The Trafalgar Chronicle New Series 3

Women and the Sea Margarette Lincoln Women did not feature significantly in studies of British maritime history until the 1990s. The Royal Navy first allowed women to serve at sea in 1990. The prevailing view among historians before then seems to have been that since Admiralty Regulations officially barred women from going to sea, scholars would find few archival records to pursue. The wives of warrant officers had gone to sea, but they elicited little interest. Other women did travel on naval ships, whatever the rulebook said, but finding references to them would be a matter of serendipity; any research project about them would be timeconsuming and unbalanced. There was some acknowledged female interest: the notorious pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read; the soldier Hannah Snell, who served at sea for three years in a regiment of the Royal Marines; and Mary Lacy, the female shipwright. The life stories of Snell and Lacy had been published in their own times and could be tracked down. It was also known that women had served in Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar. But apart from these few examples, the history of Britain’s maritime world remained a largely masculine affair. This situation began to change in the 1990s as scholars grew more interested in women and the sea. Jo Stanley’s ground-breaking book, Bold in her Breeches: Women Pirates Across the Ages (1995), included essays by herself and others which ranged across centuries and geographically from Ireland to China. In 1996, Suzanne J Stark published Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, which proved hugely influential. Stark focused on three kinds of women to be found on warships: prostitutes, officers’ wives, and women in male disguise. She helped to popularise the story of Mary Lacy and came up with new information that encouraged others to think there was a subject here that could be pursued. David Cordingly, in his Heroines and Harlots: Women at Sea in the Great Age of Sail (2001), drew on extensive archival study in Britain and America to confirm that a surprising number of women went to sea. He set out to do more than produce a book about seafaring heroines and posed questions about the role of men in relation to women in a seafaring environment, including ‘What did the sailors think of their women?’ and ‘To what extent did sailors live up to their reputation for having a wife in every port?’ In my book, British Sea Power: Representing the Navy, 1750–1815(2002), I included a chapter that explored women’s views of the navy. Cultural history 9