Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Banks of the Shannon, 1787

The Banks of the Shannon, published by Bowles & Carver, 1787, reprinted 1799, British Museum.

A colorful print, this Bowles and Carver piece touches on the Sailor's Farewell trope, but with a twist. The young gentleman clasps the hand of his crying sweetheart, but the insistent hand on his shoulder of a naval officer bids him away with the press gang. His lover gives us a tearful poem:
But woe is me the Press gang came and forc'd my Ned away,
Just when we nam'd next Monday fair to be our Wedding day.
 My love he cry'd they force me hence but still my heart is thine
All peace be yours my gentle Pat while War and toil is mine
With riches I'll return to thee, I sob'd out words of thanks
And then we vow'd eternal truth on Shannon's flow'ry Banks.
Among the many things that make this piece interesting is the fact that this is the River Shannon, and so the main figures are Irish. Upon reflection, I cannot think of any other prints, drawings, or paintings that I have examined that explicitly illustrated Irish tars. Scotch, American, and English certainly, but thus far the Irish have escaped notice. It is perhaps the leveling nature of the Wooden World (as NAM Rodger calls it) that makes them invisible to art. The overwhelming majority of images do not give any nationality to sailors. They are all of a kind.

Pat and Ned look clearly distraught, but the press gang seem to be enjoying this tearful parting.

With cudgel in hand, a grinning officer tugs at Ned's shoulder. Behind him are array the men of the press gang, and at least one of them also carries a cudgel.

They are uniformly equipped with black round hats that sport narrow upturned brims and big blue bows. Blue bows on round hats are typical of Bowles' prints. Most of the mariners are hidden behind the officer, but we do get a peek at a pair of white trousers with narrow vertical red stripes over white stockings.

There is one sailor in particular that we get a good look at.

His hair hangs down in brown curls and appear to just barely drape over the black silk neckcloth over his blue jacket with its slit cuffs. A red double breasted waistcoat with white metal buttons hangs above his plain white slops/petticoat trousers. The shading indicates that this waistcoat is not tucked in, and is cut off at the natural waist. He wears white stockings and pointed toe shoes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

From a Sketch Taken at Portsmouth, 1785

From a Sketch taken at Portsmouth by W. H. Bunbury Esqr., William Henry Bunbury, 1785, British Museum. A second copy from the same collection here.

From a Sketch taken at Portsmouth by W. H. Bunbury Esqr., William Henry Bunbury, 1785, collection unknown.

It never fails. Every time I think I can say something definitive about what sailors did and did not wear, something new comes along.

These men are from the third rate 74 gun Edgar. Launched in 1779, she served at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent the next year. With the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783, she was relegated to guard duty at Portsmouth, according to Brian Lavery's . book "The Ship of the Line, Vol. 1: The Development of the Battlefleet 1650-1850." That certainly explains why all these bored tars are lounging about ashore with a lady of questionable character.

What is most surprising about this print is the hats that some of the tars wear.

Never before have I seen evidence of sailors wearing the name of their vessel on their headgear. Most of these mariners wear the name of their vessel on a lighter field. Perhaps this is a card sewn into the front of the two barge caps and on the crown of the round hat. Or maybe it is a painted lighter field with the name then entered onto it. The name might even be embroidered. Most interesting is the fellow with the round hat and ribbon. Until this image, I thought that putting a ship's name on a ribbon around the crown was a purely nineteenth century affectation.

I do urge caution in using this image. It is the first and so far the only in nearly 400 primary source images I have examined that actually shows sailors wearing the name of their ship, and is probably not representative of a much wider trend.

Nonetheless, it is a fascinating proof that there are exceptions to many assumptions I hold on sailor's slop clothes.

Leaning against the boat, a happy tarpawlin holds a large tankard. He wears a round hat with oddly upturned brim and his hair in a bob wig style (if not a wig itself). He wears a jacket with upper lapels flopped back, a black neckcloth, and a white single breasted waistcoat with cloth covered buttons. He plain trousers run down to his ankles, where they hang just above his rounded toe shoe with rectangular buckle.

Behind him and hauling on a line (perhaps dragging a boat ashore) is a sailor with a cloth workcap, jacket tucked into the waistband of his plain trousers, and shoes matching those of the mariner in the foreground.

These three men gathered around a pair of casks look like they are up to no good. Seated is a tar in a short brimmed high crowned round hat with a black neckcloth and short, curly hair. He wears a short jacket with cloth covered buttons sealing his mariner's cuffs. Around his waist, interestingly enough, is a sash. This is the first that I've seen an English sailor wearing one, as they are far more common among French tars.

Standing around him are two of his mates, both with short loose hair tucked beneath their cap and hat, both wear plain trousers and single breasted waistcoats. The tarpawlin on the right appears to be wearing something closer to a frock coat with turned back cuffs, but as the lady conceals the bottom of his outer garment, I cannot be sure.

Staring at us with something between amusement and disdain is a man in a cap and striped neckcloth. He too wears his hair loose and cut above the shoulders. Reclining with a lady, his mate holds his round hat with its rounded crown in one hand, presumably wrapping the other around her. He is without a waistcoat, and wears a jacket with the lapels somewhat turned back at the top. His mariner's cuffs are open. Plain trousers complete his slop clothes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A view of the Endeavour's watering place in the Bay of Good Success, 1769

"A view of the Endeavour's watering place in the Bay of Good Success, Tierra del Furgo, with natives. January 1769," Alexander Buchan, 1769, British Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to Gregory Scott, Steve Rayner, and Adam Hodges-LeClaire for digging up this wonderful piece.

Again I return to Captain Cook's voyages. and we find him at the very bottom of the New World. Good Success Bay, here styled as "the Bay of Good Success," was a place of respite for the crew. They had weathered a storm the night before, and lost a kedge anchor in the process. The Endeavour's log for that day, January 20, 1769, reads "at 2 a.m. sent the People on shore to Wood and Water and cut Brooms, all of which we Completed this day." In this watercolor, we see "the People' at work, but also enjoying themselves. A few sailors converse with the local native people, while marines meander about.

This wonderful detail shows some of the men about a campfire cooking a meal, while others use buckets to fill water casks from the nearby stream. A marine (strangely dressed in red small clothes and a red coat with no apparent facings) stands nearby with his musket.

The sailors are all dressed in a fairly similar fashion: black round hats with upturned short brims, short jackets ending below the waist, and plain trousers ending above the ankle. The jackets are variously white, blue, and green.

This detail show much the same slop clothes as the last, with the same style of hats, jackets, and trousers. There are two new details worth mentioning.

This dapper looking sailor has a hand that appears to be in the pocket. I hesitate to say this is positive, as the details on this resolution are not strong enough and I have yet to see a sailor's trousers with pockets placed so similar to modern jeans. Generally, the pockets of a sailor's trousers are in a straight line down the side of the leg.  He is also the only sailor who gives us a clear view of the white lining of his jacket as well as the loose upper corner lapels. He also wears a red waistcoat tucked into his trousers.

These sailors are largely unremarkable, except that the tar behind the two seated native people is holding a walking stick. Even on such a distant foreign station, sailors are joined by that symbol of their profession.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A view of Endeavour River, 1773

"A view of Endeavour River, on the coast of New Holland, where the ship was laid on shore, in order to repair the damage which she received on the rock," engraved by William Byrne after Sydney Parkinson, 1773, National Maritime Museum.

It has been some time since we last visited Captain Cook!

This scene finds the Endeavour intentionally grounded in Queensland at the mouth of what they have named the Endeavour River. Cook's ship struck the four mile long Endeavour Reef, suffering damage that required serious repairs. For seven weeks Cook and his crew would patch up the vessel while the scientists scoured the surrounding area to collect and study flora and fauna. Cook also made an effort to reach out to the local Guugu Yimithirr people.

To the south of the beached Endeavour is a boat full of oarsmen who row easy. The oarsmen themselves wear round hats with narrow brims and short jackets. In the stern is an officer, possibly Cook, and a standing coxswain. The cox wears a round hat and jacket as well, and though he is standing there is too little details to say more about his slop clothes.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal, 1754

"Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal," Robert Sayer, 1754, British Museum.

Robert Sayer treats his audience to an idealized view of Fort William in Calcutta. The fort we see here was completed in 1706, though portions of the fort had stood since 1696. Despite the best efforts of the British East India Company, Fort William was conquered only two years after this print was made by Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal. Siraj had many qualms with the East India Company, and Fort William was among them. When the Company reinforced and strengthened the fort without informed Siraj, it was taken as an act of aggression. In fact, the Company was warned to stop reinforcing, but refused, further angering the Nawab.

Siraj took Fort William, but disorganization and miscommunication within the chain of command (and supposedly the cruelty of the few guards set to watch over them) locked the prisoners overnight in a remarkably overcrowded cell with virtually no water, lack of ventilation, and stifling heat. The conditions were so deplorable that a majority of prisoners died in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Precise numbers are the subject of debate.

Those atrocities were yet to come when Sayer printed this piece.

The East India Company built, manned, and maintained Fort William in part to continue their dominance of the Indian trade. That makes it rather likely that the ships on the Hooghly River are East India Company vessels. All of them fly red ensigns, which could be flown either by Royal Navy vessels, or by merchantmen. The East India Company did have its own ensign, one of which can be seen in this piece from 1765.

As I have seen on a couple of Indiamen, the red ensign could be flown by EIC ships. We should always be careful in identifying ships strictly on the colors they fly, as the use of ensigns that many vexillologists attribute strictly to naval vessels has been undermined in art. It may be that the artists are simply ignorant of the use of colors in the maritime world, or that these ships are actually flying ensigns we think of as belonging to one kind of vessel or another.

The men in this boat wear a variety of colored jackets: blue, green, and red. All of them wear round hats with varying lengths of brim.