Joanna Mathers-Thomas


1st July 2016:

International Congress of Maritime History, Murdoch University, Perth AUS

Paper title: 'Women at Sea - Stewardesses on board P&O liners, 1850 - 1900'

In the second half of the 19th century the magnificent liners of the P&O connected Britain with regular shipping lines to the East as far as India and China. These steamships carried mail and cargo, as well as passengers from the highest ranks of Victorian society. In order to provide the best service possible, women were employed as stewardesses to look after the ladies in the first class cabins.

This paper discussed the women who earned their money by going to sea and signed on for twelve months at a time on board P&O liners to sail to India and China. Some of them went to sea for nearly 30 years, and not all of them came from a family with maritime connections. By exploring the social background of these women, a picture starts to emerge of the type of woman P&O employed as stewardesses on their luxurious liners. Moreover, the study of crew lists creates a pattern of service for stewardesses and shows how long women stayed with a particular ship and how much time they spent in the East on any given voyage.

The increasing speed of the service and new developments in the shipping world directly impacted the lives of these women. Although many would not consider stewardesses to be 'proper' seafarers as such, these women were very much part of that seafaring community and experienced the same difficulties of being away from their homes and families for extended periods of time. They chose a working life at sea in a time when it became possible for a woman to earn a wage on board ships that steamed around the globe.

15th May 2016:

Facing the Challenge of Bias in History, University of Cambridge

Paper title: 'A Mountain of Documents: Bias in Archives and Data Sampling'


Discussion of the challenges of data sampling, application of quantitative and qualitative methods in historical research, the danger of creating distorted research results and bias through incorrect selection of data samples, and bias extant in archives due to cataloguing processes and selection and curating decisions.