Victoria Drummond

Marine engineer

A sepia photograph of a woman in military uniform

Image courtesy of National Library of Scotland

  • BORN 14th October 1894, Errol, Perthshire, Scotland, UK
  • DIED 25th December 1978, Sussex, England, UK
  • WORKED Northern Garage, Perth, Scotland;  Caledon Ship Works, Dundee, Scotland; On various ships and on shore
  • HONOURS MBE; Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea

Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea

Artistic Connections

Victoria Drummond was able to do exquisite embroidery, and took it with her when she sailed.


Title: Row Gondolier – A Barcarolle
Words by: the composer (as far as we know)
Written in: c. 1800 
For: voice and piano
Performed by: Frances M Lynch
World Premiere: August 5th, 2017, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, part of “Scottish Superwomen of Science”

This operatic song presented itself to us as the perfect way to tell the story of Victoria Drummond – she talks about loving opera and it contrasts well with her work in the bowels of a ship. This video was made at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and takes up Victoria’s story just as she arrives on holiday in Vienna on the day the Nazi’s invaded…


Schooled at home; Technical College in Dundee; Apprenticeship at Caledon Ship Works, Dundee


Apprentice mechanic 1916-1918

From childhood, Victoria Drummond decided she wanted to be an engineer. Her father thought that a week’s work in a garage would be enough to put her off, but it made her all the more determined to continue. She then served a two-year apprenticeship in the Northern Garage in Perth.

Apprentice shipping engineer

Becoming a marine engineer was her ultimate dream, and she became an apprentice at the Lilybank Foundry, part of the Caledon Ship Works in Dundee, the only woman among 3,000 men.

Marine engineer

Her first job was as tenth engineer on a ship with the Blue Funnel Line, sailing from Glasgow to Australia. She continued to sail on various ships for much of the rest of her career.  It was not until 1959 that she was allowed to sail as Chief Engineer – but under a Panamanian flag. She was convinced that the Merchant Navy in Britain would never allow her to sail as Chief Engineer because she was a woman.

In later life, Victoria Drummond continued to work as an engineer, often on shore as a superintendent in shipyards in Dundee and Burntisland.

Scientific Achievement

  • First female marine engineer in Britain
  • First female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers
  • Marine engineer on several different ships during World War 2, and her achievements included:
  • Serving aboard one of the ships which rescued the British Expeditionary Force from Marseilles
  • Showing exceptional courage, when the ship on which she was serving was bombed as it was 300 miles out into the Atlantic. She took charge in the engine room, ordered everyone else out so that they would be safe, and managed to keep the engines running at full speed so that the captain could steer the ship out of danger.
  • Being on board when enemy aircraft struck her ship, killing and injuring some of the men on board

Log book for the day on which she took charge when her ship was bombed

Did You Know?

Her aristocratic background meant that as she sailed into various ports, she would be invited to visit people who were friends or contacts of her family. Taking off her oily overalls she would dress herself in smart clothes and white gloves, and go off and pay visits.  We could wonder how she was able to make her fingernails clean enough for such occasions!

Victoria’s family were and are extremely proud of her achievements and supported her despite her father hoping he could persuade her into a more respectable line of work!

An Inspiring Woman

Victoria Drummond grew up in Megginch Castle, and was the god-daughter of Queen Victoria. Many girls with her background would not have been expected to work for a living, and very few would have taken on manual work. This made her very unusual indeed. With an upper-class upbringing and accent, she suffered additional prejudice, but her own character, personality and ability helped her to be widely respected by many of her fellow seamen.

Victoria Drummond’s spelling and writing were poorer than average, and her family now believe that she suffered from dyslexia, long before diagnoses were made of the condition. She did not allow this disability to put her off.

She did not give up easily, and sat examinations for her Chief Engineer’s certificate over 30 times, but always failed. Although she was never told directly, it was implied that as a woman, she would never be allowed to pass.

The seafaring union, Nautilus, present a Victoria Drummond award to women who boost the profile of women at sea by their achievements.

Victoria is continuing to inspire generations of women engineers, including the current generation of Drummonds, with one of her great, great nieces now studying mechanical engineering at University!

Plaque at Abertay University entrance – Dundee Women’s Trail


              A blog from Merseyside Maritime Museum, with an extract from a wages book from 1922, showing that Victoria Drummond was paid £12 a month for her first voyage as a marine engineer