J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Hannah Snell’s Wound

Last month I quoted a news item from 1771 about Hannah Snell, celebrated in the British Empire for having served as a marine in the late 1740s.

During Britain’s early campaigns in India, Snell was wounded in the legs and groin. Nevertheless, her superiors didn’t discover that she was a woman. That provoked some questions, so I looked up the portion of the book about Snell that described her wounding.

This is from an 1801 edition of The Female Warrior:
During all this time, our heroine still maintained her wonted intrepidity, and behaved in every respect consistent with the character of a brave British soldier. She fired during the engagement, no less than thirty-seven rounds, and received six shots in her right leg, and live in the left; and what was still more painful, a dangerous one in the groin.

Distressed in her mind, lest the surgeons should discover the wound in her groin, and consequently her sex, which she was determined to conceal, even at the hazard of her life.—Confirmed in this resolution, she communicated her design to a black woman, who attended her, and who had access to the surgeon’s medicines, and begged her assistance. Her pain, now became very acute; and with the generosity of the black woman, who brought her lint, salve, &c. she endeavoured to extract the ball; by probing the wound with her finger, till she could feel the ball, after which she thrust in her finger and thumb, and pulled it out. This was a painful and dangerous operation; but she was resolved to brave every difficulty, rather than expose her sex, and in a little time she made a perfect cure.

As the heavy rains, and the violent claps of thunder were now set in, (being what they term in that country, the monsoons) the siege was entirely raised.

Our heroine being so dangerously wounded, was sent to an hospital, at Cuddylorum; and was attended by Mr. Belchier and Mr. Hancock, two able surgeons; from whom she concealed the wound in her groin.

During her residence in the hospital, the greater part of the fleet sailed; but as soon as she was perfectly cured, was sent on board the Tartar Pink, which then lay in the harbour, and continued to do the duty of a sailor, till the return of the fleet from Madras.
Curious as it seems, the Royal Navy did have a ship named the Tartar Pink. In 1739 it brought news of Britain’s rising hostilities with Spain to Boston. That was the start of the War of the Austrian Succession, which was still going on when Snell joined the military in 1747.

At least one later author assumed that the “black woman” in Snell’s eighteenth-century biography was a native of India rather than, say, an African attached to the army. Either way, it’s an interesting example of women working together.


Peter Ansoff said...

The ship's name is not as strange as it sounds, because "pink" is a nautical term for a vessel with a narrow, overhanging stern. It was common to refer to a ship by its name and type, e.g., the "Enterprise Brig." In this case, the ship's name is Tartar, and she is a pink.

HemlockBob said...

These stories on Snell make me think that maybe the "Jack-A-Roe" song performed by the Grateful Dead (among others) offered some influence? Hard to tell but neat nonetheless.

"Before you step on board Sir, your name I'd like to know,
She smiled all in her countenance 'they call me Jack A Roe'

"I see your waist is slender, your fingers they are small,
Your cheeks too red and rosy to face the cannonball.

"I know my waist is slender, my fingers they are small.
But it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall."

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Peter Ansoff, for the additional information about what made the Tartar pink. That explains why some period sources referred to “the Tartar Pink” and some to “the Tartar pink.” (The convention of putting ships’ names in italics hadn‘t yet taken hold.) It also explains why the term “Tartar P/pink” disappears when a new H.M.S. Tartar sailed in 1756.

“Snow” is another eighteenth-century term for a type of ship that seems to mean something else.

J. L. Bell said...

The earliest known versions of the “Jack-A-Roe” of “Jack Munroe” songs date from the early 1800s, or several decades after Hannah Snell became famous. Of course, the song might have circulated long before it was written down.

It’s notable that Snell offered no romantic reason for going to war, unlike “Jack Munroe.” Her husband had deserted her, their child had died. She later remarried twice and had children, but in 1747 she appears simply to have wanted to get out of her life.