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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, c.1752-1758


"Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam," John Greenwood, c. 1752-1758, Saint Louis Art Museum.

Located on the Northern coast of South America between Guyana and French Guyana, Suriname is now an independent nation. At the time this painting was done, Suriname (spelled Surinam during the colonial period) was a slave economy that exported a number of goods, the most important of which was coffee.

Prominent Rhode Island sea captains who had arrived in the Dutch colony in the 1750's met the Bostonian portraitist John Greenwood there, and commissioned him to paint the above scene. Gathered around the table are two future governors of Rhode Island, and the future commodore of the Continental Navy Esek Hopkins. In the doorway, holding up a light for a man who couldn't quite hold his liquor, is John Greenwood himself. These identifications are attributed by the National Humanities Center, and you can read a very brief treatment of the painting here.

I have a copy of this painting hanging on my wall. The jovial nature of the white men, juxtaposed against the suffering and naked slaves on the far left, is striking. It is fascinating the see the relatively rich and powerful so vulnerable: puking catching on fire, being spilled on; broken bottles, pipes, and chairs scattered about. Add in to that the tiny details of material culture and the maritime aspect of the piece, and Greenwood has won me over with a painting I could stare at all day.

It is somewhat surprising then, that I hadn't really paid a mind to the dancing sailor on the far right.


It may be that this is no common sailor. Despite my efforts, I could not find an identification for anybody in this detail, save for John Greenwood in the back. After all, sea captains of the 1750's could and did dress in clothing that was at least inspired by the common tar.

Whoever this mariner is, he has been painted into a tradition of mid-eighteenth century dancing sailors.

The dancing figure, unlike his counterparts, is not wearing a full frock coat, but a triple vented brown jacket with what appear to be narrow horizontal stripes of a darker hue. He wears an untrimmed cocked hat with the point forward over a white bob wig. His neckcloth is red and dotted with white. Blue breeches run down to white stockings beneath round toed shoes with rectangular white metal buckles. As with the better dressed man dancing across from him, our sailor carries a long thin walking stick.

Another sign of the maritime nature of this piece is in the man falling asleep in the detail above. His cocked hat, fitted with a single button, is worn reversed.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Portrait of Master William Bligh, c.1776



Portrait of Master William Bligh, John Webber, c. 1776, National Portrait Gallery (Australia).

As with some previous posts, this one does not focus on a common sailor, and so will not be tagged.

The Master of a Royal Navy vessel occupied an interesting space in the naval hierarchy. Highly skilled, the Master served as navigator for his vessel in the odd position of a senior warrant officer. Masters were not considered common sailors, but neither were they commissioned officers. According to Eberhard Karls Universit├Ąt PhD candidate Lena Mosser, who is writing her dissertation on Masters, the Royal Navy did not even designate a uniform for them until 1787, and that was the same uniform worn by all warrant officers. Masters did not receive their own distinctive uniforms until 1807.

Interestingly, at the time this portrait was done, the Continental Navy did specify uniforms for Masters. Perhaps this can be attributed to the more democratic ideals of the American rebels, or as a reflection of their hope for merit to be properly rewarded and recognized.

It was as a Master in the Royal Navy that William Bligh found his initial fame. Bligh served as Master of the Resolution under Captain James Cook for the wildly successful exploring expedition around the world. Cook praised Bligh's competence in navigation, and it was this esteem that earned him the Bounty. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Bligh's dedication and success with navigation did not translate to naval leadership.

Bligh's suit is not properly a uniform, nor is it a common sailor's slop clothes. He wears a bob wig with what appears to be a short queue at the back. A black silk cravat is bound in a large and fanciful bow beneath the white collars of his shirt. The slit of his shirt is pinned with a silver masonic square and compass. His blue wool coat is double breasted and lined in white, with simple turned back cuffs and domed brass buttons. His waistcoat is a single breasted white affair with cloth covered buttons and slit pockets at the waist. Bligh's breeches (or possibly, though unlikely, trousers) are white.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Peregrine Pickle Illustrations, 1781


Illustrations from Peregrine Pickle, various artists, 1781, British Museum.

These copperplates were engraved for The Novelist's Magazine and depict scenes in the Tobias Smollet novel The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. The title character is raised by a former Royal Navy commodore and his cohort of mariners. Thankfully for us, several of these cuts depict those mariners in action.


The first scene is the same as that shown in the 1769 edition of the novel that I featured here. Unlike the 1769 edition, the commodore and most of his companions are dressed as gentlemen or officers. This may reflect the observation of N.A.M. Rodger in his history of the Georgian navy: The Wooden World. Officers and men were not as starkly divided in the mid-century as many popular histories portray. The division between them became much more classist and defined by the end of the century. Separated by two decades, these two separate prints demonstrate that in the dress of their characters.

Interestingly, boatswain's mate Tom Pipes is still in the dress of a common tarpawlin. He is hatless with short hair, wearing a single breasted jacket, and carrying a sailor's stick. He wears a pair of slops/petticoat trousers. At his neck is an oddly shaped black neckcloth. This may be the mysterious gorget type badge seen in the 1762 illustration of a bosun featured here. I turned to the Internet Archive, which hosts a digitized copy of the Novelist's Magazine, Volume VI. It has a slightly higher resolution image of this engraving, but not high enough to be definitive.


The next scene gives us a better (and more humorous) image of Tom Pipes: leading children in an attack on a local gardener.


Pipes wears a loose fitting cap, white neckcloth, single breasted white waistcoat without pockets, single breasted jacket with clash cuffs that ends about the top of the thigh, plain slops/petticoat trousers, white breeches, white stockings, and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles. In his right hand, raised in defense, is a cudgel.


Tom watches as Pickle exchanges rings with his love. Though relegated to the background, Tom Pipes still has a lot to offer us. His jacket is single breasted, but the artist couldn't settle on a style of cuff. His left arm ends in a buttoned down mariner's cuff, but his right features a small slash. Under his left arm is tucked a short stick, and in his right hand is a cocked hat. At least, I presume it is a cocked hat, it is difficult to tell. Again he wears plain slops/petticoat trousers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Lord Mount Skinflint's Dinner, 1789


"Lord Mount Skinflint's Dinner," William Holland, 1789, British Museum.

Among the upper classes in Europe, court intrigues and personal insults were a constant bother. William Holland lampoons one of these countless incidents in the above cartoon. The curators at the British Museum have this to say:
On 21 Aug. 1789 the royal party was escorted by a naval procession to dine at Mount Edgcumbe, where the officers also expected to dine, but were not invited. Fanny Burney records 'the rage of the sea-captains on being disappointed . . .' 'Diary', 24 Aug. 1789. Viscount Mount-Edgcumbe, who is probably the officer closing the gates (he had the rank of admiral), was created earl on 31 Aug. 1789.
Two sailors in a boat look on with apparent amusement.


Standing up and holding the mast is one sailor in a red jacket with buttoned down mariner's cuffs. He wears a black round hat with tall cylindrical crown (common for the late 1780's), and a white single breasted waistcoat that either ends at the waist or is tucked into his close fitting white trousers. A white neckcloth is tied about his collar. Beside him and leaning on the gangplank, his mate wears an identical hat and jacket, save for the fact that his jacket is blue. His neckcloth is black and tucked into his white waistcoat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sketch of a boat in distress, c.1784-1788


Sketch of a boat in distress, from "Imitations of Modern Drawings," John Hamilton Mortimer, engraved by Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1784-1788, British Museum.

Rowlandson's affinity for invoking the fears of sailors has surfaced on this blog before. The mariners and passengers on this open boat have a somewhat better chance than the pair of sailors stranded on flotsam depicted in his 1786 piece "Misery."

Even so, their situation is dire. Buried in the trough of towering waves, the sailors fight to bring the lone sail to bear, while the passengers crammed between the narrow bulwarks panic. Far in the background, beyond the sight of the distressed by well in view of the audience, are the three masts of their dying ship. The masts are leaning to the right, sliding down toward the ocean surface.


Standing at the stern and shouting through a speaking trumpet, one of the sailors takes command. It is unclear precisely who this man is, but he wears a pair of loose fitting trousers, and it appears that his jacket is tucked into the waistband. Beside him is the coxswain, who sports an oddly anachronistic cap. Perhaps this print is meant to represent an earlier time. Reaching up to heaven with an imploring hand, a woman grieves at their collective suffering. Reaching for a the starboard rail, a man is doubled over, perhaps with seasickness. He wears a cap not unlike that of the coxswain, and what appears to be a pair of trousers and a jacket with mariner's cuffs.


Gathered around the mast are more men. A couple of them wear odd caps of a sort of conical shape. The second man from the right has a particularly dark cap, which at first led me to think it was perhaps an eighteenth century version of a sou'wester. However, the shading by Rowlandson on the sail to either side of the man match that of his hat, and so I believe this is a result of lighting, not material. In any case, a couple of the men here wear trousers and shirt with no waistcoat or jacket. Like the coxswain at the stern, their sleeves are rolled up past their elbows.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Part of the crew of His Majesty's Ship Guardian, 1790



"Part of the crew of His Majesty's Ship Guardian endeavouring to escape in the boats," Robert Dodd, 1790, National Portrait Gallery (Australia).

I've examined a print of the Guardian frigate in the past, also created in 1790. That Bowles print was an idealized representation of Lieutenant Edward Riou aboard his shattered vessel. Robert Dodd's print is also somewhat idealized in its portrayal, but decidedly more harrowing. Walls of ice threaten the stranded ship, and the boats are tossed on threatening waves.

When the Guardian, bound for New South Wales with convicts aboard, struck ice and was stranded, many of her crew and passengers took to the boats. We see only some of the 259 people that crammed onto the five boats. Of these only fifteen would survive.

Riou managed to get ahead of the rapidly gaining water in his hold (at its height, there was sixteen feet of water in his ship) and made it safety. His tale of survival would be the inspiration for the third act of Patrick O'Brian's novel "Desolation Island."


Looking over the larboard rail amidships is Lieutenant Riou. He stands with a certain posture of confidence that the other figures in this piece lack. The men around him scrambling across the deck and down the side into the boats wear trousers, jackets that end at or below the waist, and round hats with narrow brims and tall cylindrical crowns.


Keeping his balance and giving instructions to the men in the boats, the central figure in this detail is Master Celements. His left hand holds an octant, a navigational instrument that will be essential to the survival of the men.

The men are ill-equipped for surviving in open arctic waters. Many are without jackets, some without even waistcoats. Many wear loose black neckcloths, looser than I am accustomed to seeing in images of sailors. Some have work caps, some round hats with narrow brims and tall cylindrical crows, and one (an oarsman in Master Clements' boat) wears a cloth wrapped around his head.

Movies, TV shows, and reenactors often portray sailors with a cloth wrapped around the head, but this is the first image I've seen of it. It is possible that this sailor has bandaged a wound, rather than wearing it for comfort or fashion, but with his back turned toward us, it is difficult to say.

The only other figure of note is the tar standing at the mast of his boat, who wears a double breasted jacket and a white neckcloth tied in a fancy sort of manner.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Two Small Royal Navy Frigates, 1775


"Two Small Royal Navy Frigates," 1775, Gabriel Bray, National Maritime Museum.

Gabriel Bray was a Royal Navy officer who kept a wonderfully candid book of illustrations during his service aboard the frigate Pallas on a voyage to Africa in 1775. I have featured many of his depictions in the past. Bray may offer us the most accurate depiction of sailors at sea from the period.

The focus of this piece, unlike most of his works, is on the vessels rather than on the people. Marine artists like Dominic Serres and (to a lesser extent) Samuel Scott, are largely known for their depictions of the vessels at sea. Cartoonists like Thomas Rowlandson and the various prints carried by Bowles are more likely to portray common sailors, but as caricatures rather than as true-to-life people. Bray occupies a space between the two, where he strives to accurately portray the people surrounding him, rather than a caricature or an object. While he is perhaps not the only one to do so, he is the most prolific artist of the type whose work survives.

"Two Small Royal Navy Frigates" is among the minority of his images that feature ships. Interestingly, even those images put people front and center. In this piece, a lugger cuts straight into view, ruining our perfect view of the frigate with her larboard broadside turned to us. It is as though Bray is interjecting the common man to remind us that ships are useless without men. The frigates are relegated to the background, and the men in their tiny lugger are in focus.


Despite that focus, the details are scant. Our eight man crew include six bargemen facing aft, a coxswain (who sits up on the starboard side at the stern) and a man who might be an officer. He sits facing forward and appears to have a bit more of a point to his hat, unlike the round hats worn universally by the blue jacketed crew. The details are too vague to be certain.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

View of Mount Edgecumbe, 1755


"View of Mount Edgcumbe," engraved by Pierre Charles Canot after Samuel Scott, 1755, British Museum.


"View of Mount Edgcumbe," engraved by Pierre Charles Canot after Samuel Scott, 1755, Government Art Collection.

This is another in the print series Five views of and from Mount Edgcumbe, Plymouth, in which engraver Pierre Charles Canot gives his impressions of the works of Samuel Scott. You can see the previous print that I examined here.

Our only view of common tars comes from the two boats that pull for the right of the frame.



In the foreground is a boat with a gesticulating coxswain and a fluttering red ensign, showing that these oarsmen are pulling against a strong headwind. In the background, a man stands in the bow of his vessel with a boathook extended. Presumably, both vessels are stretching out toward a larger vessel or a shore on which to land.

In both boats, the men wear jackets with open slash cuffs that drop to about mid-thigh. At least one off the oarsmen wears his jacket without a waistcoat, though the cox in the foreground boat certainly wears a single breasted waistcoat. Several of the men are without hats, but most wear cocked hats. The cox wears his cocked hat reversed, but the rest of them wear their hats with the point forward.

Friday, January 8, 2016

View of Mount Edgcumbe, Taken from St. Nicholas's Island, 1755


"View of Mount Edgcumbe, Taken from St. Nicholas's Island," engraved by Pierre Charles Canot after Samuel Scott, 1755, British Museum.


"View of Mount Edgcumbe, Taken from St. Nicholas's Island," engraved by Pierre Charles Canot after Samuel Scott, 1755, Government Art Collection.

Taken from the series Five views of and from Mount Edgcumbe, Plymouth. Mount Edgcumbe is the former palatial estate of a noble family. Their stately manor is now open to the public as a museum.

Canot's engraving depicts ships in the river, with one man-of-war giving a salute. A pair of watermen or mariners are shoving off from the shore, taking a jovial gentleman out in their small boat.



Both of the men wear cocked hats with the point forward and bob style hair or wigs. One wears a red jacket, the other yellow. The man with his back to us (sitting amidships) give a peak or the trousers or slops/petticoat trousers through the vent in his double or triple vented jacket.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Halifax, 1762


Halifax, Dominic Serres, 1762, Wikimedia Commons.

Though French by birth, Dominic Serres was just as thrilled as anyone else with the British victories in Canada. A key component to these victories was Halifax. Established in 1749 in violation of treaties signed with the local native people, Halifax served as a jumping off point for British operations in Canada throughout the French and Indian War. It would continue to be an important base of naval operations in the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812.

Dominic Serres joins other British based artists of the early 1760's in relating the scenes of distant war to their audience.He portrays a peaceful, everyday scene of carts going to market, subjects walking the streets, and a few sailors ashore.


The three clustered on the left of this details wear black stockings and petticoat trousers/slops. Their jackets are of uniform length, but one wears red while the other two wear blue. All three of them wear cocked hats: two of them with the point forward, and the man in red with his reversed. The fellow in red also carried a walking stick, and wears a grey or brown waistcoat. On the far right of this detail is a sailor with slops/petticoat trousers that end right at the knee, a red neckcloth, and blue jacket. The resolution is too low to confidently say anything else about him.


By the cart, a small mess of tars are gathered around what appears to be a naval officer. They too wear blue jackets, cocked hats, and slops/petticoat trousers. It appears that all of them wear red neckcloths. At least two of them carry sticks.

If any of you are aware of higher resolution versions of this image, I would be very grateful!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Convicts at Woolwich

Beginning in 1717, the British Crown codified the expulsion of criminals to America. This official banishment sent tens of thousands of convict servants to America, serving a minimum sentence of seven years. The Chesapeake was the primary destination for these convict servants, and especially the colony of Maryland. This may account for the title of a previously examined piece: The Sailors Adventure to the Streights of Merry-Land.

With the coming of the Revolutionary War, convict servants could no longer be sent to America. According to Anthony Vaver at the Early American Crime blog, Robert Eden came up with a stop-gap solution. The convicts would be put to work building a docks, an arsenal, and dredging the river at Woolwich. England's ne'er-do-wells would be housed aboard the prison hulks Justitia and Censor

The War lasted longer than England had anticipated, and not in their favor. Rather than send the convicts on to America as planned, they were instead sent to settle Australia.

Below is a collection of images that will be posted largely without comment, as they do not portray common sailors in their slop clothes. These images are taken from a few different sources and depict the journey to Woolwich and the labor conducted there. Many sailors occupied the same step on the social ladder as these unfortunates, and those serving in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence benefited from their labors.

Don't forget: you can click on an image to expand it.


"The Convicts taking Water near Black Friars Bridge, in order for being conveyed to Woolwich," engraved by Pollard, from New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor's Register, 1777, The Maritime Gallery.


"The Convicts taking Water near Black Friars Bridge, in order for being conveyed to Woolwich," engraved by Pollard, from New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor's Register, 1777, Internet Archive.


"Prespective View of the Convict's at Work on the Thames, Drawn May the 8th 1777 from the Butt at Woolwich," from the London Magazine, artist unknown, 1777, National Library of Australia.


"Prespective View of the Convict's at Work on the Thames, Drawn May the 8th 1777 from the Butt at Woolwich," from the London Magazine, artist unknown, 1777, Hathi Trust.


"View of the Justitia Hulk, with the Convicts at Work, near Woolwich," engraved by Pollard, from New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor's Register, 1777, National Maritime Museum.


"View of the Justitia Hulk, with the Convicts at Work, near Woolwich," engraved by Pollard, from New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor's Register, 1777, Internet Archive.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A View of the Watering Place at Tenian, 1748


"A View of the Watering Place at Tenian," copperplate from A voyage round the world, in the years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV by George Anson, Esq. by Richard Walter, engraver unknown, 1748, National Library of Australia.


"A View of the Watering Place at Tenian," copperplate from A voyage round the world, in the years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV by George Anson, Esq. by Richard Walter, engraver unknown, 1748, Getty Research Institute.

The rewards George Anson and his surviving crew reaped from capturing a Spanish treasure galleon are legendary. A huge haul of cash that was a major boon to the English and a major blow to the Spanish. In the celebration of Anson's victory, the troubles that plagued his arduous voyage around the world were seen as mere stepping stones. In truth, most of the effort in Anson's expedition was expended on base survival. One of those day-to-day tasks for survival is depicted here.

Late in his voyage, Anson stopped at Tinian Island. The inhabitants of Tinian had been forcibly moved to Guam by their Spanish oppressors, and the spot was largely uninhabited. This allowed Anson to bring aboard much needed water for the voyage. It is this scene that Richard Walter is portraying in the copperplate above.


Here, two sailors work at sealing and moving barrels of water. The fellow in the background wears a cocked hat reversed and single breasted jacket. His hair is cut short and hangs above his shoulders. In the foreground, his mate wears a flat crowned round hat and short curly hair. His jacket is double vented at the back, and he wears trousers that hang above the ankle, near the bottom of the calf.


To the right of these two mariners is a sailor who appears to be digging a well. His hair is wavy and shoulder length, hanging from under his flat crowned round hat. He wears a jacket tucked into the waistband of his long trousers.


I do believe this is the man himself: George Anson. Afloat in the background is the legendary Centurion.