‘Rumour was a highly effective carrier of news in the Amazon forest and most definitely its principle one,’ explains Jacki Hill-Murphy as she tells the story of Isabel Godin, who navigated 3,000 miles across South America to reach Jean Godin after colonial politics kept them apart.
Restaging her expedition by canoe, Hill-Murphy explains how Godin’s journey became more and more unimaginable, how infection and disaster picked off the 41 members of her party until she was found alone, half-mad and naked by passing indigenous Amazonians.
This is the first of three expeditions that Hill-Murphy brings to life as she relives the experiences of the world’s female pioneers: Godin, Mary Kingsley, the headstrong explorer of West Africa, and Isabella Bird, the determined traveller of Asia. Their stories are told in a personal and often humorous way, with allusions to the tonnage of clothes that culture dictated the women to wear. When it comes to the present-day though, her observations aren’t always as savvy. Descriptions of local life can lack nuance and occasionally fall prey to exoticism.
However, it is clear that the author’s emphasis lies in the history of these women, which she describes with passion and dexterity. In a world where exploration is often still seen as masculine, Hill-Murphy’s chief intent is to bring Bird, Godin and Kingsley back to the fore and Adventuresses is a long overdue case for their revival.
ADVENTURESSES: Rediscovering Voyages into the Unknown; Adventuress Publishing; £7.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the October 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine