Thursday 27 October 2016

Award winning book: women seafarers' history


Award winner! From Cabin 'Boys' to Captains: 250 years of women at sea, my book, is one of the winners of the Mountbatten Literary Prize. It made number 3, not number 1, on Tuesday night.

At the grand Maritime Media Awards ceremony at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall the judges said in the Certificate of Merit that it was:

"For her inspirational study documenting the occupations followed by women at sea. The book reveals the issues of discrimination and acceptance though personal accounts, and demonstrates how women are achieving recognition for their contribution across the spectrum of seagoing employment. The book acknowledges progress but alerts readers to the fact that in the world fleet only one per cent of seafarers are women, so there is still much work to be done to positively change attitudes."

See the tweet at

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Organiser of world’s first women’s maritime history conference dies: Ken Scadden

Women on whalers, pioneering female captains, ‘piratesses’ and ‘seagals’ (women who hang around wharves because they like the romantic associations with ships). These were just some of the topics Ken Scadden drew together when he set out in December 1993 to organise the world’s first conference on women and the sea.
I remember Captain Sally Fodie, Joan Druett (pictured), Jan Jordan and women from the now defunct NZ Women’s Maritime Network, which had begun in order to support women getting seafaring jobs.
He gathered us all together in his capacity of Curator of the Wellington Maritime Museum, New Zealand (and later Director of the ensuing Museum of Wellington City and Sea.)
International networking on gendered maritime history, was, I think, initiated by these two days, involving a hundred-odd women. Ken was probably the main man in the world to give this to the field maritime historiography. He was a key enabler of that first wave of women historians writing about women seafarers.

What effect has his conference had?

~ It began informal connecting in our world, not least helped by the advent a little later of something more affordable than airmail stamps: email.
~ At least two of us are still writing about the subject: Joan Druett and me. Jan Jordan is teaching criminology. Sally Fodie has given up ferry work but is a facebook friend.
~ From my perspective it seems that it was there that we started to feel we were making a coherent and valuable new sub-discipline, women’s maritime history – and that it would be fun, and respect-worthy and welcome.

Ken personally
He was a very open and big character, a rock n’roller and a mensch. But as the picture shows, he knew when to wear a tie – flashily. Maritime museum trustees can be traditionalists and he knew very well how to handle them – and handle fund givers. For example, he gained British Council funding to fund my fares, as the keynote speaker.

He supported us women because he supported equal rights for all human beings, including BAME people and LGBTQI* people.

Later he ran Heritage Advisory Services.

Ken died, aged 64, on 17 Oct. His send-off is tomorrow.He leaves a partner, Wendy, his ex-wife Kristina and two sons.

My memories

I have two clusters of memories of him. One is the way he took me out on blustery walk of old goldfields with a gang of labour historians, to blow away my jetlag. That vigorousness was so enjoyable, and normal, for him, and very infectious.

Their other is that a few years later when he came to the UK on a maritime museum tour I was his ADC. It certainly was fun, especially a New Forest picnic with maritime oral historian Sheila Jemima.

So I hate it that cancer got him, though I admired the way he got on boisterous terms with the encroaching Grim Reaper.

Tributes can be left at

Book now for the Maritime Masculinities conference, December

It's now possible to register for the Maritime Masculinities, 1815-1940 conference at Oxford Brookes, Dec 18-20, 2016. (price £70.)
Above - the conference's official icon and my subverted version of it. (Photoshopped version courtesy of John Blakeborough)

Key speakers are:

Dr Mary Conley, College of the Holy Cross, USA

Prof. Joanne Begiato, Oxford Brookes University. See her blog item:

Dr Isaac Land, Indiana State University, USA

What's the conference about?

"Whilst much has been written about masculinity in the maritime sphere in the eighteenth century, rather less work has been carried out on this domain of research in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century; a period that saw significant changes in both areas.

The period from 1815 – 1940 saw the demise of the sail ship, and the rise of the machine-driven steam, and then oil-powered ships. It began as a period of both naval and maritime supremacy for Britain, which was subsequently eroded during two world wars. After a century of frequent naval warfare, there was the advent of the Pax Britannica, and the phenomenon of navies which barely fought. Moreover, popular navalism emerged in advertising, pageantry, and popular literature, and was the subject of photography and then film.

Cultural ideals of masculinities also underwent considerable shifts in a period that in civilian life advocated differing styles of manliness including Christian manliness, muscular Christianity, and the domestic man ...

The armed forces deployed tropes of masculinity such as bravery, stoicism, and endurance to the extent that military and maritime models of manliness were held up as aspirational models for all men.

Such an immense array of changes shaped perceptions and representations of masculinity within maritime spheres and beyond. This conference seeks to analyse how such changes influenced change and continuity in popular understandings of masculine identity, manliness, and the seafarer."
( Icon of rugged maritime masculinity: the front page image used in the National Union of Seamen's journal from the 1910s to 1930s.)

(Passenger ships as sites of decadent and fun campery, not the required muscular stoicism of warships: image from Frizons exhibition, Stockholm Maritime Museum)

Conference themes include

~ The effect of technological change, eliminating the skill of sailing, but necessitating the engineer
~ The end of a century of war, the transition to civilian life and the phenomenon of the non-combative sailor
~ The growth of maritime empires, and cultural contact with indigenous peoples
~ The maritime man in material culture, fashion, advertising and the press
~ Exploration and heroism
~ Photography, art, and film
~ Fiction, theatre, and music
~ Sailors in port and at home
~ Dockyards and shipbuilding
~ Heritage, memory, and museums

Who's organising it?
The Department of History, Philosophy & Religion, Oxford Brookes University, and the Port Towns and Urban Cultures group, University of Portsmouth

And my own involvement? I will be there as an attendee, not a speaker. But people interested in my take on the subject may like to know
~ You can read more on maritime femininity/masculinity on this blog, including my discussion of last night's opening performance of Billy Budd, starring the half-Jamaican Roderick Williams as the beloved, vocally inarticulate, sailor who's wrongly punished. (See pic, courtesy of Opera North)
~ To understand the Merchant Navy (as opposed to Royal Navy) including camp subversions of masculinity and M-to-F seafarers transitioning, try the book I wrote with Paul Baker, Hello Sailor. Or see the Liverpool exhibition Hello Sailor (main publicity image pictured):
~ I have an historic postcard collection of sailors, representing the archetypal Jack Tar as heterosexual lover/consumer of sex, etc (1900-1950). Such images can still be found on ebay using the search term 'sailor, love' and 'navy, girl'. Proudly being unfaithful is seemingly part of being a heroic naval man: see below.
"We've but to make love to the lips we are near."
It reminds me of the song 'if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you are with'. I hope you like his erect oar and the two colours of her roses.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Billy Budd (or gay sexuality at sea): See Opera North's new show next week

(Opera North’s production of Britten’s Billy Budd (2016), photos by Clive Barda).

Billy Budd, Benjamin Britten’s opera about an alpha seafaring man who comes a cropper amongst his all-male ship's company - or, arguably, an opera about how covert gay sexual desire on ships goes wrong - opens next week.

This new version is Orpha Phelan’s Opera North production. And the man playing that alpha male in half-Jamaican: Roderick Williams. This is a very daring choice as Black and Ethnic Minority seafarers were only 4 per cent of the navy and racism played a complex part in social relations on board. He may be the first man of colour to play the role.
Williams comments on race in opera too: In a game he plays he looks out across the auditorium:
“The game often doesn’t last long.I count the ethnic minorities. But I might get as far as my mother and stop there.”

Opening night is next Tues, Oct 18, in Leeds Grand Theatre.

For details including the tour list (Newcastle, Salford, Nottingham, Edinburgh) and booking links go to

Rehearsal picture by Tom Arber

I’ve asked Orpha Phelan the following questions, but sadly she is too busy to reply as yet::

~ This is a very ruggedly masculine subject. What attracted you to it?

~ What does a woman director bring to it?

~ What particular take do you bring to it, with all the awareness of gender you have as a woman knowing Scandinavia's now very equal oppsy society?

~ Women disguised as seamen are a hot topic. How do you think they might have fared on HMS Indomitable? Did that play any part in your thinking? In fact, did you consider having a cross-dressed woman play one of the sailors?

~ Britten is now known to be ‘homosexual’. To what extent were you bearing in mind his queer viewpoint and a then-homophobic society as you made your directorial decisions, particularly perhaps about the complex sexual desirousness that may have lain behind crew envy of Billy?

Sailor sexuality

Orpha‘s website, says:
‘Orpha has directed opera nationally and internationally for the last fifteen years. A favourite with Scandinavian audiences, she is the recipient of Denmark's most prestigious prize, the Reumert Award, for Best Opera Production 2016 for her production of Powder Her Face at the Royal Danish Opera.’

Here’s an image from Orpha's Powder Her Face, a “Don Giovanni for the Monica Lewinsky generation'.

Other Billy Budd productions by women

Glimmerglass Artistic Director Francesca Zambello directed Billy Budd for LA Opera in 2014. In a blog item about this Californian production, BREAKING THE SEXUAL CODES IN BILLY BUDD,

an unknown blogger writes:
"In a moment when gay civil rights are a subject of fervent national debate, LA Opera presents Billy Budd - a work populated by people with secret feelings: composed by a closeted gay man; with a libretto written by E.M. Forster, also a closeted gay man. Forster described the resulting tension in the opera as “love constricted, perverted, poisoned, but never the less flowing down its agonizing channel; a sexual discharge gone evil.”

I saw the opening night last night.
I appreciated it very much. I can't say 'enjoy' because the point is that this is about two bleak subjects: the way humans fail and maim each other, and the misery of living in an enclosed hierarchical world where rugged masculinity and repressed heterosexual desire stymie humanity in relationships.
So if audiences come away miserable that means they've got the message.
For that reason, Budd and his humane pal Dansker (Stephen Richardson) are indeed beacons of comradeship. And the patchy crew solidarity is cause for hope .
Apart from the production being educative in this way (every student of 18C history should go), it was also interesting to see the difference that a seafarer's racial identity did NOT make, in this version.
As an opera performance, the muted greys of the designer's palette were so right. And the ensemble scenes were a particular delight, hinting always at the huge power of the masses, physically below the few gold-braided individuals set on warring with Napoleon

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Maritime Media Awards 2016: Opportunities for Women in Marine-Related Occupations - and those who write about them

Opportunities for Women in Marine-Related Occupations is the theme for the 2016 Maritime Media Awards, which will be announced at a gala dinner at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall on Oct 26.
My book, 'From Cabin "Boys" to Captains: 250 years of women at sea', is on a short list of four for the Mountbatten Literary Prize.
Many fascinating brief articles on women and the sea, plus vivid pictures, are included in the brochure for the awards ceremony. It's just out. You can read them all on my website,

Have women won prizes before? Yes, but not many. I calculate it to be thirteen out of approximately seventy (The total isn't clear because I'm not sure when the digital media award began.) Here's a list for the period 1995-2016:

~ Desmond Wettern Media Award
Kate Adamson, Editor, Futurenautics Magazine
Cathy McLean, News Editor, BYM News, Gibraltar
Louise Nicholls, Communications Manager, RYA

~ Mountbatten Maritime Literary Award
Jessica Berry, South Devon’s Shipwreck Trail (Amberley Publishing)
Tilly Culme-Seymour, Island Summers (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Janette McCutcheon, RMS Queen Elizabeth: the Beautiful Lady (Amberley Publishing)
Professor Helen Sampson, International Seafarers and Transnationalism in the Twenty-first Century (Manchester University Press)
Roz Savage – Stop Drifting, Start Rowing (Hay House UK Ltd)

~ Donald Gosling Award

Jane Cameron, Series Producer, The Harbour, Tern TV (BBC One Scotland)
Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel, Leviathan, Dogwoof Distributors (DVD)
Heather Forbes, Executive Producer, The Billion Dollar Wreck Hunt, JWM Productions (Channel 5)
Eamon Hardy & Ruth Caleb, Executive Producers, The Whale, BBC History London/BBC SB (BBC One)

~ First Sea Lord’s Digital Media Award
Gillian Churchill & Communications Team, Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA)

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Nominations for top Black and Minority Ethnic women seafarers

In Black History Month it's appropriate for a maritime blog about women to discuss black female seafarers.

I'd like to nominate these highly significant figures in history for my heroines. And I would be glad to hear of other suggestions. Please join in.

From my point of view there are at least three (all of whom you can find in earlier entries on this blog):

William Brown, the only known black woman to disguise herself as a boy and go to sea: 1815

Cadet Akhona Geveza, victim of sexual abuse, who disappeared overboard. She was possibly murdered to shut her up: 2010.

Belinda Bennett, Britain's first black woman cruise ship captain,

For more black women, including captains, search this site using the terms 'race' and 'black'.

Monday 10 October 2016

Gendered sea-blindness

Sea-blindness is a term usually used by people who deplore landlubbers' ignorance of how much we depend upon the sea and ships.
Women in our society are especially made sea-blind as girls are seldom given ships to play with, offered seafaring as a career, or meet successful maritime women as role models.
But in a blog posted in April this year,, Dr Lisa Otto (pictured), a Research Associate in Maritime Security, Coventry University, UK and expert on West African maritime crime took a slightly different turn.

In her post Women at Sea: Is Sea-Blindness Gendered? 1 April 2016 she discusses the discrimination against women at sea and argues 'The sea space appears to have fallen largely outside of conversations around gender equality and representation. Sea-blindness apparently extends to social and gender issues also.'

We are blind to women at sea

As I understand it, her point is that the wider world does not know that women are at sea. And there is blindness to the value and rights of those women that are on ships.
That situation is both a product and a cause of women only being at sea in tiny numbers. Women mariners are less than 1 per cent globally, according to the latest figures, which is a decline from the 2 per cent figure common in 2003.

Captain Zetta Gous-Conradie

Dr Otto cites the very interesting case in April 2016 of:
'a South African female captain of a container ship, Zetta Gous-Conradie, helped to foil an attack by sea criminals in Nigerian waters. Gous-Conradie’s employee records show that she has been at work as a seafarer for more than thirteen years. Her record and actions defy the idea that female seafarers are condemned to ferries and cruise liners. Is it time to revise our ideas on the role of women at sea?'

Captain Gous-Conradie's encounter with pirates story can be read at

The diverse responses to Dr Otto's post are interesting: a woman seafaring veteran of forty years, Jill Friedman, writes 'Yes, there most definitely is discrimination at sea. It starts in the office ashore. Many companies refuse to hire women. I have heard all kinds of excuses, from "we don't have facilities for women" (I can bring my own lock for the bathroom door), to 'the captains wife won't like it" (I AM a captain!), to "women aren't capable of doing the work" (BULLSHIT!)'

While some employers are blind to women as potential seafarers, this is not for want of educative efforts by recruiters, unions and organisations such as the Merchant Navy Training Board. The MNTB impressively offers touring speakers as Careers at Sea Ambassadors as part of its Inspiring Women campaign.

Maybe the problem is also that some females choose to be seablind because life at sea still seems not worth looking at, especially for women who want to combine a career with children.

To me it seems the issue is 'How can women be helped to see that a blind eye should not be turned to the sea as a career? How can employers make it worth women looking -- and even going towards -- maritime life?'