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Date of this Version

1809

Abstract

"Comprehending an Account of her extraordinary Adventures in the Character of Foot-Boy, Drummer, Cabin-Boy, and Sailor. Also of her many very narrow Escapes in different Engagements, while in the Land and Sea Services, and of the Hardships which she suffered while under cure of the Wounds received in the Engagement under Lord Howe, June 1, 1794, &c. &c. &c."

An important document in the history of cross-dressing, transvestism, male impersonators, and women soldiers, this autobiographical narrative tells the life story of an orphan girl who was trapped into service in the British army and navy (as well as on a French privateer) in the 1790s, and saw action and was wounded at the siege of Valenciennes and again in the naval battle of “the Glorious 1st of June, 1794.” She also describes episodes in which she was a prisoner of war in France, a steward and officer aboard an American merchant vessel, an abortive highwayman, a pensioner and petitioner in London, a jewelry-maker, an actress, a hospital patient and worker, both a successful and unsuccessful litigant in a series of lawsuits, and a prisoner for debt in Newgate.

At least one scholar has argued that the narrative is a sensational fabrication, but questions of its veracity aside, it is a fascinating portrait of an unusual life in the Georgian era with a unique perspective on gender and class. Miss Talbot spent the last twelve or so years of her life frequenting taverns in sailor’s dress, calling on wealthy and noble persons for charity, relating her sufferings from the effects of her military service, meeting with a seemingly endless string of misfortunes, and engaging in numerous legal proceedings.

Among the persons portrayed or referenced are her deceitful guardian Mr. Sucker and the degenerate Captain Essex Bowen, and a host of known historical figures, including Admiral Lord Howe, the Duke of York, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, Captain John Harvey, Captain Sir Henry Harvey, Admiral Sir William Sydney Smith, King George III, Georgiana Cavendish (the Duchess of Devonshire), Sir William Pulteney, Frederica Duchess of York, Queen Charlotte, Sir James Pulteney, Henry Dundas (first Viscount Melville), Charles Howard (Duke of Norfolk), and Sir Evan Nepean.

Mary Ann Talbot (sometimes spelled Mary Anne Talbot) was born in 1778 and died in 1808. Her narrative first appeared in The Wonderful and Scientific Museum: or Magazine of Remarkable Characters (also known as Kirby’s Wonderful Museum) in 1804 and was published posthumously in book form in 1809 by Robert S. Kirby, in whose household she and her longtime female companion had lived for several years before her death. This online electronic text contains the complete work as published in book form in 1809, along with some explanatory notes and references, a discussion of the textual source, and a list of editorial emendations. It can be printed out on 34 sheets of letter-sized paper.