Sunday, 18 November 2018

Black seafarers in WW1. Event 24 Jan 2019

Black seafarers of the First World War. © Royal Museums Greenwich.

Here's an event (free)  that  may appeal to readers of this blog. It's happening on 24 January 2019 at the National Archives, Kew, London, UK. I've added a preface: some of the questions people ask me, as a specialist:



No, not as employees of shipping lines. 
Because it appears that stewardesses, nurses, laundresses, typists, kiosk attendants and matrons in this war were always white. It may have been possible for a mixed race laundress to slip through, as she was not in a passenger-facing job.
But Asian women were on board as passenger-workers. Ayahs sailed from India as some expat military wives returned to the UK in wartime. That is, Asian nannies worked on ships but as direct employees of the family who had already contracted them before the trip.   There were six in 1915, but none in any other month of the war. By contrast, 21 arrived in the UK in 1919. (Source: UK passenger arrivals 1878-1960.)


Undoubtedly, as well as men who had contingent sex with other men. But nobody's yet found any records, to my knowledge.


That I'm just discovering how African and Chinese men were hired to replace women in ship's laundry teams, from summer 1915 onwards. That is, lowly work usually done by white women was taken up to some extent by lowly black men. 


Apart from the pictures, which I pasted in for your interest, this is a straight lift from the site: You can book your ticket at that site via eventbrite. 


11.00: Registration with teas, coffees and resources display.

11.50: Iqbal Husain (The National Archives) welcome and housekeeping.

12.00: Professor Brad Beaven (University of Portsmouth) Port Towns and Urban Cultures and Gateways to the First World War.

12.30: Dr Antony Firth (Fjordr) Black and Asian Seafarers on England’s east coast in the First World War.

12.45: Anne Dodwell (HLF) Funding programmes now that the FWW: Then and Now grant is closed.

Rozina Visram on lascars
13:00: What’s On: Rozina Visram, author of Asians in Britain, and Dr Florian Stadler will speak about the Indian ‘lascar’ sailors. 

Dr Santanu Das will share a Bengali lascar recording from the Humboldt Sound Archive.

 The author, Steve Martin, will talk about the contribution of sailors from Africa, the Caribbean and Britain’s Black communities.
SI Martin 

Members of the Outreach Team at The National Archives will present some of the findings from their recent research on black seafarers. The talk will be accompanied by an original document display.

14:00: Lunch

Sonia Grant

14.45: Sonia Grant. African and Arab Merchant Seamen Interned in Germany during the Great War.

15:05: Asif Shakoor interviewed by Georgie Wemyss (UEL). Unearthing Invisible Seafaring Histories of Empire.
Asif Shakoor

Seafarers from many backgrounds at the Sailors' Rest in Tiger Bay, Cardiff:

15:25: Gaynor Legall. Tiger Bay and the First World War.

15:45: John O'Brien (British Library) An overview of the resources at the British Library and online, with a specific focus on the India Office Records.

16.05: Panel (Q&A) and Closing remarks.

16.30: End

Sunday, 11 November 2018

WW1: remembering the women serving at sea to and from India

On this key day for remembering war's end, 11 November 100 years ago, it's good to recall the many women seafarers  who sailed. 
Yes, at least 1,700 British women were at sea in the war years. The commercial navy was not male-only.
And some 53 died at sea, about 3 per cent of all British seafaring women in that war.
They didn't look like the rosy-cheeked young stewardess in this advert. Many were over 45, even over 50. Some were mothers or motherly-looking. Many were buxom, and even tough. 
And they were white, because shipping companies thought white lady passengers would feel it appropriate that their temporary female 'servants' were not brown-skinned.


Who were these women seafarers and what was the pattern of their wartime life? 
The British India Steam Navigation Company records permit a good understanding of women in this company, which may be fairly typical of at least a score of other shipping companies. 
BISNC was the main company taking military men, their wives and children to and from India. It was one-class and seen as more friendly than P&O, which became its parent company.
 Mrs Constance Richards, was a widow of 51. She had been working for the BISNC for thirteen years, going mainly to Bombay and Calcutta. 
Like half the company's pre-war stewardesses Constance stayed on - and on - even though war increasingly made the seas dangerous. 

The general public thought the wartime ocean was not at all a suitable place for women.But these seafaring women were often responsible for keeping a whole family fed. 
They needed the wages. The company and seafaring life was their home. And perhaps they didn't want to leave their shipmates to shoulder the burden alone, or leave the company with staffing problems when men went off to war.

BISNC 's Mantola 

On 8 Feb 1917 German submarine U-31 torpedoed Constance's ship, the Mantola, off Fastnet, Ireland. It began sinking in very rough seas. All except seven Lascars managed to get into lifeboats.  
Shelling recommenced until  HMS Laburnum appeared. This naval ship tried to tow the Mantola, and failed; it was left to sink. 
All the survivors were landed at Bantry, about a hundred miles away, a day later.

It must have had a gruelling impact on Constance because the BISNC Court of Directors granted her '£42 being one year’s pay'. 
They agreed that 'owing to ill-health [she] is not likely to be again fit for service, also that she was 12 years in the service with a VG [Very Good] record.' (1) Very few women ever got such compensation. (But all were always 'VG').

SEA WOMEN AT WAR: BISNC                                      

The bigger picture of BISNC stewardesses like Constance Is that when the war started in summer 1914 the number of stewardesses nearly halved,from 48 in 1914 to just 25 in 1915.
Why? Partly because too few female passengers were sailing to justify the company paying out wages for women workers. Male stewards did the work instead, never mind propriety.
In 1916 women worked on 32 of the company's 38 voyages. Their ships were the Manora, Malda, Matiana, Mantola, Morvada, Mongara, Mandala, Merkara, Karagola, Neuralia, and Kyarra. Some did several voyages a year, despite the mines and u-boats.
In 1917 very few women were sailing, just 28. And by 1918, the last year of the war, there was just one BISNC stewardess  afloat.  
You can see from the table below that by 1917 women were sailing on only a third of the companies' voyages.

Voyages by women crew out of total voyage of BISNC ships that year


Most of those sailing in the war were stalwarts from the pre-war years.  But fresh women wanted to do such work, even though it was dangerous and despite munitions work on land paying more. 
Newcomers carried on seeking a job at sea in all the wartime years: 34 women applied in 1917 alone. 
Did they know what they'd be letting themselves in for at sea? No, only in four cases.The other 30 had no sea experience at all. This suggests that the avid potential staff might have been rather naively in search of adventure without understanding the perils.


Liners were often turned into hospital ships to bring wounded troops home. This happened in BISNC too. The story of the Rohilla disaster in 1914 appears at

Mrs Fanny Roberts of Isleworth was a stewardess on the Rewa, which became a hospital ship in late 1916. It sank in February 1918, No women aboard died. 
Age about 37 (she was creative with her birth-dates) Fanny was the only Merchant Service woman aboard her ship. With her were 20 male ward attendants, who may have been the ship's former stewards. 
After the war she stayed on until 1939, making 61 voyages.                                                            


After the war many former employees came back.  The table shows how great the increase was in 1919. 
Florence Crafter, a stewardess in 1915,  was one of those who went on to  sail for the rest of the peacetime years. Born in 1884, and from Cambridgeshire, Florence made 51 voyages from January 1920 to 1937. 
By contrast Miss Evelyn Moss, Florence's shipmate from the Mandala to Bombay in 1915 , just did two post-war voyages then left BISNC, and apparently left the sea too. 
It was always a sought-after job, with more applicants than vacancies. Usually only around ten per cent got as far the interview stage.


In other words, seafaring women were sailing the seas on passenger ships - or even just trying to - despite the wartime dangers. 
Those who did so, like Sarah Lillian Ellis (age 58) on the Manora [see below], were  awarded, like male shipmates who'd been sailing long enough, the Mercantile Marine Ribbon and Medal [pictured], plus the British Medal Ribbon and Medal. (2)


(1) National Maritime Museum archives, Court of Directors' records, 

Vol 1, 24 October 1917, p260, BIS  /1/16.


Thursday, 11 October 2018

Women in Japan's navy

Japan’s female sailors serve on front line of gender equality

Reuters is currently circulating a very well-illustrated article about women in the Japanese navy.

The best picture spread I've seen is in the Guardian:

The best text is in the Japan Times yesterday.

I'm recycling most of it below, and have added in bold some of my comments comparing the UK situation.

The wonderful photos are by Kim Kyung-hoon and the reporting by Tim Kelly, aboard the MSDF ship Kaga

Women serving on Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga, are a tight-knit group on the front line of a push to transform the Japanese navy into a mixed-gender fighting force, where men outnumber them more than 10 to one. (This is about the same as UK, 10 to 1, and women are mainly in support roles)

The Maritime Self Defense Force needs more women because falling birthrates mean it has too few men to crew warships in home waters or on helicopter carriers such as the Kaga, sailing in foreign waters to counter China’s growing regional influence. (The UK Navy too, is having trouble recruiting, which is a key reason why it has become more inclusive of women, BAME and LGBT people)

“Women all over the world are working in a wider number of areas and I think Japan needs to be a part of that,” said Petty Officer Akiko Ihara, 31, standing beside one of the helicopters she helps to maintain.

The proportion of women in the Kaga’s 450-strong crew is about 9 percent, a level Japan is targeting for the military overall by 2030 from 6 percent now. That would still fall short of the U.S., where 15 percent of people in uniform are women, and Britain with 10 percent. (The UK Navy has a a 15 per cent target by 2020)

“We all work in different teams around the ship but we are all friends,” Ihara added. “We do sometimes moan a little about our male colleagues.”

The nine-year veteran says she has encountered no workplace discrimination, and would challenge any man who thinks women are unsuited for military life to work with her.

More female recruits are making the SDF a more “rounded” organization, said Ayako Yoneda, 29, a firefighter and engineer on the Kaga.

“When I first joined nine years ago there were few women and it felt like men then didn’t know how to deal with us,” she said. “I think the men now see things more from our perspective. The SDF has become a gentler place.”

Nonetheless, the women do face sexual harassment. In July, the navy discharged a male petty officer for kissing and groping three female sailors over several months. (In the UK Navy too sexual harassment and discrimination are fiercely not tolerated, formally, now.)

Japan’s demographic woes are forcing it down a path taken years earlier by its U.S. ally, which lifted a ban on women on warships in 1993. (And the UK lifted the ban in 1990).

The MSDF, which let women crew ships a decade ago, could soon remove the last major barrier to female sailors by ending a ban on submarine duty, Defense Ministry sources have told Reuters.

Japan has one of the world’s largest navies, with 45,000 crew members on more than 100 vessels, including about 20 submarines, more than 40 destroyers and four helicopter carriers, such as the Kaga.

The Kaga was on its way to Sri Lanka after drills in the contested South China Sea as part of a two-month deployment in waters stretching from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

Commissioned in 2017, it is among a new generation of warships designed to accommodate mixed crews, with more toilets and bathrooms than older vessels.

Signs at the entrance to the women’s segregated sleeping quarters warn men to keep out. (Men bursting into women's quarters has been a perennial problem in maritime life, in merchant as well as passenger ships, and sometimes women's corridors have had armed guards). The women inside carry electronic pagers that can be contacted via numerical keypads beside the doors.

Those better facilities and privacy safeguards will draw more women to sign up, the MSDF hopes.

Japan’s navy struggles more to find recruits than the air force or army, as young people balk at the prospect of being cut off from social media networks on long deployments.

In 2016, for example, the Air Self-Defense Force received 6,900 applications, versus just 3,927 for the MSDF, even though both have about the same number of enlisted personnel.

Miku Ihara, 22, a woman cadet on the Kaga, says she reads books or studies when off-duty, but misses access to Line and Instagram. Sailors are limited to sending four text emails every day when at sea.

“You just have to get used to not having it and make the most of it when you do,” she added.

The presence of women on board has had one unexpected benefit on the men that report to him, says Command Master Chief Yasuharu Tohno, the most senior enlisted sailor on board.

“They shave regularly and iron their clothes,” said Tohno, who joined up to an all-male fleet 35 years ago. (It can't really have been unexpected, if the MSDF had researched properly. This happened in the UK Navy too, from the 1990s; warships became fragrant with deodorant and aftershave, because men wanted to attract women. There is a strict no-touching rule in UK naval ships. In Netherlands ships people forming a relationships have to tell a senior officer. Also men try harder in competence tests because they don't want to be beaten by women.)

Sunday, 7 October 2018

“I am no Man to be tried by a Court Martial”: A Nelsonian Sailor Claims “Neutrality of Gender”

This is a guest blog post, specially written by Dr Seth S LeJacq. In it he reveals a fascinating story about definitions of gender, and sex, in the early nineteenth century Navy.

In 1803, the Royal Navy prosecuted William Morris for deserting from HMS Endymion. Officers from the Foudroyant had discovered the deserter when pressing men from the Hawke privateer. Morris had joined that vessel’s crew under the alias “William MacLosh” after fleeing the service.

Image: HMS Endymion (right). Thomas Buttersworth, Running Action Between the U.S. Frigate President and H.M.S. Endymion (1815). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In a short prosecution phase, the navy’s team established who Morris was and how the sailor had deserted. They made a simple and effective case. A conviction and harsh punishment seemed all but assured. The defendant faced the prospect of flogging, even hanging.

In response, the sailor offered a novel defence. Morris claimed not to be a man, to be “no man.” Naval law only governed men, the logic went. The court had no jurisdiction over those who weren’t male.

This was not, however, an assertion of femaleness; Morris was not claiming to be a woman either. Instead, the sailor defined a status that fit neither of the genders widely recognized by contemporaries.

Legally, it was a weak argument. Naval law in fact governed all in service regardless of gender status. The language in question referred to a “person” rather than a “man.”

But the claim of “neutrality of gender” was plausible to its audience. Early modern people saw, in their own ways, complexities and indeterminacies in their gender systems. They--sailors included (1) --sometimes spoke of “hermaphrodites,” for instance, as people outside of the gender binary.

Image 2: Salmacis et Hermaphroditus (n.d.), engraving by Colinet after Fran├žois Albane. Creative Commons, via the Wellcome Collection.

That may have been the category Morris was seeking to invoke. However, that’s not entirely clear from the records that survive.(2)

Morris did claim, though, that shipmates could prove this gender status on the basis of their knowledge of the sailor’s sexual activities:

“The people onboard the prize [the Bacchante, which the Endymion had captured] Teazed me on accompt [sic] of my having a Girl and slept with her two nights without doing any thing to her. For I am not a Man that could do it. I never had power to do it.”

The author Robert Liddel, deputy judge advocate at the trial, later gave further details in a brief published account of the case. His 1805 book A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate, a short guide for judges advocate, recounts his version of events. (3)

Liddel reports that even before the trial, Morris had made the “no man” argument. Morris claimed that a ship’s surgeon had performed a bodily examination that very day and agreed that the sailor was not male.

In response, the Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, Admiral Sir John Colpoys, delayed the trial. The Admiralty assembled a panel of three additional surgeons to investigate further.

They disagreed with their colleague, determining that the sailor “was perfect Man [sic], with the Peculiarity of very small Testicles.”

Image 3: Robert Liddel, A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate (1805), p. 137. Public domain, via Google Books.

It’s not clear whether this conclusion convinced the court. In the end, the thirteen officers sitting in judgement ignored the defence entirely. A “guilty” followed. They offered no further comment.

William was sentenced to a heavy punishment: 100 lashes with a cat o’ nine tails, to be given in a “flogging ‘round the fleet.” This meant being bound up in a boat that was rowed around navy ships in harbor, receiving a portion of the punishment alongside each, in view of its crew.

Image 4 : A cat o’ nine tails. Creative Commons, via the Wellcome Collection

And yet, regardless of the dubious legal strength of the defence, the records show that everyone involved considered the “neutrality of gender” claim plausible, at least to the extent that it was worth investigating.

They believed that an ordinary lower-deck crew member could possibly be someone very different from what they expected; they were open to the possibility that Morris might only not be male, but also not be female.

The real questions for them were:
• whether that was the case with William; and
• whether Morris’s gender status even mattered to adjudication.

The trial indicates that those in charge concluded it simply didn’t matter.

As a result, the court did not resolve the first question. Events before and during the trial didn’t fix the sailor’s “true” identity in the eyes of the state, beyond establishing that the person in custody was the same one who had joined the force.

The claim of gender indeterminacy carried no legal weight. So the navy did not ultimately declare that Morris was, or was not, a man. The court martial instead ignored the sailor’s “avowed Neutrality” entirely.

Nonetheless, the legal process revealed a surprising diversity of ways in which navy men thought about gender difference.

In Morris’s story, the lower deck understands masculinity in terms of sexual function. If a sailor is unable to have sex with women the way they would expect, then he is not a man.
Note that everyone takes for granted that shipmates would know all about their comrades’ sexual activities.

The medical men, by contrast, base their conclusions on anatomical and perhaps physiological investigation.

I have not been able to find any record of the first medical exam Morris references. However Liddel’s account of the second investigation indicates that it relied only on sexual anatomy.

Strikingly, this case also suggests tolerance of difference. There is no evidence of anyone having strong negative reactions to Morris’s actions before deserting or allegedly anomalous body. Fellow sailors “teazed”. We don’t find exclusion or violence.

Naval historians such as N.A.M. Rodger have argued that sailors in this period reacted in phobic ways to non-normative sexual activities and gender statuses.(4)  Morris’s tale usefully gives evidence of very different attitudes.

Image 5: A flogging, after George Cruikshank’s The Point of Honour (1823). From Edgar Stanton Maclay, A Youthful Man-O’-Warsman (1910). Public domain, via the Internet Archive.

William Morris’s failed defence opens up a window onto a far more complex world of gender, sex, and sexuality than we usually recognize in this setting.

Indeed, it generated an enormous amount of unresolved complexity. The whole process raised multiple possible interpretations. It’s also made them visible to us, while doing nothing to actually resolve them.

Even Liddel, who oversaw the whole case, refuses to offer his readers a firm conclusion.

His little book introduces Morris not as an example of a man claiming to be a woman to avoid punishment. Instead, the case shows the legal irrelevance of such a “plea.”

Yet Liddel does appear to regard the defendant as some sort of unusual person. He ends his account of the case with an odd, discomfiting observation about the punishment:

“when it was all inflicted, [Morris] laughed at it.”

What are we to make of this detail? What was Morris’s own understanding of body and self? What did this sailor’s life and lived experience really look like?

Countless questions of these sorts can’t be answered or even explored given the surviving records. We may be able to uncover a few more archival traces. But we’ll never be able to know who William Morris, alias MacLosh, “really” was.

What this case does show us, though, is that the wooden world was far more diverse and complex than we’ve often recognized. And contemporaries were well aware of that fact.

If we want to fully understand that world, then maritime historians’ accounts of life at sea need to consider the sorts of people we meet in cases like this, and their ways of thinking.

Traditional sources, and traditional ways of analyzing them, have tended to overlook and exclude gender and sexual diversity, to ignore individuals like William Morris.

But by attending to unusual records like these trial papers and Liddel’s little-known book, we can continue to build a richer, fuller, and more inclusive history of life at sea.

Seth S. LeJacq Ph.D. is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. He is currently a Molina Fellow in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Huntington Library. He can be contacted at

1 E.g. Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer, 17 November 1739. Rictor Norton has made this article, available at For additional examples, see, for instance, James Ball trial, ADM 1/5266, 9 Oct. 1706, and a later surgical case history recorded in ADM 101/97/5B, f. 25.

2 His trial records are at ADM 1/5364, 23 December 1803.

Robert Liddel, A Detail of the Duties of a Deputy Judge Advocate; with Precedents of Forms of the Various Documents used in Summoning, Assembling and Holding a Naval Court Martial... (London: by H. Bryer, 1805).

N.A.M Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Collins, 1986), 80, 81.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Toxic maritime masculinity: a conference

After working on the gendered seas for so long I'm very interested that at last there's to be a conference on how exploring maritime masculinity and how it can damage. The April 2019 online conference is organised by

The link is Here's a taster:

"Perceptions, depictions, expressions and performances of masculinity are an important part of maritime topics and have been discussed, for example, at the “Maritime Masculinities” conference held at Oxford Brookes University in 2016.

"For this conference, we are seeking to discuss the influence of the concept of ‘toxic masculinities’ on the history and interpretation of maritime history.

"We invite papers that explore the ways in which standard forms of masculinity have obscured the interpretation of maritime histories, or ways in which standards of masculinity had a negative impact on the lives, strategic effectiveness, leadership, and relationships of men or women with connections to maritime service. This conference is designed to be interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary, global and span all of history.

Subjects for the Conference may include but are not limited to:

~ Hagiography, the making of naval heroes
~ Emotions, masculinity, and warfare
~ Punishment and Discipline
~ Leadership
~ Male relationships in close confines
~ The pitfalls of maritime historiography
~ Maritime social rituals (Equator crossing, superstitions, etc.)
~ Sea shanties, films, theatre, and literature
~ Port towns and communities
~ Identity and nationhood

Thursday, 5 July 2018

When “Jack Tar” met “Tommy Atkins”: Black Men Serving as Both Sailors and Soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars


“Jack Tar” was the name given by the public to sailors of the Royal Navy and merchant service. “Tommy Atkins” was the generic name given to British soldiers.

“Jill Tar” and “Thomasina Atkins” only existed exceptionally. See the story of cross-dressed "William Brown" from Grenada:

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) neither “Jack” nor “Tommy” were homogenously white. At least one per cent of Royal Navy personnel were from countries with black populations. This amounted to 188 out of the total 18,000.

A black Jack Tar appears prominently in several paintings of the death of Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, most notably that painted by Daniel Maclise. Pictured: detail from his Death of Nelson, (1859-1864) .

On Nelson’s Column in London (1843) a bas relief shows a black sailor. (Pictured below.)

Some of these images were shown in the exhibition Black Sailor's in Nelson's Navy, at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, 2005:

Representations like this were, to some extent, British retrospective claims for moral authority over Napoleonic France (and the USA). These countries had a poorer record on opposing slavery than did Britain.

However, the inclusion of black figures was not an “artistic device” or “political correctness gone mad”. They were historically accurate inclusions of figures that the British public were familiar with.

Pictured: A black sailor (far left) listens as part of the team in this mess gossip session about warfare: "The sailor's description of a chase and capture", George Cruikshank, 1822.


During the eighteenth century the fashion for exotic “Turkish music” resulted in British Army regiments enlisting black recruits to serve as bandsmen playing percussion instruments.

(Pictured: Notably tall black bandsmen of a Foot Guards regiment, St James's Palace c 1790.)

A few served as ordinary soldiers, rather than musicians, but not in British-raised regiments. The distinction between Crown and Colonial forces was clear. If you were in a Colonial regiment you would have a greater range of possible roles than just musician.

Black soldiers, sailors and marines fought, were wounded and died alongside their white peers during the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars (a number fought at Waterloo in 1815), and in numerous “small wars” until the 1840s.

Most black recruits in British regiments enlisting in England came from the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and Africa. Others came from the East Indies.

The majority enlisted in London or Southern England, or in ports such as Bristol, Liverpool and Plymouth.

Some regiments were raised in the Caribbean and the black personnel felt proud of being so distinct from enslaved people. See the proud body language in this "Private of the West India Regiment", 1812. National Army Museum,

Few of the black men who enlisted in Army regiments had nautical occupations. It might be that individuals with any discernible maritime experience, skill or related occupation preferred to join either the Royal Navy or merchant service.

Nevertheless, several black Royal Navy sailors and one former Royal Marine did serve in British regiments. This was usually after they had been at sea, not before.

This article seeks to draw attention to their presence using findings from pension records.


Service in the Royal Navy was frequently temporary, as in the merchant fleet. By contrast enlistment in the Army was usually “for life”. This, and the opportunity to put down roots and raise a family, probably made the Army more attractive than naval life for some:

~~ William Prince, a labourer born in 1804 on the Isle of Providence in the West Indies, served in the Royal Navy between May 1824 and August 1825. (Initially on HMS Serapis and then on HMS Primrose).
He joined the Grenadier Guards in London in December 1825, where he was described as having a black complexion. Prince was 5’10” tall, making him a natural choice for ceremonial duties. As a guardsman in peace-time he would have expected to spend his service in London. (See a copy of his death certificate, below)
William Prince's ship, HMS Serapis, 34 years earlier: "Defence of Captain Pearson in his Majesty's Ship Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough Arm'd Ship Captain Piercy, against Paul Jones's Squadron, 23 Sept 1779", picture by Robert Dodd, 1815.


Royal Navy service counted towards pension, and black soldiers made sure that it counted:

~~ Thomas Collins, born in Africa in 1792, described as having a black complexion, served in the Royal Navy then the Army.
Surveillante (August to December 1804)
Reynard (December 1804 to June 1805)
Fortune (June 1805 to April 1806)
Elk (April 1806 to December 1806)
Mediator (December 1806 to July 1807)
Pictured: Thomas Collins' ship, a few years after his time aboard: "HMS Reynard in calm waters near a town", artist unknown, 1821, National Maritime Museum

Collins went on to serve in three regiments between 1811 and 1823, (the Grenadier Guards, 23rd Lancers and the 10th Hussars) and was described as having a black complexion. He was discharged from the 10th Hussars as a Private on a pension in March 1823, with 19 years service on his record.

~~ Perry Brookings, a 24 year old “man of colour” from Barbados, served as an Able Seaman on HMS Ranger (1810-1814), and the Tonnant (1814-1815). Service in the Ranger would have taken him to the Baltic. In the Tonnant, Admiral Cochrane’s flagship, he spent 1814-1815 fighting in "The War of 1812" (which actually went on till 1815).

Pictured: Perry Brookings' boss, Admiral Thomas Cochrane ( "the REAL Master and Commander") by James Ramsay, National Museums Scotland

Many sailors were redundant after the Napoleonic Wars ended in November 1815. Probably it was seen as appropriate to retain white sailors - "us" - in preference to black personnel, however loyal and valiant they had been. Some went into the Army, when they saw the writing on the wall.

Brookings enlisted in the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Foot in Taunton, Somerset in August 1815.As a drummer he went to France, Australia and the East Indies. He was discharged on a pension in May 1833, having served for 23 years.


“Race” may have been a factor in establishing relationships between black servicemen. Some encouraged their pals to join up. They supported each other while in service.

However, the poor unemployment prospects in Civvy Street, in bleak winters, was probably a more persuasive recruiter:

~~ John Freeman of Barbados served as a Private in the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marines from January 1800 to December 1815.

In January 1816, only two days after leaving the Royal Marines, he was enlisted into the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Foot, still in Plymouth, one of Britain’s three major naval ports.
On enlistment Freeman was described as 31 years old, a labourer and a mulatto. He was introduced into the army by Private William Davis.

~~ William Davis was born in Boston, USA, a "labourer" with a "black complexion"). He had enlisted in the 43rd in Colchester in 1809 aged 21 years. It’s not known how or why Davis came to Essex from America; certainly he was not a servant and did not have a nautical occupation.

43rd Foot Regiment uniform button and badge of the kind John Freeman and William Davis wore


As late as the twentieth century the RN took fewer black people than did the merchant fleet. The Army was the most inclusive service. Few people - of any colour - switched between Army and Royal Navy jobs.

In 2017 the Royal Navy/Royal Marines Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) personnel were at 3.6 percent. In the Army it was 11 per cent. (

Black personnel are still under-represented as officers. BAME people are just 2.4 per cent of all armed forces officers. In the Napoleonic Wars they were not allowed to be officers at all.

Women and men are now actively recruited in the Caribbean. The Services pride themselves on embracing diversity. The Army launched a BAME support network in 2017, which it is hoped will improve status equality:


This piece originated in my talk entitled “Soldiers of African origin in British Army Regiments in England and Yorkshire, 1700s to 1840s”, given at What's Happening in Black British History? VIII conference, (University of Huddersfield, May 2018).

The initial research for this study is from my MA thesis: Ellis, JD. “The visual representation, role and origin of Black soldiers in British Army regiments during the early nineteenth century.” (Unpublished MA thesis, University of Nottingham, 2000).

Most of the sources used are from the National Archives (TNA). Most can be found online at or are accessible via or

For Brookings see TNA WO 23/4 and WO 97/559. Probably died Chatham, 1836.
For Collins see: TNA WO 97/23, WO 97/32/61 and WO 25/299. Fate unknown.
For Davis see TNA WO 22/172, WO 23/48, WO 25/386 and WO 116. He was discharged at Kilmainham, Dublin, May 1821, on a pension. Believed to have died in Ireland in the 1860s.
For Freeman see TNA WO 25/386. Died August 1818, in the regimental hospital at Valencienne, France.
For Prince see TNA WO 25/1488. Grenadier Guards R155. Private Prince, died in November 1837. He was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. His widow Sarah Prince was named as next of kin. For burial see: City of Westminster Archives Centre. Westminster Burials, 1837.
St Margaret's Church, Westminster

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Women sailing on the actual Windrush

Pic: Mona Baptiste, Trinidadian singer who came to UK on the Windrush, 1948

Windrush women. Want to know more about the women-specifically-who sailed on this now-iconised ship 70 years ago? If so, you may like to use these links to lite items I've done while researching the hidden history (for a longer academic piece).

# New Statesman online, June 22

# Woman's Hour, BBC Radio Four, Wednesday June 20, Woman's Hour…/boney-ms-marcia-barrett-pregnancy-and-t…. (It's about 30 minutes into the programme, the fourth item)

# Morning Star, Friday June 22.

# ... and to come in Sept: 'That voyage' in Marine Quarterly

Pic: The Colonial Girls Hostel where Mona and some other Windrush women stayed in, at 18 Collingham Gardens,Earls Court.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

World's first all-women tugboat crew - one week old

Marine engineer Kelsie MacLean (left) and deckhand Jocelyn Smith pull down the gangway as they work aboard the Atlantic Willow on Wednesday afternoon. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

This is the straight lift of a story that broke yesterday, about the three women who work and live aboard the Atlantic Willow tug in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Tugboat women are still rare in every country. An all-woman tugboat crew is even more rare. It's still likely that some traditionalists elsewhere may not want their vessels tugged by such a team, or only want them for the novelty.

Francis Campbell wrote this story, which appears in The Chronicle Herald, the biggest independently-owned newspaper in Canada. The accompanying video of them can be seen, too, at
(I've inserted some side-headings and extra pictures for easy reading, and an addendum.)


“We’re a team but it’s also like a family here,” tug master Andrea MacDonald said of the non-traditional, all-woman crew who work the bridge, engine room and deck of the Atlantic Willow as it chugs and tugs around Halifax Harbour and beyond.
“It’s going well,” MacDonald, 50, said of her newly assembled tugboat crew of engineer Kelsie MacLean, 23, and deckhand Jocelyn Smith, 29.“We live together. This is home. It’s more comfortable, if you need to get up in the middle of the night, to have all women on board. We were really excited to have the three of us on board. We were all a little curious, even I was thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be different.’ Three women, OK, this has never been done before.
“We are getting along very well, the jobs are all getting done, everything is working fine.” Even a makeshift family that works one of the four harbour tugs operated by Atlantic Towing requires a modicum of structure.
“I’m like the boat mom,” said MacDonald.Like any mom, she shares tidbits of little-known information about her crew.“On Saturday morning, we brought in a tanker in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm. Jocelyn doesn’t like lightning. She was not happy.”

Tugmaster Andrea MacDonald poses for a photo aboard the Atlantic Willow on Wednesday afternoon. The Willow features an all-female crew of MacDonald, engineer Kelsie MacLean and deckhand Jocelyn Smith. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)


And what about Kelsie [Maclean], the newest family member brought into the fold just last week? “Even though Kelsie’s only been here a week, I can already tell you some of her idiosyncrasies. I’m starting to learn what she’s like first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night. She’s not a morning person. If you were here at six this morning to see her rolling out, I said ‘good morning’ because I am a morning person. She knows that. She just went ‘mmmm.’” Mornings might not be her thing but MacLean said she has sea salt in her blood.
“I could not imagine living anywhere that is not near water,” said MacLean, who grew up in Marion Bridge on the Mira River in Cape Breton. “My grandfather is a fisherman out of Gabarus. My great-grandfather, I can remember his whole dining room was filled with model ships. That was my favourite place to go, in that little room, but I was little and my mother always scooted me out because she didn’t want me to break them.”
Having studied at the Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury, MacLean is now more into fixing things, including the two 16-cylinder marine diesel engines that she monitors in the engine room of the 95-foot Willow.

The Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury where MacLean trained

“Fixing everything that breaks, running the engines, doing the maintenance on all the engines and every system we have on the boat, including our domestic systems, like our sewage and our pot water,” MacLean said of her duties. “Literally everything.”
The tug has an unmanned engine room and alarm panels warn MacLean to immediately go below if anything demands her attention. In the interim, she helps Smith on deck.“When we come back in, most of the time we go up with Andrea and have a chat, see the nice views if it is not too foggy,” MacLean said. “There's lots of coffee on board.”


[Jocelyn] Smith, who lives in Dartmouth, started working in construction but was looking for lighter work.“I like manual labour so this is good for me,” said Smith. “My father is an engineer on one of the other tugs. He got me involved in this.”
The Willow works the harbour primarily but it also makes some long trips to Sheet Harbour.“Six hours there, six hours back and the time to do the job,” said Smith.
The crew works a 14-day rotation, living on the boat and ready 24-7 to chug into action in rain, snow, sleet or freezing weather. “We were looking like a Popsicle after one of those (winter) Sheet Harbour trips,” Smith said.
Smith said her duties include maintaining the tug, putting the line out for ship assist, releasing all the mooring lines, and doing the bulk of the cooking, cleaning and painting.

Atlantic Towing company in action:

The all-female tugboat no doubt looks cleaner and smells fresher than her sister tugs manned by males. Sitting in the Willow’s control room at the Woodside dock in Dartmouth, MacDonald repeats a company suggestion that the all-female tugboat crew might be the first of its kind anywhere.
“This is very much a male-dominated industry,” she said. “This type of work is not for the faint of heart. It’s rough. It’s very technical. There is a lot of strain on these lines. We’re just a small boat going alongside these huge moving ships, sometimes at a considerable speed. We’ve got to get in there and get lines on them. It’s quite a job and it’s not something a lot of women think of doing for a career, but it’s certainly very doable.”
MacDonald grew up in Purcells Cove, attained two degrees from Dalhousie and worked for many years in the insurance business before putting her mind to what she loves — the water and working on boats. She’s heard men dismiss her as inferior because of her gender.
“I just smile and say, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ As time goes on and there are more of us coming into the industry and as we stay in the industry, I’m finding that the men are starting to change their minds and they are being much more accepting of women on these boats. And even encouraging.”


She likens her control centre to a video game, with three screens — a chart plotter, radar and engine information — and two joysticks that control the Z-drives, or azimuth thrusters, propeller pods that can rotate 360 degrees, allowing for rapid changes in speed and direction.
Pushing and pulling gigantic ships into port and through narrow channels, the female crew pulls closer together as a family each day. MacDonald said it’s the Irving-owned towing company’s decision as to whether the crew stays together.
“We certainly hope that we will stay together because it’s a good thing and it’s really cool. Fingers are crossed that we all stay together.”



Captain Annie Brennan (Madge Dressler) handles her family aboard her tug Narcissus. Pic courtesy of Doctor Macro's High Resolution Movie Scans:

The most famous woman working a tug is, of course, a fictional one: 'Tugboat Annie' from the 1920s stories of Norman Reilly Raine and the subsequent movies and TV series.
Annie, played by Marie Dressler became a byword for a quarrelsome mouthy older woman operating in man's world and not being properly 'feminine'. Luckily that was so long ago that none of the Willow's team will have face this stereotype.
The main thing that the Atlantic Willow and Annie's celluloid family team have in common is that they are operating in a tough world.
Thea Foss of Tacoma, Washington and Kate A. Sutton of the Providence Steamboat Company are said to be Raine's real models. In fact neither was seagoing. Foss was an owner. Sutton was a secretary and dispatcher.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Rainbow Warrior's female captain, Hettie Geenen, gets on with it in Manila

Here are two articles from the Philippines about Hettie Geenen, arising from a Greenpeace press conference in Manila earlier this month.

Article 1, GMA NEWS ONLINE, 13 March, How she gets it done: Hettie Geenen, the female captain of the Rainbow Warrior ship,


'“It’s just a job, like everybody has a job,” Hettie Geenen brushes off the distinction that comes with her job. She is the female captain of recent Manila visitor, Rainbow Warrior, the only female captain of the environmentalist group in fact — “but not the first,” she quickly contends.
“I’ve been sailing since I was younger, most of the time with men too, so for me, this is very normal,” the sailor says.“But I respect people who are not used to this. Like me, in the beginning, when I saw female bus drivers. I had to look twice. You don’t judge, you just look twice.”
The lady sailor gave us an idea how she got into this profession, the kind of life the job entails, and the joy it brings.


"In the Philippines, when we had authorities visit the ship, they asked where the captain was. I said, ‘sorry I’m the captain.’ And I find they don’t really treat me differently. When I treat them with respect, they treat me with respect.
"It’s very important to follow your heart, and to not let what you want be stopped by anybody. Maybe you think there are a lot of barriers, but there are none. I really don’t like to be in the picture, but if I can be an example to someone younger, who wants to do something different, she can see that I did it.
"I never wanted to become a captain. I like to be practical and busy. I like to work a little bit more in the background, and as a captain, you’re in the spotlight. But after a while, you realize you have to step up. I’ve been a skipper on a lot of vessels for 12 years, so I thought, let’s do it! I have been chief mate for almost 15 years.
No one day is ever the same, but I have to say as captain, spending a lot of time behind the computer and preparing reports is not my favorite part of the job. The job of captain these days involve a lot of administration and communication. I spend a lot of time inside. But when my sailors need me, I’m there. Last night, I woke up four times to go to the bridge and check. I did a little maneuver with the sailors. It can get very busy.


"I’m not married but I have a partner for many years. He is a seafarer as well, which makes it a little bit easier. When I’m home, sometimes he’s still at sea, but we both understand each other’s lives. We know each other from Greenpeace. We don’t have children. I would’ve loved to have children, but sometimes, it doesn’t happen. I always say that on board, this is my family.
It was his birthday yesterday and I wasn’t home. Especially when you don’t have children, or family [it can be difficult] but you find another way. This is just how life is. We are three months at sea and at the end of three months, you really want to go home, and if they ask you to stay another week, it’s really hard.
But I wouldn’t have it another way. Sometimes, I think I want to stay home but no. I really think I have a great job. And the nice thing is with my partner, because we don’t see each other, when we finally do, it’s almost like starting again. It has positive sides for sure.

Article 2. PHILIPPINES DAILY INQUIRER. The captain of the Greenpeace ship is a woman

Jill Tan Radovan of Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote this story and took this photo, which appeared on 25 March 2018.

"Films and literature tell us one thing about ship captains: The captain is almost always a man. The captain in “Titanic” was a man. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” is male; Captain Hook, too, menacing with a mean mustache at that. Reality, however, can opt otherwise.
Hettie Geenen, captain of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, is a woman. She leads a team of 16 dedicated crew members, sailing around the world and fighting for climate justice. Hettie has been sailing since she was 13 years old. She joined Greenpeace in 1999 as Third Mate, and her first voyage on the Rainbow Warrior brought her to Manila.


She recalls a distinct but sad memory from that trip.“Here we met a girl who lived in Clark Air Base. She was sick; sick because they had to leave their home after the eruption of a volcano. They moved to the former US airbase but the soil and water there was contaminated. Lots of the children became sick and the women had miscarriages. This girl had leukemia, and had one last dream—to visit the Rainbow Warrior,” said Geenen in a media conference during the Rainbow Warrior’s recent voyage to Manila.
“After a protest at the US Embassy, we invited these children and their mothers to the ship. The captain at that time sailed in a rip around the harbor with the children. She was at the helm. He let her drive. She had a huge smile on her face.”The child passed on an hour after, at only 6 years old. Geenen continues, “After this I was convinced; this is the job I want to do. I want to be part of this platform, giving people a voice. Someone needs to speak up. We need to do something.”
After almost 20 years, Geenen, now the Rainbow Warrior’s captain, still feels the same, and is ever as passionate about Greenpeace’s fight for climate justice. She admits that being a woman in a job dominated by men has both its ups and downs.


“They look at you more critically. Probably if I make a mistake, it will be perceived differently. On the other hand, it helps. People look twice just because it’s not something that you see a lot.”
“What I see now, when authorities from the Philippines come onboard, they ask for the captain. And then I apologize and say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m the captain.’ They are all very humbled and say, ‘I’m really sorry, but we didn’t expect a woman.’”
Does she think women are vulnerable, and does she feel vulnerable as a woman? “It depends. I cannot say that women are not. I have never felt vulnerable, but I come from another country. So I cannot say… on the ship, in the lifeboats, the priority is still the women and the children.”


“I think it’s important that women don’t separate so much. We need to move together, men and women. You can separate at first but you need to connect and be equals.”“I think it’s time we equalize so that we have more women in certain positions. Women do things differently; not necessarily better, but differently. At the moment we have mostly men in power, and I think it should be more equal.”
For her, there is one aspect of one’s character necessary if you want to pursue a life at sea.“You need to be able to live in a closed space with a lot of people, without the ones you want—you don’t choose. You have to respect and accept everybody.”


Geenen has moved from Third Mate to Second Mate, and then to Chief Mate, before finally being appointed as the captain of the Rainbow Warrior on International Women’s Day two years ago.“The biggest learning is that we are all obliged to do something. We cannot sit at home and do nothing. It is for our children, and also for the Earth. I think if you do nothing, you are as guilty as those doing things to make the world a worse place to live in.” "