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19th Century Female Explorers (Hardback)

P&S History > Explorers & Adventurers Women of History

By Caroline Roope
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 32 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399006866
Published: 28th November 2023



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As any historian will testify, a nineteenth-century woman’s place was very much at home. Or was it? For a lucky (and plucky) few, who had a little determination, and the ability to withstand lice infestations, climbing mountains in corsets, rascally guides and occasional certain death - as well as the raised eyebrows of the society they left behind – then the world really was their oyster.

In this lively re-telling of twenty-two extraordinary ladies who did just that, Caroline Roope invites you to journey to the further corners of the earth along with them. From humble missionary Annie Royle Taylor, who knew God would keep her safe, to the haughty aristocrat, Lady Hester Stanhope who defied convention and dressed as a Turkish man including pistol, knife and turban, their collective voices still resonate hundreds of years later. Drawing on their original accounts and archival sources, this expertly researched book brings to light a wealth of stories that are full of grit (sometimes literally), courage, and just enough humour to wish we’d been there with them on their adventures on the other side of the horizon.

So, pack a suitcase, along with a ‘good thick skirt’ à la Mary Kingsley, and prepare to go beyond the garden gate…

As featured in

Who Do You Think You Are, January 2024

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am always about learning about badass women and this book does not disappoint.

The names Annie Royle Taylor and Lady Hester Stanhope were not in my history loving wheelhouse, but now they are and now I just want to know more.
Both women found the constraints of societal "norms" to be ridiculous and stifling, so they each pushed the boundaries.

Annie relied on God to guide and protect her. Lady Hester decided to go a different route, but both women had so many stories to tell. Some are pretty gritty while others a bit more lyrical.

Author Roope pulled from those first hand accounts to bring us those well-researched, layered, and informative book about two women who not only changed the rules. They changed the game.

Enjoyed this read and recommend it.

NetGalley, Patricia W. Fischer

Nineteenth-century women were expected to be the angels of the home—but some boldly sought adventure instead. This well-researched book spotlights twenty-two extraordinary women who embarked on awe-inspiring global journeys, enduring hardships and scorn along the way.

Discover the treacherous landscapes and unfamiliar cultures where these explorers faced dangers with courage and resilience. Enlivened by archival images, the book offers insight into the women's backgrounds and motivations. It's enlightening reading for anyone interested in women's history, travel adventures, or life in the 19th century.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

'19th Century Female Explorers' by Caroline Roope is an exhilarating journey into the lives of twenty-two extraordinary women who defied societal norms and ventured into uncharted territories during the 19th century. In this captivating and meticulously researched book, Roope introduces us to a group of intrepid women who proved that, for those with determination and resilience, the world was indeed their oyster.

The book challenges the conventional narrative of the 19th century, where women were often expected to stay at home. Through the fascinating stories of these adventurous women, Roope paints a vivid picture of their remarkable journeys, which often involved enduring lice infestations, scaling mountains in corsets, navigating treacherous terrains with rascally guides, and facing the spectre of certain death. The raised eyebrows of the society they left behind only added to the challenges they encountered.

Roope's storytelling is both lively and engaging, transporting readers to the farthest corners of the earth alongside these fearless explorers. Each woman's story is presented with a keen eye for detail and empathy, making their voices and experiences resonate across the centuries. From the humble missionary Annie Royle Taylor, whose unwavering faith in God guided her, to the audacious aristocrat Lady Hester Stanhope, who defied convention by dressing as a Turkish man complete with pistol, knife, and turban, these women's stories inspire awe and admiration.

What sets this book apart is Roope's ability to draw on the explorers' original accounts and archival sources. This expertly researched approach not only provides authenticity to the narratives but also allows readers to glimpse into the hearts and minds of these remarkable women. Their stories are filled with grit, courage, and a sprinkling of humour, making it impossible not to wish we could have joined them on their adventures beyond the garden gate.

'19th Century Female Explorers' is an ode to the indomitable spirit of these women who paved the way for future generations of adventurers. It sheds light on the often overlooked contributions of female explorers and their enduring legacy. Roope's writing is both informative and entertaining, making history come alive with every turn of the page. This is a must-read for history enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and anyone who appreciates the power of human determination and resilience. It is a celebration of women who defied the odds, challenged societal norms, and blazed a trail for future generations of explorers.

NetGalley, Chelsea Littleton-Harper

Very interesting book on an interesting subject. I really enjoyed getting to know these brave women as well as their motivations for exploring. The only one I had heard about before was Annie Londonderry, so it was a real treat to be introduced to all the others.

NetGalley, Maja Hansen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It's an interesting read as it divides the women according to their motivation. Some were curious, some wanted adventures and some wanted to convert people.
I found all the portraits interesting even if the different motivation like being a missionary were also part of the colonialist mind set.
Well done and well written

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

‘Travel and exploitation in the nineteenth century was not for the faint hearted.’

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. It was incredible to read about these amazing women who despite what “society” thought they should do and how they should act, they went against that and followed their dreams and desires.

The stigma that these women faced from men was pretty frustrating and shocking!

‘A lady an explorer? A traveller in skirts? The notion’s just a trifle too seraphic. Let them stay and mind the babies, or hem our ragged shirts; but they mustn’t, can’t and shan’t be geographic.’

All the women mentioned in this book were great. I did however have a few favourites. One being Elizabeth ‘Nellie’ Bly and the other being Mary Brodrick.

‘As women, they were expected to stay at home and attend to their domestic responsibilities.’

A very inspiring read, one for history lovers, explorers and feminists.

NetGalley, Georgi Lvs Books

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

19th Century Female Explorers by Caroline Roope was a thrill to read! The author highlights several intrepid women who defied all odds and norms in a time when men ruled the home and the world. Many have dreams but fewer pursue them and as a female adventurer myself this is my wheelhouse. All the women mentioned in this book had various reasons for pursuing the unachievable from their dedication to God to climbing mountains because they were there to immersion in different cultures (one was even hailed as a queen). They were all courageous and faced a plethora of challenges such as horrendous weather, insect problems, tricky transportation, tribal nudity, "sudden death" food and treated like they were out of their minds for even contemplating traversing the planet. Families were sometimes left behind. In one instance, a woman's husband went missing so her objective was to discover why. Some were aristocrats, others wealthy and still others "ordinary" women.

Thankfully, deliciously detailed journals and travelogues were left behind remarking not only on what these women experienced but also their impressions of their surroundings and other people and traditions. In ways I can relate as an expat and am always curious to discover what is around the next bend. Heartbreak and hardship are part of life but much more difficult when you don't speak the language or are familiar with local customs and mores. The strength, determination and grit of these women is astounding. It seems very few did it for fame and fortune (though there is one solid example of that, too).

How I enjoyed this book! If adventure intrigues you, even from the armchair, this is a riveting read, even more so than my (high) expectations. So many intriguing stories but one that stands out to me as I am from a terribly cold climate is the clothing one required, so many layers that the poor woman was rendered unbendable! Details such as this make a very good book great.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

'What I wanted was not shelter and safety, but liberty and opportunity'.

Despite the social change and wealth generated by industrialisation, and the peak of opportunities generated through the mushrooming of the British Empire, for women in the nineteenth century, nothing much had really changed; homemaker and motherhood were generally the epitome of womanhood. For some, however, this was never going to be enough, 'The desire to go beyond - not just geographically but in many cases physically, mentally and spiritually to the very limits of civilisation and human endurance...'.

Caroline Roope's, '19th Century Female Explorers' is a digest of 22 such women. Handily distilled down and categorised by their primary motivation for wanderlust: love, science, God, devotion, adventure, and notoriety, this short book is highly entertaining and readable, 'This book is not to be mistaken for an apology. Not at all...'.

Whether you enjoy history, women's history, or like to dip your toes in intrepid adventures, you're bound to love this book - even giggle at some of the outrageous misogynistic backlash, 'the genus of professional globe-trotters with which America has lately familiarized us is one of the horrors of the latter end of the nineteenth century'. Not war, famine, pollution, just the unmitigated daring of intrepid females. Understand though, that this is a series of themed summations of these women's adventures. Indeed, I have already ordered some of the sourced memoirs to dive deeper into some of the more eccentric women cited. This non-fiction book reads like fiction and definitely exemplifies Lord Byron's, Don Juan, 'Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction';

NetGalley, Christy Howl

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the heyday of European colonialism, social mores were constrained for women, who were expected to stay domestic and tend hearth and home. Despite this, many European women managed to go traveling around the world on just as exciting adventures as their males counterparts did, and often recorded what they saw with clearer eyes as well.

Truth is often stranger than fiction, which this book amply proves. Where else would I encounter a woman who sets off to bike around the world without an ounce of actual biking experience? A enslaved Hungarian woman who ends up an English noble? A free-wheeling American heiress who on her many adventures ends up queen of her own Hawaiian island?

With stories like these, it would be easy for the author to overbalance into sensationalism, but Roope manages to balance the compelling journeys of the women with the highly colonialist backdrop of the time they lived in. By grouping explorers not by chronology or location but instead by motivation (whether it be love, fame, duty, or the sheer hell of it), we are afforded a deeper insight into what their experiences might have been like, what they gave up and what they gained.

I especially enjoyed how the author leaned into the bittersweet nature of many of the women’s life stories. Living as daringly as they did, it’s not surprising that some of them came to bad ends, but equally vivid are their triumphs, both personal and public, and the satisfaction of their agency in a time which expectations for women were incredibly constricted.

NetGalley, Pooja Peravali

Author featured in

Who Do You Think You Are

About Caroline Roope

Caroline Roope is a freelance writer, specialising in social history and genealogy. She contributes regularly to Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineBest of BritishDiscover Your Ancestors Periodical and Discover Your Ancestors Bookazine, writing on social history topics as diverse as Scalextric to Victorian cross-dressing. Following an MA with Distinction in Heritage Management she spent over ten years working in the heritage and museums sector, for small scale independent charities as well as the National Trust and English Heritage and is published academically in the International Journal of Intangible Heritage.

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