Hannah Snell, The Woman Soldier

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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been the daughter of a hosier and dyer, and when young, loved playing at Soldiers, parading a company of boys and girls in the streets of Worcester.  She was abandoned by her husband at the age of 22, and bereaved of her child, borrowed a male suit and set forth in search of her husband. She made her way to Coventry, which was a base for Hanovarian support in 1745, but did not find him. She enlisted in the Duke of Northumberland's army which compelled the Young Pretender's retreat. At Carlise, it is said that her sergeant took umbrage at the way his women took to the 'young man' and gratified his resentment by procuring 500 (her account) lashes for his rival. She deserted, made her way, disguised, to Portsmouth,, where she enlisted in the marines, in Colonel Frazer's regiment, saw active service in India, and fought at the siege of Pondicherry. She was wounded twelve times, once in the groin, but maintained her secret by extracting the bullet herself and dressing the wound, but another version says that she was nursed by a black women who kept her secret.

Her story created a great stir in London when an account of her adventures, entitled The Female Soldier by   R. Walker, was published in 1750. She appeared on the stage at Sadlers Wells and performed military drills. Three portrait painters painted her in masculine dress, and the Gentlemen's Magazine of July, 1750, investigated her claim and was impressed. The Lord Mayor of London summoned her to attend him, and in an affidavit sworn before him, she claimed the truth of her story. Even the Duke of Cumberland was convinced and added her name to the King's pension list. After the publicity, she retired to keep a public house, which she named The Female Warrier, but it was not a success. The King granted her a pension of one shilling a day for life as an out-pensioner of Chelsea Hospital. She married three times but eventually went insane and died in Bethlehem Hospital in 1792, aged 69. She was buried in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital.

Fragments of a poem published in her honor in the Gentlemen's Magazine in 1750 goes as follows:

'Hannah in breeks behav'd so well
That none her softer sex could tell;
Which proves that men will scarce admit,
That woman are for secrets fit,
Her fortitude, to no man's second,
No woman's honour must be reckon'd-
Twelve wounds; twas half great Ceasar's number
That made his corpse the ground encumber,
How many men, forheroes nurst

Had left their colours at the first?'