In historical fiction I have come across stories of girls, running away from home, dressed up as a midshipman or army cadet, serving at the Battle of Trafalgar or in the Crimea etc. I have usually regarded the plot as rather far fetched and ridiculous.
But truth is stranger than fiction - as witnessed by this article in the "Kelso Chronicle" of 9th March 1849" Someone could write a novel out of this!
“A FEMALE NAVIE. – Cases are occasionally reported of females assuming the garb of the roughest sex – generally under the influence of some romantic motive – and undergoing without flinching all the inconveniences and hardships which their disguise, and the laborious employment of males, entail upon them. It is not often, however, that we hear of them doffing the petticoat and doffing the trousers, apparently out of shear dislike of the monotony and irksomeness of a country girl’s life, and envy of the greater freedom enjoyed by the lord of creation.
A case of this kind appears, however, to have occurred in our own town during the last year or two. The particulars, so far as they have been furnished to us by a correspondent, are as follows: - A young woman, 22 years of age named Jean Smith, left her fathers house in the village of Preston, East Lothian, on the 22d September, 1846, dressed in her brother’s clothes, a blue jacket, cap, and white moleskin trousers, leaving her own at home. The day before, she had borrowed money from several persons of her acquaintance, and was pretty well supplied in that respect. She took the train at Longniddry station for Berwick, intending to seek work as a navie. She fell in, however, with a mason, with whom she bound herself as an apprentice for three years at 9s a week, under the name of Alexander Johnston. She appears to have soon tired of wielding the mallet and chisel and engaged herself as a ganger of the Railway.
She lodged in Berwick with a Mrs Hogg, conducting herself in all respects as one of the better sort of navies. She had her sweetheart too, a young woman whom she invited to tea on Sunday evenings, escorting her afterwards for a walk “Sandy” it is said, received several hints from the chosen of his heart, that an excursion to the Toll would be very agreeable; but he was always remarkably slow in taking them, and contrived on some pretence or other, to put off the happy day. Leaving the gangership on the railway, she hired herself as a hind to one of the farmers near the town, with whom she continued till March 1848, when she appears to have changed her mind, and returned to her father’s home, resuming the dress and employment proper to her sex."
With thanks to local historian Gordon for bringing this article to my attention