Lacy, Mary

Mary Lacy (born circa 1740 - 1801), was a Female British sailor, shipwright and memoirist. She was arguably the first of her gender to have given an exam and a pension from the British admiralty as a shipwright.
Mary was born into a poor family in January of 1740. A baptism is recorded at Wickhambreux, Kent, near Ash, Kent 24 January 1742. Her mother, Mary Chandler, was the daughter of a roof thatcher and her father, William, may have worked in that trade as well. Mary was the youngest of three and precocious from the get go. She freely admits to her early transgressions against her parents and the village of Ash, Kent, in her autobiography, The History of a Female Shipwright Written by Herself and, though she was relatively well educated not only for someone at her economic level but for a girl, she was put into service at the age of twelve. She continued in this form of employment for seven years.
Lacy ran away from home dressed as a boy at the age of 19 in 1759, and assumed the name of William Chandler. She joined the Navy and worked as a servant for a ships carpenter of the British Navy until 1763. After 4 years at sea in the Navy a bad case of Rheumatism forced her to seek employment ashore. She the studied as an apprentice to be a shipwright. In 1767 Mary returned home as a man to visit her parents and whilst in Ash, Kent a neighbour saw her. Later she came to live in Portsmouth, where Mary was working. Instead of keeping her sexual identity a secret she told people that William was indeed really Mary. This caused problems with the other apprentices and they wanted to examine her to find out the truth! Fortunately 2 of the shipwrights took her to one side where in private she admitted her disguise. Luckily for her the 2 men decided to cover for her and tell everyone not only was she a man but ` a man and a half to a great man’. This coupled with William Chandler’s reputation as a lady’s man got her off the hook.
In 1770, she took her exam as a shipwright, and was granted her certificate as a fully qualified Shipwright. Arguably the first of her gender to have done so. In 1771, however, she was forced to stop working because of her rheumatism returned with a vengeance, she could no longer work and both her parents had died. She applied for a pension from the admiralty under her legal name, Mary Lacy.
Admiralty Minutes read:
`A Petition was read from Mary Lacy setting forth that in the year 1759 she disguised herself in men’s cloaths and enter’d on board His Maj. Fleet, where having served til the end of the War, she bound herself apprentice to the Carpenter of the Royal William and having served Seven Years, then enter’d as a Shipwright in the Portsmouth Yard where she had continued ever since; but that finding her health and constitution impaired by so laborious an employment, she is obliged to give it up for the future, and therefore, praying some Allowance for her Support during the remainder of her life; Resolved, in consideration of the particular Circumstances attending this Woman’s case, the truth of which has been attested by the Commissioner of the Yard at Portsmouth, that she be allowed a pension equal to that granted to Superannuated Shipwrights.’

After some incredulity the Admiralty decided to grant her application and she was awarded a pension of £20 per year. She collected her pension at Deptford and met her Josiah Slade, who she knew from Portsmouth. She married him and they lived in King Street, Deptford. Shortly after this she started work on her autobiography, which she published as The Female Shipwright (1773). This has been examined on numerous occasions to check for its accuracy and has found to be factually accurate if a little embellished. She wrote the Preface to the book in 1 July 1773 and then after the publication, she marries Josiah Slade and moves to Deptford, where she dies.

There seems to of been 2 Mary Slade's in the Deptford area in the late 18th early 19th Centuries. One Mary Slade, wife of Josiah from St Nicholas, buried 3 May 1801 at St Paul's, Deptford, aged 54 years. The burial register is annotated with "This female shipwright served her time at Porstmouth". See The Lady Tars and Ephemera file in LHAC for more details.

The other:
The Further Adventures of Mary Lacy by Peter Guillery states that Text Mary was not a relative of the Slade's but took their surname when she lived with an Elizabeth Slade. This is a Mary buried at St Nicholas, Deptford spinster from Butts Lane 6 Feb 1795 and her will was proved PCC 16 February 1795, Spinster of Saint Paul Deptford, Kent. She was Sister to Benjamin Slade. Not the same Mary of Shipwright fame, but had built some buildings in the Deptford area.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License