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Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century

Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century

Helen Doe
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century
    Book Description:

    Far from the genteel notion of Victorian women as milliners and haberdashers, this book shows that women could and did manage male businesses and manage men. Women invested in the expanding shipping industry throughout the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century and actively ran non feminine businesses such as shipbuilding. By setting the businesswomen firmly in the context of the industry, the book examines the business challenges from the woman's perspective. It demonstrates how a woman needed to understand the business requirements while in some cases also being a single parent. As business managers, they had to manage a male workforce, deal with large and important customers and ensure they maintained their firm's reputation and continued to win orders. Nor were these women mere caretakers for the next generation, in many cases continuing to run the business in an active manner after their son or sons were of age. This book reveals communities of independent women in England who were active entrepreneurs and investors, in a period when women were increasingly supposed to be relegated to a more domestic role. It includes brief biographies of many of these women entrepreneurs who were also conventional mothers, wives and daughters. Helen Doe is an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, University of Exeter; a Council Member of the Society for Nautical Research; chair of their marketing committee; a member of the British Commission for Maritime History; on the Advisory Council of the SS Great Britain; and a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-721-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Fanny Stephens was already a widow by the time of the 1881 census and at the age of forty-two she was the head and main breadwinner in a household that contained her four children and her mother. Fanny gave her occupation as the postmistress of Polruan, Cornwall. Just around the corner from her was the home of Thomas Werry Tadd, a master mariner, who was a forty-nine-year-old bachelor.¹ When Thomas died unmarried in 1884, he left his whole estate to Fanny,‘my intended wife’ and named her as his executor. This was no short engagement as the couple had been engaged...

  8. 1 The Legal, Financial and Cultural Environment
    (pp. 13-32)

    The law relating to women and marriage became a subject of national debate in the nineteenth century, largely due to the concerns voiced by feminists in their pursuit of changes in the law, in particular as it affected divorce, rights over children and property. This brought the role of women sharply into focus, and government statistics, particularly the census, were used by proponents and opponents alike. The extent to which these changes helped or hindered the real position of women in society is a debatable topic amongst historians. Increasingly the view is that women and men used the law in...

  9. 2 Maritime Communities
    (pp. 33-51)

    Nineteenth-century maritime Britain was an expanding sector of the economy. Ports around the coast handled an increasing amount of incoming and outgoing trade and port facilities were improved to attract more business. British ships sailed around the world linking countries and continents and remained dominant in international trade during the period. The coastal and short sea trades also employed large numbers of men and vessels plying shorter, less glamorous, but essential routes. As the gateway to Britain’s industrial might the ports were required to handle ever greater volumes of goods, and intensive railway building between 1840 and 1860 transformed the...

  10. 3 Five Investor Ports
    (pp. 52-77)

    Much of the attention given to women investors has been in relation to investments in joint stock companies.¹ There were increasing opportunities to invest in joint stock companies and the arrival of limited liability in the 1850s reduced the risks for investors. What has not been considered is the evidence relating to the substantial number of women who invested in shipping particularly through the 64th system of shipownership.² This chapter provides the background to the shipowning system and to the five ports from which most of the investment data have been gathered.

    Shipping had been an investment for centuries and...

  11. 4 Shipowning Wives, Widows and Spinsters
    (pp. 78-101)

    On 13 May 1873 ten shareholders of the newly launched schooner, Thetis, sat down in the Ship Inn in Fowey to agree some important resolutions. The master, Captain Beale, was appointed at a salary of £6 per month plus gratuities and 10 per cent of the profits. Victualling was set at thirteen pence per day per man and ‘it was resolved that Mr Thomas Pearce be appointed Agent of the Vessel at five pounds per year’. Every resolution agreed had an important consequence in terms of the future earning for the shareholders, who were paid annually after all receipts and...

  12. 5 Active and Passive Female Shipowners
    (pp. 102-126)

    ‘Girls never have any capital, they hardly know what it means’, wrote Bessie Parkes in 1865.¹ She was writing about the limited options for women to be financially independent, and might have been surprised at the extent to which her contemporaries in maritime communities used their financial muscle. In the previous chapter, the shipowners and their investment decisions were considered in the context of their marital status. In this chapter their actions in relation to the shares are considered, in particular the women’s attitude to the shares. Were they caretaking an inheritance or actively pursuing and managing investments in the...

  13. 6 Managing Owners
    (pp. 127-148)

    On 6 November 1834 Stephen Quinn of Whitehaven signed his name to an apprenticeship document. He and his father, Daniel, agreed that Stephen would be apprenticed for three years to be taught the ‘art, trade, mystery or occupation of a Mariner’. The curious aspect of this document is that the person to whom he was bound, and who was responsible for teaching him, was not a master mariner. Indeed the document had to have many changes made to suit the circumstances, as the named person was Hannah Wallace. In each instance where the pre-printed form used the words ‘Master’ or...

  14. 7 Port Businesswomen
    (pp. 149-171)

    Ship management could be seen as a natural step from investment, but ports provided many other opportunities for business management. For every ship that was built there were the ancillary trades of sailmaking, ropemaking, block-making and victualling. Similarly, shipbrokers, insurance agents, and many other similar service occupations and middlemen became increasingly evident during the century. Women are found running almost every business, with the exception of professions such as customs officials, brokerage and insurance.

    This chapter will examine the wide range of roles in which women appear. Here the maritime trades that supported both shipbuilding and shipowning are examined, while...

  15. 8 Warship Builders
    (pp. 172-192)

    The most prominent business in a maritime community was the shipbuilding yard. It was physically large, noisy and used a large amount of labour, and on its output rested many other businesses such as sailmakers, ropemakers and block-makers. The largest yards were major industrial concerns in their time directly employing hundreds of men. Women feature as the owners of shipbuilding yards throughout the nineteenth century and in this chapter one specialised area of shipbuilding will be considered. The building of warships was high value and high risk to the shipbuilder and the peak time for navy contracts with merchant yards...

  16. 9 Merchant Shipbuilders
    (pp. 193-215)

    The two warship builders, Mrs Barnard and Mrs Ross, were not wartime aberrations. Women had been managing shipyards for many years and continued to do so throughout the nineteenth century, albeit only in wooden shipbuilding. Building for the navy had its own challenges and wartime conditions brought problems of timber and labour supplies. However, building for merchants and shipowners was not without its problems and many of the same types of challenges had to be faced. Researching government suppliers is helped by the records that were kept, but this is not the case in the commercial world where few business...

  17. 10 Conclusion: ‘A Respectable and Desirable Thing’
    (pp. 216-224)

    In 1865 Bessie Parkes wanted women to be able to practise a profession or run a business and for this to become ‘a respectable and desirable thing’.¹ The locally owned wooden sailing vessel gave women that opportunity. This was the heyday of the merchant sailing vessel and since most were owned under the 64th system, this was also the time of the fractional shipowner. In 1871 the number of sailing vessels registered in England and Wales was 17,606 and the number of steamships was just 2,557. The gap between London and Liverpool, with a total of 2,829 vessels and 2,499...

  18. Appendices

    • APPENDIX I Relevant Statutes (with brief notes on their significance)
      (pp. 225-227)
    • APPENDIX II Maritime Occupations from Trade Directories
      (pp. 228-231)
    • APPENDIX III Statistics on Businesswomen across England
      (pp. 232-233)
    • APPENDIX IV Registered Shipping in England and Wales, 1871
      (pp. 234-236)
    • APPENDIX V The Investor Database
      (pp. 237-240)
    • APPENDIX VI Managing Owners with Multiple Vessels in 1865
      (pp. 241-241)
    • APPENDIX VII Port Businesswomen
      (pp. 242-243)
    • APPENDIX VIII Rose Downs Thompson Correspondence
      (pp. 244-245)
    • APPENDIX IX Selected Correspondence, Mrs Taylor
      (pp. 246-247)
    • APPENDIX X Penney Agreement
      (pp. 248-250)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-266)
  20. Index
    (pp. 267-272)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)