Hannah Snell: The Secret Life of a Female Marine, 1723-1792

TitleHannah Snell: The Secret Life of a Female Marine, 1723-1792
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsStephens, Matthew
Number of Pages63
PublisherShip Street Press

On a hot June afternoon, in 1750, a young soldier named James Gray made an announcement that shocked a London tavern crowd into silence. He declared, 'James Gray will cast his skin like a snake and become a new creature. In a word, gentlemen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was and my real name is Hannah Snell!' And so began the public life of Britain's most famous female soldier. In 1750, Hannah Snell captivated London theatre audiences with tales of her disguise as a man. She told them of her enlistment in the marines and her journey to India, where she fought in the siege of Pondicherry and was severely wounded. Managing to conceal her sex, she returned to London and broke the news of her adventures. Two sell-out editions of her biography were published in 1750 and her portrait was available on every street corner. Later that year, the Royal Chelsea Hospital granted her a lifetime army pension. From the moment Hannah Snell revealed her secret, authors, journalists and playwrights have written their version of this extraordinary woman's story. While some have accused Snell of being a charlatan, others have believed her every word. For the first time, Matthew Stephens has looked behind the myths and reveals an intriguing tale of bravery and deceit and has discovered previously unknown archival material in his quest to test a narrative carefully constructed by Hannah’s publisher, the notorious Robert Walker. Stephens not only follows Hannah on her journey to India and back, but for the first time he traces her theatrical appearances in London and the provinces. When this new version of Hannah’s story was first released in 1997, it challenged almost 250 years of Chinese whispers. This newly expanded digital edition contains not only Stephens’ original discussion of the Snell story, but also lists for the first time primary and secondary research sources, includes an extended reader of early newspaper and magazine reports about Snell and republishes a little-known chapbook, 'The Female Soldier; or, Interesting Adventures of Mrs Hannah Snell', released in the early 1820s. This is the account of woman whose extraordinary personal story took on a life of its own and remains almost as well-known today as when it was first told. Paradoxically, the way in which this manufactured narrative, 'brand Hannah', was communicated to its eighteenth-century audience, is more familiar to a 21st century reader than it would ever have been to many of the great female soldiers of history, like Joan of Arc. Join Hannah in her topsy-turvy world in which things are never quite as they seem.

Short TitleHannah Snell
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