In 1900, Adela Catherine Breton (b. 1849 – d. 1923), a fifty-year-old Victorian gentlewoman from Bath, began her journey around Mexico on an archaeological quest to make detailed watercolour records of the Mayan ruins.

Adela Breton’s travels in Mexico are unveiled through her diary and the series of letters written by and about her. They describe a way of life far removed from her comfortable upbringing: hunger, heat, fever and insect bites plagued her as she worked.

For the final 23 years of her life, Adela dedicated her time to recording the subtle nuances in colour found in the frescoes of Chichén Itzá and other notable sites. Camping among the Mayan ruins, she worked tirelessly and, according to her contemporaries, somewhat obstinately. She was an extraordinary woman who broke the stereotypes of a Victorian spinster and became a traveller, an explorer, an archaeologist and an artist whose paintings have endured where the ruins have not.

Adela died in Barbados on 13 June 1923, aged 73. She bequeathed her archive to the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Her paintings are the sole record of the vibrant colours that once adorned the temples and are still used today, most recently as a source of information for the Maya Skies project. History may have all but forgotten her but her legacy lives on.

Written by Kate Devlin (@drkatedevlin)

Edited and posted by Tori

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5 thoughts on “Adela Catherine Breton

  1. Stephen Vollmer says:

    Good Day and congratulations on publishing the fascinating work of Adela Breton,
    Having received undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mexico and, served as a museum curator and administrator for nearly fifty years, the work of Adela Breton is of great interest. And, having conducted extensive field work throughout the regions of central Mexico and the Yucatan region, I recognize many of the sites and landscapes depicted in her work. As limited as my exposure is to Breton’s work, it would be of great interest to explore it further, and to share with you an identifying information such as the the column depicted in her watercolour of the Open Chapel of Tlalmanalco in the State of Mexico located on the skirt of the volcano Popocatepetl (photos which I can share if you would so care). Other images easily identified images include those in the States of Puebla and Tlaxcala. FYI: amongst dear friends, long established in the city of Puebla, is the family Breton. It might be of interest to know if in her notes, she ever mentioned visiting distant relatives that may have been living in the colonial enclaves of the day. Additionally, another English friend living in Mexico (the daughter of a former British Ambassador) is presently finishing up a transcript, a book on five (5) British Women who established a noted presence in the history and culture of that nation. I can see where Breton and others are worthy of greater attention, which if not too late might be included: at very least, to serve as the basis for volume II. Looking forward to advancing the dialogue. Cordially, S. Vollmer

    1. Brenna says:

      Dear Mr Vollmer,

      Thank you so much for your wonderful message. We’d love to hear more about Adela’s explorations, and certainly we are keen to hear of any ongoing connections! It is lovely to hear that there is a volume celebrating women such as Adela, and we certainly think there are enough such stories to fill several volumes…! The best way to get in touch with us is at — please do write in if you find you have the time. We are not always very quick on our replies, but happy to hear more!.
      Again, thanks for your message. All best, Brenna (for Team TrowelBlazers_.

  2. Kevin Brewer says:

    Love this. Amazing women. Have a look at Isabella Park Taylor, daughter of James Dawson a squatter in western Victoria in the colonial era. Her father assisted with the book Australian Aborigines: the language and customs of several tribes of Aborigines in the western district of Victoria, Australia. Although the author is stated as James Dawson, he makes it clear she was the instigator, researcher and main author. A short biography can be found from p319 Erica Kaye Izett’s Phd called Breaking new Ground; Early Australian Enthnography in Colonial Women;s Writing. (
    Btw, Ms Izett is from Western Australia and has no idea of the geography of where Isabella Park Dawson lived, -I live in South western Victoria, 2500 km from the University of WA and about 20 km from Wuurong Farm and the Camperdown cemetery where Isabella Dawson and her father are buried-and 95 km from Kangatong, where she grew up. her great uncle was Mungo Park.

    1. Brenna says:

      Wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know — we love when the discovery of one TrowelBlazer leads to another! And it so very often does :)

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