Monday, October 30, 2017

Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, 1782


Frontispiece to A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, by James Aird, published by J. McFadyen, 1782, Internet Archive.

Special thanks to follower Adam Hodges-LeClaire for pointing this one out.

Published late in the American Revolutionary War, Aird's five volume work was dedicated to 'the Vounteer and Defensive Bands of Great Britain and Ireland.' It contained music to inspire the soldiers and sailors in the defense of their homeland, the suppression of the rebellious colonies, and the invasion of foreign territories.

The figures in the frontispiece represent a grenadier and highland solider, and two sailors. The grenadier tramps on the seal for Spain, and the soldiers stand on the banner of France. Recognizing the presumed motivations of sailors, an open chest of coins lays beside them.



Both sailors wear long trousers that end above the ankle and taper a bit close to the leg. Both wear jackets with drop collars, turned back cuffs, and matching lapels. One wears a double breasted waistcoat, and the other wears a single breasted waistcoat. They both sport bob wigs and round hats, though the fellow on the left has a uniformly upturned brim with tape, and the other's hat is turned up on both the left and right and bears some sort of device on the front. One sailor holds a curved cutlass still in its sheath.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sailors' Hair

There were a lot of assumptions that I had going in to this project. Among them was that sailors wore long queues bound tight down their backs. This was in no small way influenced by the detailed Pirates and Patriots of the American Revolution, originally published in 1984 and an introduction to life at sea during the American War of Independence for generations of young readers.

For the record: almost nothing on this page is correct.

To be fair to Keith C. Wilbur, he was well intentioned and immensely readable for a young audience. Nonetheless, Wilbur's work was not academically rigorous. Abundant primary source images produced in my period of study directly contradict that idea that sailors wore long and tightly bound "rattails."

Detail from A Marine & Seaman fishing off the Anchor
on board the Pallas in Senegal Road
Gabriel Bray, 1775, National Maritime Museum.

Detail from A View of ye Jason Privateer, Nicholas Pocock,
c1760, Bristol City Museums.
The purpose of cutting hair short is unclear. It is easy to assume, and perhaps correct, that cutting hair to shoulder length and lower prevented that hair from getting wrapped in the lines with which sailors must necessarily work.

Seamen relaxing on the Pallas, Gabriel Bray, 1774, National Maritime Museum.
In the Bray image above, we see a "seaman" wearing a long, tightly bound pigtail in 1774. However, his hat is that of the marines, and all of Bray's other images clearly depicting common sailors shows them with short hair, as in the image below.

Seaman Leaning on a Gun on the Pallas, Gabriel Bray, 1775,
National Maritime Museum

Short hair may also have been seen as a marker of the subculture of common sailors, like their blue jackets, cocked hats worn reversed, and walking sticks. American sailor Jacob Nagle, then serving in the Royal Navy, remembered the justice meted out to the first lieutenant of the 74 gun Ganges, probably in early 1784. Variously described by Nagle as 'a villen and a terror to a seamen,' and 'a rail tarter to a seaman':
[Edward Riou] was coming a cross the fields to the hard way in the night. He was atack'd by three sailors, and they got him down and cut his long hair off, close to the neck, though he was a strong, powerful man, but they did not hurt him any other way, but he could never discover who they ware that done it.
Perhaps this was a way of reducing Riou to the level of the seamen he so terrorized.

If short hair was indeed a cultural marker, the transition from the short hair worn by sailors for most of my period of study may have left a superstitious imprint when the transition began to long plaited pigtails. From the memoirs of Samuel Kelly, relating an incident in 1783:
I requested one of my shipmates to comb and tie my hair, for which purpose I sat under the bow of the boat. While we were at this work the master came forward to see what we were about, and being very superstitious, he flew into a great passion and gave us to understand that it was no wonder we experienced such a foul wind when such trash (as me) was combing his hair in the night.
Kelly's anecdote comes shortly before the publication of the first image I'm aware of that clearly shows a long, tightly plaited pigtail:

The True British Tar, Carrington Bowles, 1785, collection unknown.
Notably, Bowles' piece depicts a sailor wearing a wig, and not his own hair. Nonetheless, it is a departure from the usual sailors' short bob wig. Around 1790, just as my study ends, pigtails become more common.

Detail from Ban-yan Day on board the Magnificent; or,
Pease Porridge hot from the Coppers!
, John Nixon, 1789, British Museum.
I still do not know when precisely the transition began from short hair to long pigtails, but it was clearly late in the eighteenth century.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Press Gang, c.1760


The Press Gang, John Collet, c.1760's, from The Foundling Museum.

I was directed to this image by The 18th Century Material Cultural Resource Center. Among their many excellent slideshows are a few focused on naval material culture.

Unfortunately, the Foundling Museum does not have a date for this piece. The 18th Century Material Culture Resource center gives this an approximate dating of c.1760's. Based on the clothing worn by men and women throughout this painting, I would agree with that approximation. As with many tavern scenes of the time, this is a chaotic piece with a lot going on.


Starting at the far left is a tar sharing a word with a woman, possibly his wife. He gestures toward a boy who holds what appears to be a British flag. The sailor wears the familiar reversed cocked hat, perhaps with the brim bound in tape. The tar's blue jacket ends about the middle of the thigh, with slash cuffs. His neckcloth and waistcoat are both red, and his white petticoat trousers that end just below the knee. Gray stockings lead to round toe shoes, but the quality of this copy does not allow us to see the buckles. The boy also wears the dress of a sailor: a round hat with cylindrical crown bound in white tape, blue jacket, and plain white trousers.


In the right of the frame, a pair of sailors drag a poor chap before woman on her knee, pleading for his release. The jack on the left is wearing a  cocked hat, red neckcloth, blue short jacket, petticoat trousers, and plain white or gray stockings. His mate on the right is wearing precisely the same slop clothes, though he might be holding a walking stick.


In the foreground at the right is a sailor lounging on a bench and lifting a lidded tankard. His cocked hat is turned with the point forward, and he wears a red jacket. The petticoat trousers hang long, but we can still see the gray or white stockings about his legs.


In the background a mess of tars play cards and carouse with women. They wear cocked hats and cocked hats, and the bareheaded mariners on the right wear bob wigs. Though the image is faded, they appear to be wearing red neckcloths and waistcoats.

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.