"In her inimitable, yarn-spinning style, award-winning historian Joan Druett tells us what life was like for the women who dared to captain ships of their own, don pirates' garb, and perform heroic and hellacious deeds on the high seas....From the warrior queens of the sixth cnetury B. C. to the women shipowners influential in opening the Northwest Passage, Druett has assembled a real-life cast of characters whose boldness and bravado will capture popular imagination."
First of all, the title is misleading. I expected a book of She Captains, stories of women who captained ships and lead crews. Druett starts off with 78 pages on ancient queens who sailed with their own navies, female Vikings, and actual female pirates. The rest of the book is devoted to women who are captains' wives or mistresses, victims of pirates, or involved in the business end. Their stories are fascinating and I enjoyed hearing about them, but that is not what I expected.
The writing is a bit dry and some of the stories seem like padding. I could have done without the chapter on women being captured by Barbary pirates and the space given to Lady Hamilton (Admiral Nelson's paramour), neither of which seem to fit the premise of the book. What did work, was the astonishing number of documented women who went to sea as crew disguised as men; or accompanied their husbands on war ships, whalers, or exploratory expeditions. I had no idea that captains regularly took their wives and children with them on long voyages. I'd always suspected that a number of women made their livings from the sea, especially wives, widows and daughters of seaman, fisherman, and shipping magnates; and was glad to have that confirmed.
From the chapter on Ice Queens:
"The winters of the last two decades of the nineteenth century regularly discovered a dozen or more whaling vessels snugged up in Pauline Cove at Herschel Island in the western Arctic, all neatly roofed over and with the sides banked up with blocks of snow. Quite a town would be established around these strange residences, for natives, intrigued by the exotic community, build their snow houses near by on the ice. Inside the ships, it was cozy and both inside and outside it was sociable...In the 1894-95 season there where no fewer than seven European females at Herschel Island...It was a strangely formal existence, with dances, whist parties, costume balls, concerts (one concert party being called "The Herschel Island Snowflakes"), and amateur theatricals. Dinner parties were staged, complete with amazing menus. One included "Lobster salad & olives, Oyster Pate with French peas" and "Bartlett Pears, with citron & sponge cake" for dessert."
The book seems well-researched. Druett doesn't use footnotes or offer a comprehensive bibliography, but does have a sixteen-page chapter by chapter list of bibliographical notes and a thirteen-page index. I'd recommend this book for anyone who needs to have their consciousness raised about women and the sea (it wasn't just the boys sailing out there!) It's the kind of book that doesn't quite rate as a research book, but can inspire additional research into the stories of the individual women covered.
- Title: She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea
- Author: Joan Druett
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2000
- ISBN: 0-684-85690-5
- Pages: 304