Portsmouth Royal Dockyard

Female Shipwright Mary Lacy 1740 - 1795

Mary Lacy, born in 1740, left skirt and bonnet behind and slipped into breeches and waistcoat at the age of 19, called herself "William Chandler" (Chandler being her mother's maiden name). In 1763 she started an apprenticeship in Portsmouth dockyard and received her shipwright's certificate in 1770and went to sea aboard the Sandwich.

From our modern point of view, it seems unbelievable that a young woman could have lived among sailors for such a long time without being found out. But at the end of the day, Mary was a sailor, too. She didn't pretend. When she was finally found out, it was through betrayal by another woman, a "false friend", and surprisingly enough, the men who were informed about the "lady in disguise" did nothing. There were no consequences. It was merely noted, and that was it. And when Mary Lacy resigned from the Navy through rheumatism, she was granted an annual pension for "Superannuated Shipwrights" of £ 20 per year by the Admiralty, despite giving her real name in the papers! There are reports of women disguised as men who were punished and had to face harsh consequences for their actions. The fact that this was not true in Mary Lacy's case is interesting - maybe because her case wasn't that unique after all?

Mary mentions many "romances" in her memoirs. From the distance of over 250 years, it's difficult to tell how much of her flirting was to add credibility to her portrayal as a young man, and how much was romantic interest in her own gender. Margarette Lincoln, Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum who wrote the introduction to the small book, doesn't rule out that possibility. Judging by the facts at hand, it seem perfectly plausible to me that Mary Lacy was interested in both genders; after all she claimed an unhappy love affair with a young man as one of the reasons why she ran away from home (beside being a real wild child). Later in her life, she called herself "Mary Slade", claiming that she had married some Mr. Slade - however, no proof of marriage can be found, but she did live for with one Elizabeth Slade until that woman's death.

Mary Lacy lived a hard life, had to do heaviest manual work, was beaten by her master, went without food at times and without shoes in winter, survived the harshest conditions both ashore and at sea, and all this under the constant pressure and fear that she might be found out.

Source: http://joyfulmolly.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/real-kick-ass-women-ii-mary-lacy-1740-1795-female-shipwright/
Book: The Female Shipwright by Margarette Lincoln National Maritime Museum Hardcover 144 pages ISBN: 9781906367015