Mary Ann Talbot (1778–1808) was an Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic wars. Her story was illustrated by the Italian-born British artist named Fortunino Matania (1881-1963).
In 1792 she unwillingly became a mistress of captain Essex Bowen who enlisted her as his foot-boy under the name "John Taylor" for a voyage to Santo Domingo. Matania captures the captain’s imperious dominance and the 14-year-old’s fearful acquiescence to her new identity.
She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where captain Bowen was killed. She was wounded and treated the wound herself to avoid revealing herself to the surgeon. She decided to continue working as a male sailor.
On a sojourn to Rhode Island in America, she attracted the attentions of a young woman who fell in love with the eligible young “gentleman.” Matania’s illustration on tone paper shows the moment when the girl openly declares her love. Mary Ann’s expression of consternation, and her blend of male and female qualities, is a difficult thing to express in a drawing, but Matania accomplished it.
Despite a series of injuries received in battle, Talbot continued to wear sailor's clothes. She worked in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage at Drury Lane but eventually was arrested and taken to debtor’s prison at Newgate.
Mary Ann Talbot on Wikipedia
Fortunino Matania on Wikipedia
Download her 1809 autobiographical account on Digital Commons
Previously on GJ: Matania at Work
Images courtesy Anthony Smith