Monday, December 5

Mr. Araiza's Hair

Our ship was once set upon by a plague of lice that came aboard with several of the dirtier sailors. Through the efforts of the doctor no one was lost, but many were laid low for quite some time. The doctor hisself was among the first stricken, but he was soon cured by having his mate to shave his head and apply lye soap and fresh water to his clothing. The doctor was a handsome fellow with a full head of hair which he wore cut at the collar in the modern fashion. When he was recovered enough to come up above deck to take the air, a topmast fellow named Araiza, on seeing him all shaved, laughed so hard he fell down. Araiza later told me he knew he was in the wrong, but it just struck him as so comic that he couldn’t help hisself.

It was not long after that Araiza come down with a fever and a flux. He had some taint of a Spaniard or Portuguese in his ancestry, but it had gifted him with a full head of thick black hair that he wore in a beautiful que that reached to his belt. The doctor had the mate to shave it off and apply cooling rags. The mate, an old Frenchman whose hair had mostly jumped ship on him, looked like he was going to weep the whole while he was at the task. Araiza said it was of no concern to him because it grew fast on him and he would have it back soon enough.

Arazia recovered shortly, but throughout the rest of the commission anytime he grew a bit of hair the doctor would have his mate to shave Araiza’s head on some pretext of ill health. I reckon that that Spanish blood made him too proud to seek the doctor’s forgiveness.

Three days before we finally made port at the end of the commission Arazia broke two fingers on his left hand. After he had set them the doctor had his mate to shave Araiza s head, just as a precaution against an infection fever he said.

-James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

Friday, December 2

J. Wilson, Able Seaman

Joshua Wilson was a great bear of a tar who had a particular distinction. Your usual tar, when he is ashore and in money, never gives it thought beyond his next breath. Wilson always set aside the biggest end of it to have sent back to his wife, then he would  go out and kick up Bob's a dyin' with the rest.  I never knew him to go with a bum boat girl either. If the officer's had a young Mid to run an errand ashore they often sent Wilson along to keep him out of trouble. He was what they called a "responsible man".

- James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

Thursday, December 1

Mr. N. Armitage

About half way through the North American commission our original purser left the ship. I never knew the reason. He was replaced by Mr. Armitage. Armitage right off made a show of using fair measures. "No more 14 ounce pounds" he says to me.  But here is how he got beyond it. 

He had a great fondness for gaming, and he was very good at it. Too good to be honest says many a tar that lost to him, but that did not keep them from coming back. I am sure the officers would not have approved, so he was sly about when he done it, and as you know mum is the word below decks. Many the time I seen a tar loose to him at a game the slops he had just bought. Some of them bought the same set of slops three or four times. So that is how he got beyond using fair measures. Pursers is all cut from the same cloth.

- James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

Wednesday, November 30


Aboard sometimes it was not uncommon to hear three or more different languages spoke as you went past the messes at dinner. There was a German we all called "Fritz". I never learned if that was his Christian name or not. He bore a striking resemblance to the Captain and was about his same age.  There was a couple of Mids that fancied themselves poets and such. They would write and perform plays for the officers. If the officers approved, I suppose, they would then perform them for the crew. Any time they had a king or such they always got Fritz for that part- on account of his resemblance to the Captain- but if the Captain ever took offense it never showed and sometimes they did two in a month's time. One time Fritz would be Neptune and the next time Caesar. It was always good fun to hear him say his couple of lines with that accent.

Aside from that though Fritz had a spooky knack for knowing what the Captain was thinking it seemed. If ever we was wondering what was going to happen next we would go to Fritz and say "Well now Fritz what's the Old Man going to do about thus and such?" and he would say "Yah, vell I sink he vill...  " and what ever he said was always dead on. If he was ever wrong about the Captain I never knew of it.

- James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

Tuesday, November 29


Heart of Oak: A Sailor’s Life in Nelsons Navy
A brief recommendation by M. Araiza

Have you ever wondered, what does an Eighteenth century candle lantern or a leather fire bucket look like?  Then you need to pick up this book.

Heart of Oak was written in 2002 by James P. McGuane. A well-known photographer and filmmaker, as well as a blacksmith and sculptor.

Heart of Oak is about the tools and items used on a daily basis by the men and women of Nelson’s Navy. It displays extraordinary photographs of tar-ladles and snuff boxes to sailmakers fids and carronades. The items pictured are items that have been recovered from shipwrecks or are on display in some of the greatest naval museums. Photographed inside are also some of the most famous ships, HMS Victory and HMS Invincible. 

There are chapters on navigation, deck rigging, sails, guns, gunpowder, officers, men leisure and recreation to name a few.  

Photos of the ropewalk at the Royal Naval dockyard and a Mast Pond at Chatham Historic Dockyard are pictured to complement these items.

Beside every photo is a description, its current location and the size of the item.  Every description explains the use of the item and it location on a ship. 

Monday, November 28

To Our Ships At Sea

Ward Room aboard USS Constitution
Mr. Vassermann, who had previously washed my breeches in salt water ensuring that they were uncomfortable and barely fit to wear, has washed them out again in a barrel of rainwater that he has accumulated over the past few days. My poor small clothes should be fit to wear again once they are dried. My breeches were stiff and itchy, and caused the most unpleasant chaffing.

Dinner this evening in the Ward Room, followed by the traditional Monday toast, "To our Ships at sea!". 

It gave me pause, and I considered some of the ships of His Majesty's Navy that we have encountered thus far. 

HMS Ramillies under command of Sir Thomas Hardy 

HMS Poictiers under Capt. Beresford, in whose company we have made several significant captures.

HMS Dotterel, HMS Martin, HMS Nymphe whom we encountered at Bermuda recently.

HMS Maidstone, ├ćolus, Childers and Colibrie with whom we have shared captures.

Friday, November 25

Fiddler’s Green in New Boston Town

There was a time on North American Station that we was on some very queer business. We would anchor at New Boston Towne in the Unighted States, sometimes for several days at a time, and the Captain or the Doctor would go ashore, sometimes both. Then we might sail up coast or down coast for a day or two, anchor at some small port while one or both went ashore. Then back to New Boston Towne we’d go for another several days. A couple of times the Doctor sent his pet Frenchman ashore alone. They was all mum about whatever business it was, but the Captain looked rather grim at the time. All in all it was about a month this took.

While we was in New Boston Towne they give us shore leave by watches. Now this may seem strange, and I suppose it was. Most often you will not get shore leave in a foreign port where they speak English for fear of fellows taking French leave. But as I have said before the Acasta was a happy ship, and the Captain firm but fair, and that is what he done. The Lieutenants was all rather grim about it at first, threating to end leave for everyone if the first fellow even turned up late, but we all knew we had a good thing going and kept a watchful eye on each other so as not to spoil it. Before it was done even Jake Booke got leave to go ashore- and he had been flogged for running before and getting caught.

Now in New Boston Towne was a tavern- not a real house style building but one of those which is all canvas and planks, but a tavern none the less and your common tar only cares for being out of the weather when he has a pint- that was called “Lord Nelson’s Arms”.  This was before Trafalgar, but after Nelson had lost his arm at Santa Cruse. That name probably earned them some hard feeling among the Jonathans because there was still plenty of bad blood from the war. They seemed right glad to have some true blue Tars come in. The place had a back room with bunks to rent and a cockpit behind it.

The gal that ran the placed called herself “Sally Brown” just like in the song. We all figured she was run from something and had changed her name- and we all thought she could have done a better job of picking a false one. Right quick Nate Johnson got a leg over on her. It looked like they had known each other from before, because anytime somebody called her ”Missus Brown” Nate would smile this sly smile to hisself. I heard  after the war they was spliced and still run a tavern in America to this day.

Right quick Sam Hollybrass got a leg over on her cousin that also worked there and from then on all of us Acastas was treated like we was family. Nobody went anywhere else when they got leave.

As I said they had a cockpit back of the place, and we had a line of some good old English birds aboard the Acasta. There was a Jonathan woman named Bickenhouser- in America there is no telling what you will find a woman doing- that had a line of birds that was local champions. They was called Delaware Blues, although most of them I seen were white with blue and red spots.

Well, we started fighting these birds, and you would have thought that would have made already bad blood between us and the Jonathans get worse. It done just the opposite. Both lines of birds was so game that there was never any telling which one would win when they was pitted.  One time they would win and the next match we would. Winchester, he knew birds, said he had never seen two lines so equally matched.

If the Jonathans had won, some Acasta would exclaim, "Say cousin you are so flush now how about buying a poor tar a pint?” and some Jonathan would buy a round for all. If we had won some Jonathan would say "Here now John Bull, why be so tight with your winnings when we are all so dry?” and we would do the same. It was jolly times.

Once as I was putting on my shore going rig Apple the carpenter passed by.  I was singing to myself and in high spirits.  “So Cullen” he says “you're off to Fiddlers Green are ya?”. And I reckon that was true. It was as close to Fiddler’s Green as any poor tar will ever come while on commission.

-James Cullen. Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

*** Fiddler’s Green was a mythical afterlife among sailors where the liquor and music flowed free, the girls were always pretty and everyone was always happy.