Friday, January 29

Making 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".


Wednesday, January 27

What To 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.

Monday, January 25

Ten Tea Parties

Ten Tea Parties
By Joseph Cummins

A review by Tony Gerard

Just like every other kids who went to elementary school in America I knew that the Boston Tea party happened. I knew that colonists dressed up like Indians and threw British tea into Boston Harbor. I had kind of pictured it as the colonial version of TP-ing the mean neighbor's house. What I didn't know was exactly why it happened, or especially that it involved 92, 000 pounds of tea- an enormous job that took most of the night. I was totally unaware that similar "Tea Parties" occurred all across the colonial seaboard, that ships containing tea were sent unloaded back to England and that several British Sea Captains came close to being tarred and feathered or worse.

Although not really a nautical book "Ten Tea Parties" does feature stories that center mostly around ships and shipping. It's an easy and very interesting read. If you're old enough to have been involved in these affairs it could make a really interesting addition to an Acasta'a back story personal history.

Friday, January 22

A Book Review

Shipboard Life and Organization 1731-1815
Publications of the Navy Records Society Vol. 138
Ed. by Brian Lavery

A Book Review by Chris Bertani

This volume is a collection of primary source material about life on Royal Navy vessels.  Included are Admiralty Regulations, captain's standing orders, extracts from diaries, medical journals, systems for berthing and watch bills, including the quarter bill for H.M.S. Indefatigable in 1812 (if you just want a cross section of names of Royal Navy sailors, it's here), and extracts from courts martial.  The book is a treasure trove of details and minutiae, and I believe any reenactor or student of the era will find something useful.  

The Navy Records Society ( has been publishing primary source volumes since 1893, including many letter books from the Napoleonic Wars, which are fascinating reading for anyone who wants to get the feel of how officers and gentlemen wrote to one another.

These books can be hard to find, but I have had good luck with inter-library loans through my local public library.

Thursday, January 21

What a Bosun Wears

'Sailors Carousing' 1802 by Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759–1817)
And the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty do hereby further give Notice, that the Uniform directed, in pursuance of His Majesty's Order on the 17th November 1787, to be worn by the Warrant Officers of His Majesty's Fleet, viz. Blue Cloth Coat, with Blue Lappels and round Cuffs, fall down Collar, Three Buttons to the Pocket and Cuff, white lining, but not edged with white; Button with an Anchor, same as the Captain's former one; white Cloth Waistcoat and Breeches. Shall be worn only by Gunners, Boatswains and Carpenters; and the subordinate classes of Warrant Officers shall not be allowed to wear Lappels.

From the Admiralty Rules, 1807

It it generally believed that the seated fellow  visible at the left through the doorway/window in the Ibbetson painting above, is a Bo'sun given his mode of dress and the chain about his neck. See enlargement detail.

Above Left: Bo'sun, HMS Venerable, 1799. Above Right: Bo'sun's Mate, HMS Gloucester, 1812

Tuesday, January 19


A fictional posting written by Tony Gerard:

"Lookie  'ere. Ya think the Doctor'd want it?"

Fritz, who had been dozing in the beached launch, sat up. He was part of the  boat crew on a treasured duty- ferrying the Doctor on this naturalist pursuits. It involved, mostly, waiting for the doctor to return. A full day of lazy napping, yarning, walking the beach looking for curiosities and occasionally rowing the Doctor to a new location.  

The young topman held a shell the size of a small woman's fist. It had a few blunt spikes around its spiraled end, the other end tapered to a long, narrow, blunt point, which the sailor used for a handle. The shell's inhabitant was obviously confused at being out of the water and touching nothing but air. It's glistening black body withered slowly from side to side, up and down. A thin, flat fingernail like structure, separate from the shell, moved along with the body. It all so tapered to a point.

"Da Frenchman wudt tell you you shudt be careful" he said.

"How's 'at?" said the Topman still intent on the mollusks movement.

"He haf a tale of a fellow dat was kildt by da sting of a snail"

"Whot?" Fritz had his full attention now.

"Various Cone Shells"
"He say he haf seen a fellow kildt by da sting of a snail" Fritz repeated. At that same time the narrow end of the flat structure hit the sailor between his finger and thumb. He yelped and threw the shell a good twelve feet down the beach. He looked frantically at the spot.

Brooks, who had also been dozing in the launch, chuckled "You ain't stung, he just poked you with that part he uses for a door."

Baptiste, the surgeon's mate, appeared on the ridge above the little beach. He held a gallon specimen jar crooked in each arm. He made his way to the launch where Fritz and Brooks carefully took the jars from him. Brooks held up a jar. All manner of sea creatures wiggled, crawled, swam and jostled against one another. "This spotted crab is making hash outta these wormy things" he said. Baptiste shrugged non committaly. 

"Becket!" Baptiste called to a young sailor setting up the beach with the rest of the boat crew " De Doctor wishes to hav more jars".

"Ain't my job" Becket called back.

"Come now- you are young an healthy, I am a feeble old man, I hav already turned too many stones today". Becket gave him a "drop dead" look, but then broke into a wide grin and loped over to take two empty specimen jars from Fritz.

"Dere. I knowed you was a good fellow, you will see de Doctor from de ridge"

"You owe me" Becket grinned as he loped off up the ridge.

"We should get some curbs" Baptiste said to no none in particular " I beg some onions an vinegar from Swendaw before we leave"

"Planned ahead, that's good" said Brooks, getting back up from napping position "curbs would go right nice".

"Whot's a curb?" asked the top man.

"Here I show him to you" Baptiste walking toward a clump of rock a short distance away. Fritz and Brooks walked off in the opposite direction.

" A curb is dis fellow" he pointed to a peculiar little shellfish clinging to a rock. It was composed of eight overlapping plates, with a rim of softer, almost fuzzy looking tissue around the outer edge. He took out a blunt pointed folding knife, sliding the end under the creature with a twist he popped it off the rock. It curved itself into an arch, but other than that could do little to protect itself.  Holding it upside down he indicated an oval, muscular looking suction cup. "Dis part is his meat".

They spent the next several minutes collecting the creatures until they had filled a knotted up neck cloth.  Returning to the launch Baptiste dug out a wooden bowl, two small onions and a small bottle. He minced the onions in the bowl and covered then liberally with vinegar. He then took one of the shellfish and sliced the meaty portion from underneath, throwing the rest into the gentle surf. The meat he minced up with the onions just as Fritz and Brooks returned, both holding their hats filled with curbs.

Baptiste scooped out a small piece of onion and meat on the knife's blunt end and held it out to the topman. "Try him". 

The topman eyed the piece suspiciously. The meat, so recently part of a living, intact creature, still quivered rhythmically. His speculation lasted too long and Brooks pinched the morsel off the knife and popped it in his mouth, "Curb's good." he admonished the youngster.

It was enough to overcome the younger sailor's suspicions and he dug a piece out on the bowl with his fingers.  Chewing speculatively he eventually smiled and nodded " 'Bout like squid".

The four then set to butchering the entire catch.

"Fritz says you seen a man killed by a snail whot stung him'" said the topman heartily chewing a curb he hadn't even bothered to dip in the sauce. He was now, apparently, a total convert.

"Yes, long ago in de Spanish Philippines. He was a Spaniard, but I still don't wish to see a fellow die like that."

"Ow so?"

"Knobbed Welk"
"We have been wrecked. I was a prisoner to de Spaniards. We was getting mussels at de low tide and dere was shells we did not know, but we tink to eat dem also. I have gathered up some of dem myself, but den dis Spaniard, he cries out an fall to his knees. He have a hole at de bottom of his thumb, an de shell, he have a little pike dat he is just drawing back in. De fellow say it hurt bad, an de mate- he is a cruel fellow- laugh at him to be hurt by a snail. But de fellow still say he is hurt bad, soon he cannot talk too good, den he cannot talk at all. By de morning he is dead."

The topman left off shucking curbs and walked down the beach to retrieve his shell from earlier. The mollusk, left high and dry up the beach, had retreated into it's shell, Brooks "door" part sealing him off from the outside world. "Ow 'bout this one?"

"Dat one is called a welk. He is harmless."

"Think the Doctor'ed want him?"

"Perhaps, we seed none like him today". The topman dropped the welk into the floor of the launch. The Doctor was a favorite of most of the crew. A chance to curry his favor was rarely neglected. 

"Later I learn dat dere are many of dees shells with de poisoned little pike. Most dey are shaped as a cone. But I  have only ever seed dem in de Pacific I think".

"Zat's gud" said Fritz, "day can stay zere."

Finished with the butchering and dicing they sat  the bowl between them. The four sat in the launch, leisurely eating with their fingers in the warm winter sunshine.  Life was good.

*Author's note
"Curb" is a Bahamian name for Chitons, a mollusk which lives attached to rocks in the intertidal zone. They are eaten throughout the West Indies.

Cone snails, cone shells or cones are common names for a large group predatory sea snails. All are capable of delivering a painful sting. Some of the larger species, which feed on fish, have reportedly been responsible for human fatalities.

Monday, January 18

Googlemaps for London c. 1746
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.

Friday, January 15

A Sea of Words

A Sea of Words,
A lexicon and Companion to the Complete Sea Faring Tales of Patrick O'Brian 
by Dean King

A Book Review by Tony Gerard

Even if you're not a Patrick O'Brian fan (what? are you stupid?) this book has a lot to offer a naval re-enactor. The first chapter is about 30 pages with  a great overview of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic period. The second chapter deals with naval medicine of the same period. This is then followed by a series of maps and line drawings illustrating different of ships of the period.

The actual meat of the book is a listing of terms, things, names, people and places that an O'Brian reader might not know or find confusing.  Many of the terms are definitions of various plants, animals and medical conditions and procedures related to Stephen Maturin's pursuits in the novels. While this may not be of much use from a re-enactor point of view, the majority of the terms related to ships, sailor slang and things nautical. It's a handy book to have. 

The next time somebody says they're not a Patrick O'Brian fan instead of calling them stupid you can say something more appropriate like "Any cove what don't like O'Brain must be a coney what got choused out of a brain!"

Wednesday, January 13

The Captain's Background Pt. 3

By Robt. Fryman

 Doctor!  You need not be so meticulous in carving the boar!  The patient is beyond even your extraordinary skills to preserve its life, but if you do not hasten in your “dissection” of the body, the preservation of my body will be in question due to starvation!  

Following the encounter with the Marsaillois, Commodore Hotham directed that we return to New York City to affect much needed repairs to Preston.  Our hopes of quickly repairing the ship were dashed when it was made apparent that the shipyard did not possess the neither the spars nor canvas in the quantities which we required.  As such, Commodore Hotham determined to affect those repairs which would enable the ship to return to Halifax and the more amply furnished shipyards.  During our stay, I was afforded the opportunity on several occasions to go ashore, which enabled me to explore the city and experience Jonathan society.  A large section of the city, particularly that facing the North River front had been burned in 1776, which whether accidentally started or intentionally by the rebel army, His Majesty’s army was blamed for the conflagration.  The surviving shipyards were situated along the East River front, and though spared destruction, were, as I have said, were not sufficiently suited to meet the nature of our repairs.  The losses to Preston involved not only rigging, spars, and timbers, but also a number of her crew, and whilst the carpenter oversaw the physical repairs, Commodore Hotham charged myself and the 4th Lieutenant, Jonathan Eddins, a most amiable individual, with the task of finding individuals ashore to replace those whom we had lost, and duly armed with the appropriate documents authorizing us to requisition individuals from amongst the local population, we embarked for New York.  Mind you Doctor, this was my first experience, though not to be my last, with commanding a “press gang”, and proved to be a most interesting adventure!  Once ashore, and having presented our orders and papers of authorization to the Port Captain, Eddins and I undertook a brief survey of the waterfront, noting the numbers and types of commercial ships docked or at anchor.  As we sauntered along, trying to be as casual as possible so as not arouse undue attention or suspicion, we noted the location of various taverns and other “establishments” lining the street, as well as the manner and orientation of the connecting streets and, more importantly, the alleys which might provide an avenue of escape for those souls not wishing to help His Majesty crush the rebellion and restore order to the colonies!  As Eddins and I had each been allowed to select ten men from our respective divisions for the task at hand, we arrived at a plan in which two groups of men would position themselves at the end of the street, while two other parties would be distributed to watch the alleys, with the remainder of the men accompanying the officers as we entered the taverns.  Upon entering the tavern, Eddins and I would announce that His Majesty’s Navy was in need of men, both those with previous experience as well as those without, to willing serve King George.  Now mind you, New York was home to a sizeable population of those who claimed allegiance to His Majesty and, surprisingly, we did have individuals, both seamen and landsmen alike, willing accept to serve.  However, the quantity of those individuals were insufficient to meet our needs, and as such we needed to resort to impressments, though in the first several days we were interested in obtaining the services of those who were either skilled in the handling of a ship or were willing to learn a new profession.  However, we soon found, as was expected, the volunteers diminished in number by the third day, thus we turned to our press gangs, distributing them in the manner described above, with a shout of “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”, or we should have been  more precise and said, “let slip the dogs of MAN of WAR!”  Come, come Doctor that was funny!  But, I must return to my story.  The placement of our shore party enabled us to secure more men, “netting” a larger catch than would have been possible otherwise so to speak.

As word of our press gang had spread throughout the city during the preceding three days, the local population had become quite adept at evading capture and thus a change of venue was called for.  One rather sickly and slow individual, in exchange for his leave, told us where a number of individuals loyal to the Crown and possessing nautical skills could be found.  The location of this trove of potential seamen was situated north of the city in a cluster of taverns not far from a small hamlet called Harlem.  At this point we had but three days before we were to return to the Preston, and it was estimated that it would take a day’s travel to both reach and return from Harlem, leaving but one day for active recruiting.  Being senior to Eddins, I led my detachment to Harlem after procuring two wagons for the tars and a horse for myself.  As we rode north from the city I was fascinated by the topography of the island on which York City is situated.  The land rises to the northeast as you progress from the city with noticeable heights paralleling the North River and with broad expanses of open land which, from observing the nature of the soil visible in the few plowed fields we passed by, would make superb land for agriculture.  Towards the end of our journey the terrain became more broken with, a series of heights running perpendicular to the North River, making for excellent defensive positions.  I later learned that we had entered upon the field of battle for Harlem Heights, which though was a tactical victory for the rebels in that they held up the advance of His Majesty’s regiments of foot, was now occupied and well fortified by our forces.

Upon approaching McGowan’s Pass, our destination, the Black Horse Tavern, was immediately spied and not a moment too soon Doctor, for the men were anxious to find food and beverage, and I anxious to set foot upon the ground once again. I immediately set half of the men to cover all means of egress from the building and, with the remainder, entered the tavern.  The proprietor, one Nathaniel Long, though he claimed to be a loyal subject of the King, was suspected to harbor true allegiance to the rebel cause, which I quickly came to believe was the case.  After arranging lodgings in the tavern for my command and myself, I announced our purpose to those individuals assembled for drink and food.  The response was immediate with three individuals attempting to flee through various doors and windows, though this was for naught as the men I had positioned about the perimeter of the establishment quickly apprehended the fugitives.  Once caught and questioned the three “recruits” did indeed possess nautical skills having been employed, in one instance for the East India Company, and for the remainder, diverse service for colonial merchants.  At this juncture one of the individuals, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Hollybrass, questioned my authority to take “loyal” subjects of the King and force them to service, whereupon I produced my letter authorizing and granting me the power, in the name of Commodore Hotham as representive of His Majesty, to impress those individuals I deemed fit for service.  Now mind you, that I had stowed my authorization letter in my hat, which I removed and retrieved the paper, and afterwards returned paper to hat and the hat to my head.  I had just placed my hat upon my head when the individual shouted “I’ll knock your authority from your shoulders!” and instantly lunged for me.  In the ensuing scuffle, my hat was knocked to the floor and picked up by the proprietor who, thinking that he be unobserved, tossed it into the fireplace!  Once the pressed men had been subdued, I ordered them to be locked in the cellar, which being brick and without windows, provided the ideal place for their confinement.  This having been accomplished, I set about looking for my hat only to find the last remnants of it being consumed by the flames!  Being tired and desirous of ending this day, I resolved to take up the issue with Long, the proprietor, upon rising the next day.

The new day brought with it its own share of misadventures and retribution, it was soon discovered that the three pressed men had discovered a supposedly “hidden” cache of rum, though I suspect it was smuggled to them by Long.  They made quite a tableau, worthy of a Rowlandson print, as they lay in heap with the bottles about them!  At least in this state, they provided no further resistance to being hauled into the wagons for transport.  As I settled the accounts for the food and lodging with the proprietor, I requested that he provide restitution for the destruction of my hat at which point Long loudly announced that he would do no such thing as our presence had caused him loss of trade!  After several attempts to reason with him, I determined it best to heave anchor and leave.  Mr. Long followed me to the door and out into the street firing threats of reporting this incident to the city garrison commander if not General Clinton!  As I mounted my horse, he loudly announced to those gathered about him, that he “was glad that the sign of my ‘office and establishment’ was gone forever!”  Noticing that his tavern sign, a well executed painted silhouette of a horse’s head, was easily within my reach whereupon I removed the sign saying, “And I am heartily glad that the sign of YOUR ESTABLISHMENT is gone forever!”.  As I rode off, hatless but with the sign tucked beneath my arm, I felt a sense of pride akin to successfully cutting out an enemy schooner!  This provides the answer to the question, my dear Doctor, which you have posed to me on several occasions as to why I have a tavern sign hanging in a place of “honor” in the Great Cabin.

Please be so kind as to “amputate” another slice of our “patient”, and I shall continue with my personal narrative chronicling my years of darkness and light following the end of the American conflict.

Tuesday, January 12

The Captain's Background pt. 2

Come, come, Doctor!  Has the bottle permanently dropped anchor along your shore!
Now, as I was saying, I finally received my commission aboard the HMS Preston as 3rd Lieutenant under the command of Commodore William Hotham.  The Preston was a 50 gun fourth rate, though when compared to the Acasta, the only difference lies with the number of guns she carried, as the Acasta is longer and broader of beam pointing to the marvelous advances in His Majesty’s ship design.  Initially, I was disappointed at being posted to a ship of the line, albeit one of the smallest class to be considered such, as I would have much rather preferred a posting to a frigate and possibility of prize money, but my disappointment so gave way to the satisfaction which comes from the faithful and meticulous performance of one’s duty to King and ship!  Most of the tasks assigned to the Preston entailed convoy duty between Halifax and New York, periodically broken by the sight of an American privateer on the horizon, though we were never able affect a capture they being far swifter than a 50.  It was during this time that I learned the value of a well –drilled gun crew, exercised regularly on the Great Guns, as it proved invaluable after the French fleet arrived off the North American coast in 1778, when the Preston engaged the Marseillois, a French 74¸off the coast of Rhode Island.  Though the Frenchman had been damaged by Nor’easter the day before, it was a hard go, but our gun crews were able to prevail against our larger foe.
That was my first experience in battle, and even though there have been others since then, the events are still as fresh and as real in my mind today.  The Preston was amongst those ships of Lord Howe’s squadron berthed in New York.  Lord Howe sortied the fleet to engage the French whereupon we set course for Newport, in the colony of Rhode Island.  During our approach, a Nor’easter suddenly appeared and scattered the fleet.  We were fortunate in having Commodore Hotham as our captain, he being a superb seaman, and the Preston sustained light damage to the rigging.  This proved to be of great consequence as the following evening, isolated from the rest of our fleet, we fell in with the French Marsellois, a 74 gun ship of the line.  Despite the disparity in the weight of our broadsides, the Marseillois was severely limited in her ability to maneuver, having lost both her mizzen and bowsprit and with but jury rigged repairs in place.  Having the weather gauge, Commodore Hotham immediately ordered that we beat to quarters.  I vividly remember how the rattle of the drum beating the long roll, coupled with the rapid scrambling of the crew to their stations created an atmosphere of excitement and fear.

My station was on the aft section of upper deck gun which housed the 12 pounder guns, the 24s being on the lower gun deck, and within short order the guns were loaded and run out.  I tell you Doctor, the 45 minutes during which the commodore maneuvered the Preston into an advantageous position from which to begin the engagement were amongst the longest I have ever had to endure.  The numerous hours of exercising the great guns had only begun to prove its value as every man exuded confidence at his station. 

Our view of the Marsellois was limited to what we could glimpse through the gun ports, but it was evident that Commodore Hotham was attempting to maneuver the Preston so as to rake the Frenchman’s stern.

Periodically, the sound of the 6 pdrs located on the foc’sle and quarterdeck being fired broke the silence below deck, as the commodore judged the range.  Finally , during the second dog watch at 15 minutes after seven bells – I do beg your pardon Doctor, I mean at “a quarter to eight in the evening”, - I do fail to see how you still have difficulty remembering the times for the various watches, the order was given to fire our broadsides at the Marsellois.  The guns fired as if one, and immediately the gun deck was filled with smoke.  The crews immediately sprang to their stations, swabbing, reloading, and running the guns out once more. 

The Marsellois disappeared from view, shrouded in smoke from our guns and their reply in turn, making it difficult to assess whether or not our aim was true.  The order was passed to aim for the hull and to fire as each gun bear on the target.  My entire world, within short order, became restricted to a few square yards as my only concern, and duty, was to the guns under my command.
Whilst we aimed to disable the Marsellois and her ability to continue the fight, the French initially attempted to damage our rigging and sails to render our superior maneuverability moot, such that the only damage we sustained initially to the hull was the occasional chain or ball which fell short of its intended target.  For 45 minutes, the Preston and Marsellois continued in this dance, neither being able to gain the advantage.  We still being in possession of the weather gauge had a better view of the Marsellois as the wind helped to disperse the smoke from our guns, word came down from the tops that the Marsellois was sending up a series of signal flags, which we interpreted as an attempt by the enemy to mislead Commodore Hotham into believing that relief was coming to the aid of the Marsellois.  Much to our dismay, topmen reported the appearance of sails which indeed heralded the arrival of other of the French squadron.  Commodore Hotham gave orders to break off the engagement whereupon we secured our guns and changed course to the southwest.  Whilst my first action was largely indecisive, I learned Doctor that one must be steady and vigilant in the execution of one’s duty even if it carries the danger of harm to oneself, for adherence to performing one’s duty without regard to self, enables you to remain calm thereby imparting a steadying confidence in your abilities to those whose lives depend on you.

Ah, our dish of wild boar has arrived!  Do help yourself Doctor, and I will continue the “Odyssey” of my life!

Monday, January 11

The Captain's Background pt. 1

As told in conversation to Dr. Roberts whilst dining in Plymouth during the repair of the Acasta in April, 1811.

"I was born in Poole, Hampshire on the 15th of June 1754, my father having served as Captain of Marines, most recently aboard the HMS Centurion.  As my family had long been in the service of the Elector of Hanover, German was spoken as much as, if not more, English, in my childhood home, which is why Doctor you found assorted works by Schiller and Göthe amongst the volumes in my cabin.  When I was twelve years of age, through the efforts of my father and the influence of Capt. Augustus Hervey, I embarked on my nautical career as midshipman aboard the HMS Dolphin under the command of Capt. Wallis.  The strict upbringing imposed upon me by my parents, with its keen attention to detail and commitment to duty, proved to be invaluable in allowing me to quickly adapt to the rigors and structure of service in His Majesty's navy.  On the 24th of June, 1766 the Dolphin set sail for the South Pacific, a most remarkable journey of survey and exploration which lasted two years.  My fondest memories are of approaching the southern tip of South America and passing through the Straits of Magellan, during which I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the aboriginal people of Patagonia, several of who dined aboard the Dolphin at the request of the Captain.  During the course of the meal, a question arose as to whether or not one of the natives, who possessed a very refined and gracile face, was female as there was absolutely nothing about their clothing, essentially being identical, as to suggest gender.  Amid much speculation, and wagering amongst the Wardroom members, the native in question was persuaded to open the garment thereby ending the debate!

Upon the return of the Dolphin to Plymouth in May of 1768, the ship, being in a state of repair, was assigned to the Channel Squadron, and I was posted as Master's Mate, a practice not uncommon for those individuals seeking to improve their knowledge and skills in order to receive their Passing Certificate.  After serving in this capacity for four years, I took my examination and although I received my Passing Certificate, as there were no available berths for a newly minted Lieutenant, I remained with the Dolphin in my previous capacity.  Though relatively uneventful, and often times monotonous, service with the Channel Squadron did afford me the opportunity to have ample time ashore, enabling to visit my parents at their home and grounds near Poole, which they christened "Friedlichkeit", and which I was to later inherit.

With the outbreak of civil unrest and rebellion in the American colonies in 1775, I at last received my commission as Third Lieutenant aboard the frigate HMS Melampe under the able command of Capt. William Hotham, whose friendship and patronage has served me well over the years."

Friday, January 8

At the Gaming Table

Submitted by N. Armitage, Purser.

'The Duchess of Richmond's Ball', Mr Nicholas Armitage, Purser, RN, of HMS 'Acasta' sharpened his card-playing skills… which might come in handy, with the looming peace, ending this long war with France… and the subsequent 'beaching' of many fine officers and men of the Royal Navy'…1815.

Thursday, January 7

To Remove a Musket Ball

A Trocar, Musket Ball Forceps with musket ball, Bullet Probe with ribbon and Catlin.

Wednesday, January 6

Make Your Own Naval Surgeon's Uniform

It is not quite complete, but I can tell you that my reproduction of a Royal Navy Surgeon's Coat has been the result of many hours of research and hard work. And not just work on MY part, but on the part of many people.

J. Horwood's uniform
Let's talk about where it came from. In the National Maritme Museum (NMM), there is an extant example of a Royal Navy Surgeon's coat from 1807 that belonged to a surgeon by the name of Joshua Horwood. They have almost every piece of his uniform... coat, waistcoat, breeches and hat. So I decided early on that I wanted to try to emulate Horwood's uniform as best I could so as to more accurately portray a surgeon from the period.

In my correspondence with the NMM's Amy Miller who is a Curator for Decorative Arts and Material Culture, she had this to say about the Horwood samples:

Horwood's Waistcoat
"I can tell you that the regulations issued in 1805 state that ‘Surgeons of Hospitals to wear two embroidered Button-holes on the Collar; Surgeons of Ships, one.’ The regulations for this period are not always clear as the admiralty would also have produced a  regulation pattern of clothing, called a sealed pattern,  for tailors to copy.  Further, our particular surgeon, Joshua Horwood,  appears to have settled for an extremely cheap coat – the tailoring and materials are not very nice at all.  Since the officer had to provide the uniform at his own expense, it would appear that Horwood did not really want to pay for high end tailoring."
My not yet finished waistcoat

For the sake of my own comfort, it was decided that the small clothes (waistcoat & breeches) would be constructed from russian drill instead of wool. Wool is great at sea and in cooler climates, but not in the American South in the heat of the summer, which is when I attend the bulk of my events.

Maggie (my seamstress/fiance) modified a Kannick's Korner waistcoat pattern to more closely resemble the Horwood waistcoat with its tabs at the bottom, and I hand drew a little pattern piece to emulate the faux pocket flaps.

The repro coat in production.
pad-stitching on the int. collar
The coat is another modified version of a Kannick's Korner pattern. We altered it so that the flaps in the front were one continuous piece instead of being separate bits that were attached. The wool is a tropical weight navy that is used in the creation of cold weather uniform coats for the NYPD. I cannot speak too highly of the quality of this wool, it's really spectacular.

Big thanks to Maggie Waterman... you made me CLOTHES! She is very talented and stuck with the project, even when it frustrated her half to death. Wanna see how talented she is? Of course you DO! Also, special thanks to Michael Ramsey who helped along the way and would give Maggie several much-needed pep talks when she'd get discouraged.

Horwood's collar.
I have had a great deal of difficulty in discovering whether the 'single embroidered button hole' design on the coat collar was stitched in silver or gold thread. Close examination of the image from the NMM's collection would seem to indicate that it is either faded gold or tarnished silver. After a great deal of consulting with friends and folks who are 'in the know' about such things, the final word (in MY mind anyway) came from my email from Amy Miller of the NMM.

"...I can tell you that after looking at the embroidery under magnification, it is gold (in this case a very cheap alloy, hence the tarnish)."

The 'test braid' pinned to my coat.
I am certain that in my quest to discover the proper color of thread, I aggravated my friends to death. Special thanks to Patrick Schifferdecker, Tom Tumbusch, Michael Ramsey and others for their input and for putting up with me.

My initial attempts at hand embroidering the collar braid looked like amateur hour at the quilting bee, it was pretty foul. After some hunting around, I found a woman in my neighborhood who could do the work, and at a price that won't break the bank.

Horwood's Chapeau Bras
Wearing the 'Chafaux' Mark I
The surgeon's hat was a different proposition. The photo from the NMM website is small and dark, making details difficult to discern. But comparing the photo to some of the drawings of hats and uniforms from the period made it possible to come up with something that resembles a proper surgeon's chapeau.

After having a look at a reproduction chapeau bras that belonged to Mr. Mike McCarty and an original hat that was part of my local museum's War of 1812 exhibit, I got my nerve up to create a series of mock-ups that would eventually lead to the construction of a finished product.

The Mark I "Chafaux Bras" as I nick-named it, was a simple hat made from two sheets of black poster board from my local drug store's school supply aisle and some clear tape like you use to wrap Christmas presents with. The Mark I was an attempt for me to get my head around the engineering involved in the hat and making it fit and fold shut when you tuck it under your arm.

The Mark II "Chafaux" was a slightly more complicated production. Slightly more rigid cardboard underneath some cheap black fabric. The Mark II hat made me more confident in some of the steps we would have to go through in order to make the finished product happen... like glue and trim.
A moment of silence for the Mark I which bravely sacrificed itself for the pattern pieces of the finished hat. The Mark II is visible at the upper left.
Thanks to Mr. McCarty for allowing me to examine the construction of his chapeau, and for making me feel like it was not the impossible task that I had originally thought it might be.

I've tried to leave out all the tedious bits like cutting out the small clothes from the Russian Drill around the weird bleachy spots, the never ending quest for proper buttons that don't cost a fortune, finally finding said buttons and having too manually adjust the shanks to all face the same direction, etc.

Thanks to everyone who helped design, construct, glue, stitch, research or encouraged me over the course of the project. You guys are awesome and have helped make something really special for me, and I won't forget that.
No collar embroidery, but otherwise finished. From the Fair at New Boston.
And also, I'd like to thank Joshua Horwood and his descendants for taking care of the uniform and eventually donating it to the NMM so us history nerds could pour over it with a fine tooth comb for details. Because, as Amy Miller from the NMM said in her email to me,  

"...this uniform is an extremely rare survival and is, to my knowledge, the only extant example."

The finished uniform with collar braid.