Female Explorers – An Insight – July 2015

Undertold stories of brave ladies, who travelled to unknown parts of the world, undeterred by the lack of knowledge of where they were going and the lack of equipment needed to keep them safe, warm, dry and fed have become my passion. That fusion of the lives of others who have enriched our own, the historical context and the wonderful countries they travelled to has led me to gather quite a library of the tales of these women, although many have remained unrecorded.

The names of these early women explorers do not have the same familiar ring as those of their male counterparts; Livingstone and Stanley to mention just two. There are many reasons for this, most significant is that many of their voyages occurred in the late 19th century and as the first whispers of New Woman and emancipation were being were heard, the male population were quick to nip in the bud revelations of strong and pioneering women.

After following in the footsteps of the first of these great women: Isabela Godin, the first known woman to travel the length of the Amazon River, I found many keen listeners to her tale and my journey. I decided to follow it with another expedition, this time to follow Mary Kingsley’s climb up Mount Cameroon and hard on the heels of this one came Isabela Brooks in the Llanganates in the Andes, Isabella Bird in Ladakh and Kate Marsden in Siberia. I had already thoroughly explored the world of Julia Pardoe in Istanbul and Isabella Eberhardt in Algeria.

Many of these women’s lives have resonated with my own making my recreation of their journeys more poignant and enlightening. Mary Kingsley and I lived a few yards from each other in Cambridge, at the same age, although 120 years apart, Isabella Bird had a restless spirit which made her hanker to travel, similar to me and Kate Marsden and I suffered physically in the same way from the privations and rigour of traveling through the Siberian taiga.

My quest to recreate more brave journeys is not over, the next ones will inevitably uncover the same admirable female qualities. Those of female resilience in extreme conditions, danger and climate and a fair and firm diplomacy in their leadership of others, an innate quality I have observed.

These brilliant ladies have helped me to push myself to the limit and allowed my senses to come alive and leave foreign places with a better understanding of the planet and the people who populate it. The last lines of my book (Adventuresses, Rediscovering Daring Voyages into the Unknown) reads: ‘We are all adventuresses who need to travel to be who we are and we are better people for it.”

Let’s get talking about the early female explorers and celebrate them with our own intrepid and inspiring journeys into the unknown.

Jacki Hill-Murphy