Friday, July 20

A Letter to the Captain

To: Captain Rehme
HMS Acasta
At Sea

Commodore Thomas Hurlbut
American Station,
Nova Scotia

June 15, 1813

My Dear Sir James, 

I have recently heard of your detached boat’s crew taking the American cutter, now known as HM Cutter Little Belt, named for the sloop-of-war HMS Little Belt (20 guns), in which that fellow Bingham made such an heroic stand against USS President (rated 44) in the year ’11. Well done, Sir! The vessels on the Lakes, late of the Provincial Marine and now under the control of the Royal Navy, need every hull they can acquire to ensure command of those inland seas. I expect that you’ll want those fine fellows back but skilled Seamen are desperately needed there and I hope you’ll consider letting us use them for the time being. I’ve no doubt that you’ll have good luck in replacing them with fresh drafts from England, certainly more easily and more readily than we can here in British North America.

Next month, I will be heading to Upper Canada with a detachment of Sailors to participate in operations against United States fortifications and would appreciate the use of your boat’s Crew of skilled and experienced Hands. 

I wish you the best of good fortune, Sir.

Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,

Thomas Hurlbut,
Admiralty House,

Thursday, July 19

Make way for the Mail!

The MAIL PACKET was deliver'd to the ACASTA on Sunday while they were ashore at the 2018 Jane Austen Festival! Herein find an up close look at some of the many excellent letters we rec'd this present year for inclussion in the packet. Click any image to enlarge...

As you can see, it was another year of beautiful submissions from our friends and readers! We'd like to thank all of those who contributed to the 2018 packet. We are so pleased and honored by the interest you all showed and by the submitted pieces themselves. Without you, the mail packet project would be woefully empty. 

Wednesday, July 18

Our New Captain!

(Or… Why I decided to spend a small fortune on a new uniform)

The captain's new duds in progress...
Allow me to introduce the new captain of the Acasta, Sir James Robert Rehme! An amalgamation of various famous Royal Navy captains, as well as real captains of the Acasta during the course of her career.

Like my stint as ‘the Doctor’, my stint as ‘the Captain’ will be more focused on what I’m doing rather than who I am supposed to be. But since we called the Doctor ‘Albert Roberts’ (my REAL name), I had to pick something new for the captain… so I did.

There will be, no doubt, some questions as to why I have decided become our New Captain, ‘Sir James’.

Since the beginning, as the co-founder of the unit, I have been in the thick of all the decision-making for the group. In the first years I did the bulk of the recruiting, I created the website and the Facebook page on behalf of the group, and did TONS of other stuff as well.

On top of that, my responsibilities only grew as our original Captain gradually declined involvement in leadership and attended fewer and fewer events with us.

It became increasingly difficult for me to be the leader at events while wearing the surgeon’s uniform. It just doesn’t make sense for the surgeon to be issuing orders to sailors and it always left me feeling weird and we end up with a bunch of pictures of the Doctor presiding over the days activities. Additionally, over the years there have been activities that required a Captain… but it’s hard to make plans that involve him when he may or may not show up, or calls out at the last minute.

My secondary impression of Mr. Hollybrass solved SOME of those problems. As Boatswain, it allowed me to take up more of a natural leadership role at events, but poor Hollybrass can’t give orders to officers!

We needed a captain who could be present and available, and there just weren’t any viable candidates as far as I could tell. Actually there was ONE, but he lives out on the West coast and already has his own Naval unit...

Obviously, Sir James isn’t going to appear at EVERY event we do, it just wouldn’t be appropriate. And truth be told, there are many events we attend where officers aren’t needed as badly as sailors.

I want you to know that I did not take up the mantle of Captain lightly. I was very hesitant about the idea originally and required a good deal of convincing. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. At the end of the day, I’m already the ‘Admiralty’ and do all the real-life leadership stuff, I might as well have the uniform and character to match. I essentially do all the work of the Captain without ANY of the benefits. What the hell kind of fun is that I ask?

So once I was sold on the idea, I had to keep it a secret… for a YEAR. Keeping it from some of my closest friends for 365 days has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done! 

Sir James has been the product of over a year’s worth of thought, planning, research and construction
by many people. I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me to take this big, uncomfortable step, Christina, Nat, Frank, Carol and Chris. They all believed in Sir James, even before I did. 

But mostly I would like to thank my poor wife, Maggie, who not only took up the Herculean task of making the great gold monster, but has been my cheerleader all along the way, and listened as I would rant about the pros and cons of taking up this new role. God save you good wife, you bore it as no other would have! I love you very much!

Tuesday, July 17

Purvis Lodge part VII

Part VII

The bulk of the work was nearly complete at Purvis Lodge. Sir James, the new owner, had sent half of the sailors back to the ship having completed the necessary tasks and improvements in even less time than he had thought, and he was sure to send them back to the ship with their pockets full of extra shillings for doing so. Less than a dozen men and boys from the Acasta were still on the property, they were in charge of the daily tasks and the care and running of the house. Mr. Higgins had even been moved into the kitchen proper.

One  afternoon, a party of the boys had been sent out to gather great baskets of kindling from the wilderness at the back of the property. They returned instead with a skinny milk cow lead with a length of rope.

Sir James met them at the back of the house, by the walled garden. He was in his banyon and had been pulling up weeds and dead growth for the last hour.

“What is the meaning of this?” Sir James called out from the little stone porch. 

“Sir. sir!” Mr. Thomas, the youngest of the boys cried excitedly and out of breath, “We found her in the woods back behind the pasture.”

Volunteer First Class Mr. Linden, who was the oldest boy of the lot at twelve, knuckled his forehead and continued, “We think she was one of the milk cows owned by the previous fellow, and she must’ve been left here. We found a few chickens too when we first arrived. The pasture wall has a great hole in it where a tree fell and we think she got out there and has been wandering the back side of the estate ever since.”

“Heavens, look at the poor beast!” exclaimed Sir James. 

In fact, Linden was correct, the poor, skinny milk cow had indeed been left in the pasture after the death of the last owner of Purvis Lodge. She was thin, scarred and filthy from her adventures in the wild.

“I’ve never owned a cow of my own before.” Sir James mused, “I find I scarcely know what to do with her.”

“She looks awful hungry sir.” Linden added, looking back at her with genuine affection.

“Indeed she does, I suppose she’s been forced to forage all this time. Let’s see to her feeding and watering.” the Captain ordered.

Linden spoke up again, “Me and the boys could make repairs in the pasture wall and she’d have a place to stay again sir.”

“Ah, a capital idea.” Sir James replied, “How long would the repairs take Mr. Linden?”

Linden looked at his group of boys, there were four of them, “I should say about two hours to clear the fallen tree and restack the stone sir.”

“Very good Mr. Linden then let’s be about it, it’s your party.” Sir James smiled.

“Aye sir, thank you sir.” he saluted and they all ran off down back toward the pasture, leaving the captain’s new cow tied to the gate of the garden wall.

Monday, July 16

Purvis Lodge part VI

Part VI

At midday a week later, Mr. Martin heard the familiar creak of the door of the ‘Plow’ as it admitted, what was hopefully, a customer. Business had been slow since the sailors from Purvis Lodge had stopped ordering beer by the barrel and visiting the tavern in the evenings. He was upstairs tending some cleaning and could not immediately attend the newcomer.

“I’ll be right down.” Martin called out.

“In your own time sir!” came the reply from downstairs, it was a large, booming man’s voice.

A moment later, Martin shuffled down the stairs, broom and rag in hand, to find the owner of the voice. He was seated at a table by the door and rose when Martin approached.

“You must be Mr. Martin?” exclaimed the newcomer thrusting out his hand for a shake.

Mr. Martin shook his hand and answered to the affirmative, looking the new gentleman up and down. He was clad in a naval captain’s uniform and epaulettes, and in Martin’s mind there could be no doubt as to the identity of the man.

“Are you the new master of Purvis Lodge sir?” he asked.

“I am sir! I am Captain Sir James Robert Rehme, only just moved in yesterday.”

“A pleasure to finally meet you sir” Martin gave a little bow and invited the captain to have a seat again.

“I understand you have been supplying my men up at the lodge with beer. Is that the case?” Sir James asked.

“Aye sir, I have.”

“Ah! God save you sir!” Sir James replied, “They have been about some thirsty work, and on board ship they are supplied with a quantity of beer daily. I was affeared they might mutiny if they didn’t find someone nearby to supply them. And you were paid adequately for the quantities they purchased?”

“Oh yes sir.”

“I have walked all the way here from the house in an attempt to familiarize myself with the lay of the land, as it were. I wonder if I might trouble you for some of that beer I’ve heard so much about?”

“I offer three kinds sir.” Martin already had an empty pitcher in hand, “Small beer, table beer and strong beer.”

“A pitcher of the strong if you please sir.”

Martin filled the pitcher and took it, along with a clean glass over to the captain’s table. Sir James drank it in great gulps, a man who was obviously very thirsty from his hike from the Lodge.

“And you brew this here?” Sir James asked, pausing from his glass.

“I do sir, I brew all my own beer.”

“I wonder,” began Sir James, pausing to have another sip, “I wonder if I might prevail upon you to submit a standing order of a barrel of this beer every other week to be delivered to the lodge?”

Friday, July 13

Purvis Lodge part V

Part V

A week later, Mr. Martin had the blacksmith and his two strapping apprentices, whose shop was located conveniently across the road from the Plow, help him to heave the fresh barrels of beer into his cart for his delivery out to Purvis Lodge. They were nearly done with their task when a big black carriage drawn by a handsome matching set of chestnuts passed them on the main road that ran through the middle of the village. It wasn’t one of the carriages anyone knew from nearby Haye-Park, it was of a newer manufacture that no one recognised. 

Martin and the blacksmiths craned their necks in an attempt to get a look at the occupants of the carriage, and everyone on the street outside the shops did the same, all eager to get a first glimpse of who must surely be the new tenant of Purvis Lodge. It was to no avail, the shades were drawn low enough to obscure any passengers who may have dwelt within.

Their disappointment was lessened when, shortly thereafter, two large wagons loaded with crates and furniture passed through. Each wagon’s cargo was piled as high as safety would allow, lashed down with ropes tied in the most seaman-like fashion, and riding escort along the sides of each, clutching the ropes as they went, were sailors, their braids trailing out behind them.

Scarcely had the dust settled before the speculation began afresh all over the village as to the identity of the new master of Purvis Lodge.

When, sometime later, Mr. Martin finally turned the now familiar corner up the drive, the front of the lodge was bristling with activity. The number of sailors about the place seemed to have doubled with the arrival of the furniture, and the wagons that towed it in were nearly empty now, their contents having been offloaded and positioned in the yard like a vast staging ground. All hands were busy about their appointed tasks, several opening the crates and boxes, some were watering and feeding the horses, over there was Nithercott, who looked to be paying the wagon-masters, several of the boys were coiling ropes into neat piles and stowing them in camp.

A party of sailors was wrestling with what looked to be a vast, dark wardrobe as Martin stopped his cart as close to Mr. Higgins’ kitchen as he could. His way was checked by the carriage, which was drawn right up beside the cookfire.

Martin made his way around it in an attempt to find Higgins, and sure enough, he was there by the fire, in as clean an apron as ever he could muster. He had a little silver tray with a cup of coffee and two hard boiled eggs, and was offering it to a young man in a crisp naval lieutenant’s uniform. The young lieutenant took the coffee and looked across it with disdain at the approaching Martin. Mr. Higgins muttered to the young gentleman from behind, and in way of reply, the lieutenant exclaimed, “Ah! The pub man.” and with a dismissive sweep of his hand he continued, “You may place the beer over there.”

“Begging your pardon sir,” Martin interjected, “I wonder if I might be allowed to borrow a few of your men to unload the barrels?”

The young lieutenant looked pained, “I am certain you would never intentionally give offence, but I am the son of the third Duke of Grafton. Lord William Fitzroy, only recently assigned to His Majesty’s Frigate Acasta.”

“Begging your pardon again my lord.” Martin gave a little nod of the head and immediately stopped making direct eye contact.

Lord Fitzroy turned to see what the sailors were about in an attempt to ascertain which ones were the least busy, then called out in a voice that was quite accustomed to making itself heard, “Philips, Miller, Thomas, Nithercott! Lay along to the horse cart there and fetch down those barrels! Lively now!”

The four men met Martin at the back of the cart and after they had gotten the first of the barrels down, Martin found himself beside Nithercott. 

“Is his Lordship the new master of Purvis Lodge?” he quietly inquired of the sailor as they heaved down the second barrel.

“Oh no sir,” Nithercott replied, but stopped when he looked over the barrel toward the young lieutenant and found him glowering at them as they worked. Nithercott no longer felt at his ease to answer any questions and they continued to work silently until the task was completed.

Thursday, July 12

Purvis Lodge part IV

Part IV

When Mr. Martin arrived two days later, it was early morning, and the sailors were all down by the road singing and swinging scythes to cut the overgrown lawn. He stopped the horse cart in the shade of a copse of trees along the road and watched them, it being an exceptionally efficient operation. Ten men were spread out in a line, and would swing their scythes in unison near the end of each verse, 

Safe and sound and HOME again
Let the waters ROLL jack

Two men were by the old gate grinding the age and corrosion off several extra blades, and the youngest sailors, only boys really, were gathering the fresh cut grass in their arms in great bunches and carrying it up toward the house. 

One of the boys was gathering grass near him and Martin called out to him over the low stone wall, “Wherever did they find so many scythes?”

The toe-headed boy turned and squinted, the sun being full in his face, “On account they was in the ol’ barn sir.” he said.

Martin urged his horse onward and up the path to Purvis Lodge, stopping near Mr. Higgins’ outdoor kitchen once again with his cart full of beer. The sailors had all the empty barrels gathered there for him to take back to the Plow.

“Good morning Mr. Higgins.” Martin offered as he got down out of the cart, and for the life of him he thought he heard Higgins offer something to the effect of a reply he could nearly understand. 

Higgins brought Martin a cup of coffee and made, what Martin could only interpret as a friendly face. The old sailor spoke, and Martin only understood the final slurred word, which seemed to be “SIR”. Higgins’ statement had the intonation of a question about it, and the old fellow looked at him, eyebrows raised, expectant for an answer, but Martin found himself quite at a loss.

After a brief pause, each man looked about to see if they could find Nithercott, but he was nowhere to be seen. One of the boys arrived with a parcel of long grass from the front lawn under his arm and deposited it on an ever growing pile near the outdoor kitchen. Higgins motioned for the boy to come over and held on to the lad’s shirt collar as he spoke to him.

When the old fellow was done, the boy turned to Martin, knuckled his brow in way of a naval salute, and translated.

“Mr. Higgins’ compliments sir, and he thanks you for the beer…” Higgins corrected the youth by way of a nudge, “...for the fine beer sir, he also wishes to know if you would be agreeable to the men coming into the village a few at a time to take some of their meals at your establishment?”

“Oh!” replied Martin, “Oh yes certainly, I should be quite agreeable to that.”

“Oh thank you sir!” The lad cried spontaneously, “We shall be much obliged to you sir. We’ll be on our best manners and won’t break up the furniture or nothin’.”

Higgins shoved the lad back toward his duty, and the boy was halfway down the lawn when he called exuberantly back over his shoulder with a wave, “Thank you so very much sir!”

Over the course of the next few days, the sailors would wander into Stoke for the evening and have a meal at the Plow. It was never the entire group, usually around four or five of them, and never the same group twice, almost like small shore leave parties being allowed away from a ship. They were always well behaved, almost as if they were on duty. Martin noted that the only unpleasant one was old Higgins, but then surmised that perhaps he only seemed so due to his rough way of speech and the fact that no one outside of his group could understand him.