Women on Tall Ships

Today I gave a small talk about women on tall ships in the age of sail, especially in the far south. On these long passages, Europa has a practice of asking voyage crew if we have any topics to cover, so sailing women was mine.

Most of what I said was from memory: my electronic notes are all internet dependent and I’ve only a little bit of background in the notebooks on board and a limited amount in Europa’s library. Fortunately, much of the material I know well; my short story collection *Stronger than Longing* is about these adventurers.

I talked about the different ways women wernt to sea. There were those who had no choice: the slaves and convicts and indentured labourers escaping destitution. Many ships, especially in coastal waters, also had sex workers on board. This was particularly common in the British Navy (which didn’t allow its pressed men ashore) and the long distance whaling fleet.

Quite a few captains in the clipper and whaling fleets took their wives to sea. One of the women I talked about was such a wife. In about 1815, Mary Anne Patten took command of her husband’s clipper, the Neptune’s Car, when he became very ill and successfully navigated around the Horn and up to San Francisco.

Then there are the glamour girls of this corner of history, the one actively involved in the business of the ship.  Some were sailors, but others were soldiers or explorers. I chose to describe the adventure of Jean Baret, the first woman known to have circumnavigated. We crossed her wake in the Beagle Channel. She sailed in the 1760’s, disguised as a man, with Bougainville and played an active part in the collection and taxonomy of the species ound by her lover, the King’s Botanist, Philibert Comerson.

It was good fun to give the talk and we had some lively discussions afterwards. It has reminded me that when I get home, publishing *Stronger than Longing* will be an important project.

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