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".


Thursday, September 29

How to Paint a Bosun's Hat

ACASTA (sometimes seen as 'Acaste' or 'Akaste') - In Greek mythology, she was one of the Oceanides. A sea nymph, one of the three thousand daughters of the Titans Tethys (mother) and Oceanus (father). According to the Homeric Hymns, Acasta was one among the companions of Persephone when she was gathering wild flowers.

I hunted for anything from the historical naval record that would indicate that the original HMS Acasta had a crest or something that could be used on a hat of this sort with no luck yet. So, to hold its place until we find evidence of the original design, I did several small sketches that involved a sea-nymph/mermaid design in keeping with the ship's mythological namesake. The mermaids are based on several original mermaid illustrations from the period. Most hats of this sort involve a ribbon that bears the ship's name, so I included one of these in each design. Each design also included the mermaid holding a sword as a representation of England's power, and one involved a shield with the Union flag on it.

I eventually settled on the upright tail design with the shield, but the sword was changed to a trident to offer up a little more visual balance. I then traced her onto the hat and started painting. The bosun's hat is felt with about 4 layers of exterior grade black latex house paint on it. The design itself is painted over top of that with Testor's model paint… gold, red, white & blue with black to indicate some of the mermaid's details.

After giving the design a few days to dry, I tackled the lettering, again just black Testor's model paint on the gold. You can also see where I added some detail with the black around the crown at the top.

Here you can see the finished design on the hat as well as on the head of Bosun's mate 'Samuel Hollybrass' at the Fair at New Boston in Aug 2014.

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

Wednesday, September 21

Google Maps from the 18th Century
This website allows you to search a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London, and to map the results on to a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque's 1746 map.

Records of crime, poor relief, taxation, elections, local administration, plague deaths and archaeological finds can all be searched and mapped on this site.

Building on a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque's 1746 map of London, this site allows you to relate an eighteenth-century representation of the metropolis to the first accurate OS map of London (1869-80), and to a modern Google Maps environment.

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!