Born in Cornwall, Evelyn Penrose was the first of three government-employed diviners of water who were hired to help troubled ranchers and farmers with a succession of droughts during the 1930s. She plied her psychic trade in the Okanagan, Cariboo and Peace River regions--and around the world in Chile, South Africa, Australia and Jamaica--leading to her publication of memoirs entitled Adventure Unlimited: A Water Diviner Travels the World (London: Neville Spearman, 1958).

As the daughter of a water diviner, she learned to use a forked hazel stick at a young age, as a tomboy, and later discovered she had a gift for diving oil when she went to California in her early 20s. She found dowsing for oil was particularly stressful, and she would sometimes faint while working. After an unhappy divining experience in Hawaii where she was not paid properly, she came to British Columbia and suggested to the finance minister that she ought to be hired to help orchardists in the Okanagan. She recalled one of her first jobs. "It was a great shock to see his orchard, covering the side of a large hill, wilting and dying, and to the owner say quite simply that he was facing disaster. We stopped and looked up the hill and he was telling me something when, suddenly, I was nearly thrown off my feet. I grabbed his arm to steady myself. 'Water' I gasped. 'Water! Lots and lots of water'. I can never stand over underground water without being swung about, and the greater the amount of water the greater the reaction." Water was found only six feet beneath the surface. A well at 12-feet deep produced 108,000 gallons a day. The locals referred to the site as the Wonder Well. Penrose was so gifted in her work that she sometimes didn't bother with a divining rod, using only her hands instead.

Penrose also used her gift to help search for gold. Happy to be dubbed The Divine Lady, she was boastful about her talents and became quite convinced she could divine the location of mineral deposits simply by looking at maps. In Australia she advanced to finding the locations of undiagnosed illnesses on people's bodies. She stopped short of helping police look for criminals for fear of placing herself in danger.


Adventure Unlimited: A Water Diviner Travels the World (London: Neville Spearman, 1958). Illustrated by William Boissevain.

[BCBW 2004] "Women"