Wednesday, November 30


Aboard sometimes it was not uncommon to hear three or more different languages spoke as you went past the messes at dinner. There was a German we all called "Fritz". I never learned if that was his Christian name or not. He bore a striking resemblance to the Captain and was about his same age.  There was a couple of Mids that fancied themselves poets and such. They would write and perform plays for the officers. If the officers approved, I suppose, they would then perform them for the crew. Any time they had a king or such they always got Fritz for that part- on account of his resemblance to the Captain- but if the Captain ever took offense it never showed and sometimes they did two in a month's time. One time Fritz would be Neptune and the next time Caesar. It was always good fun to hear him say his couple of lines with that accent.

Aside from that though Fritz had a spooky knack for knowing what the Captain was thinking it seemed. If ever we was wondering what was going to happen next we would go to Fritz and say "Well now Fritz what's the Old Man going to do about thus and such?" and he would say "Yah, vell I sink he vill...  " and what ever he said was always dead on. If he was ever wrong about the Captain I never knew of it.

- James Cullen, Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

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. 

Monday, November 28

To Our Ships At Sea

Ward Room aboard USS Constitution
Mr. Vassermann, who had previously washed my breeches in salt water ensuring that they were uncomfortable and barely fit to wear, has washed them out again in a barrel of rainwater that he has accumulated over the past few days. My poor small clothes should be fit to wear again once they are dried. My breeches were stiff and itchy, and caused the most unpleasant chaffing.

Dinner this evening in the Ward Room, followed by the traditional Monday toast, "To our Ships at sea!". 

It gave me pause, and I considered some of the ships of His Majesty's Navy that we have encountered thus far. 

HMS Ramillies under command of Sir Thomas Hardy 

HMS Poictiers under Capt. Beresford, in whose company we have made several significant captures.

HMS Dotterel, HMS Martin, HMS Nymphe whom we encountered at Bermuda recently.

HMS Maidstone, ├ćolus, Childers and Colibrie with whom we have shared captures.

Friday, November 25

Fiddler’s Green in New Boston Town

There was a time on North American Station that we was on some very queer business. We would anchor at New Boston Towne in the Unighted States, sometimes for several days at a time, and the Captain or the Doctor would go ashore, sometimes both. Then we might sail up coast or down coast for a day or two, anchor at some small port while one or both went ashore. Then back to New Boston Towne we’d go for another several days. A couple of times the Doctor sent his pet Frenchman ashore alone. They was all mum about whatever business it was, but the Captain looked rather grim at the time. All in all it was about a month this took.

While we was in New Boston Towne they give us shore leave by watches. Now this may seem strange, and I suppose it was. Most often you will not get shore leave in a foreign port where they speak English for fear of fellows taking French leave. But as I have said before the Acasta was a happy ship, and the Captain firm but fair, and that is what he done. The Lieutenants was all rather grim about it at first, threating to end leave for everyone if the first fellow even turned up late, but we all knew we had a good thing going and kept a watchful eye on each other so as not to spoil it. Before it was done even Jake Booke got leave to go ashore- and he had been flogged for running before and getting caught.

Now in New Boston Towne was a tavern- not a real house style building but one of those which is all canvas and planks, but a tavern none the less and your common tar only cares for being out of the weather when he has a pint- that was called “Lord Nelson’s Arms”.  This was before Trafalgar, but after Nelson had lost his arm at Santa Cruse. That name probably earned them some hard feeling among the Jonathans because there was still plenty of bad blood from the war. They seemed right glad to have some true blue Tars come in. The place had a back room with bunks to rent and a cockpit behind it.

The gal that ran the placed called herself “Sally Brown” just like in the song. We all figured she was run from something and had changed her name- and we all thought she could have done a better job of picking a false one. Right quick Nate Johnson got a leg over on her. It looked like they had known each other from before, because anytime somebody called her ”Missus Brown” Nate would smile this sly smile to hisself. I heard  after the war they was spliced and still run a tavern in America to this day.

Right quick Sam Hollybrass got a leg over on her cousin that also worked there and from then on all of us Acastas was treated like we was family. Nobody went anywhere else when they got leave.

As I said they had a cockpit back of the place, and we had a line of some good old English birds aboard the Acasta. There was a Jonathan woman named Bickenhouser- in America there is no telling what you will find a woman doing- that had a line of birds that was local champions. They was called Delaware Blues, although most of them I seen were white with blue and red spots.

Well, we started fighting these birds, and you would have thought that would have made already bad blood between us and the Jonathans get worse. It done just the opposite. Both lines of birds was so game that there was never any telling which one would win when they was pitted.  One time they would win and the next match we would. Winchester, he knew birds, said he had never seen two lines so equally matched.

If the Jonathans had won, some Acasta would exclaim, "Say cousin you are so flush now how about buying a poor tar a pint?” and some Jonathan would buy a round for all. If we had won some Jonathan would say "Here now John Bull, why be so tight with your winnings when we are all so dry?” and we would do the same. It was jolly times.

Once as I was putting on my shore going rig Apple the carpenter passed by.  I was singing to myself and in high spirits.  “So Cullen” he says “you're off to Fiddlers Green are ya?”. And I reckon that was true. It was as close to Fiddler’s Green as any poor tar will ever come while on commission.

-James Cullen. Remembrances of Eight years before the Mast, 1834.

*** Fiddler’s Green was a mythical afterlife among sailors where the liquor and music flowed free, the girls were always pretty and everyone was always happy.

Wednesday, November 23

The Acasta Cleans Up!

The London Gazette 
Publication date:29 April 1800 

Tuesday, November 22

The 4 Biggest Frigates of the North American Station

The subjoined table of the comparative dimensions of British and American ships, will enable the reader to appreciate the heroism with which our officers and seamen have defended themselves in the recent actions with our trans-atlantic descendants.

By this table it will be seen, that these American frigates are longer than an English first-rate; that they are longer than, and of nearly equal tonnage with, our modern large seventy-fours, and of greater tonnage than our old seventy-fours;that they are longer, broader, and of greater tonnage than any of our sixty-fours; and that they exceed in tonnage our fifties, in the proportion of nearly three o two; and our thirty-eights in the proportion of seven to four. Is not the term frigate most violently perverted, when applied to such vessels? As well might we call the Ville de Paris a fifty, or Caledonia a sixty-four; or as well might we call the one a jolly-boat and the other a yawl.

An excerpt from 'The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War" 1813

Monday, November 21

The Traditional Saturday Toast

If you haven't seen this movie yet, what are you wasting time here for? Go watch it immediately!

And when you're done, be sure to read about the traditional toasts from the other days of the week.

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?

Thursday, November 17

A Bloody War or a Sickly Season

The Ward Room aboard HMS Trincomalee
Hamilton at table.
As it is Thursday, after the Loyal Toast was giv'n and drunk, Lt. Hamilton offered up "A Bloody War or a Sickly Season". As we drank, I pondered the meaning of such a toast.

Being promoted upon the death of your superiors has been the Naval tradition for time immemorial. But I cannot help think that it is quite morbid to wish the untimely demise of one's associates in order to procure advancement in one's field of occupation. Every man in the Ward Room drank glady to the idea.

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!"

Tuesday, November 15

To Our Men

Early this morning, it was thought that a ship was espied attempting to escape the blockade. The men were all excitement that we might be taken into action to give chase, but it was not to be, the American schooner was simply moving about within the harbour and not attempting to 'make a run for it'. After it was discovered that our day was not to be punctuated with a chase and engagement, there was a great deal of sullen coiling of ropes as the men returned to their duties. 

This evening in the Wardroom, Lt. Tumbusch raised his glass and says, "To our Men", the traditional toast giv'n on a Tuesday. 

I took a sip and then passed my glass of Port behind me to Mr. Vassermann. He finished the glass in a single swallow by snapping his head back, then refilled the glass and thanked me as he passed it back. Several of the other Wardroom officers followed suit.

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.  

Thursday, November 10

Master & Commander 2!

My missive to Mr. Rothman concerning a sequel of some interest to those assembled here:

My dear Sir,

Though the agreeable news of Captain Aubrey's capture of the Acheron arrived here in the North American Station some time back, their too long silence has given us all so much uneasiness of late. It has been quite some time since any word was received from our mutual friends aboard H.M.S. Surprise and I will speak frankly when I say that we have all begun to fear for their safety. It is not that I doubt the skill of our Captain Aubrey or his men, but as you know, the perils of life in His Majesty's Service combined with the deviousness of Bonaparte's forces are not to be underestimated. 

It is my hope that you can forgive this impertinence, but your address was supplied to me by Capt. Aubrey himself some time ago. He suggested that if there were no news of the Surprise that you might be the man to inform us of her where-abouts. And as you may know, there has been no word of her these long years. It is my hope that you know something of her that we do not. I am very sorry to press you ; but if I had not reason, I should not have called upon you. 

Any word of the fate of the Surprise that you might be able to pass along would be greatly appreciated by myself and the crew of the Acasta. It would certainly bolster the morale of His Majesty's forces here in the North American Station during this long war. 

We are all, thank God, very well, and desire to be remembered to you; and be assured a letter from you will give great pleasure to all your friends here, but none more than 

Your Humble and Obt Servant, 
Dr. A. Roberts 
Ship's Surgeon 
HMS Acasta 
Navy Hall, Halifax
 You may contact Mr. Rothman yourself as instructed by Capt Aubrey if you wish by addressing your missive to the following:
20th Century Fox Theatricals 
ATTN: Tom Rothman (Master and Commander 2) 
P.O. Box 900 
 Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900 

(N.B. It would seem that Mr. Rothman is no longer the fellow at the Admiralty to contact concerning Captain Aubrey and his company, but I am quite at a loss as to who I ought to forward this missive to. I should greatly appreciate any suggestions along that line.)

Share the above image! It's the perfect size for Instagram

Because you KNOW you'd love to see Master & Commander 2.
Get me Russell Crowe on the horn, stat!

Wednesday, November 9

The Diary of George Hodge

From the article:

Diary of 18th century sailor provides fascinating insight into life below decks in Nelson's navy 

UPDATED: 07:35 EST, 14 August 2008 

"A unique record of the British navy between 1790 and 1833 that was compiled by a sailor has emerged in the US.

The diary of George Hodge shows the "below decks" view of life at sea during a crucial time for Britain's senior service.

The self-educated seaman begins the journal with the words: "George Hodge, his Book Consisting of Difrint ports & ships that I have sailed in since the year 1790. Aged 13 years." 

He recorded the ladies of leisure with whom he associated, painted stunning pictures of ships and flags as well as a self portrait.

Images of ordinary seamen from the time of Nelson's navy are very rare."

Be sure to read the rest of this article and see the rest of the images over at the Daily Mail:

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')!