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It’s International Women’s Day, so I thought it would be timely to remember the largely invisible and anonymous women of the fleet. Women who carried the powder, served at the guns, tended the sick and wounded, and undertook innumerable tasks about the ship. All ships had them, the wives of warrant officers, marines and seamen, they were an integral part of every ship’s company but their names were never recorded on the muster books or their presence officially sanctioned by the Admiralty. Most captains tolerated the presence of women aboard their ships, and one or two more enlightened commanders, Pellew among them, acknowledged the often important role they played in battle. After the Bombardment of Algiers, Pellew publicly thanked the

British women (who) served at the same guns as their husbands, and during a contest of many hours, never shrank from danger, but animated all around them.

And here’s a rather splendid illustration from Look and Learn of the women of Exmouth’s fleet doing just that!

The Bombardment of Algiers led by Lord Exmouth

The Bombardment of Algiers led by Lord Exmouth
© Look and Learn

Of course there would have been women aboard the Indefatigable, it would have been unusual if one or two of the senior warrant officers didn’t have their wives aboard with them, but it is an endless source of frustration that we will never know their names. We have our suspicions that the Indefatigable’s carpenter, Lionel Beale, may have had his wife aboard as his son is also listed on the muster and carpenters often stayed with their ships as long as they were in commission. However that is pure supposition and, unless a little gem turns up in a personal letter in an obscure archive somewhere, we will never know for certain. However I think we can be sure that the women of the Indefatigable would have been valued highly by their captain and afforded the same care and respect as the rest of the crew.

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