The motif of a girl dressing as a man to gain work on a ship is fairly common in sea ballads (for example, in this song and in Jack Monroe). Stan Hugill notes:
The first woman to circumnavigate the globe was a Frenchwoman aboard one of the Bougainville's frigates in his round-the-world voyage in 1766. She was called Jeanne Bare. Other women who dressed as sailors and went to sea - either to follow their sweethearts or husbands, or just to satisfy their love of adventure - were Ann Mills, Anne Chamborlayne, an English girl calling herself Arthur Douglas, an Irish girl Hannah Whitney, and of course the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
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Now, 'tis of a handsome female as you should understand, She had a mind for roving unto some foreign land, Attired in sailor's clothing she boldly did appear, And engaged with a captain to serve him for a year.
She engaged with a captain, a cabin boy to be. The wind it being in favor they proudly put to sea. The captain's lady being on board she seemed in great joy, To think the captain had engaged a handsome cabin boy.
So gentle was this pretty maid, she did her duty well; Then what followed next, me boys, the song itself will tell: The captain and this pretty maid did oftimes kiss and toy, For he soon found out the secret of the handsome cabin boy.
Her cheeks were like the rosebuds and her sidelocks all in curl; The sailors often smiled and said he looks just like a girl. Through eating cabin biscuits her color did destroy, And the waist did swell of pretty Nell, the handsome cabin boy.
As through the Bay o' Biscay our gallant ship did plow, One night among the sailors there was an awful row; They tumbled from their hammocks, it did their rest destroy, They swore it was the groaning of the handsome cabin boy.
"Oh doctor! Oh, doctor!" the cabin boy did cry; The sailors swore by all that's good the cabin boy would die. The doctor he came runnin'-a-smilin' at the fun, To think the sailor boy would have a daughter or a son.
Now when the sailors heard the joke, they all began to state; "The child belongs to none of us," they solemnly did swear. The lady to the captain said, "My dear, I wish you joy, It's either you or I betrayed the handsome cabin boy!"