He informs me he’s had hundreds, but you can’t tell with him. You name any port, he’s had a rumpy-tumpy there. Give me a port and I’ll tell you a fine story of an abedding, he says. He gets that silly grin on his face and you think he’s telling pork pies. But who knows? It could be true. But he tells such tales – and so many. Could he have really done all that? But I give him this. He knows how to treat a woman. He’s gentle, he is. If I am anything to go by all those poor lasses; all those whores, harlots and strumpets he’s fadoodled with, wouldn’t have had it so bad. He takes his time, tries to give pleasure as well as take. I have rightly become attached to him – and I don’t say that lightly. But he’s a restless soul, I know that for a fact.
And he’s different. He sticks out. In part it’s because he dresses like a toff – you’d be thinking he was gentry. He brags he’s just not any common seaman. His waistcoats, best britches and silk jackets – you’d believe he was a dandy in the king’s court. And you can tell he’s from far away by the way he says stuff to me; to everyone when he’s in a tavern in his cups or chatting with the girls downstairs. He has a funny way of saying it – and he looks at you all queer-like when you say you don’t get his drift. Took him a while to tell me about where he came from – almost as if he was scared of saying it. And it’s quite a story, I can tell you.
I first laid eyes and bedded with him back in ‘94 or 5. That’s when I found out he had his letters. He’d scribe me notes to tell me when he’d be visiting my premises and have a boy deliver them. There’d be a verse or two on them most likely. But they’d make you blush, some of what he wrote with me in mind. What he planned to do with me. How good I’d feel after the business. But he was caring, caressing till he made me quiver. The others were mostly a rough and ready bunch until I worked my way up a bit, even if, in the main, they meant a girl no harm. No, you don’t meet many sailors who can put words together so tidily like him.
And now he’s here in Portsmouth. He’s took leave of his last ship a month or so ago and he’s been visiting my premises – well, in truth visiting me, a couple of times a week. He keeps me busy, he does, what with me trying to keep things orderly and making sure my girls are clean, if you know what I mean. I insist they must be fresh after each and every shaking of the sheets, ready and respectful for the next customer. And I teach them well – how to dress, with just enough showing to interest any gentleman who comes along. These days I don’t open my doors to sailors and the like. Just Jacob, for, you see, I know him from our time together in India. I run a classy establishment now, I do. The lasses I have, they’re young and very well skilled. They are very comely to the eye and most have all their teeth.
One of those girls picked him up in a tavern in the town and bought him here, fooled by the cut of his jib. Once he laid eyes on me, though, he was no longer interested in her. Not one little bit. He remembered me. He remembered me very well. He only wants me. He tells me, the devil, that there’s nobody as well versed as I. That I know his tastes to the letter. And I am happy for him to have his way with me. He is very generous – always has been. And he treats me right. Considerate-like. He says he likes my ways and it doesn’t worry him that I’m carrying a bit of lard these days. Reckons it adds to his desire for me. But he’s getting on. With a twinkle in his eye he tells me he’s only three score-something in years. He doesn’t rightly remember. But I reckon he’s more than that. I have to work on his todger a bit these days – not like back when we met up and had rumpy in India. But now the seas are free of that evil Bonaparte, he tells me he’s going back to the land of his birth. Back to what they now called the United States of America.
Can you believe he recalls when he first copped a gander at me – and I know it is no fib for he tells it right. I also well remember the day well. We’d been cooped on that wretched boat, the Lady Juliana. Bound for Botany Bay, it was nothing but a floating brothel. Most of us had been on the game one way or another before we were hauled before the assizes for our wrongdoings. Me, I stole a ring from an upper crust turd in an inn. Wasn’t even real gold, but I still got my seven years transportation. It could have been my neck I suppose, but now I count it as my lucky day as it turns out. On board that foul brig I quickly found my mark and I was on to him. He didn’t stand a chance once I gave him the eye and the smile I knew was one of my assets. I could tell he’d never met my like before and I was soon cosseted in his officer’s cabin. He was a bit of a pompous type in some ways, but he was kind. He made it clear if I gave him my favours he would look after me once we landed. I soon cottoned on that he was spoken for back home, but that didn’t matter. Where we were going was far, far away. He knew it. I knew it. But he said he could better me and we started with my letters. By the time our final Land Ho was on the horizon I had mastered them. Lieutenant William did right by me and while we were together I didn’t hussy around. I had my hopes for him in the end, I must admit, but it wasn’t to be.
The woebegone clods in Port Jackson the day we landed had been expecting a supply ship, not one full of wanton women on the make. Still victuals wasn’t the only thing they were starving for. Soon most of the lasses were accounted for by the men of the colony in one way or another, but Will made sure I weren’t one of them. We spent our first few nights together in a tent by the cove, but later he had a hut built, then a stone house for us. We were well set up and I thought I had enough of his heart to see us being there for quite a tidy time. But soon my soldier man reckoned he could see a life for himself in this new place with the kangaru and burning sun. But that meant bringing out his betrothed for the family honour. He was remorseful, but he had no option but to cut me loose. But he was thoughtful to the end. He was a good man. I owe him.
It was always lively reminiscing about our time in Sydney Town in the many nights Jacob and I have shared our bed. Jacob tells me he sailed to New Holland in the big fleet, landed in time to see the jack raised and he quickly made friends with the natives. He says that with that twinkle of his. I reckon he‘d be only interested in the female of those primitives. He spent time on Norfolk Island after his supply ship was wrecked on it’s shores. He saved a few lives and was rewarded with extra tots of rum for his troubles, he recalls with a chuckle.
He was there on the beach when the natives speared the guvnor. He boasts that he shot the savage that did it. The wound wasn’t fatal, but Jacob received an extra ration of grog for that deed too.
Once William had made his choice my time in the colony came to an end. Will understood himself enough to know that, while temptation awaited, he couldn’t help himself. He knew the guvnor wouldn’t turn a blind eye once he was wed. He arranged a berth on the next sailing ship out of Port Jackson, which just happened to be making a run to India for extra supplies for the commandant’s store. Why, he even shelled out for a maid, Moll, to accompany me.
Well, I only know one thing, and Molly didn’t take much to convince. We set up in Calcutta with Will’s funds. Soon we had a good passing trade with plenty of sails from foreign shores in port. We even hired some dusky locals to drop their saris as well for those who wanted a taste of the Oriental. Even then I had strict rules with the girls for I had plans of returning to England to set myself up there – but with a quality place and a quality brace of lassies better than just doxies.
It was back in Calcutta that I first laid myself out for Jacob. He was soon a regular while his ship was in port – and he always sought me out as he told me I was more his style than anyone else he had rolly-rolly with in the flesh markets of the world. Soon he was talking to me more respectfully and caressing me as well as expecting his own bits to be rubbed and cajoled. Sometimes Moll would join us and he’d need no cajoling then, but mostly it was he and me and we fitted together most satisfactorily. He would take me out on the town too. We ate in the curry houses. He always said he took as much spiciness in every which way he could.
He loved telling tell his stories, he did, whether the audience was just me or with others crowded around, hanging off his every word. But to me and me alone, or so he said, he told how he came to have this strange way of speaking. Being raised in the Americas he was too cut off from places where you could pick up the King’s English and he’d had little schooling, just enough to know his letters and how to read them. When he was fifteen he told us that his father took him into battle against the redcoats, against us, at a place called Brandywine Creek. Just for my ears he told me he killed an Englishman too. And I could scarcely believe what he was saying. He then fought us at sea, was captured not once but twice – by us and the Frenchies. This was in the Indies. He told all who would listen about the slave girls there and how he caroused with then, but he told me alone that most of his time he was in chains until the French exchanged him for some of their own. And that’s how he ended up on a fleet of boats taking convicts like me to another new world. Taking my like to Botany Bay. What adventures! What an adventurer! All the high seas was his home. Back then I wondered what would become of him for I knew I was only a very little diversion for him.
Soon after his visit Moll and I parted ways She wanted to stay, I wanted to try my luck in Old Blighty – and my luck was top notch. It took a sweet bit of time, but money talks, so they say, even coin made by girls on their backs in India. I soon had a sponsor to share the costs and we set up here in Portsmouth – a classy place catering to the aristocracy and the snobs. And then Jacob finds his way here like a not-so-bad penny.
He’s still chirpy, but now and again there’s a sadness. He’s getting older and he’s not as twitchy as he once was; not so energetic in the boudoir. But I like that. We are not so young these days. Then one night he told me of the girl he loved – ‘a lively handsome girl in his eye’ was how he pictured her for me. They had two little ones, in Lisbon, but when he was at sea the fever took them – all three of them. He nearly lost himself, as he tells it. He said he made a vow never to allow himself to feel the same way about another lass. For the rest of his life it would be whores, harlots and strumpets. He resolved to be a free spirit, but it seemed to me he was half-hearted in saying it. It was then I saw and felt another side to Jacob. With me he ceased his boasting. He became quieter with his tales, listened to others more. He decided he would go home, home to the Americas.
May I speak freely? In truth that has hit me harder than I expected it would. These last weeks in Portsmouth he has come to mean more to me that just a regular johnny. I think he’s someone I could love, really love. I had that feeling for Will too – and look how that turned out. There’s more to our rumpy now, but tomorrow he sails back to family and god knows what. Back to where his funny words come from. But I’ll have my memories to warm the cockles. Not his boastful stories, but his gentleness in the bed chamber, his quiet words, his head pressed agin my breasts, his fingers gently stroking. He could melt my heart, Jacob Nagle. Tomorrow it will be business as usual, but I’ll go down to the docks, but I’ll have plenty of bosom showing, just to say to him that these mams and I will miss him.
‘Jacob Nagle was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.’
Combining the ‘Harlots’ of SBS tele fame, the sailor I read about at the ‘UNESCO Six’ exhibition put on by the State Library of NSW and the line from the Fellowship of First Fleeters website ‘...he voyaged to Madras and Calcutta where he met two convict women from Sydney who had established a brothel.’ came the basis for this scribing.
He, Jacob, intrigued me, but it was relatively easy to find information on him in the ether, not so the two prostitutes. There was nothing about how they made the move from the unknowns of Sydney Cove back to the relative knowns of a teeming Indian city so early in our nation’s history, so that aspect is my imagining.
Nagle wrote his memoirs in later life and historians reckon he got the details pretty accurate.
‘He frequented prostitutes, towards whom he acted charitably when he thought their case merited it.’
After Nagel left UK shores to return to the US he visited family members and discovered his parents had passed away. From that time he continued to serve on British and American merchantmen. He visited Central America, the West Indies again, China, Canada and other parts of his own country. He was shipwrecked once more, this time off the coast of Brazil – and he liked that country so much he remained there from 1811 till 1821. Was there another woman involved?
By 1824 he’d had enough of his nomadic lifestyle and returned back to his relatives, couch-surfing around them, often outstaying his welcome. The end came in Ohio on 1841.
During his life he had ‘…suffered severely from scurvy, felt the lash on his back, saw men killed in battle and executed, He was robbed and cheated of his money...’ An extraordinary life indeed.
Jacob Nagle’s original journal
Fellowship of First Fleeters account of Jacob Nagle = http://www.fellowshipfirstfleeters.org.au/jacobnagle.