|The Annual Register for 1815 reveals that a Black sailor,
William Brown, 'recently' paid off from HMS Queen Charlotte
with the rest of the crew, was a woman. It was not unheard of in the
18th and 19th centuries for women to disguise themselves as men and
join the Royal Navy - and some even managed to serve in this way for
According to the Annual Register, Brown was an experienced
sailor. She had served on the Queen Charlotte for a number
of years as an able seaman and had been promoted to 'captain
of the fore-top', in charge of other sailors assigned to that
particular part of the ship.
However, the muster lists for the crew of the Queen Charlotte
tell a different story. When its crew was 'paid off' on 23 August
1815, only one of them was called William Brown; but he was a 32-year-old
Scot who had joined the Queen Charlotte little more than
a month earlier from HMS Cumberland. No reference has been
found to the appointment of any William Brown to 'captain of the fore-top'
on the Queen Charlotte. There is, however, one intriguing
reference in the muster lists that supports part of the of the Annual
Register's report. It is recorded, in the extract reproduced
here, that 21-year-old William Brown from Grenada joined the crew
of the Queen Charlotte on 23 May 1815 as a landsman (the
least experienced class of rating) and was discharged on 19 June 1815,
'being a female.'
Neither the muster lists nor the Annual Register record the
real names of their female sailors.
ADM 37/5039, Annual Register, September 1815, Chronicle,