Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mary Lacy

Mary Lacy was born in Wickham, Kent in 1740. At age 19, she ran away from home, disguised herself as a man, assumed the name William Chandler, and joined the HMS Sandwich as a carpenter's servant. After nearly four years of servic afloat, a bad case of rheumatism forced her to seek employment ashore; and, in 1763, she became an apprentice carpenter where she served for seven years.

At one point a friend of the family from her hometown in Ash came to live in Portsmouth where Mary was working. Instead of keeping Lacy's sexual identity a secret, this lady made it known far and wide that she was a female. This caused some of the other apprentices to want to examine her to determine the truth. Fortunately, two of the shipwrights took her aside where, in private, she admitted her disguise. Even more fortunately, these men decided to cover for her, assuring everyone that s/he was in fact not only a man but "... a man and a half to a great many." This coupled with "William Chandler's" reputation as a "ladies man" got her off the hook, and in 1770 she was granted her certificate as a fully qualified shipwright.

HMS Sandwich
In 1771, however, her rheumatism returned with a vengeance, and she could no longer do the work. She applied to the Admiralty for a pension, but she did so under her true name, Mary Lacy. After some incredulity, the Admiralty granted her claim and she was awarded her an annual pension of £22. Shortly thereafter she began work on her autobiography, The Female Shipwright. Unfortunately, after its publication she disappeared from sight. The exact location and date of her death is unknown, although it had to be after July 1, 1773 when she wrote the preface to her book.

London Evening Post
Monday, Aug. 2, 1773

A few days ago the wife of Mr. Slade, shipwright at Deptford, was delivered of a daughteer. It is remarkable that this gentlewoman is the same person who is not improperly stiled the Female Shipwright; for at the close of the last war, about the year 1759, on account of a love affair, when 15 or 16 years old, she left her parents, whose names were Lacy, dressed herself in man’s apparel, and went down to Chatham, where the carpenter of the Sandwich man of war took her for his servant, with whom she assumed the name of William Chandler. After living some time in this capacity, she bound herself apprentice to a shipwright, served the whole term, and worked at the business two years afterwards; and during this long period no suspicion was had, or discovery of her sex made, notwithstanding the many surprising incidents, illnesses, and hair-breadth escapes that attended her. The above-mentioned person, who is now her husband, worked with her a considerable time in the yard, and observed that she always regularly went through, though sometimes with great difficulty and fatigue, her stated day’s labour with the rest of the men. Her obliging carriage in each of the before-named stations, engaged the esteem of every one, particularly of her fellow workman, who married her soon after it could be no longer concealed that she was a woman, from a wound she received in her thigh. – The Board of Admiralty, on hearing her extraordinary story, were pleased to allow her a pension of 20l. a year.

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