Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The True British Tar, 1785


The True British Tar, Carington Bowles, 1785, British Museum.

Beyond the window lies a ship at anchor, but clearly our sailor is a bit more focused on the sacks of Spanish dollars he's procured. His table is scattered with coins and bedecked with bottles of Madeira. Lying against the box on which he sits is a neglected pipe, spilling its flames and smoking worryingly.


Our mariner wears a round hat lined with gold tape, and decorated with a blue bow (typical of works by Carington Bowles). Flowing from beneath is a wig with a long, tightly bound queue. Sailors of the eighteenth century wore their hair short, until just about this period when long and tightly bound queues begin to appear alongside should length and shorter hair styles. This is the earliest image I'm aware of that clearly shows a common sailor with a long, tightly bound pigtail or 'rattail.' His neckcloth is a sort of burgundy color, and fringed at the edges.


The jacket itself is blue, but it is impossible to tell if it is single or double breasted. Either way, it has brass buttons on both the front and the slash cuffs. Out of the jacket pocket, or perhaps spilling out through a rear vent, a burgundy handkerchief spotted in yellow hangs loose. His red waistcoat has white metal buttons, and a colorful blue ribbon and fob extends from beneath it.


Red striped trousers lead down to clocked stockings, pointed toe shoes, and yellow metal oval shaped buckles. The straps of his shoes are trained "sailor fashion."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fortune's Favourites: or Happiness in every Situation, 1786


Fortune's Favourites: or Happiness in every Situation, Robert Dighton, printed by Bowles & Carver, 1786, British Museum.

Dighton's cartoon shows all classes of society smiling and enjoying their day beneath a blindfolded Fortune, with one hand on a wheel (perhaps a spinning wheel?) and the other holding an overflowing cornucopia. A cobbler, butcher, shoeblack, and carpenter join the sailor in representing the lower classes. They are comingled with a decorated peer, a rich miser, and (according to the curators of the British Museum) 'a fat alderman eating from a bowl of soup inscribed "Turtle."'

The image is crowded, so the sailor is obscured by the miser.


Over his loose and flowing locks, our tar wears a cocked hat with the point forward and a large blue cockade on the left side. Around his neck is a red neckcloth, draped over his shirt and jacket. The blue jackets is fitted with open mariner's cuffs with white or silver buttons. Beneath his plain petticoat trousers is a wooden leg.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Convention, 1790


The Convention, Isaac Cruikshank, published by S.W. Forbes, 1790, British Museum.

This political cartoon references the Nootka Sound Convention of 1790. It was one of three agreements between Spain and Britain to prevent disagreements and incidents in the Pacific Northwest from escalating to war.

Cruikshank does not appear to happy with this first convention. The Don prances away at a dancing step while taunting Jack Tar (who stands in place of Britannia) with the French farewell: 'Adieu.' Jack, meanwhile, can do little more but stare angrily at his opponent and mutter 'You be D--n'd.'


The sailor wear a round hat with a rounded crown and loose brim. His jacket has large buttons, and appears to be single breasted, though I couldn't swear to it. One hand is thrust in the waist pocket of his single breasted waistcoat, which hangs over the petticoat trousers that end just below the knee. In his left hand he holds a stick.

Monday, October 9, 2017

France and England or a prospect of Peace, c.1763


France and England or a prospect of Peace, artist unknown, c.1763, British Museum.

This is one of many political cartoons to address the Treaty of Paris of 1763 which closed out the Seven Years and French and Indian Wars (among others).


A sailor has turned highwayman, and threatens a well dressed man with a pistol. The gentleman seems oddly unperturbed by this turn of events, saying 'This is always The Consequence of peace in England We neglect those in peace that were our Bulwarks in War.' The sailor, despite a gallows well within sight on the hills to the left, is similarly sanguine: 'I may as well Risk hanging fro something as I have being Shott for nothing and I cannot stare.'

Our luckless sailors wears a jacket with at least two vents, and slit pockets at the waist. He wears a wide brimmed round hat with short cylindrical crown. His plain trousers end about mid-calf.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tavern scene, 1786


A tavern scene, Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, British Museum.

Rowlandson's sketch depicts a raucous tavern. Perhaps this is the same tavern that he would later illustrate being raided by a press gang. Among the revelers is a sailor embracing a woman who reaches for the punch ladle.


He wears a cap or round hat atop his head, a pair of trousers that end above the ankle, and a jacket that ends just below the waist.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Occupied Philadelphia: October 14-15

If you are on this side of the Atlantic, I'd love to see you at the Museum of the American Revolution's new event Occupied Philadelphia on October 14 and 15.

The Museum of the American Revolution is a phenomenal organization. Even as a museum professional who has worked in and visited museums across the United States for well over a decade, I was floored by their interpretation. It's an engaging, thrilling experience.


On October 14 anf 15, living historians will be leading walking tours, street theater, and demonstrations all weekend to commemorate the British occupation of the rebellious American capital in 1777.


I will be there all weekend representing a master's mate of the Vigilant, which had a brief career as a less than reliable sixth rate serving in American waters. Stop by my table to talk about life in the Royal Navy and the history of navigation. I'll have a set of reproduction instruments for latitudinal navigation and ded. reckoning. Come on up and say hello!

Photo by Ron MacArthur, from the Cape Gazette.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Frenchman in Distress, 1786


The Frenchman in Distress, Robert Dighton, printed by Bowles & Carver, 1786, British Museum.

Beating well dressed and effeminate Frenchmen is a running theme in British cartoons of the late eighteenth century. In this case, a coachman gets his licks in, raising a fist while the Frenchman empties his pockets, spilling his fripperies onto the sidewalk. Numerous onlookers watch the scene, including a sailor and what might be his family.


The large woman stands by the oysters she has for sale, an oyster knife hanging from her waist. to the right stands a well dressed tar.

His round hat is black with an upturned brim, a "buck hat." His shirt is bared between the open lapels of a red waistcoat, over which a short black neckcloth hangs down, tied beneath his collar. A blue jacket with white buttons and a closed mariners cuff hands down to the top of his thighs. White trousers striped with narrow red vertical stripes ends above the ankle. Rectangular buckles keep his shoes fit tight, and he holds a stick in his right hand.