Tuesday, December 30, 2014

La Grande Bretagne motile; Das verstumelte Britanien, 1767-1768

La Grande Bretagne motile; Das verstumelte Britanien, artist unknown, 1767-1768, American Antiquarian Society.

Britannia is chained to a rock and dismembered. Her limbs are scattered about her, though Britannia looks more peeved than in pain. Each limb is marked with a different American holding: Philadelphia, Halifax, Boston, and New England. This is a re-imagining of the first plate in The Colonies Reduced, with one major difference: Jack Tar has joined her in bondage.

The figure may be more informed by Dutch sailors than English ones. Even so, his outfit is pretty average. He wears a short jacket ending just below the waist long trousers, plain stockings, pointed toe shoes, rectangular buckles, and a cocked hat with the point forward. The shape of his hat is a bit odd, and this may be where the Dutch influence comes in.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The able Doctor; or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught, 1774

The able Doctor; or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught, artist unknown, 1774, American Antiquarian Society.

The peaceful petitions of the Bostonians lay ragged on the ground, while Ministers hold down the personification of America and force her to drink their tea. Britannia looks away in shame, but France and Spain smile at the work of the English government. The atrocity is watched over by a naval guard, who stands with sword bared. His blade reads "Military Law."

The evil Jack wears a round hat with a short crown, and short curled hair. His neckcloth is more of a cravat, and tied tightly around the neck. Its ends must be tucked into his plain white shirt, the collars of which are folded up and over his single breasted jacket. The jacket is tucked into his slops, and is made with cuffs. His slops are short, ending above the knee and giving us a very good look at the hem of his breeches. The stockings are plain, running to pointed toe shoes with oval buckles.

His sword is highly unusual, with a thick triple guard and wide blade. Certainly not the standard cutlass of the Royal Navy! At his waist is a belt with a pair of pistols, each turned with the butt forward.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing, 1756

Much Ado About Nothing, artist unknown, 1756, American Antiquarian Society.

Here's another political cartoon about the Admiral Byng affair. To the left of the sailor at center are a few ships of Byng's fleet, sailing back to Gibraltar and leaving the French troops to the right of the sailor in control of Minorca and Port Mahon (or, as the Frenchman proudly proclaims it: "Port-my-own"). With a rope around his neck and a broken sword at his feet, Byng proclaims "self-preservation is a Law I have ever Strickly kept."

Byng would later be executed for not doing more to save Minorca or more thoroughly engage the French fleet there. Historians have since tended to mitigate the failure, pointing to inadequete manpower, delays not of Byng's own making, and ineffective ships. In the eighteenth century, Byng was roundly criticized and vilified.

The artist appears to be exonerating Jack Tar from the loss of Minorca. Jack stands proudly and warns the Frenchman of the "War Hawke" that hovers over his head. Our sailor wears a reversed cocked hat with short curly hair. His neckcloth is plain. The jacket has scalloped mariner's cuffs left open, and a long line of buttons down the single breasted front. It appears to have a side vent on Jack's left. There are waist pockets with flaps at his waist. Slops or short trousers hang down to the top of his calves. He wears white stockings with pointed toe shoes and rectangular buckles.

Friday, December 26, 2014

An actual survey of the sea coast, 1758

"An actual survey of the sea coast...," Cyprian Southack, 1758, Boston Public Library.

The Boston Public Library has an impressive collection of digitized maps of the past, stretching centuries before our period of study all the way through today. Among these is a piece by Cyprian Southack that covers the Northeast Atlantic coast of the colonies from New York city to Cape Breton Island.

This is a massive map, measuring over 8 feet by about 3.5 feet. In the upper left corner and just above the key is a beautiful little cartouche, which also gives us a view of a few sailors beside an oddly shaped sloop.

Stretching out in the background is a boatfull of passengers (possibly officers) crowded near the cox in the stern. Unfortunately, the figures are so small we really can't say anything about them. The tar on shore we can be a bit more confident with. He wears a short brimmed round hat turned up in the front, a jacket that ends below the waist with a bit of a flair, breeches, and stockings.

In truth, I can't be totally certain the smoking chap is a sailor, but the round hat and short jacket suggest it. What do you think?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Harbor Scene, 18th century

Harbor scene, 18th century, Dominic Serres, Yale Center for British Art.

Dominic Serres has appeared on this blog before, and I'm sure he will again. His scenes often include sailors and watermen. Though it is difficult to tell which profession these men most properly fit into, their clothing would work for either class.

All of them wear round hats. The chap amidships the larger vessel has a slightly taller crown, one that might indicate a later decade of the eighteenth century. His trousers are the same as those worn by the fellow leaning onto the bow. Three of them men wear blue jackets, and two wear brown.

The oarsmen and coxswain disappearing off the right of the frame are dressed in the same garb: black round hats, blue jackets, and a red or orange jacket on the cox.

This will be the last post until after Christmas! Have a happy yuletide, shipmates!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Crossing the Line Ceremony on Board the Ship, "Vestal," c.1788

"Crossing the Line Ceremony on Board the Ship, 'Vestal,'" Julius Caesar Ibbetson, c.1788, Yale Center for British Art.

Professor Gregory Urwin's excellent Redcoat Images series explores the uniforms of British soldiers throughout the eighteenth century. This particular piece was featured about a year and a half ago in his study. In that examination, Urwin did some legwork to settle a more definitive date to this piece than the Yale Center for British Art offered:

In 1787, Ibbetson was appointed draughtsman to Colonel the Honorable Charles Allan Cathcart, who had been named Great Britain’s first ambassador to China...When Cathcart received his ambassadorship to China, he was vested with full powers from George III and the Honorable East India Company to negotiate a commercial pact with that vast realm’s emperor. Cathcart and his party boarded the twenty-eight gun frigate, HMS Vestal, in 1788, and set out for East Asia. Unfortunately, Cathcart died while as the Vestal passed through the Straits of Banca on June 10, 1788. He was only twenty-nine.
The scene depicted here is the time honored Crossing the Line Ceremony. Even today, when a sailor passes the equator he is transformed into a "shellback." The coming of age ceremony is presided over by a sailor playing the part of Neptune (joined by the Royal Concubine), and often involves humiliating and even dangerous activities like dunking or forcible shaving. As Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle would later write in the nineteenth century, "The disagreeable practice alluded to has been permitted in most ships, because sanctioned by time; and though many condemn it as an absurd and dangerous piece of folly, it has also many advocates."

Watching with interest, a group of tars are gathered at the rail. Not a one wears a waistcoat, but all wear blue jackets and white shirts. One at the center wears a pair of shoes, but most are barefoot. One wears a round hat in the style of the late 1780s: a tall cylindrical crown bordering on a top hat. All of the sailors wear white trousers, at least two of which have a broad fall fly.

Arm in arm with the Royal Concubine, Neptune stands tall and proud. The sailor appears to have a painted on mustache and perhaps a genuine goatee. Though bare chested, he has still chosen to wear his orange/red neckcloth. Like the tars to the left, he wears a pair of white trousers with a broad fall fly, just like his Concubine. Both of them wear black shoes, though the detail is too scant to draw any conclusions about the style of buckles they wear.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Death of General Wolfe Correction


In yesterday's post on the famous 1770 Benjamin West painting The Death of General Wolfe, I identified the figure in green as a sailor. I confess that I originally thought him to be a ranger. For the uninitiated, rangers were trained in irregular warfare and light infantry tactics during the French and Indian War, proving an invaluable auxiliary to the regular forces deployed by the British throughout the Northern colonies and Canada.

Thanks to the sharp eye of follower Louis Tramelli Jr., we can make a correction to my initial assertion. He sent me a quote from the Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America by Captain John Knox of the 43rd Foot in which he describes the new uniform of the rangers in May, 1759. In this quote, Knox describes the intriguing garment I mistook for a pair of petticoat trousers:
A blue skirt, or short petticoat of stuff, made with a waistband and one button ; this is open before, and does not extend quite to their knees.
Knox's description sure seems to fit the figure above! I am indebted to Mr. Tramelli for his correction. For more on the rangers of the French and Indian War, check out the Jaeger's Battalion of Rogers' Rangers website.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770

The Death of General Wolfe, Benjamin West, 1770, Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most iconic images of the eighteenth century focuses on the last moments of the famed General Wolfe. A French bullet spelled the end of his life on the Plains of Abraham outside the walls of Quebec, at the very moment his army claimed victory. This battle ensured that Canada would fall into British hands, from which it would never be relinquished.

Though the image is well known, it is little known that West's painting contains more than soldiers, rangers, and native allies. Directly behind the officers that crowd around Wolfe is a herd of soldiers and sailors.

Under the direction of a sailor (possibly a boatswain or other petty officer), three tars pull at their ropes. The commanding sailor wears a cocked hat with dark tape and what might be a wig with two large curls. Around his neck is an orange-red neckcloth. His jacket is without collar and the standard sailor's blue. It appears he wears cloth covered buttons, but I can't be sure of it. Certainly he wears a single breasted yellow waistcoat with narrow stripes running horizontally across. Our sailor also wears remarkably short slops/petticoat trousers that doesn't even reach to his knees. They appear to be of a darker material, perhaps oznaberg. Interestingly, he wears a pair of breeches of dark cloth beneath with a bright red line at the bottom hem of the legs.

The three tugging at the lines are without waistcoats or jackets, and we can't see what they wear at the waist. We can say that two wear plain white shirts with light red neckcloths, almost pink. The other wears a blue neckcloth dotted with white and a checked or striped shirt.

The subject of their efforts can be seen further to the right between another pair of officers. Sailors and soldiers all work together to haul a brass barreled piece up the Plains of Abraham.

In the foreground is a sailor with a brown cocked hat and narrow brim, with the point forward. He wears an unusual green jacket with slit cuffs, waist pockets, and metal buttons. It bears three vents at the back. Like the sailor at the left, his slops are short, and he has the same sort of red strap beneath the knee. His stockings are gray and shoes brown with rectangular buckles. Just beside him is another tar in a shirt with narrow vertical blue stripes, but nothing else that we can see

EDIT: Follower Louis Tramelli Jr. pointed out that the fellow in the green jacket is probably not a sailor. I confess, I thought at first glance that the man was a ranger, but the odd garment around his waist was a pair of petticoat trousers. It turns out that the garment is documented to rangers of the French and Indian War. See the next post for a more thorough correction.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hats, 1773

"Hats." Matthew Darly, 1773, Colonial Williamsburg.

While visiting Colonial Williamsburg, I stopped by the tailor and millinery. Above the doorway rested a copy of this print. Though a few other institutions have copies of this print, Colonial Williamsburg appears to be the only one that has it digitized in color. The trade off is the low resolution.

In situ at Colonial Williamsburg

Darly has created a caricature of the styles of hats in Britain at the time. In the words of the tailor at Williamsburg, some of the hats are only slightly exaggerated. Among these barely caricatured hats is that worn by a sailor in the upper right.

The low resolution image available on Williamsburg's website does not give us the detail we would want, but thankfully the Metropolitan Museum of Art does:

By combining the higher resolution image with the colored image we can come to a few good conclusions. As the centerpiece, the hat is worn backward and tacked down. This style fits perfectly with the 1762 style described in the London Chronicle that I addressed earlier this year in my post On Hats. It appears to be a black felt cocked hat.

Aside from the hat, our sailor wears a striped jacket (blue stripes on white in the colored image) with large buttonholes and his neckcloth is of an orange-red hue with dots.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old Time's Advice to Britannia, 1761

Old Time's Advice to Britannia, artist unknown, 1761, John Carter Brown Library.

This print is also in the collection of the Library of Congress and British Museum. As a Seven Years War piece, this print is a political cartoon highly critical of the Prime Minister and his cabinet in their reliance on Germans as mercenaries and allies. Old Time advises the seated Britannia to rid herself of a detrimental alliance.

In support of "Old Time's Advice," Jack Tar shouts across the Channel his take on the newly popular song "Rule Britannia":
By the Strength of our Navy, wee'l soon make them Slaves. Then Huzza Britania, Britania rule the waves.

Jack wears a reversed cocked hat and a plain neckcloth that is tied about his neck almost as a cravat would be. His jacket has flap pockets at the waist but no buttons on the lapels. There is a single button closure on his slit cuffs, an arrangement I haven't seen before. Beneath the jacket he wears a single breasted waistcoat with flap pockets at the waist, and finally a pair of plain light colored trousers.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The GOSPORT Tragedy ; Or, the Perjured Ship-Carpenter, 1760's

The GOSPORT Tragedy ; Or, the Perjured Ship-Carpenter, engraver unknown, 1760's, Walpole Library.

A familiar theme in music and poetry of the eighteenth century is that of the untrustworthy mariner. "The False Young Sailor" is a good example of this, though it features a serial killer rather than a criminal guilty of one murder.

In this case, a ship's carpenter by the name of William promises marriage to Molly before impregnating her. She pushes him to marry her before he signs aboard the Bedford in Portsmouth. Instead, he murders her and buries her body. Molly's ghost appears to him and warns that the ship will not leave Portsmouth until her murder is avenged. Following the ominous encounter, another sailor by the name of Charles Stuart finds a lone woman and child in the hold. Moving to embrace them, they disappear before his eyes. These apparitions cause the Captain to begin an inquiry, during which the ghost of Molly appears to William. The sight is too troubling for him, and he dies in the middle of the night.

Versions of this ballad vary across Britain and America. It is a staple in English folk music, and has been recorded time and again throughout the 20th century.

This woodcut is remarkably simplistic. The fashions of the passengers aboard the boat are archaic for the time it was published, and perhaps is meant to suggest the figures are from an earlier time. At the bow, an oarsman rows the lot, and is presumably the false ship's carpenter William. His clothing does not contradict what we know of mid eighteenth century sailors: he wears a round hat or cap, a single breasted jacket, and loose fitting slops.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Royal George's Cruize in the Year 2777, 1777

The Royal George's Cruize in the Year 2777, J. Williams, 1777, Walpole Library.

With King George III at the wheel (declared "short sighted" by the artist), the ship of state is directed by the Earl of Bute, dressed here as a highland Scot. Beside him is Satan, tossing the lead and announcing "no bottom." This is clearly a lie, as the sailor by the mainmast announces, warning that the ship will crash on "the Breakers of America."

The sailor wears no jacket, waistcoat, but has a neckcloth. His shirt is rolled up just past the elbow, and is tucked into trousers or petticoat trousers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A View of the Taking of Quebec, 1760, 1770, 1797

A View of the Taking of Quebec, John and Carrington Bowles, c.1760, Early American Images, John Carter Brown Library.

View of the Taking of Quebec, John Exshaw, 1774, Early American Images, John Carter Brown Library.

A View of the Taking of Quebec, Laurie & Whittle, 1797, Early American Images, John Carter Brown Library.

General Wolfe's defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham just beyond the walls of Quebec itself is one of the most important events in Canadian history. Breaking the siege cost Wolfe his life, and took the life of the French commander the Marquis de Montcalm. The prints above are various versions of the same image, repeated throughout the decades of the eighteenth century to commemorate the astounding English victory in the French and Indian War.

Key to that success were the sailors of the Royal Navy on the Saint Lawrence River, who blockaded Quebec, ferried the troops ashore, and wrestled cannon up steep inclines to give the British army the edge it needed.

One of the great things about such an iconic image is that it is so often repeated. We can use these images to explore similarities and differences in the depictions of Jack Tar through the last half of the eighteenth century. We'll begin by looking at the coxswain who deftly steers his boatload of grenadiers ashore in the left foreground.

In the first image, the coxswain is a bit grizzled, wearing a round hat with medium sized brim slightly upturned, single breasted jacket, and slops. The 1774 version shows him with a much more narrow brim, and double breasted jacket. In 1797, he looks positively young, with a much cleaner turn of his hat brim. Still, the posture and general appearance of the slop clothes has hardly changed.



Focusing now on the mess of sailors who drag at the pair of cannon ashore, you might notice something odd about the guns: there is no trail! It is as thought he trunions are worked straight into the wheels of the guns. This is probably an artistic device intended to lessen the crowding in the already dense prints, rather than a true to life depiction of how guns appeared on the Plains of Abraham.

In the c.1760 detail it appears the sailors are wearing a mix of cocked hats and caps, along with short jackets and slops. The slops and jackets remain constant, but the other two images appear to show the tars in round hats.



The supply boat in the right background of these images is constant, but the boat hauling officers and regulars is not. The 1774 version cut the boat entirely!

The c.1760 version shows the tars in cocked and round hats, with jackets, while the other two versions show them without cocked hats.



Once again the 1774 version erases men and boats, but all versions are still pretty well in agreement on the appearance of Jack Tar at Quebec. Single breasted jackets and round hats make up his slop clothes, with round hats all about. Some of the mariners in the c.1760 image appear to be wearing cocked hats, but I can't be certain.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Beach scene, late eighteenth century

Beach scene, George Morland, late eighteenth century, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Given the rank of English sailors in the social hierarchy of the eighteenth century, it is no surprise that they rarely appear as subjects in fine art. George Morland was a lover of the sea, and this scene of two sailors and their dog is his exception to the general trend of fine art at the time.

In the foreground stands a Jack with a red knit cap, black neckcloth, and single breasted waistcoat. His jacket is brown and without pockets, collar, or cuff. White trousers with narrow and vertical blue stripes go all the way to his ankle, but let us see his rounded toe shoes with silver rectangular buckles.

Beside him is a sailor in a single breasted blue jacket with cloth covered buttons. He wears a waistcoat of a slightly duller blue, and a red neckcloth under the collar of his white shirt. His trousers are brown.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rodney Triumphant, or Admiral Lee - Shore in the Dumps, 1782

Rodney Triumphant, or Admiral Lee - Shore in the Dumps, James Gillray, 1782, Walpole Library.

Rodney Triumphant, or Admiral Lee - Shore in the Dumps, James Gillray, 1782, National Maritime Museum.

Rodney Triumphant, or Admiral Lee - Shore in the Dumps, James Gillray, 1782, National Maritime Museum.

Celebrating the Battle of the Saintes, our cartoonist has taken the opportunity to stick one to the French and to the politicians that he perceives as opposing the success of the Royal Navy. In one corner, a passel of Parliamentarians converse about their ill luck and their hopes to deprive Admiral Rodney of future victories. Most important to our interests is the portrayal of First Lord of the Admiralty Augustus Keppel. Keppel moved against Rodney almost as soon as he took office, only to find out about his victory at the Saintes almost immediately. It stained his remarkably short career as First Lord right from the start. It is almost certainly Keppel that Gillray condemns as "Admiral Lee - Shore."

Walpole Library
National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum

Admiral Rodney, standing on the French flag, accepts the sword of Comte de Grasse. It is a scene oft repeated by political cartoonists of the time. It is also a valuable scene for us, as it is wonderfully detailed! The tars wave their hats, shout "Huzza," and carry boxes of "Lewis d'or's." Just like yesterday's entry, these boxes signify the wealth that Britain bleeds from her enemies at sea.

Walpole Library
National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum

With a wide smile, a tar immediately to the right of Admiral Rodney watches with delight as de Grasse surrenders his sword. Our jack wears a round hat with narrow and slightly upturned brim, a striped neckcloth that is yellow in one coloration and white in the next, and single breasted blue jacket with narrow slit cuffs closed by a single button. It is difficult to tell if the artist intended slit pockets at the waist, as the line (framed between the grip and guard of de Grasse's sword) could be interpreted as a crease in his fabric or as a pocket.

His slops are surprisingly short, ending above the knee. We don't have any view of his breeches, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. His stockings are white, running to pointed toe shoes with oval buckles. 

Walpole Library
National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum

Somehow sporting an even wider smile than his mate, this tar is even better turned out. He wears a cap with narrow upturned brim (probably a knit cap, though I am not sure), a single blue breasted jacket with open slit cuffs, and a single breasted waistcoat with the top few buttons open and a cutaway at his waist. Just like his mate he wears petticoat with white stockings and pointed toe shoes, though these bear rectangular white metal buckles. His waistcoat is painted buff by one colorist, and left white by another. 

Just as the ships in the right background proudly fly English flags over French, so too does this launch. The coxswain at the stern is less concerned with steering than he is with celebrating. His round hat waves in the air, and he stands tall, giving us a view of his slops. The oarsmen wear what appear to be barge caps, but we can say nothing more significant about them. Our colorists take a different take with this detail: one leaves the men entirely without color, the other hastily painted blue jackets on the oarsmen and neglected the coxswain.