Thursday, May 14, 2015

Put Ashore - Much Continued

I have added to my thoughts circumstances in which a woman or women were put ashore when it was discovered that they were not what they were thought to be. Here I am thinking of women who dressed as boys or men so that they may find a place on a crew of a ship bound for far off seas. There is a long list of historical women who did just that and were only discovered to be female after they were in some way wounded or some other unforeseen act.

Some of these women never made it back to sea, while a handful of others did. What freedoms did the sea offer those of the "weaker sex" that life on land did not? Travel to far off and exotic places is one - that is as long as you weren't put ashore there.

So life aboard ship was a life of adventure, an often perilous adventure filled with uncertainty. Perhaps, that was the most sought after thing - uncertainty. In the Victorian era, each person's place in society and their roles was fixed - you were born into an identity that instantly and immediately held you in a socioeconomic place and if you tried to step outside the boundaries of that inherited lot you could lose whatever job your position allowed you to gain or even be imprisoned. Uncertainty must have been a seductive notion.

I have an inclination that this notion of being defined by the roles society positions you in was very unattractive to Jessie. How would she find local venues to express what she had witnessed first hand in ports all over the world once she was landlocked? For me, the only answer is in her writing and in the first person accounts she shared with family members and friends.

There is a French word for Victorian male travelers who had the financial means to roam freely and to look or gaze at the world at large. The word is flâneur.

Victorian women travelers, there were many of them, to some degree explored freely but it was a guarded freedom. They often had chaperones and they raised their fans to conceal their faces when they did "look" at what the local women could not view without repercussions.


When I imagine both Jessie and Virginia lifting the ship's spyglass or sextant to their eye and looking across the waters, I acknowledge that act as a freedom most land bound Victorian women did not share.

Mary Cassatt, the famous American painter, represented a women's right to look or gaze in her famous painting, "The Opera."

Compare the woman in her painting to these maritime women looking:

Perhaps, being put ashore was also a way for a husband to limit his wife's ability to see the world at large and to comment on that world. Was it a re-placing of blinders - those devices often put on horses so that they could not look to the left or the right and become distracted from the path ahead?

 And isn't it interesting how much bonnets work as blinders for the sun and so much more:

Was the act of being put ashore somehow seen as enforcing Christian conduct for both married and unmarried women who had briefly viewed the beautiful and the despair of the world at large while aboard their husband's or father's ship? Being put ashore - limited or censored views of a larger world that only men should view.

Gender politics and maritime history. Now to edited all of those thoughts into character driven dialog that doesn't distract the reader too much from the story I want to tell - the story of my great-great Aunt Jessie and her life at sea and after. More coffee and maybe a walk around my neighborhood lake might be required before I sit with my manuscript again later this day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Put Ashore

The image above, as stated, is of a ship's boat. This small boat basically served as the taxi for the Captain of a ship and for those he ordered to board it.

I am re-writing a few paragraphs of the opening chapter of my book and I am thinking much about these two words, "put ashore." Jessie Slocum was put ashore at her Aunt's house in Natick, Massachusetts in the late 1880's when she was a teenager after having lived her entire life at sea aboard one ship or another that her father captained. I have been teasing out what this implies and how many ways one can be put ashore? Too, Jessie fought against being put ashore and what was it that she fought against? Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. She fought against the superstitions of the male crew regarding women at sea. These superstitions viewed women as a curse to a ship. The curse could be a crew mutinying or a ship being lost as sea with all aboard drowned. So serious was this belief that aboard at least one ship during the Victorian era, several traveling English women, who had taken passage, were thrown overboard during a raging storm in the belief that ridding them of the ship would calm both the skies and seas.

2. It was believed by the male crew that having the Captain's wife and family aboard ship distracted him from his maritime duties. Jessie would have been viewed as distracting her father from the wheel.

3. She was put ashore after her mother Virginia Walker died. Jessie no longer had an overseeing female chaperone who would ensure she was raised as a "proper young lady" and provided with the education one would need.

4. She was no longer a child. She was a young woman. Perhaps she had reached an age when sailors/men of the crew would find her attractive. This would have been an uncomfortable situation for all parties. There are many sea shanties about the captain's daughter. Here is a few verses from one:

What shall we do with a drunken sailor? 
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
Early in the morning.

Way-hay, up she rises,
Way-hay, up she rises,
Way-hay, up she rises,
Early in the morning.

Put 'im in bed with the Captain's daughter,
Put 'im in bed with the Captain's daughter,
Early in the morning.

5. Would being put ashore include being buried on a foreign land? Virginia Walker was taken from the Northern Light (the ship her husband Joshua Slocum then captained) after her death aboard ship, brought to shore via the ship's boat and buried in Argentina. She was put ashore and never brought back to her parents' home in Sydney, Australia or to that of the Slocums' in Nova Scotia. Many maritime families had husbands, wives and/or children "put ashore" this way.

Of course, there were other women who insisted on being put ashore after a period of time aboard ship. In the comic image below, the woman appears quiet unhappy and anxious for a ride ashore. Unlikely, however, that she would find it in such a small boat as the one being offered her.