Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I'm taking a break from hats for a moment to address a topic about the treatment of sailor's clothing against the weather.

We can say with absolute certainty that sailors in the nineteenth century tarred their hats and, at times, other garments as a way to prevent water from weighing them down or soaking through to their skin. I was lucky enough to examine some nineteenth century tarred hats in Mystic Seaport's collection, including the one worn by Richard Henry Dana during his service on which Two Years Before the Mast was written.

But what about the eighteenth century?

There are precious few written primary sources on the dress of eighteenth century sailors, and of those that exist, I have not yet found any that describe the tarring of hats.

However, the 1785 wreck of the General Carleton off Poland, excavated several times during the 1990's, has revealed the only known example of an eighteenth century tarred hat. An excellent color photo of the same can be found in this presentation of men's headwear by the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center (page 60). At that, while searching for tarred clothing, I did come across a reference in the Description of the Western Isles of Scotland and the Hybrides written in 1777. In relating the robbery of Jack Tars by highwaymen, the author relates that the sailors gave up their "tarpawlin breeches."

It is also quite possible that there were other means of weatherproofing. Again I turn to the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center (this time on page 56) for the hat of Captain Samuel Dunn. It's a jacked leather hat, and though I'm certainly no expert on the treating of leather, I am curious as to whether or not the process of jacking leather would provide some protection against the weather. I encourage any response that can help with that!
How common was weatherproofing? It's difficult to say without more artifacts or textual sources. It's worth noting that all of the hats recovered in the General Carleton, save for the single example of the tarred hat, were felt hats and untreated. To complicate things further, the General Carleton sank in a storm and sixteen of her eighteen crewmen abandoned the vessel. In such a storm, it is very unlikely they would have left all of their weatherproofed clothing below decks, rather than wearing them.

Perhaps the common assertion that the common nicknames of sailors ("Jack Tar" or "Tarpawlin") is a direct reference to their tarred clothing is true, but I have yet to find any direct proof of that. Working on a ship would naturally coat sailors in tar simply by happenstance, rather than by a direct effort to weatherproof. We should also remember that every source I've referenced here is 1770's and later. Could that simply be because the closer we get to our own time, the more likely that an artifact or textual source would survive? Or is it because this form of weatherproofing simply wasn't employed before then?

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Sailor's Farewell, 1787

The Sailor's Farewell, Robert Sayer, 1787, National Maritime Museum.

Revisiting the familiar trope, Sayer's take on the sailor's farewell is a bit more romantic than most. Judging by the fellow puffing at his pipe by the doorway, this scene most likely takes place in Holland. The tar at the center of the piece plants a kiss on the cheek of his lass, but his posture shows that he is pulling away toward his ship in the background. The demure woman wipes away her tears, neglecting the basket that is positively overflowing with flowers.

Our romantic mariner wears a reversed cocked hat, white neckcloth, and a single breasted jacket with metal buttons and slash cuffs. Beneath that is his single breasted waistcoat with matching buttons. The trousers end at the bottom of the calf.

Attic Miscellany, Manning the Navy, 1790

Attic Miscellany, Manning the Navy, J. Barlow, 1790, National Maritime Museum.

Another press gang! A pair of Naval officers guide their tars in rounding up men suitable for the service. On the right, a notably short and fat hobbit of a man is inspected by an officer while sailors rough up helplesss men on the left.

Starting on the far right, we find a jack manhandling the short and fat fellow for his officer. The tar wears a tall "coachman" style hat, though the brim is not terribly stiff, suggesting a loose material of some sort: possibly felt or canvas. His blue jacket is simple and ends just at the top of the thigh without pockets, cuffs or lapel, but it does have a collar. There appears to be no waistcoat, but just a white shirt and black neckcloth. Unlike virtually every other example we've ever seen, this sailor wears a pair of blue slops! Besides that, he wears white stockings and pointed toe shoes.

To the left of the officer is another mariner. He bears a cudgel, ready to bring down on the head of the fellow he grasps by his cravat. This seaman, too, wears a tall "coachman" style hat and short jacket. His short jacket is of a light brown or dusty yellow color, and is lined in white. The slops are beige in color, perhaps meant to represent old sailcloth. In the typically disheveled fashion of sailors, his stockings are baggy.

Another cudgel wielding jack stands with his hand on the shoulder of his shipmate's target. The crown on his hat is shorter, but it is the same style as the other two sailors, and (as with the sailor in the middle) his hat is fitted with a black bow. A blue jacket is worn over his white single breasted waistcoat, and his neckcloth is tied around his neck and stuffed beneath the waistcoat.

The Young Maid & Old Sailor, 1785

The Young Maid & Old Sailor, Frances Bartolozzi, 1785, British Museum.

Bartolozzi's print is an interesting exercise in contrast. Standing on the left is a young female in the latest fashions of the middling or upper classes.Sitting on the right is an old male of the lowest class, begging to make ends meet. The contrasts of male and female, young and old, poor and wealthy are emphasized by the differing postures of the figures and the use of light and dark.

The sailor is bare headed, allowing us to see his short cut white hair. At his neck is a dotted neckcloth, tied close to the neck. His jacket is single breasted, matching the material of his waistcoat. The waistcoat is an interesting piece, tied in front rather than buttoned. I have never seen a waistcoat bound this way before!

His trousers are cut close to the leg, but longer than most. Sitting down, they come up to about the height that a modern pair of trousers or jeans might. Round toed shoes are at his feet, and a stick lays across his lap. In his hand, being held out for what money he can get, the sailor clutches his hat. The hat is buttoned on the side facing the viewer, but I can't quite make out what type of hat it is. It could be alternatively interpreted as a round hat with floppy brim, or a cocked hat held at just the right angle.

EDIT: It has been called to my attention that I have misidentified the garment beneath his jacket. It is not a waistcoat at all, but an underwaistcoat. Over at the blog The Buffalo Trace, underwaistcoats are explored in some detail, including a reference to an original that just about perfectly matches the one above.

It has also been called to my attention that this print is a reproduction of an earlier piece by a completely different artist: "A Girl Buying a Ballad" by Henry Walton, in the collection of the Tate Museum, originally painted in 1778. The figure on the right may have been later dubbed a sailor, because of his trousers, round hat, and cane.

Overall, this entire piece is in doubt as to its validity for our study, so I may have to set it aside when doing some larger analysis of sailors' clothing and change over time.

The Embarkation, 1781

The Embarkation, Samuel Scott and William Hogarth, republished 1781, National Maritime Museum.

The Embarkation, Samuel Scott and William Hogarth, republished 1781, New York Public Library.

Another of Scott's illustrations for "Five Days' Peregrination," this one depicts the artists boarding a cutter. Scott himself is reluctant to board, and is being pushed forward by a Mr. Forrest. Equally nervous and clutching the pair of boards that suffice for a gangplank is none other than legendary satirist William Hogarth.

At the stern is their travelling companion John Tothall (labeled "B"). Unlike the artists, Tothall was well aquainted with the sea, and as such reclines comfortably over the tiller while his friends struggle to board. Tothall spent his youth at sea, retiring to shore at about 30, where he became a somewhat successful merchant and draper, making friends with Hogarth and Scott in Covent Garden. Tothall wears a short purple jacket and a cocked hat with the point turned forward, breeches and stockings. John Tothall would later suffer significantly from the loss of a smuggling vessel he had fitted out.
An unidentified sailor sitting amidships wears a round hat and short jacket of brown.

Queensborough, 1772

Queensborough, Samuel Scott, 1772, National Maritime Museum.

A simple illustration of a short main street, this was part of a series of illustrations by Samuel Scott for the "The Five Days' Peregrination" by Ebenezeer Forrest. Interestingly, Scott was not the only illustrator: none other than Hogarth himself created a few pieces for the work!

Scott is known for his maritime art, a great deal of which is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum. Most of these works are of ships in combat, fighting storms, or engaging in the everyday routine of seaborne merchants and fighting men. This is why "Queenborough," though not terribly detailed in the depictions of its sailors, is valuable. As an artist irrefutably familiar with ships and the sea, almost certainly avoiding the exaggerations of patriotic prints and political cartoons, how did Scott see the common men on whom captains relied?

On the far right are a pair of gentlemen, each wearing long coats, cocked hats, and breeches. To their immediate left stands a sailor, cap in hand, with a hand by his chest, perhaps imploring them for money. He wears trousers that fit close to his legs and end just above the ankles, as well as a single breasted jacket. His mates mostly wear cocked hats, and though the details are scant, it appears the points are forward. The two who give us the best view of their backs are wearing jackets with a single vent at the center back. All of them are wearing trousers sewn in the same fashion as their beggarly messmate.