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Mary Anne Talbot was born in London. Later she claimed that she was one of the sixteen illegitimate children of Lord William Talbot, Baron of Hensol. Her mother died in childbirth and she spent her childhood in the care of different guardians and boarding schools until she fell in the hands of a man she called Mr. Sucker who was also in charge of her inheritance from her sister.
In 1792 Talbot ended up as a mistress of captain Essex Bowen who enlisted her as his footboy with the name of John Taylor when he sailed for Santo Domingo. She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where captain Bowen was killed. She was also wounded and treated the wound herself. From Bowen's letters Talbot found out that Sucker had squandered what was left of her inheritance. She decided to go on working as a male sailor.
Talbot was wounded the second time in June 1794 during a battle against French fleet when grapeshot almost severed her leg. She never recovered the full use of it but later rejoined the crew. Later the French captured her and she spent the following 18 months in Dunkirk dungeon.
Talbot managed to return to London in 1796. Next year she was seized by press-gang and was forced to reveal her gender. Next she went to the Navy to get the money due to her because of her service and wounds and finally found a sympathetic magistrate. At the same time her leg wound got worse and she continued to wear male clothing. She also visited Mr. Sucker who told her that all her inheritance was lost. Sucker apparently died of heart attack the same day.
Talbot continued to use sailor's clothes, worked in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage but eventually was arrested and taken to debtor's prison at Newgate. When she was released she became a household servant for publisher Robert S. Kirby who included her tale in his book Wonderful Museum. Later he published a book Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot (1809).
Talbot's tale aroused some sympathy and even a case of imposture when a woman in a Light Horseman's uniform tried to use a name John Taylor to solicit money in London. Talbot spent her later years with a close female friend.
Mary Anne Talbot died on February 4, 1808.
Online edition (full text) of the 1809 edition of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Ann Talbot, in the Name of John Taylor.