Friday, July 31, 2015

A Calm, 1789

"A Calm," Dominic Serres, 1789, Royal Collection Trust.

At the center of this piece is a frigate with limp sails. A red ensign flaps from her stern, and small boats sail around her, so clearly there is a breeze, but she has no interest in taking advantage of it.

N.A.M. Rogers, in his scholarly and very readable "The Wooden World," demonstrates that naval vessels of the eighteenth century spent most of their time in port. This was a fairly leisurely time, during which watches were foregone in favor of a standard working day. Such seems to be the case here, where the calm of a friendly port gives Serres' painting a serene feel to it.

Aboard the single masted sloop to the left are some characters with little detail. We can say that one of them wears a blue jacket, but that's the best I can do. Aboard the red barge, oarsmen lay on their oars. They wear white shirts with black barge caps. It appears that black neckcloths are tied about their necks, but this might be the rarely seen queue. I had fully expected to find a lot more queues when I began this project, but they are almost entirely absent. Sailors generally wear their hair in a bob style or about shoulder length. At the stern of the barge (behind the two officers) stands a coxswain with a black hat and blue jacket.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Misery, 1786

"Misery," Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, Royal Collection Trust.

Rowlandson is largely remembered for his raucous satirical pieces, and occasional pornography. Still, the caricaturist was a serious artist as well. Using the medium of mass printing, Rowlandson could churn out pieces that would make his audience laugh, or make them contemplate life. "Misery" is one of his little known pieces, and certainly reflects the latter.

A pair of sailors, perhaps the only survivors of some catastrophe, cling to wreckage. Adrift on an open and choppy sea, we can see to the far horizon, where there isn't a speck of hope for the unfortunate tars. Given the expression on the face of the red jacketed sailor, it is probably fair to say that nothing but sea stretches behind us as well. The use of a long horizon in the distance, and the staring eyes of a sailor looking beyond and behind us, places us in the same desperate mind as them.

The sailor on the left might be dead, or sleeping off his exhaustion, or too despairing to do more than cry into his sleeve. He wears a blue jacket with slightly scalloped mariner's cuffs. A black neckcloth hangs over the back of his jacket. White trousers with narrow red stripes running vertically hang over white stockings and black shoes.

Possessed with a look of hopelessness, this sailor wears a red jacket with mariner's cuffs, and perhaps with flap pockets at the waist. His trousers are more of a beige, perhaps being a bit weathered. Rowlandson illustrates his black neckcloth with dots alone, giving the illusion of movement on the windy sea.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Flight from Dover/The Arrival at Calais, 1768

The Flight from Dover/The Arrival at Calais, artist unknown, 1768, Walpole Library.

The Walpole Library does not have a catalog entry for this piece on their website. John Carter Brown Library's Early American Images database does have a catalog entry, but the wrong image in its place. By combining these resources, we can examine the primary source and have some context.

Lord Bute is depicted fleeing to France in the face of political turmoil. In the first images, he rides the stick of a witches' broom. Their ride is weighed with the gold of the people, which stands in substitute of his wife who is left in England.

A disreputable looking chap dismisses Bute with the words "Now he has got all our Dollars let him go." Perhaps in response to this, a sailor calls out to the flying politician "If I had you in our Ship, I'd heave you to ye Shark."

Jack wears a cocked hat with the point forward. His hair is short and in a bob style. A dark (perhaps black) neckcloth hangs over the back of his jacket. The jacket itself has turned back cuffs and a single vent at the back. His trousers are wide legged, but long, ending about mid-calf. The stockings are plain, but due to the shading, we can't say what color they might be. As you might expect, he carries a stick.

Despite what "The Flight from Dover" suggests, witchcraft was not a major form of cross-channel transportation in the eighteenth century. The topsail sloop seen in the detail above is probably a Calais packet. These vessels were the best way to get from England to France (from Dover to Calais) throughout the era. I have only touched on this method in the past.

In Calais, Bute is feted by vile looking Catholic clergy, French soldiers and foppish gentry, and the Pretender himself: Bonny Prince Charlie. Two shocked looking sailors, presumably mariners of his packet, look on in disgust. "Rat me Ned," says the first, "what respect they pay him."
"Why should they do otherwise," replies Ned, "he was allway their Friend."

The tar on the left wears a single breasted jacket with dark buttons and slit cuffs. His cocked hat is worn backward over bob styled hair. A plain neckcloth is tied about his neck, and trousers matching those of the sailor above hang down to the calf. Dressed much the same, Ned is somewhat portlier than his mate. His hat is also worn backward over bob style hair. It appears (but is not certain) that he wears a single breasted waistcoat under a darker jacket. Otherwise, he wears a plain neckcloth and slops/petticoat trousers or trousers.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Stage Coach, or Country Inn Yard, 1747

The Stage Coach, or Country Inn Yard, William Hogarth, 1747, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hogarth, perhaps the most brilliant and prolific satirist of his time, returns! Departing from "The Old Angle" inn, a coach is loading with luggage and passengers. Hitching a ride on the roof is a dejected young gentleman clutching his sword. Beside him is a jolly tar.

At his right arm is a bag with the name of his vessel: Centurion. A legendary fourth rate, Centurion was the only surviving vessel of the Anson expedition. The Centurion captured the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra SeƱora de la Covadonga. Anson's victory ensured a huge sum of prize money for her sparse crew. In 1746 Centurion was again under Anson. She led the fleet to victory at the Battle of Cape Finisterre.

No wonder Jack is looking so pleased with himself!

He wears a simple black cocked hat with no tape or buttons, worn reversed with a bob wig. Our tar has knotted a large plain neckcloth about his neck. His jacket lays open, but Hogarth has not illustrated any buttons. The crosshatch shading of his cuffs suggest a mariner's cuff, but I cannot know. His trousers are plain, and end about the bottom of the calf. He wears white socks and square toed shoes. A trusty walking stick, complete with rounded metal head, rests across his left arm.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Ketch-Rigged Royal Yacht Close-Hauled on the Starboard Tack off Dover, c1760

"A Ketch-Rigged Royal Yacht Close-Hauled on the Starboard Tack off Dover," Dominic Serres, c.1760, National Maritime Museum.

Royal yachts are generally small vessels intended for use by a royal family. As the name "yacht" implies, these vessels generally sail in calm weather and shallow waters, but are manned by naval personnel.

This example is squaresail ketch rigged. She has two masts, but differs from brigs, snows, and brigantines in that her forward mast is the main, and taller than the aftermost mast, which became her mizzen. Another key difference is that her main and mizzen are crowded further astern, giving a spacious open area on her deck. The Royal Navy used ketch rigged vessels to carry mortars for lobbing bombs in a siege specifically because of this useful open deck space.

Passing larboard to larboard of the yacht, a small vessel plows through the choppy sea. Her four man crew appear to be taking in the mainsail. They wear jackets that end just below the waist in various shades of brown, and one in blue. Their breeches are a bit more varied, with brown, red, and blue present. The coxswain wears a red knit cap, but the headwear of the other sailors is too difficult to make out.

The crew of the yacht are even more difficult to make out.

With an extreme zoom, we can see red, brown, grey, and blue jackets, and what appears to be one pair of white trousers, but nothing more significant can be said with this resolution.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A whaler and other vessels in a light breeze, 1788

"A whaler and other vessels in a light breeze," John Askew, 1788, National Maritime Museum.

Whaling became a juggernaut industry in the 19th century. In the period of my study, it is an important a lucrative business, but not yet the cultural and economic force it would become. This is partly evidenced by the fact that this is the first image I have examined that explicitly depicts whalers.

What first caught my attention on this piece was the ensign flying from the stern of the whaler herself.

Merchant vessels, including one of the other ships in this very painting, flew the red ensign. It is much the same as the flag we see above, but instead of the white field intersected by St. George's Cross, it was a pure red field with the King's Colors as a canton. The red ensign could also be flown by British naval vessels, as could the white ensign shown above, and a blue ensign. These three flags divided Royal Navy vessels into three fleets, and a white or blue ensign was a strong sign of a naval vessel, not a merchant.

Clearly we are looking at a whaler. Her bulwarks are not pierced for a single cannon, and the rails running larboard to starboard are distinctive to whalers (they were meant to hold the whale boats when not pursuing their prey). The common answer to flying a "wrong" ensign is that it could be used to confuse an enemy. If this were the case, her whaleboats would be aboard, not out hunting whales while some hungry privateer closed on her. Another possible answer is that the artist knew little of the sea and merely painted ensigns he recognized. As one of Askew's earlier works, this is possible, but he was a marine artist and appears to have known what he was doing.

I don't have an answer for this particular ensign being used, and suspect it may not have been as strange to the people of the past as it is to me. Perhaps vessels in the British merchant fleet did not think much about which particular ensign they used, as the most important aspect of it was to identify the nationality of your ship.

Askew depicts whalers at work in their boats, chasing the fluke of a tail. Our intrepid whalemen are clad in blue, brown, and red jacket. They wear black cocked hats and brown, grey, and blue breeches and trousers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Sixth Rate on the Stocks, 1758

A Sixth Rate on the Stocks, John Cleveley, 1758, National Maritime Museum.

The centerpiece of this painting is a brand new sixth rate frigate, pierced for 20 guns on her gundeck, and eight more on her quarter. These were fast vessels, and the most likely to take a prize. Frigates could also act as tenders to the gargantuan ships of the line that fought in the major fleet engagements throughout the century. 

On her larboard bow is another vessel, this one in stocks and already launched. We can tell she has been launched because she has her masts fitted and rigged, something that would not occur prior to launching. 

There are a few sailors scattered about, though some may be dockworkers, shipwrights, and the like. The line between these occupations is a thin one, and permeable, but we should approach this painting with caution nonetheless. 

It is also worth noting that the resolution on this copy is not terribly high. I will do my best to zoom in on the details, but they will be sketchy at best.

There is a small crowd of gentlemen and ladies looking on at the impressive vessels. In the upper left of this detail, we can see a sailor taking the time to talk about the sixth rate with a lady in a white dress. He wears a red jacket that ends below the waist with a single vent at the back. His cuffs are slashed, and he wears a black cocked hat and plain trousers.

On the same level but to the right stand a pair of men with a lady in a yellow dress. I am less positive about their identities, but they both wears jackets and carry sticks. It is the jackets that set them apart. Some of the gentlemen around this detail carry walking sticks, but they do not tuck them under their arms. At that, the caped overcoats worn by a pair of gentlemen suggest a season that would be unsuitable for jackets, which are unfashionable in the higher circles anyway. If indeed these men are sailors, we can say that they wear blue and brown jackets, brown and red breeches respectively. Both have black cocked hats.

The details in this image are scant, and I cannot even be sure of the clothing worn by the bargemen below the sixth rate's stern. If you have access to a higher resolution copy of this image, I would be much obliged!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Greenwich Pensioner, 1790

The Greenwich Pensioner, Charles Dibdin, 1790, Walpole Library.

Greenwich Hospital provided a safety net for the sailors who kept Britain safe and flourishing. Deductions from the pay of merchant and naval sailors helped to provide for their care when they were disabled, as is this man. Dibdin created this piece (which was published by Carrington Bowles) to commemorate those sailors who gave everything for the nation, and to celebrate the way the nation cared for them.

Our pensioner claims to have sailed on the Rover, a ship that I am fairly certain was invented for this song, as a quick search hasn't turned anything up on an eighteenth century ship rigged naval vessel by that name prior to 1790.

Jack doesn't wear his slop clothes anymore, but a suit of clothes that hint at his former profession.

A nice cocked hat bound in tape is cocked very far to one side, or perhaps worn backward. The balding pensioner's wile waist is still worn rather short, and he is clearly balding. About his neck is a checked neckcloth, tucked into a single breasted waistcoat. The sleeves of his coat (for it is too long to be called a jacket) end with mariner's cuffs which are also bound in tape.

As you would expect of any good sailor (retired or not), our pensioner carries a stick under his arm and a pipe between his fingers.

The most interesting detail of the entire piece is his finely carved wooden leg. A sort of scoop is fitted atop it to cradle the back of his stump. From there, a belt wraps around his thigh to hold it in place. It is a well turned piece of dark wood. His good leg is fitted with a pain stocking and pointed toe shoe with large rectangular buckle.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Launch of the North West America at Nootka Sound, British Columbia, 1790

"The Launch of the North West America at Nootka Sound, British Columbia, 1788," Robert Pollard, 1790, Toronto Public Library.

Taken from the book Voyages Made in the Years 1788 and 1789, from China to North West America, this plate purports to show "the first Vessel that was ever built in that part of the Globe," despite showing a Nootka vessel in the middle foreground.

Though not so ceremonial as you'd see at the slipways of Deptford, the naval personnel present do their best to give it a sense of gravity. Clouds of smoke, perhaps from firing a salute, cloud the ground behind the stern of the North West America. Among the clouds stands a pair of naval officers. At the stern of the vessel, and clutching the flagstaff, is a common tar.

Jack wears a fur Canadian cap atop his head, and a double breasted jacket (that ends at his waist) buttoned shut. Broad fall white trousers, closely fitted to his legs, finish his slop clothes.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Quebec and Surveillante in Action, 1781

The 'Quebec' and 'Surveillante' in Action, 6 October 1779, Robert Dodd, 1781, National Maritime Museum.

In the early days of this blog, I touched very briefly on the action between the frigates Quebec and Surveillante.

Due to an unfortunate accident while pursuing a French convoy, Royal Navy Captain George Farmer lost the twelve pounder guns from his 32 gun frigate Quebec, and replaced them with nine pounders. This loss would prove devastating, when the Quebec found itself pitted against the 36 gun Surveillante. The ten gun cutter Rambler (which you can see veering away in the right of the painting) would have provided some assistance, but was ensnared in her own duel with a French cutter of similar armament.

A three hour duel ensued, and for a brief moment the tide of battle shifted. The Surveillante lost all three of her masts, effectively crippling the ship. Just as Farmer was moving the Quebec to take advantage, all three of her masts also went over.

Still the battle continued, with an attempted boarding by the French being repulsed. Shortly thereafter, a fire began on the Quebec that would prove her doom. Farmer knew full well the dangers of a fire on a heavily armed warship, and tried to flood the magazine, but too late. The image above depicts the explosion that destroyed the Quebec. Only 68 men of her nearly 200 survived.

You can find a more detailed account of the action over at the Age of Sail blog.

Surveillante's boats were all destroyed in the action, so the French could do almost nothing to save their enemies. There was at least one boat from the Quebec that managed to survive, and that is what Dodd depicts here. Streaming from the water to the boat are shirtless men who try to swim to refuge. The men aboard the boat are both in shirtsleeves and jackets. There are green, blue, and red jackets scattered through the men. Black round hats are visible on some, and a red cap on another. Blue breeches can be seen on the oarsmen closest to the bow.

Clinging to the lost sails and mast (presumably of the Quebec) more sailors try to signal to the boat for assistance. Several are naked, with one shirtless man straddling the lost mast in his blue breeches. A number of blue jackets are seen on men grasping the yards and fighting top, with one jack wearing a pair of petticoat breeches. Interestingly, he does not wear stockings. It may well be that he stripped them free to allow for easier swimming, but this is mere speculation on my part.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Perspective View of the Grand Attack, 1762

"Perspective View of the Grand Attack on that City [Havana] and Punto Castle," Dominic Serres published by Carrington and Bowles, 1762, Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection.

Printed the same year as the English victory, this print depicts the siege and storming of Morro Castle (titled Punto Castle here). A British invasion force swooped into Havana and immediately began to bombard the Spanish defenses. The Spanish were more resourceful and well entrenched than the British realized, and the reduction of the fort took two months to compete.

What we see in the main body of the image shows some of the more mundane aspects of a siege. People going about their business (in this case, rowing and riding barges between the large warships) while bombs and balls fly.

Floating between several anchored warships are a pair of barges. Each is propelled by oarsmen in shirtsleeves with barge caps. At the stern of the less ornate barge in the background, the coxswain wears a blue jacket.

The same is true of the dress for the bargemen in the background here. Aboard the ship, the indistinct tars wears a mix of blue and red jackets with white trousers and black headgear of some fashion.

The only surprise in the detail of the oarsmen here is that their barge caps have a full brim, rather than the short jockey style so common among many barge crews.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Scene on board His Majesty's Ship Deal Castle, 1775

A scene on board His Majesty's ship 'Deal Castle', Captain J. Cumming, in a voyage from the West Indies in the year 1775, Thomas Hearne, 1804, National Maritime Museum.

Before I go into my usual examination of this piece, it is necessary to address my methods for deciding which pieces I include. There were many reasons that I started this project, but one of them was to address the common use of French Revolutionary or Napoleonic images in illustrating the earlier decades of the eighteenth century. With the plethora of primary source images of common sailors and officers that can be used for education and interpretation, it was my hope that collecting and sourcing these in one place would make it easier for everyone to tap into the past.

To that end, I have only used images that were made from 1740 to 1790, and depict events that happened in those years. Necessarily, this must exclude many images made immediately after the years of my examination, but about events in the half century of this blog.

I'm making something of an exception for this piece. It is a wonderful representation of the day to day life on deck, and does not appear to have been too affected by the passage of time. According to the curators at the National Maritime Museum Hearne was probably basing this image off of studies made at the time. These studies do not appear to have survived. This places today's illustration in the strange position of being drawn by the original artist, based on his original illustrations, but not actually completed until forty years after the event.

Thomas Hearne created this illustration from his memory of a return voyage to England after a stint as a topographer in the Caribbean. The Deal Castle was a 20 gun ship that could provide a relatively quick transatlantic trek for the artist.

Two officers standing along the larboard rail (not visible in the above detail) which is also the likely direction of the wind, judging by the position of the sails. This would suggest that one of the officers is the Captain, who traditionally stands on the windward side of the quarterdeck. Off to starboard, a gaggle of officers in cocked hats peer through octants, and may well be the midshipmen of the Deal Castle. Coming up out of the quarterdeck gangway is a marine.

Standing on the rail over the gundeck, a tar adjusts a block. He wears a black cap of indeterminate style, a light colored jacket that ends at the waist, and a pair of white trousers.

There are two things that instantly catch my attention with this figure. First, it appears that he is wearing something at the waist, which might be a rigging belt. This is an item that must certainly have been used, but I have never seen it depicted in a primary source. Second, he is barefoot. A common assumption among historians and reenactors is that sailors went barefoot while aboard. This makes a lot of sense (just try walking a holystoned wooden deck with smooth leather soles), but this is the only image I'm aware of that actually shows it.

There are a few other figures working further forward, but too indistinct to draw any conclusions.

Beside the helm is a stack of coops for fowl, and a friendly goat. The helmsman stands in shirtsleeves with a black neckcloth. His black round hat with a wobbly brim sits atop his head, and is tilted slight back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hanging at Execution Dock, late 18th century

A Pirate hanged at Execution Dock, Robert Dodd, late 18th century, National Maritime Museum.

The illustrator of this piece, Robert Dodd, has been featured on this blog before. Born in 1748, he was active in marine art for much of his life, and created scenes of the Bounty mutiny, warships in the American Revolution, and battles of the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.

This scene is dated by the curators at the National Maritime Museum as about 1795. I disagree for a couple of reasons. In the first, the clothing of the participants is clearly from the decades before the 1790's. My line of logic on this argument is, admittedly, not strong. The scene likely depicts the hanging of Captain James Lowry for the murder of Kennith Hossack. A notorious crime, it was talked about long after Lowry's body was strung up. A stronger line or reasoning stands in the engraver, Lieutenant Page. He created several maps for the British during the American Revolution, during which he served as an aide de camp to General Howe.

With both of the parties involved known for their work during our period of study, and the subject well within it, I think it is safe to move the suspected date of the work back a decade or more.

Detail from Rocque's map of London, 1746, Wikimedia Commons

Execution Dock rests in the neighborhood of Wapping. Known as a sailor's community in London, executions carried out here fell within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court. In the detail below, you can see a man on horseback bearing a silver oar. The silver oar was the symbol of the Admiralty Court, and led the procession of the convicted to the gallows. Convicted criminals, like Captain James Lowry, were strung up at low tide, so that their bodies would be enveloped when the tide came in. Execution Dock served as a harsh symbol of the authority and jurisdiction of the Admiralty.

The figure with the noose around his neck is wearing the clothing of a gentleman (which lends weight to the assumption that he is Captain Lowry). The crowd, though filled with all sorts, is checkered with sailors. Just to the right of the center is a tar in a cocked hat of indeterminate angle, with wavy hair that ends right at the base of his neck. A plain neckcloth is gathered over his jacket, which is triple vented and ends about the top of his thighs. Petticoat trousers running to the top of the calf reveal white stockings.

Next to the horse, to the left of the taller sailor, is a younger (or at least much shorter) jack. Either bare headed or wearing a knit cap, his jacket is tucked into the waistband of his plain white trousers. A neckcloth is also tied about his neck, and he too wears white stockings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hannah Snell: A Woman and a Marine


On occasion, I've used this blog to talk about the women (both real and fictional) who disguised themselves as common tars. Hannah Snell is perhaps the most famous woman to ever pass herself as a man in the Wooden World.

There are a few ways in which Hannah's story is different from those I've touched on before. In the first, she didn't pass as a sailor, but as a marine. In the second, she continued her masquerade for far longer than almost any other woman in the 18th century, including the remarkable Deborah Samson.

Snell began her career chasing after her husband. A sailor by the name of James Summs, he abandoned her shortly before the birth and subsequent death of their child in 1746. Snell took on the persona and dress of a man to find her wayward spouse. Chasing after a lost husband is a trope of fiction involving women donning men's clothes. It is a more socially acceptable reason to cross-dress than merely seeking adventure or challenging the constraints of 18th century gender. Interestingly, she is not said to be seeking him for recompense or to rekindle their love. Rather, she seeks revenge. As Robert Walker put it in his 1750 biography of Snell, The Female Soldier: "there are no Bounds to be set either to Love, Jealousy or Hatred, in the female Mind.'"

Here the story becomes a bit too fanciful. Walker claims that she served in General Guise's Regiment against the Jacobites in 1746. Further, he claims that Snell was whipped 500 times before deserting. Leaving aside the difficulties of working in a campaign Scotland to the already crowded timeline of her biography, the idea that a topless Snell could still escape detection is difficult to believe at best.

More believable is her service in the marines. Signing on to a regiment at Portsmouth, she was drafted into the service of the sloop Swallow. Gaining the confidence of the officer of the marines aboard, she saw service as an attendant to the officers, and as a marine in the afterguard. During the arduous voyage of the Swallow, Snell "performed the several Offices of a common Sailor." She served at several engagements, including Pondicherry where Snell was wounded twelve times.

With the end of her military career came fame. She performed in a stage show and helped Robert Walker to write her biography. Unlike many other soldiers, much less women, Snell was able to secure a government pension on leaving the service.

For more on Snell's story, you can read about her in Matthew Stephens' biography of her life Hannah Snell: The Secret Life of a Female Marine, or enjoy a brief post over at the Eighteenth-Century Notes & Petticoats blog.


Though Snell is known as a soldier, it was her service in the marines that distinguished her, and the portraits of her in men's clothing stand in the liminal ground between soldier and sailor that marines occupied.

She joined the marines as a soldier from Colonel Fraser's regiment, which was a common practice at the time. Marines in Britain wore red-coated uniforms not unlike their army colleagues on the shore. Hannah Snell is, in fact, shown practicing the manual exercise in her regimentals in a contemporary print. It does not appear that she is wearing the uniform of the various marine regiments, as detailed in the 1742 Cloathing Book (helpfully digitized by the First Royal Regiment of Foote reenactors).


What is more directly relevant to this blog is the fact that, despite being known as "The Female Soldier," Snell is most commonly depicted in the everyday clothing of a man connected to the sea. While not sporting slop clothes specifically, she does carry a stick under her arm, and wears her cocked hat backward.

Snell's connection to the sea is strong. While I have not addressed the role of marines aboard their ship, and made no attempt to interpret their clothing, they are nonetheless an essential part of a mariner's world in the eighteenth century. Snell is clearly exceptional to the story of marines and sailors, but in an odd way it is also typical. She served as a soldier, first and foremost, but was comfortable climbing aloft and performing the duties of a tar.