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  • Unravelling Ann Mills:Some Notes on Gender Construction and Naval Heroism
  • Frank Felsenstein (bio)

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Figure 1.

Ann Mills, Served on Board the Maidstone Frigate, engr. Robert Graves(1798-1873), in James Caulfield, Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons... (1820), 4:111-12. Reproduced courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library,University of Toronto.

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The image of Ann Mills, in its metonymic representation of English attitudes towards the French during the "long" eighteenth century, acts as a visual token of ancient hostilities (figure 1, facing page). Appearing in James Caulfield's Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, from the Revolution in 1688 to the End of the Reign of George II, the engraving depicts a female sailor standing at the edge of a wooden pier with her back against the sea.1 She wears a military hat and jacket, a cravat tucked into a buttoned waistcoat, and a skirt that may easily be mistaken for a fanciful pair of trousers. In her right hand, she brandishes a naked cutlass, and dangling from her left is the decapitated head of a Frenchman, which she holds out as a trophy of her valour in combat. Her plain stockings and silver-buckled shoes could as well be the attire of an Englishman or woman. The plainness of her garb and the smoothness of her visage are in striking contrast to the elaborate and beribboned peruke and hirsute profile of her grisly victim. French fashion has certainly been stopped in its tracks. At sea behind her is an English ship tacking in the wind, almost certainly the Maidstone frigate on board which she had "served" (according to the caption). The engraving is an early work of Robert Graves, ARA (1798–1873), who contributed most of the portraits that adorn Caulfield's book. This engraving is almost [End Page 207] certainly a reworking of an earlier, hitherto unlocated image, since a 1786 catalogue of prints being sold by John Greenwood lists "Anne Mills who served on board a Man of War, a cut-las in her right hand, and a French-man's head in her left."2

Engraved at the latter end of the Napoleonic Wars (when Bonaparte himself was safely exiled to St Helena), the triumphal aspect of the print harks back to earlier wars, since we learn from Caulfield's narrative that "about the year 1740, she [Mills] was serving as a common sailor on board the Maidstone frigate; and, in an action between that ship and a French enemy, she so greatly distinguished herself, by personal prowess, as to be particularly noticed by the whole crew." The precise manner of her bravery in battle remains unspecified, though Caulfield speculates "that we are naturally led to imagine the service she performed must have been of a most desperate nature, whether in the act of boarding, or of being boarded by the enemy; and, probably, after the conquest cut off the head of her opponent, as a trophy of victory."3 The print reinforces the notion of indigenous superiority by implying that in battle a Frenchman is not even a match for a brave Englishwoman.

The trope of French pusillanimity and effeminacy is a familiar one in English cultural discourse. One thinks of the far from idle brag of Shakespeare's warrior king, Henry V, before Agincourt that "upon one pair of English legs / Did march three Frenchmen," or of the response of one of the characters in William Wycherley's play The Gentleman Dancing-Master (1673) to a question concerning the masculinity of an affected coxcomb newly returned from France:

HIPPOLITA. Is he no man?

PRUE. No, faith, he's but a monsieur.4

For Tobias Smollett, a traveller in France at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the effeminate French "are all petit maitres," and that is made visible in their "most ridiculous fondness for their hair, [End Page 208]

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Figure 2.

Augustus Keppel (1752-53), by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). Reproduced courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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[which] I believe they inherit from...


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