Monday, February 27, 2017

The 'St Albans' Floated out at Deptford, 1747

The St Albans Floated out at Deptford, John Cleveley the Elder, 1747, National Maritime Museum.

In classic Cleveley style, this painting is populated by numerous figures and shows a ship on the stocks ready to be launched, a particular favorite of John. He has chosen to depict the 50 gun St Albans at the dawn of her career, one that would reach its zenith at the Battle of Lagos in 1759, a decisive British victory and one of the jewels in the crown of the Annus Mirabilis that broke the back of Britain's enemies at sea.

Oarsmen in shirtsleeves man a fanciful barge directed by a coxswain in a red jacket. All of them wear red barge caps. These are watermen, and not sailors. Behind them is a boat with a pair of fellow being rowed about by a pair of oarsmen in red and blue jackets with round hats.

At the bow of this boat is a tar pushing away debris from their path. I would be inclined to think this is in anticipation of the imminent launch, but there's a well dressed lady and gentleman in the stern, so it may be that the sailor is pushing it out of the path of the long oars his mates are manning. They wear a mix of brown and blue jackets, round and cocked hats. The mariner on the bow is without a waistcoat and wears brown breeches.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Famous Ship Victory, 1744

The Famous Ship Victory, artist unknown, 1744, British Museum.

Though now lost in the shadow of the more famous ship to bear her name, the Victory was an impressive vessel in her day. Launched on this day 280 years ago, she was a massive first rate 100 gun ship. Victory was armed entirely with bronze guns, and had a remarkably short career, serving as flagship of the Channel Fleet through the beginning years of the War of Austrian Succession, War of Jenkins Ear, &c.

According to Dr. Frank Howard, in his 1979 Sailing Ships of War: 1400-1860, she was "a high-sided ship for her draught and this was believed to have made her leewardly." Howard suggests this may have led to her loss. On October 4, 1744, the Victory disappeared in a storm along with well over a thousand men, not to be found until 2009. In the wake of this loss, an unknown artist rushed this woodcut to print, capitalizing on the mourning expressed throughout the nation.

Aloft and alow the artist populated this piece with some of the sailors and marines dragged to the bottom of the channel. These two on the main topsail and main topgallant wear breeches and a short jacket with round hats with turned up brims on the side.

From the poop to the quarter to the gun deck, sailors haul away. They wear jackets and smocks with round hats of various types.

Further after on the poop are a passel of officers in cocked hats and coats. Standing to the right is a singular figure with a professional posture, presumably Admiral Sir John Balchen, one of the many casualties of the wreck.

In the ratlines are a pair of sailors who appear to be wearing petticoat trousers and jockey style barge caps.

Along her larboard quarter rows an impressive barge flying an old, seventeenth century style red or blue ensign. The bargemen and coxswain wear identical round hats and jackets or shirtsleeves.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Thunder Clap, 1742

The Thunder Clap, George Forster, 1742, British Museum.

As in Samuel Lyne's Bob the Political Ballance Master, Forster takes aim at the Walpole administration with a political cartoon that skewers them on their failure to protect oceanic trade. Only in this piece, Forster accompanies it with a lengthy diatribe in text below.

A master and sailor hold up a painting of a warships with their sails furled or turned away, and a slim privateer sloop crowded with men interrupting the frame. Pointing to the "Spaniard," a sailor (possibly a master) states "O such a powerful fleet : and yet -"

He wears a reversed cocked hat, bob wig, frock coat with open mariner's cuffs, a short neck cloth tied close, and breeches.

Just to be sure we don't miss his meaning, Forster has attached a short diddy to the bottom of the painting:
And see de little Privateer o.
Who on our Coats its Course doth steer o
And dis widout ought dread or fear o
par, par, par, &c.

Holding up the other side of the canvas is a common sailor who comments "the world's surprize." His hatlead head is topped by a mix of curled hair, and around his neck is another short neck cloth. His single breasted jacket is tucked into trousers that run down to the bottom of his calf.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bob the Political Ballance Master, 1742

Bob the Political Ballance Master, Samuel Lyne, 1742, British Museum.

The Walpole administration was roundly thrashed by political cartoonists for their reluctance to start war with the Spanish, and then for their conduct of the War of Jenkins' Ear, War of Austrian Succession, and the litany of other intertwined conflicts.

Lyne joins the chorus of crtiticism with this political cartoon, which puts a good deal of emphasis on the failure to protect British oceanic trade.

With his bare feet resting on a torn bundle marked "Wool for Exportation," a sailor is bound by the label "Secret Orders." As the curators of the British museum state in the catalog entry for this piece:
[This is] an allusion to the presumption that Admiral Haddock was secretly prevented by Walpole from taking action against the Spanish fleet.
The sailor wears a round hat with wide brim and narrow, conical crown. His jacket has slit cuffs, and his trousers are long and baggy, extending to his ankles. It is worth noting that this might be the first primary image I've seen that depicts barefoot sailors. It is a common assumption among naval historians that sailors were generally barefoot when at work aboard, but this is one of a very few that I've ever seen that depicted in art. It is worthwhile to question this assumption, and requires more research in fields beyond primary source artwork.

Sprawled at the feet of a disconsolate Britannia, a merchant sailor has collapsed over his bundle, and is helpfully labeled "Trade." Just in case we weren't getting the message, Lyne includes a fowled anchor with its line cut, and a sinking ship in the background.

The sailor wears petticoat trousers and a jacket with slit cuffs. Interestingly, he too is barefoot.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Screen, 1742

The Screen, artist unknown, 1742, British Museum.

This dense political cartoon heralds the attempts of the Duke of Argyll to expose the corruption of Walpole and the King, by depicting him tearing at the thin screen that veils their transgressions.

Among their offenses is the willingness to throw money at their supporters and frivolous causes, while neglecting those who mean the most to the Empire.

Sailors crowd around a gentleman whose hat is filled with coins, but he ignores their cries of "We Perish for want of good Pr[visions]." The sailor who clutches at the gentleman's coat holds a flag that reads "Propatrea," which may be a misspelling of the Latin Pro Patria, meaning "For the Fatherland." This is the same phrase used in Mosley's European Race for a Distance. Coming in the midst of the War of Jenkins' Ear, these sailors are essential to the protection of Britain's economy, the very gold that the corrupt politicians now hoard.

The sailor on the right wears a cap with a narrow brim, a plain neckercheif bound around the collar of his smock, and a pair of trousers that end about mid-calf.These same trousers appear to be worn by the other sailors in the scene.

Kneeling beside the gentleman and clasping his hands as he begs, another sailor wears virtually the same slop clothes, but wears a single breasted jacket with turned back cuffs. Behind him is another tar, this one hatless with unbuttoned slit cuffs and a single breasted jacket.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Army Proceedings or the Conjunct Expedition, 1741

Army Proceedings or the Conjunct Expedition, Richard Parr, 1741, British Museum.

Parr's cartoon lambasts the British military, and the army in particular, for the utter disaster that was the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in modern day Colombia. Despite vastly outnumbering their Spanish foes, and being led by that legendary Admiral Edward Vernon, disease ravaged the expedition, and mismanagement led to an astounding defeat.

The particular event depicted here was the aftermath of a failed assault on Fort San Lazaro, also called Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The fortress still stands today. After Vernon pounded the beach, clearing the way for the army to land, it was decided in a council of war to attack the fortress immediately. The only engineer on the expedition had been killed in earlier fighting, and so it was decided not to build sub-par batteries or conduct a siege with the forces that were already succumbing to disease. Led by General Wentworth, the attack would have to be conducted under the cover of night, or the batteries at Cartagena would doom them.

The Spanish Admiral Blas de Lezo anticipated the attack. He reinforced the garrison, cleared a field of fire, and dug an additional trench to further defend what was already one of the most impressive fortifications in the New World. When the British learned of this, they gave some of the Virginian troops packs of wool to fill the trench, and scaling ladders to climb the wall, further reducing the number of muskets they could bring to bear.

If all of this wasn't bad enough, the British were guided by two Spanish deserters, who intentionally led them directly into the Spanish field of fire. Delayed until the sun rose, the batteries of Cartagena joined the fray and Wentworth ordered a retreat.

It is this retreat Parr chose to represent in his cartoon.

A sailor on the stern rail of one of Vernon's warships points to the scene while looking to the viewer, saying "The Boys fly for't by G-d." He wears a long jacket or coat without cuffs or collar, and a reversed cocked hat. This figure may be a naval officer, rather than a common tar.

Sailing astern of this tar is a ship cluttered with sailors who watch the "Army Proceedings" with distress. "No Battery rais'd" cries one, "No Breach made" laments another. "Scaling Ladders to short," and "The Devil was in them."

The crew wear trousers that end about the top to the middle of the calf, single breasted jackets without cuffs or with buttoned mariners cuffs, short neckcloths tied close, work caps, and barge caps of the jockey style. Their captain wears his cocked hat reversed.

Astern of them is another warship, and up her sides clamber panicked soldiers crying "Help, help," and cursing "damn Carthagena." Reaching over the rail, a sailor in a jockey style barge cap condescendingly offers his hand with "Here Jack, lend ye Ladies a Hand." Another, similarly dressed sailor casts his eyes shoreward and announces, "They forgot their Tents in the Fright."

Scrambling into the boats, soldiers of the failed assault suffer from "Water Sickness" and confess "I have staid as long as I care for." The sailors wear cocked and round hats, but are otherwise wearing the same slop clothes as their mates offshore.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What's all This! The Motley Team of State, 1741

What's all This! The Motley Team of State, George Bickham the Younger, 1741, British Museum.

George Bickham takes up the same theme of chaos that Charles Mosley used in European Race for a Distance, the political cartoon that I featured in my last post.

Unlike Mosely, Bickham looks inward to Britain herself. Aside from general the general theme of war and disruption, he only similarity between What's all This! and European Race for a Distance is the figure of a sailor that Bickham clearly lifted from Mosley's earlier work.

Detail from European Race for a Distance

Their similar posture and the position of the mug are clearly the product of plagiarism. To Bickham's credit, he at least had the decency to change the copied tar's clothing.

His hat appears to be more of a cap, with an upturned brim that reminds me a bit of the caps the marines wore on the frigate Pallas decades later, as depicted by Gabriel Bray. The sailor wears a single breasted jacket and single breasted waistcoat, but they still hand like the smock of Mosley's original. Around his neck is tied a long neck cloth, hanging loose rather than tucked in. His trousers hang at the same length as the original mariner.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

European Race for a Distance, 1740

European Race for a Distance, Charles Mosley, 1740, British Museum.

As I pointed out in my last post, 1740 was a busy time in Europe. War was spreading across the continent and across the world. Charles Mosley chose to depict the nations and leaders of Europe as jockeys vying for the prize of a bit more wealth and power.

A British sailor lights the cannon he sits astride with a linstock, holding his tankard in a free hand. He wears a work cap or round hat with short brim, a smock with neckcloth tucked into the front, and trousers that end about mid-calf. Over his head flutters a banner reading Pro patria mori, meaning "it is sweet to die for one's country." This may be a commentary on the impending death of the foolish sailor who lights the cannon between his legs, a metaphor for pointless death in the growing conflict.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The European State Jockies Running a Heat for the Ballance of Power, 1740

The European State Jockies Running a Heat for the Ballance of Power, artist unknown, 1740, British Museum.

The European world exploded in 1740 into a large conflict. The War of Austrian Succession subsumed the War of Jenkins' Ear and spawned King George's War, the First and Second Carnatic Wars in India, and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

The unknown artist of this satirical print is trying to sort out all the events of 1740 into a single cartoon. His effort is crowded and confusing, but I'll focus on the sailors featured in this piece.

Naval warfare could be profitable. Our unknown artist depicts a sailor stooping to lift a chest marked "10000 pieces of Eight" plundered from the Spanish. He wears a pair of petticoat trousers and a close fitting jacket, but is without a hat.

The artist put a but more effort into the meaning of this vignette. Britannia shoves aside France who points hopefully to a paper marked "mediation." Refusing peace, Britannia instead points to Havana with her spear. Havana would not be taken, though it was the site of a battle in 1748 that ended when word arrived that the war had ended.

Standing beside Britannia is a sailor clutching a naval ensign bearing the words Arma Pacis Fulcra, Latin for "Arms are the bringers of peace." He wears a white neckcloth and a single breasted jacket without collar. His cocked hat is point forward, over a bob wig.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Month of Jenkins' Ear

Gentleman's Magazine Vol. 1 June 1731 Page 265

In 1731, the British merchantman Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish, and supposedly the Spaniards severed the captain's ear. It's a famous story, and one that was eventually used by Britain to declare war on their colonial rivals in the New World. This conflict merged with the War of Austrian succession, which bred several more conflicts in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, South America, and India.

All through February, I'll be looking at images from the early 1740's. Sailors of this decade are the least examined of all in my blog, so I'll be spending quite a bit of time collecting and examining them. If you've got any favorite primary source images of sailors in the 1740's, let me know!

Until then, enjoy this image of the unfortunate Captain Jenkins showing off the earless side of his head, and handing his severed flesh to an indifferent politician.

In Place, artist unknown, 1738, British Museum