Sunday, August 31, 2014

A New Method of Macarony Making, As Practiced at Boston in North America, 1775

A New Method of Macarony Making, As Practiced at Boston in North America, Carington Bowles, 1775, University of Wisconsin Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture.

From the beginning of this project, I have been searching for a high resolution copy of this print, and finally I have stumbled across it! The University of Wisconsin's Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture has faithfully reproduced this rare image.

Even to an eye only somewhat familiar with political cartoons of the American Revolutionary era, the central figure (covered in feathers, bent on one knee and begging to be released from the noose fitted about his neck) is an obvious copy.

Library of Congress
Even the title has been lifted from a popular piece that was published only a year before. Unlike many lazy attempts to cash in on popular prints by reproducing the exact same print (only worse), Bowles used only the central figure of the original and expanded the rest of the scene dramatically.

Bowles also added a short ditty to explain the scene:
For the Custom House Officers landing the Tea ; / They Tarr'd him and Feather'd him just as you see, / And they drench'd him so well both behind and before / That he begg'd for God's sake they would drench him no more.
Sure enough, we find the begging Tory at the feet of American tars.

Perhaps taking his cue from John Adams famous description of the Boston mobs as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and mullatos, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack tars," Bowles illustrates a black and a white sailor. The seaman on the right wears a knit cap (possibly a thrummed cap) decorated with a large cockade.  His dotted neckcloth hangs over a striped waistcoat, beneath a fairly typical single breasted short jacket. His mate, ready to haul the Tory aloft by his neck, also wears a dotted neckcloth, but has much fancier headwear: a cocked hat with large cockade and lace tape. Perhaps further indicating his position as a leader among the violent mariners, his jacket is also lined with tape around his cuffs, waist pockets, and lapels. A plain waistcoat is fitted beneath, and a simple pair of trousers complete his slop clothes.

To the far left in the foreground is a short sailor, perhaps a lad. He wears a round cap, probably a knit cap judging by the stripes. His jacket is very short, barely extending past the waist, with mariner's scalloped cuffs buttoned closed. Otherwise he wears striped slops, a solid color neckcloth, and striped slops. 

Amid the crowd, right at the foot of the gallows, is a sailor heaving a stone at the helpless and prostrate man. His is a short brimmed round hat. Over his triple vented jacket is tied a dark neckcloth bordered in a lighter color, and beneath it is a pair of close fit striped trousers. Along with many of the other jacks, he carries a stick or cudgel.

Smiling as he watches the scene beside another Bostonian (probably not a sailor judging by his hair length, frock coat, and stockings), yet another tarpawlin wields a cudgel. Another thrummed cap with cockade, just like that worn by the black sailor, is visible here. His jacket is also lined with tape, but is double breasted. A white neckcloth, striped waistcoat, and plain trousers finish him off.

At the far right of the crowd another sailor gestures toward the Boston Tea Party. The infamous December 1774 event did not occur alongside a tar and feathering, but this sailor may be a visual key by the artist to indicate how the chronologically separate events are linked through the same violent rabble. 

Regardless, this sailor wears a cocked hat with the point forward and a large cockade, a solid colored neckcloth, short jacket with no waist pockets and trimmed around the cuffs and armscye, single breasted waistcoat with stripes that only appear straight down the front along the buttons stand, and a pair of striped trousers.

The Tea Party participants have foregone their Indian garb in favor of sailor's clothing. Trousers that areplain, horizontally striped, and vertically striped, accompany short jackets with slash cuffs and, in one case, even a striped jacket. Striped jackets are mentioned here and there in textual accounts of sailors, but rarely turn up in art depicting them. What's great about this piece is that this sailor is not the only one with a striped jacket.

To the left of the scaffold stands a young man waving his cudgel, but his eyes are fixed on a man symbolically pissing into a teapot:

Hatless, he too wears a striped jacket, accompanied by plain slops.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fast Forward to 1812!

Photo Credit: Albert Roberts

Press Gang Week may be over, but if you're in the neighborhood of Springfield, Ohio today, head on over to the Fair at New Boston, and catch our comrades over at the HMS Acasta as they press unwary fellows into the Royal Navy!

Don't worry if you can't make it to Ohio. The city of Alexandria, Virginia is offering an entirely different affair to commemorate the seizing of the town after the British put Washington to the torch: The War of 1812 Signature Event Weekend. I'll be on hand tomorrow in 1810's slop clothes along with navigational instruments to give a bit of instruction to any who would hear it. Swing by and say ahoy!

Photo Credit: Kathryn Blackwell

Friday, August 29, 2014

Press Gang Week: The Murder of Thomas Nogan

For our final installment in support of HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week, we cross the Atlantic to London.

"The Press Gang," Walpole Library

Thomas Nogan was a pressed man. He was also a murder victim. We know both of these facts because of a transcript of a trial held at the Old Bailey on October 24, 1759.

Desertion from the Royal Navy was rampant. In turn, impressment was used to replace those who fled. Understandably, men pressed into service were discontented, and themselves deserted. This created a circle of desertion and impressment from which the Royal Navy could not escape until well into the nineteenth century.

Nogan typified this dilemma. Pressed into service aboard the hospital ship Phoenix (or Phenix as recorded by the Old Bailey's stenographer), Nogan sought his escape by stealing a boat to take him ashore. Almost immediately his bad luck began. Shouts erupted from the ship at his escape: "Come to! Come to!" and "Stop the man!" According to a witness at the trial by the name of John Walker, Nogan "did not understand rowing the boat very well" and was pursued by another boat a mere twenty yards off.  James Pritchard, a waterman serving aboard the Phoenix confirmed that they were closing on Nogan when someone shouted "Fire!" Though the source of the order is unclear, both Surgeon's Steward Matthew Makepeace and Boatswain's Steward Joshua Squire were accused of uttering the fatal word. One witness even claimed that both had said it.

Marine John Neale proclaimed "If I have orders to fire, I'll fire." He took up his musket from the ship's wheel, and pulled the trigger. The bullet found its mark and Nogan "failed in his rowing upon the first fire." Matthew Makepeace called out "For God's sake, fire no more!" Squire, however, commanded another shot. Neale grabbed fellow Marine Samuel Black's musket and bored a hole in Nogan's boat with the ball.

Pritchard, in pursuit, pulled alongside and took Nogan's boat in tow, helping the mortally wounded man back onto the ship. Despite medical treatment and four days in hospital, Nogan succumbed to his wound.

In the end, the court found Makepeace, Squire, and Neale all guilty of manslaughter. Each was sentenced to a painful branding on the hand.

The sentence in this case may represent the uneasy attitude of the British people toward impressment. It was perfectly understandable for a man to try and escape a situation in which he is physically and sometimes violently forced into a life not of his choosing. Though the need to stop him from escape was not disputed, the use of deadly force to prevent that escape was being examined here. The questions asked of the witnesses often dealt with the likelihood of his apprehension. How far off from the pursuit boat was he? Was he likely to evade his pursuers? Where was he headed? These questions imply that the concern of the court was whether the death of the man was really necessary to prevent his escape. In this case it was not.

Though Nogan's case was extreme, he was one of the innumerable sailors and common men kidnapped and pressed into service throughout the eighteenth century.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Press Gang Week: Press Gangs in Nova Scotia

Today we continue our posts in support of HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week.

"The Press Gang," John Collet

One region of British North America that I often neglect is that of Nova Scotia and Canada. Part of the reason for this is that neither was actually part of the British Empire until their capture in the French and Indian War. Thousands of New Englanders moved to Nova Scotia following the end of that conflict in 1763, and brought with them the resistance to the press gangs that Yankees were known for.

In the short history of the province, there had been no major issue with impressment, but the manpower needs of the Royal Navy increased dramatically with the American Revolutionary War, and the original thirteen North American colonies could no longer be used to make up the shortfall. The war years would be especially rough on the small population of Nova Scotia.

Thanks to Keith Mercer's 2008 PhD dissertation North Atlantic Press Gangs: Impressment and Naval-Civilian Relations in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, 1749-1815, we have a thorough summation and examination of the use and consequences of press-gangs in the new colony.

Of particular interest to me is the proclamation issued by Lieutenant Governor Richard Hughes against the use of impressment in Nova Scotia:
Whereas impressing Men on the Land for the Sea Service without the Countenance & permission of Civil Authority and the Search after Deserters from that Service without the Power of the Magistrate are both proceedings irregular, unjustifiable and unlawfull, and are frequently attended with Quarrels and Bloodshed, and the loss of life. In order therefore to prevent such Evils, and for the Public Security[,] I have thought fit to Publish this Proclamation hereby restricting all Persons whatever, from such irregular and illegal Practices, as they would avoid the pains & penalties following the prosecutions at Law to which Offenders in such Cases become liable.
Despite his efforts, the press gangs and the officers who commanded them would continue to bring "Quarrels and Bloodshed, and the loss of life" throughout the American Revolution.

Tomorrow we'll return to England and finish Press Gang Week with a look at the unfortunate end to one of the countless victims of impressment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Press Gang Week: Impressment in the Continental Navy

This is another part in support of HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week.

"The Press-Gang in New York," Howard Pyle, 1882.

When we think of impressment we think of the Royal Navy, and this is not without reason. British impressment was a factor in countless court cases and two wars with America.

Thanks to the American Naval Records Society, and their remarkable effort to convert all of the gargantuan collection Naval Documents of the American Revolution into searchable .pdf files, I learned of an attempt at impressment by an American naval officer during the American Revolution!

Governor Thomas Johnson, who had been elected the first governor of the state of Maryland only a month before, took up his pen to write an indignant letter to Captain James Nicholson of the Virginia late in March of 1777:
We have received repeated Accounts of your having impressed, and detained a number of Seafaring Men, and others, who either resided in, or were occasionally at Baltimore Town, and that beside the wrong to the Individuals, it's [sic] consequences have been injurious to the Town, in deterring People from going to Market there, for fear of being treated in the same manner. -
We do not know that you can have any Authority, under which to justify such violence, or to interfere in any manner with any Person, who has not voluntarily enlisted in the Continental Marine Service. - If you have any Person, under Colour of his being impressed, we require you instantly to discharge him, and to forbear from a further Exercise of Such an unwarrantable power. It is the Office of Government to protect every Subject in his Liberty and property, nor shall we who are honoured by our Country with the highest Department, be idle Spectators of the Oppression of any man in it.
We are Sir [&c.]
Tho Johnson
Nicholson is a notorious figure in the history of the Continental Navy. A native of Chestertown, Maryland, he was far better at navigating the politics of Congress than he ever was commanding a ship. It was through this maneuvering that he gained command of the Virginia.

The Virginia, despite her name, was of Maryland construction, having been laid down in Fells Point. Nicholson was given orders to take her out and run the British blockade of the Chesapeake. He failed numerous times in this mission, and also failed to keep his restive crew in check. Desertions were "so numerous that Virginia was unable to leave the docks." A frustrated Nicholson eventually turned to impressment. It was a practice he would continue into 1780, despite the numerous official and unofficial protests.

What makes this letter particularly interesting is the way in which Governor Johnson frames Captain Nicholson's transgression: "It is the Office of Government to protect every Subject in his Liberty and property." The very foundation of the rebellious government was liberty. The English themselves had long been uncomfortable with impressment, but the Americans were taking a stand on it.

Nicholson's attempt appears to be the only time an American naval officer used press gangs. Are you aware of any others?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Press Gang Week: The Knowles Riot of 1747

As we saw yesterday in the first part our posts in support of HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week, the use of naval impressment in America was one of the causes of the American Revolution. What may surprise you is that the use of press gangs in America, and resistance to them, predates even the earliest thoughts of independence.

In 1747, during the humorously named War of Jenkin's Ear, the accomplished Royal Navy commander Charles Knowles (recently promoted to Rear Admiral of the White) anchored his fleet beside Boston to refit and resupply before sailing to the West Indies. While in Boston, he was plagued with that ever present drain on manpower: desertion.

His solution was predictable: use the press gangs to make up for the loss. As I mentioned yesterday, the use of press gangs in America was a legal gray area. The Royal Navy felt they were entitled to use it for the mutual defense of Britain and her colonies, but Americans wouldn't stand for it.

Knowles may have been able to work around this stalemate. Provincial Governors could give permission to press men into the Navy from their colony. If a ship was inward bound, rather than outward, it was far less injurious to the economy, and therefore more acceptable.

In fact, this was almost done successfully in 1745 by the HMS Wager. Her captain appealed to the authorities for permission to press, which was granted providing that the press gangs only take men who were not Massachusetts subjects, and that they press no veterans of the successful and famous Louisbourg campaign. Though the gangs of the HMS Wager did not follow these instructions, it does demonstrate the limited willingness of colonial governments to cooperate.

Knowles ignored all precedents. Outward bound crews were pressed, men expressly exempted from impressment by law and by the request of the governor were pressed. The people of Boston would tolerate Knowles brazen disregard.

"The Press Gang, or English Liberty Display'd," 1770, Walpole Library

On the morning of November 16, 1747, hundreds of Bostonian sailors armed "with Cutlasses and Clubs" began taking hostages. Naval officers were targeted as especially valuable to their cause. A sheriff unwisely arrested two of the mob, and was attacked in turn until he released the two prisoners. Throughout the day the mob rioted, taking more naval officers into their grasp. A series of exchanges, rescues, and narrow escapes ensued. Regular soldiers were called out to protect the governor's house. The crowd continued to grow into the thousands. At one point, the mob even rampaged into the Town House!

At its worst, Governor Shirley fled the town, and Knowles threatened to level the city with his ships guns. The conflict over impressment would not again be this heated until the War of 1812.

It was not until the impressed Bostonians were released that the the mob finally abated. Knowles left the town dissatisfied, but a bloodbath had been avoided.

To read more about the riots caused by the HMS Wager and Charles Knowles, check out Jack Tager's Boston Riots: Three Centuries of Social Violence and Russel Bourne's Cradle of Violence: How Boston's Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution.

Tomorrow: Did the American navy ever use press gangs?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Press Gang Week: Independence and Impressment

This is the first part in a series of posts supporting HMS Acasta's Press Gang Week.


Though Americans are familiar with the general gist of the Declaration of Independence, the specific points are less well known.

Among the many complaints that the founding fathers leveled against the Crown is this one:
He [King George III] has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
With renewed enforcement of the Navigation Acts in the 1760's and 1770's, many Americans were being arrested at sea. This grievance, however, is not what is being addressed here. Those smugglers who violated the Navigation Acts were prisoners, not necessarily pressed.

This specific complaint is instead about the effective nullification of the American Act of 1708, sometimes called the Sixth of Anne, that (among other things) forbid the use of impressment against American colonists, deeming it to cause unwarranted damage to the empire's economy. Legal opinions over the next few decades cast doubt on the act, and though Americans were staunchly opposed to these opinions, the Royal Navy maintained that it had the legal right to press Americans into service. The insistence by the Crown and the Royal Navy of their right to force subjects onto warships contributed to the colonists' agitations.

Throughout the eighteenth century numerous riots, especially in Boston, were sparked by the violent press gangs. Next time, we'll be addressing one of the most sensational of these: The Knowles Riot of 1747.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Frigate Surprise at Anchor off Great Yarmouth, 1774

The Frigate Surprise at Anchor off Great Yarmouth, Francis Holman, 1774, Yale Center for British Art.

Holman's painting strikes home for me. Not just because of the great series of novels by Patrick O'Brien that feature the HMS Surprise as an important vessel in its stories, nor just because of the wonderful nautical film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I spent years working for the museum that currently possesses the ship used in the film: the frigate Surprise. It, along with the fleet of other historic and recreated vessels, was a second home to me. If you ever have the chance, go to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. It's a great way to spend a day!

Thankfully for us, the excellent online collection of the Yale Center for British Art has an amazingly detailed "zoom" feature on their website. The images I post here will be lower resolution, so I really encourage you to go to their website and take a look through their displays. The detail is astounding!

Under the larboard guns of the Surprise is a longboat with a few oarsmen and a coxswain. Their jackets are a variety of colors: light and dark brown, blue, and what might be black or a very dark brown or blue. The coxswain has a blue waistcoat and may even be wearing a brown frock coat. He, along with the forward-most oarsmen, wears a round hat with with upturned brim. The other two oarsmen wear cocked hats with the point forward. Interestingly, the oarsman with the brown jacket and cocked hat wears a queue.

Heeling a touch to her starboard as she sails by the stern of the Surprise is the sloop Yarmouth. An officer or gentleman stands on her larboard rail with hands cupped over his mouth, presumably calling out to the frigate. At the stern rail stands another fellow in frock coat and cocked hat, but beside him is a tar at the helm. Our helmsman wears a blue short jacket, white trousers, and what appears to be a round hat. Further forward and amidships is his shipmate in the same set of slop clothes. There is a lad in a red jacket, but it is difficult to determine who precisely he is. Sailor? Officer? Passenger? There is too little detail to say much of anything about him.

Rowing away is a small boat with two oarsmen and a coxswain. All of them wear brown short jackets, though the coxswain is distinguished from the others by his round hat, while they wear cocked hats.


Press Gang Week starts tomorrow!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Ship's Boat, mid eighteenth century

A Ship's Boat, Samuel Scott, mid eighteenth century, Yale Center for British Art.

Though there is no exact date to this sketch, Scott was active throughout the period of my study, and this work certainly conforms to that. What I'm really fond of with this is how the viewer is given the sense of motion through the use of darker colors and more detail at the bow, fading as you look further astern. This also serves to emphasize the common sailors over the colorless, vague figures of officers in the stern. Another great thing about this piece is the variety of colors and clothing that the men are wearing. Even though we see only a few faces, each man is given some degree of individuality.

By and large this is nothing we haven't seen before. A mix of blue, brown, and red jackets, knit caps, and a variety of cocked hats. It appears that they are all wearing breeches, rather than slops or trousers.

My favorite part: the tar wearing a colorful knit cap!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Launching at Deptford, c.1757

Launching at Deptford, John Cleveley, 1757, Yale Center for British Art.

Illustrated in this painting is the launching of a new vessel. It sits to our left, and we face its stern. Broad flags wave from where her masts will sit. Gathered on vessels in the water, and all along the waterfront, is an eager crowd, turned out in their best.

The small figures of sailors, dotted throughout this piece, are especially useful to us because many of them would have been turned out by their captains in the best clothes they could. For a special event such as this, the appearance of the crew would reflect upon the ship and, by extension, its commander.

Once again, I encourage you to visit the link above to the Yale Center for British Art to get a much more high resolution version than the details I'll be posting here.

The ship on the right has a working crew aboard, wearing a wide variety of clothes. Blue, brown, and red jackets are scatted about among the tars who wear what appear to be slops. Most are in knit caps, though at least one is very clearly in a round hat with an upturned brim.

Their mates aloft are in a mix of trousers and slops. Most are in blue jackets, though the lad furthest to starboard is in a white or brown jacket.

Here things get a bit murky. The line between sailors and waterman is a bit vague. For example, these men are almost certainly watermen:

The fact that they are wearing matching uniforms and rowing a ceremonial barge makes it unlikely that we're looking at the usual appearance of common sailors. It could well be that they are sailors when they can find the work, and have been taken on to row the barge for this special occassion, but even if that is the case, they are not in the clothing of common seamen.

But this boat is not so easy to peg:

The men in the back are passengers, but what do we make of the oarsmen? They all wear backward turned cocked hats and jackets without waistcoats. Most jackets are brown, though one is blue. One of them wears a pair of red breeches, yet the others wear brown breeches. Are these men sailors, or do they work ferries and barges in the River Thames? It's impossible to know that merely from looking at this painting or their clothing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Shower, or Any Port in a Storm, 1786

A Shower, or Any Port in a Storm, S.W. Fores, 1786, British Museum.

A popular subject of satirical artwork in the eighteenth century was women's fashion. I've never touched on it in this blog, as we deal specifically with a profession that was exclusively male at the time. Here, however, we find Jack Tar taking shelter under the humorously wide hat of a lady. Joining him is an old woman, an officer (possibly of the Royal Artillery), a hen and her chicks, and some large globular object that I can't identify.

Our yawning mariner wears a blue jacket that ends at the top of the thigh with a black neckcloth and trousers with narrow blue vertical stripes, and a round hat with an upturned brim.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Scetch of the Engagement..., 1781

A scetch of the engagement under the command of Vice Admiral Parker on the Dogger Bank with the Dutch squadron of much superior force Augt 5. 1781, Thomas Colley, 1781, British Museum.

Celebrating the British Naval victory over the Dutch, the cartographer's illustration of the lines of battle is given a bit more liveliness with the caricatures accompanying the legend to the bottom left. Jack Tar grabs his Dutch opponent and brings back his opposite hand to deliver a blow.

The details are a little difficult to make out in this piece, but thankfully the British Museum has another copy of this piece that is uncolored, and shows the artist's original intent.

Jack wears a round hat with a short and upturned brim, a black neckcloth, a short jacket with wide white lapels (the jacket itself red in the image above), and wide legged trousers with narrow vertical stripes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Admiral's Porter, 1790

An Admiral's Porter, George Woodward, 1790, Wellcome Library.

Two jacks, wounded at sea, are now employed by an Admiral to carry messages for him. A liveried servant and an aggressive hound both glare menacingly at the jacks.

Both sailors wear wide brimmed round hats, but otherwise wear two very different sets of slop clothes. On the left is a tarpawlin in a red jacket (with a collar, brass buttons, and waist flap pockets) that runs a bit long, ending about mid thigh. He wears a white neckcloth or cravat, brown or natural slops, and white stockings. His mate to the right is in a blue short jacket with brass buttons that ends at the top of the thigh. His neckcloth appears to be dotted with red, matching the red striped trousers.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Coming Soon: Press Gang Week!

In support of our friends, the Napoleonic Royal Navy reenactors of the HMS Acasta, and their upcoming press gang recreation for The Fair at New Boston in Springfield, Ohio, British Tars, 1740-1790 will be doing a whole week of posts on press gangs in our era of study!

We'll examine the resistance to, the consequences, and the use of press gangs in New England, the Chesapeake, Nova Scotia, and Britain. Each day we'll be posting a different event in the long history of impressment in the eighteenth century. To get the full experience, visit HMS Acasta's blog to read about press gangs and get updates about the upcoming event!

The French Admiral Count De Grasse, Delivering his Sword..., 1785

"The French Admiral Count De Grasse, Delivering his Sword to Admiral (now Lord) Rodney (Being a more Exact Representation of that Memorable Event than is given in any other Work of this kind) On Board the Ville de Paris after being Defeated by that Gallant Commander on the Glorious 12th of April 1782 in the West Indies," John Thornton, National Maritime Museum.

Aside from the preposterously long title of this piece, the National Maritime Museum has little information regarding it. Thankfully, a copy of the original, drawn from Barnard's History of England, is available on Wikimedia Commons. What's more, it gives us our date (1785) and is in color!

It depicts an event we've seen before on this blog: the surrender of Admiral De Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes. The French Admiral, the same who ensured victory in North America for both the Americans and the French, was forced to strike his colors after four days of battle. Here he stands on the quarter deck of his own ship the Ville de Paris. That ship is where this image is set.

This raises a few questions for us. There is only one good image of a common tar in this image. Who is he? Is he accompanying the mass of men in the background who appear to be climbing aboard in support of the British officers? Or is he a member of De Grasse's crew, some of whom we can see on the opposite side of the image?

The sailor, whether he be British or French, is typical. He wears a short blue jacket with white lining, a shirt without a waistcoat, red neckcloth, cocked hat with the point forward and trimmed with tape, and trousers with vertical red stripes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Scourge of India Captains Taking his Usual Regale, 1781

The Scourge of India Captains Taking His Usual Regale, W. Wells, 1781, Wellcome Library.

For a while I bounced back and forth on whether or not this was a common sailor or an officer. I am inclined toward the latter, but the representation is borderline enough I thought it best to include it rather than neglect it. The short hair suggests a more common sailor, but the clothing has a trend toward officer. What do you think?

The portly fellow enjoys his "usual regale:" a preposterously large tankard of foaming ale. His plain cocked hat sits with its point forward. His coat has no collar or lapel, but it does have metal buttons and waist pockets. A white cravat or neckcloth is tucked into his white waistcoat, with its flap waist pockets. His blue breeches and white stockings finish out his garb.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Sailor's Return, or British Valor Rewarded, 1783

The Sailor's Return, or British Valor Rewarded, S.B. after Edward Young, 1783, Wellcome Library.

The Wellcome Library is a new source to me. In their possession are a good number of images, including many historical pieces that are offered for free. Check them out!

The 1780's saw an increase in prints, cartoons, and paintings that called for more charity toward the unfortunate sailors who suffered for the Crown. This image is no different. Using the title "Sailor's Return" may be an ironic reference to the proliferation of romanticized images of young sailors coming home to their faithful and beautiful wives and sweethearts. No woman is here to greet the crippled tars.

Our Jack here wears an odd hat. It may be a tall Dutch cap, or perhaps just a short brimmed round hat with a tall crown. Either way, he wears what appears to be a short jacket (judging by the cut of his cuffs), except that it is tucked into his striped trousers.

His mate's clothing is a bit more detailed, though the seaman himself suffers terribly. Missing an arm, a leg, and an eye, he hobbles on a single cane with round hat outstretched. The short jacket is without buttons, over a checked shirt which is tucked into a plaid pair of trousers. At his neck is a solid colored neckcloth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Watson and the Shark, 1778

Watson and the Shark, John Singleton Copley, 1778, National Gallery of Art.

For some reason, I had neglected to include what is possibly the most famous image of British sailors in our time period until nearly 200 posts into this blog.

Copley's piece is a wonderful composition, and well beyond my poor ability to interpret fine art. Historically, Brook Watson, the title figure of the piece, was 14 when a shark attacked him in the West Indies. Though he lost his leg in the attack, Watson survived and became a prominent merchant and Tory politician. It has been said that "Watson and the Shark" is an allegory for Britain: British sailors, the personification of the empire, rescue the helpless child from the sea and strike a blow against the beast that would consume him. Coming after the stunning defeat at Saratoga, the loss of Watson's leg may represent the likely loss of the North American colonies.

Of course, there are several interpretations, and we aren't examining the metaphor today, but rather the sailor's clothing.

Atop the bow and with eyes wide, a tar thrusts the boat hook at the shark. His hair is long (as are most sailors in the piece), and he wears a dark single breasted short jacket (black or a very dark blue) with death's head buttons. His three button mariner's cuffs are buttoned shut. At the back of the coat is a piece of sky blue fabric, but I haven't yet placed what precisely that is; perhaps lining? He wears no waistcoat, but does wear white slops with a two button fly closure over dark blue breeches with gray stockings.

Further astern three men work the oars, though cast worried eyes to poor Watson. The furthest tar aft wears an odd gray overshirt or jacket above a white shirt. His neckcloth is black and his trousers or breeches are brown with a broad fall fly. On the oar are a pair of sailors: one with a black round hat with upturned brim, yellow dotted red neckcloth, and white shirt, the other in a striped shirt or jacket and blue neckcloth.

Leaning over the gunnels with outstretched hands, a pair of sailors cling to each other and to their vessels. One wears a striped shirt and buff colored breeches or trousers along with a checked red neckcloth. Of the other we only see a plain white shirt.

Clutching one of the potential rescuers, this old and balding jack casts his eyes to the shark. He wears a double breasted and loose fitting jacket with no waistcoat or neckcloth, and an open white shirt.

With a loose coil in one hand, and the other cast out, it appears that this mariner has just cast a lifeline to Watson. He, like the fellow helping the oarsmen, wears a sort of overshirt, with another shirt beneath it. His red neckcloth is striped and his trousers are white.

Finally, visible just behind the brave tarpawlin at the bow is another oarsman:

A black neckcloth, blue checked shirt, and brown waistcoat with horizontal blue or gray stripes make up his slop clothes.