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  Who was Hannah Snell?

 
 

Why gentlemen, James Gray will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature. In a word, gentlemen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell.  - The Female Soldier, 1750

 
       
 

On 2 June 1750, in a local London pub, a young marine stunned his fellow soldiers by announcing that "he" was really a woman in disguise. For over two years Hannah Snell had concealed her true sex while serving in a regiment of the Royal Marines. She had sailed to India through great storms and fought in mud-filled trenches at the siege of Pondicherry. She claims to have been severely injured in the battle.

Having recovered from the shock of this revelation, Hannah's mates encouraged her to make the most of her extraordinary story and suggested that she request a pension from the head of the English army, the Duke of Cumberland. Hannah followed this advice and approached the Duke on 16 June 1750 while he was reviewing troops in St. James's Park. Surprised by the curious figure standing before him, the Duke accepted a petition from Hannah, which detailed her many adventures.

Within days, news of Hannah's exploits had trickled into the London press and the public clamoured for more information. Eager to profit from this notoriety, Hannah immediately sold her story to the London publisher, Robert Walker. Her appearances on stage in uniform caused a sensation, and the news of her adventures quickly spread across Britain.

In November 1750, the Royal Chelsea Hospital officially recognised Snell's military service and granted her a lifetime pension. She lived for another forty years, marrying twice and raising two sons. In 1791, Snell was admitted to the lunatic asylum, Bedlam, where she died six months later.

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