born March 1713 - died 12 December 1821
Best known for disguising herself as a man to serve in the British Army, to be with her lover, Samuel Golding.
She was born Phoebe Smith, in Stepney, London and was baptised at St Dunstan's, on 13 April 1713. She enlisted in the 5th Regiment of Foot to serve alongside her lover, serving as a soldier in the West Indies and Gibraltar. They both fought, and were wounded, in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Later she revealed her position to the wife of the Regiment's colonel, and they were both discharged and married.
They lived in Plymouth, where they had nine children, eight died in infancy, and the other died at sea.
After Golding died, she moved to Brighton to marry fisherman Thomas Hessel. He died when she was aged 80. She supported herself by selling fish and her evidence was instrumental in securing the conviction and execution of highwayman James Rooke.
In old age, she sold small items, such as oranges and gingerbread, on a street corner near the Brighton Pavilion. She was a celebrity in Brighton, due to her great age and unusual experiences. Forced later into the workhouse, but, in 1808, on hearing this, the Prince Regent [soon to be George IV] granted her a life pension of a half guinea per week, which was sufficient to give her 'independance'. She was at his coronation parade in Brighton in 1820. She died in 1821 at the age of 108 and was buried at St. Nicholas, Brighton.
Sometimes referred to as the 'Stepney Amazon' - both Amazon Street and Hessel Street in Stepney, London, named in her honour, still exist today.
photo- Matt Davis - - 10th March 2007
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