What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Liverpool Police. Saturday, Feb 17 [1827]

William Brown, the Sailor:
— a romance in real life

On Saturday last, as the Commerce steam packet, belonging to the City of Dublin Company, was starting from George’s Pier Head, Batchelor, the police constable on duty, called out to the commander of the vessel to hold on for a few minutes, and instantly went on board with two of his assistants, and after a few minutes’ search they returned on shore with one of the passengers in custody, who was dressed in sailor’s clothes, and passed by the name of Wm Brown.

The case of this person’s apprehension was a report which had been communicated to the Constable that a female in a disguise, the description of which corresponded with this person’s attire, had taken a passage for Dublin by the Commerce, which awakened in his mind, not unnaturally, a suspicion that it was some woman who had either escaped from prison, or had been engaged in some robbery, and was flying to evade detection, whom it was therefore his duty to detain for examination before a Magistrate. The dress had been so minutely described, that it was impossible to mistake the person, notwithstanding the addition of a still deeper disguise of intoxication, in which the party was found at the time of making the capture.

When safely lodged in Bridewell and about to undergo a personal examination by Mrs Clayton, the wife of the keeper, finding detection inevitable, the prisoner confessed the fact of her sex and disguise.

In the evening, when perfectly sobered, she stated her name to be Selina Augusta Hamilton. Inquiries which had been made in the interim led to the discovery of the house in which she had been lodging by the Old Dock, and one of the constables was engaged, in the course of the evening, in conversation with the landlady for the purpose of tracing her history, when a respectably dressed man entered the room, to whom the landlady pointed and said “here’s the very gentleman as can tell you all about her”. The gentleman in question proved to be the master of the brig Laura, of New York, lying in Prince’s Dock, whose name we have been told is Duffey.

From the account given by this person, who, we believe, was the cause of her detention, as well as from her own statement, the following particulars of this extraordinary being have been collected.

Her father is said to be a merchant in London, and owner, wholly or in part, of several vessels, one of which was stated to be now lying in George’s Dock. He was said, as we understood it, to have a counting-house at Topham’s (query Topping’s?) Wharf, and a dwelling-house at Shadwell. From his house, it appears that she absconded about three years ago, to follow a young man with whom she had fallen in love. He was the mate of a vessel in the North American trade; and hearing that he had sailed for St John’s, New Brunswick, she came down to Liverpool, and took her passage in a  vessel bound to that place. This part of her story is confirmed by several persons in this town, who recollect having seen her at that period, when they describe her to have been a young lady of fashionable appearance, elegantly dressed, and ladylike in her deportment.

On her arrival at St John’s, she found that the vessel to which her lover belonged had gone to Quebec; thither she therefore followed him, and there she learned that he had been drowned in the passage up the river St Lawrence.

Her determination was immediately taken to become a sailor for his sake, and, doffing her woman’s gear, of which she found means to dispose, and submitting the luxuriant tresses of her flaxen hair to the sheers, in the attire befitting a youth of the station which she assumed, she engaged herself as cook and steward to the master of a vessel bound for London, with whom she remained upwards of twelve months. While the vessel lay in the Thames, she met her father one day in the street, and touched her hat to him as she passed, but so completely was she altered as to defy recognition. In that vessel she served upwards of twelve months, and would still have continued in her, but that the Master, suspecting her secret, at length succeeded in extorting from her an acknowledgement of the truth, and afterwards wished her to remain with him, upon terms to which she would not submit.

Her assumption of the habits of a sailor, it seems, has by no means been limited to the “jacket and trowsers blue”, but the grog and the “backee”, and “the pretty girls to boot”, have all contributed their share towards the completion of the matamorphosis [sic]. Of the grog there was abundant evidence in her condition at the time of her being apprehended; of the tobacco, a token appeared in a well-filled box in her jacket pocket; and for the girls, she has unquestionably been humming them with a few adventures a la Paddingtoni. To one young woman she performed the honours of a regular courtship, underwent the threefold publication of the banns of marriage, and was only prevented from undergoing the ceremony itself, by a timely discovery of the parish officers, that the bride elect was in a condition very shortly to become a mother, when the creature was upon the point of declaring our heroine to be the father of her expected offspring; and then, says the latter, “you know I could not go any further”, and therefore the connection ended.

Since her arrival in Liverpool she has bamboozled more than one of the frail portion of its female inhabitants by affecting a serious attachment; and one night partaking too deeply of the potations to which she invited one of the beauties of Bridge-street, whom she had treated “to the play”, she was robbed by her of the greater part of her earnings by her last voyage.

The discovery of her sex on that occasion secured impunity to the plunderer, who afterwards buzzed it about; and to escape from the disagreeable consequences which the adventure had entailed upon her, she determined to go to Ireland in hopes of being able there to embark in one of the first vessels for British America, that being the trade to which she has attached herself in memory of her lover, William Brown, whose name she had assumed. She has stated since she has been in custody that she will have a fortune of £4000 at her own disposal when she comes of age — she is now not quite nineteen — and that she intends to lay it out in the purchase and equipment of a vessel, of which she expects by that time to have qualified herself to take the command.

She is in person of the ordinary stature of women, but rather stoutly made, and inclining to embonpoint; of fair complexion, with light hair and grey eyes, round face, features by no means handsome, though not unpleasing for a boy.

Yesterday, she was brought up for examination at the Town-hall, before Mr Alderman Peter Bourne, to whom a brief outline of her history had been sketched, the Mr Duffey, of the brig Laura, before named, appearing to state the grounds of her detention, in which, we must say, that for some reason or other, he cut as foolish a figure as any man could desire to do.

Before the lady made her appearance, Mr Duffey stated to the Magistrate that he had become acquainted with the prisoner from seeing her several times in her walk, near her father’s residence, but that he had no acquaintance with her father, whom, however, he knew to be a man of considerable property, as described above.

The prisoner, on being questioned by the Magistrate, said she knew that gentleman (Mr Duffey) very well, having often seen him at her father’s house.

The Magistrate then asked Mr Duffey if he had any thing to say against her; to which he replied, that he wished her to be given into his charge, that he might restore her to her father.

A look of something like surprise was the only comment of the girl upon this application; and the answer was, that he had no authority to give her into his charge. He, however, advised the girl to give up her present mode of life and return to her father.

She said she had made her own choice of her present mode of life, and she did not know why any one should wish to make her leave it. The Magistrate said he had no authority to prevent her from following her inclination, nor to detain her. She was therefore discharged.

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier 22 February 1827

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