Pages

Monday, August 31, 2015

Press Gang Week: Denver Brunsman

As part of the ongoing Press Gang Week, today's featured historian is Denver Brunsman.

Denver Brunsman is an Associate Professor of History at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He received his PhD from Princeton University in 2004, and is a leading expert on naval impressment. Most recently, his book "The Evil Necessity:British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World," received the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding Work of Scholarship in Eighteenth-Century Studies.

I showed Dr. Brunsman seven primary source images depicting press gangs at work, and asked him to choose one that best captured the nature of press gangs in the eighteenth century.



The engraving “The Press Gang; or, English Liberty Display’d,” first published in the Oxford Magazine in October 1770, receives my vote. The image is literally a cartoon, and it reinforces common misconceptions about impressment in the eighteenth century. Yet, like the best social satire, it also exposes essential truths about the practice that a more realistic depiction might miss. In the scene, a press gang hauls a man off to naval service, ignoring the pleas of woman, most likely his wife. Errors abound. Press gangs did most of their work at sea (not land), and they targeted seafarers (not landsmen).


Although the conscript in the image could be a sailor, he wears a long coat more customary of a gentleman and in contrast with the gang members surrounding him. In fairness, the image appeared during the Royal Navy’s rapid mobilization for a possible war with Spain over the Falkland Islands. The mobilization came without warning and included abuses customary of a “hot press” (when gangs ignored normal legal protections). Britain and Spain resolved the crisis peaceably in early 1771, staving off war over the Falklands for two centuries.

Regardless of the immediate context, the engraving correctly captures the social price of impressment. The practice turned the women of impressed men into what I have called “impressment widows,” for they had no idea when or if their loved ones would return. In the print, the pressing lieutenant responds churlishly to the woman: “Let them starve & be damned, the King wants Men, haul him on Board you dogs.” 



While cartoonish, the lieutenant’s words reflected the policy of the British state, which did nothing to compensate the family members of impressed seamen. The image reminds us that for all the explanations and justifications for impressment (and there are many), contemporaries widely recognized the practice as out of place in the eighteenth century and contrary to Britain’s most cherished value, liberty.

Be sure to pick up a copy of "The Evil Necessity" for a thorough approach to the topic.


Via Amazon.com

Press Gang Week: An Introduction

Have I got a treat for you!


Rather than relating anecdotes about press gangs in Britain and America, I have decided to take this year's Press Gang Week in a different direction.

Thus far, I have collected seven primary source images of press gangs at work in the course of compiling this blog. After reading Denver Brunsman's The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World, I hit on the idea of using these images to explore the ongoing historical dialogue concerning impressment.

Over the past month I have reached out to leading maritime historians of the eighteenth century with a simple question: which image best captures the nature of naval impressment, and why?

For the next few days you will see the responses of experts on naval impressment including Marcus Rediker, Denver Brunsman, and Niklas Frykman. There may be a last minute addition or two. The week will conclude with a new examination of three different colorized versions of James Gillray's "The Liberty of the Subject."

Before we dive into their thoughts, what are yours? Take a look at the seven images below, consider them, and come to your own conclusion. Which painting or print do you think best captures the nature of naval impressment?

"The Press Gang," John Collet, c.1760, The Foundling Museum.

"The Press Gang," artist unknown, 1770, Lewis Walpole Library.

"The Press Gang, or English Liberty Display'd," artist unknown, 1770, Lewis Walpole Library.

"The Liberty of the Subject," James Gillray, 1779, National Portrait Gallery (UK).

"A Cribbage Party in St. Giles Disturbed by a Press Gang," Thomas Rowlandson, 1787, Royal Collection Trust.

"The Press Gang," George Morland, 1790, Wikiart.

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


Don't forget to visit our partner blog HMS Acasta.com for more posts about naval impressment every day this week!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Tar's Triumph, or Bawdy House Battery, 1749


"The Tar's Triumph, or Bawdy House Battery," Charles Mosley, 1749, National Maritime Museum.

A notorious incident occurred in the 1740's when a group of rioting sailors ransacked brothels on the Strand in central London. This print is just one of several to illustrate the subject, which have been featured on this blog. The British Museum also happens to have a copy of this print, and they wrote an interesting short bit about it, primarily addressing the prostitutes in the foreground.


At the center of the piece is a sailor grasping a tablecloth or bedsheet, locked into a tug of war with a prostitute. He wears a cocked hat with the point forward, and a neckcloth tied close and in the fashion of a cravat. His jacket is short for the period, and single breasted. His trousers end about mid-calf. Otherwise he wears rounded toe shoes with rectangular buckles. 


From the window his mate empties a drawer, spilling a wide variety of items (including a cat and a chamber pot). The sailor wears a reversed cocked hat and an open jacket with no waistcoat. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Going Off Watch

"The Sailor's Farewell," Charles Mosley, Date Unknown, National Maritime Museum.

It's eight bells for me, shipmates.

With hundreds of images compiled from a half century period, it's time to reflect. For an indeterminate period of time I will not be posting new images to British Tars: 1740-1790.

This blog is not being retired. I'm merely taking a break to compile the information that I have.

Much of the work I have put into this blog has simply been collecting the images and examining them in and of themselves. While I try to put specific events and images into context, there really hasn't been any dialogue between them.

For us to draw more solid conclusions from the images collected here, there needs to be a broader analysis. I will be compiling my posts decade by decade, then year by year, so that I can view general trends over time. Some of these (like the shape and height of round hats) are self-evident from even a cursory skimming of surviving images. Others, however, require more context.

At some point in the near future, I'll be posting some general assertions about the various decades under examination. It is my hope that these new posts will help us all better understand the appearance and daily lives of common tars in the eighteenth century.

The Mob attempting to pull down Peter Wood's house, 1749


"The Mob attempting to pull down Peter Woods house," Unknown Artist, 1749, British Museum.

This print was brought to my attention as the cover of Nicholas Rogers' recent book Mayhem: Post-War Crime and Violence in Britain, 1748-53.

This print depicts a rioting mob of sailors making hell on Peter Wood's house and tavern during the Strand Riot of 1749. It was typical for owners of taverns, inns, coffeehouses, and alehouses to live in their place of business, just as it was for other craftsmen and tradesmen throughout the British empire. Unlike many of those fellow professionals, Peter Wood's tavern (at the sign of the star) was a well known brothel.

Wood's tavern was targeted on the third night of the riots, and it was here that Bosavern Penlez was caught participating. Penlez would be hanged four months later as a looter, the only man to face justice for the upheaval. Clearly sailors were not the only ones to participate in the riots, and at least one print depicts a crowd made up of gentlemen and tradesmen, entirely devoid of mariners.

As an interesting side note, Wood's tradesign is depicted differently between this unknown artist and Charles Mosley's depiction of the same year. The Strand riot was notorious enough for each artist to know Wood's sign, but they chose to depict it in very different ways.


On to the sailors!


Our uproarious tarpawlins are uniformly dressed. This may have been simply for the ease of the artist, or it may suggest that they are from the same crew. Regardless, they all wear round hats with short brims, single breasted jackets that end at the thigh with waist flap pockets, long legged and fairly close fitting trousers, and plain neckcloths. None of them wears a waistcoat, but they all wield cudgels. The second tar from the right is turned just far enough away from us to get a good view of the single vent at the back of his jacket. All of them wear white stockings and round toed shoes with oval buckles. Though of various hues, all of our sailors have hair that ends just above the shoulders in a roughly bob style.

The only real variation between these jacks is in their cuffs. Working our way left to right, we see plain cuffs without adornment, slit cuffs, scalloped mariners' cuffs bound by two buttons, and straight marines' cuffs bound by four buttons.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Sailor's Revenge, or the Strand in Uproar, 1749


The Sailor's Revenge, or the Strand in Uproar, Louis Philipe Boitard, printed by Robert Sayer, 1749, British Museum.

Another copy of this print can be found at the National Maritime Museum.

We return to the rioting that destroyed a bawdy house on the Strand. Lasting from July 1st through July 3rd, the London neighborhood was the site of continuous violent upheaval. It all began when a sailor was robbed by a prostitute. His injury was only increased by the pimp, who beat the poor sailor. The beaten jack returned with scores of his shipmates that night. Boitard depicts "The Sailor's Revenge" on that establishment in this print.

The Strand Riot of 1749 is largely remembered for the wig maker who was executed for his role. Bosavaren Penlez was caught looting the tavern of Peter Wood on the third night of the riots and became a scapegoat. No less a figure than Henry Fielding defended the court's sentence, though many were appalled by it. Politics played a significant role in the city's response to the riot, and the failure to indict any sailors may be a reflection of that.

You can read more about the Strand Riot at Unruly Eighteenth Century. For the most thorough treatment of this and other instances of crime and violence following the War of Austrian Succession, pick up a copy of Nicholas Rogers' Mayhem, published by the Lewis Walpole Library.

Boitard depicts a diverse crowd: an old woman inspects some of the loot in the foreground, and behind her a boy makes off with a bucket full of booty. The majority of rioters, however, are clearly sailors.


At the center of the piece, leaning toward the bonfire, is a sailor clutching a cudgel. His short jacket is without vents, and his plain slops/petticoat trousers end slightly below the knee. Atop his head is a cocked hat with the point forward. In his left hand is a cudgel.

Just to his right is another tar, waving a round hat and with a long walking stick beneath his left arm. He wears a neckcloth tied to his left, a short jacket and long slops/petticoat trousers.

To the immediate left and behind of him is a jack wielding a Queen Anne style chair. A plain neckcloth flies up as he lifts his arms, which gives us a fairly good view of his single breasted jacket, which is without cuffs. His cocked hat is turned backward, and nearly falling off his head.



In the lower window, a few sailors toss furniture onto the street. The fellow on the right is defenestrating a short Queen Anne style table. He wears a round hat with a very short brim, or perhaps a knit cap. His jacket is single breasted and, interestingly, appears to be tucked into his slops or trousers.

In the window to his left, a pair of his mates heave a slant front desk onto the street. The only one we get a good look at is the fellow on the right. He also wear a knit cap or round hat. His single breasted jacket is open, revealing his shirt without waistcoat, and the band of his trousers or slops.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Fleet Wedding, 1747


A Fleet wedding between a brisk young sailor & his landlady's daughter at Rederiff, engraved by John June, 1747, British Museum.

June's engraving is a companion piece to "The Sailor's Fleet Wedding Entertainment," published the same year. This print depicts the arrival of the bride and groom and the guests that greet them.


The sailor and his bride stride happily toward a pair of reverends, arm in arm. They are the same couple in the companion piece, and just as happy in their embrace.


The sailor-groom wears the same fine shore going rig in both prints. An untrimmed cocked hat with a large bow (though on the left side in the first print, and right on the second), long white neckcloth or cravat hanging down over a single breasted plain waistcoat, and a single breasted blue jacket with mariner's cuffs fastened by cloth covered buttons. Notably, his cuffs are frilled, something you would expect at a wedding and probably never see while working aboard.

As our sailor is standing in the open and not behind a table, we get a good look at the hem of his waistcoat, which is cut much as any of the century, with a cutaway and pocket flaps that line up right at the waist (about a modern belt line). His breeches appear to have a broad fall fly, but the shoes have too little detail to draw any solid conclusions.

To the right, a sailor hoists his rather rotund woman from the carriage. Though many in the nearby crowd do not share the sentiment, this sailor and his lady are jovial.


He wears a cocked hat with a large white cockade on the right over bob styled hair. His jacket has waist pockets with three vents along the back. At the end of his jacket are mariner's cuffs fastened with six buttons and frilled cuffs. Our tar's slops end below the knee, showing off white stockings, and pointed toe shoes. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Next Sculls at the Adm**ty, 1744


"Next Sculls at the Adm**ty," George Bickham the Younger, 1744, British Museum.

In this political cartoon, Bickham pokes fun at the new appointees to the Admiralty. Bickham is highly critical of the Admiralty, blaming them in this piece for both the loss of the Victory (launched 1737) and the Battle of Toulon. As a sidenote, the Victory was discovered in 2008 and is a fascinating find. She dragged well above 1,000 crewmen down with her.


Gentlemen of various vices dot the scene, but our interest is held at the far right. Two grown sailors and a young boy are gathered by a woman who is addressed as "Moll ye Wh[or]e."


The central figure in this group is a sailor with a small untrimmed cocked hat with the point forward. His hair is in a short bob style, and a check neckcloth hangs from his neck. Our mariner's single breasted jacket ends below the waist and over a single breasted waistcoat with vertical stripes. Buttoned mariner's cuffs are just visible on his sleeves. Notably, his trousers are darker than the jacket. Pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles are fitted to his feet. Tucked under his right arm is a sailor's walking stick.


To the left of the sailor is a young boy, possibly a ship's boy, given his dress. In one hand he hold a cap of some sort, and he holds a sailor's stick in the other. His single breasted jacket ends at the waist, and hangs over his trousers. The trousers end at about the top of the calf, and are considerably lighter than that of the adult tar beside him.


Behind them stands a sailor with a concerned look on his face. He wears a jockey style cap with a button at its peak and a brim that is a considerably different shade than that of the crown. His hair is also cut in a bob style, and like his mate he wears a checked or plaid neckcloth. His jacket is without collar or cuffs (that we can see) and is double breasted. Beneath is a waistcoat that appears to be (but is not certainly) single breasted.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Gamaliel Pickle Observes Commodore Trunnion and Lieutenant Hatchway Duel at the Inn, 1769


"Gamaliel Pickle Observes Commodore Trunnion and Lieutenant Hatchway Duel at the Inn," Henry Fuseli, 1769, British Museum.

The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollet was a popular comedic novel first published in 1751. Peregrine Pickle, the titular character, is something of a prodigal son. Smollet follows Pickle from his youthful dalliances and failings to ultimate redemption and maturity. Early in the story, Pickle is neglected by his family and taken in by Commodore Trunnion. Smollet describes the Commodore as a man who
has a power of money, and spends it like a prince—that is, in his own way—for to be sure he is a little humorsome, as the saying is, and swears woundily; though I'll be sworn he means no more harm than a sucking babe. Lord help us! it will do your honour's heart good to hear him tell a story, as how he lay alongside of the French, yard-arm and yard-arm, board and board, and of heaving grapplings, and stink-pots, and grapes, and round and double-headed partridges, crows and carters. Lord have mercy upon us! he has been a great warrior in his time, and lost an eye and a heel in the service. Then he does not live like any other Christian land-man; but keeps garrison in his house, as if he were in the midst of his enemies, and makes his servants turn out in the night, watch and watch as he calls it, all the year round.
By examining the above image, a frontispiece to the 1769 edition, I'll be departing a bit from the usual focus of this blog. Commodore Trunnion and Lieutenant Hatchway are old sailors, but former officers in the Royal Navy. With a fortune and servants, Trunnion and his cohorts are not common sailors. Even so, they show the rough edges that all men who follow the sea share. By examining their dress and posture, we can say something about how mariners in general were viewed.

As a note, I will not be tagging the clothing of any of the figures in this image except the character who is explicitly described as a common sailor: Tom Pipes.


Trunnion is a globular fellow. His coat is trimmed with turn back cuffs. At his neck we can make out a cravat over the striped shirt or waistcoat beneath. His breeches are bound with buckles beneath the knees, As a nod to the character's description, Trunnion is depicted with a darkened eye, but not a patch as I might expect. Using his crutch, he parries the attack of Lieutenant Hatchway.


Mr. Hatchway strikes at Commodore Trunnion with his wooden leg, but does so with enough of a swing to avoid the punch bowl. He wears a cocked hat bound along the brim, and a neckcloth bunched up about his neck. His coat has open mariner's cuffs, revealing a checked shirt beneath. Hatchway's breeches are tied below the knee, not unlike many mariner's breeches we've seen before. All of this, combined with Hatchway's bob style hair, give us a set of clothes more akin to that of a common sailor than a gentleman.


Tom Pipes is an old boatswain's mate who followed Commodore Trunnion from the sea. Given employment in Trunnion's manor, Pipes finds himself rounding up and herding the servants for their "watch and watch."
Tom is a man of few words, but an excellent hand at a song concerning the boatswain's whistle, hustle-cap, and chuck-farthing—there is not such another pipe in the county—so that the commodore lives very happy in his own manner.
Hustle-cap and chuck-farthing are both simple gambling games.

Bosun's Mate Tom Pipes wears a barge cap with an upturned front. A similar cap is seen in the collection of the National Maritime Museum belonging to a member of Admiral Lord Hood. The Hood barge cap is wooden, and laid over with velvet. Given the way Pipe's cap appears stiff and unyielding, we might assume that his cap is likewise covered wood.

Around Pipes' neck hangs a string bound around a cylindrical object. This might be a bosun's whistle, but looks nothing like the originals I have seen thus far. It could well be that the artist is unfamiliar with bosun's pipes. If that is the case, it strikes me as odd that the artist is familiar with barge caps, but not bosun's pipes. Regardless, Pipes wears a jacket without collar and slit cuffs. Hanging from the corner of his mouth is a clay tobacco pipe.