Monday, October 31, 2016

Portraits Painted from Life, Representing Capt Englefield with Eleven of his Crew, 1784

West Wall, The Great Room, Somerset House, the main space of the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1784, Edward Francis Burney, 1784, British Museum.

Burney's drawing shows us the centerpiece on the West Wall: James Northcote's 1784 painting Portraits Painted from Life, Representing Capt Englefield with Eleven of his Crew Saving Themselves in the Pinnace, from the Wreck of the Centaur, of 74 Guns, Lost Sept 1782. Northcote was particularly proud of this early work, proclaiming it "the grandest and most original thing I ever did." Unfortunately for us, the original is lost.

First, a bit of background.

The Centaur began her life as a French warship, but was captured by the British in their wildly successful military operations of 1759, forever remembered as an Annus Mirabilis. From there, Centaur proved a thorn in the side of the French fleet.

Centaur chasing the Vaillant and Amethyste, January 1760, artist unknown, eighteenth century, National Maritime Museum.

"Frontispiece to book the second: The second cruize of his Majesties ship Centaur off Cape Francois, in the West Indies," artist unknown, c.1761, National Maritime Museum.

During the American Revolutionary War, Captain Inglefield commanded the Centaur when she served in the van of Admiral Rodney's fleet at the Battle of the Saintes. Here the Royal Navy broke the back of the French fleet in the Caribbean. During that famous battle, the French were humiliated by the capture of their 104 gun flagship Ville de Paris and the surrender of the Comte de Grasse. British satirical and historical artists reveled in this stunning victory.

Shortly after the battle, Inglefield was ordered to sail in convoy with the captured French vessels and other Royal Navy ships across the Atlantic under Admiral Graves. The fleet sailed straight into a massive hurricane. Inglefield himself left us a brief account of his experience in Captain Inglefield's Narrative, Concerning The Loss His Majesty's Ship The Centaur, of Seventy-four Guns. He describes the wind as "exceeding in violence every thing of the kind I had ever seen, or had any conception of."

Distress of the Centaur on the Night of the 16th Septr 1782, engraved by Robert Pollard after Robert Dodd, 1783, National Maritime Museum.

This Representation of the distressful situation of His Majesty's Ship the Centaur on the Night of the 16th Sept 1782, printed by F. Jukes, date unknown, National Maritime Museum.

Views of various situations of the Jamaica Fleet, Robert Dodd, 1783, British Museum.

Caught in the hurricane, Centaur began to founder. Captain Inglefield knew she was destined to go to the bottom. It was at this critical juncture that he was made aware that the ship's pinnace was being "forced" off the ship by a number of sailors. Facing the philosophical quandary of remaining to die with his men in a gesture or taking to the boat to live, "the love of my life prevailed." Panicked men poured from the side of the ship in a vain attempt to board the pinnace, including a young midshipman.
Mr. Baylis, a young gentleman fifteen years of age, leaped from the chains after the boat got off, and was taken in. The boat falling astern, became exposed to the sea, and we endeavoured to pull her bow round to keep her to the break of the sea, and so pass to windward of the ship; but in the attempt she was nearly filled; the sea ran too high, and the only probability of living was keeping before the wind.
Inglefield, Midshipman Robert Baylis (or Bayles), Master Thomas Rainy, and Captain's Coxswain Timothy Sullivan all managed to guide the overloaded pinnace and her distressed sailors sixteen days over open water to the Azores with the loss of only one man.

Preservation of Cpt Inglefield, the Master, and Ten of the Crew of the Centaur in the Pinnace, Robert Pollard, 1784, National Maritime Museum. As featured in this blog post.

Tomorrow my esteem'd brother blogger at Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 examines the surviving prints of James Northcote's masterpiece and the clothing of the survivors.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Frigate and Fishing Boats, Date Unknown

Frigate and Fishing Boats, John Cleveley the Elder, date unknown, Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing on my John Cleveley the Elder kick, I dug up this piece from Wikimedia Commons. It is undated, but obviously must have been before Cleveley's death in 1777. The user who submitted this picture claims it is in the collection of the Mariners' Museum and Park, but their online catalog turns up nothing.

The men int he fishing boat wear jackets of varying shades of brown. The Coxswain appears to be wearing red. The resolution is too low to be certain of much else, including their headgear. The only other detail is the fellow at the foremast who wears a pair of light blue or natural colored petticoat trousers.

The men on the twenty four gun frigate are likewise nondescript. Blue and light colored jackets, indiscernible headgear, and too low of a resolution to say anything more.

I hope to find some time to get down to the Mariners' Museum in the future, in part to see if this mysterious piece turns up. If you have any more information on Cleveley's painting, please let us know in the comments below!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Peregrine in Two Positions, 1766

The Peregrine (later renamed The Royal Caroline) in Two Positions off the Coast, John Cleveley the Elder, 1766, The Berger Collection.

The Peregrine was a doomed ship when Edward Knowles took command. Launched in 1700, the Peregrine was renamed the Caroline when she was converted from a twenty gun sixth rate galley to a royal yacht in 1716. She later became the Royal Caroline before being refitted into a sixth rate once again, and restored to her original name.

In her sixty first year of service, she was placed under the command of the seventeen year old Captain Edward Knowles. A remarkably young lieutenant in the Royal Navy, he could credit his quick rise through the ranks at least in part to his father, Sir Charles Knowles. A distinguished naval officer, Sir Charles has recently been promoted to full Admiral.

Edward was entrusted with carrying vital dispatches for Augustus Keppel at Belle Île and the naval squadron at Lisbon, informing the commanders that war had been declared with the Spanish late in the Seven Years War. It was late in the year, and after arriving at Belle Île Knowles was warned by Keppel not to put to sea with his aged and small vessel and an impending storm. Ignoring the advice, Knowles and the Peregrine were lost at sea with no survivors.

Edward Knowles, Francis Cotes, c.1762, Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Charles felt the loss of his eldest son keenly, and commissioned Francis Cotes to make a posthumous portrait of Edward based on a silhouette in Sir Charles' possession.

Edward Knowles' image was preserved by Cotes, and in 1766, John Celveley the Elder chose to preserve the Peregrine and her crew. In this painting, Cotes portrays the Peregrine in two positions, and in two times. On the left, she flies the colors of a warship, and on the right, the colors of a royal yacht.

Cleveley began his life as a joiner working the dockyards. While a marine artist like many others who focused primarily on the ships he was painting, Cleveley usually populates his scenes with people. Perhaps this was a bottom up view of his time, and a recognition that ships and officers alone do not make the navy. A ship is useless without her men. While Edward was remembered by his wealthy family who could afford a portrait, the legacy of Peregrine's crew were enshrined by Cleveley's depiction of their vessel.

In both views, the crew are largely depicted aboard her in cocked hats with red and blue jackets.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

John Bull's House in Flames, 1763

John Bull's House in Flames, Sumpter, 1763, Walpole Library.

What we have here is a poorly crafted knock-off of the previous year's John Bull's House Sett in Flames, also in the collection of the Walpole Library. Both show Britain's metaphorical house engulfed in flame in an allusion to the course of the Seven Years War and impending peace.

Though quite like the original piece, the three tars in this print mostly speak different lines:

"Heave away me mates"

"Do it lustily Tom"

"A fresh wind from aloft Jack encreses"

The sailor in the foreground wears a jacket with a single vent at the back, a jockey style cap, and petticoat trousers. His mates are difficult to make out, but one wears a bob wig and reversed cocked hat.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Captain John Byron and landing party in the Strait of Magellan, 1773

Captain John Byron and landing party in the Strait of Magellan, artist unknown, engraved for An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavor, 1773, David Rumsey Map Collection.

One of the much vaunted survivors of the Anson Expedition and the Wager Mutiny, John Byron is remembered as a skilled mariner and experienced explorer.

This engraving is drawn from a compendium of contemporary explorers printed in London during the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War. The unknown artist depicts Byron and his men visiting the "gigantic" people of Patagonia. As described in his 1767 memoir of the 1764-1766 Dolphin expedition, Byron's visit to Patagonia was an extraordinary one.
The Dolphin having entered 10 or 12 leagues into the mouth of the streights of Magellan, the men on deck observed thirty or forty people of an extraordinary stature, standing on the beach of the continent, who looking attentively at them, made friendly signs, by which they seemed to invite them to come on shore; white others who stood aloft, discovered with their glasses a much greater number, about a mile further up the country; but ascribed their apparent size to the fogginess of the air. The ship happening at this instant to be becalmed, the honourable Mr. Byron, thinking no time would be lost by going ashore, resolved to land, in order to see the Indians and learn what he could of their manners; he therefore ordered a six-oared boat for himself and his officers; and one of twelve oars to be filled with men and arms, as a security, in case there be any attempt to surprize or injure him, or any of those who went with him; tho' the people on shore did not seem to have anything like an offensive weapon among them. 
They Patagonians were indeed "of an extraordinary stature," and we can see them dwarfing Byron and his lieutenant in the detail above. Byron thought the experience to be notable enough to be featured as the frontispiece to his book A Voyage Around the World.

The sailors bearing muskets and bayonets ashore are wearing cocked hats and round hats with narrow brims. One in particular turns toward the view and gestures to the left of the frame, and he appears to be wearing a barge cap. The men all wear jackets that end at the top of the hip or just below it, save for the oarsman in the foreground whose jacket extends to at least the top of the thigh. They all wear their hair bob style, if not bewigged.

Most of the sailors wear trousers, though one near the front of the line is wearing dark breeches (probably blue) and one sailor near the middle and facing to the right of the frame appears to be wearing petticoat trousers.

The coxswain of the other boat wears a cocked hat with very short brim, what appears to be a bob wig, a jacket, and trousers or petticoat trousers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Landing at Middleburgh, Friendly Islands, 1774-1777

Landing of Captain Cook at Middleburg, Friendly Islands, William Hodges, between 1774-1777, National Maritime Museum.

William Hodges, the artist of this painting, was a witness to this scene. Hodges sailed aboard the Resolution with Cook on Cook's second voyage, and documented numerous scenes along the way. According to the curators at the British Museum, Hodges' painting documents Cook landing with his sailors at the island of Eau, accompanied by the Tongan chief Tioonee who bears a plantain leaf aloft.

Unlike other paintings of Cook's voyages that I've examined, Hodges' piece gives us a good view of common sailor's clothing. Common sailors are often given little detail in his paintings for a reason: the artist Hodges was trying to document previously unknown people, lands, plants, and animals, not what British subjects were already familiar with.

At the bow of the jolly boat is a sailor laying his oar into the sand to slow the vessel. He wears a short brimmed round hat and a waistcoat that hangs open. His white shirt is rolled up well above his elbows, tucked into his petticoat trousers.

Amidships stands captain Cook leaning on his musket, and between him and Tioonee is a sailor in the water, guiding the boat in by hand. He is bare headed, wearing an open white shirt and an open blue jacket.

Aft of Cook are three oarsmen. In the foreground is a sailor with a red waistcoat. A black round hat and short brim is atop his head, and a checked shirt is rolled up well above his elbows. The mariner appears is also wearing a dotted neckcloth.

Beside him is an oarsmen wearing a round hat and blue waistcoat. Standing in the water and guiding the boat by hand stands a sailor in a blue jacket. At the stern is an oarsman in an open blue jacket and a single breasted waistcoat. This jack wears a pair of trousers and his shirt is notably open, lacking a neck cloth.

A quick note on dates. The National Maritime Museum's catalog entry states a wider range than I give the painting. The event depicted occurred in 1774, and so could not have been earlier than that. However, prints of this painting begin to appear in 1777, and so the painting must have been completed or nearly so by then. Thus, my date range differs from that proposed by the National Maritime Museum.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Perspective view of the River Thames, 1782

"A Perspective view of the River Thames," artist unknown, 1782, National Maritime Museum.

The curators at the National Maritime Museum did not include the inscription for this print in their catalog entry, but are kind enough to transcribe it for us:
Taken from the Kings Arms at Blackwall; Shooters Hill, Woolwich; The East India Dock Yard. From London Magazine Mar 1782.
To the far left of the gram are a pair of East Indiamen on the stocks under construction. Afloat to the right of the frame is a twenty gun ship that might be either a small Royal Navy sixth rate or an East Indiaman. Her ensign at the stern might suggest a Royal Navy vessel, as it is not the colors of the East India Company, but depictions of East India Company ships in the eighteenth century certainly did fly other colors.

This image is largely unremarkable and much like all other "Perspective Views." There is one detail that sets it apart.

To the stern of our twenty gun ship we can see a malefactor gibbeted for display. Doubtless hanged at Execution Dock, this hapless criminal is displayed as a warning to others.

The sailors in this image seem to take little mind of the rotting corpse.

These two are busy at the shipyard. It is difficult to say much about them, except that the standing sailor (or waterman) wears a round hat turned up front and back, and what appears to be a jacket.

Two oarsmen in shirtsleeves and hatless row a well dressed couple away from the yard. Their coxswain wears an oddly shaped hat that might be a cocked hat reversed. He wears a jacket and single breasted waistcoat.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 3: A Practical Guide

This is part two of a guest post by Buzz Mooney. You can find part one here. Also, visit Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 for part two.

There appear to be two variations on the "sailors' fashion" of shoes: one features one strap hanging loosely over the forward edge of the buckle frame. Illustrations seem to indicate that this was the more common style. The second style has the straps crossed and fed under the forward side of the buckle frame, as seen in  "Watson and the Shark."

Here are some images of one of my own shoes, with the straps buckled and trained in various manners:

The buckle attached to the chape strap in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual manner, but with the straps pulled forward:

The buckles installed on the chape strap in the conjectural “quick-release” fashion:

The tongue strap buckled:

The “quick-release” method, with both straps loose:

A possible arrangement of the straps, from the “quick-release”. (Note: this would no longer be a quick release, but may be a way to secure the shoe better, while maintaining the overall style):

“Quick release” with both straps fed under the frame:

After these experiments, I am inclined to think that my conjectural “Quick-release” method may have been used on shipboard, to allow quick removal of the shoes for running up aloft, but it seems impractical for going ashore, because it allows the buckle to release from the chape strap, too easily, and tucking the straps to make it more secure eliminates the quickness.

In all, this fashion seems to have been common from at least the mid-1760's to 1810 or so, and may continue as long as buckle shoes are common. Does it go much earlier than 1768? Further research may reveal the answer, but for now, I think we can safely say that yes, sailors did commonly wear their shoes with trained straps, for at least 50 years.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 1: 1740-1790

Today's post comes to us special from Buzz Mooney. Buzz is a longtime reenactor, maritime history enthusiast, and personal friend.

Straps in Training:
Wearing Shoes "Sailor Fashion" in the Age of Sail

In Bill Sullivan’s recent article on, I found this intriguing little gem:  “Sailors wore their shoes 'sailor fashion,' swaggering around with one buckle strap flapping out of the buckle and tugged to the front; others in the backcountry and German-speaking areas turned both buckle straps outward to flap up and down like mule ears, tying them with a string—kind of like wearing your cap backwards or loose-lacing your Timberland work boots.”

I decided to see what I could find, to illustrate or verify the notion of shoes worn “sailor fashion”. Were there period sources that mentioned this, and was it shown in period illustrations? When did sailors wear their shoes in this manner, if at all? The article didn’t cite any sources, so I had to explore this notion on my own, as best I could.

I posted an inquiry on Facebook, to see if any of my naval re-enacting friends could shed some light. Fortunately for me, my list of friends includes the authors of two respected blogs on the subject of period Sailor attire; Kyle Dalton, of British Tars; 1740-1790 and Ben Bartgis of the related Napoleonic Tars; 1790-1820as well as some of the best naval re-enacting units in the US, including HMS Acasta and Ship’s Company.

Tom Apple told me that the cordwainer at Colonial Williamsburg had told him that this practice was called “training the strap”, and both he and Steve Rayner directed me to Bennett Cuthbertson’s A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry... (London, 1768:135)
"XVI. It should be particularly observed, that the Men do not wear their Shoes, on the same feet, but that they change them day about, to prevent their running crooked; nor should they be permitted to have their Shoe straps pulled toward the toe, like Sailors: but are to be accustomed to tuck the ends of them, under the rim of the buckle.”
So here was a direct, period reference to the style, with a description that told me what to look for. The next step was to see what illustrations I could find, to show this “in action”, and, I hoped, to give me an idea whether this was a brief fad, or a long-running fashion. My particular hope was to show whether it ran throughout the periods cited in Dalton and Bartgis’s blogs, which cover the range of periods I re-enact, as a Sailor. I was pleased to find that artists of the period often showed some variation of “training.”

The Cuthbertson book told me the style was commonly recognized as a sailors’ fashion in 1768, which suggests that it had been common for some years, so that at least gave me a fairly early confirmation, and the images I found showed that the style continued into the 19th century.

Before showing the illustrations, and photos of my own shoe “trained”, I’ll give the terminology I’ll be using, with the assistance of an illustration from American Duchess’s website, showing the parts of a shoe buckle. The buckled shoe of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century has the same sort of tongue, common today, and requires no elaboration, but the straps which buckle across the instep of the foot are no longer common. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call the strap by which the buckle is usually attached, the “chape strap”, and the strap which is then buckled to secure the shoe on the foot, as the “tongue strap”. This illustration of a buckle may help to make it clear why I use these terms:

Normally, the chape strap would be passed under the frame, but over the chape, and then passed down through the chape, (to the left of the center bar) and either folded back and tucked under, or laid against the foot, under the tongue strap. The tongue strap is then passed upward through the frame, (to the right of the center bar) and is drawn snug, with the forked tongue of the buckle passed through holes in the chape strap. In the “trained” fashion, some illustrations seem to show the tongue chape simply allowed to hang loose, without being tucked under the left end of the frame, but others  seem to show both straps drawn forward, with the tongue strap either loose, above the frame, or passed through under it, and drawn forward. Other illustrations seem to suggest, however, that the buckle may be installed in an unusual fashion, with the tongue strap buckled first, then the chape strap passed upward through both chape and frame. Ben Bartgis suggested the possibility that training might serve to speed up the process of putting on the shoes, and this method seems to me to be particularly suited for that. 

Before showing my experiments with my own shoe, I’ll show the illustrations which I felt showed both the variety of approaches, and the duration of the fashion, as I’ve been able to trace it, thus far.

I’ll start with John Singleton Copley’s evocative "Watson and the Shark" (1778). There is only one shoe visible, but it’s painted with fine detail. Here’s the close-up: 

It appears both straps are trained forward, with both passed under the frame. I’ve found this to be a somewhat challenging style to mimic, but also the one most likely to keep the shoe securely buckled to the foot.

In this detail from Gillray’s "The Liberty of the Subject" (National Maritime Museum, 1779), we see a sailor with one strap (presumably the tongue strap , as I find it’s easier to buckle the shoes with the tongue strap to the outside) trained forward under the frame. Note that the Tailor being pressed into naval service has a loose strap, which may be in imitation, or may simply be because he’s being roughly handled.

In Carrington Bowles’ “The True British Tar” (1785) we see a single strap hanging loose, not passed under the frame. It appears his left shoe may be styled in the same manner, but this isn’t clearly depicted. Here’s the detail:

Next, we have “Poor Jack”, By Bowles and Carver (1790). In this case, we see both shoes, with one loose strap, drawn over the frame.

Be sure to visit Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 for Part Two.

The conclusion, Part Three, can be found here.