Monday, November 20, 2017

A British Sailor Offering a Sword to an Unarmed Spanish Officer, 1783

A British Sailor offering a Sword to an Unarmed Spanish Officer, engraved by John Thronton, 1783, Library of Congress.

Another copy of this print can be found at the National Maritime Museum.

In the upper left, sailors bearing cutlasses mount the parapets. All of them wear short caps, probably Dutch/Monmouth knit caps, though it's difficult to be sure. Rushing up the ladder is a jack in a jacket that ends beneath the waist, it appears to have two vents and is lined in white. His trousers end above the ankle.

Standing atop a Spanish gun and proudly waving a British flag, a sailor wears a patterned bandanna around his head, a black neckcloth at his collar, a single breasted waistcoat with cloth buttons ending at the waist, and an unlined jacket. His trousers are vertically striped. 

The gallant sailor at the front, offering a sword to his enemy, wears a round hat with a very short brim. His neckcloth is striped. Our hero wears a double breasted, lined jacket with slash cuffs. The waistcoat is double breasted, ending at his white petticoat trousers with their broad fall fly. We get a peek at his breeches beneath, and see that they are fastened with laces! It's not often we see sailor's breeches, much less a good view of how they are closed. White stockings lead down to the pointed toe shoes with oval buckles.


  1. I've seen a few images where, like this, the petticoat breeches strongly resemble a kilt or skirt. Why do you think this is? could there be a garment we are not aware of yet, or is it just a peculiarity of the artist's technique?

    1. An excellent question!

      My theory (I want to emphasize this is a theory, and not a known fact) is that the kilt and petticoat trousers evolved separately. The kilt is intended as a standalone garment, while petticoat trousers appear to have been conceived as more of a bifurcated apron. Loose fabric hanging at the same height from the waist and cut for the male figure will necessarily look similar, though I'm sure the artist's technique also played into it.