Friday, December 30

Strange Fortune - part 2

A story in four parts by Tony Gerard.

"De Captain of de Indiaman, he was young, de son of one of de owners or some such ting. His first command. We was on our return, and he do well enough, because he have two good fellows as mates. It come a bad blow, we is all feared, but we come thru it all right, but we is lost from de convoy we travel widt."

"So we go on alone for tree days, when de lookout call he see a sail. We are hopeful is one of the convoy, but soon see she is going de wrong way, but soon she tack to follow us, and now we are feared of her. She follow all de day and gain on us. Dat night we douse all de lights and change course, but when de moon rise we see she is still widt us."

"All night she gain. We is all on deck, cause we is too feared to sleep. As she is almost in pistol shot is a sudden light from her- as if a fellow flash a pan to dry it-  and we see her deck is all covered with fierce looking fellows- she is a Spanish pirate!

As soon as is false dawn dey fire a shot across our bow. We have guns to fight dem- but our Captain he strike right away- not even pretend to resist for his honor!

Dey send a boat across. Is filled widt savage looking fellows. Dere mate, he look less like a brute, but you can see evil in his eyes. De captain and mates is dere to meet him, most of de crew on deck also, except for does dat have hided demselves around on de ship.

Right away de pirate mate, I learn later his name is Gasparia, try and speak widt dem- dey cannot speak Spaniard and he have no Dutch, but finally dey both speak English. De pirate ask who is de first mate. When de mate say who he is two of de pirates grab him, and de Gasparia cut off de small finger of his lef hand. Gasparia say is to show dey is serious fellows and he tell de captain to bring his manifest, money and de money he have from his own trade. De second mate and de captain rush to do so. When dey bring de manifest and de money Gasparia look at it and say- "is dis truely all?", den he cut off de mate's ring finger at de middle joint. De mate he plead widt the Captain and de Captain give Gasparia his watch. He say "Is truely all I have". Gaspar say he is just testing. He den go over de manifest and have his crew take what he wish along with all our powder and some of de shot. It take several hours for us to load de goods onto the pirate ship. While is happening dey find one fellow who is hid. Dey trow him over- but he can swim- so den dey shoot at him in de water and make a sport of it until de is dead.

After all dey wish is loaded onto der ship- is still cargo left to de indiaman- de pirate mate say "my Captain wishes to tank you for to give us no great trouble, so you may now go".  We is almost faint widt joy- as he go to leave Gasparia turn, as if he just tink of it an ask "have you French among your crew?"

"I have five" de Captain say. He could have said he have none- how would de Spaniard have known? And Gaspara say "bring dem to me". Dey have de five of us to line before him. He ask "how many of you from Normandy?"  Jean Claude say "Is only I" . Gaspar say "Very well", den he take a pistol and shoot him in the belly. De pirates den trow him over. He say "bring de others", so we is much feared as dey take us widt dem.

Dey take us and chain us by our foots in de hold of dere ship- is named "Teberone"- and for de first two days we have no food and only a small keg of water dey left widt us when dey chain us in de hold. After dat de cook's mate- he is a kind fellow- de only such among dem- named Pedro, he bring us some biscuit and food scraps. He keep doing dat, but he make sign to us dat we are not to let de other Spaniards know he feed us.  Sometimes we catch a rat also. 

Thursday, December 29

Strange Fortune - part 1

Strange Fortune- the Life and Times of Jean Baptiste Girard

A story in four parts by Tony Gerard.

"Here she comes yonder, Billy!" From the amount of appreciation in the topman's voice this could have referred to a barmaid coming with the first round after a long commission. As it was it  referred to a long line of grey clouds. The rain came swiftly, driving the wind before it. Third Lieutenant Tumbusch, officer of the watch, smiled broadly at the sailing master MacLachlan, who smiled just as broadly back. It was MacLachlan who caught himself first and assumed a countenance more suitable to a gentleman of his standing. Tumbusch quickly followed suit. The Acasta, becalmed for three days, leapt to life like a bird uncaged. 

 Deep below in the cockpit no one was prepared for the sudden movement. The Surgeon, Dr. Roberts, braced himself by grabbing an overhead beam as medical instruments slid off the makeshift table. Baptiste, the Surgeon's mate, did the same.

The injured young sailor swung forward in the hammock, then back, smacking solidly into the mate. 

"Bloody hell' he gasped through gritted teeth.

"It appears we are underway again" said Roberts. 

"Oui, is good." agreed Baptiste as he sidestepped a second swing of the hammock. The young sailor  continued with gritted teeth. He was lucky to be alive. Two hours before he had taken a fall from the tops, struck a yard on his way down breaking both legs, missed an open gunport by inches and landed in the Atlantic.

A shipmate, one of the few who could swim, dove after him immediately.

The right leg break was a particularly bad one. When he was carried below the bone shone clean and white a hand's breath out of the thigh. The surgeon had felt carefully, but painfully, for additional breaks. A fracture would mean amputation. Unlike many of the Royal Navy surgeons Roberts was never one to casually deprive a man of a limb.

They had pushed the bone back into place and set the leg. Roberts was still worried. The tissue had swollen quickly and he could have missed an additional break. The sailor had begged pitifully not to amputate and the doctor was thinking perhaps his pity had outweighed his medical judgment.

"Little point in second guessing one's own judgment" he said half aloud to himself as he picked up the spilled instruments. The ship had now settled into a comfortable, gentle rock. From far above a slight breath of fresh air even made its way into the dank cockpit. 

The sailor groaned loudly and Baptiste looked inquiringly at Roberts. He wanted to give the man more laudanum.

The doctor was stingy with the laudanum. The sailor had been dosed before setting his legs. It wasn't that Roberts was indifferent to the man's suffering; if they ran low or, God forbid, ran out there was no way to be resupplied. Today it was only a bad break, tomorrow it could be forty horribly wounded after a bloody engagement. Or nothing for months. With no way to predict it was best to err on the side of caution.

Baptiste continued to look at the surgeon. They had worked together long enough now that words were often unnecessary. Roberts eventually nodded his consent.

As he filled the dosing quill the mate turned his back to Roberts. He gave the man a bit extra. Events in his life had rarely rewarded long tern planning.

The sailor knew the laudanum for what it was and drained the quill eagerly. Baptiste started to remove the man's neck rag to wipe the sweat from his face, but found it already soaked through. The sailor's face was still a mask of pain and exhaustion.

The mate removed his own neck cloth and wiped the man's brow. As he leaned forward a gold pendant on a thong around his neck swung free, almost in the sailor's face.

The pendant was a curious shape, an open circle, thicker at the bottom than top. Where it almost joined at the bottom either end turned inward to form short horns projecting toward the center.

"Wot's at- some sort o' Paptist thing?" The mate looked confused, the sailor pointed weakly with his chin.

"Oh, non. He is not Papist. He is a ling-ling-o"

"Wot's a lin-lin-go?"

"Is a symbol favored by de head hunters of de Spanish Philippines"

"So why you wearin it?"

"Is long to tell". The mate looked to the surgeon. There was little else that required immediate attention. Roberts nodded his consent. The mate sat down on the end of one of the chests that made the table.

"I was once mate to de surgeon of a Dutch East Indiaman"

"Thought it were the Philippines"

"It comes to dere". 

Roberts smiled knowingly. The mate's stories rarely traveled in a straight line, but they were a good distraction from the tedium of the blockade. He seated himself in an empty hammock.

Wednesday, December 28

Boarding Party Tactics in the Age of Fighting Sail

An article submitted by Acasta member S. Diatz

In the 'Age of Fighting Sail', and specially the period of 1793-1815, it often took the actual boarding of an enemy naval vessel, to secure surrender, especially in a single-ship-to-ship action, upon the high seas. After the cannon broadsides pummeled opposing ships, often causing severe damage to the sails and rigging, and reducing a ships steering ability, then pulling along-side and resorting to 'cold steel' was, often-times, the last resort. 

In the British Royal Navy, boarding a French or Spanish (and later American) enemy vessel, was a favored way to finish off task of 'securing a prize'. If say a RN frigate was attempting to take an enemy ship, of like size, it would be worked along-side of the opposing vessel, close enough that the cannons would be neutralized. Often then, musketry would be employed by British marines (in the fighting tops and also on-deck) to eliminate enemy officers, to cause confusion in command. The tossing of 'iron bombs' (larger fused grenades) onto decks and into open hatches, would cause serious damage, as well. This was a prelude to skilled sailors employing the tossing of iron grappling hooks and lines, over the gunnels, to pull each vessel together..though the enemy sailors would often use axes, to cut the rope lines, to avoid this method of securing. When the ships were touching, and the moment was right..a cry of 'boarders away' would be yelled, and a boarding party of armed sailors and British marines, often led by a junior lieutenant or warrant officer, would scramble over to the enemy vessel, to help secure a surrender. 

All assortment of weapons would be used, kept handy on-deck in wooden tubs..loaded Sea-service pistols, cutlasses, boarding axes and short boarding pikes, even muskets with bayonets would be carried. At that point, it was a harsh melee of hand-to-hand deck fighting, and the tactics were to disable an opponent from further opposition. Any severe arm or leg injury would usually do that, and a broken limb was just as good as a cut-or-thrust. Heavy cutlass hilts were often used to gouge eyes or mouths, and the blades used to break shoulder bones. Pistols were often loaded with bird-shot to take down a number of enemy, in close-quarters. The goal was to cut down resistance, and compel a surrender by the enemy ship's captain or surviving senior officer, where the fighting would thus end, with the striking of the 'ship's colours. 

Once the ship succumbed (via surrender), then it would be determined whether the enemy vessel was worthy of salvage (still sea-worthy), and if so, a 'prize party' would secure it for sailing back to a British harbor, for liquidation (or refitting and re-commissioning). If the enemy ship was deemed to be 'lost' (would not survive a journey, and thus was 'sinking'), then special gangs of skilled sailors would be employed to gather any useful cargo, arms, food stores, valuables, and more importantly, ships logs, charts, dispatches, etc, that might be used for intelligence, back to RN vessel, and the arduous task of gathering the prisoners (and wounded) on-board, as well. As in most land battles, of that time the fighting was alway heaviest, at the end...just before surrender.

'Naval Boarding' - Wikipedia

'Napoleonic Naval Tactics' (1/5) Battle Formation and Cutting Out'

'The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812' A Political, Social and Military History' on-line

Tuesday, December 27

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 26

Boxing Day at Sea

The spirits aboard the Acasta have been uncommonly high since the capture of the Herald, Friendship and Little Catharine on Christmas day. It is, of course, due to the news of the fortune aboard the captured ships, combined with the extra food and drink for every man to celebrate Christmas. I am told that they will only require moderate repairs to make the trip to Halifax as prizes, and that their repair should be only the work of a day or so. 

The Acasta's officers had been invited over to dine with Capt. Beresford and his men aboard the Poictiers for Christmas, but the sighting and chase of the Herald caused a delay in those plans. Now that the capture has taken place, we are to have our belated Christmas dinner with the Poictiers this evening.

While I do not want to count my proverbial chickens before they are hatched, I have found it difficult not to think about the sum of prize money that could potentially befall me should all go well back in Halifax with these recent captures. I would suspect that I am not the only man aboard with such thoughts.

But not all my thoughts lie in my purse, they also lie with my good wife at home, and to Christmases past, under the kissing bough.

Friday, December 23

A Christmas Eve Signal in 1812

Click to espy a larger version
Look there, the Poictiers is signaling us... what could this be about? 

I was looking forward to going below to partake of the Christmas pies that the Captain's steward has been working on all morning, and now this! 

Fetch me my Popham's, I'm the surgeon, decyphering signal flags isn't quite yet second nature to me.
Special thanks to Capt. Bertani's signal flag generator for the above graphic.

Wednesday, December 21

Meet the REAL Acasta

Sir J. T. Duckworth's Action off St. Domingo, Feby 6th. 1806 (PAD5760)
Hand-coloured.; Technique includes etching. Published 1 Feb 1817

HMS Magicienne (36) at right and HMS Acasta (44) on the left at the Battle of San Domingo, the only primary source (original, from the era) image of Acasta, other than the original plans, known to exist.

HMS Acasta Deck, Quarter & Forecastle
HMS Acasta Frame
HMS Acasta Gun Deck
HMS Acasta Inboard Profile Plan
HMS Acasta Lines
HMS Acasta Orlop Deck
HMS Acasta Upper Deck Plan
These plans from the Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Tuesday, December 20

Mission Statement

The purpose of the HMS ACASTA and the ROYAL TARS of OLD ENGLAND is to accurately portray a crew of His Majesty's Royal Navy circa 1800-1810 for the educational benefit of the public and for the mutual research and enjoyment of the individual members.

Our organization will educate via a series of first person activities designed to demonstrate the real lives of sailors as they go about their business and live their lives. Landing Parties, Surveying Crews, Recruitment Drives, Press Gangs, Shore Leave... these are but a few of the activities that our crew will undertake whilst encamped at an event. During duty hours, we follow proper Navy protocols and sailors are expected to live a sailor's life.

You can learn more about our group on the ABOUT US page.

Monday, December 19

Meet OUR Crew

The eclectic band of historical reenactors and interpreters that makes up the 'CREW' of HMS Acasta spans a wide spectrum of real life occupations.

We are made up of students, educators, academics (a surprising number of us are teachers) even a Ph.D., present and former Coast Guard and U.S. Naval men, artists & artisans, tailors, musicians, professionals & executives. We even have a freelance copywriter, farrier & presidential presenter thrown into the mix for good measure! (hint: look for the fellow that looks like Jackson from the twenty dollar bill!)

What does this odd lot all have in common? A love for the history of the Royal Navy and passing it on in a unique way to the public.

If you enjoy reading the adventures of the HMS Acasta, be certain to become an honorary member of the crew. This is a easy way to show us that you're out there and paying attention. It is a simple matter really, there is a blue button at the bottom of the page that will allow you to join.

To learn more about the reenactors that make up the recreated Acasta, be sure to go have a look at the CREW page.

Friday, December 16

Sailors Wanted

The ACASTA is looking for quality reenactors
to portray English sailors circa 1800-1812

Our organization seeks to educate via a series of first person activities designed to demonstrate the real lives of sailors as they go about their business etc. Landing Parties, Surveying Crews, Recruitment Drives, Press Gangs, Shore Leave... these are but a few of the activities that our crew will undertake whilst encamped at an event. 

Be sure to read the ABOUT US page

If these sound like a good fit for you, then you may have what it takes to be an Acasta! Email Albert Roberts today to find out more about joining the crew at:

Thursday, December 15

Whatever Shall I Read?

In the event you haven't noticed, we research and write a LOT, there's always something new to discover on the Acasta website. You can find specific content by following the labels at the bottoms of each day's posts, or by clicking on the links below. Let us know what your favorite stuff is:

200th - Posts with this label are posts that have to do with the 200th anniversary of some event that took place during the War of 1812. Either with the Acasta herself, or the war in general. Want to know what was happening on a particular date? Here you go.

Apple - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's carpenter Mr. Jas. Apple.

Baptiste - Posts with this label are either written BY or about the Acasta Surgeon's Mate.

Book Review - These posts take a look at books written about Naval subjects of interest.

Capt Freymann - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's Captain Robert Freymann

Capt Hurlbut -  Posts with this label are either written BY or about Captain Tom Hurlbut, friend to the Acasta.

Capture - Information regarding historical captures made by the Acasta during her service.

CFNA- Posts related to the organization known as Crown Forces North America (CFNA).

Event Invite - These posts are invitations to the general public to attend specific historic events. A great way to figure out where the Acasta crew will be during the year!

History - Posts involving the REAL history of HMS Acasta or her crew

HMS Bounty - Articles or images concerning this particular vessel.

HMS Victory - Articles or images concerning this particular vessel.

Hollybrass - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta crew member Samuel Hollybrass, a generally unpleasant sort of fellow.

Images - This label is given to any post that is picture heavy. Looking for lots of awesome War of 1812 or Royal Navy recreation pictures? Look no further! The Acasta has been gifted with some amazing photography over the years from a variety of sources.

In The News - Historical news articles that make mention of the Acasta or her crew.

Jane Austen Festival - Given to any post that has to do with the annual Jane Austen Festival that is held every July in Louisville, KY.

Letter Writing - Posts relating to writing letters that look to be from the period portrayed by HMS Acasta. Great help if you wish to participate in the Mail Packet project.

LIST This label is given to the series of reenactor list, Ways to improve, the best and worst things about the hobby, stupid questions asked by the public and so forth.

Lt Ramsey - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's Second Lieutenant Michael Ramsey.

Lt. Hamilton - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's First Lieutenant Jim Hamilton.

Lt. Tumbusch - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's Third Lieutenant Tom Tumbusch.

Master & Commander - Posts that have to do with the Aubrey-Maturin series of books by author Patrick O'Brian or the 2003 movie.

Mail Packet - This label will involve letters (real or digital) sent or received by Acasta crew. It also occasionally has to do with a call to readers for letters, a fun project for authors and historians alike!

Medical Journal - These posts have to do with entries in the Surgeon's log book. Some are transcriptions from log books of the period, some are fictional.

Miscellany - A grab bag of odds and ends posts that couldn't really be labeled anything else.

Mission 1 - All posts pertain to the Acasta's first play test of the "Spy Game", a first person activity played between teams at Mississinewa 1812.

Mission 2 - A writing exercise by members of the crew involving the 1813 chase of the US vessel, 'Young Teazer'

Mission 3 - These posts involve the Doctor's special assignment to take part in a mock Naval assault at Niagara on the Lake.

Mission 4 - The Acastas go ashore at the Fair at New Boston in an attempt to catch a spy, and the Doctor gets engaged!

Mission X - All posts related to the Doctor's covert mission to France.

Mississinewa 1812 - Given to any post that has to do with the annual Mississinewa 1812 event that is held every October in Marion, IN.

Music - Music or lyrics (or both) to old period songs.

New Boston - Given to any post that has to do with the annual Fair at New Boston event that is held every Labor Day Weekend near Springfield, Ohio.

Press Gang - Content and images from the Acasta's Press Ganging activities at events.

Real Crew - Posts with this label are either written by or about REAL historical members of the crew of the Acasta between 1797-1815.

Red Box - Content and images having to do with the "Red Box' game.

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!

Tall Ship - Posts with this label contain information about or images of tall ships.

The Doctor - Posts with this label are either written BY or about Acasta ship's surgeon Albert Roberts

Toasts - information pertaining to the Daily Royal Naval Toasts given at dinner.

Vassermann - Posts with this label are either written BY or about the Surgeon's personal servant James Vassermann.

Video - Any post with a video or a link to a video in it can be found here.

Wedding - These image heavy posts are all about the Doctor's 1813 style wedding.

Wednesday, December 14

Taking the American Gun

The brave crew of "El Dragón", soon we would be running away from the British!
The Acastas after having captured the American gun. Image by Stefan Barges.

Tuesday, December 13

'Broadsides' A Book Review

Broadsides- The Age of Fighting Sail, 1775-1815 
by Nathan Miller
a short review by Tony Gerard

I'm not a guy that is into military strategy and tactics. Reading about that sort of thing ranks right up there with watching people play chess for me. However, if I'm serious about doing a believable first person interpretation of an early 19th century sailor I must know about  the naval military history that occurred during my persona's lifetime. It would have been discussed over and over during messes and long watches.  

That's where Broadsides comes in as a good book for me. The book covers the period just before and through the time of the Acasta. It presents naval military history from a completely Anglo centric point of view, the French and Spanish only appear as antagonists. The book covers the structure and all the major engagements of the British Navy as well as the development of the American  Navy and all its major engagements. Most importantly for me Miller does not get bogged down in too much strategic detail, his presentation is more that of a historian and less of a tactician.

The book does suffer from a lack of maps. Miller makes lots of reference to locations and routes, he seems to assume his reader is completely familiar with the coast of both sides of the Atlantic. There are a few very basic maps in the back of the book, I only noticed them after I'd finished the book because they are not referenced in the text.

If a guy was intent on doing a British naval impression but only intended to read two books I'd recommend "Jack Tar" for the daily life of a tar and "Broadsides" for the historic background.

Monday, December 12

The Surgeon's Mate

Jean Baptiste Girard
“There is aboard my ship an old French sailor. He has been impressed as the surgeon’s mate, we having lost ours, and he having served in that capacity aboard others. He is a cheerful enough fellow for having been forced into the position of possibly fighting his countrymen and is full of stories from his travels. He has twice been wrecked, chased by land crocodiles in the Dutch West Indies, captured by Spanish privateers, stowed a rattlesnake aboard his ship, lived among head hunters in the South China Sea and a thousand other such tales. If a quarter of what he tells is truth he has lived a full life indeed!”

Robert Watson aboard the HMS Acasta in a letter to his wife, Sept 16., 1813

Taken up by the press gang at New Boston

Friday, December 9

About Will Miller

Will Miller come about being a tar in a peculiar manner. Most of your Man o War's men are either pressed or grew up on the water- fishermen, smugglers and such. Miller had been an artillery soldier before and got his discharge during the peace.  When things heated up again he volunteered for the  Navy and I reckon they was glad to have him for his artillery experience and all. He was a quiet fellow who kept his own counsel, but he was eager to learn the skills a good tar knows, and he took to it well.

As you may know among tars to call a fellow a "soger" or to say something was done "soger fashion" is about as insulting as one tar can get to another. Well, when some of 'em found out Miller really had been a soldier they just would not let it rest. One in particular, a beef witted fellow named Campbell- would follow up anything Miller done with something like "this here splice is done soger fashion, best get a tar to do it right" and such. Miller never seemed to take notice of it.

Which one day in Bermuda port they had give us a make and mend day. Miller had set to the job of learning knots and such and had given hiself the task of splicing a number of bale slings and had just begun and finished a whipping on a length of line. He was setting with Joshua Wilson when Campbell come and bent over the two of 'em and says "it's a waste a time to try and teach a SOGER knotwork Josh".

 Quick as a cat Miller swung a leg and knocked both of Campbell's out from under him , dropping him flat on the deck and leaving him muddled and gasping like a mackerel. Miller took one of Campbell's legs  in hand and bound it quite handsomely before pulling it taught, cleated it tight round a pin and shoved Campbell over the side. Leftenant Tumbush, who was officer of the watch, all of a sudden found something which interested him ashore. He knew how much grief Miller had been catching I suppose.

All of us nearby was just staring with open mouths and Miller points at Campbells foot with the knot around his ankle- it was all ya could see of him over the side- and says to Wilson-  "Rolling hitch, for when the pull is at an angle". "That's right" says Wilson as he and another fellow heave Campbell back to the deck before Tumbush decides to notice.

That was the end of that "Soger" claptrap. 

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