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Women on Ships

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In the "Whips" thread Lady Seahawke posted this:

well, women were on ships more often then most might believe.

...which sparked off a revival of another thread... Both of which got me thinking about the fact that I don't recall a decent discussion about women on ships during the GAoP.

So, we've got Anne Bonny and Mary Read obviously, and I recall the story of Anne Chamberlayne who was aboard her brother's ship during one of the battles in the English Channel in the 1690s - a story attested to by contemporary monument to her.

How many other verifiable examples (ie, supported by evidence) of women working aboard ships (as opposed to passengers, which is a whole different thing) are there between, say, 1600 and 1750. How many were pirates?

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This is something that I was talking about the other night..... OK most of this is out of period....

During the Americam Civil War, there were documentable cases of women that fought , and died, and no one knew they were women untill after they were dead.. Ok and then there was "Stage Coach Charley... So there have been women that did pass as men.

There was also a time (I'd have to go look it up) when many Union/Yankee officers had aids that were a little too nice looking (thier wives and lovers) in camp. An order went out from the Army telling to send them home (ok not an exact quote) BUT No one was "fooled" about these female "soldiers" everyone knew they were women....

When I did American Civil War reenacting, we had the "ten foot rule" unfortunatly IF there was a woman that could "pass"..... heck she fooled me..... BUT I don't think so..... both sides had a lot of ...ergh... curvy soldiers..... Life in a military camp leaves some room to get away with concealing thier sex.... but life aboard a ship, in such tight quarters..... makes me wonder if Bonny and Mary realy did "pass" or if Pyrates and Sailors didn't care.....

Hey... it's open to debate..... I did some make-up for a woman as a joke for the Clampers..... and she fooled everyone there......

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Some more bits for you (if my computer doesn't crash for a fourth time...)

Some dubious ones (without checked sources):

Catherine Lincken (1721)?

A ballad written in 1690 by seaman John Curtin describes a woman who was discovered disguised as a man in the crew of the 72 gun vessel "Edgar".

A gentlewoman petitioned the Queen for payment for serving on the ship St Andrew dressed in men's clothing and taking part in a battle against the French in the summer of 1691.

Ann Mills served in a dragoon regiment aboard HMS Maidstone in 1740

Some genuine bits:

Hannah Snell served as a Marine for several years until 1750

"...on Thursday morning last they began to play very hot on the Duncannon frigate riding in the midst of that harbour. One shot whereof happened to fall into her powder room, where a woman was with a candle, whose head being struck off, the candle is supposed to have fallen into the powder; but whether by that accident or no is uncertain, the vessel was blown up." Earl of Inchiquin to the House of Lords, July 19, 1645

"And whereas the women now entertained on board as nurses take up a great deal of room and, in the opinion of the captain and surgeon, are rather an inconvenience than otherwise, we conceive they may be discharged, and men employed in their stead." Admiral Byng to Daniel Furzer (Surveyor of the Navy), January 24, 1704 (Byng had already written on January 10th "...they have done little or no service in the last year, but are continually drunk as often as opportunity would permit - and then very mutinous". Two days after the letter first quoted however the number of women on the Hospital Ship in question was increased by five "helpers" and three launderesses as the ship was ordered to the Mediterranean station.)


One interesting point about all of this is the difference between the women who went to see openly as women, and those who disguised themselves as men in order to do so.

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Ed, let's not forget Grania Mhaille ("Grace" O'Malley), the Irish thorn in good Queen Bess' side. We know she was real because there are English accounts of her petitioning Elizabeth I for the right to raid enemy (read: Spanish) ships off the Irish coast. The problem is that she'd sometimes raid English ships too if the pickings were slim. So Bess kept having to call her in and lock her up and teach her a lesson.

There are some tales (mostly from Morgan Llywellen's novels) that indicate she dressed as a man, but nothing in the real historical record (or even the Irish legends about her) indicate that she didn't dress as a woman. She was the owner of her ship and that doesn't even confirm that she sailed on it herself, quite frankly.

The fact that Grania gets protrayed as a breeches-wearing pirate at Ren Faires should not be mistaken for fact...

Patrick, to add to your argument from a time period closer to the GAoP, there are numerous well-documented accounts of women fighting in the American Revolution -- at first dressed as young boys and then openly dressed as women. The Continental Line was just too short of man-power to refuse "women-power". And there are even cases of women drawing veterans' pensions from the government -- not as widows, but as veterans themselves.

Now, that being said, America had a tradition by that point of not exactly behaving as England would have. So we must ask ourselves if women did this in England in the GAoP.

My take is that there probably were cases of women dressing as men and making their way aboard pirate ships. But we probably know about the few cases because they were so very rare and unusual.

And anyway, who on earth would want to wear breeches and look like a boy when you could wear fabulous girl clothes?!?! <_<


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Well, while not exactly a pirate, let's not forget Moll Frith She dressed as a man and was quite the talk of London in the early 17th C. I'm not sure, though, that she's not the exception that proves the rule. Being so notorius as to have books written about her, and being one of the few criminals of London that is still known by name from that period, I'd have to sy that she is far beyond the norm, even for then.

Here is the info from the Newgate records.



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Lady Killigrew — 1530-1570, Atlantic.

Mrs. Peter Lambert of Aldeburgh, Suffolk — late 1500s.

Elizabetha Patrickson — 1634.

Jacquotte Delahaye — 1650s-1660s, Caribbean buccaneer


Anne Dieu-le-veut — 1660s, Caribbean buccaneer.

Anonymous Indian Pirate Queen — 1680s, Arabian Sea.

La Marquise de Frèsne — late 1600s, Mediterranean.

Maria Lindsey (fictional?) — early 1700s, Canadian East Coast.

Anne Bonny, aliases Ann Bonn and Fulford, possibly also Sarah Bonny — 1719-1720, Caribbean.

Mary Read, alias Mark Read — 1718-1720, Caribbean.

Mary Harvey (or Harley), alias Mary Farlee — 1725-1726, Carolina.

Mary Crickett (or Crichett) — 1728.

Rachel Wall — 1780s, New England Coast.

Maria Cobham (fictional?) — Atlantic. (this is listed because the sources cannot disprove or prove as being RL or just a legend)

Sadie the Goat — 1800s, New York State.

Catherine Hagerty —1806, Australia and New Zealand.

Margaret Jordan — 1809, Canadian East Coast.

Cheng I Sao (Ching Yih Saou) — 1810s, South China Sea, commanded either five or six squadrons consisting of 800 large junks, about 1,000 smaller vessels, and between 70,000 and 80,000 men and women.

Gertrude Imogene Stubbs — alias "Gunpowder Gertie, the Pirate Queen of the Kootenays", 1898-1903, Kootenay Lake and river system of British Columbia, Canada.

those are some of the ones I have found .... <_< I took out those the academic sources thought were more fictional then not, and took out those without the date and where they plundered.

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The reason I didn't include Granuille originally is twofold: firstly I arbitrarily set a time limit on the quest of 1600-1750 so she was a little early; and secondly, for the reason you touched on, that it's not certain to what extent her piratical activities took her to sea - she was certainly head of the O' Malley clan's pirate business, but exactly what role she played is unclear.

Of course, the parameters I set are arbitrary so there's no need to stick to them. I plumped on those dates for a couple of reasons: relevance to the GAoP; and to avoid having to wade through the staggeringly large number of women who seem to have gone to sea in the 19th century.

I think you're absolutely right about the clothing issue too. In that photo you look gorgeous but I don't fancy the girl on the right much...

Word of warning: The Newgate calendar has the appearance of being a primary source document, or at least a digest of primary sources. However, it was not compiled until the middle of the 18thC, making it well out of date for the earlier stuff it records, and its facts are often way out. Best to treat it a bit like Johnson - good for background stories, but don't trust the details too far. In fact, it's probably less reliable than Johnson IMHO.

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A handful of those are still fictional I'm afraid Lady Seahawke:

Lady Killigrew really existed (there were several of them in fact), but she did not actually engage in piracy herself. Many books list her and tell her story, but they seem to be based on an early misinterpretation. She was certainly involved with piracy, but there is no evidence that she actually went to sea. The court records dealing with the raid on a ship in Falmouth Harbour with which she is most usually credited make it clear that she did not take an active part in the raid itself, only the hiding and distributing of the loot. (Incidentally, the court records also prove that the Killigrews were involved in one of the comparitively few genuine cases of buried loot - half a dozen chairs.)

Mrs. Peter Lambert of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, was also involved in piracy, but only as a fence for her husband. She also helped to spring him from prison when his bragging landed him in trouble with the new authorities.

Maria Lindsey (fictional?) — early 1700s... and... Maria Cobham (fictional?) — Atlantic... are the same person. Although it is impossible to prove beyond doubt that she is fictional the likelihood is that she was, and it is certainly impossible to prove that she was a pirate, or that she even existed. Not one single part of her story checks out against the historical record. The fullest account of her life (and her husband's) comes from Gosse's "Pirates who's who", and subsequent versions are just rehashing the Gosse version. Gosse, as ever, offers no source for his information beyond a "memoir" of Eric Cobham's which has conveniently disappeared since. Several points in the Cobham story can be completely disproven, throwing massive doubt on the story as a whole. There is not one shred of evidence in support of the story.

Gertrude Imogene Stubbs — alias "Gunpowder Gertie" is quite definitely fictional. She was invented by Canadian storyteller Carolyn McTaggart for a children's treasure hunt around Kootenay Lake.

Quite a few of the others appear on several lists of female pirates, but without any more information offered or sources to look at, so we just can't tell whether or not they were real. Whether they were real or not, without further information there's not a lot to be learned from them sadly.

Glad to see you didn't include Charlotte de Berry or Elizabeth Shirland in the list :)

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ok, I hesitate to add much more because again I have my notes on this and like a dodo, I didn't write down the names of the books...sigh...and can't get to them as right now my library has stuff stacked up in front of some of the bookcases. I can't move everything because of my back. But, here are some information on female privateers...

Take it as you will

Flora Burn — 1741, American East Coast.

Sarah Bishop — 1778-1780, this New Yorker was forced to join the crew of a British privateer during the Revolutionary War.

Mary Anne Talbot, alias John Taylor, on a French privateer — 1793-1794.

Several black women (probably slaves) were cooks onboard the Duke, a British privateer — early 1800s, Pacific.

Anonymous female commander of French privateer La Baugourt — 1805, West Indies.

Anonymous French female privateer — 1811.

I will continue to hunt through my notes for the wherefores of the information....

This above was a list was put together by Joan Druett and John Richard Stephens, with some contributions from Christine Lampe, Ken Kinkor,

Richard Pennell, Sara Lorimer, Tony Malesic, and Andreas Schultz.

Here are some more about women ...

Ann Chamberlyne was a female tar who joined her brother's ship crew in 1690 and fought the French at Beachy Head. A plaque in her memory at All Saints Church Cheyne Walk in London used to exist, but it was destroyed in WWII during a bombing raid.

Anne Chamberlyne - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

From the BBC online....

Hannah Snell (1723-1792) was born in Worcester and went to live in London with her sister. She became pregnant by, married and was later abandoned by one James Summs. The child died and, so the story goes, while masquerading as a man Hannah was pressed into service in the Army. She joined the Marines, sailing to India and fighting against the French at the siege of Pondicherry. She was badly injured there, treating her groin injury herself so that she would not let her sex be known. She then joined the Navy and served for another ten months. She returned to London in 1749 and eventually revealed her true identity, to the amazement of her shipmates. She also let the press know and became a celebrity, even going on the London stage and singing patriotic songs until the public were bored by her. She petitioned the Duke of Cumberland for financial support and eventually won a pension for life, though some time later she was found selling buttons having come back down in the world.

The printer Robert Walker published her biography, The Female Soldier or The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, in 1750 and the book was highly successful. Hannah lived for a further 40 years, was married twice and had two sons. In 1791 she was admitted to the lunatic asylum, Bedlam, and six months later she died. The accuracy of her story has sometimes been called into question but the essential details would appear to be correct.

David Cordingly says that more than 20 women are known to have served at sea between 1650 and 1815, including 'William Brown', a young black sailor who spent 12 years in the Navy climbing aloft to set the sails on battleships of the Napoleonic era. Mary Lacy served as a carpenter and shipwright on board Navy vessels for many years from 1759, using the name of William Chandler. Mary Patten, a merchant captain's wife in the 1850s, was forced to take command of her husband's ship as it rounded Cape Horn when he fell ill.

They gave a listing of books on the subject of women in the age of sail...

Ok, from the Historical Maritime Society...

Richardson, the Gunner of the TROMP in 1800 took his wife with him on a cruise to the West Indies. He originally felt this was not suitable due to the terrible disease problems in their destination, Martinique. However, "after some entreaty I gave my consent, especially as the Captain's, the Master's, The Purser's and the Boatswain's wives were going with them: the Sergeant of marines and six other men's wives had leave to go."

You need to read the rest of the article to see that quote from the same article.

As early as 1587 the printed regulations forbade women on board ship and the threat of severe punishment was proposed for those who contravened the order. However from then on written sources hint that the rule was ignored, and that for the next 250 years women were glimpsed on board but only as shadowy figures flitting around below decks.

Also, ....Although women were on board they rarely appeared but we do know that when the HORATIO struck a rock in 1815 and all hands were called to the pumps five women appeared to help.

and again,

Those present at the Battle of the Nile (1798) certainly petitioned to be awarded the commemorative medal claiming they had served a gun during the fight. John Nicol, who served in the powder magazine of the GOLIATH at the Nile kept abreast of what was happening in the heat of action by consulting the women and boys who carried the cartridges. "Any information we got was from the boys and the women who carried the powder. The women behaved as well as the men ... I was much indebted to the Gunner's wife who gave her husband and me a drink of wine every now and then ... Some of the women were wounded and one woman belonging to Leith died of her wounds. One woman bore a son in the heat of the action: she belonged to Edinburgh ..." After Trafalgar (1805) Jane Townshend of the DEFIANCE applied for her medal "presenting strong and highly satisfactory certificates of her useful services during the combat".

Also, let's not forget not only did they dress as men but some took names as men which might account for little mention...such as...

William Brown, a black woman who spent a dozen years aboard British warships as a topman (which, involving setting the highest sails while balanced on a swaying foot rope 30 metres or more above the deck, was about the most dangerous job going), eventually promoted to captain of the forecastle. According to London's Annual Register, September 1815: "Her features are rather handsome for a black ... She exhibits all the traits of a British tar and takes her grog with her late messmates with the greatest gaiety."

Ok, go to the above link and read the rest of the article.

ok, here is some more...

Fanny Campbell was among the first captains to take private craft into service against the British during the American Revolution. Some months before the war began, this young woman from Lynn, Massachusetts, went to sea disguised as a man, serving as second officer on an English merchant brig, the Constance. Her reasons for this had nothing to do with either politics or trade but were entirely personal. She had recently learned that her childhood sweetheart, William Lovell, was in jail in Cuba; he had escaped from a pirate ship, which had captured the ship he served, and was himself charged with piracy. Fanny Campbell signed on aboard the Constance with the idea of taking straightforward Yankee-style action to free her man.

Seafaring Women

By Dr. Linda Grant de Pauw

Excerpted with permission of the author from "Seafaring Women"

Peacock Press,

another from the above same article.

Sarah Bishop of Long Island, New York, was the victim of a British raiding party in I778. Rape had become an everyday event in the war zones; when Bishop was taken aboard a British privateer, she became a member of the crew with certain additional duties. Although she handled the wheel and stood watches, she was also expected to be a communal sex object. Eventually she and the captain of the privateer came to an understanding, after which she was strictly the captain's woman.

and oh, ever wonder where the phrase.."Shake a leg" comes from

The day began with the boatswain's mates rousing the men with the shout, "Show a leg! Out or down!" A smooth leg or a woman's stocking identified a female, who would be left to sleep. The possessor of a hairy leg, however, had to hit the deck or the lashings of the hammock would be cut, tumbling him down. The officers would then do what they could to get the sailors to perform the tasks that must be done even in port - maintaining the ship, exercising at the guns, and getting ready for the coming voyage. The wives might spend the day mending their husbands' clothing., but most of the women had no useful work to do and passed the time drinking and fighting.

lots more stories of women in the age of sail at....

Hey does anyone have this book, Wiesner, Merry E. 1952- "Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present (review)"

Journal of World History - Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2001, pp. 196-198

I can only get an excerpt from it...but part of it is...This study is not solely one of women in the military, however, but, as its subtitle suggests, of all the various roles women have played in war. The chronological sweep suggested by the subtitle is also completely accurate, for the book begins in Neolithic times and ends with a chapter looking at current civil wars around the world and peacekeeping forces, such as those of the United Nations.

ECCCCKKKK...UGH, I don't have rights to some of the academic sites that I use to have....ok, will have to make some phone calls and see if I can get them back.

Ok, sniffle back to some other items...that might be of interest of early 19th century...ok, ok, not the age of pyraty but, if'n it happened in the early 19th, it happened in the 18th, etc...IMHO not a far-fetch leap, especially since some of the above...

Women were often aboard the chunky sloops and schooners that carried coastal cargo, as well as more glamorous clippers and other large windjammers. And when they were, the ships were called ''hen frigates.'' On board, women reared children, acted as hostesses (if the ship carried passengers) and, although they were generally not responsible for feeding the crew, often coached the cook and supplemented bland meals with their own specialties. According to the wife of Capt. Alonzo Follansbee, ''Madam's duties are studying navigation, reading, keeping the ship's signals in repair and walking decks with the captain.'' If a captain and first mate died, a woman's navigational skills often saved her and the ship.

Well, the above is part of a review from

First Helpmates The letters and journals of seagoing women tell startling tales.

First Chapter: 'Hen Frigates


It gets into various things such sex and the complaints women had about ummm, ok this post might be read by young ones so I will stop there.

But back to earlier times....

A marriage license between Margaret and Peter Rudolphus, a merchant trader in New Amsterdam, was published on October 19, 1659, and they had one daughter baptized Maria the following year. As most Dutch women did, Margaret kept her maiden name, and by 1660 was active in mercantile business under the name of Hardenbrook. She began her career as a business agent representing Dutch Merchants trading with New Netherlands. When her husband died in the summer of 1661, she assumed his trading activities, which was predominantly shipping furs to Holland in exchange for Dutch merchandise. Within the next two years she became a shipowner, calling her new fleet ship Margaret. In 1662 she remarried, to a Frederick Philipsen, who with her late husband's money expanded his own merchant trade. Meanwhile, Margaret traveled frequently between New Netherlands, and New Amsterdam at this time for her own trading business.

More at the below link

and please note it is from an academic site.

1812, Lucy Brewer concealed her female identity and enlisted in the Marines as George Baker. She served the U.S.S. Constitution in its winning battle during the War of 1812.

# 1856, Mary Ann Patten (1837-1861) was the first woman to navigate a clipper ship. At the age of 19, Patten took over navigation of the ship which had left New York City because its captain, her husband, became seriously ill with tuberculosis.

those above are from...

Citations come from, Women's Firsts , Caroline Zilboorg, ed., Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.

Ok, this is from the book "Women Sailors and Sailors' Women" haven't gotten it yet, but it looks interesting...

Author David Cordingly gives us a lesser known piece of women's history in Women Sailors & Sailors' Women. Cordingly writes of women and the high seas in the 18th and 19th centuries, a subject about which there's a surprising amount to tell......Cordingly is also the author of an acclaimed history of piracy and for 12 years was on staff at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. He clearly knows something of the lives of sailors; his knowledge, interest and good research are evident. He includes first person accounts from ship records and journals which makes the stories of Women Sailors & Sailors' Women vivid and fun.

so have any of you heard of David Cordingly????

Ok, have to put something back in from the early 19th interesting not too, and also, the word pirate appears in the text...

Coogan has a fine eye for the way people try to anchor a life that's being swept along by wind and currents, such as the happy practice of investing a child born at sea with the middle name of "Seaborn" or "Woodhull," and the sad practice of carrying a dead infant home in a jar of alcohol for baptism and burial in consecrated ground.

Coogan, a native of Cape Cod who spent nearly 30 years on the faculty of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, uses public records and letters and diaries to build brief chapters about the experiences of a dozen 19th-century wives who chose to accompany their captain-husbands on sea voyages. The dangers—loneliness, pirates, illness, storms, frequent sightings of drunk and/or naked men, and the errant wave that sweeps a boy away from his mother and overboard, "his little face and hands [visible] just above the water" as he disappears in the ship's wake

Sail Away Ladies: Stories of Cape Cod Women in the Age of Sail, by Jim Coogan '66 (Harvest Home, 2003 and 2005)

Ok, this is getting a bit long. But one item to note as stated above, those women that took to dressing as men on the ships were also taking a man's name in order to sign aboard. Something to think many went down on a ship them being listed as a man when in reality they were women????

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The first opportunities for women to find roles at sea during war, without resorting to disguise, were as nurses. Formal Healthcare for sick and injured seafarers began in the mid 18th Century. Each ship had to have a sick bay and a surgeon. Repeated skirmishes and campaigns had also made a network of hospital ships necessary in the heyday of British naval power.

During Nelson’s command of the Royal Navy 1794–1805 there is evidence of women being aboard the ships,

from ....Nursing in the Royal Navy

also from the same site but different page ...

Mary Lacy was one of those women who fortunately decided to tell her fantastic story giving us a detailed picture of life as a sailor aboard a warship. In 1759 she went to sea in men's clothes as William Cavendish apprentice carpenter, the ship she joined was involved in the Seven Years War between Britain and France. In 1763 she decided to become a shipwright's apprentice based Portsmouth Dockyard and gained her certificate in 1770 despite being discovered and confessing she was a woman to two male colleagues who surprisingly swore to keep her secret. However, rheumatoid arthritis meant she was no longer able to work in such a physically demanding environment and in order to gain a pension she revealed her identity as Mary Lacy and not William Chandler, as she later called herself. Her petition was sucessful and she retired publishing her story under the title 'The History of the Female Shipwright'

Ok, some more in the 1800's...1852 to be exact...yes, I know not age of pyracy...but you will see why you might be interested...

In 1852 the Birkenhead under the command of Captain Robert Salmond, began her career as a troopship, ferrying troops to the Channel Islands and Lisbon and visited the Cape. Early in 1852 she once again left on what was to be her last journey for the Cape Colony.

Text by: John Gribble

Maritime Archaeologist

South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA)

P O Box 4637 Cape Town 8000

Tel: +27 (021) 462 4502

Fax: +27 (021) 462 4509

Name of Ship: Birkenhead

Command: Captain Robert Salmond

Design Stats 64m long displacing 1918 tons. and 11.3 m wide.

Date of Wreck: February 26, 1852 at 02h00.

Depth of Wreck: 21-meters

Site of Wreck: Danger Point South Africa

Impact to Sinking: 25 minutes

Passengers: 638 -Ship Crew, Soldiers, Women and Children

Casualties: 445 men went down with the ship. All the women and children were saved.

Manifest: Military stores, Horses, £300,000 in gold coins (never recovered).

Historical Relevance: Set the precedent of "Women and Children First" as naval protocol throughout the world.

In 1731 the first ‘Regulations and Instructions’ were printed and they stated that women were not allowed to be at sea without the orders of the Admiralty. Many women did sail on the ships without permission and this was unnoticed unless it was officially reported. This meant that if they died their deaths were seldom recorded.....Some sailors did not like the women to be on the ships and believed they used the precious fresh drinking water for washing instead of the seawater. There was also a superstition that women were bad luck at sea and brought storms to the area. Sometimes the sailors would throw the women overboard in an attempt to make the storms subside.

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The Rambling Female Sailor

(circa 1830)

Ballad printed by W. Fordyce,


Come all young people far and near,

And listen to my ditty,

At Gravesend lived a maiden fair,

Who was both young and pretty.

Her lover he was press'd away,

and drowned in a foreign sea,

which caus'd this maiden to say,

I'll be a Female Sailor.

This maid she was resolv'd to go

Across the foaming ocean,

She was resolv'd to let them know

How she could gain promotion.

With jacket blue and trowsers white,

Just like a sailor neat and tight

The sea it was the heart's delight

of the rambling Female Sailor . . .

From stem to stern she'd boldly go,

She brav'd all dangers, fear'd no foe,

But soon you'll hear the overthrow

Of the Rambling Female Sailor.

This maiden gay did a wager lay,

She would go aloft with any,

And up aloft she straight did go,

Where times she had been many.

This maiden bold--ah, sad to tell,

She missed her hold and down she fell,

And calmly bid this world farewell!

Did the Rambling Female Sailor.

This maiden gay did fade away

Just like a drooping willow,

Which made the sailors for to say

Farewell, young faithful Willy.

When her snow-whitebreast in sight

became, She prov'd to be a female frame,

And Rebecca Young it was the name

Of the Rambling Female Sailor . . .

On the river Thames she was known full well,

Few sailors could with her excel

One tear let fall as the fate you tell,

Of the Rambling Female Sailor

From the site "30 Jane Tars"

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At sea Admiralty regulations forbade the carrying of women, however as with many regulations this was often ignored. Estimates vary as to the numbers of women actually at sea with the fleet, but the wives of important members of the ships company, such as the gunner and the carpenter were often found on board ship. Children were also at sea, the youngest boy at the battle of Trafalgar was just eight years old, and his nine year old friend had been born at sea.

Son of a gun(ner) perhaps is where the saying comes from where the women gave birth on the ships? Yes???

ok, another from BBC...

The presence of the women was largely hidden, for official purposes, as they were not paid or fed by the Navy, and therefore were not entered onto the ships' muster books. However other records, such as order books written by ships' captains, refer to their existence, as do memoirs and records of courts martial.

DETERMINEE,24. (Taken by REVOLUTIONAIRE in 1799. Wrecked 1803) 1801 Capt. J.C. SEARLE, Lisbon. 1802 Capt. SKENE, Spithead. 1803 Capt. Alexander BECHER. he sailed from St. Helen's on the evening of 4 January for Dublin to enter seamen.

Capt. BECHER received orders at Spithead on 23 March 1803 to carry a detachment of the 81st regiment to Jersey and they were all embarked by the afternoon of the following day. No pilot was available at Spithead so he sailed in company with AURORA hoping to obtain one either at Cowes or Yarmouth. DETERMINEE anchored at Cowes over night but Capt. BECHER received no answer to his signals for a pilot and the following morning he followed AURORA to the Needles where he sent an officer ashore. His efforts were unsuccessful and they sailed through the Needles hoping to obtain a pilot at Guernsey or off the Jersey coast. Since he was unable to obtain any answers to his continual signals he decided to follow in AURORA's wake. Just before half past four on Saturday the 26th Capt. BECHER attempted to bring his ship into the wind at the same place as AURORA five minutes earlier but scarcely had the mainbrace been belayed than she stuck broadside on to a sunken rock near Noirmont Point on the western side of St. Aubyn Bay where she was immediately bilged and started taking in water. To save her falling into deep water the captain immediately ordered both anchors to be let go.

The large cutter was soon launched and people crowded in to it ignoring pleas by the captain to allow the women and children on first. At this point the ship fell on her beam ends and many were thrown into the water. The captain reached the mizzen-top after being immersed for ten minutes. From the rigging and masts he and most of the others were rescued by the boats of AURORA and CAMILLA over the next three and a half hours in a six knot tide. The captain first reported that a midshipman and a seaman belonging to DETERMINEE were lost, together with ten soldiers, two women and three children from the 81st regiment and a woman and child from the sick bay, but a later count showed that forty had been drowned.

At a court martial held on board GLADIATOR in Portsmouth on 5 April, Capt. BECHER, his officers and crew were honourably acquitted of all blame for the loss.

The family of Dr. Charming, on their way from France to America, not long after the commencement of the war, were attacked by a privateer. During the engagement that ensued, Mrs. Channing remained on deck, handing cartridges, with encouraging speeches to the crew, and assisting the wounded. When the colors of the vessel were struck, she seized the pistols and side-arms of her husband, and flung them into the sea, declaring that they, at least, should not be surrendered to the enemy.

other parts of the world.

The first island which revolted according to Bubulina's memoirs, was Spetses, 3 April 1821. Bubulina was a very rich woman who contributed with all her money and ships to the war. She immediately sailed for Nafplion to join the revolutionaries and blockaded it from the sea side. Psara followed and raised the flag with the cross. The sailors from Psara with their ships sailed to Macedonia, Thessaly and to the coast of Mikra Asia to raise the local populations. Their captain Nikolis Apostolis, attacked to the small ottoman fleet to the harbour of Smyrna and arrested 4 ships with 450 soldiers.

ok, I think that is all for today....


Though I am still trying to find the reference where on Captain asked for compensation to a woman for her act of bravery during battle, where the reply was (paraphasing here a tad) ...we can't because if we give it to her then we would have to give it to all the others and the Admiralty can't afford it.

OK, yes I read it...I know I did, (facts of this nature I have proofed to have an uncanny memory for) ...DAMN IT.... I just have to find it. Yes, I have it in book form, but have also seen it on the It may take me while but I will.

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OK, there was a very specific reason why I suggested a cut-off point of 1750, and wanted to avoid getting into the Napoleonic and 19thC women at sea, and this quote illustrates it to a certain extent:

Ok, sniffle back to some other items...that might be of interest of early 19th century...ok, ok, not the age of pyraty but, if'n it happened in the early 19th, it happened in the 18th, etc...IMHO not a far-fetch leap, especially since some of the above...

From the closing years of the 18th century onwards the records show a huge explosion in the number of women apparently at sea. There must be a reason for this massive increase. It might be that simply more were discovered, but that is a completely unsatisfactory answer: why should the women of 1800 be less adept at concealing themselves than the women of a century earlier? It might be that the records are more complete, but we know that in most respects the naval records of 1700 are just as complete as those of 1800, so why should the records of women at sea be particularly different? No, the answer must be that there are more records of women at sea in that later period simply because there were more women at sea than previously. We cannot, therefore, say "since it happened in the early 19th century then it probably happened in the GAoP", it just doesn't hold true.

One might ask why there should be more women at sea in the later periods, and I believe the answer is twofold. The second half of the 18th century, and the opening part of the 19th was a period of ENORMOUS change, particularly in a social context. The revolutionary fervour which gripped Europe and America led to changes in the way that women were viewed and the way they viewed themselves. Olympe de Gouges' 1791 "Declaration of the Rights of Women" was a seminal document, probably the first true feminist manifesto, and its readership was so wide that the words of a butcher's daughter led her to political stardom, controversy and the guillotine. The place of women in the world was changing so it is not surprising to find more of them at sea - it was just an insignificant symptom of the new world.

The other reason is simply that the Revolutionary period, and the Napoleonic period which followed it saw a massive increase in the number of ships and seamen at sea. During the Napoleonic wars, for example, the Royal Navy had as many as 147,087 men in service at one time, whereas during Queen Anne's war that number never rose above 47,647. Even if the proportion of women at sea had remained constant, one should expect a significant increase in the sheer number.

For those reasons I think it is folly of the highest sort to apply 19th century information to the early 18th century.

However, even if we remove any references post-1750, and remove those where it seems unlikely the person was actually at sea herself, or was at sea only as a passenger you have still provided some wonderful examples, particularly the fleet instructions. Thanks.

Some more examples

In 1678 a seaman of HMS Bristol "had twenty-nine lashes with a cat-o'-nine tails, and was then washed with salt water, for stealing our carpenter's mate's wife's ring." (Henry Teonge's diary) Since the ship was at Spithead at the time there is a high chance that the incident of the theft actually took place ashore, but I thought you'd all like the flogging info anyway.

In 1666 Sir John Mennes (Controller of the Navy) complained that there were too many women onboard ships " many petticoats as breeches" (Medicine and the Navy, vol. II: Keevil, Lloyd and Coulter; p.91)

In 1693 a RN squadron reached Newfoundland where a settler bought "one of the officers' misses" for the sum of £100 (Sergison Papers

<Bangs head on table>There were 6 regiments of Marines raised in 1702, and 6 regiments of "soldiers for sea-service". Each regiment consisted of 10 companies and they remained in service until 1713. 3 men in every company were allowed to take their wives to sea (Byng Papers). Since there were 120 companies that suggests that at least 360 women were at sea in Royal Navy ships during Queen Anne's war.

(The negative stuff - feel free to ignore)

Incidentally, whoever wrote the Nursing in the Royal Navy page hadn't done their stuff. We've already seen examples of women openly at sea long before the mid-18th century, and in a nursing capacity from at least the beginning of the century. If we believed that site we'd have to conclude that there were no women openly at sea during the GAoP.

Also, while I have the utmost respect for many of the scholars previously mentioned - David Cordingly, Richard Pennell, Joan Druett, Ken Kinkor, Tony Malesic et al - I would beware of trusting Andreas Schultze or Linda Grant de Pauw too much. Schultze is responsible for the propogation of the ridiculous Elizabeth Shirland story, and de Pauw has claimed truth in Charlotte de Berry's story. Neither are prepared to share sources when requested.

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Charlotte De Berry = Fiction?

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Yeah absolutely, her story was written in 1836 for a series of cheap shocking paperbacks by a guy named Edward Lloyd.

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On Grace O'Malley being a pirate herself rather than just a ship owner:

Sir Henry Sydney, Lord Deputy of Ireland, described her as "a most famous feminine sea captain"

And Lord Justice Drury of Limerick called her "a great spoiler, and chief commander and director of thieves and murderers at sea in this province"

In 1577 she was captured while taking part in a raid.

So, the evidence suggests that unlike Lady Killigrew, Grace O'Mally took an active part.

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And some more

Catherine Lincken appears to be real, I've found quotes from her trial documents in 1721 - though I've not yet managed to find out what she was on trial for. One of the interesting things about her is that her testimony answers one of the questions which crops up from time to time: apparently she used "a leather-covered horn through which she urinated and fastened against her nude body"

In 1692 Narcissus Luttrell MP (who calls a kid Narcissus?) note in his diary that "A gentlewoman has petitioned the Queen, setting forth that the last summer she served in man's clothes on board the St Andrew, which was engaged in the fight with the French, and producing a certificate thereof, she quitted herself well, she desired something be given to her." It is unclear whether this woman had deliberately disguised herself in order to go to sea, or was aboard the ship quite legitimately and adopted men's clothes as more practical in order to help out in an emergency, as Anne Chamberlyne had done. Unfortunately, nothing more is known about this woman, even her name.

According the the autobiography of Phinea Pett (the shipbuilder) when the Anne Royal was wrecked in 1637 the master's wife and another woman were among the drowned.

In 1674 it was reported that the captain of the Ruby had entered two of the crew's wives into the pay books under men's names so that he could pocket their pay himself - it was strictly understood that when wives accompanied their husbands to sea they received no pay and no food, whatever they needed was provided by their husband.

Incidentally, I think that

Several black women (probably slaves) were cooks onboard the Duke, a British privateer — early 1800s, Pacific.
is probably a mistake. Several black women were taken aboard the Duke, Woodes Rogers' ship in which he circumnavigated between 1708 and 1711, while they were in the Pacific. That makes it a GAoP era reference.


It seems to me that women at sea during the GAoP fall into four major categories:

Sea-women: Those women who were actually at sea for legitimate reasons, and under their own steam. Principally this includes the nurses and launderesses of the hospital ships.

Lower-deck wives: the wives of seamen and petty officers were often tolerated at sea, but had no official presence. No provision was made for their food or sleeping arrangements, their names were not recorded in ships' books and they had no pay or reward for any services they performed. Although prostitutes were sometimes taken aboard ship they were usually turned off once the ship set sail out of home waters, and their presence was not officially tolerated.

Officers' wives and passengers: When officers took their wives to sea, or when ladies of quality were given passage aboard ships, they received their own space (though officers' wives had to share their husbands' cabins), and it is likely that some stock of food was privately laid in for them before the voyage began - though as private stock it did not go through the ships' books.

Women in disguise: This seems to be the most insignificant group. Although there are examples of women in men's clothing during the GAoP, particularly helping at the guns or fetching powder during engagements, this seems to have been out of expedience. The number of women who actually disguised themselves as men before going to sea seems small (so far we've got 3: Bonny, Read, and Lincken for the GAoP). It might be argued that more did the same but were never discovered, and though this may well be the case we have to ask why? If a woman wished to follow her husband to sea then it was not impossible for her to do so without having to undergo the hardship of living like a man. The fact that so many women were discovered disguised at sea a century later, but so few were during the GAoP suggests that even though there may have been one or two who were completely successful the numbers were pretty small.


This isn't strictly relevant, but I cannot leave this discussion about ships and women without putting this quote in. I finally managed to track down a copy of Ned Ward's The Wooden World Dissected (1706) today, and it includes this passage on the identification of ships as female:

But that sage hit it best undoubtedly, who compared a Ship to a woman. Not for that both are of the Female Gender; not for that she is very apt to be leaky; not for that her pump-dale smells strongest when she has the soundest Bottom; but chiefly because her Rigging and Fitting forth, is always worth double her Carcase. She is commonly in her Dishabille, till the time she appears at Spithead, and there she looks more charming than a painted Whore in a Side-Box


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On Grace O'Malley being a pirate herself rather than just a ship owner:

Sir Henry Sydney, Lord Deputy of Ireland, described her as "a most famous feminine sea captain"

And Lord Justice Drury of Limerick called her "a great spoiler, and chief commander and director of thieves and murderers at sea in this province"

In 1577 she was captured while taking part in a raid.

So, the evidence suggests that unlike Lady Killigrew, Grace O'Mally took an active part.

Go Grania! :wub:

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The number of women who actually disguised themselves as men before going to sea seems small (so far we've got 3: Bonny, Read, and Lincken for the GAoP). It might be argued that more did the same but were never discovered, and though this may well be the case we have to ask why? If a woman wished to follow her husband to sea then it was not impossible for her to do so without having to undergo the hardship of living like a man.

You're assuming that a woman wouldn't have a reason or desire to go to sea for the same reasons as a man would, particularly since the laws at the time made it difficult for her to earn a decent living on her own. Although I agree that the difficulties of disguising one's sex in such close-quarters as a ship would discourage most women, I'm guessing that most of the women who served went undiscovered. Or, how many of these women could have been thrown overboard by a superstitious crew (women being supposedly bad luck on ships and all) and their deaths recorded as accidents or casualties of war (and listed with their male name so as to avoid the stigma of bad luck)? Or have been killed in a melee or storm and their body washed overboard before they could be examined and discovered as women? At any rate, I think it's a safe bet that as with most things, the women who were documented were just the tip of the iceberg.

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La Maupin, 17th century French swordswoman, adventuress (including onboard a ship) and opera star, was like something out of a novel by Dumas or Sabatini, except for two things. First she was real, and second few authors would have attributed her exploits to a woman…..

Gilbert, interestingly enough, claims "No one therefore saw anything strange in the masculine clothes and conduct of our heroine", due to the fact that "a good number of women did as she did." I find this, too, a bit surprising. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle between Clayton and Gilbert's versions of things.


Oddly enough, Vincentio Saviolo in his 16th century manual on fencing, includes a large section on women fencers. He titles this section "The Nobility of Women" and concludes it with stories of highly educated women, and one woman who designed her own castle. He says he is writing in order to encourage women to try whatever they think they would like to do, instead of feeling limited by their sex……………

There were many women who took warfare very seriously and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Several of them could even be called professional soldiers. Mention of these individuals is rare, but they can be found in accounts from men who either admire them, or who find them an oddity. One historian of the 19th century wrote:

"... the feminine spirit of combativeness, which is nothing else at bottom but a blustering kind of coquetry, spread far and wide in Europe from the fifteenth century onwards. From that date on, it produced among the fantastic sex many strange tricks in mimicry of the hectoring ways of men."………..

Some women were sailors. Around 1571 (the battle of Lepanto) there was a woman by the name of Mar�a la Bailadora (the dancer) who served aboard Don John's galley Real. She had follewed her lover, dressed as a man. This exciting account of the battle between the Real, and the Turkish Sultana shows her valor and bravery in the face of battle: "Mar�a la Bailadora was nimbly over the side - some asserted afterwards that she was the first - and on the deck of Sultana was seen to kill her Turkish antagonist with one sword thrust.

Lots more information …and listed sources… at


Ok, guys I know you REALLY want to know that only a handful of females was able to stand up to the life. I understand my humble opin

ion and probably more then a few other females... know that you want the rough life of the sea to be a bastion of male endurance. But, hate to say it...but women have done women have done male dominionated jobs through out history.

But when it is all said and the final analysis...We were there.


M'fellow lasses...I be buy'n so sail on up ...the kegs tis a popp'n.


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Ok, guys I know you REALLY want to know that only a handful of females was able to stand up to the life. I understand my humble opin

ion and probably more then a few other females... know that you want the rough life of the sea to be a bastion of male endurance. But, hate to say it...but women have done women have done male dominionated jobs through out history.

Let's not turn this into a sexism thread eh? It brings the whole level of the conversation down and defeats the object of good research.

Given that I have provided numerous examples of women at sea I consider your remarks quite offensive.

I'm an historian, not a sexist. We have agreed, I hope, that while there are MANY exmples of women disguising themselves as men to go to sea during the later eras there are considerably fewer examples from the GAoP period. I'm not interested in anything except examining why this might be. As I stated before, there are several possible reasons: it is extremely unlikely that it is due to there having been more discovered, or due to better records being available. I believe, very strongly and based solely on the available evidence, that the reason we have fewer examples is that there were fewer women doing during that earlier period.

I can accept that the number of women discovered in disguise at sea was probably smaller then the number actually at sea (though of course there's no way of proving it), but by that token we are still faced with the problem that there were fewer known examples from the GAoP - leading to the reasonable conclusion that there were in fact fewer women in disguise at sea during the earlier period.

particularly since the laws at the time made it difficult for her to earn a decent living on her own

Sorry, but I don't agree with that statement, there were many many ways for women to earn their living during the GAoP. The idea that women could either be prostitutes or wives is one of the most common misconceptions - there were plenty of trades open to women.


Now, let's get back to the real research of finding examples of women at sea, either in disguise as men or legitimately as women. Let's keep it to the right era, let's keep it to women at sea (the fact that in the 16thC women engaged in the fashionable pursuit of fencing does not show there were women at sea in the GAoP) and let's keep it to proper evidence.


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Quote"Let's not turn this into a sexism thread eh? It brings the whole level of the conversation down and defeats the object of good research. Given that I have provided numerous examples of women at sea I consider your remarks quite offensive."


Sorry you can't take a bit of good naturedly kidding...


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Sorry, I guess the difficulty with text only conversation is that the fine nuances of inflection go unnoticed and one tends to take things at face value.


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Foxx, tis ok...all tis forgiv'n.

Hells bells....There have been many times that my jok'n has been tak'n ta wrong way. sigh...One reason I don't post all that often.

So Foxx sail on up to the bar with all ta lasses...ta drinks are on me!

:) B) :) B) :)

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