About Jane Duncan (1848–1909)

Jane was born in Glasgow in 1848 and later studied in Paris. Perhaps inspired by her own studies, in the 1890s she championed access to higher education for women.

She travelled extensively throughout her fifties, visiting Canada, India, Ceylon, Burma, Japan and the United States. Her book, A summer ride through Western Tibet, was published in 1906.

In 1909 she journeyed to East Africa, planning to describe her travels in a second book. Sadly, the book was never written, as Jane fell ill on her journey and died in Naples on her way home.

Perceptions

Jane's travels were the subject of scrutiny — as a middle-aged woman, she faced criticism for both her gender and her age. A woman travelling alone was perceived as shocking although, in fact, during her journey through the Chang La Pass she was aided by a large retinue of local guides and porters.

By today's standards, Jane did not travel light. Included among her home comforts were a bath and a set of table linens for dinner. Nevertheless, Jane found the experience liberating and in her book comments on the delights of not having to 'dress'.

Intrepid traveller

In addition to describing Jane's travels, 'A summer ride through Western Tibet' provides an insight into local festivals, customs and antiquities. Jane encountered fellow traveller Ella Christie a number of times during her journeys and, while the two appeared civil, they seemingly preferred to travel on alone rather than accompanying one another.

The second edition of 'A summer ride through Western Tibet' includes a memoir that recounts other adventures. These include a trip across Canada, riding upon the cowcatcher of a train to see the bears crossing the track.

Jane's later journeys took her to Nepal and East Africa. With her death in 1909, the details of these adventures were lost.

Jane's writing communicates her courage, independent nature and sharp sense of humour.

'My pony … would walk like all of its kind on the extreme outer edge of the path, sending pebbles rolling down the precipice from under its feet … I grew hungry, as people do sometimes in rather exciting circumstances, and was in the act of eating a scone, at the same time holding up my umbrella and the reins in one hand, when we got into a very difficult place; but as going hungry into the next world or remaining with sunstroke in this world would not have improved matters I finished the scone and clung to the sunshade, thinking that if the beast did go over with me it would be merely a moment of panic, a sudden shock, and that would be all …'

— 'A summer ride through Western Tibet', Jane Duncan, 1906.

 

Jane Duncan