Friday, September 30

The "Blue Pill"

by Tony Gerard

The actual origin of the "Blue Pill" is obscure, but it was within the Royal Navy that it first rose to massive popularity. Also known as the "Blue Mass" when in non-pill form, it was used to treat any and everything. Consumption (tuberculosis), toothache, parasitic infection, syphilis, the pains of childbirth and depression all required the use of the blue pill. It was equally effective for each, which is to say not at all. For sailors of the Royal Navy, on a steady diet of salted meat and ships biscuit, constipation was often a problem.  Against constipation the blue pill was effective, but its prolonged use brought on a host of other complications due to its toxicity.  During the 19th century these toxic side effects were usually attributed to the original ailment.

Recipes varied between different doctors and pharmacists, but the major ingredient in all recipes was mercury, also known as quicksilver. Other ingredients might include licorice, dried rose petals, althaea,  glycerol, sugar and honey. The name probably derives from the use of blue dye or blue chalk used as a buffer in some recipes. 

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin. Common symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, anxiety, hostility, depression, insomnia, memory loss, nerve damage, tremors, tooth loss and problems with dexterity. One group of modern researchers recreated blue pills using 19th century ingredients and equipment. They found that for each pill ingested the patient would absorb  about 750 micrograms of mercury. The typical 19th century dosage was one pill two or three times daily.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently says that adults should consume no more than 21 micrograms of mercury in one day. The symptoms may go away over time if no more mercury is ingested.

Famous users of the blue pill include Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln. Many modern researchers believe that Lincoln's reported erratic behavior prior to taking office was due to blue mass he took for depression. He eventually stopped taking the concoction because he believed it made him  "irritable".


Tuesday, September 27

Advices on the Health of Sailors

Sailors may also be numbered among the laborious. They undergo great hardships from change of climate, the violence of weather, hard labour, bad provisions, Sec. Sailors are of so great importance both to the trade and safety of this kingdom, that too much pains can never be bestowed in pointing out the means of preserving their lives.

One great source of the diseases of sea-faring people is excess. When they get on shore,, after having been long at sea, without regard to the climate, or their own constitutions, they plunge headlong into all manner of riot, and often persist till a fever puts an end to their lives. Thus intemperance, and not the climate, is often the cause why so many of our brave sailors die on foreign coasts. Such people ought not to live too low; but they will find moderation the best defence against fevers, and many other maladies.

Sailors, when on duty, cannot avoid sometimes getting wet. When this happens, they should change their clothes as soon as they are relieved, and take every method to restore the perspiration. They should not, in this case, make too free with spirits or other strong liquors, but should rather drink them diluted with warm water, and go immediately to bed, where a sound sleep and a gentle sweat would set all to rights.

But the health of sailors suffers most from unwholesome food. The constant use of salted provisions vitiates their humours, and occasions the scurvy, and other obstinate maladies. It is no easy matter to prevent this disease in long voyages; yet we cannot help thinking, that much might be done towards effecting so desirable an end, were due pains bestowed for that purpose. For example, various roots, greens, and fruits, might be kept a long time at sea, as onions, potatoes, cabbages, lemons, oranges, tamarinds, apples, &c. When fruits cannot be kept, the juices of them, either fresh or fermented, may. "With these all the drink, and (even the food of the ship's company, ought to be acidulated in long voyages.

Stale bread and beer likewise contribute to vitiate the humours. Flour will keep for a long time on board, of which fresh bread might frequently be made. Malt too might be kept, and infused with boiling water at any time. This liquor, when drank even in form of wort, is very wholesome, and is found to be an antidote against the scurvy. Small wines and cyder might likewise be plentifully laid in j and should they turn sour, they would still be useful as vinegar. Vinegar is a great antidote against diseases, and should be used by all travellers, especially at sea. It may either be mixed with the water they drink, or taken in their food.

Such animals as can be kept alive, ought likewise to be carried on board, as hens, ducks, pigs, &c. Fresh broths made of portable soup, and puddings made of peas, or other vegetables, ought to be used plentifully. Many other things will readily occur to people conversant in these matters, which would tend to preserve the health of that brave and useful set of men *.

We have reason to believe, if due attention were paid to the diet, air, clothing, and above all things to the cleanliness of sea-faring people, they would be the most healthy set of men in the world; but when these are neglected, the very reverse will happen.

The best medical antidote that we can recommend to sailors or soldiers, on foreign coasts, especially where dampness prevails, is the Peruvian bark. This will often prevent fevers, and other fatal diseases. About a drachm of it may be chewed everyday; or if this should prove disagreeable, an ounce of bark, with half an ounce of orange peel, and two drachms of snake-root coarsely powdered, may be infused for two or three days in an English quart of brandy, and half a wine glass of it taken twice or thrice a-day, when the stomach is empty. This has been found to be an excellent antidote against fluxes, putrid, intermitting, and other fevers, in unhealthy climates. It is not material in what form this medicine is taken. It may either be infused in water, wine, or spirits, as recommended above, or made into an electuary with syrup of lemons, oranges, or the like.

* Our countryman, the celebrated Captain Cook, has shewn how far, by proper care and attention, the diseases formerly so fatal to seamen may be prevented. In a voyage of three years and eighteen days, during which he was exposed to every climate, from the 52° north to the 71° of south latitude, of one hundred and eighteen men composing the ship's company, he lost only one, who died of a phthisis pulmonalis. The principal means he used were, to preserve a strict attention to cleanliness, to procure abundance of vegetables and fresh provisions, especially good water, and to allow his people sufficient time for rest.

from: Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines: With an Appendix, Containing a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners, 1790 edition.  Page 45

Monday, September 26

Fetch the Signal Book!

Signal Flags - These posts involve images and information having to do with this means of communication during the War of 1812. Sometimes they even involve fun messages to be decoded!

Thursday, September 22

Evolution of the Acasta

Looking back over the years at the various members and events that have forged the Acasta into the unit it is today.

Sept. 2012 New Boston
Oct. 2012 Trafalgar Dinner
Feb. 2013

July 2013 Jane Austen Festival
Aug. 2013 New Boston
Sept. 2013
Oct. 2013 The Doctor's Wedding
Oct. 2013 Mississinewa

Jan. 2014 School of the Sailor

July 2014 Jane Austen Festival

Sept 2014 New Boston

2014 Fort Bowyer

Jan 2015 Battle of New Orleans

Sept 2015 New Boston

June 2016 Gunboat Weekend

July 2016 Jane Austen Festival

Sept 2016 New Boston

Monday, September 19

Talk like a WHAT?!

Any of you proper Jack Tars get caught talking like some common pirate will have the hide flogged off of you by the Bosun! I've never heard of such stuff and non-sense in all my days. We're a ship of His Majesty's Navy, not a bunch of foul-mouthed gutter filth! Now, back to work you lot!


Friday, September 16

Patrick O'Brian's ACASTA

It's no secret that we here at are huge fans of Patrick O'Brian and the Aubrey-Maturin series. When reading through the books, I discovered that the Acasta makes a couple of cameos. So, here are the 'O'Brian-verse' connections to our particular favourite ship!

VERY MILD SPOILER ALERT: You're about to read some very LIGHT, semi-spoilery info from The Fortune of War, Treason’s Harbour, and The Hundred Days.

From the WikiPOBia:

Acasta is one of a series of ships in the Aubrey-Maturin series whose commands are promised to Captain Jack Aubrey by the Admiralty, but are ultimately given to other, more influential officers. Another such ship, promised to Aubrey but never delivered, is the fictional frigate HMS Blackwater.

The Admiralty’s promise of Acasta is first made to Aubrey in The Fortune of War. She is described by Aubrey to his friend Maturin as a "forty-gun frigate, pretty well the heaviest in the service … And the finest sailer of the lot, on a bowline. Two points off the winds, she could give even dear Surprise foretopgallant, at least. A true, copper-bottomed plum, Stephen…."

Aubrey's fictional characterization of Acasta's speed likely overstates the historical ship's actual performance. The historical Acasta is described as "not outstandingly fast," but is acknowledged to have been "very weatherly" and more maneuverable than most other frigates her size. Likewise, Aubrey's description of Acasta as the "heaviest in the service" is not entirely accurate. Although she was among the largest fifth-rates of her time, she was not the heaviest of her contemporaries. For example, two other British 40-gun fifth-rates launched at the same time as Acasta (Endymion and Cambrian) both outweighed her and mounted heavier weaponry (24-pound cannon).

In The Surgeon’s Mate, Aubrey learns that Acasta has, in his absence while a prisoner-of-war in Boston, been given to Capt. "Robert Kerr." Acasta re-appears later in the Aubrey-Maturin series near the end of The Hundred Days, as part of Admiral Lord Barmouth’s squadron at Gibraltar.

Thursday, September 15

Napoleon's Semaphore Network

From the BBC:
Napoleonic semaphore was the world's first telegraph network, allowing messages to be sent the length of 18th Century France in mere hours. Now a group of enthusiastic amateurs are reviving the ingenious system. Bernard Pinaud explains how it works.

Wednesday, September 14

Is Research Really Important?

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.

I was not always this way. When I first got into reenacting as a hobby, I was guilty of what alot of reenactors do when they get started… I copied what I saw other reenactors doing & wearing. It's easy to fall into committing what are commonly referred to as 'reenactorisms', because when you see 'everyone' doing something, it's very natural to assume that it must be right, or at least have SOME basis in historical fact.

Then, with the help of some awesome people along the way, and a TON of reading on my own… I eventually got started in a more 'research based' direction.

Want to see some of the research that has gone into my impression? Check out these albums on Facebook:

To that end, everything you wear and carry should be researched. When it comes to primary source documentation, what you're looking for is: WRITTEN DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PERIOD, FASHION PLATES, PORTRAITS, and ORIGINAL GARMENTS.

One of the great things about doing an impression like an officer in the Royal Navy, is that there is a wealth of all of those types of documentation that are fairly easy to find.

If you'd like to see some of the work that went into my particular uniform, be sure to check that project out HERE.

The beauty of our hobby (and History in general) is that you can never know everything! Even if you read and research all the time, you'll never learn all there is to know.

So my mandate to you is this, 'always be working'.

"How" you ask? Whether that means 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  events you attend regularly… don't get lazy or comfortable, don't plateau in your interpretation. I want to encourage you to always be working and researching, because there is always room for improvement!

Tuesday, September 13

Royal Naval Surgeon's Supplies

Taken from: The Naval Surgeon Comprising the Entire Duties of Professional Men at Sea
By William Turnbull 1806