Wives on Ship?

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1500 – 1830 Wives on Ship?

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    Andrew T

      Hi, all.

      I’m currently working my way through the Mariner’s Mirror podcast (which is incredible) and while listening to the episode about William Beatty and the surgeons of that period, it made a comment about wives being there to help care for the wounded and one “large lady” who was the bosun’s wife who would carry wounded off of the tables like they were children.

      Now I know of the “wives” that were allowed onboard when a ship docked in home towns, but I’ve never heard of actual wives living in commissioned ships with their husbands. Was this normal? Genuinely surprised this was a practice.

      Tony H

        Samuel Jackson Pratt records in volume II of his “Gleanings in England” (1806) that during the Battle of Camperdown (1797) “There were several women onboard the Venerable while in action; among these a sailor’s wife was shot at the side of her husband, while at his gun. Another young woman had her lanthorn bottle shot from her hand, while she was holding it for the surgeon to dress her father’s wounds, and perceiving him look terrified, she ran to her father and cried, If you have not received any more hurt, never mind the lanthorn, – I am safe and sound thank God – but how are you, O father! how are you?” Pratt was told these anecdotes by Dr Duncan, Admiral Duncan’s kinsman, who had been Chaplain on the Venerable and had assisted the surgeon in the cockpit. Women were legitimately present on board ships but were not entered in the ships’ musters and hence are invisible to history except through anecdotes such as these.

        Andrew T

          Wow. That’s amazing information. I wonder just how many were on any given ship.

          The fact that they’re lost to history is tragic.

          David Hepper

            Not entirely lost – if you can, try and find a copy of Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the age of Sail by Suzanne Stark (London:1996).

            Chapters include ‘Prostitutes and Seamen’s Wives on board in port’ – Women of the lower deck at sea – Women in disguise in naval crews – The story of Mary Lacy, alias William Chambers

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