Monday, November 16, 2009
Cecelia O'Hassett and Captain Hayes
Aboard the Lady Marie somewhere in the south Indian Ocean, a week out of Capetown...
A young woman named Cecelia O'Hassett was hauled in front of the ship's captain to explain a fight that had broken out during the daily deck outing. It seems Cecelia had intervened in an argument and wound up attacking a guard. "I's only tryin' to get 'um to get along, but young Frieda hit me, so I hadda teach 'er, and then this bloke (nodding to the guard) came onto me..."
Hayes had seen this O'Hassett woman before and was impressed by her charisma (and ferocity) among the prisoners. He needed someone like her to help keep order among the women, and to act as a go-between with the guards. The guards, all men, were as indifferent as they were clueless to the needs or their female charges; and so morale, fighting and sickness were becoming a real problem. When Cecelia was brought before him, Hayes dismissed the guard, and offered a meeting over tea, which surprised Cecelia, who thought she was in for a flogging!
Captain Edgarford Hayes, a single man, was a conscientious student of the Enlightenment and on the younger side of 40. As the master of the Lady Marie, he was determined to deliver as many of his cargo of convicts to Australia in reasonably good health, as was possible. He had heard of the sickness, brutality and high death-rates aboard other such ships such as the Neptune.
Cecelia, it turned out, was raised in an educated household, but became a troublemaker in her early teens, and was sent to a workhouse by her stepfather. (Her father had died when she was nine.) Cecelia soon saw the inequities of British society in the Eighteenth century, and was upset by the harsh treatment of peasant families and women. In fact, she had earned her seven-year sentence in 1798 by, among other offenses, marching naked through a Ladies' High Tea on the lawn of an estate outside Liverpool. The local court recorded that she was protesting "the Hideous Practice of allowing Women to own Nothing at All!"
Captain Hayes promoted Cecelia to "prisoner liaison" and gave her freedom of the ship. After a while the women trusted her, or at least respected her, but some held that she was a turncoat. She was eventually able to win at least a nod of praise from the guards since she was making their jobs much easier.
After a few more "tea meetings" and then long dinners every Tuesday night, it became apparent, but never openly admitted, that the captain and Cecelia were more than associates...