Friday, April 29

Rough Medicine

Rough Medicine, Surgeons at Sea in the Age of Sail 
by Joan Druett
a brief book review by Tony Gerard

Rough Medicine is a very interesting and readable book, although the title is a bit misleading. It might better be subtitled "Surgeons on Whaling Ships in the early to mid nineteenth century". The first chapter deals with the seventeenth century surgeon John Woodall's publication "The Surgeons Mate".  Druett makes some interesting comparisons about shipboard medicines recommended by Woodall and those carried on nineteenth century Whalers. It's remarkable how little changed over the ensuing centuries.

After that first chapter the rest of the book deals with the experiences of surgeons on whaling vessels, drawn largely from the writings of a number of surgeons so engaged. It's an interesting read, chapters deal with surgeons relation with Captains and crewmembers, native peoples in the south Pacific, the actual business of whaling, accidents aboard ship, fighting scurvy, the ship's medicine chest and more. Surgeons of the Royal Navy and the East India trade get a few passing mentions. 

 Although not focused on Naval surgeons specifically I recommend this book to anyone interested in shipboard medicine.

Thursday, April 28

The 7 Worst Things About Being a Reenactor

Every hobby has its own quirky PROS and CONS, historical reenacting is no exception. While there are a LOT of delightful PROS, there are plenty of CONS as well...

...Here are the 7 worst things about being a reenactor:

For a weekend event, I need almost an entire day to cram all my clothing and gear into the car and another day to get it all unpacked when I get home. I'm fortunate in that I have a mini van with a little more space, but even then there's the hassle of dragging the heavy seats out of the back to make room. It can turn a Saturday/Sunday event into a Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday event.

Why must it be a thousand degrees outside when you have to wear a wool coat on top of other thick layers of clothing? Why must it begin raining right as it's time for the battle reenactment to start? Or it starts raining right before it's time to start packing your canvas? Or it's crazy cold outside when you didn't pack appropriate clothing for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fair weather reenactor. I am aware that it was occasionally hot/cold/rainy in the past, but yikes!

It can only mean one thing... God hates reenactors.

We've covered these in a previous post... you know the ones I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong, I love working with the public, but these can wear on a body after repeated application.

I love seeing new places and attending events at far flung historic sites... but yikes I get tired of the hours in the car! I have worn a hole in the carpet where the heel of my gas foot goes and mashed a dent in my armrest where my elbow sits. I've worn through oil and tires and put a zillion miles on my poor car in the pursuit of my beloved hobby. I know reenactors who have burned up tires, engines and entire cars in their travels. A moment of silence for our four-wheeled friends who have lost their lives in the tireless pursuit of our hobby.

I'm the worst about it in the world. I goto an event to present or demo for the public, or with some other agenda, and I'm so busy all weekend that I completely forget to eat or drink. Or it's nasty hot and I'm just too sweaty to even consider food of any sort. Then to compound the problem, when the public leaves there's a rum ration issued to the unit or an adult beverage offered to me on an empty stomach.

Crash starvation + Alcohol = I'm missing colors on Sunday morning

For some years I labored under the mistaken impression that cliques went away after high school, SPOILER ALERT... they do not. 

North, South, Indians, Slaves, English, French, American, Militia, Army, Navy, Longhunters, Stitch Nazis, Librarians, Farbs, Mainstreamers, Progressives, Old-timers, Spirit of 76ers, Costumers, Steampunks, Quebecois, Western, Performers, Presenters, Demonstrators, Craftsmen, Research hoarders, Doctors and Surgeons, Officers, NCOs, you name it.

In the end we're all doing roughly the same thing in our own way, giving the public a glimpse of life in the 'old-timey' days while trying to learn and experience some aspect of history for ourselves. Play nice out there kids!

I already don't enjoy using strange toilets. But I REALLY don't enjoy using strange PUBLIC toilets. Then, put that strange public toilet in a cramped, outdoor blue plastic booth while wearing my 'funny clothes'... and it is my ultimate recipe for discomfort. There are so many layers of clothing between you and your eventual goal that it is the least graceful and practical thing you can do at an event.  

I have been known to avoid port-a-potties like the plague unless I'm just absolutely desperate. And even IF I decide to make use of one, I usually try to use the 'handicapped' potty because they're so much bigger than the regular ones, there's generally enough room to take off and hang up the five layers of clothing between me and the plastic seat. God forbid my clothing be allowed to touch any of the mysterious and fetid fluids that lurk on any and ALL of the potty's surfaces.

Now, a tale that the lovely Mrs. Roberts twisted my arm to make me include.

A year or so ago, I was at a nice little event whose name I won't mention (but it rhymes with 'Long Run Massacre') and I had avoided the port-o-johns all weekend and finally was beside myself with desperation. So I picked out one that was partially obscured from public by the treeline. At least the event coordinators had made an attempt to hide them a little bit.

I enter and immediately realize this is going to be an unpleasant visit. The little blue booth was full in the hot afternoon sun and had been baking there for several hours. To make matters worse, it would seem that everyone else had used it before me, leaving it a complete wreck!

There were no interior hooks for me to hang my waistcoat etc from, so I very carefully folded it up and placed it precariously on a little shelf attached to the exhaust pipe. Then, I very carefully got myself arranged so as to do my duty (as it were). I was mindful the entire time not to allow my breeches to touch the wet floor.

Once my transaction was complete, I stand to pull up my breeches. But because of the small size of the little potty and the awkward angle at which I had to stand in order to keep my breeches from touching the floor. I was having a hard time. Then the perfect storm occurred, Leather soled period repro boots met slick plastic floor, awkward crouching angle met wonky balancing act center of gravity. I sliped forward and banged my head on the plastic door then fell in a half-clothed crumple onto the wet floor.

Needless to say, the scream that issued forth from the interior of that little blue hell must have sounded like a middle school girl.
Be sure to check out this other list of interest:

That does it for this reenactor list. If you have enjoyed reading this or the other adventures of the HMS Acasta, be certain to become an honorary member of the crew. This is a easy way to show us that you're out there and paying attention. It is a simple matter really, there is a blue button at the very bottom of the page that will allow you to join.

And Second, I would ask that you comment from time to time on the posts that interest you the most. This is an excellent way to let the crew of the Acasta know what you, the reader, is the most interested in seeing. It is always most gratifying to know what the readers like. For those of you that have commented in the past, we thank you for you support and interest!

If you find a post that you are particularly fond of... be sure to share a link with your friends, over Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, etc. so they can enjoy it too!

The Acasta log is generally updated every weekday at 8am CST, visit back often, and encourage your History Nerd/Reenacting/Royal Navy friends to visit us.

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, April 27

To be or not to be a bum boat girl?

By Mecca Caron

Just what options do women have in the world of sailor (British Navy) reenacting?  Believe it or not, there really were women’s roles with the Navy.  Which means there are great opportunities for women interpreters attached to the Acastas.  

The most obvious and common choice is to portray an officer’s wife, waiting about for the occasional shore visit from the husband. This works well for those who like to promenade and tiptoe fancifully, hosting teas and fine dinners and all-the-while being the picture of fashion.  But we must keep in mind that it wasn’t all silk and wine for sailor’s wives!  

It wasn’t easy being married to a sailor.  Well-to-do wives were left behind for months and even years at a time.  They were expected to run the estate or household and raise the children alone.  From a letter (dated June 9, 1755) to her husband, Admiral Boscawen, Fanny Boscawen describes being busy from 6:30 AM until 11:00 PM, dealing with the running of their country estate and the raising of their five children.  The tasks she described included feeding the chickens, consulting with her housekeeper concerning menus and other household affairs, working with the estate manager concerning livestock and farming, walking to the village, eating meals, writing letters, and working in the dressing room with the children while another read aloud until the girls’ bedtime, then consulting with the housekeeper again before going to bed at 11:00 PM.  

But we can’t all be officers wives, can we?  Certainly, we could take on the task of interpreting what it was like to be the wife of an ordinary seamen.    In records of the day, we see glimpses of the hardships they endured as they attempted to survive without their husbands for long periods of time.  Wives of sailors did not receive regular income from their husbands, as sailors were only paid very infrequently, when the ships commission ended.  Is was common for wives to go from between 6 months to three years without receiving any of their husbands’ pay.  For example, in 1821, the local churchwardens of Portsmouth, England appealed to the Admiralty for financial assistance to help support all the Sailors wives and families.  It was also common knowledge of the time that, if a sailor’s wife wanted to be sure to get her share of her husband’s wages; she must be on hand when the ship docked and the dockyard commissioner and his clerks came out to pay the sailors in cash.  There is no doubt that sailor’s wives did what it took to survive, knowing that they might be months or even years without seeing a penny in Navy wages.  In addition to raising their large families, these women took in lodgers and laundry, went into domestic service, and even ran taverns or lodging houses.  Some women, in dire straits, even became thieves. We know from courth records, that Mary Dutton, a widow of a sailor, was hanged at Tyburn on January 13, 1742, for stealing a watch in Piccadilly and Elizabeth Fox, one of London’s notorious pickpockets, was hanged in 1741.  

If you’d prefer not to be left behind, you might transform yourself into a man with yards of tape, glue, and cloth.  Woe betides those of us with ample bosoms and womanly curves!  It's a hard thing to pull off, even for the pencil bodied women. There are, in fact, a few who manage it today, just as a few women did in the 1700’s and 1800’s. A case in point is the tale of Elizabeth Bowden, a fourteen-year old girl who was listed on the books of the HMS Hazard as a boy of the third class.  Elizabeth managed to stay disguised as a boy for nearly six weeks before her shipmates discovered her.  Upon this discovery, the captain of the ship gave her separate living quarters and allowed her to stay onboard ship, serving as an attendant to the officers.  In the 1740’s, Hannah Snell served in the army and navy as a man for four and a half years before she revealed that she was a woman.

For the brazen and bold, one could always portray the seedy side of life aboard ship as a visiting prostitute, or bum boat girl. When ships came to port and sailors had no right to shore leave, it was a common practice for sailors’ wives and prostitutes to be ferried out to the ship.  As a nod to naval regulations, prostitutes selected by the sailors were signed on as their wives and were allowed to live onboard ship while she was in harbor.  They drank, danced and shared the sailor’s hammocks until time for the ship to leave harbor.  Unfortunately, they often left their sailor men a parting gift of venereal disease that the ship’s doctor would have to treat.  

For sailors lucky enough to be granted shore leave, the lower sort of prostitutes were to be found in taverns and alleys.  These women were very often crass, uncouth, and dishonest.  A somewhat better class of strumpet lived in Albert Square and Seven Star Alley and often described themselves as a wife to a visiting sailor.  There is an account of a German women who told an interviewer that she was currently living with an English sailor whose ship was in the docks, saying that she had known him for almost two years and that he always lived with her when he came ashore.  She continued by saying that she took all his money when he landed, spent half of it while they were together, and kept them remainder when it was time for him to go back aboard ship.  It was not uncommon for these prostitutes to have anywhere from four to ten regular sailor husbands who would seek them out when they came ashore.   

For the more discerning sailor and officer, the Harris’ List or the Covent Garden Magazine were the places to find a classier sort of whore.  These lists often described the women of London’s pleasure gardens and their prowess in nautical terms and the officers consulted them as they would a bawdy catalogue.

But if being a man or a bum boat girl isn't quite the right fit, you might choose to portray a standing officer’s wife, living on board the ship with her husband.  It was usually the wives of warrant officers such as the gunner, boatswain, and the carpenter, who were permitted to go to sea.  These standing officers received their warrants from the Navy Board and were attached to the same ship from the time she was built to the day she was broken up.  Quite often, these warrant officers were more reliable, older men and their wives, therefore, viewed as more respectable.  Wives of warrant officers lived in a cabin on board ship with their husbands and often acted as surrogate mothers to the young boys in the crew.  There are also mention of them helping to tend to the wounded and assist with powder during battle.  Women of the lower deck did not officially exist, though we see glimpses of them is records of the ship’s doctor or private journals.  In fact, in 1806, the Navy regulations revised by Lord Barham stressed that captains were not to allow women to sail onboard ship without orders from his superior officer or the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.  Yet John Nicol, a seaman on board HMS Goliath during the Battle of the Nile (1798), mentioned women carrying powder to the guns, providing water and wine to the soldiers during the battle, and tending to the wounded.  He goes on to mention that one woman died during the battle and another gave birth during the chaos.  The presence of women onboard ship is also documented in various court marshals.  The court-martial record (March 15, 1799) of five members of the crew of the HMS Hermione accused of mutiny details the capture, escape, and eventual pension application of Mrs. Martin, widow of William Martin, who acted as Boatswain during the mutiny attempt.

Well, girls, if none of this strikes your fancy . . . just consider, even the 19th century was a material world.  So grab your reticule and your seaman’s pay, and go shopping, you material girl!

References for further reading:
Cordingly, David.  Women Sailors & Sailors’ Women:  an untold maritime story.  Random House, 2001.

Druett, Joan.  Hen Frigates:  Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea.  Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Rees, Sian.  The Floating Brothel:  The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts.  Hyperion, 2002.

Tuesday, April 26

A Letter from the Top

To my lovely wife,

Today's Post by
Acasta Crew member
Michael Araiza
I hope this letter reaches you and the children in good health.  I was hoping to write you days ago but I have been busy in the tops. I have worked so hard even the ship’s carpenter, J. Apple, says I could one day be captain of the top, or so he says.

On that very sad day we set sail you asked “Oh, Araiza why you set sail with the Acastas and not some rich privateer.” Well I am going to try and explain this. I was 14 years of age and was serving as a cabin boy on board the Spanish privateer Juno for el Capitan Jimenez. We were carrying a load of indigo and coco when we were overrun by the Ship Acasta. We made a run for it but we were outgunned and outmanned. So sadly el Capitan Jimenez surrendered his ship and cargo, much to his dismay. Upon inspection of the crew, Captain Fellows took a liking to me and asked if I would come aboard and serve on the Acasta. I of young mind and fearing otherwise, accepted. Not knowing I was being impressed.

As the years passed and the captains changed hands I took a liking to other daily tasks of the Acasta. To include sails and the top masts. So the captain graciously allowed me to learn the ways of a top. Once I learned enough I joined a mess of tops. Since that time I have busy working up top and have made a many good friends. Ships Carpenter J. Apple and the Surgeon’s assistant T. Gerard have also taken a liking to me. So now that I am part of the crew I stay because of my duty to my fellow shipmates, and we are also rumored to be the best officered and best frigate in the service. Also the prize money may be good on French ships.

My dearest I hear the watch bells ringing and I must return to the top. I will write to you again soon.

Your dearest husband,
  M. Araiza

Monday, April 25

Sailors Wanted

The ACASTA is looking for quality reenactors
to portray English sailors circa 1800-1812

Our organization seeks to educate via a series of first person activities designed to demonstrate the real lives of sailors as they go about their business etc. Landing Parties, Surveying Crews, Recruitment Drives, Press Gangs, Shore Leave... these are but a few of the activities that our crew will undertake whilst encamped at an event. 

Be sure to read the ABOUT US page

If these sound like a good fit for you, then you may have what it takes to be an Acasta! Email Albert Roberts today to find out more about joining the crew at:

Friday, April 22

To keep all sorts of fire arms and steel from rust:

"Take a quarter of an ounce of camphire and half a pound of hogs lard, dissolve them together over a very slow fire , and take off the scum, then mix as much black-lead as will bring them to an iron color, spread it over your arms, steel grates, or fire irons, and let it lie 24 hours, then clean them as well as possible with a dry linen cloth, and they will keep six months: but when you lay by your irons, the general way is to try mutton suit; rub the irons well with it, roll them in papers, and so lay them by the winter; but goose-grease is far beyond it. and keeps irons much better, and is a very good thing to clean irons at any time, rubbing it off dry with a linen, and after that with scouring paper; they will look well and do without anything else."

I s'posin I shuld be honor'd that th Doctor only lets me cleen his pistol - but any joy I git from it goes away caus'n he stands over me somethin' frightnin to make sure'n I don't ruin his baby.

From the book: "The Servant's Directory, Improved" or "House Keeper's Companion; Wherein the duties of the Chamber-maid, Nursery-maid, House-maid, Laundry-maid, Scullion or Undercook, are fully and distinctly explained. To which is added, Cookery and Pickling sufficient to qualify a person to act as THOROUGH SERVANT in any family."