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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ban-yan Day on board the Magnificent, 1789


Ban-yan Day on board the Magnificent; or, Pease Porridge hot from the Coppers!, John Nixon, 1789, British Museum.

Here King George III is depicted dining on the 74 gun Magnificent. Built in 1767, the Magnificent served the Royal Navy well through the American Revolutionary War and into the Napoleonic wars, before striking an uncharted reef and sinking in a mere hour and half off the coast of Brest in 1804. Miraculously, the entire crew survived.

John Nixon illustrates a scene of His Majesty and a small retinue on the Quarterdeck of the Magnificent on Banyan Day. One day a week the meals aboard Royal Navy vessels were without meat. King George inquires after what the seamen eat, and then asks for Pease Porridge. Accompanied by a full punch bowl and cheese, the small gathering are treated to music and the smiling faces of common tars as they dine.


Two common sailors stand to the side, watching the meal of their sovereign. Standing tall, one sailor wears his loose hair at shoulder length, and a yellow neckcloth. His double breasted blue jacket ends at the waist, with cuffs closed with cloth covered buttons. Close fitting white trousers end above the ankle, showing his pointed toe shoes, rectangular white metal buckles, and white stockings.

His mate has a remarkably long queue bound tight, and tied with a bow. He has also buttoned shut his mariner's cuffs, but appears to be wearing a single breasted jacket with flap waist pockets and white metal buttons. His neckcloth is white, as are his trousers or petticoat trousers/slops.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Treat at Stepney, 1740-1760


"The Treat at Stepney," artist unknown, 1740-1760, British Museum.

In her book London, 1753, Sheila O'Connell relates that Stepney was a rural suburb of London, and boasted "a downmarket version of the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall and Ranelagh." The elites have their galleries and meticulously cultivated gardens, while the common man has Stepney. Stepney is still part of London today, and is only a short distance from the traditionally maritime neighborhood of Wapping.

Along with the engraving of sailors at play on shore, there is a helpful verse that names many of the principal characters, and catalogs their vices:
At Stepney now, with Cakes & Ale, Our Tars their Mistresses regale, What Humour sits on ev'ry Brow, John grows Polite, he knows not how; And marks with meaning grin, below How Frank, who, extended on the Beach, Surveys the Port he hopes to reach; There Kit Admires, with keener taste, The Trollop, whom he weds in haste And jovial James, with lifted Glass, Drinks to and Toasts, his fav'rite Lass, Mean while the Sounde their fidler Scrapes, With fist and Elbow, Richard apes: And equal mirth's, in distant views, Attracks the eyes of Various Crews.


At the left and in the background at those "Various Crews." We only get a good look at one of them, who wears a cocked hat reversed. His jacket sports open slash cuffs, and there is a neckcloth bound around his neck. In his right hand he supports a pipe. The other tars appear to be similarly dressed, one of whom drinks from a punch bowl. Beyond that, there isn't much to say.


We can say more about the fiddler. He wears breeches with a fly front, round toed shoes with rectangular buckles, no waistcoat, and a full length coat with slash cuffs. It is possible the fiddler is no sailor, and merely the entertainment provided by this house of mirth.

Beneath the table is Frank "who, extended on the Beach, Surveys the Port he hopes to reach." This is innuendo that underlines the obvious fact that Frank is looking up the petticoats of a woman at the table. Frank wears a jacket that ends below the waist, breeches with ribbon fasteners below the knee, no waistcoat, white stockings, and pointed toe shoes. At his feet is a discarded cocked hat and bob wig. I am not sure if the hat and wig belong to Frank or the fiddler.


Kit is oblivious to Frank's "observation" beneath the table, and sidles up to his "Trollop, whom he weds in haste." As O'Connell states, informal and secret weddings were common enough in the mid-eighteenth century to draw Parliamentary intervention with the Marriage Age of 1753.

Kit's curly hair runs down to his shoulders, resting on the striped or creased neckcloth that is draped over his jacket. His cuffs, like those of everyone else in this piece, are slashed.


John, the centerpiece of this print, looks as though he has imbibed a bit too much. His cocked hat is a bit ragged and rather small. A dotted neckcloth hangs down over a waistcoat decorated with narrow horizontal stripes. His jacket is long, almost coat length, and featurs unbuttoned slash cuffs with cloth covered buttons. John's breeches are likewise striped, though vertically. At his feet is a broken pipe and a sailor's stick.


At the far end of the table are the two remaining members of their mess. Raising a glass is James, who toasts the woman beside him. He wears a plain neckcloth, single breasted jacket with slit cuffs, and plain breeches.

Near as I can figure, the last character is Richard, who "With fist and Elbow...apes." I think Richard is trying to mimic the movements of the fiddler across the table. Richard wears a plain neckcloth, long jacket or coat, no waistcoat, breeches fastened by ribbon, and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Agreeable Surprise, 1785


"The Agreeable Surprise," Robert Pollard, 1785, British Museum.
The Wind blew louder & Sall grew paler,
To see the Weather Cock turn round;
 When lo! she spy'd her bonny Sailor,
Come tripping oe'r the fallow ground.
With nimble haste he leap't the stile,
Fair Sally met him with a smile,
And hugg'd her bonny Sailor.
This print and the accompanying happy ending was brought to my attention by longtime reader Adam Hodges-LeClaire. Thank you!

A pair of very well dressed women have just witnessed the wreck of a ship in a terrible storm, but Sall is relieved to see that her love has made it safely to shore. Given the often very lethal result of shipwrecks in the eighteenth century, this sort of print must have proved a comfort to women throughout Britain who feared for their husbands who might be gone for years at a time.


The man in front wears a rather nice suit, but given the way his gaze is fixed on Sall, is certainly "her bonny Sailor." The way that both he and his love are dressed suggests that he is an officer of the wrecked ship, if not her captain. The term sailor is not exclusive to the common men, but a general term that refers to all of those who use the sea, including masters. It is worth noting that he wears the preferred hairstyle of mariners at the time: the bob wig. The common sailor behind him wears a round hat with cylindrical crown and wide, drooping brim.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lord Robert Manners' Wounding, 1782


Drawing of the fatal wounding of Lord Robert Manners, Conrad Martin Metz, 1782, British Museum.

Metz has illustrated an event that I have addressed in the past: the death of Lord Robert Manners. As I mentioned in the previous post, Manners' death was a gruesome one, with the amputation of one leg and onset of lockjaw. Metz is in good company with cleaning up the brutality of war for a popular audience seeking glorification.

Unfortunately for us, the drawing is a sketch with few details, an all of the common sailors are relegated to the background as mere shadows over the main event.


Laying beside Manners, who is attended by several officers, a lone sailor lies dying on the deck. He is held by his mate, who comforts him in his final moments. They both wear jackets, and it appears the dying sailor wears a pair of trousers, but the details are too sketchy to be certain. All I can say with certainty is that his mate wears a wide brimmed round hat with somewhat cylindrical crown.


Even less can be said about the deckhands to the left. They wear jackets and what appear to be trousers, but are hatless.


Climbing the ratlines is a brave tar who clutches the shrouds to hoist himself aloft. He wears a jacket that ends at the waist or is tucked into his petticoat trousers/slops. Atop his head is either a cap or round hat with short brim.


Lifting Manners by his wounded legs, a tar is alone among the officers in helping to take his lordship from the danger of battle. His shirtsleeves are rolled up past his elbows, and his close fitting trousers end at the ankle.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Illustration for "A Favourite Song," 1762


Detail of illustration from "A Favourite Song," in Clio and Euterpre, or, British Harmony, A Collection of Celebrated Songs and Cantatas, Volume Three, page 50, published by Henry Roberts, 1762. Detail provided by Peter Plunkett.


Detail of illustration from "A Favourite Song," in Clio and Euterpre, or, British Harmony, A Collection of Celebrated Songs and Cantatas, Volume Three, page 50, published by Henry Roberts, 1762, Internet Archive.

Piggybacking the Sailor's Farewell trope, "A Favourite Song" plays out the tearful farewell of a steady Jack and his love. She assures the sailor that the enemies of his country are her enemies, too. The sailor is heartened by her encouragement, and the bosun praises the fair wind that will "waft us to the foe."



The sailor is very typical for the era. He wears a plain cocked hat with the point forward, a long neckcloth over his white shirt, no waistcoat, and a single breasted jacket ending about the top of the thigh. His white trousers are loose and end above the ankle. In his right hand is a stick.

What really delights me about this engraving is that it is only the second in my study so far that clearly depicts a bosun.



He wears a reversed cocked hat without tape, bob style hair or wig, a white neckcloth tied as a cravat, and a single breasted jacket with unbuttoned mariner's cuffs and waist pockets. Our bosun's trousers are the same as the sailor on the right,

Two details make this an exceptional image. The first is the bosun's pipe in his right hand. A lanyard runs from the bosun's neck down to the pipe, though what precisely his lanyard is made of is pure speculation.

The second major detail is the heart at his neck. It looks a bit like a gorget worn by military officers. It is illustrated with the image of a three masted vessel. Interestingly, the only other image of a bosun I have come across, an illustration accompanying The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, also shows the bosun wearing a sort of gorget. It was a detail I missed at the time.


I confess, I've never seen nor heard of such a badge. That famous and widely printed satirical pamphlet The Wooden World Dissected identifies but three major symbols of the bosun's position: the pipe, cat, and rattan. Granted, as NAM Rodger warns in his book The Wooden World, it is quite possible that the author of that pamphlet had not actually been to sea.

I'll keep searching, but if you have any idea what this object is, leave a comment below!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Drawing of a sailor, mid-18th Century


Drawing of a sailor, Louis Philippe Boitard, mid-18th Century, British Museum.

Boitard, a French immigrant to England, was an accomplished artist. The subjects of his work were thoroughly British. At least one of Boitard's pieces was thoroughly disdainful of French cultural influence in Britain.

What character could be more thoroughly British than that of a common sailor in the Wooden World?


This tarpawlin wears a dark workcap of some kind, nder which is his short curled hair. His overcoat is single breasted with a half cape around the neck acting as the collar. It is without pockets. Plain trousers end above the ankle, revealing white stockings and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mr. Beard and Miss Brent in Thomas and Sally, c.1760

© Victoria and Albert Museum

"Mr. Beard and Miss Brent in Thomas and Sally," J. June after Louis Philippe Boitard, c.1765, Victoria and Albert Museum.

What we have here is a watch paper. These could be purchased from print shops (like the Hogarth's Head) and inserted into watch cases to protect against dust. Our example today is a copy of one engraved by Louis Philippe Boitard.

There is some disagreement over when this piece was made. The Victoria and Albert Museum curators date it to circa 1770, while the British Museum dates it to circa 1760. This date is also agreed to by the authors of the British Museum exhibition catalog London 1753, who attribute it to Louis Philippe Boitard.

John Smith sold this print at Hogarth's Head in Cheapside, where he was advertising printed goods for sale certainly as early as 1759. Mr. Beard, who plays the sailor Thomas in this piece, went deaf in 1767, and was forced to retire from his career of singing. That same year, the original engraver Boitard died. Add to this that the play itself was performed in 1760, and it would appear that the British Museum is closer to the date on this piece.

Having said that, the comic opera that is "Thomas and Sally" was a fairly popular one. Certainly they were still producing prints in 1770.

© Victoria and Albert Museum

Mr. Beard's costume consists of a cocked hat worn reverse with just the suggestion of white tape around the brim. Thomas wears a sailor's bob style hair or wig. His jacket is a sort of greenish blue, with brass buttons, underneath which is a yellow single breasted waistcoat with cloth covered buttons. At his neck is a red neckcloth. White slops/petticoat trousers are hanging down over white breeches (of which we only get the slightest peek at one knee). In his left hand is the ever present sailor's stick.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Poll and My Partner Joe, 1790


"My Poll and My Partner Joe," Isaac Cruikshank, 1790, Walpole Library.


"My Poll and My Partner Joe," Isaac Cruikshank, 1790, Walpole Library.

Cruikshank's print accompanies a ballad drawn from the 1774 opera "The Waterman." It relates the tale of an unnamed waterman who is pressed into service. He spends years at sea, fighting and sailing through trying times. When peace is at last upon him, he returns home to find his wife Poll embracing his friend Joe. He relates that on the shocking site, he "boldly kick'd My POLL and my Partner JOE."


Our unfortunate waterman has curly brown hair that drapes onto his shoulders, under a tall cylindrical crowned round hat. A yellow neckcloth spotted with red hangs down over his double breasted red waistcoat which appears to be tucked into his white slops/petticoat trousers. The telltale blue sailor's jacket has brass buttons along the lapels and closed mariner's cuffs. At his waist is a yellow watch fob, and in his hand is a cudgel.


In this colorization, the former waterman's hair is white, his neckcloth pink with dark spots, his jacket red with cloth covered buttons, and his waistcoat striped with narrow horizontal blue.


It is not clear to me that Joe is a sailor, but here's a couple of images of he and Poll anyway!


Friday, November 13, 2015

The High Road to Preferment, 1789


The High Road to Preferement, Frederick George Byron, 1789, British Museum.

The Prince of Wales and his notorious cohort of rich gentlemen and ladies, are depicted having a lark on the poop of (presumably) a royal yacht. It is the Prince's rowdy friends that are the focus of this piece. Rather than earning their place in society and government through effort or merit, "The High Road" is how humorous they prove themselves.

While the artist is apparently disgusted at the frivolous nature of the Prince's court, the sailor on this yacht is rather entertained by the spectacle.


The jack wears a black round hat with a somewhat wider brim that appears to sag a bit on the sides. Its crown is cylindrical. Wrapped around his neck is a white neckcloth, which is draped over his blue jacket that ends below his waist and sports open mariner's cuffs with cloth covered buttons. Finally, he wears a pair of long trousers with broad vertical red stripes.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cartouche from A Map of the Inhabited Part of Canada, 1777


Cartouche from "A Map of the Inhabited Part of Canada from the French Surveys, with the Frontiers of New York and New England," William Faden, 1777, Library of Congress.


Throughout the American War of Independence, people in Britain followed the war through maps. There was no campaign more important in 1777 than Burgoyne's ill fated attempt to drive through the rebellious colonies from Canada. Armed with a map like this, the public could do their best to make sense of the newspapers and rumors that filtered across the Atlantic.

In the upper left corner of the map is a fanciful cartouche depicting two native people trading furs to a man in a suit, and a sailor who leans across a barrel.


Our jack's cocked hat is plain without lace or button, and point forward. His close cut hair hangs just above his long white neckcloth, which is tied not unlike a cravat. This mariner's jacket ends just at the waist, and is without pockets or cuffs, but is fitted with cloth covered buttons. He does not wear a waistcoat. Hanging down to his knees are a pair of petticoat trousers/slops, which are just above the pair of white stockings he sports. And like any good tarpawlin, he puffs at a clay pipe.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Thames at Greenwich, c.1750


The Thames at Greenwich, artist unknown, c.1750, Royal Collection Trust.

Details in this piece are difficult to make out, so I have brightened the details below to make it easier to analyze. Bear in mind this is not wholly how the original appears.


The master of this tiny sloop stands by the tiller (but neglects it). He wears a round hat with a short brim, bob style hair, and a frock coat. Forward of the master stands a man in his white shirt with broad legged petticoat trousers/slops who also wears a round hat. At the mast are two jacks working at some canvas. Both wear dark petticoat trousers/slops, and short jackets of blue and red. Their headwear is too difficult to make out. Near the bow reclines a man in a brown jacket, but there is too little to say anything more about him,


Manning a private barge, three oarsmen in brilliantly red jockey caps  and shirtsleeves pull a pair of gentlemen across the Thames. At the tiller is a coxswain in a black barge cap and brown jacket.


Even with the lightening, the tars on this vessel are unrecognizable. One of the frustrations of working within the narrow focus I have set for myself are paintings like this one. There is a good deal of information to be found in them, but it has been obscured by the centuries.