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Curators choice: Penned by Jane Penrose


Our museum curator, Alice Walsh talks about her discovery of Jane Penroses diary when she was researching for our new exhibition: Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy. Alice discusses her findings and talks about women's roles onboard naval ships. 

Helping set the foundation for Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy

I love to read diaries and autobiographies, they bring a personal voice to the past and put you in the moment. One of the most beautiful examples I came across during my research for the NMRN’s exhibition ‘Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy.’

The image to the right comes from the diaries of Vice Admiral Charles Penrose’s daughter Jane in the early 1800s. It is often thought that the Navy was exclusively a man’s world in the past, but there have long been women travelling on board ships accompanying their husbands. It was a tough life, they had to share their husband’s hammock, food ration, and would have to work, acting as nurses and bringing powder to the guns.

A life of exploration and adventure

Vice Admiral Penrose’s wives and daughters would have had a more genteel life, and had time to write about their travels and sketch the scenes that they saw on the way. 

This was often the only time that a woman would get to leave Britain and see the world.

‘On the 11th we first saw foreign land, and an odd sensation it was to us who before had never seen any that was not British! Soon after… Papa called us to look at the Coast of Galicia and a beautiful scene it was indeed, as the sun rose from behind the mountains forming the background of our picture and her brilliant rays illumined their tops and the sea around us’.

About the new Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy

Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy’ exhibition reveals the impact of women’s involvement from the seventeenth century onwards, during both world wars, the Cold War to integration and beyond, to today’s serving personnel. The exhibition is on show at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Entry is free with a valid attractions ticket.


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