Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Packet Boat Under Sail in a Breeze off the South Foreland, 1780


"A Packet Boat Under Sail in a Breeze off the South Foreland," Thomas Luny, 1780, Yale Center for British Art.

South Foreland is unmistakable. Tall white cliffs looming over the Straits of Dover, topped by the famous South Foreland Lighthouse, dominate the waters. Standing since at least the 1730's, the South Foreland light is so distinctive, it worked its way into the lyrics of the catchy sea shanty "Spanish Ladies." There is still a lighthouse there, though not the same as we see in the painting above.


The (presumably) master of the packet stands along the larboard rail in his dark breeches, white stockings, and red coat. The sailor beside him wears a light blue jacket that ends at the waist, and long white trousers. At the starboard rail is a sailor with the same style of jacket, but a black cap and dark breeches. At the tiller, the helmsman wears a yellow jacket and black cocked hat, and appears to be wearing a wig.


In the jolly boat, four oarsmen struggle in the stiff breeze, presumably to haul up their anchor cable, though I confess I don't really know. Furthest forward is a chap in what might be a thrum cap and a single breasted pale brown jacket. Next hauls a sailor in a black cap or round hat, and a red jacket with waist pockets. At the back of their line is a tar with a round hat, red waistcoat, and blue jacket with waist pockets. Near the stern stands a fellow struggling to free an oar from beneath the canvas amidships. He wears a cocked hat with the point forward, a yellow jacket, and a light colored waistcoat.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The State Tinkers, 1780


The State Tinkers, James Gillray, 1780, Library of Congress.

At first I thought that the Library of Congress had gotten the date wrong, but a close look at the publication date at the bottom shows that the "4" was written on later, over the date.

Personalities representing the heads of Government are busily chipping away at "The National Kettle." King George foolishly proclaims the "Tinkers" as saviors, when in fact they make two holes for every one they claim to fix.

Brandishing a sledgehammer and dressed in the clothing of a common sailor is John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, and First Lord of the Admiralty for the North Administration.


Sandwich wears a simple black cap and single breasted blue jacket. His jacket has open slash cuffs, cloth buttons along the front, and waist pockets. A paper poking from that pocket helpfully identifies him as Lord Sandwich. His pale yellow waistcoat is double breasted with cloth covered buttons and simple slit pockets at the waist. Tucked into the waistcoat is a white neckcloth.  Sandwich's slops are grey with what might be a fall front fly, but I can't be sure. His breeches are black, stockings white. Pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles finish off the First Lord's slop clothes.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hell in Triumph, or the Devil has got his own, 1779


"Hell in Triumph or The Devil has got his own," 1779, Library of Congress.

The First Battle of Ushant in 1778 is important for several reasons. It was the first major fleet action between the French and the British in the American Revolutionary War, It was also the first battle that the legendary Victory fought in. The battle, however, is not remembered for these reasons, but for the political squabbles that came out of them.

Tactically a draw, the British suffered far more casualties than the French, and the battle was abandoned when Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser failed to obey the signals of the commanding Admiral Augustus Keppel. Though legendary in his own right, Keppel was not entirely free from blame for the outcome of the Battle of Ushant either. Accusations flew back and forth between the two admirals, exacerbated by the Whig-Tory divide between them. Both men were tried by courts martial and acquitted, but the damage was done. Keppel's astounding naval career was over, but he became a political figurehead for the opposition in Parliament. After the fall of the North Administration in 1782, Keppel's political career was briefly revived with his appointment to First Lord of the Admiralty. This was not to last: he resigned after the Treaty of Paris the next year.

This political cartoon is part of the Whig victory lap in the wake of Keppel's acquittal. It portrays Sir Hugh being dragged by demons into the waiting maw of Satan, clutching an altered log book. Behind him stands Keppel's Whig ally Hood. The corpses of Byng and an unidentified admiral, who rise from their graves, condemn Palliser.

Beside an angel trumpeting Keppel as a hero, three sailors gather around a table with glasses of punch. Raising his glass in toast, a tarpaulin sings out: "Come Jack, push the Grog about. Brave Keppel forever & damn him who wou'd stay to knot & splice whilst ye French are in sight." To this Jack replies, "Aye damn him. I would have parted with a Leg rather than he had been with us." Seat at center is a third who joins in: "Aye Jack, but the Devil always betrays his Friends & he has Hood-winked him at least."

It is comforting to know that I'm part of a long tradition of terrible puns.


The standing sailor has a short brimmed plain round hat in one hand, and a tall glass in the other. His jacket is single breasted, and he wears a closely tied and short plain white neckcloth. Seated before him and delivering his pun is a tar with a cap (possibly knit, but there isn't enough detail to be certain). His jacket has button down mariner's cuffs, and appears to be single vented at the back. It is possible that the jacket is triple vented, but hidden by the chair. His trousers have narrow vertical stripes, and end well above the ankle.


Jack wears a cap as well, and a single breasted jacket with cuffs that match that of his mate. His neckcloth is also white and short. Jack wears slops that end at about the top of the calf, showing off his stockings and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dancing Sailor Figurine, c.1753


Dancing sailor figurine, Chelsea Manufactory, c.1753, Museum of Fine Art.

Within the eighteenth century British Empire, porcelain figurines like this were collectible items that (though kitschy by today's standards) were common and sought after. Several of these depict sailors, as we've seen before on several occasions.

This figure wears a black brimmed hat with white tape around the crown. His jacket is without any ornamentation (or even buttons) and ends at the waist. Beneath he wears a white shirt with some odd black symbols on it. I can't quite figure out what they are, but there is a thin black cravat under his collar. He wears orange breeches, white stockings, and black shoes that are tied with blue ribbon.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Foudroyant and Pégase entering Portsmouth Harbour, 1782


Foudroyant and Pégase entering Portsmouth Harbour, 1782, Dominic Serres, 1782, Google Art.

In late April, 1782, British and French squadrons engaged in the Battle of Ushant. This was, in fact, the third Battle of Ushant in the American Revolutionary War. As part of the action, the 80 gun HMS Foudroyant, Captain Jervis, pursued the French 74 gun Pégase, pounding her with punishing broadsides before boarding her and compelling the French ship to surrender. Jervis was wounded in the action and knighted for his leadership and heroism.

The scene Serres depicts here is not one of the violent action or the heroics of the crew. It is a calm scene depicting the seized French vessel being towed into port. Her topmasts are gone, and a close look at her sides shows her riddled with holes. Above the white flag of the French flies the King's Colors.

A small gathering of boats swarm around the men-of-war to welcome them to Portsmouth. It is difficult to differentiate between watermen and sailors among the various boats.


Certainly these oarsmen are naval. Their black barge caps bear a silver device that is likely the crest of the important looking officer sitting in the stern. The oarsmen wear their shirts without jacket or waistcoat, and black neckcloths. Standing tall in the stern is the coxswain, who appears to be wearing a black cocked hat with the point forward. His coat (or possibly jacket) is a sort of grey-brown, but the figure is too small to say much else.


The two tars on the boat here are probably watermen. The fellow at the oars wears a black cap that might be either a knit cap or a round hat with very short brim. He is in shirtsleeves and a pair of blue breeches. His mate (at the single short mast amidships) wears a black cap, blue short jacket that ends at the top of his thighs, and a pair of slops.


This boat appears to be a naval one. Standing aft of the oarsmen is an important looking man pointing and posturing in a blue coat, cocked hat, and white small clothes. Taking all of this into consideration, he's probably an officer of the Foudroyant. The boat carries an anchor that is clearly too large for it. It is possible they are carrying it for kedging, but the only two vessels large enough for that to make sense are moving along just fine on their own.

Regardless of their purpose, we can say the oarsmen are wearing round and cocked hats, and coats in a wide variety of colors (blue, brown, red, beige, and possibly green). The sailors aboard the Foudroyant and Pégase wear a similar variety of jacket colors, though blue is the majority by far.


Three soldiers of the Portsmouth garrison stand on the shore in the lower left foreground, beside two tars. These are fairly well dressed mariners, possibly midshipmen or petty officers of some stripe. They could also be common sailors in a fine set of shore clothing slop clothes.

They both wear round hats with short brims, blue jackets with mariner's cuffs that are left open, single breasted white waistcoats, and white trousers. The tar on the left certainly wears a black neckcloth, but as his mate is turned away from us we cannot be sure he wears the same.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Admiral Hosier's Ghost, 1740


Admiral Hosier's Ghost, Charles Mosley, 1740, John Carter Brown Library.

In 1726, Admiral Francis Hosier led a British squadron to Porto Bello, with the intention of blockading the port and taking the Spanish treasure ships. Sadly, government orders prevented him from actually attacking the town, and his ships stagnated off the coast, withering away into disease. Hosier died along with as many as 4,000 of his sailors and fellow officers. The blockade disintegrated with nothing gained by the British.

In 1740, the poet Richard Glover exonerated Hosier through the victory of Admiral Vernon. Vernon's 1739 capture of Porto Bello was a legendary feat that secured him a place in the pantheon of British national heroes, arguably only surpassed by Lord Nelson half a century later. Glover's poem was set to the tune of "Come and Listen to my Ditty" and illustrated above by Charles Mosley. It depicts the ghosts of Hosier and his men rising from the sea out of their hammocks and congratulating Vernon, while also cautioning him to remember Hosier's fate:
'Unrepining at thy glory,
'Thy successful arms we hail,
'But remember our sad story,
'When to Britain back you sail!
'All your country's foes subduing,
'When your patriot friends you see,
'Think on vengeance for my ruin,
'And for England sham'd in me.
The image is thick with sailors all about Vernon's 70 gun flagship HMS Burford. Don't forget that you can click on any image to enlarge it for greater detail!



A bundle of tars are busily celebrating on deck, with only some of them realizing that a herd of ghouls are rising at their stern. One lifts a bowl of punch to his lips, another wields a trumpet, but most eyes are transfixed on the ghosts. All of them wear single breasted jackets, and most are bare headed. The chap on the far left appears to be wearing a short of work cap. Their jackets are mixed in color from green, to yellow, to red.


Clinging to the ratlines is a visibly shocked tar. He wears what appear to be slops/petticoat trousers that are yellow in color, and certainly wears a single breasted red jacket that ends about his waist. Atop his head is a cap, probably a knit cap, though there isn't enough detail to be sure.


Admiral Vernon (leaning on the rail at center) is flanked by his officers and other gentlemen. At the far left is a sailor looking rather distressed by the scene. Jack wears a green single breasted jacket not unlike his mates on deck. Unlike them, he wears a cocked hat reversed.


Beneath Vernon's perch are a number of tars caught between revelry and horror. The sailors on deck down are also caught in the midst of their celebration, with punch bowls and pipes galore. Some appear to be wearing bob wigs, but one can certainly be said to be wearing a hat: the tarpaulin in the far right window with a red jacket. His is a cocked hat with its point turned forward.


You would think that the site of 4,000 ghosts rising out of the foaming deep would be more impressive to a common sailor, but this fellow only seems mildly bemused. He wears a workman's cap and a red jacket.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Rival Candidates and their Old Supporters, 1784



The Rival Candidates and their Old Supporters, G.M., 1784, Royal Collection Trust.

In the wake of the British loss in the American Revolutionary War, King George III dismissed the ministry and new elections were called. The followers of Pitt the Younger came up against the Whigs of Charles Fox (pictured on the right here). Facing off with Fox is Admiral Lord Hood, who served throughout the final years of the Revolutionary War, participating in the Battle of the Capes and the Battle of the Saintes.

The bent of G.M. is clear in this caricature: Fox's supporters are blackened chimney sweeps and low class brutes with clubs. Hood's followers are gentlemen in cocked hats and a clean Jack Tar.


The happy sailor wears a narrow brimmed round hat with a bow on his right side, not unlike those portrayed in numerous Bowles prints. At his neck is a black neckcloth all bound up in a mess. His waistcoat is either tucked into his white trousers, or ends immediately at the waist. I'm leaning toward the latter, as his jacket is very short and ends right at the waistband as well. The waistcoat is set with three rows of buttons down the front. Or perhaps the flap of the jacket is hanging down so as to give the appearance of it, when really the waistcoat is double breasted and the jacket single. Either way, his five button mariner's cuffs are open, giving us just a peek at his shirt cuff, but not enough detail to really say anything about it.

In his left hand he clutches something, but I cannot say with any confidence what it is. A walking stick or rattan would seem most likely, but if so we should see the back half of the shaft between his arm and his jacket. It might be a roll of paper, but that would be an odd way to hold it. I don't believe it is a cudgel, as the artist is trying to differentiate the supporters of Hood and Fox.

Another notable accessory to our tarpaulin's slop clothes is the watch ribbon and fob hanging from his right. I don't rightly recall seeing any other sailor of the era wearing such a piece. This addition may be a further effort by G.M. to place Hood's supporters on a higher level.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Merit and demerit made conspicuous, or, The pillers of the publick prov'd, 1756


"Merit and demerit made conspicuous, or, The pillers of the publick prov'd," T. Kitchin, 1756, Walpole Library.

Even for eighteenth century political cartoons, this one is dense and crowded. It appears to show the depleted stores and finances of England, and expresses the frustration of the artist with the ministry. Jack Tar stands on the far left, gripping the ropes that have been slipped around the necks of numerous gentleman, who Jack berates for their ineptitude.


He wears a reversed cocked hat that is notably pinned in place. This is interesting not only because it is the first time I've seen such a method for keeping the flap up, but also because the hat has a button on it. What purpose does the pin serve, then?

Jack also wears a single breasted short jacket with large buttons that ends at about the top of the thigh, with open mariners' cuffs that do not appear to have any button closure. His trousers end above the ankle, and he wears round toed shoes with rectangular buckles.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Captain James Lowry

Some time ago, I featured a mysterious piece on my blog that I couldn't positively identify. I have finally tracked down the original piece. Originally published in 1773, and continually published well into the nineteenth century, the Newgate Calendar was a sensational collection of stories detailing the trials of famous criminals who spent their time in the infamous prison. The illustration here was drawn from an edition of that widely printed and popular collection, and depicts Captain James Lowry murdering common sailor Kenith Hossack.


In 1750, Captain James Lowry commanded the Molly merchantman on a voyage from London to Jamaica and back again. His crew quickly grew to despise their master as he berated and beat them. On the return voyage from Jamaica, a formerly sick tar Kenith Hossack tripped on the quarterdeck, drawing the ire of the fickle and violent captain. Lowry ordered him to be tied up, and beat him repeatedly over the course of at least half an hour, particularly about the head and neck. Several sailors later testified that they had never witnessed so brutal a beating, and it led to the death of Hossack.

The crew deposed their captain, placing him under a sort of cabin-arrest. Lowry managed to get a message ashore in Lisbon that he had been the victim of mutiny, and had the crew transported back to England on a man of war. It appears that the British consul in Lisbon and the officers of the warship were not terribly confident in Lowry's righteousness, as the crew was not kept under lock and key.

As soon as they returned to England, the crew, officers and all, sought legal recourse for the murder of their shipmate. Lowry evaded the officers of the law, but eventually was taken by a thief-taker. Brought to trial at the Old Bailey, and examined under Admiralty Law, he was found guilty of murder and hanged.

Thanks to the Old Bailey Online, you can view the complete and unfiltered trial transcript of the infamous tyrant! You can read the rarely recorded words of common sailors on a merchant voyage, and glean some little reported facts of their lives. I found it particularly interesting that (counter to popular culture depictions) eighteenth century sea captains were not as quick to apply corporal punishment as their naval counterparts.

Side note: direct links to OldBaileyOnline can be a bit dodgy. Use the reference number t17520218-1 to find Lowry's trial transcript.

John Hunt, a veteran sailor, testified in the 1752 trial: “I never saw a man flogged on board a merchantman in my life.” Another sailor, William Waum, echoed this experience: “I have used the seas as 12 years, and I never saw a man tied up on board a merchantman before in my life, and whipped.” Both men admitted seeing a good deal of flogging on naval vessels, but the expectation for merchantmen was apparently quite different.

I was also intrigued to read some of the terms that so easily escape our notice. "Shamming Abraham" is a term that appears to be common among sailors of the time, and describes faking illness to escape work or gain special treatment. It was used often enough to merit a place in Francis Grose's famous 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Court Cotillion or the Premiers New Parl*****t Jig, 1774

"The Court Cotillion or the Premiers New Parl*****t Jig," Terry, 1774, American Antiquarian Society.

Britannia sobs at the sight! Lord North happily plays his fiddle while personifications of Scotland, America, and England scourge each other around a sort of capstan labeled "Politicks 75" and capped with a crown. America is personified by a Native in a skirt and headdress, Scotland by a highlander, and England (as always) by a sailor.


Jack Tar wears a cocked hat with the point forward and a loose back end. His shirt or jacket is gathered at his waist, baring his back to the Scotsman's flogging. His trousers are made of a fabric that displays a narrow vertical stripe, and they have slits at the hem of the leg. The striped trousers end between his calf and his angle, showing off the plain stockings that run to square toed shoes.