Tuesday, May 22

A Letter from Billie

1815 28 febr
Namerican stayshun
Father & Mather

I am sorry that I ran aweigh and you must have asumd me knoked in the head in a ditch and never to come home agaen, a few of us agrid to meet up and join the war and thay told us that if we sighed our names than we we got a shiling each and we could join the navey and gett prise monies and have pleney of good meat and things green to eat the whole thyme we are on ship and we would be landsman and sounded fair since we growed up not on the cosst, thay sid I could milk cows and that lift things and ay toell them that I can do that at home so thay made me pull lines and klimb up ento the masts and I got guud at it and the give me a difrnt things to doo now thay are a lot of felleows on here with me and a few of those are kind to me bat they took patrkic fryy willam eveens robart shuemaker to diffent ships and I shant seed them since thay put us. all on this tender ship afoe id come to here and I hope they famieles got letders like this one I have sent to you and are heavy with prise monies like the say I am wen we get back home plus I git payd every month since I am gone also how is my dog?
Youer son

Monday, May 21

A Letter to Mr. Apple

to: Jas. Apple
H.M.S. Acasta
At Sea

March 5, 1814

Dear James,                                                                                          

I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. Everyone here is in good health. You know, poor hand that I am at it, I would never take to write you were it not of some important matter. As you know your father left some time past for Germany, leaving the business in the hands of your mother and I. Thomas has took a clerk position in Shoreditch and they has a fine, healthy baby boy, which keeps most of his time occupied. Which brings me to the problem. 

Your mother, good hearted soul that she is, is to soft hearted in extending credit and insisting on payment. You remember Lord Hathcock's young son Bradford? Well as soon as his old Father passed he ordered a top of the line carriage- and a finer coach we have never put to wheels. Now he spends all of his time running about town playing the rake- even has a livery dressed in silk more colorful than a dancing monkey- but we have yet to see payment beyond that which he put down to begin with. When pressed for payment he comes up with a story about having trouble collecting from his tenants and we will be paid as soon as they are settled. Yet he has the money to dress his livery in silk and be about town all evening? And now two of his young rake friends has put in carriage orders also. 

Now James you have known me since you was small and we are as close to family as people can get without being blood kin. I have tried to speak with your brother about this, but he is occupied with other affairs. I do not want to overstep my position or offend your mother, but she does not take my advice on insisting on payment when payment is due. I am feared we may be in ruin before your father returns. If you could write to her and encourage her to allow me to take charge of debts and payments I am sure I could soon set matters straight. Please do so as soon as you may be able. Hopefully this war will end soon and you can have liberty to come home. 

yr, Obt. Svt,
Wm. Driver

Friday, May 18

Success to Nelson!

February 8, 1805
Royal Navy Dockyard,
Halifax, Nova Scotia.

To: Dr. Albert Roberts,
Ship's Surgeon,
HMS Acasta
At sea..

From: Thomas Hurlbut, 
HMS Satyr.

My Dear Doctor

While briefly at home here in Halifax, my ship receiving a much needed "small repair", I was greeted one morning with a package in the post . 

As I am known to be particular about the mail (lose not a moment!), our very dutiful, and earnestly persistent servant brought the package to our bedroom. Surprisingly, it was from your assistant, Baptiste. 

I hadn't realized the man knew I existed. I'm not sure we've had two words between us, and so to receive anything from him was puzzling. 

More to the point Doctor, his known fascination with natural philosophy (and particularly small creatures, no doubt in proud emulation of yourself!) gave both my wife and I some concern.

When the sender of the package was made known the sudden trepidation surrounding the possible contents of the parcel was palpable. The imagination can be truly frightening, can it not? We instantly were compelled to give it a wide berth.

Our morning routine ruined, we quickly made for the main room to have our breakfast. The package followed, and was placed on the table between us by the sevant. We both drew back as far as we could.

"Earnest" then produced a letter opener to enable me to see the contents. Never did I feel a weapon at hand was more inadequate to the task. I would rather a pistol, even a club!

My wife moved to the doorway, to be able to close the door and trap the contents (and me!!) so that it (they?) could not escape.

I plunged the knife into the brown paper, expecting the appearance of many legs to emerge from the hole produced.


I peeled back the paper (slowly!), wondering if a small head might poke out..

Still nothing. 

(Well, it's been at sea a while, maybe it's dead?)

Finally, knife in hand, I lifted the top of the small box, and.

Actually, I discovered a fine drinking vessel for my morning coffee (that was produced just as I pulled it from the package! "Earnest" again!).

I must express my appreciation when next I see your man. Perhaps I'll send a word through my cox'n who I understand is a friend to him (I believe they both are fluent in French!).

I am enjoying my brief respite from my patrol. The North Atlantic is miserable this time of year.

Your Humble Servant

Thomas Hurlbut,

Thursday, May 17

A Letter from Baptiste

Marie, Baptiste's wife, finds an old tar to read her her letter.

16 May 1814

Dearest Marie, 

I miss you so! And the Boys! I suppose that by now they can say hole thoughts not just words. I am writing to you in English. Perhaps Mr Clark will read this for you. I have been trying hard to learn this. My friend Apple the Carpenter, and sometimes the Doctor, tutor me. I find that writing in English is much like talking in English. You no how English is almost the same as French, just pronounced incorectly? Witting is much the same. In English each letter has something to say, none of them seem to be there just to make the word more handsome. Once I became accustomed to this lack of beauty in English words it was not so difficult.

We are back on the Blockade of Baltimore and things are very dull except the times we chase after a prize. We have captured several, and I am entitled to an amount of money for each. It is called prize money. None of our captures have put up what could be called a fight, and do not fear for me in anycase, for when we come close I am safe below decks with the surgeon.

Things are so dull I find I become meloncoly. Most this is from missing you and the boys- but I find I also miss the small creatures of the land- birds in the morning and crickets in the evening. The only creatures here are rats and roaches. I do have some leeches- and they have become my friends! I won at cards them from an apothacary’s assistant when we were in Halifax. They are the good leeches from Europe. A  pressed man named Booke stole many for fishing bait. He and I later become friends and he told me he was sorry for thiefing them. He escaped in Bermuda. He offered for me to go with him, but I was afraid the risk was to great and the chance of success to small. I suppose he succeeded, for I have heard no more of him and I am sure news would have reached us if he were caught. But back to my friends the leeches. Dear old Messer Duvall once told me that their behavior changes with the weather, and I have found this to be true. Each morning I see what they are doing  and  compare it with the weather. They do more than you would thing a worm would do. Sometimes they climb out of the water and hang like grapes on the jar edge, sometimes they swim frantically and sometimes they even lay on the bottom on their backs.  The first time I saw this I thought they were dead, but now I know it is just something they do. I have found sometime I can predict a change in weather coming by what they are doing.

I have had one accident. A big pressed landsman fell down a hatch and knocked off a fellow coming down below him. I just happened to be passing below with a small oil lamp I use for cupping. Both fellows landed on me. I was nocked almost senseless with my face pressed into the oil from the lamp which caught fire! I was able to kill the fire with my cap, but it burned off almost all my side whiskers on the one side.  I shaved them off so the other fellows would not make a jest of me. I no how handsome you think they are- but I promise I will have them grown back buy the time you read these words.

I will close now. This letter will be sent out with others of the Doctor’s. He has made a friend of another natural philosopher in America, so it should not have a problem reaching you. My love to you and the boys.

Always your loving husband, 

Wednesday, May 16

A Letter to the Doctor

19 December 1813

Dear Sir,
It will most likely come as surprise to hear from your old loblolly boy, but rest assured Sir I have not forgotten you. Perhaps you may have asked yourself over the years ”I wonder what has ever became of old Silas Craig?”. 

Well Sir, for such a kind and generous soul as yourself, the true story would make you weep. The very next commission after I served with you I had a gun to crush my foot. The surgeon took it off at the ankle, but after a bit the leg Above it become corrupted and he took it off at the knee and they sent me to the hospital in Greenwich, but I survived anyhow. 

I had hoped to get a commission then as a cook, but there was none to be had and they sent me off a poor cripple with just a small pension to try and survive on. What was I to do? Well Sir, you will well remember I was never one to beg charity- and no one was handier than me on a make and mend day. 

I begun to take old discarded clothes and patch and mend them up and sell them again at a fair price. I done good enough at it that folks begun to bring me clothes they no longer needed which I would buy from them and mend and sell. After a bit they begun to bring me broken or old odds and ends that I would patch and mend and polish to sale at a fair price. My father was a tinker so I knew a bit of how to do such things. 

With my pension and my mending and such I was getting by when- who could have known- the constables grab me up! They claim that the things I had been buying was stold! And a bunch of them blackhearts what sold things to me lined up in court to say so. A sorry situation it was. I might have been hanged were it not for Lieutenant Murtry- you will remember him as midshipman Murtry- stepping up and putting in a kind word for me. 

As it was they sent me to Botany Bay. Oh Sir, I well remember how fond you was of seeing the bushes and bugs and fish and such of a new place- but there is nothing to love here! Every bush that does not draw blood with thorns and such will give you a rash. The animals here is all scorpions, spiders and snakes and such so poisonous that a fellow does not go three paces after he is bit. 

And the people from here is all Blackfellas that would just as soon spear a man as look at him. So here I am a poor cripple, innocent of any crime, condemned to labor in such a place. So I survived my time- and a miracle it was, me being a cripple and all- and now I am a gain a free man, if free it can be called to have to live in such a desolate and God forsaken place as this. 

Now I scrape by as a servant for Reverand Elias Penwell, who was an innocent persecuted unjustly on false testimony of villains and sent here like myself. His eyes are going and often times he will have me to read for him. I was reading him an old copy of the Navy list which had made its way here when I come across you as the surgeon of the Acasta.

"Is that the same Doctor Roberts you always peak so highly of?" he asks me. 

"I am sure it is the same " I reply. 

"You should write him of your distress here" he says to me. 

"Oh Sir " say I "I could never bother him with my problems". 

"Why Mister Craig" he says  "I am surprised you would treat the good Doctor Roberts with such disrespect!" 

"Never in this life should I disrespect the Doctor!" says I. 

"Well Sir, you should well know that nothing cheers a Christian heart more than helping those in need and distress! If this Doctor Roberts is half the magnanimous fellow you describe he would be distressed beyond measure to find he could have helped you in your time of need but was deprived of the opportunity through ignorance. To deprive him of this opportunity to practice Christian Charity would be cruel indeed!"

So after the Reverand had explained things with such intelligence the wisdom of his words was undeniable.

So Sir you might send whatever charitable ammount you seen fit to me here at Botany Bay through the Reverand Penwell.  Also good would be - if you have any influence at home- would be to see that I might be allowed to return to my native land and not die here a poor cripple in this desolate place.

Ever your loving and obedient Servant, 
Silas Craig

Monday, May 14

Who are you writing to?

Wondering who to write to for the 2018 Mail Packet Project? Here's a listing to the cast of characters who are scheduled (so far) to be in attendance at the Jane Austen festival. Some haven't submitted their short character biographies yet, I'll update this as they do. In the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about the project and enjoy!

Remember, this year it'll be 1805 with the Acasta having just returned to Portsmouth.

Shea McLean Second Lieutenant-
A newly appointed officer aboard Acasta.

Lord William Fitzroy Third Lieutenant- Lord William FitzRoy, KCB was a Napoleonic War British Naval officer and politician (and a REAL PERSON!), retiring as Admiral shortly before his death in 1857. With the Acasta Fitzroy is portrayed as a young Lieutenant just beginning his adventures. He was the third son of Augustus FitzRoy, Duke of Grafton and former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Serving in or near almost every major naval action of the Napoleonic War(s), FitzRoy’s story is an exciting and interesting tale of adventure, ambition, and promotion.

James Apple Carpenter- Born in Hackney, England 1766 in April. Grew up in a family of Carriage makers and blacksmiths with a moderate shop in the east end. His father, james Appel was born in Hesse and went back to take care of family affairs some time ago. His mother, Barbara Bedwell still manages the shop and has a tendency to be to lenient on collecting payment for finished work. He has a son, Hunter that turned 18 in October of 1814 and since has gone to sea under the name of Nathaniel Bekket. He also has a daughter, Golden Jewel that turned 16 in August of 1814 that has moved with her mother to Chataguey, just outside of Montreal, Quebec. He has a new wife, Lynne, who now keeps his house in Hackney and looks in on his mother in addition to teaching many if the lesser-sorts to read and write at the new Church of St. John.

Nicholas Armitage Purser- Volunteered to serve aboard 'HMS Acasta' in 1792, with prior experience in London merchant grocer businesses and counting houses, that gave him some skills requisite for a ship's purser. His half-brother William St George, currently serving as a lieutenant on 'HMS Conqueror' (74), and Armitage does have a wife in London ('Georgiana Carr Armitage')'.

Jean Baptiste Girard Surgeon's Mate- A well traveled old Creole who has usually worked in some medical capacity on merchant ships. He has been impressed onto the HMS Acasta, but is not unhappy there. In his time Baptiste has traveled through both the East and West Indies and spent six years among the Igorots of the Spanish Philippines when a Spanish privateer (on which he was a prisoner) was shipwrecked there. During the French revolution a Captain who he admired and respected was guillotined, cementing his philosophy as a Monarchist.  His wife Marie is Igrot; she is currently living in Louisiana on the plantation of Messr. Francois Rochambeau. They have young twin boys.

Early in his career Baptiste learned that he could make extra money by collecting curiosities from his travels to sell to educated gentlemen. His non-formal education in natural history and things medical still allows him to believe many superstitions in both fields.

Padraig 'Pogue' Mahone Master's Mate- Padraig Mahone was born just before the French War, in County Mayo, Ireland. At the early age of 16 years, he left his native home. One pleasant evening, in the month of June, from his home he started, on the rocky road to Dublin, to accept a position as Midshipman, aboard the Brig “Adamant” His first “use” of the Sea. He was impressed by the cleverness of compasses and sextants, log lines and lead lines, and his curiosity for such things led him, rather naturally, to the study of Navigation.  After some time, the Adamant was written out of service, and sent to the Knacker’s yard, to be broken up. Padraig found himself without a position, so he made his way to the West End of London, and Drury Lane, where his childhood reading of Shakespeare and other playwrights  made the Theatre another natural choice. Padraig found work as a Stagehand, working the pinrail, flying set pieces in and out of the fly loft, a task not unlike the working of running rigging, aboard ship. He also developed a fondness for making handprops; the various items used by Actors, in a play. 

When the American War broke out, Padraig went back to the Navy, but his years away had stymied his advancement, and so he signed aboard as a Volunteer, until he could demonstrate his knowledge, and eventually earn himself a position as Master’s Mate. Having always had a penchant for making things, Padraig started making much of his own equipment: Log lines, lead lines, traverse board, a quadrant, (to serve until he could afford a second-hand sextant) and such truck. When he was between ships, in a tavern near Annapolis, Maryland, Padraig (who had been left behind, following an injury) found himself singing in the cellar of a tavern, with a pair of fellow Sailors, whose names he didn’t know at the time, but who turned out to be Hollybrass and Apple, the Boatswain and Carpenter for HMS Acasta.  As his injury was mostly mended, he took the opportunity to sign on Acasta, before they sailed, a few weeks later, on the strength of his navigational and rigging experience.

John Griswold Ship's Chaplain- The Rev. Mr. John Phinehas Griswold was born August 2, 1755 in the town of Kenilworth, in the [then] Colony of Connecticut.  Descended from Edward Griswold of Warwickshire and loyal to the King, John received his formal education in the Colonies during those turbulent years of the rebellion before traveling to England to complete his ordination.  Upon taking residence near Warwick, John met and married the radiantly beautiful Miss Agatha W., the younger sister to Lady Caroline Linnington.
After his ordination, it was the prolific writings of the Rev. John Newton, a former sailor, who greatly influenced Griswold’s faith and practice. Newton’s books and letters along with the sermons of Rev. James Ramsay, a former Naval Surgeon, first alerted Griswold to the possibilities of serving in His Majesties Navy as a Chaplin.  News of the successes of the Evangelicals in serving in ships under “Blue Light” Captains drove Griswold to actively seek a place to serve.  But it was not until Agatha’s tragic death three years ago that Griswold was able to consider fulfilling that call.   Preaching at sea seemed a suitable balm for his weary soul, and a salary of 11.8.0 per annum was of no consequence as eternal prospects far outweighed temporal rewards. Rev. Griswold has served onboard HMS Acasta for the past two years.

Nathaniel Beckett Able Seaman- Hailing from St. Katharine Docks in East End of London, came from a poor family and found himself on the streets fending for himself. He found himself one night climbing up the side of Tower Hamlet at the command of a navy man betting him he couldn't reach the top only to take the bet and walk out the side door of the tower sometime later. Young master Beckett completing his task found himself in his cups with the navy man later. After many ill deserved drinks Beckett awoke and found himself sailing away to his new life a crew member of HMS Superb. Some years later Beckett found himself at port and found himself in company of the French Man and Carpenter of HMS Acasta. He has lent his hand ever since.

Charles Winchester Landmanborn in 1760 in Dorchester, England.  His mother, Anne Marie Bousard was of French Hugenot descent. His father, James Winchester was a farmer and horse trader from Weymouth. Anne died during childbirth giving birth to the couple’s fourth child.  Shortly afterwards James was accused and arrested for a horse deal gone wrong. He spent a year in gaol.  During this time Charles and his three sisters were sent to Weymouth to live with his aunt Beatrice.  In 1770 upon his release from gaol James sold his farm and business giving the money to his sister-in-law and moved to Portsmouth. After a failed business venture there he joined the Royal Navy aboard HMS Antelope in 1772.  He never returned.

     Charles was sent to Bournemouth to apprentice as a blacksmith.  His master, Silas Hartford, was a hard man, being overly fond of gin. Charles was a little too free with his tongue for Silas and the master struck Charles across the face with a bar of pig iron. After less than a year Charles broke his indenture and ran away to Portsmouth and took a job on a fishing vessel. At age seventeen Charles signed on to a coastal trading ship making runs between Portsmouth, Plymouth and Falmouth. At age twenty-two he joined the crew of a mail packet making the run from Portsmouth to Cardiff and Bristol.

     In 1787 he married a nineteen year old Bristol girl, Sarah Powels and settled in Bath.  Like his father he took up horse trading, also dabbling in farming and sheep. He and Sarah had six children; four daughters and two sons: Elizabeth (b.1789), Rachel (b.1793), Johnathon (b.1795), Sarah (b. 1797), James (b.1799) and Anne (b.1807). In 1800 with the farm failing the family moved to Portsmouth for a year and then to Plymouth.

     In April 1802 Charles signed aboard the 18 gun brigantine HMS Imogene on a coastal cruise looking for smugglers. Over the next three years he sailed on several cruises to the Cape of Good Hope and off the coast of Guinea.  The ship ran aground and was lost in March 1805, but the entire crew was saved.  After this close scrape Charles left the service, returned to Plymouth and took a job aboard a number of coastal trading vessels over the next two years.  In 1812 Charles signed aboard a merchant vessel, the Nancy, bound for Barbados.  This vessel was captured by the American brig Federal off the coast of the Azores two weeks later.  The entire crew was taken captive and were to be taken to France.  Charles, along with 32 others, signed aboard to supplement the crew after part of the crew of the Federal went aboard the captured Nancy. En route to Boston one month later the Federal was taken by the HMS Acasta.  All British crew members (and a number of Americans) joined the crew of the HMS Acasta. At present Charles is still aboard HMS Acasta and solemnly vows if he ever sets foot on the shores of old England he will never go to sea again!

Nathaniel Johnson Able Seaman-

Sam'l Linden Volunteer 1st Class-
Former ship's boy who was recently promoted to 'Volunteer First Class' and is well on his way to 'Midshipman'.
Noah Thomas Boy-
Ship's boy who is eager for his promotion to Volunteer 1st Class
Mark Thomas Landsman-
One of the newer recruits to join the crew.
Nick Weremeichik Landsman-
One of the newest recruits to join the crew.

Drew Godzik Landsman-
One of the new recruits to join the crew.

The ‘Mail Packet’ is an educational project conducted by the ‘HMS Acasta’ Royal Naval reenactment group. The project began in 2013 and the crew have received hundreds of period letters and packages from all over the world! It’s an awesome educational opportunity, not only for the recipient and the writer, but also for the public that gets to see and share in the experience.

The MAIL PACKET for 2018 will be delivered at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky on the weekend of July 13-15! 

People wrote letters for all manner of reasons in the period, business, duty, amusement, love, courtship, marriage, friendship etc.

Imagine all the things you do in your modern life that involve communication, now imagine if it all had to be done with a pen and paper. The people the Acastas portray wrote as a part of their daily lives, because they had to.

A few prompts on what you might write:
A Letter from a friend or colleague back home. 
(But none from 'immediate family' if you please. Imagine how awkward it is to get three different letters from women claiming to be your ‘wife’ or ‘mother’.)
A bill or request for payment, they’re not just for your modern mailbox!
An overdue payment of a debt.
A letter carrying news of the war(s)

Letters should be addressed thusly:

Recipient's Rank and Name
HMS Acasta

While the sender’s 'return address' was occasionally added, it was not a universal thing like we know on the mail of today.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via the Royal Navy Doctor Facebook page, or via my email at: