Elizabeth Balneaves

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Elizabeth Balneaves (b. Sept 24th 1911 in Aberdeen, Scotland, the only child of Annie and Alexander Balneaves. d. Nov 7th 2006 at Elgin, Scotland). One time Shetland resident, and author of 'The Windswept Isles' (1977), was a writer, painter and filmmaker. She graduated from Aberdeen Art College and married the psychiatrist Dr James McLauchlan Johnston of Shetland extraction in 1934. Although they were separated for several years, James supported her in her work throughout their married life.

Elizabeth wrote six books, made a number of documentary films, drew many portraits in pastel and charcoal and painted many landscapes, latterly mainly of Shetland and Cullen. She first visited Shetland with Jim in 1934. The Windswept Isles was written during the 20 or so years she and James lived in retirement in the old manse at Bigton in the 1960s and 70s. This was her tribute to the people and the islands whom she always felt had adopted her.

During those years she also made a documentary film of Shetland for the BBC: People of Many Lands - Shetland. Although painting was her first love, it was her writing that brought her to a wider public attention. One of the first signs of her literary talent was a poem published in 1945 in Poetry Scotland (2nd collection), a series of Scottish poetry books published by William MacLellan & Co.

In the early 1950s Elizabeth travelled alone to Pakistan, particularly to Karachi and the frontier with Afghanistan , where she stayed for several years, resulting in The Waterless Moon (1955) and Peacocks and Pipelines (1958), both of which received some critical acclaim. Later, she returned to the area with her son, Stewart, resulting in a third book on the area between the Hindu Khush and the Karakoram, The Mountains of the Murgha Zerin (1972) and some unique film footage of this remote area and its culture.

At a later date they returned to the Sunderbunds (in then East Pakistan), this time concentrating on documentary filmmaking. In 1959, between her second and third books, Betty visited the area being flooded (in then Southern Rhodesia) by the new Kariba Dam where Stewart was working. Here she made a documentary film of the effects of the flooding on wildlife - Logging in the Sundarabans, East Pakistan - and wrote the story of a colourful Scottish Game and Tsetse Supervisor called Joe McGregor Brooks entitled Elephant Valley (1962). Just prior to this trip Elizabeth worked as a publicity officer for the Edinburgh Zoo and as with everything she did, she made use of this experience in her only work of fiction, Murder in the Zoo (1974).

In February 2002, The Scotsman ran a story on Elizabeth and her two film-making, travelling, writing peers, Isobel Hylie Hutchison and Jenny Gilbertson. This article is available @: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/s2.cfm?id=154222002

The author and naturalist J. Laughton Johnston is Elizabeth Balneaves son.

An example of Elizabeth's drawing can be viewed here

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