Thursday 28 September 2017

Black seafarers celebrated in Black History Month, Merseyside Maritime Museum

Tomorrow the UK's first large exhibition about Black and Minority Ethic (BAME) seafarers opens, at Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool.
Black Salt
is based on Dr Ray Costello's book of the same name.
It's a great start to Black History Month. Showing how much black people were part of Britain's commercial and naval life corrects the skew that formerly showed Jack Tar as a rollicking white chap whose main contact with BAME people was as lovers.

Even today the Royal Navy has only 5% BAME members (about 1,130), although BAME people are actually 14 per cent of the total population. But the RN is trying hard to recruit more. It has Diversity and Inclusion policies that mean no-one today would be the target of the racist bullying that some portrayed in this exhibition experienced.
I'm very proud to say I've been a little involved in advising curators, especially on black women seafarers sailing today. They include the UK's first black captain, Belinda Bennett of Wind Star cruises. See this blog:

As well as the exhibition there will be a series of talks. So far they are:
Britain's 18th century Black mariners: at home and abroad
A free talk by Dr Charles R Foy, Associate Professor Early American and Atlantic History at Eastern Illinois University.
Dr Foy's scholarship focuses on 18th century Black maritime culture. A former fellow at the National Maritime Museum and Mystic Seaport, he has published more than a dozen articles on Black mariners and is the creator of the Black Mariner Database, a dataset of more than 27,000 18th century Black Atlantic mariners. He is completing a book manuscript, 'Liberty’s Labyrinth: Freedom in the 18th Century Black Atlantic', that details the nature of freedom in the 18th century through an analysis of the lives of Black mariners.
Charles Foy,

OCT 7 Black seafarers at Trafalgar
Dr Ray Costello talks about the experiences of seafarers of African descent in Nelson’s Royal Navy at the battle of Trafalgar.Ray Costello.

OCT 28 Black Tudor and Stuart sailors
Dr Miranda Kaufmann, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, talks about chapters from her new book 'Black Tudors –The Untold Story'. This includes the stories of: Jaques Francis, the diver dispatched to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose; Diego the Circumnavaigator; and John Anthony the Mariner of Dover.
Pic: Miranda Kaufmann

Wednesday 20 September 2017

All hands manfully to the ship's gushing pumps: Henry Tuke and Mrs Peggy

I've just found out that artist Henry S Tuke's (self-portrait, left) image of men manfully manning the ships' pump has been discussed as a maritime narrative that can be read homo-erotically. See yesterday's blog here about a woman, Peggy X doing it so staunchly.

Jongwoo Jeremy Kim devotes several pages to Tuke's 'All hands to the pumps!' in Painted Men in Britain, 1868-1918: Royal Academicians and Masculinities, Ashgate Publishing, 2012.

'The sensuality in this brotherhood of seamen 'is suggested in the action of pumping as well as the water gushing out from the pipes' Kim writes on p103

Kim also discusses The run home (1902) from a homo-erotic point of view:'the Cornish fisher-lads are celebrated as heroes who restore the beauty of the male sex, and a homo-erotic gaze is encouraged as a an aesthetic virtue. Tuke's naturalism capturing "views of labour" must be understood in this context of love between men.' p107.

So what does it mean, symbolically, for Peggy (this short, non-beauteous female outsider) and for the limp-spirited sailors who she allegedly showed up by pumping so much better than them? Can she be read as inadvertently causing a crisis of masculinity and queering a proud, formerly all-male team's collective gendered identity?

Tuesday 19 September 2017

A daughter's story of women on board in Rear-Admiral Edward Ellicott's life

This is an item from the blog of the National Museum of the Royal Navy:

The curator writes:
"I am a little bit obsessed with gender history, especially men and women in the past who crossed gender expectations and boundaries to do things that would shock their contemporaries. One of my favourite objects is Rear-Admiral Edward Ellicott’s biography.
"Even though it is written as though Ellicott is telling the stories, it was actually penned by his daughter after his death.
"I was reading through his tales of fascinating 43-year long career (1781-1846) as a Captain, and came across several stories of women on board ships: including manning the pump and loading the guns, giving birth on ship and being captured by the enemy.

"Women on Board Ship
Though in the 18th century only men could join the Navy, women were on the ships too!
"There would often be a handful of wives living on board, usually married to warrant officers such as the gunner or carpenter. Wives were never recorded on ships’ lists; we learn of them by chance in other accounts such as Ellicott’s biography.
"Wives spent most of their time washing and sewing, but they also played an active role in battle, tending to injured men, and carrying out the dangerous job of running between the decks and the powder stores, bringing cartridges to the guns.
"It was a hard life and women could be away from home for years. They received no pay, and shared their husband’s hammock and food.
"Their mission was not adventure, but to be dutiful wives. There are accounts of women giving birth on ships between the guns, even during battle.

"Captain Ellicott’s Ladies

Gunner's wife takes over his gun
"In Ellicott’s biography women showed that they could fight just as well as the men. One event described was when his ship HMS Hebe was in an engagement with the enemy:
“one of the men at the guns was struck dead on the spot, his wife took his place and by the side of her dead husband, continued for a length of time, during the rest of the battle to load and fire her husband’s gun, as regularly as the other gunners…
"she refused to give up her post, and pointing to her dead husband with the effect of a tragedy queen, said ‘he would have done his duty well, had he been spared, and tho’ you have lost him, you shall not lose a gunner by his death, till I am destined to follow his fate’, she unflinchingly continued her cannonade, and was unhurt, tho’ many were killed and wounded around her.”
Captain Ellicott was so impressed that he bought her a farm in Orkney and “several cows” and she sent him milk and cheese for the next five years as a thank you.

Peggy shows the way on the pump
"The author also describes when Ellicott’s ship HMS Explosion was caught in a storm, and a “remarkably short, thick set” woman on board named Peggy came to the rescue: “many of the men soon became disheartened, as in spite of their utmost endeavours the water increased in the hold.”
Peggy, perceiving how things were going, turned away a man from his post and “applied herself to the pump and for fourteen hours worked incessantly at it, up to her middle in water, in an intensely cold night in January.
She invited the men to further exertions by showing them what she could and did do, and to her determination and perseverance was to be owed the keeping the Vessel from sinking from an over quantity of water.”
"Captain Ellicott was so impressed that back in Portsmouth he declared “that he believed she was to be ascribed the credit of saving the ship, as none of the men half worked until she set them the example” and set about organising a medal for Peggy, and a pension for life.
Peggy was so overjoyed by this that “she danced about in the most extravagant manner, and to evince her gratitude for his reporting her conduct; for years after supplied him with garters of her own knitting.”"


I posted this response:

I love this. Thanks for sharing it.

The story of the daughter being the author of the only published tribute to a naval man's career is typical of women's connections with the Royal Navy. A number of daughters and wives wrote up the exploits of the distinguished naval men to whom they were connected. Often the women made themselves invisible in the process.
But you could say it was one way women quietly shaped naval historical records. They not only gave the admiral his breakfast and so kept him going. These non-seagoing 'associate members' of the Navy also subtly contributed to the historiography of this very masculine institution.
The stories of Peggy at the pump, and the wife of the Hebe gunner carrying on, are so interesting. Again they're typical of what might be called 'corporate wives doing their duty. Is there more on the mother giving birth at sea?
I've tried to look up Edward Ellicott's daughter's name but all I can found out is that she was his only child, born c 1822 probably.So she would have been at least in her late 20s when she wrote the memoir after his death in 1847,

Looking for more illumination
In reflecting about these stories this morning I'm thinking how very interesting it is that Miss Ellicott wrote 'as' the naval officer she would NEVER have been allowed to become. She was not just a female ghost writer for a man. She vicariously 'became' a rear-admiral, and gave herself a patriarchal voice. It was a kind of ventriloquism, crossing the gender divide - and it could be of interest to literary experts.

Checking out the Hebe history you can see this 16-gun ship served at times between Orkney and Sweden, protecting the convoys. This suggests that the gunner might have already been a locally-recruited Orcadian. So the gunner's wife might have been brought up and married in Orkney, before she settled on the farm Ellicott gave her. It might have helped the widow's entire extended family to prosper. It's likely that the action in which the woman took part was in November 1808 when the Hebe helped capture the Danish ships Erndte and Printz Carl.

Peggy's 14-hour contribution on the Explosion would seemingly have taken place some time between 1804-1807 (Ellicott's period of command). This painting by Tuke shows what, 70 years later, 'All hands to the pump' meant: team work, solidarity, and hard manual labour at any time, not just in a freezing January.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Russian would-be captain Svetlana challenge sexist labour laws in court this month

In the 1930s and WW2, Soviet Russia was globally famous for its pioneering women captains such as Anna Shchetinina and Valentina Orlikova. They were exemplars. Their success and the respect they received inspired women everywhere. (See pics below and

This month, 80 years on, Svetlana Medvedeva is struggling for the right to be captain. Her landmark legal campaign could mean women mariners get back the rights they won at a time when all hands were needed -- even women's.
Svetlana's case raises the issue of whether protective legislation is outmoded sexism. It highlights the persistent pattern that women are allowed opportunities to do 'men's work' when there is an under-supply of labour. They are permitted to fill gaps. And there are few gaps in the Russian maritime industry just now.
This is what Amnesty international, which backs Svetlana, said:
"31 August 2017. A trial that opens today and sees a 31-year-old female navigation officer sue a Russian shipping company who refused to employ her as a ship’s captain, represents a landmark challenge to Russia’s sexist and outdated labour regulations.
Svetlana Medvedeva graduated in 2005 as a navigation officer in Samara region. In 2012 she applied for a job as a ship’s captain by Samara River Passenger Enterprise, but the company’s initial consent to hire her was later retracted because of labour laws that restrict women from more than 400 professions.

The current list of professional occupations that are banned for women in Russia lists 456 occupations and 38 industries that are considered too “arduous,” “dangerous” or “harmful” to women’s health, in particular to their reproductive health.
The “prohibited” list was originally adopted in the USSR in 1974. It was confirmed in 2000 by Russian Government Regulation No. 162 which allowed for exemptions only if safe working conditions were established by the employer.
Svetlana Medvedeva challenged the rejection of her job application in court, seeking a judicial order to compel the company to establish safe working conditions and allow her to work in accordance with Regulation No. 162. However her claim was rejected.


In May 2013, she registered a complaint before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) alleging that her rights had been violated.
The complaint claimed that she had been denied employment by the company because of her sex, on the basis of a blanket prohibition.
On 25 February 2016, the CEDAW Committee found in favour of Svetlana Medvedeva and urged the Russian authorities to grant her appropriate compensation and to facilitate access to jobs for which she is qualified.

In July 2017 Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that her case should be re-opened. The trial begins today in Samara’s District Court. (see pic)
Amnesty International calls on Russia to comply with the CEDAW recommendation to amend Regulation No. 162 and to remove all arbitrary restrictions on women’s employment."

Seafarers Union of Russia said in 2012:

"In 2005 Svetlana graduated from Samara River Transport College. She specialized in Inland waterway and coastal navigation course. According to her certificate, Svetlana could work as a steerer-motorist. But when the girl tried to apply for a job on board m/s “Om-338” it turned out that Svetlana couldn’t be permitted to get it under the above Regulation.

Thus the situation became absurd as girls are allowed to get trained for specific professions but not to actually work in them.
Svetlana decided to fight and was alone at the beginning. She wrote to the President’s press-office that her constitution rights were violated and the letter was resend to the Federal Labour and Employment Service (which monitors the situation in the employment and compliance to labour laws, and etc.).
There it was explained to Svetlana that she could get the job in question provided that working conditions would comply with safety standards. After that Svetlana got in touch with the representatives of “Memorial” anti-discrimination centre and was recommended to appeal to court and complain against the SRPE for unsafe working conditions. Yet the court decided in favor of the enterprise, and this made Svetlana to write to SUR.
“My dream is to start working as a steerer- motorist, and then to join the Marine Engineering Department of Volzhsk State Academy”,- explains Svetlana.

Tatiana Sukhanova (pictured above), a deep sea captain from the Far East, says that “nowadays there are a lot of cases of gender discrimination in the fleet. More often then not, girls face difficulties when seeking a job, and even during their cadet practice.
This case shows gender discrimination because Svetlana is a bright girl who can successfully cope with her tasks, and even better than some boys do.”
More on Tatiana's own struggle can be found at