Monday, January 6

The New Surgeon's Mate

This letter has been translated from it’s original French.

Dr. Ducett Loremir

Dear Brother,

   In writing to you I often feel I must begin afresh from the start, never knowing which letters you may have received.

This time I shall begin by saying I am now in a happier situation than I have found myself in these last several years. I hope that you have received my past letters and know that I have been transferred from the prison hulk to the frigate Acosta, a fifth rate of forty guns, Sir James Rehme, Captain. We are on the North American Station, which is where you should write to me.

I have written to you past of my assistant surgeon Mr. Girard, a creole of about my own age. While a capable assistant surgeon, he had manifested a dislike for me on the basis of his loyalty to the Acosta’s former surgeon, a Dr. Roberts.  Dr. Roberts apparently had an interest equal to my own in the Natural Sciences and left behind a goodly collection of specimens upon his departure. Mr. Girard had taken upon himself a curatorial guardianship of these specimens. On first discovering these specimens I examined them myself with great interest, an event Girard viewed with obvious distaste. The second time I went to do so I found they had been moved and upon enquiring, found that they had been  “stowed more securely” until Dr Robert’s return, an event which he looked upon with the same reverence and hope which a good Anglican places upon Christ’s second coming. There was even a particular chair, the former good Dr.’s, upon which I was not allowed to set on the charge of its being unsound until the carpenter could make it so. How the man was named assistant surgeon I know not, as he obviously has no formal schooling for such an endeavor, although he can read both French and English well enough. I should have thought that with our shared heritage and interest in the Natural Sciences and we should have worked well together, but such was not the case. His deportment toward me was always overly formal and strained.

The other assistant surgeon was Mr. Reed, English of course, who did have a formal medical education, but who was without imagination or enthusiasm for his assignment. He was capable enough but went about his duties with the same curiosity and investigative spirit a sailor shows for holystoning the deck.

Mr. Andrew Richardson
Most recently Reed was invalided ashore, and I was sent a temporary replacement, Mr. Richardson, and this young man has made all the difference! He is apparently from a good family settled upon one of the English islands in the West Indies or Caribbean and has had a formal medical training. Additionally, he shows a great aptitude as an apothecary, making tinctures, teas, salves and such from herbs and minerals. Being from the Americans he is familiar with the identification of most local plants and knowledgeable about their restorative and healing properties.  Should this horrid war finally come to a close I should expect to see him move beyond the status of a mere surgeon and become a physician of renown.

The Mole Cricket
Shortly after he came aboard I found him with Girard in study of some specimen with their hand lenses. So intent were they that were completely unaware of my approach. The specimen was a most curious insect which Richardson called a Mole Cricket. The name was apt, for its front feet were almost identical in form to that most singular mammal! I shall send you a sketch in the future. I assumed this was one of Dr. Roberts specimens but was gratified to learn that it belonged to Richardson! He has brought with him a specimen collection of his own! Girard’s curiosity was aroused to such a degree that he forgot himself and retrieved some of Dr. Roberts sacred specimens for comparison! Our discussion was so interesting and involved I retrieved some of my own specimens for this impromptu lecture. As I was expanding on the mystery of a turtle’s breathing- for they have lungs and not gills, yet their rib cage composes the shell, which is immobile. How do they draw breath? In any case at this juncture we noticed one of Girard’s young sons who had been standing there I know not how long, he has two which are ship’s boys on the Acosta, who piped in with “Lieutenant McClain’s complements and he wishes Dr. Loremir to know that the sick have been waiting at the mast for some time now”. We had all been so engrossed that we had completely lost the time!

It seems that in addition to an exceptional assistant surgeon and apothecary, Mr. Richardson is an avid student of the Natural Sciences with a particular interest in creatures of the marine realm. Since this happy juncture any time he or Girard go ashore with a wood or watering detail they return with some specimen and usually with some useful herbs. It seems Girard also has some knowledge of simples and their preparations. When the two are allowed ashore together the rewards are even greater. Such discoveries and investigations we shall make!  The restraining cord has even been removed from Dr Roberts throne and I have been allowed the honor of being so seated!

While I wish Reed no ill will, especially not a long illness, I shall endeavor to keep Mr. Richardson with this command with every means in my power!

So Dear Brother wish me the joy of my new situation. I send all my love to you and your family. Write to me at every chance.

Your loving brother,

Wednesday, January 1

Our Solemn Duty

With recent footage of the discovery of HMS Terror, I’m struck once again by the awesome responsibility we have as historical interpreters, and as Acastas. We represent men who left their lives behind to go to war for their King and Country, many of whom never returned home. It is my belief that our group should stand as a monument to those men.

I was first struck by this idea at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans when we recreated a British Hospital. Our tent was a memorial to the men who were injured and killed during the battle like nowhere else at that particular event. I remember at the time being struck by what an awesome responsibility that was.

As a group, we show and teach in many different ways, be it our words, actions and even our clothing. As one of the largest Royal Naval reenactment units in North America, the eyes of the public are upon us… in person at events, on the web via our social media, and people trust that we are showing and teaching them correct history.

I’ve said it before, I'm a firm believer in research… and in theory ALL historical interpreters/re-enactors should be. It's the MOST important tool we have in our arsenal for showing the public what life was like in the past. Because, at the end of the day we're supposed to be displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it… right? It is OUR job as historical interpreters/re-enactors to be as historically accurate as we can for the public.

Some years ago, I ran the Regency Society of Tennessee (RSATN), a group dedicated to remembering and preserving the history, culture and costume of the 1790-1820 time period. Through public and private costumed events, tours of historic sites, workshops and individual research, we endeavored to keep this fascinating time alive for ourselves and the public.

The RSATN didn’t have a strict dress code, we only asked one thing of those that wished to participate,

“Always be working”.

"How" you ask? Whether that meant working on your first person impression, working on improving your clothing, working on your knowledge of the period or working to bring ideas to the table for group events... we wanted to encourage our members to always be working on improving things for themselves and the group.

I understand that reenacting can be a costly pursuit, fabric, patterns, books and gear don’t come cheap. Almost no one is perfect when they attend their first event. The mandate to ‘Always be working” took this into account, allowing members to build up their impression over time.

But generally what ended up happening is they’d get fired up and make a change or two, then stop like the job was done. They’d ‘plateau’ in their impression if not urged to push forward.

‘Plateauing’ is something I’ve noticed with a lot of reenactors, they reach a certain point in their interpretation and they just stop like this is the 100 meter dash. They want to research really fast to get to the ‘end’ so they can be ‘done’.

I’ve got news for you kids, you’re never going to be ‘done’ researching and improving. There’s always more to learn, more to discover. New things are being found all the time, sometimes they serve to confirm what you’re doing and sometimes they will challenge or even prove what you’re doing is wrong… but history isn’t a 100 yard dash for the finish line so that you can go rest and never research again.

As an historical interpreters/re-enactor your job is correctly displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it. If you’re not doing that, then you’re a costumer and you should confine your activities to cosplaying at comic and fantasy conventions and stay away from historically minded events, otherwise you end up confusing people who attend historical reenactments to get an educational and accurate glimpse of history.

No one is going to be 100% historically accurate, but if you KNOW better, let me beseech you to DO BETTER!

We owe it to the people that we represent to be as knowledgeable, accurate and correct as possible in all aspects of our interpretation. And in so doing, the skills, deeds and the people themselves live again in the minds of the public… and in ourselves.

Monday, December 30

Videos for AFTER Christmas

A full length program about the Royal Navy to get you away from cleaning house after opening presents, in-laws who have stayed a little too long after Christmas or cleaning dishes after your holiday dinner party! ENJOY, and all the best of the season to you my friends.

Video - Any post with a video or a link to a video in it can be found here. Fair warning, clicking on this link will send you down a rabbit hole. Music videos, presentation videos, event footage, battle footage, some of these videos are even full length programs from television.

Monday, December 23

A Christmas Pudding Saved!

Today's special Christmas post written by our own Tony Gerard:

Well, Mary I suspect that as I write this your Marm is asleep in the chair my the fire and the small ones are still savoring their hard candies. I recon you killed that grey goose? I wish with all my heart I could be there will you all.

As it was, for being without family, I just partook of one of the finest Christmas dinners of my life. It was unexpected, that’s for certain, and how it come about is something of a story. The whole story come from the wardroom's servants who heard it young Mister Hamilton hisself as he told it to the other mids. 

Heres the lay of it. The last two years, of a Christmas, the Captain had his man Schwendau- he was once cook for the king of Prussia or some such- to make up a jolly big pudding, enough for the whole crew, with figs and raisins, and a double ration of rum. And Schwendau would supervise our old one legged cook Bowford – that fellow could boil a silk purse till it turned into a sows ear-with spices and such so that it was something more than just the usual peas and salt beef.

Well now we are without a Captain, and our First Leftentant is too skint to even think of feasting the whole crew, a raisin and figgy pudding was right out. To make matters even worse as we come into winter quarters in Bermuda we find that most of the salt beef is gone over. You could smell it all the way up to the quarterdeck when they broached the barrel- and everyone after almost the same. 

Our purser, Armitage- as soon as we get anchored- goes so the the viticular ashore-and they get into a row with the viticular saying that the beef is still good and Armitage saying that it was a sham when it was casked because it is good a quarter of the way down and rotten below. And we got no Captain to intercede on our behalf. So the first Leftentant puts us on half rations for meat cause he don’t know how long before the meat rations is setteled. So we are looking at a Christmas dinner of peas and a half ration of beef and everyone is right glum about it.

So this is where things get strange and the story comes from Mister Hamiltom and the gig’s crew. 

Armitage gets permission for the Sailing Master MacLachlin and young Hamilton to accompany him ashore. As they are going in Armitage take out a bag and- its full of Yankee silver dollars! He gives a handful to both McLaughlin and Hamilton and tells them “Count them Gentlemen, I would like them returned when we are back again”, but most he keeps hisself. 

Once ashore they go to the tavern most frequented by worthies such as themselves. Armitage tells Hamilton to have a walk around for a bit, then to come in and ask to join their game. So Hamilton takes hisself for a goodly walk and comes back to the tavern. He says the place is packed – it was to be expected cause the harbor was full- and he says Armitage and MacLachlin is playing at cards with a Marine officer and another gentleman. He watches for a bit and then asks to join in, even introduces hisself for good measure. So he’s using the Yankee dollars Armitage gave him from before, and he says at first he has never done so well- but Armitage is doing rather poorly. MacLacklin is also doing rather well, but also at Armitage’s expense. There is so much cash money involved that soon there is a crowd watching and more fellows join in the game. After a bit Hamilton’s luck changes and he loses is whole pot to Armitage, MacLachlin loses most of his pot, then says “Too rich for my blood” and leaves the game, but stays to watch.  

So gentlemen come and go, but Armitage’s luck stays good. He keeps winning- always putting some back in his purse, and by late Hamilton says that Armitage has won a small fortune. When he finally gets up to leave the Marine officer – who has played all night and lost heavily- says “I must protest at you leaving Sir! You must stay and give us a chance to recover some of our loses!” 

And Armitage says “My apologies Sir, but I have duties to attend” and which the Marine- who is in his cups also- says “Damn your eyes! I do not know how you have accomplished it – but you are a scoundrel and a cheat and I will have satisfaction!”

To which Armitage asks “Do you mean to challenge me upon the field of honor, Sir?”

“I do." says the Marine, “You may choose the time, grounds and weapons!”

“Then I shall choose here, now and cards,” says Armitage, cool as a winter faire on ice, “one cut of the deck high card wins. If I win my honor shall be satisfied, if you win you may choose place, time and weapons”.

The Marine looks buffeled, but says “very well”. 

Armitage pushes the deck towards him and says “you may do the honors”. 

So the Marine shuffles the deck and sets it in the center of the table. Armitage nods for him to go ahead. The Marine gives him a glare, and cuts the deck. He smiles wickedly and shows his cut to all those looking- the KING of Diamonds!

Armitages nods again, taps the table twice and makes his cut. Ace of Hearts! “My honor is satisfied Sir” he says as he gets up “I bid you all a good evening”.

So on the way back MacLachlin gives back what Yankee dollars he has left. Hamilton says he knows both him and MacLaughlin is wondering, and he can no longer contain hisself and starts to ask “Sir, I must know..” but then realizes he don’t know how to ask it nice.

“Oh, it’s no deception” says Armitage “one must just pay close attention to which cards have been played and which have not.”

“But the cut?” Says MacLaclin.

“That” says Armitage “was luck”.

So two days later aboard comes two bullocks, shore bread and fresh butter, raisins and figs for pudding and oysters and lobsters for a stew! No one can figure out what has happened, then the story comes out by way of the Mid's servants.

Well Schwindeau and old Bowford done justice by what they had to work with and made a feast to be remembered. As we is all at our messes Hollybrass sends the boy Thomas to ask for Armitage. Well, when Armitage comes down everyone hushes- you could have heard a pin drop on cotton- and then Hollybrass says “To Mister Armitage- the Founder of our Feast” and we all give him three good cheers!

He smiles right kindly and says “Well Gentlemen, just don’t expect me to forgive your debts come the New Year.”

After we is back to eating Rammage says to me "Well, Bobby ye missed Trafalgar, but you was there for something that has never happened before and never will again.”

“What’s that?” I asks.

“A Purser saved Christmas and was cheered by his crew!” he says- and hes right I am sure- them things just don’t really happen.

-A portion of a letter from Robert Watson,
aboard HMS Acasta, to his wife, Christmas 1810