William Brown (birth name unknown) was reputed to be a Black person, born female, who joined the Royal Navy as a man. The story goes that Brown was born in Edinburgh, joined in 1804 and served until 1816, even after Brown's birth sex was discovered in 1815.
The 1815 'Annual Register' reporting the story stated:
- “Amongst the crew of the Queen Charlotte, 110 guns, recently paid off, is now discovered, was a female African, who served as a seaman in the Royal Navy for upwards of eleven years, several of which she has been rated able on the books of the above ship by the name of William Brown, and has served for some time as the captain of the fore-top, highly to the satisfaction of the officers."
This is not borne out by the Queen Charlotte's muster lists. When the crew were paid off in August 1815, the only William Brown on the list was a 32 year old Scot who had transferred from the Cumberland a month earlier. The list does show though that a 21-year old William Brown had joined the crew from Grenada on 23rd May 1815 as a 'landsman' (the least experienced rating), and was discharged a month later for 'being a female'. There is no record of any William Brown being appointed Captain of the fore-top for the Queen Charlotte.
However, this still makes Brown the first known black, biologically female individual to serve in the Royal Navy.
- "Jane Tars:The Women of the Royal Navy" by Susan Lucas from Aboutnelson.co.uk, last accessed February 12, 2006
- "Black Presence - William Brown, a 'female African'", from the UK National Archives, last accessed May 31, 2006