In Nautical Women, I explore the stories of women whose lives were inextricably linked to the sea.
I tell of the women of coastal sailortowns struggling to keep out of the dreaded workhouse and resisting the prowling press gangs; and of the courageous and skilful cross-dressing women sailors who went to extraordinary lengths to hide their true gender. We learn about these women’s motivation as well as their adventures and inevitable exposure.
I also consider the fate of African women who were forced onto vessels to be traded and sold as slaves. The lives of black women soldiers and sailors, disguised as men, who sailed on Royal African Company vessels to and from West Africa are described, in particular the tragic voyage of the Hannibal in 1693.
Nautical Women challenges our stereotypes of women in earlier societies by uncovering their harsh working conditions and revealing their courage
My latest book is soon to be published! This work tells the story of the women who lived both on the sea and on the shore line during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Their lives were mainly dependent on an income generated directly from the many industries connected with seafaring.
Women and their families were directly impacted when their men-folk would be forceably pressed into the Royal Navy. The men would often leave their wives and families desitute because they were not paid until they returned home, which could mean months and even years going without pay. Included are many tales of women who attacked and even murdered members of the press-gang to drive them out of town and prevent their men-folk being snatched away.
Another aspect of Nautical Women is the sub-culture that existed of women dressing up as men and disguising themslves as sailors. Small glimpses of the the roles played by these women are to be found secreted in ships’ journals, court records, ballads and artistic portrayals. Women who wanted to escape poverty, had a lust for travel, or might be even trying to find a lost sailor lover would sail for many months along side the male sailors before being dicovered. Of course it is only the ones that were discovered that we know about. Some appeared in court, while others made sensational news copy.
But the women who were left behind, often living in poverty in our British port towns had to survive the best way they could, and the book takes a look at how women found work, or not, as the case may be.
A particular interest to many people is when they discover their ancesters sailed the high seas in the Age of Sail, or during the era of steam ships. Maritime history has many facets, and perhaps your ancesters had sea, river or naval links.
They risked their lives as sailor’s, as well as families undertaking dangerous mass migaration for a better
life. However, some people also perished as a result of the slave trade. Below is my latest article that tells the true story of a slave ship called the Hannibal, her captain, Thomas Phillips, from Brecon, Wales, and the fate of the African people on board. It is a heartfelt story, and perhaps one of our ancestor’s might have even been on board? You never know what you might uncover when reserching your family history.
Captain Thomas Phillips, Slave Trader. (circa 1664-1713)
by Rosemary Caldicott
If you were to walk around the rear side of the former house and hoe of Captain Thomas Phillips in Brecon, located along Captains Walk, you will notice a rather handsome slate plaque memorialising his life. The Phillips’ family house is now St Ursula’s Convent, a former catholic school. The plaque was paid for by the people of Brecon, and was erected (though not without controversy), in 2010. It reads innocently enough:
CAPTAIN THOMAS PHILLIPS
Havard House, Brecon
First made this Captain’s Walk
Author of A Journal of a Voyage
Made in the Hannibal 1693-94
To Africa and Barbadoes
The plaque has a glaring omission in the chosen inscription at the time of its conception. Fast forward eight years later, and, in what should be more enlightened times, we still find a memorial in situ that fails to mention a sincere interpretation of the life and barbarous activities of Captain Thomas Phillips.
Phillips, at the age of 29 years and on his second voyage, became the captain of the infamous slave ship the Hannibal. Under his command he was directly responsible for the tragic deaths of 328 (47 per cent) of the 700 enslaved African women, men and children on board, along with 18 of his crew of 70. A very large number of people died in the cruellest of ways, people who would still have been in shock having being stolen from their families, homes and culture.
Let me be frank about the sort of man Captain Phillips was. Before boarding the Hannibal the male slaves were cuffed to one another in irons, and in pairs at their wrists and legs to prevent rebellion and to avoid the enslaved attempting to jump overboard and escape. (Phillips writes in his journal of how men who jumped overboard would then be eaten by the many sharks that swam in the shallows). Phillips also states in his journal that before boarding the ship all the slaves, including around 50 children, would be branded on the chest with a small capital “H” to claim them for the Hannibal. Phillips writes in his journal that the branding left a white mark and ‘generally’ healed up within 4 to 5 days because of their ‘applying palm oil before hand to smooth the wound’. This effectively meant they were in fact frying human skin and guilty of torturing their captives, including the children. Phillips knew that his activities were immoral, even in the era of the late seventeenth century, as he wrestled with his conscience whilst writing his journal.
Phillips had a 10 per cent financial stake in the ship. His patron Sir Jeffery Jefferys , a wealthy slave trading West India merchant and manager in the Royal African Company, personally chose Phillips to be commander of the Hannibal, which had been converted into a slave ship under the observance of Phillips in person. This meant the fitting of small cramped lower decks where the slaves would be shackled for most of the voyage, without enough room to sit up right. Phillips was now deeply involved in the slave trade, in which he had hoped to make a great deal of personal wealth by selling his tortured and humiliated human cargo. Their suffering was of little or no consequence to Phillips. In his journal he appears to attempt to offer a sort of reasoning to justify his cruelty, this being based on the fact that black slaves were heathens and as such were a lower caste that Christian people. One cannot help but notice the irony that this plaque was dedicated by an elderly nun and local historian from St Ursula’s Convent, who was fully aware that Phillips was a slaver.
The Hannibal was converted into a slave ship from a previous frigate, part of the merchant fleet of the Royal African Company and was to sail the very profitable triangular trade route. Goods were transported down to the west coast of Africa, including in this case cloth made in Brecon, iron bars and other such useful goods that could be bartered in order to trade with African chiefs for elephant’s teeth (tusks), gold dust and enslaved Africans. The ship was then to sail west, across the Atlantic to the West Indies and the British owned island of Barbados. The slaves would be sold onto waiting plantation owners. The return trip back to England would involve carrying a cargo of tobacco, sugar, spices and other valuable slave-produced commodities, including in the case of the Hannibal two chests of gold from the sale of African people.
When the ship arrived in the ‘New World’ in November 1694, only 372 enslaved Africans out of an original number of 700 remained alive on board. Horrifically 328 women men and children had died while in transit. Some had succumbed to an outbreak of dysentery and smallpox because of the dreadful conditions on board, while others had perished jumping overboard out of terror. It is even alleged that some of the slaves, including women, were dumped overboard by the crew while still alive, as had happened previously on other slave ships. This murderous crime was committed in order that insurance claims money – for loss of goods in transit – could be collected to assure a reprehensible trade was still profitable because the slave traders only received payment for the slaves (‘cargo’) who were delivered alive. A young male slave could be insured for £30 and they were considered ‘cargo’. Phillips told an inquiry about twelve of the slaves: “We had about 12 negroes who did wilfully drowned themselves during the voyage and others persistently refused food, starving themselves to death”.
We need to consider who the plaque is for. For example, is the memorial for the towns’ people to enjoy? Or, perhaps it was erected as a signage marker for tourists? Is the plaque to act as an elegant landmark to gentrify the town of Brecon along the Captains Walk trail? Can it be that the honouring of Captain Phillips is meant to educate the children who come across his name that the town has produced quite a few famous seafarers? Perhaps the plaque is a mixture of all of the above. Disappointingly the plaque fails to mention that Captain Thomas Phillips was a slave trader which is a serious inadequacy considering that this is the only fact that characterises Phillips as a notable in history. That is, other than the fact that, few slave-ship captains had presided over such catastrophic suffering and loss of life in a single voyage.
The persons, our civic leaders, who decide who and what should be commemorated need to consider that they are forming the foundations of a collective memory and this is why it is so important that people in history are remembered with integrity and directness. Without this consideration we are as a society guilty of a social construct that is inauthentic, and therefore might be construed as social propaganda. Memorials are about not only commemorating the great and good, but also areas of our nation’s history that are sad and notable for previous acts of violence that are condemned today, because our interpretation of history evolves as societies attitudes toward our fellow humans change and our awareness about the true facts of history are widely available.
The social construct of memorialisation is very powerful and therefore our elected and non-elected representatives have a duty – a civic responsibility – to interpret our nation’s history with integrity and openness. Some would argue that monuments represent an ideology imposed on our collective landscapes which may give a false interpretation of a privileged heritage, and therefore an elitist interpretation of our history. If this is the case then it can also equally be argued that we need to open up our interpretations of our collective history, by bringing a challenge of rectitude for all our communities during the 21st century. It is a huge responsibility on the part of local officials to decide who they will choose to commemorate in our towns and parks and in which style of iconography would best serve the history of our nation.
The plaque memorialising this seafaring captain had a glaring omission at the time of its conception and eight years later, and in what should be more enlightened times, we still have a memorial that very controversially fails to convey a sincere interpretation of the life and barbarous activities of a previous inhabitant of Brecon, who remains part of our collective past; that of Captain Thomas Phillips, Slave Trader. Not something to commemorate though is it really?
Rosemary Caldicott is an author of history books about women in history as well as being a broadcaster, teacher and public speaker. Shortly to be published ‘Nautical Women. Women sailors and the Women of Sailortowns: A Forgotten Diaspora. c.1693 – 1902.
 The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, http://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/essay (accessed August, 2018).
 Phillips T. A Journal of a Voyage made in the Hannibal of London, Ann. 1693, 1694, From England to Cape Monseradoe, in Africa, and thence along the Coast of Guiney to Whidaw, the Island of St. Thomas, and so forward to Barbadoes. With a Cursory Account of the Country, the People, their Manners, Forts, Trade, etc. p.3. Published by Churchill 1732, within a Collection of Voyages and Travels. Vol.I.
 Jefferys purchased Brecon Priory estate, became a town councillor and MP for Brecon in 1690, holding the position for the majority of the next two decades. Hayton, D. W. “ JEFFREYS, Jeffrey (c.1652-1709), of St. Mary Axe, London and The Priory, Brecon” in D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley (Eds) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715 . (London: Boydell and Brewer, 2002)
 Murdoch S. ‘john Brown: A Black female Soldier in the Royal African Company’. World History Connected. Vol.1, is. 2. p.4
The new course dates are available and bookable now though Bristol City Council’s web site. Please link to the Book tab below this post for details of the Family History courses running in Bristol 2018-2019.
The courses are aimed for beginners and for those who have already undertaken some research.
Stage 1 – Six classes begin for 6 weeks on each Thursday. Starts 20th September 2018.
Also, 10th January, 2019 and 25th April, 2019
Stage 2 – Six classes begin for 6 weeks on each Thursday. Starts 8th November 2018.
Also, 28 February, 2019 and 6 June, 2019.
Saturday Taster Days – 6th October, 2018 and 2nd February, 2019
Also, an Intensive One Day Course. The idea is for you to find the space and time to enable you to get on with fresh research through the aid of on-line records. The days are tutor led and will be in tune with the individuals progress so far – even if you are just beginning! Saturdays – 1st December 2018, and 23rd March, 2019.
Bristol Adult Learning at Stoke Lodge, Shirehampton, Bristol will be issuing their new course brochure during mid July. My family history courses are staggered for different abilities and depending on how much research you might have already undertaken. But the first course will be ideal for complete beginners.
The courses have always received fabulous feed-back from learners and come highly recommended.
Just finished my latest family history course. The learners were very enthusiastic and managed to trace their family heritage back to the 1841 census. This was the goal for the Stage 1 course.
Some found that family stories helped to validate the records they discovered. While some discovered that the records only disproved what they had been told! This is often the case. Over time family memories and stories are re-told and often vital facts are forgotten, names forgotten, or dates are simply made up. It is only by sourcing the records accurately, which can be very time consuming, can we prove, or disprove our family history.
This takes great discipline, concentration and good record keeping. The learners found the time and space in their weekly class, and afterwards felt they had a better understanding of the process. I hope they all felt they had made really good progress and will continue with their research.
Over the summer I have been busy with solving a couple of genealogy mysteries on behalf of clients. The one, below, involves a lost first marriage. Let me explain:
The first involved a lady who believed her mother may have been married before her mother and father met and married. When this lady was a child an elderly aunt had once told her that her mother had been married before, and that she, this lady had a brother. The revelation remained a secret and was never spoken of again. Her mother died in her fifties and now this lady wanted to know if she did in fact have a half brother.
I was able to help her by searching her genealogy through the marriage records and birth records. Unfortunately her mother had a common name, and came from a city. This meant cross referencing with over 40 possible matches with the mothers names. I had to check for deaths of some of these 40 women and birth records around the correct time. But in the end I found her mothers first marriage, which took place in a different city. This is probably why her family did not know of her first marriage or birth of her first son, who was born just 3 months after the marriage.
The story turned out to be true and the lady is now hoping to contact her half brother. However, I did not find a divorce record for her mother, so we believe her father did not know of the previous marriage or child. I hope very much that this lady finds her half brother and gets to hear all about his life story.
(The client granted her permission for me to blog her story).
Sign up for one of my courses and you could discover your family history Courses
On 12 July a fascinating public walk and lecture about the history behind the unmarked pauper graves of Rosemary Green, situated on the outskirts of what was once Eastville Union Workhouse, Fishponds Road, Bristol.
After the 1834 Poor Law Act a paupers funeral was considered to be an extravagance that the parish should no longer pay for. Before the 1834 Act, pauper funerals were paid for by the parish, with local persons attending to the traditional funeral rituals and necessities. In other words a person with no or little money who had died was treated with respect in death and buried as a human being as would be expected, albeit simple, within the cultural rituals of the time.
But after the Act was enforced the Poor Law Unions, in order to save money, and ‘demonstrate disgrace in death of those who had surrendered to poverty‘. Death and burial practices were changed to become a disgraceful new attitude that resulted in approximately 4,000 men, women and children simply being wrapped in a shroud and dumped in unmarked graves in a small piece of land that sloped into a small river. The pauper graveyard is located at Rosemary Green just opposite Greenbank Cemetery where there is also an older pauper grave yard.
Extensive research into Eastville workhouse has been undertaken by Bristol Radical History Group and published in 100 Fishponds Road. (Book available from BRHG). Click here.
Many people have now contacted the BRHG as they suspect that their ancestors may have be buried at Rosemary Green. (Records of names still exist). If you think that you may have an ancestor who might have died in a workhouse you can contact Heritage Found, free of change, to try to find out more.
At Rosemary Green there is now a touching monument to all those souls once buried beneath.
Made of slate it reads:
Rosemary Green Burial Ground
On this site over 4,000 men women and children
who died in Eastville Workhouse,
known as 100 Fishponds Road,
were buried in unmarked graves.
A further 118 were given to the medical school.
This memorial stands in recognition of all
who lived and died in the workhouse.
Please click here to discover more and see fascinating photographs of Eastville Workhouse.
How far back in time to find out your family history?
In theory it is possible to go as far back as the 15th century for the average British family history, but this is usually only if your ancestors tended to live in the same region, or few parishes, and that the records have survived. It is amazing how many church records of baptisms, marriages and burials have survived. However, if your ancestors before around 1841, tended to move around, or were immigrants into the British Isles before this time, tracing them may be more difficult, but not impossible! This will be similar to those who reside in other countries.
Having said this every person has a different and unique family ancestry that will always be fascinating, uncover some surprises, and reveal hidden circumstances that lead you to understand why you may have come to live where you live or where your parents lived.
I believe it is best to research your family history in generational stages, perhaps going back 4 generations to begin with, and then choosing to take a particular line further back that you find of most interest. By researching your family history in logical stages it is easier for you to absorb the wealth of information that will be uncovered for you and to understand your unique family story.
Please feel free to contact Heritage Found to discover the possibilities available to you to find your family history.
I will be giving a talk on Bedminster Union Workhouse. Bristol to the Clevedon History Group on the 18th May, 2017. The talk will illustrate how during the year 1855 the workhouse Guardians neglected in their care and duty to protect a vulnerable young women, which resulted in her death. This lead to a public outcry and calls for the first mental health asylum to be built in Bristol.
Bedminster Union Workhouse was located Flax Burton, in North Somerset, England and served the parishes in the region of south west Bristol as well as Bedminster, Bristol.
Let me search for your ancestors and see if any of them were in a workhouse click