, and each journey accompanied by a diary in an individually designed smaller notebook format, often containing illustrations culled from newspapers or magazines.

Until she retired in June 1976, Anna Hanlon worked in the City of Glasgow Education Department where she latterly held posts as a careers adviser and registrar.  She used her holiday time well, and between 1952 and 1976 made 27 overseas journeys that included camping, trekking and sailing.  After retirement, Ms Hanlon continued her exploration of the world for a further 20 years until failing eyesight restricted her capacity to travel and give talks.  Highlights of her travels during that time included ten-month and five-month world tours in 1978-79 and 1981-82, sailing on a copra schooner round the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific Ocean, a journey by bus from Athens to London, trekking amongst the hill tribes of Thailand, and participation in the first British excursion into Tibet in 1980.  Travel companions in Tibet included a former chairman of ICI, a Times newspaper correspondent, a Thames TV producer, and freelance journalist Chris Mullen who was later to become an MP and a Minister of State in the Foreign Office.

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Buddhist statue at Bamian, Afghanistan, 1976.

The photographs and diaries of Anna Hanlon provide not only a remarkable record of one woman’s travels during the second half of the 20th century but also views of distant places in a changing world.  The Buddhist statues she photographed at Bamian in Afghanistan in 1976 were destroyed in the 1990s by the Taleban regime, and the urban landscape of Lebanon visited in 1966 is no longer the same.

The Society is grateful for the opportunity to look after this unique collection of ‘Holiday Memories’ which will be preserved and remain accessible thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded Images for All project.  You can explore Anna Hanlon’s images through our Maps and Images Database, and can purchase high-resolution copies by contacting RSGS HQ.