Tag Archives: crossdressing sailors

Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series — Book 3

Rhode Island Rendezvous; Book 3 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series

“An insightful look at life at sea during the colonial era, this novel offers a combination of adventure, discovery, and intrigue.”

– The BookLife Prize


“Entertaining throughout, the expansive saga charts high-seas adventures between New England, the West Indies,and ports in between in the eighteenth century. The third novel in the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure series picks up the engaging narrative of a cross-dressing surgeon’s mate who strikes out as a ship captain in a profession that was then solely the province of men.

Set during a period of social unrest in the American colonies after the Seven Years’ War, when people are rioting over the newly imposed Stamp Act, the meticulously researched novel tracks Patricia MacPherson, an upperclass woman in boarding school cast adrift after the abrupt death of her Caribbean plantation–owning father. Setting off on her own, she poses as Patrick MacPherson, a former surgeon’s mate in His Majesty’s Navy, disguising herself as “a rising young merchant seaman dressed to go to a wedding feast where he will rub shoulders with Newport’s best.” Determined to make her fortune, she becomes a smuggler who sneaks in molasses for “Yankee Gold” Rhode Island Rum and ends up captaining the schooner Andromeda as it embarks on a dangerous international voyage.”

— Foreword Reviews


Based on the novel Star-Crossed (Alfred A. Knopf; 2006), a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age – 2007, The Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series is adult historical fiction featuring an orphaned young woman — illegitimate daughter of a profligate Barbadian sugar baron — who takes the identity of her late husband’s dead nephew in order to survive.

Rhode Island Rendezvous, the third book in the series, finds the cross-dressing Patricia master of a colonial trading schooner. It’s 1765 in Newport, Rhode Island. The Seven Years War is over but unrest in the American colonies is just heating up. Maintaining her disguise as a young man, Patricia is finding success as Patrick MacPherson. Formerly a surgeon’s mate in His Majesty’s Navy, Patrick has lately been employed aboard the colonial merchant schooner Andromeda, smuggling foreign molasses into Rhode Island. Late October, amidst riots against the newly imposed Stamp Act, she leaves Newport bound for the West Indies on her first run as Andromeda’s master. In Havana a chance meeting with a former enemy presents unexpected opportunities while an encounter with a British frigate and an old lover threatens her liberty – and her life.


Collison’s own extensive medical background, combined with her expertise as a blue-water wind-and-weather sailor, gives incredible natural authority to her writing.” — Steven E. Maffeo; A Perfect Wreck


“An excellent job has been done with MacPherson… There is a well-rounded duality of gender that allows both male and female perspectives: a clever trick, and one that comes across perfectly.” – Alaric Bond; The Fighting Sail Series.


“Barbados Bound is a rousing and engaging tale of the almost impossible challenges facing a young woman cast adrift in 18th Century British Empire.” – Rick Spilman; The Shantyman.


Available from your favorite bookstore to order, and from Amazon.com.











The Prodigal’s homecoming – Keogh’s voyage

Self-Publishing: What used to be the last resort of an amateur writer is becoming Plan A for many professional authors wanting more control over their creations — and more revenue from their sales.  For a growing number of authors it’s at least Plan B. That is, we initially published with a traditional or independent press but soon felt we could do a better job ourselves, selling the book for less (and keeping all of the revenue instead of the standard ten to fifteen percent). Of course there are production and marketing costs — which are large — but fully under our own control. Authors as publishers — it’s becoming the new norm.

One such author is S.K. Keogh who is pleased to announce The Prodigal, book one of The Jack Mallory Chronicles, has recently been re-released — this time with Leighlin House Publishing, an imprint she owns and operates. Book two, The Alliance, and  Book three, The Fortune, are already sailing under the Leighlin House banner. The fleet is together now, with Keogh at the helm.

If you’re new to S.K. Keogh’s historical fiction, the stories are realistic adventures set in Colonial America during the age of piracy. Rousing good reads, they feature the anti-hero protagonist Jack Mallory — along with other compelling and complex characters, both male and female.

Susan (S.K.) and I have long been supportive of each other’s work. I asked her to share some of her thoughts and experiences on writing and publishing with us, in conjunction with the news of Prodigal’s re-release.



S.K. Keogh

I’m sure my writing journey is similar to that of other writers of my generation (I’m 52). Growing up, I was an avid reader, and that interest naturally morphed into a desire to write my own stories. First young adult, then Westerns, then contemporary, now historical. None of my early works ever made it to the world of publishing, of course.

Back then submitting a novel to publishers meant writing query letters (the physical kind you sent through the U.S. mail, not the electronic kind) to the myriad of publishing houses, most in New York City, after scouring the thick Writers Market listings for someone interested in your genre. (Nowadays you can’t even query a New York publisher without an agent to do it for you.) Then, if you were lucky, an editor would request to see your manuscript, and you’d cram that ream of paper into a box, say a prayer, and mail it through the U.S. postal service.

Much has changed since those days, and I’m not just referring to the process of querying. Now the publishing industry has shrunk to three options for today’s writers: get an agent who can query the handful of big publishers (who won’t invest much time or money into you because you are an unknown); directly query small publishing houses (who have even less money for promotions than the big houses); or self-published.

In 2012, my historical action/adventure novel, The Prodigal, was published through a small press. I won’t go into all the gory details, but let me just say it wasn’t what I expected. My displeasure grew over the years, so I decided to start proceedings to reacquire my rights to the novel. I’m happy to say, I succeeded and have just re-released The Prodigal under my own imprint.

Yep, independently published, just like the two novels that follow The Prodigal — The Alliance and The Fortune.

To me, with a lesser-read genre like nautical fiction written by a relative unknown, independent publishing is a viable option. Small publishers take most of your money and give you very little in return. You might as well keep your rights, publish your work with the cover and content you want, work your tail off to promote it (which is what you would do even with a small press), and collect the majority of the profit yourself. Why shouldn’t you? You’re the one who did all the work. Research is costly. Promoting can be costly. Writing is not easy. And neither is publishing.

But that book is your baby, your blood, sweat, and tears. And sometimes it’s better to keep it at home (self-publish) then let it go out into the wide, wild world of indifferent publishing houses. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know I’m happy that my baby came home.

The Prodigal

A story of relentless pursuit, betrayal, and revenge:

As a young boy Jack Mallory knows horror and desolation when James Logan and his pirates murder his father and abduct his mother. Falsely accused of piracy himself, Jack is thrown into jail. He survives seven years in London’s notorious Newgate prison and emerges a hardened man seeking revenge.
His obsession with finding his mother’s kidnapper drives him to the West Indies where he becomes entangled with a fiery young woman named Maria Cordero. With a score of her own to settle with James Logan, she disguises her gender and blackmails Jack into taking her aboard his pirate brig, Prodigal, in his desperate search for Logan. Their tumultuous relationship simmers while Jack formulates a daring plan to rescue his mother and exact revenge upon Logan for destroying his family. But Logan has no intentions of losing what he now treasures more than life itself—Jack’s mother, Ella.


Find out more about the Jack Mallory trilogy and forthcoming works on S.K. Keogh’s author website and on Goodreads. Follow her on Facebook and as @JackMallory on Twitter.

















Hannah Snell, Royal Marine

One of the most well-known cross dressers who went to sea was Hannah Snell, born in 1723, to a hosier/dyer and his wife on Fryer Street in Worcester, England.  Her grandfather was Captain-Lieutenant Snell who took part in the conquest of Dunkirk and the battle of Blenheim, a turning point in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Hannah was one of nine children.  Except for one of her sisters, all nine grew up to become soldiers, sailors, or the wives of such.  Hannah reports playing army as a girl; no surprise, having six brothers.  She formed a company of young soldiers among her playfellows, of which she was chief.  “Young Amazon Snell’s Company” would parade through the town of Worcester.

After the death of her parents, Hannah went to London to live with her sister and brother-in-law James Gray, a carpenter in Wapping.  At twenty-one she married a Dutch sailor, James Summs, who abandoned her when she was seven months pregnant.  The baby didn’t live long and Hannah set out to find him, taking her brother in law’s name, and a suit of his clothes.  She claims to have enlisted in the army but soon deserted, then traveled south to Portsmouth and enlisting in the marines, where she served aboard the sloop-of-war Swallow.  The Swallow was sent to India with Admiral Boscawen’s fleet and Snell was sent ashore to fight the French in Pondicherry.  She was wounded numerous times.  One wound was to the groin.  She removed the ball and dressed it herself, with the help of an Indian nurse, so her sex would not to be discovered.  As soon as her health was restored she was sent on board the Tartar Pink to perform the duties of a common sailor, then was assigned to the Eltham man-of-war which set sail for Bombay.


Hannah Snell, Royal Marine in Captain Graham's company, Colonel Fraser's regiment.

Hannah Snell, Royal Marine in Captain Graham’s company, Colonel Fraser’s regiment.

Hannah Snell lived and worked as a man for more than four years.  When at last she returned to her sister and brother-in-law’s home in London, she quit her disguise — then capitalized on her bold experiences by selling her story to the publisher, Robert Walker, who wrote and printed it.  (Like many women of her time, Hannah could read but she couldn’t write proficiently.)  Hannah also went on tour, re-enacting military drills before a thrilled audience, achieving significant fame.  Hannah then applied for – and was granted –a pension for her war injuries.

Discovering that her estranged husband, James Summs, had been executed for murder, Hannah was free to marry again.  She did so, outlived that husband, then married a third time and gave birth to a son.  She lived on her pension, and on the money she made as a street peddler, to the age of 86 when she was committed to Bedlam hospital with “the most deplorable infirmity” (which might have been dementia and seizures secondary to neurosyphilis or meningovascular syphilis –forms of tertiary syphilis that present 4-25 years after infection).  If this was the most deplorable infirmity the former marine suffered from, she might have contracted it from her first husband.

Hannah died in Bedlam in 1792.

The Female Soldier or The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell was written, printed and sold by R. Walker, of London, in 1750.  Some of the incidents he might have exaggerated, confabulated or otherwise made up, but by and large, her story is believable.  Tales of women soldiers and sailors, disguised as men, were popular among Britain’s lower classes, who bought them in on the street in the form of inexpensive broadsheets and ballads.  The publication of Hannah Snell’s story gave wider recognition among the middle and upper classes; people who could afford to buy books.

The protagonists of the many stories and ballads of cross dressing women were said to be in search of boyfriends or husbands who had run off to war, or pressed into the navy.  This became a formulaic story, guaranteed to sell broadsheets and ballads.  This motivation was likely interjected by male writers who could imagine no other reason a young woman might want to join the army or the navy.

And why would they, you ask?  For the same reasons a young man might:  The paycheck, the billet, the food, the camaraderie, the adventure, the chance to be part of a greater cause, the opportunity for travel — and the possibility of meeting a man (or in some cases a woman) worthy of your love?  Most people lived hand to mouth, and struggled to get by.  If you didn’t have money, a title, or a good man to support you, life was very hard for an 18th century woman.  Who wouldn’t sell a petticoat and go to sea?

 All ye noble British spirits

That midst dangers glory sought,

Let it lessen not your merit,

That a woman bravely fought…


The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot, with a Forward by Tom Grundner.  Fireship Press, 2008.  Tom Grunder encouraged my writing about the crossdressing Patricia MacPherson, and gave me this book to help me with my research.


For more salty history, visit my fellow shipmates blogging about all things nautical:

J.M. Aucoin http://jmaucoin.com/2013/09/16/nautical-blog-hop-black-men-the-black-flag/

Helen  Hollick http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/weigh-anchor-nautical-blog-hop.html

Doug  Boren http://doug1401ck.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/pirates-and-their-ships.html

Margaret  Muir www.margaretmuirauthor.blogspot.com

Julian  Stockwin http://julianstockwin.com/welcome-front-page/blog-page/

Anna  Belfrage http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/by-the-sea-by-the-beautiful-sea/

Andy Millen http://wp.me/p3GFor-1W

V.E.  Ulett  http://www.veulett.com/2013/09/16/weigh-anchor-nautical-blog-hop/

T.S.  Rhodes http://thepirateempire.blogspot.co.uk/

Mark  Patton http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk/

Katherine Bone http://www.katherinebone.com/

Alaric  Bond  http://blog.alaricbond.com/

Ginger Myrick  http://gingermyrick.com/nautical-blog-hop/

Judith Starkston http://www.judithstarkston.com/articles/the-wonders-of%E2%80%A6age-shipwrecks/

Seymour  Hamilton http://seymourhamilton.com/?p=168

Rick Spilman http://www.oldsaltblog.com/

 James  L. Nelson http://jameslnelson.blogspot.co.uk/

S.J. Turney http://sjat.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/nautical-meanderings/

Prue Batten http://pruebatten.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/knowing-the-ropes/

Antoine  Vanner http://dawlishchronicles.blogspot.co.uk/

Joan  Druett http://www.joan-druett.blogspot.co.nz/

Edward James http://busywords.wordpress.com/

Nighthawk Newshttp://nthn.firetrench.com/2013/09/stand-by-to-raise-anchor/



Who wouldn’t sell a petticoat and go to sea?

A sailor takes her ease artwork by Eye Be Oderlesseye.   mimifoxmorton.blogspot.com

A sailor takes her ease
artwork by Eye Be Oderlesseye.

Women in breeches — I got caught up in the masquerade back in 1999, while serving as a voyage crewmember aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of James Cook’s 18th century ship, which was circumnavigating that year.  On my three-week passage from Vancouver to Kealakekua, Hawaii I worked alongside 53 officers and men (one of whom I was married to) to sail, steer, and maintain the ship.  Eight of us were female.  On this passage of a lifetime, I became intrigued with the idea of a woman dressing like a sailor and doing a man’s job aboard a ship – because that’s exactly what I was doing!  I figured if a middle-aged woman could do the work, surely a much younger gal would have no problem.


In spite of the persistent, old husbands’ tale that women are bad luck at sea, women have long been going to sea, luck be damned.  But for a period of several hundred years some of them had to resort to disguise.

And for some, it ended badly.  From the St. James Gazette, supplement to the Manchester Courier on July 5, 1890 we hear this snippet of a story:

The case of the poor little sea apprentice “Hans Brandt” who the other day fell into the hold of the barque Ida of Pensacola, at West Hartlpool and was killed, adds one more name to the long list of women who, for one reason or another, have put aside the garments of their sex and have donned the habits and imitated the ways of men.  Not until “Hans Brandt’s” body was being prepared for burial was it discovered that the Ida’s apprentice was a girl…  (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

From the Renaissance through the Victorian age there are many acounts of women in disguise working aboard ship as sailors, servants, skilled craftsmen, marines –and even a few officers, such as Anne Chamberlyne, twenty-three year old daughter of a lawyer, who served aboard the Grifffin Fireship, commanded by her brother Clifford, during the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690.  Most of these femmes fared better than poor Hans Brandt who fell into the hold.  Some went on to write their memoirs.  Some became immortalized in folk songs.  And some, like Anne Chamberlyne, had memorials errected in their honor.

The first books I came across that were entirely devoted to women at sea were Joan Druett’s Hen Frigates, and She Captains; Heroines and Hellions of the Sea.  I soon discovered many other works, but Joan’s books introduced me to the world of women on ships.  Another of her books on the subject is Petticoat Whalers; Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920. Over the years I’ve collected many more sources.  Historians Lesley and Roy Adkins, authors of several British Naval history books, have been very helpful in sharing their own research with me.

Just as I was writing this post, Andrew Beltz, one of the crew aboard “All Things Nautical” Facebook group gave me a hot tip about Louise/Louis Giradin, a French woman who masqueraded as a steward on La Recherche, which set out 1791 under the command of Bruny d”Entrecasteaux, in search of the missing La Perouse.

“She had appeared at Brest disguised as a man, with a letter of introduction to Mme Le Fournier d’Yauville. She persuaded her brother Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, then second in command to d’Entrecasteaux, to recommend her as a steward on the Recherche. It appears that d’Entrecasteaux knew her secret, and gave his approval…  She had a small but separate cabin…  During the voyage, Girardin maintained a male identity, despite widespread suspicion. She even fought a duel with a crew member who questioned her gender… “  from — Journeys of Enlightenment  

While Louise Girardin is honored with a plaque in Tasmania,  few scholars have given serious attention to the many women soldiers and sailors of the pre-modern era.  Not many fiction writers have given life to their stories, either.  Crossdressing women on ships seem to be regarded by many historical novelists as unwanted intruders into the male domain of wooden ships.   Why can’t the damned dames just stay home, card wool, and mind the starving brats?  OK, maybe there were a few of these broads in breeches (obviously lesbians) — but NOT on my ship, dammit!  Julian Stockwin includes a crossdressing stowaway named Pookie in one of his Kydd adventures, but for the most part, they are shunned.51EKdjKF1vL__SL500_AA280_

But crossdressers were once objects of admiration.  Beginning in the Elizabethan era and continuing through the 19th century, stories and songs about young women gone to war on land or sea, were popular among the working classes of Great Britain and North America.  According to Dianne Dugaw, these folk songs were as well-known in their time as Blowin’ in the Wind was, in the 1960’s.  The female soldier or sailor was an enduring motif – a character who displayed both male courage and female fidelity.  In most of these ballads (Dugaw cites hundreds of them) the theme is that of a virtuous woman gone to war in search of the man she loves.  This heroine captured the imagination of the public for hundreds of years but died out in the twentieth century, as women’s rights became more of an issue — and perhaps more of a threat.

“But how did they get away with it?”

I can only throw out some educated guesses based on my own experience and what others have to say on the matter.

As Joan Druett, Suzanne Stark, and other nautical historians have pointed out, there were many young boys serving aboard these ships.   A female in breeches might easily pass as a teenaged boy.  We’ve all seen such epicene youngsters in that awkwardly beautiful stage of development; people who could be either male or female, we can’t be certain.

Before the twentieth century the navies didn’t require thorough physical exams.  The only time seamen were required to strip was if they were about to be flogged.  The navies needed capable men — especially when a war was on, which was much of the time in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.   If someone presented themself as a man and was dressed like a man, and gave a man’s name – why, he would be welcomed aboard, no questions asked.  Who cared if he had a smooth cheek and a soft voice?  Ample breasts are easily flattened.  Loose breeches rather than tight ones would hide what wasn’t there.  My fictional crossdresser Patricia/Patrick MacPherson is by nature flat-chested with boyish hips and a complexion ruined by freckles.  It’s only her voice she has to work on.  After a time it becomes second nature.

Having lived and worked aboard the Endeavour Replica, I can tell you that seamen are kept busy most of the time and people aren’t lurking around corners waiting for you to flash your undergarments or to see what’s hidden inside them.  Eighteenth-century ships were ill-lit and extremely dark belowdecks, even during the daytime.  People didn’t bathe often; they seldom changed their clothes.   Women likely held their bladders until after dark before relieving themselves in the heads, or the “seats of ease.”  People in crowded places, such as ships, tend to respect one another’s privacy.  As sodomy was punishable by death, men likely tended to keep their eyes and hands to themselves, once they sailed away from the prostitutes who came to the ship by the boatloads when the ships were at anchor.  Then again, the warrants could take their wives to sea with them –the ship was their home –so 18th century ships were not the exclusive male clubs some novelists make them out to be.   There were women on many ships and maybe some of these warrant’s wives recognized and helped their sisters in disguise.

What of menstrual periods, some ask me.  If you’re a squeamish male, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph.  Well, what of it?  I mean, can you walk into a crowded room today and pick out the women who are menstruating?  I doubt it.  There were rags — and there was oakum, the fibers of worn-out ropes picked apart and collected to reuse as caulking.  Pretty scratchy, but it might work in a pinch.  Beause many of the seamen suffered from constipation and bleeding hemmorhoids, blood-stained breeches would not draw much notice – and the stains could be covered up with tar, plentiful on a ship.   Then again, amennorhea may have been the rule.  The Mayo Clinic lists stress, low bodyweight and excessive exercise as conditions which can cause the cessation of menstruation.  Due to the hard work and limited diet, women posing as men might have skipped menses or have had very light flows, easily contained.  OK squeamish males, you can start reading again. 

Maybe some of these masquerading women had sponsors –  men or  women aboard who knew their secret and helped them get by.  Maybe they were friends or lovers on land.  Maybe the sponsor felt compassion for them.  Maybe they admired them.   Then again, maybe some of these women were coerced into giving sexual favors in return for guarding their real identity.

In The Discovery of Jeanne Baret (Crown Publishers; 2010) Glynis Ridley suggests that the the crossdressing Jeanne who went on Bougainville’s expedition as the botanist Commercon’s assistant, was gang-raped by some of the crew on the island of New Ireland, and subsequently became pregnant, delivering the baby on Mauritius, where she remained for seven years before completing her circumnavigation.  Ridley’s interpretations of the accounts of Bougainville and his officers, is a dark and chilling one.  I don’t always agree with the conclusions she comes to, but the case she presents is plausible.  Although in Ridley’s interpretation it wasn’t the sailors who gang-raped Baret, but the other servants and possibly, the ship surgeon.

So why did they do it? The paycheck was of course, the big draw.  Always in arrears, the pay was likely more than a femme sole could make selling fish — or selling her favors.  The roof over her head, leaky though it might be, was a nice perk.  As were the three square meals of weevily ship buscuit , mouldy cheese and salt beef.  A ration of grog and a hammock to sleep in?  And aboard a naval ship, the chance of prize money, which was divided among the crew!   Are you kidding me?  Who wouldn’t sell a ragged petticoat and go to sea?


But some females were coerced into the role of cabin boy by their masters.  Mary Anne Talbot, for instance.   Talbot’s master was militia captain Essex Bowen, who assigned her with boy’s clothing, the name of John Taylor, and brought her along to the West Indies as his personal servant.  We can only imagine the many tasks she was required to perform for him…  Another reported case is that of thirteen-year-old Rebecca Ann Johnson whose father dressed her as a boy and apprenticed her to a collier ship where she served four years.

But surely a few girls went to sea primarily for the adventure, as I did aboard Endeavour.

How many?  We’ll never know.  How did they get away with it?  We can only surmise.  What I can tell you for certain is that a woman can do a man’s job aboard a sailing ship.   I did it, and I earned the respect of my male watchmates, whose knees trembled as much as mine  the first time we climbed up the ratlines, up and over the futtock shrouds, on up to the cross trees and out on the foot rope to make and furl sail.  When no sail changes were required, we were put to work doing ship maintenance, which was never-ending.  And when, after four hours on watch we went below, we strung up our hammocks and collapsed from fatigue.

In summary, some crossdressers had inside help — someone who knew their secret and helped them — or forced them — to maintain their ruse.  But I believe a few enterprising females acted independently,  deftly pulling the wool over their shipmates’ eyes.  I base this on a phenomenon I call “male pattern blindness” or “androgenic visual deficit.”  Many ordinary objects are totally invisible to men who have this genetic trait, which has reached epidemic proportions in the twenty-first century.  Maybe you know someone with this handicap?  Someone who goes to the refrigerator for a bottle of beer but literally can’t see it lurking behind a jar of mayonaise, and calls to his wife, asking for help?



Having lived and worked with men, both at sea and on land (and having found countless bottles of invisible beer in the refrigerator) I think I know how a women could get away with it.  Dress like a man  (or a mayonaise jar) and pull your weight.  Do your duty, don’t cause trouble, and chances are good your watchmates won’t see past your seaman’s slops and your sunburned, tar-smudged face.   Apparently it worked for Hans Brandt — but watch out for open hatches.

In future blogs I’ll share more of my personal experiences as an ordinary seaman  aboard HM Bark Endeavour — and I’ll discuss individual crossdressing seamen in more detail.


By a Yankee Moon, a novel about a crossdressing sailor and book three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, will be available in 2014.  Barbados Bound and Surgeon’s Mate, the first two books in the series, are published by Fireship Press.

For more nautical posts please visit the rest of the fleet on this week’s blog hop, organized by Helen Hollick, author of  Sea Witch Voyages, a pirate-based fantasy, and other historical fiction.  A rising tide raises all ships!

J.M. Aucoin

Helen Hollick

Doug Boren

Linda Collison

Margaret Muir

Julian Stockwin

Anna Belfrage

Andy Millen

V.E. Ulett

T.S. Rhodes

Mark Patton

Katherine Bone

Alaric Bond

Ginger Myrick

Judith Starkson

Seymour Hamilton

Rick Spilman

James L. Nelson

S.J. Turney

Prue Batten

Antoine Vanner

Joan Druett

Edward James

Nighthawk News





A ballad of a cross-dressing sailor

Short jacket and white trousers this young girl she put on
And like a gallant seaman bold went roving through the town.
She did sign on with our Captain Blare a sailor for to be
And it was to seek her own true love all on the raging sea…

Ballads and stories about girls who dressed as boys and went to sea are part of our maritime culture, and are based on fact.  Hannah Snell, Mary Anne Talbot, Mary Lacy, and Jeanne Baret, are some of the more well-known 18th century women who were successful in their shipboard masquerades.  We’ll never know how many women actually chose this way of life because we only hear about those who were found out — usually due to injury or punishment in the line of duty!

How many women during the age of sail do I think dressed as boys or men and went to sea? (Or, as in the case of Mary Lacey, became a shipwright, “to whom the Government granted a superannuated pension of twenty pounds per annum, during her life.”)  Perhaps not a very great number — but I’ll bet there were quite a few more than have been noted in the official records.

As Samuel Johnson said, “Being in a ship is being in prison, with the chance of being drowned.”  So, why on earth would a woman put herself in such an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation?  For love?  Perhaps, but methinks more joined up for the the steady paycheck (though in a-rears), the lodging, the hammock, the three square meals and the chance for prize the navy offered.  Though a sailor’s life was hard and dangerous, so were the workhouses, the prisons and the waterfronts where the girls who had resorted to prostitution plied their trade.   If a young maid was in search of love, it was probably because her missing beau had been pressed into service and she had not heard from him, nor had she received any support from him!

Another reason may have been for the adventure and opportunity a ship offers.  I fell for that one myself…  But then, I confess, I have an ongoing shipboard romance with a sailor named Bob, who happens to be my husband.  And come to think of it, Bob is the one who introduced me to sailing.  But that’s another story!

  I thank Gavin Atkin for including this ballad sung by A.J.Lloyd on his blog, where I discovered it.