Thursday, May 1, 2014

More on Weatherproofing

"Loss of HMS Ramillies, September 1782: Before the Storm Breaks" by Robert Dodd, Wikimedia Commons.
The more I contemplate the topic, and the more I research, the more I become convinced that there was indeed a good deal of weatherproofing among British and American sailors' garments.

Further evidence comes from the 1760 book The Wooden World Dissected
[The sailor] looks most formidable when others would appear most drooping; for see him in bad weather, in his fur cap and whapping large watch coat, and you'd swear the Czar was return'd from Muscovy; yet he's never in his true figure, but within a pitch'd jacket, and then he's as invulnerable to a cudgel, as a hog in armour.
The reference to a "pitch'd jacket" confirms the use of pitch on sailor's clothing, but this is doubly proven when we go even earlier in time. In the April 1740 edition of the Gentleman's Magazine is included a humorous exchange between a soldier (Thomas Lobster) and a sailor (John Tar). In it, Thomas Lobster professes himself a gentleman soldier, and accuses sailors in general of being an ill-kempt sorts who are "call'd nothing but Tarpawlins at best." More relevant to our topic, he continues:
Why, look ye here, Jack; does not this new red Coat, laced Hat, and Sword by my side, look more genteel than your old pitch'd Jacket, and dirty'd Pair of Trowsers? 
We then have a number of sources, referring to the last post and to this, of tarred clothing. In Wooden World Dissected, the anonymous author even goes so far as to state that the jack is "never in his true figure without" it. Why then do we not see more representations of this?

Speaking materially, the physically objects almost never survived. What little we have from the General Carleton is the exception to the rule, and cannot be considered representative of tarred clothing, as she sank in a storm and her crew would have been wearing them.

Visual sources, the focus of this blog, can almost never be considered to be reliable for the sake of determining whether a piece of clothing is tarred, pitched, or not. This is because the images do not convey fabric texture, only color. We know for certain that eighteenth century sailors wore hats of felt and, far less often, leather.

Here again we run up against the limitations of our primary sources. Most were drawn, painted, engraved, and colored by printers ashore. Their exposure to sailors was mostly that of observing those sailors on land. There would be little reason to wear foul weather gear when walking around Liverpool.

Returning again to the General Carleton, we should perhaps use this as a model. Numbers of felt hats were found below decks, but only one weatherproofed hat. This leads me to believe the sailors switched out their standard gear for a foul weather rig. We may assume, then, that during all other times, they were wearing the more typical sailor's clothing that we see in a vast majority of images.

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