With only a pendulum and a map
While Exmouth geologists anxiously bite their nails as oil drills stab into the earth, a frail-looking little woman, acclaimed as a Master Diviner, smiles knowingly to herself as she sits in the comfort of her own home in Perth.
One of the world's rare map diviners, with the apparent gift of being able to "feel" the earth's elements from any distance and with her bare hands, she has already traced what she claims are the perimeters of the oil-producing fields in the north on an ordinary survey map.
Whether you choose to dismiss her mysterious talents as sheer moonshine, accept them as a supernatural gift or curse them as the devil's own handiwork, the success of Miss Evelyn Penrose as a water, mineral and oil diviner has been recognized for years in many parts of the world. Hard-headed, tight-fisted businessmen have praised her uncanny efficiency in testimonials collected by her in France, Canada, the United States, Britain, South Africa, parts of Australia and in other countries. Though oil divining is still so new that its adherents are automatically labeled as cranks, dowsing (or water-finding) is a form of divination that has had a long and honorable career of practical application.
Quoting Chambers' Encyclopedia, "the practice of locating hidden springs of water, for the purpose of sinking wells, by means of a Y-shaped hazel twig or equivalent instrument which is held in the hands and bends or twitches when water is approached, is of great antiquity and wide spread usage."
"Since the finding of water is often a matter of vital and immediate importance; the long survival of the art is itself a considerable guarantee of its genuineness; and this is further supported by the fact that dowsers have frequently been employed by commercial contractors, even under 'no water, no pay' agreements."
Since no-one has been able to explain the whys and wherefores of this ancient art, it is generally recognized purely and simply as a divine gift. Neither is it as rare as one would imagine. About 20 per cent of the population has it in some degree, and those who have it are capable of developing it. Miss Penrose says.
Of all her astonishing successes, none is more sensational than her near-perfect accuracy when locating the elusive oil for American producer Don F. Rayburn, of Bay City, Michigan, U.S.A.
Rayburn, as he states in a signed testimonial dated September 1, 1954 (reproduced in part), read about the exploits of Miss Penrose in a book about divining written by Kenneth Roberts (author of North-west Passage). Roberts, in turn, had read some articles published by her in Blackwoods Magazine.
After describing how he and another large oil company drilled one good well and eight dry ones offsetting it, he goes on :
In the late fall of 1951, 1 read about Miss Evelyn M. Penrose in a book by Kenneth Roberts and about her ability as a map diviner and she being one of the very few in the world that could perhaps find oil zones as well as water zones. I located Miss Penrose in Western Australia and told her my problem and she agreed to try to help. So in February, 1952, I sent Miss Penrose a plain government survey map of the area of the good oil well and dry holes, this map showing roads, streams, lakes, etc.
From Australia Miss Penrose sent back to me the map showing thereon marked in red by herself an area covering about 2,000 acres, located one mile west of the good oil well, that Miss Penrose thought would produce oil. In the past year I have drilled ten wells in this area, nine good oil wells, one well drilled dry just outside her perimeter marked in red. Another company has drilled three producing oil wells making a total of 12 oil wells located in the area marked by Miss Penrose.
I think this is very remarkable considering Miss Penrose was on the other side of the world in Australia and to my knowledge never has been within thousands of miles of Michigan and has to this date never met myself. What talent or ability or gift she has only God knows.
Most of us are fairly familiar with the puzzling but accepted method of divining water by means of a forked twig or rod. Miss Penrose's first attempts began this way when, a mere three-year-old, she imitated her father with equal success in the grounds of their large country estate in Cornwall, England.
Her account of how, a fragile girl, she gave up the ruthless stick to save her hands and then so developed her art as to be able to divine by "radio perception and a map," is an absorbing story.
Now a slight woman with greying fair hair, deep blue eyes and a face that is at once friendly, intellectual and refined, she says that she inherited the flair for divining from her father, it being pretty well recognized that it passes from father to daughter and mother to son.
As well as placing his rod at the disposal of the villagers, he used to entertain family visitors by allowing them to "have a go" and it would be his little daughter's turn to try. Finding that she could use the stick with the same precision and success as her parent, Miss Penrose occasionally helped out the neighbors, but it was not until she grew to mature age and realized the drastic need for water that she gave serious attention to the work.
For her first professional job, she found herself in Hawaii, water-finding for sugar planters. Then off to British Colombia, at the invitation of its government, to beat an eight-year drought. When the news broke that one of these diviners, and a woman at that, was to be officially sanctioned to do what God and nature would not and apparently could not do, it touched off the long awaited storm. This one, however, was an outburst not a cloudburst.
Letters hailing or debunking the visitor poured into government offices, newspapers sized up and seized the situation as good copy. The clergy got their backs up and denounced the unorthodox and frankly heretical move as savouring of witchcraft and necromancy.
But the work went steadily on. In a testimonial dated December 24, 1931, and signed by the then Finance Minister J. W. Jones there appears : Miss Penrose has been engaged in locating water sources by the divining method and was sent by the Department of Agriculture into all parts of the Province where she has met with considerable success. The Government has been very pleased with her work and she has received much commendation in connection with the same.
In addition, Miss Penrose has also developed the faculty of being able to locate mineral and oil supplies and is very anxious to follow up this work.
At the same time a deputy-minister (Mr. J. B. Munro) also wrote in glowing terms : In addition to locating underground water currents Miss Penrose made a special investigation of oil-fields in the north-eastern part of the Province. Having personally accompanied Miss Penrose on both water and oil-finding trips, I am in a position to vouch for her outstanding ability in accurately sensing the location of underground currents or bodies of water and oil. Drilling and digging operations following the findings of Miss Penrose are being carried on and many satisfactory reports have been received after sinking of the wells. The "witch" completed her contract, but exhausted and racked by strain her physical resources spent, she was condemned like many another ordinary mortal to spend a year on her back and at one stage was given six weeks in which to die.
Recovered, she was still progressing with the difficult and fascinating work of dowsing with her bare hands, and of extending the technique to minerals and oil, when she first heard about a Frenchman who claimed he could divine water by sitting at home in front of a map.
"Absurd! Ridiculous!" she said to herself. But she "got mad" when she heard relatives and friends saying the same gibing things, and resolved to try to determine the truth of this new stunt by experimenting herself.
"If I am able to detect the presence of water, minerals or oil, with my bare hands, from a distance of 30 miles," she told herself, "why shouldn't I be able to do the same from 300 miles or even 3 000 ?".
Secretly abashed, but stubborn about trying, she went through her lists and persuaded her mining contacts to send her unmarked maps of areas where they knew water and minerals to have been found. Using a little swinging pendulum, and doing all the things the French man Said he had done, Miss Penrose plotted the underground water streams and one by one they were found to be correct.
The Frenchman's map-divining, meantime, had been proved by a newspaper-called congress to be quite authentic.
French editors had convened the congress to test "the so-called powers of diviners" and had advertised their invitation to leading diviners to undergo a series of tests. Twenty diviners had responded to the call and all had passed the tests so easily and so accurately that the testers were forced to the conclusion that 20 diviners, all working separately, could not arrive at the same conclusions if divining was a fraud.
In the midst of this cafuffle, Miss Penrose said, congress received a letter from an uneducated, bourgeois countryman inviting them to test his talents simply by sending him a hand drawn map. When the map was returned, they found he had indicated the water correctly, but someone suspected he might have had time to visit the actual territory and to have perpetrated a hoax.
They sent him another map, this time with all the place names removed. The property happened to belong to one of the leading members of congress, and once again the water courses were accurately drawn.
"Unlike the Frenchman, who was subsequently regarded with awe and respect, I have never been put on a pedestal," one of the world's few map-diviners says. "However, my success with this fascinating technique was so uncanny that in the end I became scared myself so much so that I reached the stage where I didn't know what I was doing or why I was doing it."
At the time of this psychological unrest, in 1934, there was just beginning another conference on divining in France, this time a meeting of the 500 world delegates of the International Society Of Dowsers.
She packed her bags and went off to see what made the map-divining pendulum tick.
Helped by a fluent knowledge of French and undeterred by the discovery that she was the sole woman among 500 men, she watched the delegates, including the map-diviners, "do some hair-raising things." She discovered, however, that no-one besides herself could work without tools and that the men map diviners attempted to dowse only for water, not for minerals or oil. So impressed were they with her own exceptional technique that she was elected a Master Diviner, the only woman ever to have had this honour conferred.
Miss Penrose learnt from conference that all six map-diviners claimed a higher percentage of success with maps than with rod-divining on the terrain itself, but none could account for the phenomenon. Neither was she able, in spite of repeated attempts, to teach one of the other delegates how to dowse without the aid of tools.
"Even now, in all my travels, I have not met one person who can do it," she says. "It is something that cannot be taught, and bringing it to perfection has been a slow and difficult process. The only way to learn is by trial and error."
Miss Penrose, in the 20 years since she conferred with fellow dowsers in France, has traveled the world in pursuance of her unusual and mystifying profession. She has searched for water for the lions in the huge game reserve of South Africa, surrounded by guards, native police and by crowds of terrified negroes who deserted when they suspected her "black magic". She has shot tigers in India, walked into bears and cougars in Canada, explored some of the mountain fastnesses in Chile.
Only five or six weeks ago she returned to Perth after an 18-month journey to the celebrated Williston oil basin in Saskatchewan, Canada, to negotiate some mineral rights with a leading oil company. Her pre-occupation with oil divining, she says, began 12 years ago when a group of men interested in oil prospecting in Papua approached her when she first came to Australia. They went to considerable lengths to check her integrity and her ability by giving her geologically ideal maps and requesting her to plot the oil perimeter in an area that had been previously tested and found to be dry.
"I'm sorry, but I cannot find any oil for you here," she had told them.
She eventually indicated oil in a new area, but was unable to see the accuracy of her work proved because a company was never floated.
Five years ago she discussed the possibilities of oil being discovered in Western Australia with an oil-searching company. As a result of talks with her, a directors' meeting was called, Miss Penrose said. Unmoved, however, by the prospect of locating oil by a woman's "intuition," they elected to engage an American geologist instead.
There will always be sceptics. There were sceptics when Columbus prepared to sail round the world, when torture was Galileo's reward for advanced scientific events following his discovery that time could be measured by a pendulum's swing.
Yet even sceptical friends of Miss Penrose know for a fact that, for the diviner herself, her work is no joke. It requires an intense concentration that can be sustained for only half hour periods once or twice a day and frequently leaves her with racking and blinding headaches.
Notwithstanding this, and the fact that she already has in hand more work than she can possibly complete if she lives to be as old as Methuselah, she is intensely interested in the search for oil in her own adopted land. What does it matter, she asks, whether her powers are subconscious or clairvoyant, whether they are due to earth currents or electro-magnetic effects, so long as diviners (as claimed by Chambers) "frequently succeed where geological experts fail" ?
Although our great desert spaces of the north still would not blossom as the rose, a forest of oil-producing derricks would make everything in the garden lovely for Australia's Mr. and Mrs. John Citizen. Taking this view of it, it does seem a pity that, in the middle of our own home-town oil rush, the Master Diviner's talents are being exploited by oil men on the other side of the world.
By Ruth Allen
Western Mail 11 November 1954