Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Profane laying hands on the Over Righteous, c1776-1785

The Profane Laying Hands on the Over Righteous, Robert Sayer, c1776-1784, British Museum.

Sayer proudly proclaims that this print is 'a real scene on Tower Hill.' Robert Dighton, the artist and engraver who created this image for Sayer to produce, gives us a scene of a preacher standing atop a barrel preaching to a crowd even as a press gang closes in on him. While one of the gang grabs the peacher by his coat, a sailor can be seen darting away in the left of the frame.

A sharp eyed reader, Bernard Roobaert, brought a detail to my attention: "The engraving...shows an interesting detail that seems to be unknown: a model of a ship on Tower Hill." 

Not only did he catch that obvious detail I'd somehow missed for near five years, but he helpfully provides primary sources about the model, apparently a well known landmark. In Charles P. Moritz's 1782 Travels in London, he describes the model as a trap to capture unwary subjects:

A foreigner has here nothing to fear from being pressed as a sailor, unless, indeed, he should be found at any suspicious place.  A singular invention for this purpose of pressing is a ship, which is placed on land not far from the Tower, on Tower Hill, furnished with masts and all the appurtenances of a ship.  The persons attending this ship promise simple country people, who happen to be standing and staring at it, to show it to them for a trifle, and as soon as they are in, they are secured as in a trap, and according to circumstances made sailors of or let go again.[1]

What event is being portrayed here?

The British Museum's curators declare the preacher to be a Methodist. This makes sense for a press gang. Even though they tended to be focused on experienced sailors who could actually help the navy (rather than taking on inexperienced men who possessed no nautical skills and would prove more a burden than a benefit), press gangs did sometimes target Methodists.

Denver Brunsman, in his excellent book The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World, relates several cases of Methodists being pressed in the 1740's and 1750's, including John Wesley, one of the co-founders of Methodism.

This does create a problem with the date on this piece. The officer is wearing a pattern of uniform proscribed after 1767, and the dress of all participants suggests at least a 1770's date, and well within the c.1780 date offered by the curators of Collage: The London Picture Archives, or even the 1784 date offered by the British Museum.

1784, however, poses a problem. When I reached out to Denver Brunsman, he stated "I have not documented any cases of press gangs harassing Methodists past the 1750s" and promised to look into it. We both returned to our research, where I eventually dug up a single reference to an event like this within the rough 1770-1784 timeframe.

Edinburgh Advertiser, November 8, 1776, page 10
The British Museum curators cite the 1887 A Catalogue of Maps, Plans, and Views of London, Westminster & Southark as the source of their date. Indeed on page 430, the author does state explicitly that the print was created in 1784, but provides no citation for this.

Do you know of any other events in which Methodists were targeted by press gangs? Leave a comment below!

Using the preacher as a distraction, this sailor takes to his heels before the press gang takes notice of him. He wears a round hat with something fluttering behind the cylindrical crown. I think it may be the bow of a ribbon tied around the base. His jacket has closed slit cuffs and ends about the top of the thigh. A plain neckcloth is tied above his single breasted waistcoat and breeches run down to loose fitting stockings. The straps of his shoes are hanging about in 'sailor fashion.' As with any good sailor ashore, he carries a stick.

The press gang and their sneering officer make for a visibly unwelcoming lot to intrude on the sermon.

The sailors all wear jackets that end about the top of the thigh and have closed mariners cuffs. They all wear round hats, save for one fellow on the far left who appears to wear a strange sort of cocked hat. The burliest sailor, who grasps the pastor's coat and holds a cudgel in his free hand, is the one we get the best look at.

He wears his own hair, curled and loose, above his shoulder. His handkerchief is black and rests on the double breasted waistcoat of narrow vertically striped fabric. The entire gang wear petticoat trousers that end just below the knee and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.



[1] Moritz, Charles P., Travels in England in 1782, London: Cassell & Company Limited, 1886, transcribed by David Price, July 2, 2014, Project Gutenberg, accessed August 15, 2023, <>.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Antigallican Spirit, 1750's-60's

The Antigallican Spirit, Thomas Ewart, c.1750's-60's, British Museum.

"Would Statesmen but this Picture View-" begins Ewart's inscription on this engraving, "Wear Hearts as honest and as True, the Haughty Gauls with Purse proud Spain, Would be our Vassals on the Main." Ewart offered this one penny broadside, complete with strained prose, lauding the successes of the Antigallican privateer.

Antigallican, under Captain William Forster, was a privateer out of London in the Seven Years War where she met with enough success to inspire a song.

Public Advertiser, January 3, 1757, Page 4.

I have searched through newspapers of the time, and find references to privateers named Antigallican out of Liverpool and Newcastle, but I have yet to find one captained by Forster in 1781, which the British Museum claims is the possible year of publication for this piece. It is possible that I have overlooked a source. It is also possible that this broadside is a fond remembrance of recent memories. Britain's successes in the Seven Years/French and Indian War were fresh in the minds of the British people, even as the fortunes of the American War were at a low ebb.

Given that Thomas Ewart published primarily in the 1750's and 1760's, it is more likely that this piece was also published in that period, when the topic of Forster and the Antigallican would have been more relevant.

Standing ashore, a pair of sailors shake hands. The first offers a toast: "Here's to Our noble apt Forster and a safe Arrival of the Three Prizes in the River Thames." The toast is continued by his mate: "May the french Fleet be put up to Auction & the French King not have a penny of money to bid for it."

Holding a punch bowl, this sailor is dressed in a single breasted jacket with open slit cuffs over a checked shirt. Crossing his body is a baldrick for his sword, a fine piece with an animal head pommel. His hair is short and loose. Our sailor's neckcloth is plain and tied close to his neck. Petticoat trousers hand to just below the knee, and the ties of his breeches are peaking out beneath. At his feet is a round hat with a short, conical crown and a ribbon hanging off.

His mate wear a plain neckcloth tied close to the neck and a plain white shirt beneath a jacket that ends above the top of the thigh and open slit cuffs. Above his head he waves a round hat, and a sword hangs from his left hip. His plain trousers end just below the middle of the calf.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Sailor & Purser, 1788

The Sailor & Purser, J. Cole, 1788, Washington State University 18th Century Street Ballads.

Jack Black, the common tar in this broadside, loses his cool when the ship's purser makes a pass at "buxom Jane" while Jack entertains her at the sign of the Anchor.

If not for the explicitly printed date of 1788, I would think this piece was late. Jack's neckcloth is hanging very low, and tied in an odd bow. His trousers also drag below his feet in a manner I've only ever seen at my esteemed brother blogger's site Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820. The style appears to be one popular in the 1810's, and this is the first I've seen of it in my era of study.

He wears his hair short and curled, with a double breasted white waistcoat, a checked shirt, and a jacket that ends about the top of the thigh.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Naval Agent's Trade Card, c.1779-83

Naval agent's trade card, engraved by W. Jones, c.1779-83, British Museum.

Edward Hooper made his living as a prize agent. When legitimate vessels (both civilian and naval) were seized by privateers or naval vessels, they and their cargoes were sold. This sale was divided into shares that the owners, officers, and crew of the victorious vessel would receive. Hooper's job was to divide and allocate those shares, and his pay was a portion of them.
London Gazette, June 28 - July 1, 1783, Page 2
There are a couple references in 1761 to a Lieutenant Edward Hooper of the Royal Navy cutter Success, and it is possible that Hooper began his career as a naval officer before transitioning into the financial sphere. There is not yet any proof that these are the same Edward Hooper.
London Chronicle, March 10, 1761, Page 6.
Hooper's occupation allowed him to pursue the life of a gentleman.When making a donation to the Marine Society in 1774, the Society took out an advertisement in which his contribution was acknowledged, explicitly stating that Hooper was "A Gentleman."
London Evening Post, March 24, 1774, Page 2.
He also found the cash to support Innes Munro's 1789 book Narrative of the Military Operations on the Coromandel Coast.

Hooper's generosity did not extend to those who wronged him. He appears on occasion in the archives of the Old Bailey bringing cases against men and women who sought to defraud him with false promissory notes. The first to be brought to trial was a man named John Williams in 1763, who was acquitted of the charge, as was Mary Collins in 1765. Perhaps this inspired others to try stealing from Hooper, but Elizabeth Dunn in 1765, Catherine Dicks in 1781, her husband Thomas Dicks that same year, Joseph Scott ('a Black without feet') in 1783, were all sentenced to death for the same crime. The jury recommended Scott be shown mercy.

Joseph Phipps was in Hooper's office to claim legitimate prize money in late 1783, but his greed and impatience got the best of him. Phipps slipped out of his shoes to sneak quietly upstairs, and into Hooper's private quarters where he pocketed kerchiefs, shirts and buttons. Phipps escaped the noose, but was sentenced to transportation.

Trade cards, including Edward Hooper's, were advertisements meant to draw in potential customers, the same way that a business card does today. Hooper and his engraver, W. Jones, chose to include the customers themselves: a naval officer and a seaman. They are surrounded by the tools and symbols of their profession, including oars, a trident, octant, spyglass, and fouled anchor. A sea battle is depicted beneath a description of Hooper's occupation, which is then flanked by the sailor and officer.
The officer wears a captain's dress uniform per the regulations of 1767 to 1787, which helps to date this piece. He proclaims 'Let us bang the Don's' referring to the Spanish enemies of the Crown. In 1779, the Spanish joined France and the United States against Britain during the American Revolutionary War, which helps us to date this piece.
The sailor answers his captain with 'I am with you Heart & Hand.' He wears a round hat with upturned brim and conical crown over a bob wig. At his neck is a tightly wrapped and long check neckcloth that matches the pattern of his shirt. His single breasted waistcoat either cuts off at the waist or is tucked into the trousers, and is open to half way down his torso. The jacket ends about the middle of the thigh and had flap pockets below the waist and open slit cuffs. His trousers cut off at the top of the calf and a close fit with narrow vertical stripes. White stockings run to shoes with rectangular buckles, and he holds a stick in his left hand.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Death of Captain James Cook, F.R.S. at Owhyhee in 1779, 1790

The Death of Captain James Cook, F.R.S. at Owhyhee in 1779, Daniel Lizars, 1790, John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images.

This engraving was included in the 1790 book Captain Cook's Voyages Round the World, and is yet another in the long line of artistic representations of the event. In this version, Cook's killer is portrayed as Brutus, complete with dagger and toga. Cook himself is shown in a less than heroic pose, already slain and being dragged away by a Hawaiian who wears his pilfered coat.

Just as the engraver took inspiration from classical representations of the death of Caesar, the sailors and officers clambering into the boat are clearly drawn from George Carter's 1783 painting The Death of Captain Cook.

Sailors, marines, and naval officers are mixed on the boat, but we can pick out a few figures who are definitely sailors. They wear plain trousers and close cut hair, with jackets sporting scalloped mariners cuffs. One oarsman has his back to us, showing his jacket to be triple vented.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mort tragique du Capitaine Cook, 1780

Mort tragique du Capitaine Cook, Antoine Souci, 1780, John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images.

The Death of Captain Cook is a popular subject for art. This woodcut, from the 1780 Almanach historique nommé Le messager boiteux, is not a masterpiece among those. The ships are anachronistically old, and the Hawaiians are portrayed in an odd fashion that looks more like classical Hercules than the contemporary Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

What makes this an interesting piece is that is represents a continental European perspective on the event. For my purposes, that means the sailors here may represent what continental Europeans thought British sailors should look like.

The only sailor we get a good look at is fleeing from a Hawaiian raising his club. Our frightened sailor wears a single breasted jacket with flowing skirts that end at the top of the thigh. His trousers are close fit, and end about the bottom of the calf. He also wears a cocked hat with the point forward.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Greenland Whale Fishery, 1774

The Greenland Whale Fishery, Thomas Boreman, 1774, John Carter Brown Library Early American Images Archive.

This engraving was included in the book A Description of Three Hundred Animals, published in London in 1774. Despite the title and apparent purpose of the book, this engraving focuses instead on the destroyers of nature. Whalers are shown in a great many boats, hunting a large non-descript whale and a fanciful sea lion, clearly illustrated by someone who had never seen one.

Three whalers attempt to take down the sea lion with harpoons and a club. From left to right, they wear a cap, round hat, and what might be (to use a nineteenth century term for a hat treated for foul weather) a sou'wester. All wear jackets with cuffs, and the tar on the far right wears breeches.

The sailors in the boats are uniformly dressed in the same jackets that their mates ashore wear, and round hats of various sizes. Those we can see are also wearing breeches, without a pair of trousers or petticoat trousers to be seen.

The only exception is the boat on the far right, in which the men wear cocked hats of various cuts. The fellow in the bow appears to be wearing his reversed, though that is up for debate.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Frost on the Thames, 1788-1789

Frost on the Thames, Samuel Collings, 1788-1789, Yale Center for British Art.

Thanks once more to Adam Hodges-LeClaire for pointing out this piece to me.

From the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries, when winters were colder than they are today, the Thames would occassionally freeze. On these occasions, Frost Fairs would be held. People of all classes would clamber across the ice and engage in various revelries.

Collings is depicting one of the last Frost Fairs, which occurred in 1788. In the background, a forest of masts clouds the Tower of London, frozen in port. Scattered among the common and classy folks of London (and even a Dutchman) are a number of sailors who have no work to do while they wait for a thaw.

Sitting atop a wicker basket, a sailor in a blue jacket, black neckcloth, and white trousers, smokes a clay pipe. He also wears a bob wig and cocked hat. Behind him is a sailor with his hands at his waist or possibly in trouser pockets. He wears a round hat with tall cylindrical crown, red jacket, black neckcloth, and white trousers.

This sailor keeps his hands warm in his trouser pockets. He wears a reversed cocked hat, black neckcloth, blue waistcoat, and red jacket.

Leading a mule, this beggardly peddler is perhaps a veteran of the sea. He wears petticoat trousers over his wooden leg, a stick is tucked under his arm, and his brown jacket is patched at the shoulder and elbow. Atop his head is a bushy fur cap, and gray whiskers cloud his chin.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Watson and the Shark Revisited

Watson and the Shark, Jason Schwartz, 2009, MOCPages.

The brave sailor stands on the bow with a blunt pointed spear, rather than the boathook in Copley's original. He wears his brown hair short, a blue jacket with white lapels trimmed in cold, and a white waistcoat with gold tape. His trousers are gray.

Aft of the coxswain, this sailor sports a white neckcloth and yellowish brown smock, but has been deprived of the rope he held in Copley's rendition.

The sailors lean dangerously over the gunwales in their effort to save Watson. They are clad in shirtsleeves, save for the older gentleman, who is differentiated from the others by his baldness.