Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Jamaican woman behind the Navy List

A barely-known Jamaican-British woman, Penelope Steel (and her 'freed Negro' mother) are behind the early survival of the Navy List, the Royal Navy's 'bible' or directory.
Today if you want to know about the navy you google or go online to "The Navy Directory",  
The directory tells you the names of ships, offices, and officers. It's a sort of who's doing what, and where, and with what history.
When the navy was the biggest employer in Britain this list (then an almanac and trade directory too) was particularly invaluable.
From 1782 you would have 'surfed' by using that thick tome, Steel's Navy List, which came out every quarter.  (The 'Steel' was dropped in 1814.)
The Navy List's longevity is such that in the National Maritime Museum's Caird Library the back copies occupy over six bookcases.
Britain's other arms of the state had something similar: Crockford's Clerical Directory (from 1858) and Hart's Quarterly Army List (from 1839).

But what has slavery got to do with the publication of the Senior Service's directory, decades before that?

Jamaican roots
The answer is that a slave-owner's mixed-race daughter helped fund the publication - while also drawing maps and being a mother, not far from London's Tower Hill.
Penelope Winde was born in St Catherine's, Jamaica, in 1768. 
She was one of several recognised 'natural' children of Kingston merchant Scudamore Winde, who 'owned' 70 enslaved people. Penelope's mother was Sarah Cox, who is listed as a 'freed negro or mulatto' (as historian Trevor Burnard has found.)
Her father died in 1775, leaving the equivalent of £7 million in today's money.  Penelope, aged nine, came to Britain with her brother. (She may have initially gone to her father's ancestral home in Kentchurch Court, Docklow, Herefordshire, pictured below today, http://www.kentchurchcourt.co.uk. Or to his business contacts in London.) 

Somehow Penelope met barrister David Steel, the son of David Steel. David junior's family's business publishing charts was based at Navigation Warehouse, No 1 Union-Row, Little Tower-Hill, London.
They were married on May Day 1786 at St Botolph's, Aldgate (pictured), when she was about eighteen. 

Their home and the family business were on the same premises. Her unmarried sister-in-law Elizabeth may have continued to run the home too. 
That way Penelope may have managed to combine being the mother of five children with drawing maps and charts too. 
Her maps included those of her home island, in a period of great naval activity in the West Indies against Frances, Spain and America. 
Today, down river and on the other side of the Thames from Penelope's old home, visitors can see the National Maritime Museum's examples of the charts and books published by her. See https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/three-women-london-chart-trade-c1800-1860

Money helps

Did David marry Penelope for her money? Possibly. But barristers are not usually poor. And maybe the business only began struggling when he took over after his father's death, thirteen years into the marriage.
Initially she did not have all that much, just her father's annuity of £60 per annum (c £9,300 in today's money). And three years later, when she was 21, she inherited £2,000, plus another £3,500  to come. 
Anne M Powers has tracked Penelope down as far as she can. Anne comments that this inheritance 'is particularly interesting
'... under the 1761 Act of the Assembly illegitimate mixed-race Jamaicans were debarred from inheriting more than £2000.... I have not found any private Act permitting the Winde children to have more.'  
But somehow Penelope's inheritance helped fund the Steel family's struggling enterprise.
For a full range of the business's publications see A Bibliography of the Works Written and Published by David Steel by Mario Witt, Greenwich Maritime Monographs, 1991.

A widow in maritime business

When Penelope's husband died after seventeen years, in 1803, his Will left her 'the option of either selling the business or, if she preferred, continuing to run it in her own right', writes Anne Powers.
Penelope, like so many widowed mothers in maritime London in that period, chose to work in the business. She was also drawing maps, which must have added to the income. 

This is Penelope Winde Steel's timeline: 

1768? Born Jamaica.
1775. Came to England, just four years after Nelson sailed to the Caribbean.
1786. Married into Steel family.  They carried on with the Navy List 
1787. Son David Lee Steel was born
1789. Son Scudamore born
1791. Daughter Penelope Sarah born
1795. Daughter Mary born and dies two years later.
1797. Daughter Ann born
1799. Her father-in-law, David Steel, died.
1803. Her husband David Steel died. They carried on with the Navy List 
1806. Penelope remarried, William Mason
1807. She had one child with William. Their son died as an infant.
1810. David Lee, and Scudamore, were no longer living at home. Her daughters Penelope Sarah and Ann were, and may have helped with the business and cartography too.
JW Norie, https://americanhistory.
1814. The Navy List was no longer called 'Steel's' 
1818. Penelope's son David Lee, died, seeming after a breakdown over his distress at losing out over his inheritance.  
1821? JW Norie & Co took over the printing business. John W Norie had worked for William Heather, a similar nautical publishing firm. 
1837 or 1840. Penelope died, quite well off, in Euston Place. The Navy List still continued. 

For more details of what happened to the descendants, mainly in the US. See Anne M Powers.'A Family Saga and A Theatrical Disaster', http://aparcelofribbons.co.uk/2014/10/family-saga-theatrical-disaster/ 
As for Penelope's mother, Sarah Cox, we don't know if she stayed in Jamaica. If so, did she handle imported copies of the Navy List and her daughter's maps out there, perhaps even selling them to the British fleet in the West Indies?

Without the input of a BAME person, and profits from slavery, would there have been an uninterrupted flow of Navy Lists? Indeed would the navy have been able to function so efficiently, including in the Caribbean?

We can only wonder if, Thameside, racism and sexism affected how much Penelope was able to gain respect as an effective business woman and cartographer. 

Certainly her son, Scudamore Winde Steel, (pictured right) rose high in the army and was knighted, despite being visibly mixed-race.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

10 FAQs. Black women in maritime history

1. Were there any BAME women seafarers in Britain's past? 
Yes, but not many and only post-1980s. A key example of success in that trend is Captain Belinda Bennett, (pictured above) from 2016 the world’s first black woman captain of a cruise ship. 
In countries where the majority of the population is black and brown then women had a more success e.g. in Ghana, Beatrice Vormawah, (pictured below) the world’s first black women captain in 1995. https://genderedseas.blogspot.com/2015/01/ghanas-pioneering-seawomen.html

2.  Did BAME women do particular jobs on British ships?  
Yes. The situation was and is culturally specific: women from the Philippines have predominated in domestic work; today women from India often work in finance departments on cruise ships. There’s no intrinsic reason for this. This is proven because o there have been BAME women engineers, and deck officers who have worked their way up to captain status.

3.  Why have so few BAME women worked on UK ships?  
It is odd. You might expect employers to take advantage of people who could be doubly low-paid because female and dark-skinned. This did not happen. 
Knowing the history of female maritime labour I deduce three explanations for this, apart from the fact that women were few anyway, and usually confined to domestic jobs mainly until the late 1970s.

# PROTECTIONISM. From at least 1900-1985 the National Union of Seamen argued that British people should be given jobs first, then white ‘foreigners’ second, then BAME people. 
When the UK’s BAME population was small, this made BAME women proportionately less likely to get into seafaring work as stewardesses (the main job open to women, which was highly sought after) than white women. 

# "CONSUMERS' XENOPHOBIA." It is likely that shipowners would justify preferring white women for this relatively intimate job by saying that passengers would not want BAME women as stewardesses.
 (This is not openly discussed in any documents I have seen; it’s something I gather from what I'm told off the record, and from detecting employment patterns from company records.)

# SEX FEARS. Relatedly, elite-ish white passengers on ships serving the Raj were used to having black servants. This is why companies such as P&O and British India could carry Asian male General Servants (as stewards were called) throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By contrast Indian women were not employed as such GSs or stewardesses. 
Reasons for this include shipping lines fears about social stability and intimate ’immoral’ racial mixing. There would be anxiety that the women might be used for sex – by passengers and other crew. The issue was not to protect such women but protect the shipping company from scandal and consequent reduced ticket sales.

4. What about BAME women passengers on UK ships? 
Yes, there have been some, including ayahs (see picture) and the multiple wives of some African leaders in the nineteenth century. Numbers have grown since cruising became more affordable from the late 1960s. 
Unequal pay practices mean single women and some BAME people tended to not have an income that allowed such travel earlier, especially as solo women. More BAME women came into the UK (e.g., Indian women for university education) than left its shores. 
This is because the biggest outbound traffic by women – as emigrants to the empire and US – was by white people, the majority of the population. I have not found any BAME women among the convicts or convicts' wives being forcibly transported e.g. to Van Diemen’s Land.

5.  Women are sexually abused on ships. Has this been worse for BAME women? 
Yes, the 2010 Akhona Geveza case is the key example of this.  https://genderedseas.blogspot.com/2010/07/cadet-gevezas-death-exposes-shipboard.html
See picture. The cultural idea that dark women are attractively exotic, and have animal instincts, has led to their being targeted. Most women do not report such crime, even in these #MeToo times.

6.  Have BAME women been stowaways on ships to the UK? 
Yes, a few. Especially from the Caribbean to the UK. The most famous is Evelyn Wauchope, followed by Hazel Brown. Both left Jamaica in this way in 1948, but Hazel was deported home. Stowaways’ motives include accessing a free passage. That means that women, who have usually been paid much less than men, would have particular need to stow away. If sage, women knew that ships’ officials and port magistrates would receive BAME women even less leniently than white women – but probably still give women better treatment than black men.

7. Did BAME women disguise themselves as men to sail on British ships? 
Possibly. About 44 such women are recorded. But the only known black one was ‘William Brown’. From Grenada, she sailed on the Queen Charlotte in 1815. https://genderedseas.blogspot.com/2017/04/black-woman-cross-dressed-seafarer.html
There is no reason to think that she was discovered more readily or ejected more quickly than white women. However this may have been so. Officers simply feared that the presence of any women not married to men aboard would lead to promiscuous sexual activity and men’s rivalry for access to the women.

8.   Were BAME women involved in maritime business ashore in the UK? 
Yes, but we don’t know the extent of this. One example is Mrs. Penelope Steel, from Jamaica. She part-funded the publication Steel’s Navy List, which was equivalent of a search engine like google, specific to the biggest employer in Britain.  https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/three-women-london-chart-trade-c1800-1860. 
A surprising number of well-off white wives funded husband’s careers as naval officers. BAME women overseas certainly provided sexual, and laundry services for visiting sailors. It is likely that they would have also have done so in the UK. Such grey economy low-waged work is seldom recorded, whatever the worker’s ethnicity.

9. Have BAME women been in the Royal Navy for long? 
No. In both world wars there is evidence that women thought to have ‘a touch of the tar brush’ were rejected, or selectively processed, in the WRNS. This was partly out of fear that ‘foreign birth’ would compromise national security. 
From the 1970s personnel shortages meant recruits were actively sought in the Caribbean, women included. 
A small number of BAME women were in the WRNS (which was about 3,000-strong in the late 20C).  This pattern continued and increased when the WRNS was subsumed into the Navy in 1993. But there were no BAME Wrens among the first 20 allowed to go to sea in 1991.
Today BAME people are 3.8 of the Royal Navy/Royal Marines, which is strong on equal opportunities. As about 600 women are at sea at any one time currently, logically nineteen may be from a BAME background. https://tinyurl.com/2018-gov-stats, (see page 7).

10.   Did UK girls’ sea training organisations include BAME girls? 
Yes, in small numbers and lately. The Sea Rangers began in 1920 and the Girls Nautical Training Corps in 1942.  From the 1960s both organisations had small numbers of BAME girls, and later a few officers. 
Numbers increased as the UK’s BAME population increased. The Sea Rangers website features BAME girls.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Navy tackles sexual assault: 'banter' and buns

This is a straight lift from an article in Metro, 16 Oct 2019. 
Sex-charge sailor ‘poked hair of his female colleagues’ by Annabal Bagdi. https://www.metro.news/sex-charge-sailor-poked-hair-of-his-female-colleagues/1760038/
I have added sub-headings for readabilty, as well as links to related cases. 
A surprising amount of sexist behaviour still exists within this 30,000-strong organisation, in which women are 10 %. 
Since 1990 the UK Royal Navy has officially been hot on supporting respect and equal opportunities. The Merchant Navy's record is poorer. 
Women either tackle the matter informally, leave their jobs, or - in most cases - keep quiet. https://twitter.com › hashtag › whyididntreport

Court martial

"A SAILOR has been accused of sexual assault after allegedly poking the hair-dos of female colleagues.
   PO Patrick Bennett made lewd jibes while repeatedly touching the women’s bun hairstyles, a court martial heard.
   He is said to have shrugged off the remarks as ‘office banter’, telling one woman at the Royal Navy Air Station in Yeovilton, Somerset, that she would have a short-lived military career unless she played along.
   The woman told Bulford military court in Wiltshire that on one occasion the serviceman, based on HMS Diamond, grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand towards his groin.
   She recalled ‘snatching’ her hand away and managing to only touch his trouser material.

PO Patrick Bennett RN: Yeovilton

'Banter' and PMT

She told the court martial: ‘He said once “if you don’t take banter, you’re not going to get very far in the Navy”, and once asked if I was in a mood because I was on my period.’
   When interviewed, Bennett said he never intended for his comments to be taken as innuendos and apologised when asked to stop.

'Hairy bun hole'

A second woman said Bennett had poked his fingers into her hair bun up to 20 times while working at the air station and made comments about her weight.
    ‘When you have your hair in a bun, it creates a natural hole in the middle, and he stuck his finger in the centre of that bun,’ she said. ‘He would say “how’s your hairy bun hole?”’
   She denied fabricating the allegations to ‘get back at’ the serviceman and rejected claims she disliked him.
   Prosecutor Maj Lindsey Jones said: ‘This was not banter — this was uninvited, it was unwanted and it was sexual assault.’
   Bennett denies four counts of sexual assault. The trial continues."

Recent related cases in UK Navy

HMS Vanguard, Wikimedia Commons

2016. In August 2016 Lt. Basil Purdue was sacked in disgrace following a court martial. He had groped a junior's breast aboard submarine HMS Vanguard. (pictured)
The  woman said  “I am constantly battling to show women are equal in the RN but they are not."

2018. There were 65 courts martial of naval personnel. Six of these were for alleged sexual offences. Four of the six were found not guilty. Of the two found guilty, the lieutenant from Northwood convicted of rape and attempted sexual assault was give a seven-year sentence. https://tinyurl.com/GOV-courts-martial-2018

US and UK Navies

US Navy policy tries to prevent sexual assault.
In 2011 the policy was found to be inadequate.
In 2016 in the US Navy there were 1403 cases of sexual assault reported. Under-reporting is common. 

288 reported cases occurred in the Royal Navy in the years 2017 and 2018 combined. 
Investigators found a further 60 cases that were not reported.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The black cook, the cross-dressed wife, and the ship's hot kitchen 1852

Here's a little fragment for Black History Month, though it's mainly about a white woman who  worked her passage from New York to Britain. Her mate - but seemingly not her accomplice - was a 'man of colour.'
The emotional element is absent from this tale, which appears in The Bradford Observer, 26 August 1852.  (I am grateful to John Ellis for drawing the article to my attention. )

New York 's East River, 1848. Public Domain, 

On Good Friday 1852  'a respectable female from Spilsby' (Lincs)  married a Mr Bealby. He turned out to a ne'er -do-well. 
He was supposed to be opening a grocery shop in Boston, Lincs. But instead he booked them onto a ship from Liverpool to New York, telling his wife they were going to Scotland for a few days to see friends. 
When they got to New York on this unnamed ship, he wasted their money in idleness then wanted to go on to California. At that time it was seen as a land of opportunity, including for gold prospectors. 
But 'his wife having no faith in him, refused to accompany him and decided to return to England.' 


Trousers for safety

'To accomplish this, having no funds, she donned  a garb that would insure her from insult, and obtained  an engagement as a cook's mate on board a vessel bound for Old England. (The cook himself was a man of colour.)'
Black, brown and disabled seamen, especially those with peg legs, were often employed as ship's cooks at that time. real versions of Long John Silver were assisted by able-bodied boys. 

See this poem and image about Billy Peg-Leg's fiddle, by Bill Adams (https://allpoetry.com/Billy-Peg-leg%27s-Fiddle)

I've a pal called Billy Peg-leg, with one leg a wood leg,
And Billy' he's a ship's cook and lives upon the sea;
And hanging by his griddle
Old Billy keeps a fiddle
For fiddling in the dog-watch
When the moon is on the sea.

She arrives intact

There is a somewhat happy finale to Mrs Bealby's trip. She ended the voyage 'in the exclusive possession of her secret'. After walking 57 miles she and arrived 'in her sailor attire', at her parents’ house at 2 a.m..  We can only imagine how traumatised she must have been.
This saga feels a very interesting combination to me: Mrs Bealby and the cook sharing a galley, and presumably a sleeping space.  It was extremely rare for women to be allowed to be ship's cooks at that time, except on very small family-run vessels. 
Of course I want to know what happened. 

The questions

1. What was it like to be cooped up together 24:7 producing food for perhaps hundreds of people? They were trapped in a tiny space. They worked side by side for maybe 35 days (It can reasonably be assumed that they were on a sailing ship. Steamships did not really start on that route for another decade. The voyage took 7-10 days)

Galley of HMS Warrior, as built ten years later and in more pristine condition than a working merchant ship would have been. Wiki Commons

2. As such precise details about her marriage were available surely Mrs Bealby, and therefore the cook, could be tracked down? 
No such luck. Census returns and directories show that there are Bealbys in the area but none that fits this picture. No wedding record exists.
We are left with a story of a stigmatised seaman (the cook)  working in a mixed-race team with an upset person who withheld a major secret from him  for five weeks.

3.So did the cook know? Did he side with Mrs Bealby in deceiving the ship's officers? We cannot know if he ever guessed her sex, or even, perhaps, her distress? 

4. Did the cook - and crew - ever find out later? Probably not, because the newspaper report revealed no details about the ship. And maybe Mrs Bealby used another surname while on board, anyway.

5. Was this the first black person she had met ( as she didn't live in seaport or big city)? And what did she learn from the encounter, in a working environment which is often hot and irritable? We can only guess how that proximity affected her attitudes to race.

This is one of those stories that needs to developed into fiction. I hope someone enjoys the process. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Girls ranging the seas: Celebrating 100 years

Sea Rangers 

2020 sees the centenary of the founding of the Sea Rangers. Keep an eye on the website for details: https://searangers.org.uk/the-sea-ranger-2020-centenary-celebrations/. So far their plans include a Centenary Parade and Service in Portsmouth on Saturday 25th April 2020.

By chance, I've just recorded the story of Sea Ranger Janet G. I'm interested in the way young women found ways to connect with seafaring.

Born in 1939 Janet became a Girl Guide, a Sea Ranger, a Wren, then a Girl Guide leader. Rangers were part of the Girl Guide movement.

Janet and her Sea Rangers pals (pictured left) especially loved going on summer training trips. For one or two weeks a year a SR unit would have a solid spell on the water, usually on a shared boat. For Janet in the 1950s this included being on the Sea Rangers' own motor torpedo boat at Dartmouth.

Being in a Sea Ranger unit meant any city girl, whatever her poverty, could almost become a Nancy Blackett, the boaty heroine of Arthur Ransome's inter-war children's books like Swallows and Amazons.

You learned so much...

Not only was membership of the SR  a way for young women over 16 to learn small boat skills and gain access to the sea at a time when gendered restrictions on mobility meant women travelled less than men.
(Only one per cent of UK merchant seafarers in the 1920s and 30s were women. Many ships had no woman crew at all until the 1970s and even later.)

But also being with the Sea Rangers also meant former WW1 Wrens could enjoy passing on nautical culture, volunteering as Sea Ranger officers.

And the would-be ‘sailorettes’ these officers trained could then be fast-tracked into the Women’s Royal Naval Service, as Janet G was in the 1950s.

But usually members did not go on to work on merchant ships as stewardesses. The SR didn't funnel women  into a water-based career. Rather it helped develop transferable skills as citizens and responsible human beings.

Other ‘Daughters of the sea’

Being a Sea Ranger, or a member of the other related organisation, the Girls Nautical Training Corps, meant being proudly part of a sea-minded network: rowing and sailing boats, tying knots, communicating by Morse and semaphore, learning maritime lore.

1920: The SR began, growing from the Girl Guides
1942: The more militaristic GNTC started, then really took off until 1946.

Patriotically, some members of these organisations, especially in the mid-20th century, saw themselves as ‘daughters of the sea’.

They had fun, for all that there was naval-style discipline too, as the picture of Janet's SR colleagues shows. (Pictured left, above)

As part of a strong, can-do, adventurous team, girls and young women in the SR and GNTC developed confidence, a sense of agency and also a sense of motility - the idea that one was capable of travel.

Happy Families playing card. Mrs
Jack Tar, the sailor's wife, and Miss Jack Tar
were usually portrayed as being on land.
Master and Mr Jack Tar were seagoing.
Women and girls could live a sea-minded life, generation after generation, in this way. Mothers and aunts and babies were part of this sea-focused community.

Gender did not have to be an obstacle to accessing maritime life directly. Thanks to the SR and GNTC women didn't have to rely on being the daughter or wife of Jack Tar as a way to connect on to maritime life. Any member could connect in her own right.

Sea novels for girls 

From the mid-1930s to the 1950s Sea Ranger novels boomed.  (GNTC novels, by contrast, seemingly did not exist). 
In genre such novels were far closer to the girls adventure juvenilia end of the spectrum, than to cruise ships novels (the other booming genre of sea fiction for women in the 1930s).
Authors of SR books such as Helen  Beatrice Davidson  (fl.1898- 1998) - see below, Lucy of the Rangers - also wrote about Brownies and Girl Guides.

Frances Olivia Hartopp Nash  (1887-1953) shows her sea-minded heroine transitioning from the Girl Guides, as in: 

  • (1922) How Audrey Became  a Guide 
  • (1923) Audrey in Camp 
  • (1925) Audrey at School
  • (1933) Audrey, The Sea Ranger

In other words, becoming a motile young woman - who got away from home - was represented as natural progress. The novels encouraged readers to see that they could move on from earlier girlhood in wholesome organisations within the scouting and guiding community, become women who travelled, and even be heroic. Frances also wrote about girls' adventures on land, including at boarding school.

Some Sea Rangers include:

1929 (and 1938): Ethel Talbot,  Skipper and Co, A story of Sea Rangers
1933: Frances Olivia Hartopp Nash, Audrey, the Sea Ranger 
1934 : Helen  Beatrice Davidson, Sea Rangers of the 'Rodney'
1934; Mary Shrewsbury, All Aboard the “Bundy”: A sea-ranger story
1935: Helen Beatrice Davidson,  Adventurers in Camp: A Sea Ranger Story
1935: Ethel Talbot, Sea Rangers All
1937: Ethel Talbot, Sea Rangers’ Holiday
1938 (and 1955) Ethel Talbot: Rangers and Strangers
1943:  Frances Olivia Hartopp  Nash, Lucy of the Sea Rangers
1948: Geoffrey Prout, Sea Rangers at Sloo 

And in the air too...

Sea Rangers stories have a counterpart in flying novels for girls by Dorothy Carter (1901-1948). That thrilling new field, civilian air transport, was a profitable topic for the Josephine March-type writers of the day.

Had Louisa May Alcott  still been around and in the UK she'd surely have written another quartet for girls: Little Brownies, Good Guides, Great Air Rangers, and Brilliant Girl Pilots.  Actually it appears  that there were no novels about Air Rangers, Sea Rangers’ counterparts.

Celebrating mobility,  and making clear that long-distance travel was not just confined to boys, these inspirational Sea Ranger novels were the ‘daughters’ of earlier girls’ boarding school novels such as those by Elinor Brent-Dyer and Angela Brazil.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

New women’s maritime award shortlist revealed.

International Maritime Rescue Federation awards for Search and Rescue will include a special new award for women this year. Shortlisted women were announced yesterday. 
What follows is mainly an extract from part of the press release, but with added pictures and personal details.
The SAR award honours both professionals and volunteers. Often volunteering is a way in for women.
Winners' outstanding commitment' is honored. But the awards also make the wider world aware of SAR.

The Women in SAR Award is part of the  International Maritime Rescue Federation's wider #WomenInSAR initiative. 
This is in support of the International Maritime Organisation's Empowering Women in Maritime campaign.  
“The Award will recognize someone who is an inspirational role model for others.
Shortlisted finalists for this inaugural Award are Captain Song Yin of the Donghai No.1 Rescue Flying Service in China and Isobel Tugwell, a crew member at the RNLI Shoreham Lifeboat Station in the UK. 

 Song Yin

Song Yin joined the Rescue Flying Service after graduating from Shanghai Maritime University in 2008. She has gained extensive flying and technical experience to become one of China's first female search and rescue helicopter captains.
A People’s Daily online article about this ‘most beautiful female rescue pilot’ and her feats can be seen at http://en.people.cn/90001/90783/91300/7404983.html. See their pic.

See a video about her at work: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=629110454227562

Isobel Tugwell

Isobel Tugwell joined the Shoreham lifeboat crew at 17 and has been taking a full part in SAR operations ever since – even while she was studying for her A-levels.
There are two other women in her RNLI team too. See http://www.shorehamlifeboat.co.uk/the-crew/
Isobel is also a community police officer in Brighton and Hove. Her dad is part of the RNLI team and so was  her granddad.

Why this award matters

On announcing the shortlist Theresa Crossley,  the chief executive of the IMRF said: "The calibre of all the nominations continues to inspire and amaze the judges. All around the world there are breath-taking search and rescue operations being conducted in harrowing conditions with SAR professionals using their skill and expertise to save lives in remarkable circumstances.  Here are just some of those people, selected today as our finalists."

The winners of all the Awards will be announced at a presentation ceremony on 10 September, on board HQS Wellington, during London International Shipping Week. The Awards will be presented by Vice-Admiral Sir Tim Laurence. He is Anne, Princess Royal’s second husband.

My comment

Setting up this award is an important step in the struggle to encourage women into STEM jobs, and in recognising the achievements of those already in it.
‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ goes the slogan, highlighting the value of role models in helping young women see wider opportunities. This award helps us do that seeing.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Chinese women working with UK ships in 20C

British maritime labour history is largely a history of white and BAME men, and possibly 1 per cent white women. 
Women of other backgrounds, including Chinese, Yemeni, and African women are almost entirely absent. This is a brief introduction to Chinese women's relationship with sea mobility and British seafaring.

Adam Williams, his Chinese amah, and mother Anne at one of Hong Kong's many bays, 1956.
Chinese women accessed the sea and mobility because of their work. 
Image courtesy of https://www.adam-williams.net/2013/05/17/adams-five-generations-of-a-china-family/


Q. Why the absence of Chinese, South Asian, Afro-Caribbean and African-origin women working on ships
A. The answer is that shipping companies deliberately excluded such women, despite their potential for being very cheap labour indeed, as both female and non-white. It's not that such women didn't want to go to sea.

Despite extensive research in shipping company and National Union of Seamen archives I have not found any  records of such women. Nor have I found discussions about excluding/including them. Reluctantly, I have to conclude that in the UK in 20C there were no BAME seafaring women. it seems extraordinary. 
I've had a lot of conversations with seafarers. From that I understand that the two main reason for this racialised and gendered exclusion are likely to have been on these grounds: 

1. PASSENGER ATTITUDES. Bedroom stewardess was the main job open to women until the 1970s. Companies probably believed that BAME women wouldn't have been acceptable to white lady passengers in the intense intimacy of a cabin. 

Yet such an objection doesn't seem quite plausible. White European women living in countries such as Singapore, Shanghai, Malaya, and Hong Kong readily employed Chinese servants, especially amahs (children's nurses, even wet nurses) in their homes. 
So it may be that actually the reason for the exclusion is about  the need for stewarding staff - as warders -  to subtly wield authority, to be a female-oriented part of the hegemonic and gendered control of passenger-inmates. 
Bedroom stewardesses and stewardesses had to, to some extent, regulate the passengers in their patch - for example ensuring they didn't request too much room service, and that they attended lifeboat drills.
It may be that shipping lines thought elite white passengers wouldn't accept such regulatory pressure from 'lower' status BAME women.

Also there were not enough Chinese or Indian female passengers to justify employers taking on women servants of the same nationality to look after them during the voyage. Cash-strapped shipping companies only do what they have to do, and employ specific staff only when it pays to do so. 
(This 'appropriateness' type of justification was later used in 1970s legal battles for equality. The concept of 'Genuine Occupational Qualification' was articulated, famously in a case where a gentlemen's tailoring firm remained men-only on the grounds that women should not measure male customers for trousers.) 
2.  UNION. The seafarers' union is likely to have opposed BAME women, on the grounds that white men, white women and BAME men - in that order - were more entitled to any available jobs. 


The main non-British women I have found working on ships have been:

 A. Europeans. Portuguese matrons or auxiliary nurses for migrants, pre WW2. They were employed by the shipping lines, usually Royal Mail and Blue Funnel, whose ships took some passengers of Portuguese background to Brazil. a former Portuguese colony. 
Crew agreements (registers of personnel aboard each voyage) show some of these women workers have British surnames. This suggests that local shipping agents in Portugal - say Lisbon - would have sought bilingual women, probably Portuguese women who were the wives and daughters of British men living there. 

Children were an increasing presence on ships after WW2. Their nannies, including ayahs and amahs, attended as part of their working day. Image from Tim Roberts' story, http://www.archhistory.co.uk/taca/memsmisc.html

B. Ayahs. 阿媽. Children's nurses - especially from India, Ceylon and non-mainland China. They were employed by the traveller's family, not by the shipping line. They therefore travelled as passengers although they worked all the voyage long. This included the usual nursing, dressing, playing with their charges, plus attending at children's sittings for meals on ship, such as the tea party pictured above.
There are records of Indian ayahs aboard, but few of Chinese or Japanese amahs. 
(For a brief summary of amahs' role on land see 'A Lifetime of Labour: Cantonese Amahs In Singapore', 

C. Gash Jennies, in port. These Chinese women in British colonies worked briefly on British ships in ports such as Hong Kong. 
Affectionate, if patronising, bonds existed between officers and well-organised teams of women who routinely serviced moored ships, doing women's work. 

The most famous 'Jenny', who died aged 92 in 2009, led  a gang who: 
took ''over the domestic economy and husbandry of each vessel. They washed and ironed, cleaned ship, chipped rust and painted, attended as buoy jumpers, and, dressed in their best, waited with grace and charm upon guests at cocktail parties.

Captains and first lieutenants would find fresh flowers in their cabins and newspapers delivered daily ...[jenny earned] by selling soft drinks to the ships' companies and scavenging every item of scrap and gash which could be found on board.' 

Could have been in...

1. Galleys and laundries. It never happened. But it wouldn't have been too abnormal for Chinese women living in the UK,  to be employed in jobs that didn't involve passenger contact, such as laundry and galley work. 
It would have been especially 'natural' for employers to take on those women who were part of British culture because of their family connections with British seamen, as in the Portuguese example above
(By the early 20th century Hong Kong-origin Cantonese men were routinely employed in the laundries of some shipping lines.)  And British women to do such work were so hard to get that in the 1930s shipping companies took on criminalised young women from penal institutions. 
One reason for women not being taken on for such backstage work may have been cultural resistance from the community. Chinese people in the UK possibly did not think it desirable for Chinese women work away from home for months on ships. Their shipboard position would have been lowly, and perhaps morally compromised.  

Amah holding Linga in HongKong, c 1919.
Image via https://gwulo.com/atom/28110
2. Ship's nurseries. From the 1930s major passenger ships had nurseries, staffed by one nursery stewardess. 
From the 1950s a hierarchy emerged, as was traditional in grand houses: a high-status 'children's nurse' supervised the nursery stewardess, who had a more maid-like status, for example cleaning up spills. 
It would not have been odd if Chinese women did this work on ship. In fact they were never employed in this capacity on UK ships. There was no transition from land-based amah to professional travelling amah, as there was with Indian ayahs.

Male counterparts

The UK history of Chinese men working on ships is as yet barely known, although this is now being addressed by some Heritage Lottery Funded projects. And perhaps men's history, in this case, is anyway not very helpful to understanding Chinese women's maritime history. It was so different.  
Any researcher wanting to go further in exploring men might try these sources, for starters:
A. 1915 crew agreements on line show brief details of Chinese seafaring men in WW1: https://1915crewlists.rmg.co.uk/ 
To search you look up the seafarer by surname. So, for example, when I inserted the common name 'Ching' I found a firemen, carpenter, and steward. See https://1915crewlists.rmg.co.uk/crew-member?crew_member_search%5BlastName%5D=ching&page=5

B. One of the recent digitally-available interviews with/about Chinese seafaring men includes this: Yew Chang (1919-2012). Pictured. From Hong Kong, he was a merchant seafarer from c1938 to the early 1950s. Initially in the engine room then a cook, he worked for the Netherlands company Shell, later Royal Dutch Shell group. Many Chinese seafarers in the UK worked for Blue Funnel.
In war BAME men were among those seafarers who were held in camps abroad. In WW2. Yew Chang was 'detained' in Calcutta for two years, and 'sent to repair damaged aircraft'.  
The British Chinese Heritage Centre has made available two interviews with him:  http://www.britishchineseheritagecentre.org.uk/interviews/seafaring/item/mr-yew-chang and http://www.britishchineseheritagecentre.org.uk/interviews/seafaring/item/mr-yew-chang-2.

C.You could try searching the records of the London School of  Nautical Cookery, currently held in the National Maritime Museum Archive, London, at SAH/63.They may include Chinese men, because cooking was one of the jobs Chinese men did on ships, especailly when Chinese food became more popular in the UK. https://collections.rmg.co.uk/archive/objects/469748.html
I recently looked through to find references to women of any ethnicity. The few female applicants were usually told there was no point in training, as no shipping company would take on women cooks.


I am grateful to Sha Zhou for inspiring this blog entry. Sha is at King's College, London, and looking for the history of amahs on ships as part of her Ph.D work on The Life Experience of Chinese Female Migrants in Britain after 1945.