Dr Fiona Savage from the University of East Anglia will speak at the ‘Women and the Sea’ symposium in Dun Laoghaire about voyaging in the travel writing of Sarah Bowdich:
‘Children and sailors are but synonymous terms’ (Lee 1835, 269). This quote, taken from a woman’s autobiographical account of a four-month voyage to West Africa in 1816, could so easily be misconstrued as dismissive and offensive on first sight. However, it is in fact an affectionate observation from one who witnessed first-hand the harsh realities of a seafaring life. This paper takes as its focus Sarah Bowdich’s (1791-1856) little known publication ‘Fragments from the Notes of a Traveller’ in order to highlight how, this forgotten and neglected literary source, offers a unique female perspective on maritime travel in the early nineteenth century. Sarah’s travel account, for example, provides important glimpses into the rituals, roles and routines of life on-board ship through a woman’s eyes and also contains unique insights into how she forged friendships with her shipmates, maintained her respectability and negotiated dangerous, difficult and sometimes deadly situations whilst at sea. In re-assessing this account, I hope to introduce Sarah Bowdich to a new audience and promote her travel account as, not only a ripping yarn, but also an important source document.