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. 

Friday, November 18

Friday's Toast

A calm, clear day today, clear enough to see the trees changing color ashore through ones glass.

Captain Frymann and the Captains of the other ships on the blockade had the Midshipmen practicing their signal flags for the majority of the afternoon. No sooner would a series of flags be hoisted then the boys would all have out their glasses, eagerly looking for the reply. All manner of mock orders were sent to and fro. 

An uneventful day at sea, followed by an equally uneventful dinner in the Wardroom. After the loyal toast, Lt. Hamilton gave the traditional Friday toast. We all drank with great gusto! We all enjoyed the possibility of prize money, and with several of our officers, the more 'willing foes' the better.

Can you decode the traditional Friday Toast via the signal flags above?

Wednesday, November 16

To Ourselves

Before Copenhagen: The Ward Room of HMS Elephant, 1st April 1801 from Thomas Davidson
Sick call at the mast this morning followed by dosing and treating the various shipboard illness and injury. Nothing of any great import. Scrapes and bruises common among men whose job it is to climb, handle rope and lift heavy objects on a daily basis. 

The traditional Wednesday toast was offered up in the Ward Room this evening from Lt. Hamilton, "To Ourselves". 

It was followed by the amusing reply from our purser, Mr. Armitage, "As no-one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare!"

Monday, November 14

Nelson's Navy

Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization 1793-1815

A brief recommendation by M. Araiza

If you could only have one book in your collection that could cover the vast majority of the history of Nelson Navy, you might be hard pressed to find just one.  But I think I have found it. 

Nelsons Navy written in 1989 by Brian Lavery, a maritime history consultant.

Nelson’s Navy is 352 pages divided into 61 lovely chapters examining all aspects of the British Royal Navy from its organization, to ship types, to officers training, the crew, marines, ship handling, life on the ocean waves, dockyards, bases, fleets and ship distribution, tactics, signals, blockading, amphibious operations and much more. Each chapter is very descriptive and includes period paintings, drawings and photos of items from various museums.

Also included is a chapter on Foreign Navies of the same time period.

A gorgeous Appendix is included that includes charts that cover prices of slop clothes to monthly pay of every sailor on board.

The sources index at the end include printed primary sources, secondary sources and even manuscript sources so that you can always go back and find the original source item.  

So, if I could only have one book in my collection on the Royal Navy this would be it, I believe it is second to none.  

Tuesday, November 8

Chatham Dockyard, a Virtual Tour

As a long time reader and long distance participant in Acasta projects, I have asked Keri Tolhurst to participate again, this time as a guest writer. She says:

I am honoured to have been invited to write a post for your blog, and as I lived not a stone's throw from Chatham Historic Dockyard until very recently, I thought I would give you a virtual tour through the best preserved Georgian Dockyard in the world. I do not have photos of every building of interest, unfortunately, but I am very happy to share what I do have. 

The first picture is of the Dockyard in the middle of the eighteenth century and was painted by Joseph Farrington, who never visited the area. However, it is perfectly accurate, although the surrounding area has changed almost beyond recognition.

Chatham Dockyard is situated on the River Medway, about ten miles or so from the sea. It is the easternmost of the three main dockyards (Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth) and its situation meant that it was of most importance during the wars with the Netherlands in the 17th century. When the wars with France began, the dockyards further west gained in importance, and Chatham became the primary ship-building yard. HMS Victory was launched here in 1765 and HMS Temeraire in 1798, just two of many ships that found fame at Trafalgar and other battles.

A visitor coming from London would first see the magnificent brick-built gate with the Royal coat-of-arms, which would have been guarded by two Royal Marines in their smart red coats and round hats. During the Napoleonic Wars (and the War of 1812), this would have been the main entrance to the dockyard, and so we will begin our tour here.

You will pass the guardhouse on your right, with its white-painted columns, and the Dockyard church (built in 1812) will be in front of you. As you continue down the main road, the crew's quarters building is on your right, and if you turn left to head towards the river, you will pass the end of the Ropery – all the rope is spun by hand and is marked with a coloured thread called the rogue's yarn (Chatham rope has a yellow yarn). This is both to prevent theft from a Royal dockyard and so that substandard rope can be traced to its place of manufacture.

The Ropery is half a mile lone, which allows a standard anchor cable to be spun (as rope is spun, it decreases in length; a half mile building will produce a two-feet thick cable that is 72 fathoms long). Rope is still made here to this day, although the workers now make use of the machinery that was installed during the Victorian era.

On the river side of the Ropery are three massive storehouses, which were used to store all the equipment necessary for fitting out a ship, from hammocks to hogsheads of beer. When a ship was paid off, her movable stores would be likewise brought here. Thee photo is from outside the Dockyard, from the site of the old Royal Marine barracks, but it gives some idea of the scale of these three buildings.

If you continue along the riverside away from the Ropery, you will come to the little white Harbour Master's House, with the imposing edifice of the Commissioner's House behind it. The Commissioner's House is the oldest building in the modern Dockyard and was completed during the reign of Queen Anne, right at the beginning of the 18th century.

Behind the Commissioner's House is the Sail and Colour Loft, which I unfortunately don't yet have a photo of. It is here that all the canvas and flags would have been sewn – again, by hand in this period. The sails would also be marked with a coloured thread although I don't know whether it was the same colour as the rogue's yarn of the rope. (It would make sense that it would be, but that is sheer speculation; I do know that sails made at Portsmouth were marked with a blue thread.)

A little further on from the Commissioner's House is the Admiralty Office building, with the Clock Tower building beside it. These both have a low profile because the Officer's Terrace is behind them and thus has an uninterrupted view of the dry docks and the river.

Continuing on, you will pass the smithy (which again I do not have a photo of) across what is now a large open gravelled area, but that would have been used for seasoning wood in huge stacks. The white-painted building with the asymmetrical roof-line is the mast-house and mould loft, and is where the masts would have been made (on the lower floor) and the templates for the ship's ribs would have been made on the upper floor. To the right of this building as you face it are the capstan makers' and wheelwrights and tucked away are the timber sheds, which again were used to hold timber that was being seasoned for ship-building. As the mast house houses the modern visitor's entrance and gift-shop and there is a tea-room in the Wheelwright's workshop, this seems a good place to end our virtual tour.

If you are ever in the area, Chatham Historical Dockyard is well worth a visit, and their website is at 

Special thanks again to guest writer Keri Tolhurst (aka 'Sharpie')!

Monday, November 7

To Wives and Sweethearts...

I posted this to the Acastas on our private Facebook page a few weeks back and wanted to share it here with you, our readers, as well:

LADIES, I owe you an apology.

You see, I didn't start a Royal Navy reenactment group to create programing for women or to do research on women in the early 19th century. We worked hard to recruit the best guys we could find and to create naval programing for them, but left you gals with nothing to do when you attended an Acasta event with your husbands and sweethearts.

I'm sorry, it was never my intention to exclude you, but to be honest, I was never really sure what to do with you! I always had my hands full with programing for the guys. Going forward, we're going to take some steps to try to fix that.

To that end, we're going to start a "Wives & Sweethearts Auxiliary" for you ladies of the Acasta. This parallel group will run in a very similar fashion to the Acasta herself, it'll have clothing standards (just like the sailors) and offer period appropriate programming (just like the sailors) that will entertain and educate the public while at events, as well as the individual members of the "Wives & Sweethearts Auxiliary itself.

It'll need a knowledgable and energetic leader, therefore I have decided that that leader will be Christina Johnson! Christina is an amazing researcher who is extremely well versed in women's clothing and roles in the era we portray, and she has tons of fun interp ideas in mind.

Christina has over 15 years interpretative experience working with a variety of historic sites, not for profits, and museums. She's a professional educator with a masters certificate in educational research and technology. She's developed and implemented volunteer interp training programs for two museums in and around her hometown and she presents workshops and lectures in the museum field several times a year.

I'm very excited about this new endeavor! I am very pleased to be able to offer programming to a segment of our population that has been unserved until now!

For the past few weeks, Christina has been hard at work on the new Acasta WSA website, and as of today it's open for business. It's still early days, but I have no doubt that with time and the encouragement of you the readers, it will flourish.


In additon, you may find the new link at the top of the site with the buttons that lead to our various pages. ENJOY!

Friday, November 4

Historical Eye-Candy

Today let's just have an eyeful of historical eye-candy… The Acasta has been gifted with some amazing photography over the years from a variety of awesome photographers and sources. From Events, games, battles, press gangs, clothing, weddings, you name it... you'll find it here.