A ropemaker’s daughter from a moderately well-off family, Mary married a fisherman from Cellardyke in Fife when she was twenty. Her husband, Thomas Watson, was subsequently pressed into the navy.
Mary followed him aboard – and gave birth to their first child during the Battle of Copenhagen. They transferred to HMS Victory in 1803 under the command of Admiral Nelson. Two years later came the battle of Trafalgar. Thomas was in charge of a gun crew and Mary tended the wounded while their daughter was kept out of harm’s way by another seaman from Cellardyke, Malcolm McRuvie. At the height of the battle, Nelson was killed and Mary helped to embalm his body – in a large barrel of brandy!
Her plaque is on the Frigate Unicorn at City Quay, which was not built until shortly after Trafalgar, but gives an idea of life at sea on a fighting ship of the time.
Painting of HMS Victory leaving Portsmouth by Thomas Elliot. Copyright National Trust for Scotland. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk
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