Monday, September 29, 2014

The Mutual Embrace, 1774

The Mutual Embrace, John Collet, 1774, British Museum.

Think this looks a bit familiar? If you've been following this blog, you may recognize this as the exact post and scenario from Rowlandson's later "The Sailor's Return from Active Service."

Borrowing (or stealing) from other artists and printers was widespread in the eighteenth century, so it's not surprising to see the image lifted. What is interesting is that Rowlandson elected to give the sailor his leg back.

Our hobbling tar wears a cocked hat trimmed with white tape, along with a loop and button. About his neck is a dotted neckcloth, tucked into his fancy embroidered waistcoat. His double breasted jacket is without collar or lapels, but does sport a simple button down mariner's cuff matching the buttons on his front, and waist pocket flaps. The jacket is lined with a lighter material.  Over his well polished peg leg is a pair of dark slops.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Greenwich Park, 1786

Greenwich Park, C. Sheppard, 1786, British Museum.

Sheppard gives us a scene of jovial gaiety as sailors, women, and gentlemen all enjoy dancing in the Park. If you look to the background on the right, you can see the Greenwich Observatory. Arguably, this was the institution that most effectively placed British mariners at the top of the international pecking order. Their accurate charts and chronometers gave Britain a nautical edge they would enjoy for generations.

Here a sailor frolics with his lass. Jack cheerfully waves his cocked hat to the figures in the foreground. A black neckcloth is tied under his collar, but we can see the open top of his shirt beneath it, and so the tar lacks a waistcoat. He does wear a double breasted jacket and petticoat trousers.

Like the mariner in the background, this tarpawlin wears a double breasted jacket (this one with lapels) and no waistcoat. A black round hat with a buckled band about the brim sits atop his head. He wears a black neckcloth and striped trousers with a broad fall fly. The familiar stick is tucked beneath his arm as he dances to the fiddler.

Our fiddler has seen enough of the sea. He is missing an eye and a leg, and so sports both a cane (which hangs from a strap around his left hand) and a peg leg. His cocked hat is trimmed with tape and decorated with a cockade. The breeches and waistcoat, coupled with this hat, might suggest him to be a landsman, but the tell-tale wounds of the sea, along with the flat bottom of his waistcoat, suggest he is a sailor. As an invalid or pensioner, a fellow such as him would not have been an uncommon sight in Greenwich.

In the background far to the left, there is a circle of men and women, and I presume this is a game like Blind Man's Bluff. With his back to us in the center is a man with a jacket ending at the top of the thigh, a round hat with flat brim and conical crown, and trousers that end about the bottom of the calf. The jacket has a single vent in the back, and he wears a wig with queue. Wigs of this style are unusual among common sailors, and I believe this is the only example I've ever seen.

Running down the hill are a pair of sailors and their girls. The sailors wear collared jackets, trousers, and round hats. One wears a single breasted waistcoat, and the other may be interpreted as wearing the same or doing without a waistcoat altogether. The tar on the left carries a stick.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Mutineers Turning Lieut. Bligh and Part of His Officers and Crew from His Majesty's Ship the Bounty, 1790

The Mutineers Turning Lieut. Bligh and Part of His Officers and Crew from His Majesty's Ship the Bounty, Robert Dodd, 1790, Brown University.

The 1789 mutiny on the Bounty is so well known it hardly requires introduction. Deep in the Pacific, Lieutenant Bligh is cast adrift by the mutineers who disappear to Pitcairn Island. Movies, novels, and all sorts of popular media have portrayed the event, but this is one the earliest pieces to represent the legendary event. It is interesting in that the artist has chosen not to portray the moment of Bligh being roused by the mutineers, nor of the general confused conflict at the start of the mutiny. Instead, he has chosen to show Bligh at the beginning of his forty seven day open boat voyage of survival.

Standing proudly on the stern rail of the Bounty is the first mate Fletcher Christian. Evans, the artist, has given him a self satisfied look. He wears a round hat with a tall crown and black cockade on the right.

At first glance it appears that his trousers and waistcoat are striped, but the stripes appear to be more for texture and shading than to say something about the material. The shirtsleeves of the fellow behind him and the face of the tar to the right are both striped in the same manner. Also, the stripes do not fit with the pattern of a fabric, but rather with the way he stands.

His blue short jacket bears a collar, and a nice cravat appears from his waistcoat. The sailors to either side of him likewise wear cravats. It could be argued that the jack to the right is wearing a neckcloth, but it is tied more in the fashion of a cravat than a working garment.

Waving their round hats in triumph, sailors in blue jackets further forward celebrate the day. A more malicious set loiter at the stern rail with muskets and fixed bayonets. Just beside the breadfruit tree is a sailor with an odd cap, perhaps something akin to the jockey cap that sailors sometimes wore. 

The stern windows of the Great Cabin betray the chaos below decks. Sailors toss swords and goods out to Bligh and the loyal sailors with him before their arduous journey. Two of the sailors wear shirts without waistcoats, blue short jackets, and black round hats. A third wears not hat at all, and appears to have his shirt untucked, or perhaps is wearing an apron. He wears an open blue waistcoat.

Bligh reaches out to catch the sword being tossed from his own cabin. He wears no waistcoat, but a pair of loose breeches or trousers, and a blue officer's coat with brass buttons and lapels. 

The lack of a waistcoat or hat is telling. It is a nod by Evans to the hurried nature of Bligh's departure. Other sailors are without waistcoats and hats, to be sure, but he is an officer. At that, his eyes are cast upward toward Christian, who is in a complete set of clothes.

A collection of officers and sailors are gathered at the stern of the open boat. Like their captain, their coats are distinguished by brass buttons, lapels, and collars. Two of them wear blue striped trousers, and one wears a waistcoat to match. One of the sailors amidships wears a neckcloth of a natural color.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Taking of Porto Bello, 1741

The Taking of Porto Bello by Adml. Vernon, Samuel Scott, 1741, Brown University.

Samuel Scott's works have been featured here more than once. This engraving of one of his earlier pieces depicts the widely acclaimed victory of the British fleet under Vice Admiral Edward Vernon over the Spanish garrison of Portobello during the War of Jenkin's Ear.

Though he was not present at the battle, Lawrence Washington would serve under Vernon as officer of acting marines aboard his flagship. Given the legendary exploits of the Admiral, Lawrence would name his estate after him, eventually passing it on to his brother George Washington, for whom Mount Vernon is most famously known.

Scott's image is primarily concerned with the ships giving fire to the fortifications ashore, but we do get some good images of sailors working the ships or dragging the troops ashore.

The sailors in this craft are uniformly dressed in blue short jackets. Their jackets are notably short, fitting tightly around the waist. The crew wear a mix of round hats and cocked hats, some with the cocked hats reversed. All wear white trousers.

Here the sailors aboard the ship of the line (complete with its decorative carving of Neptune) are similarly clad in white trousers, blue jackets, and the occasional red waistcoat or jacket. Round hats dominate this crew, though some of the tars may be interpreted as wearing cocked hat.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Augustatus Kuningam, c.1780

Augustatus Kuningham, artist unknown, c.1780, Naval Historical Center.

The subject of this piece, Gustavus Conyngham, lived a colorful life as a captain in the Continental Navy. Though more than one person has referred to him as a "pirate," there's little evidence to support that. More likely, he was decried as one by the British, as he was a commissioned officer in the navy of an unrecognized state. They gave him the moniker "the Dunkirk Pirate." The truth of his story is one of daring escapes, scores of prizes, and a career lasting from American Independence to the War of 1812. The artist of the French engraving above goes so far as to declare Conyngham the "Terror of the English."

Unlike other contemporary images of Conyngham, which portray him in his Continental Navy uniform, this French print shows him in the dress of a common sailor. The preposterous brace of pistols, reinforced by a sword in one hand and an oversized boarding axe in the next, and combined with the common tar's slop clothes, suggests a man willing to brawl as well as lead.

This colored version of the above was buried in one of my folders without attribution. If anyone can link me to the appropriate site, I would appreciate it.

Conyngham wears a short brimmed black round hat, a black neckcloth that hides his collar, a single breasted blue short jacket with cloth buttons and no cuffs, a single breasted red waistcoat, white slops or loosely fit trousers, and black ribbed stockings.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A View of Gravesend in Kent, 1780

A View of Gravesend in Kent, with Troops Passing the Thames to Tilbury Fort, F. West, 1780, Brown University.

Thanks to Gregory Urwin for directing me to this print! It's a colorful interpretation of the movement of a regiment across the Thames to Tilbury Fort, which still stands today just outside of London. It's a fairly routine movement for the time, but fascinating to us. In the first, the sailors and lobsters are riding aboard landing craft. Tall ramps are fitted to the bow of these flat bottomed craft so that they might be lowered on reaching shore.

In this vessel, a number of lobsters stand about with their bayonets fixed. The sailors are hauling on a line fixed to the opposite shore by a large cleat. This method of transporting men was far from unheard of, and proved to be popular among ferrymen of both America and Britain. This also suggests that the distance between one shore and the next was not extreme. The sailors wear blue short jackets and breeches. Round hats make up their headwear, varying between yellow, black, and brown. We might take this with a grain of salt, as yellow seems more present in this image than may be true to life.

Similarly, these sailors wear blue short jackets, yellow or white breeches, and black round hats. A single Jack standing at the bow of the vessel of the midground in this detail appears to be wearing slops.

One might argue that these are ferrymen rather than sailors. Given the uniformity of their dress and the nature of the operation (a goodly number of vessels being dragged specifically to a military installation), I think it far more likely that these are naval sailors. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A View of Ticonderoga, 1777

A View of Ticonderoga from a Point on the North Shore of Lake Champlain, James Hunter, 1777, British Library.

Thanks to Steve Rayner for pointing out this piece! James Hunter painted this watercolor during the Saratoga campaign. Fort Ticonderoga played a key role throughout the early years of the American Revolutionary War, and can still be visited today! Lake Champlain, on which Ticonderoga lies, was the site of one of the more exciting naval engagements of the Revolution only the year before. Though a technical victory for the British, the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island ended with the British abandoning the New York campaign for a year. The 1777 campaign was famously disastrous for the British, ending with the surrender of Burgoyne's army.

Hunter may have painted this piece in the days immediately prior to the capture of Ticonderoga, or shortly thereafter. The capture of the fort was a major boon to the morale of the army, and may have imbued them with false confidence in their ability to march through New York. There are a number of sailors in this piece, manning a variety of small craft to patrol the lake and carry troops and supplies along the waterway.

In what appears to be a row galley on patrol, an officer stands by a substantial bow gun while tars in matching round hats with tall crowns and upturned brims, as well as blue jackets, pull away. The coxswain in the stern wears much the same as his crew. The officer appears to be wearing a blue coat with red facings: the uniform of the Royal Artillery. Perhaps the RA was given command of a boat or two? Or maybe the galley is merely escorting the officer across the lake.

We get a much more detailed view of the tars on Lake Champlain in the foreground. Three tarpawlins make their way up a hill toward an artillery officer and some light infantry. All of them wear the same blue short jacket without cuffs, and with mariner's flap cuffs. Likewise, they wearing black felt round hats, though the fellow in the back has a much wider brim (and downturned at that) than his mates. The Jack in front wears a single breasted white waistcoat, as does his mate in the back. The mariner in the center wears a double breasted red waistcoat. All of them wear black neckcloths. It is difficult to say whether the sailors to the left wear trousers or slops, but it appears that the sailor in front is decidedly in slops.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Music Break: Admiral Benbow

Read up on the fascinating and exciting story of Admiral John Benbow! This song, which first appears in the early eighteenth century but remained in the sailors' repertoire well into the next, gives a thrilling account of Benbow's last battle. Here it is performed in a nineteenth century style:

This may have to hold us for a while. I'll be taking some time to go back through old posts and update them with larger images, more zoomed in details, and direct links with attribution to the original source.

We are also working to update the design of the blog, to have a more professional and visually appealing take.

Keep checking back and weigh in on what you think can be done to improve this blog!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Representation of the Surrender of the Island of Otaheite..., 1773

A Representation of the Surrender of the Island of Otaheite to Captain Wallis by the Supposed Queen Oberea, artist unknown, 1773, Princeton University.

Drawn from the 1773 book An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, this image depicts the moment that Captain Samuel Wallis, an explorer who plied the Pacific to explore and map islands much in the same way that Cook would. With imperialistic flare, the artist here depicts a "surrender" that never occurred. In the words of John Delaney, Map Curator of Princeton University:
This exact scene is not described by Wallis. In fact, he was quite sick and weak when they arrived at Tahiti and did not set foot on the island until two weeks later. Seeing his condition, the queen ordered her people to carry him to her house, where young girls were instructed to massage his body. When he was ready to leave, the queen offered to have him carried again, but he refused and chose to walk. Even then, the queen took him by the arm and literally lifted him over areas of water or mud on the way back to the ship.
A party of marines accompanies Wallis on his expedition to meet the "supposed" Queen of Tahiti. Among their line is an uncomfortable looking sailor.

The tar, bent under the weight of his musket, wears a cocked hat trimmed in white tape with the point forward. His short jacket ends at the top of the thigh, and is tucked back enough to reveal a belt with a pistol tucked inside. Slops are fitted over his breeches, along with white stockings.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A View of the Landing of New England Forces, 1747

A View of the Landing of New England Forces in ye Expedition against CAPE BRETON, 1745, F. Stephen, 1747, Wikimedia Commons.

During the War of Austrian Succession (also known as King George's War or, more hilariously, the War of Jenkin's Ear) colonial soldiers from New England embarked on an expedition to besiege the French fortress at Louisbourg. This print depicts the dramatic moment when, under the cover of the Royal Navy's thundering cannon, those American troops set foot on Canadian soil. The siege was successful, and the fortress became an important piece in the game of international diplomacy that eventually ended the conflict.

You'll notice that a good number of these boats have no sailors in them, or even oars. This is quite unlike our previous posts that clearly show the oarsmen alongside the lobsterbacks. In this case, the boats do not appear to have been designed to carry troops, and so do not have the room to accommodate both soldiers and sailors. Instead, two boats are tied together with the troops being loaded into one and dragged by the sailors in the other. The above image has little detail, but we can say that the sailors are wearing blue short jackets and probably round hats or jockey style caps.

This boat is crammed with tars who lack any jackets. The hats are a bit more clear, though the nature of the black hat is still a bit indeterminate. Most of them wear knit caps, including one fellow with a green and gray striped knit cap. They appear to be wearing waistcoats, but it is hard to say anything more definite about them.

On the stern of this wonderfully decorated vessel are a good number of men. It is difficult to tell who are soldiers and who are sailors, though I can say with some confidence than the man furthest aft on the quarterdeck is among the latter. His is a round hat, he shows no significant length of hair, and his jacket is a single breasted blue.

Climbing from the gunport is another sailor, being helped down into the vessel by his mates. One of them wears a cocked hat and green short jacket, though the rest wear blue. Another tarpawlin climbs into a gunport, and is the only one who gives us a good view of his trowsers. These are long legged garments, and clearly not the broader legged slops.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Figurehead of the Jolly Tar, c.1781

Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, VA

Figurehead of the Jolly Tar, artist unknown, c.1781, Mariner's Museum.

"Figurehead: Jolly Tar," Mary E. Humes, c.1935, National Gallery of Art (US).

The second image above is an early 20th century artist's representation of the original wooden sculpture in the collection of Mariner's Museum in Virginia. The figurehead of the American brigantine rigged privateer Jolly Tar represents the vessel's namesake. I don't usually include later representations, even of original pieces, because the primary source (if available) should always be deferred to. Even the most well meaning and detailed attempt at recreation can lose something in the interpretation.

I'm still going to use it.

The original figurehead is two hundred and thirty years old. In that time, some of its paint may have broken down or faded into colors which are no longer truly representative of the original piece. It is possible that Humes saw the figurehead when it was closer to the original colors than it is today.

The Jolly Tar wears his hair short and is without a hat. His neckcloth is a dark blue and tucked neatly beneath his collar. The short jacket is single breasted, without buttons, and has no cuffs. Clasped in his right hand is a rock, perhaps a reference to the role of seamen in the mobs that agitated in the decade leading up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Humes portrays the figurehead as wearing a pair of red breeches with a wide belt and without a fly. The image of the original in the Mariner's Museum appears to have a more narrow belt, though this may just be the forced perspective of the photograph. It further appears that the original is dressed in brown breeches, but this could be the result of a breakdown of the original paint on the piece.

As an aside, here's a piece from the March 5, 1782 Pennsylvania Gazette about the successul haul of the privateer Jolly Tar! You can learn more about her at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Captain Andrew Wilkinson, R.N., 1755

Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, VA

Captain Andrew Wilkinson, Gabriel Mathias, 1755, Mariners' Museum.

As I have said before, the focus of this blog is the clothing of common sailors, and so I tend to filter out images of officers. Thank goodness that Jeanne Willoz-Egnor, Director of Collections Management for the Mariners' Museum and Park in Newport News, VA brought this to my attention!

Officers of all ranks were required to know the art of the mariner, and it was not uncommon in the eighteenth century to see officers aboard ship in clothes that were not unlike that of the sailor. What is less common is to see those practical and low class clothes being worn in a portrait!

Wilkinson was certainly a skilled captain, and his portrait is a reflection of that. He was proud of his ability to manage a ship and her crew. As such, this image is an indication of how an officer would distinguish himself as visibly superior to the average tarpawlin, while adapting the undeniably more advantageous aspects of sailor's garb into their own wardrobe.

A close-up of Captain Wilkinson's head really throws the blend of fancy and practical into relief. His cap is striped, much in the same fashion as the knit caps sailors and watermen were known to wear. Yet on closer inspection, the nature of the cap is probably more akin to a gentleman's banyan cap.

It appears that his cap is fur lined! Both more comfortable and more expensive than your average sailor would have.

Captain Wilkinson's torso likewise demonstrates the conflict between his class and his trade. The cravat is of a fancy pattern, and neatly tied at that. It is tucked into a fancy brocade waistcoat with matching fabric buttons. The only concession this gentry waistcoat makes to our Captain's profession is that it is somewhat shorter than the average mid 1750's waistcoat.

While the waistcoat and cravat scream his station in life, the simple checked shirt and short jacket betray the salt in Captain Wilkinson's veins. The simple jacket is without a collar or lapels, and his simple flap pockets have no buttons.

A closeup of his sleeves is particularly enlightening. Firstly, his left hand (the one supporting the frayed line) comes from a sleeve that shows its seam: right along the underside of the arm. Secondly, his right arm is clad in an open mariner's cuff, but with a twist.

Common sailors are often depicted as simply leaving the cuffs open, but this jacket is designed to leave its cuff open. There is fully space for two more buttons on that cuff, yet there are neither buttons nor even buttonholes. Unless my eyes deceive me, there aren't even buttonholes for the outermost buttons. What we do see in the gap is another strip of fabric intended to provide warmth or protection in the open space, while still allowing the freedom of movement that sailors treasured from open cuffs. 

Absolutely fascinating piece!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Naval Snow, 1759

A Naval Snow, Charles Brooking, 1759, National Maritime Museum.

A snow is a square rigged two masted vessel with a trysail rigged on her mainmast. In landsmen's language: she has two masts with rectangular sails, and on the furthest mast back she carries a sail that runs fore and aft, rather than port to starboard.

The snow's crew are pretty unremarkable in their dress. Most wear round hats and cocked hats, as well as trousers. What is interesting is that their jackets are of a variety of colors: brown, blue, and red. A ship's company purchased their slop clothes (or the fabric to make them) from the purser through the "slop chest" or store. This meant that a crew would, in fairly short order, be dressed very much alike each other as they were all getting their fabric and clothes from the same source.

Perhaps this crew has just entered, and so came from a variety of other vessels and from ashore. That would explain the jostled look of their garb.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Jaco-Independo-Rebello-Plaido, 1747


Jaco-Independo-Rebello-Plaido, D. Bobin, 1747, Yale University Walpole Library.

There are many things you can say about political cartoons of the eighteenth century. What you can't say is that they were subtle. Half a year after the crushing defeat of the Jacobite rebellion at Culloden, this cartoonist still fears sedition from the North. Or, more appropriately from Satan. The kilt-clad Devil himself floats above the mob, grinning at their dissent.

Any self-respecting eighteenth century mob must include sailors. This one is no different, and they can be found in the far left foreground.

Most of the tarpawlins wear short jackets with buttoned mariner's cuffs and slops. The headware is diverse: one is hatless, another with a round hat, a third with a cocked hat, and at the center: a turban! A "Turk" has joined the sailors, as evidenced by his dark skin, mustache, and turban. The North African sailor is by far the best turned out of the lot, with striped waistcoat and slops as well as frilled cuffs. He, along with his mates, bears a cane or walking stick.

The tallest figure is on the far right. His girth is barely held in check by his single breasted short jacket with its open mariner's cuffs, behind an apron or slops. What I can't quite figure out is what is hanging from this belt:

At first glance, it looks like a belaying pin. Today, it's a popular "reenactorism" for interpreters to stuff a belaying pin in their belt to use as a bludgeon. In the roughly two hundred images I have examined so far, this would be the first to evidence that. Canes, sticks, and cudgels are far, far more popular than belaying pins ashore. At that, there's an odd loop to the top of it. Belaying pins require no loop or hook, as they fit into precut holes in the fife rail of a ship. More likely, this piece is a marlinspike, fid, or other sailor's instrument.

UPDATE: At the suggestion of a few of my loyal readers, and the examination of other images, it is clear that this man is not a sailor. Rather, he is a butcher! The tool at his waist is used to sharpen his knives.

Monday, September 8, 2014

View in Pickersgill Harbour, early 1770's

View in Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Bay, New Zealand, William Hodges, early 1770's, National Maritime Museum.

At first glance, this painting is barely nautical. The lone figure in the center of the piece, dwarfed by the tall trees, seems to be dragged down by his exhaustion. He lacks the round hat, neckcloth, and short jacket of a sailor. The only hint of his occupation is the short hair and the trousers.

The composition of the piece is fascinating. The forest of New Zealand blends into the vessel on the far right, which almost appears to be part of the wilderness.

What we see here is a rare meeting between the genre of maritime art, and the new age of exploration. You may recognize Hodges from previous entries in this blog, and this is a part of the same series: the voyages of Captain Cook.