Friday, August 30, 2013

Mary Anne Talbot A Woman In Disguise

Mary Anne Talbot, the youngest of sixteen illegitimate children, whom her mother bore to one of the heads of the noble house of Talbot was betrayed into a life of servitude and disguise. Mary was born on February 2nd, 1778, and educated under the eye of a married sister, at whose death she was committed to the care of a gentleman named Sucker, "who treated her with great severity, and who appears to have taken advantage of her friendless situation in order to transfer her, for the vilest of purposes, to the hands of a Captain Bowen, whom he directed her to look upon as her future guardian." Although barely fourteen years old, Captain Bowen made her his mistress; and, on being ordered to join his regiment at St. Domingo, he compelled the girl to go with him in the disguise of a footboy and under the name of John Taylor. But Captain Bowen had scarcely reached St. Domingo when he was remanded with his regiment to Europe to join the Duke of York's Flanders Expedition. And this time she was made to enrol herself as a drummer in the corps.

She was in several skirmishes, being wounded once by a ball which struck one of her ribs, and another time by a sabre stroke on the side. At Valenciennes, however, Captain Bowen was killed; and, finding among his effects several letters relating to herself, which proved that she had been cruelly defrauded of money left to her, she resolved to leave the regiment, and to return, if possible, to England. Accordingly she set out attired as a sailor boy, and eventually hired herself to the Commander of a French lugger, which turned out to be a privateer. But when the vessel fell in with some of Lord Howe's vessels in the Channel, she refused to fight against her countrymen, "notwithstanding all the blows and menaces the French captain could use." The privateer was taken, and our heroine was carried before Lord Howe, to whom she told candidly all that had happened to her—keeping her sex a secret.

Mary Anne Talbot, or John Taylor, was next placed on board the Brunswick, where she witnessed Lord Howe's great victory of the 1st June, and was actively engaged in it. But she was seriously wounded, "her left leg being struck a little above the knee by a musket-ball, and broken, and severely smashed lower down by a grape shot." On reaching England she was conveyed to Haslar Hospital, where she remained four months, no suspicion having ever been entertained of her being a woman. But she was no sooner out of the hospital than, retaining her disguise, she entered a small man-of-war—the Vesuvius, which was captured by two French ships, when she was sent to the prisons of Dunkirk. Here she was incarcerated for eighteen months, but, having been discovered planning an escape with a young midshipman, she was confined in a pitch-dark dungeon for eleven weeks, on a diet of bread and water. An exchange of prisoners set her at liberty, and, hearing accidentally an American merchant captain inquiring in the streets of Dunkirk for a lad to go to New York as ship's steward she offered her services, and was accepted. Accordingly, in August, 1796, she sailed with Captain Field, and, on arriving at Rhode Island, she resided with the Captain's family.

But here another kind of adventure was to befall her—for a niece of Captain Field's fell deeply in love with her, even going so far as to propose marriage. On leaving Rhode Island, the young lady had such alarming fits that, after sailing two miles, Mary Anne Talbot was called back by a boat, and compelled to promise a speedy return to the enamoured young lady. On reaching England, she was one day on shore with some of her comrades when she was seized by a press-gang, and finding there was no other way of getting off than by revealing her sex, she did so, her story creating a great sensation. From this time she never went to sea again, and soon afterwards lived in service with a bookseller, Mr. Kirby, who wrote her memoir.

Notes and Queries, 6th Series, X., passim, for "Women on board ships in action"; and "Chambers's Pocket Miscellany," "Disguised Females, 1853."

 Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

Ladies who  are abducted and prevail...and those who do not, figure prominently in the plot of Shadows In A Timeless Myth.

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