Mary Anne Talbot

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Mary Anne Talbot (February 2, 1778[1] – February 4, 1808) was an Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic wars.

Mary Anne Talbot was born in London. Later she claimed that she was one of the sixteen illegitimate children of Lord William Talbot, Baron of Hensol. Her mother died in childbirth and she spent her childhood in the care of different guardians and boarding schools until she fell in the hands of a man she called Mr. Sucker, who was also in charge of her inheritance from her sister.

In 1792 Talbot ended up as a mistress of Captain Essex Bowen, who enlisted her as his footboy under the name "John Taylor" for a voyage to Santo Domingo. She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where Captain Bowen was killed. She was also wounded and treated the wound herself. From Bowen's letters Talbot found out that Sucker had squandered what was left of her inheritance. She decided to go on working as a male sailor.

She deserted and became a cabin boy for a French ship. When the British captured the ship she was transferred to the Brunswick where she served as a powder monkey.

Talbot was wounded for the second time in June 1794 during a battle against the French fleet when grapeshot almost severed her leg. She never recovered the full use of it but later rejoined the crew. Later the French captured her and she spent the following 18 months in Dunkirk dungeon. She managed to return to London in 1796.

In 1797 she was seized by a press-gang and was forced to reveal her gender.

She went to the Navy to get the money due to her because of her service and wounds and finally found a sympathetic magistrate. At the same time her leg wound worsened and she continued to wear male clothing. She also visited Mr. Sucker who told her that all her inheritance was lost. Sucker apparently died of a heart attack the same day.

Talbot continued to use sailor's clothes, worked in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage at Drury Lane but eventually was arrested and taken to debtor's prison at Newgate. When she was released she became a household servant for publisher Robert S. Kirby who included her tale in his book Wonderful Museum,[2] and (following her death on 4 February 1808) in The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot (1809).[3]

Talbot's tale aroused some sympathy and even a case of imposture when a woman in a Light Horseman's uniform tried to use a name John Taylor to solicit money in London.

However, the truthfulness of Talbot's story has been thrown into doubt, due to the discrepancies of the tale of her supposed time at sea, recorded in her biography and published in 1804. Among these, there is no record of any seamen on board the ships she claimed to have served in with the name Taylor. The unlikeliness of several of her accounts is also shown with her claim to have been on the Vesuvius when it was captured by the French on the English Channel. The ship in question was, at the time of the alleged capture, serving in the West Indies.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cordingly, D. (1997). Under the Black Flag- the romance and the reality of life among the pirates. New York: Random House. p. 67. ISBN 0-15-600549-2. 
  2. ^ R. S., Kirby (1804). "The Intrepid Female or Surprising Life and Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot, Otherwise John Taylor". Wonderful and Scientific Museum; Or, Magazine of Remarkable Characters II. London. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-154-24086-3. 
  3. ^ Talbot, M. A. (May 2006) [1809]. Royster, P., ed. "The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Ann Talbot, in the Name of John Taylor". University of Nebraska - Lincoln. 
  4. ^ S. Stark, 1996. Female Tars. London.

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