The wives and female guests of commissioned officers often went to sea in the sailing ships of Britain’s Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there were other women on board as well, rarely mentioned in print. Suzanne Stark thoroughly investigates the custom of allowing prostitutes to live with the crews of warships in port. She provides some judicious answers to questions about what led so many women to such an appalling fate and why the Royal Navy unofficially condoned the practice. She also offers some revealing firsthand accounts of the wives of warrant officers and seamen who spent years at sea living—and fighting—beside their men without pay or even food rations, and of the women in male disguise who served as seamen or marines.
Now available in paperback, this lively history draws on primary sources and so gives an authentic view of life on board the ships of Britain’s old sailing navy and the social context of the period that served to limit roles open to lower-class women.