Panel 3: Gender and Sexuality
Mitch Gould: “Sailors: the Wheels on Melville’s Coach”
Abstract: Maritime historians appreciate that any favorable literary reference to sailors made the self-appointed guardians of Victorian morality very, very, uneasy. “Father” Edward Thompson Taylor once snarled at his Methodist handlers: “I remember when you kept a man at the door of your churches to shut out those who wore a tarpaulin hat and a blue jacket.” The Respectable position was that sailors chose to become pariahs by indulging their own self-destructive propensities: boozing, gambling, brawling, dancing, overspending, and whoring — contributing, if nothing else, to the city’s epidemic of venereal disease. Even the outrageous privations, harsh discipline, grueling labor, and high danger necessarily associated with the occupation were understood to be self-destructive. In Redburn, Herman Melville astutely identified the heart of the problem as a sailor’s intrinsically reckless, restless, thrill-seeking personality. Melville intuitively understood that what modern psychologists call “sensation-seeking behavior” resulted in a distinct “class” of men “who bear the same relation to society at large, that the wheels do to a coach.” Brashly alluding to yet another manifestation of recklessness to which The Respectable could “hardly bear even so much as an allusion,” Melville’s White-Jacket exposed a poorly-kept secret about these pariahs: “The sins for which the cities of the plain were overthrown still linger in some of these wooden-walled Gomorrahs of the deep.” It has been easy for modern critics to ignore this passage from Melville’s work of fiction, but a few years later, the Navy published official confirmation. One ship’s doctor, writing anonymously, affirmed the sheer prevalence of the phenomena and the refusal of officers to address it. My presentation suggests that the time for arguing over whether or not sailors were mutually sexually engaged is over; the evidence is conclusive. The problem that lies before us now is to understand how capitalists exploited a sensation-seeking labor force, in analogy to their lucrative extraction of timber, fish, and minerals from the natural world. What economic value could be assigned to the kind of hypersexuality being studied in modern-day sensation-seekers, among both strait and gay populations?
Bio: Mitchell Santine Gould is an independent scholar, engaged in illuminating the Sailor : Lover : Quaker world of antebellum Manhattan, which gave birth to Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass. His work has been published in Walt Whitman: an Encyclopedia, Quaker History, and Quaker Theology. Since 2003, he has used https://LeavesofGrass.Org — initially as a blog — to instantly share the results of historical discoveries in the Internet’s swelling collection of digitized books and journals. He was collecting evidence to prove his Sailor : Lover : Quaker hypothesis, based upon the proposition that it was no coincidence that Leaves of Grass was introduced at the very pinnacle of The Age of Sail. Of interest to Global Maritime History readers will be his most recent contribution: the first in-depth survey of the central role of antebellum Quakers in the meteoric rise of the Port of New York. His work has been published in Walt Whitman: an Encyclopedia, Quaker History, and Quaker Theology. Find him on Facebook or on Twitter at @WhitmanAt200
Dr. Jo Stanley: “#me too and mar hist: Tackling the silences about women’s subjective sexuality in maritime histories”
Abstract: Covering the UK merchant and royal navies in the period up to today’s #MeToo climate, this paper explores three aspects of the silences in maritime history about seafaring women’s subjective sexualities. After proposing some definitions it outlines some of the matters that could and should be discussed, for example some women’s non-heterosexuality and the impact of stigmatizing sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnant stewardess Ellen Gibbs and the magistrate’s joke that she and her husband had not been asked to sign a no-sex-at-sea contract is seen as an important 1857 expression of normally occluded matter.
Then the many reasons why there have been silences are discussed: for example academic fear of scandal and the possible consequent withdrawing of public fund; and women’s reticence in the face of salaciousness, plus repeated exclusion of women’s voices in general records. Reasons are given for why this silence matters in maritime historiography, such as that absence creates imbalanced records. Finally several examples of a 21st century climate are discussed, such as labour union fight-backs against sexual harassment; the Sex and Sea exhibition currently in Tallinn; and the recent speaking out about maritime masculinities, which will surely bring corresponding work on maritime femininities. The author concludes that the on-board failure to respect women as equals and subjects has been toxic.
Bio: Dr. Jo Stanley researches and writes about the history of women, black and LGBTQI+ people in maritime life. She is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Liverpool John Moores University and her most recent book is Women and the Royal Navy(2017). See also her article ‘On Buffer-kissers, Bus-station Skanks and Mile-high Clubs: Sexualities and Transport, in Mobilities in History, 2013
Meaghan Walker: “The Issuing of Such Coarse Stuff to the People”: What the Contents of the British Tender Diligent Reveal about Gendered Relationships and Labour, Clothing Systems, and Imperial Power, 1804
Audio presentation – please click below
Content warning: the word “negro” appears in this talk twice, at 13:40 and at 15:30. Both uses are quotations from extant documents.
Abstract: In the 2005 history monograph Nelson’s Surgeon by Laurence Brockliss, John Cardwell, and Micheal Moss, there is a short section on clothing and health, largely supported by a series of letters between Captain Hardy, Admiral Horatio Nelson, and the Admiralty board in 1804. In a strongly worded letter, Nelson expressed his deep disappointment in the slop clothing which had recently arrived on the tender Diligent. Through Nelson, Hardy also submitted for the Admiralty’s approbation a series of garments made of locally manufactured Maltese cotton, asking if a contract might be made to instead supply the Mediterranean fleet with these garments.
The historians of Nelson’s Surgeon wrote of this exchange that “Hardy resembled a protective, thrifty matron fussing over her children” and that Nelson shared his “almost mother-like concern for the sailors under his command.”In a book discussing healthcare in a homosocial shipboard environment, where officers and sailors formed important combat bonds in part through the negotiation of labour by one part in exchange for paternal care and leadership by the other, these reactions are significant—and troubling.
How did Nelson’s almost hypermasculine outrage over the poorly made slops—a letter where he suggested hanging the Navy Board and threatened the mutiny of his crew—become “mother-like concern” in the eyes of three male historians?
This submission will explore the paternal relationships forged in the navy through the supply and regulation of clothing—relationships not only between officers, but also between administrators and crew. It will also discuss the nature of homosocial ship-life: few maritime historians have integrated gender as an appropriate theoretical framework for understanding shipping because women were not present, but despite this, as seen in the above example, assumptions about the gendered nature of certain types of on-board work and relationships remained. Further, by discussing the contents of three letters about the Diligent’s slop clothes, and the wider politics of sourcing clothing in the British Navy between 1793 and 1815, this paper will show the significance of clothing in the Navy as not only an interesting afterthought, but as an important cornerstone of crew relationships, manufacturing prowess in Britain and abroad, and of British imperial policy and rhetoric.
Laurence Brockliss, William Beatty, and Michael Moss, Nelson’s Surgeon: William Beatty, Naval Medicine, and the Battle of Trafalgar(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 90-91.
Bio: Meaghan Walker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Alberta. She has done considerable research into the clothing of merchant seafarers in the late nineteenth century, and, currently, the military dress of sailors and marines in the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Her focus on clothing has allowed her to explore the complex lives of seafarers and their material culture on land and sea, where dynamics of gender, class, and empire played out as the components of clothes moved around the world on merchant vessels protected by the Royal Navy, and then the finished products were put in the hands of seafarers through the sailortown economy or via the British government’s systems of slop clothes and uniform production and supply. Ms. Walker has an upcoming publication in the International Journal of Maritime History called “The Inventories of Deceased British Merchant Seafarers: Exploring Merchant Shipping and Material Culture, 1860-1880.”