These days, Hartlepool Disembarkation is probably best known as one of the world’s first female Stoat Ponderers. Back in those days, stoat pondering was considered very much a male occupation. As with most things in the Victorian era, women were regarded as somehow too ideal to be considered capable of pondering anything quite as enigmatic as a stoat.
Even those brave women who had dared something so outrageous as pondering more staid wildlife such as sparrows, dormice, and similar birds and rodents were somehow looked upon askance, especially in polite society.
In the larger cities of the Victorian era, and in the country houses of the upper classes, there were many wildlife pondering clubs and societies. The most famous of these in London was the Royal Wildlife and Allied Creatures Pondering Society. In its day, it was even more popular than the Royal Society, even when their star lectures – such as Humphrey Davy etc – were on the stage. None of these top scientists of the day could draw crowds anywhere near the size of those offered the chance of pondering a ferret, or on special occasions a foreign creature, like a marmoset. Sometimes these pondering sessions, as they were known, sold out for weeks at a time with queues around the block of people ‘from all stations of life’ as The Times put it, ‘all eager to ponder a small wild creature and its place in the natural order of the universe.’
Hartlepool Disembarkation was one of those women deeply influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, as well as a fascination with pondering household pets and domesticated animals, much like other more advanced women of the age. But Hartlepool Disembarkation had a deep yearning to ponder wildlife, and not only indigenous British wildlife. she had a dream of one day travelling to Africa or India to ponder some of the larger wild animals and big game of those continents. She hoped that, one day, women like her could ponder large animals like rhinos, elephants and hippos without causing a scandal in the drawing rooms of Britain.
Even Queen Victoria herself would not ponder anything larger than her own pet hamster, and then only in private at Balmoral. Like many men of the time, her husband and consort, Prince Albert, was convinced that any women who attempted to ponder anything even as small as a stoat would suffer serious mental debilitation. Many doctors of the time asserted that the female mind was too refined to consider any wild animal in its natural habitat without causing serious mental destabilisation and degeneration.
In fact, there were many women patients in the asylums of the time who had been incarcerated for their own mental health when discovered pondering anything large than a field mouse.
But when Hartlepool Disembarkation announced that she would ponder a stoat live on stage at the Royal Wildlife and Allied Creatures Pondering Society, there was outrage and condemnation throughout the media of the day. Questions were asked in parliament and it was even suggested that she be deported to Australia, until it was pointed out by concerned commentators that Australia had far too much ponderable wildlife for Hartlepool Disembarkation to be released to ponder it.
So she appeared on stage and right there in front of a capacity crowd, including Prince Albert himself, Hartlepool Disembarkation pondered a stoat for nearly an whole hour without suffering any of the expected deleterious effects on her mental health.
It was a triumph for women’s rights, and one that, in later generations, inspired many women to shake of the shackles of conventional restriction and take up wildlife pondering for themselves.