British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 328.000 mm
Width: 225.000 mm
Bequeathed by William Eaton, 2nd Baron Cheylesmore
Prints and Drawings
John Faber, Hannah Snell, mezzotint after a painting by Richard Phelps
The Female Soldier
Born in Worcester, Hannah Snell went to live with a married sister in Wapping at the age of seventeen. Three years later she married a Dutch sailor. When he abandoned her after a few months, she waited only to give birth to their child before setting off in pursuit disguised as a soldier. Her search lasted almost five years and included a spell as a marine in Admiral Boscawen's expedition to India. Her identity was not discovered despite receiving serious wounds and a flogging.
Hearing that her husband had been executed, she returned to London and the story of her adventures was published under the title The Female Soldier: or the Surprising Adventures of Hannah Snell (1750). She made appearances on stage in uniform at theatres in London and elsewhere. Snell married twice again, in 1759 and 1772. In 1791 she was committed to Bedlam Hospital and died there a year later.
There are proven instances of women disguised as men serving in the army and navy during the eighteenth century. Contemporaries clearly believed Snell and she was granted an annuity in compensation for the wounds she received in India and a burial place at the military hospital in Chelsea.
This print is based on one of three painted portraits of Snell dating from 1750. Its high quality and relatively high price (1s. 6d.) indicate that she was known well beyond the East End.