Welsh Sisters Portside

The story behind The Captain’s Wife Portside Special Edition.

When the Captains' Wives left their home ports in Wales they would be at sea for many months with only the crew for company. Women from all over the world would be aboard sea going sailing ships - from whaling ships to sea clippers to coastal traders - and they would often get to know one another  because the routes they travelled were well known and common ports  of call in the nineteenth century.

 We have named this special edition of The Captain’s Wife in homage to the women who sailed the seven seas and their optimism and sense of adventure when they touched land in far flung regions of the world. These places were often extremely different from the villages and towns they left behind.

 When the Captain’s Wives pulled in to port they were intent on meeting other wives and they called on one another just as they would in their houses at home.

“Keeping a journal in port is very hard work” wrote Emma Pray in Kobe in Japan,  “ I have spent one day in making calls and am thankful to say they are all returned. There are two or three ladies of the fleet who spend all their time in just going from one ship to another. How they keep it up in the hot sun is a mystery.”

Sometimes the ships were moved so closely together that it was possible to jump from one deck to another. In San Francisco, in 1853, the 'Hannah Thornton' was moved up against the clipper 'Alcyonne' and Cynthia Cogden recorded “We were so deep in the water, and they being light,  it brought the top of our house about level with their decks.”Captain Littlefield of the 'Alcyonne'  “...put a plank over and handed me on board “ so that the two wives could get together. “They wanted me in the cabin “  wrote Cynthia,  “where they had supper waiting.”

The women served up  little repasts to one another which included a surprising amount of alcoholic drink. When the 16 year old Charlotte Page entertained Liverpool friends and business associates of Captain Cummings on board the 'George Washington' she served  “cake, wine and champagne”.

In Brisbane 17 year old Hattie Atwood called on board an English vessel and was served a dainty lunch of cold chicken, bread and wine. Then she visited a Bremen ship where the skipper served her schnapps and after that she entertained them all on the 'Charles Stewart'.



Sherry and Gin were very popular in the East because of  the adventurers that had arrived there as East India men from  the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal bringing their national supplies.

In her journal, Hattie Atwood remarked on a strange custom she noticed when in Australia. At formal dinners the men had a session to themselves in the host’s study, before the meal was served. When she asked her father what went on there he told her they were given gin salt fish and crackers, which puzzled her greatly. She couldn’t understand why the ladies were barred as most would not say no to a little tipple even though it may only be a little sherry  with water and nutmeg.

Sherry, water and nutmeg was a very popular drink amongst the ladies of the time in the posts of Shanghai and Hong Kong though Hattie Atwood commented that Gin Slings were all the rage with the people on the ships that were loading Guano from the offshore islands of Peru. 

The original Gin Sings were a simple affair and not likely to appeal to today's gin drinkers but they were very popular in the late nineteenth century. However the Welsh Captains' wives came from a strict Methodist upbringing so were largely prohibited from drinking a Gin Sling - but one can't believe they didn't indulge in a tipple far from home!