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Eliza Bunt and HMS Trincomalee

About Eliza Bunt

Eliza Bunt was one of the many women of the 1800s who lived on board Royal Navy ships with their husbands, without actually being listed as crew.

She was married to a boatswain called John Bunt who in 1816 was appointed boatswain for the Royal Navy dockyard in Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

On the way to Ceylon, travelling on HMS Minden, Eliza gave birth to a son. It is hard for us to imagine the discomfort of living on board a Royal Navy ship of that era, but to have given birth on one must have been traumatic. At least there was likely a ship’s surgeon there in case anything went wrong.

When Eliza’s husband died two years later in 1818, she was entitled to travel home to England on a Royal navy ship and that happened to be HMS Trincomalee, a frigate now at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool.

In 1817, HMS Trincomalee had left the Bombay dockyard where she was built and docked at her namesake port where she collected Eliza and her two small children.

The ship was also carrying several Royal Navy invalids who were sick or injured and being sent home. Whilst on the five month journey back to England, Eliza kept a diary which gives us a unique insight into life on board for a woman.  

Captain Bridges was tasked with taking the ship to Portsmouth and he records Eliza and her children coming on board in his log. He seemed to have a lot of time for Eliza, often inviting her to play cards or have dinner in his cabin.

She was also treated with respect by the officers of the ship and regularly sent them meat from her stock of animals that she had brought on board.

However, she had many days of depression and sickness when she wanted to be left alone, but privacy must have been hard outside of her tiny cabin.

She also hated to hear and see the crew being punished by being chained to the deck, and suffered some terrible storms whilst at sea.   

Eliza’s diary also tells us a lot about what she had in her cabin. She talks about her parrot, Poll, and she mentions her fondness of a portrait miniature of Thomas Craven, the man she hoped she would eventually marry.

We also know that, as well as writing her diary, she spent time sewing and reading, and enjoyed a tipple or two – well who can blame her?!

Eliza’s diary is on loan to the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool from her descendant, Mary Hope Monnery. A transcript is available as an e-book: www.amazon.co.uk/Trincomalee-Portsea-Mary-Hope-Monnery/dp/B001I11O5K

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