Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

FEBRUARY 8th  

On this day in history in 1792, died Hannah Snell.

Snell was a woman who enlisted in the British army and the Royal Navy, in the days when these occupations were barred to women.  

Snell was born on 23rd April 1723 at Worcester, into the large family of a draper and his second wife. She enjoyed an ordinary childhood, playing with her siblings and, it is reported by contemporaries, that she joined in with their games of soldiers. Her parents died in 1740, after which she moved to London, when she married a sailor, James Summs, in 1744.  

The marriage was not a success. In 1745, Snell became pregnant and Summs deserted her. In 1746 she gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who sadly died the next year. She decided to seek out her devious husband, disguising herself in a manís suit belonging to her brother-in-law, James Gray, whose name she assumed to perfect the disguise. She pursued her husband to an address in Coventry, but when she reached that city, her disguise was so convincing, that she was pressed into General Guiseís regiment, which was hunting down Bonnie Prince Charlieís bedraggled army.  

Snell marched with the army to Carlisle, where, for some unknown reason, she incurred the wrath of her sergeant who ordered her to be flogged. During the subsequent northward journey, Snell deserted and fled to Portsmouth where, undeterred by her previous military experience, she enlisted in Fraser's Regiment of Marines, in the fond hope of finding her seafaring husband in the ranks. She boarded the Swallow which sailed for Lisbon and then to India for an assault on the French colony of Pondicherry. In the battle of Devicotta, 1749, she was wounded several times, once in the groin. She managed to conceal her identity by having the bullet extracted by a sympathetic Indian nurse, sworn to keep her secret.  

In 1750, her unit returned to London, where she received information that her husband had been hanged for murder, and now weary of her disguise, revealed her sex to her shipmates and was summarily discharged from the service. Having no income, Snell tried to raise money by selling her story to London publisher, Robert Walker, who brought out her account, The Female Soldier, in two separate editions. She also began to appear on stage in her uniform, presenting military drills and singing martial songs. Three society artists painted her portrait in military uniform and the noted society journal, the Gentleman's Magazine reported her experiences in great detail. After the government were petitioned to place her name on the pension list, the Royal Hospital, Chelsea officially recognized Snell's military service, and granted her a pension.

Snell moved to Wapping, where she kept a pub, named The Female Warrior. In 1759, she married and had two sons, one of whom became a London attorney. In 1791, Snell began to exhibit the symptoms of what we know call schizophrenia. She was admitted to Bedlam Hospital, a house for the insane, where she died on 8th February 1792, and was buried with the old soldiers at Chelsea Hospital.

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