Gamming Chairs and Gimballed Beds: Women aboard 19th-century Ships

Author(s): Laurel Seaborn

Year: 2014


Wives, sisters, daughters and nieces of captains went to sea on merchant and whaling ships during the 19th century. They lived aboard contributing as nurses, nannies and navigators, and in extreme cases took command of the ship. These women chronicled their experiences in journals and letters now found in historical archives, but they remain difficult to find in the maritime archaeological record. Primary documents make mention of several items built or brought specifically for women on ships, besides their personal possessions such as jewelry or sewing kits. Five captain’s wives sailed on Charles W. Morgan, a whaleship built in 1841 and still afloat at Mystic Seaport. Clara Tinkham survived seasickness in a small deckhouse built for her use, Lydia Landers slept in a gimballed bed on her voyage, and Honor Earle refused to use the gamming chair that usually dunked the occupant in the ocean. Their stories provide evidence of the material cultural associated with seagoing women that could be used during shipwreck archaeology as diagnostics of the captain’’s wife and family living aboard.

Cite this Record

Gamming Chairs and Gimballed Beds: Women aboard 19th-century Ships. Laurel Seaborn. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436587)

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Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-5,06