Monday, October 31

For the Doctor's Muddy Stockings

The Doctor attempting to look dignified wrapped in a blanket while his breeches are mended.
"Give them two lathers and a boil, blueing the water well; wash them out of the boil, but don't rince them; then turn the wrong side outwards, and fold them very smooth and even, laying them one upon another, and a weight on them to press them smooth; let them lie a quarter of an hour, then hang them up to dry, and when quite so, roll them up tight, but don't iron them, and they will look quite new."

On one of his outtings yesserday, the Doctor went and muddied up his stockings and breeches. I figgured a reposting of these instructions was in order.

From the book: "The Servant's Directory, Improved" or "House Keeper's Companion; Wherein the duties of the Chamber-maid, Nursery-maid, House-maid, Laundry-maid, Scullion or Undercook, are fully and distinctly explained. To which is added, Cookery and Pickling sufficient to qualify a person to act as THOROUGH SERVANT in any family."

Friday, October 28

The Clothing of a Boatswain

'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

Thursday, October 27

7 Stupid things asked of Historical Reenactors

As reenactors we work with the public at historic sites and events all over. We invest small fortunes and zillions of hours of research to make sure that we are dressed and outfitted properly in order to teach history to the masses. Sometimes the public will ask really thoughtful, intelligent questions...

...and then, there's everyone else.

That being said, I believe that every question can be of value and that they all deserve to be answered... that's what people attend historical reenactments for, right? So, I take a second to answer even the most goofy questions...

This is one of those questions I've never been asked personally, but I've heard stories of other reenactors being asked it. Maybe it's a reenactor 'urban legend'... I like to hope that people aren't stupid enough to really ask this sort of thing.

6.) ARE YOU NORTH OR SOUTH? (to any NON Civil War reenactor)
There is always at least ONE of these couples wandering around any historical event of any era at any given time. They wander up to your camp, see you cleaning your 1770s style brown bess flintlock musket while wearing your tricorn hat and buckle shoes to ask this one. They seem to be of the opinion that ALL reenactments MUST be of the Civil War variety.

When I first got started in reenacting, my daughters were still quite young. One day I laid my youngest one down for a nap in a cabin at the site so she could get a nap in and not be crabby later. A mom and her son marched into the cabin, stomped over to the cradle loudly and practically shouted, "Hey look! Is that a real baby?" No nap THAT day.

You've crammed your tiny vehicle full of your clothes, canvas, tent poles, coolers, camp furniture, gear, cots and enough blankets to smother an army. You get to the site early because you need several hours, and potentially a few friends to set it all up. Then, not only does the public ask this question of your tented weekend home, they generally wander on in without asking. Hey public, don't do that!

I'm wearing a wool coat in Kentucky in July and it's 98° in the shade,  yeah I'm a little toasty.  Aren't YOU a little hot in YOUR costume? Also while we're here... what I'm wearing isn't a 'costume', this is clothing. I only wear a costume on Halloween. If you think of your historical clothing merely as a costume, you're doing it wrong.

It never fails that you slave all day over a firepit at an event just to have a group approach and ask this one. This question is usually accompanied by a look of horror or disgust from the asker.  Are the people of the 21st Century so far removed form their food preparation that they don't know it when they see it?

It never ceases to blow my mind that human beings in this modern age cannot identify REAL fire when they see or smell or feel it. The same people that ask this sort of question when confronted with a real fire are the same people who are allowed to operate heavy machinery, take care of children and vote! And to add insult to injury, their vote counts as much as yours does!

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Wednesday, October 26

HMS Valiant signals

"The Flag is signaling sir," the young midshipman said as he looked across the water to the northeast at HMS Valiant, "and she's made our number."

"Very good Mr. Calhoun." Lieutenant Tumbusch called out from the focsle, where he was consulting with the master, "What do they have to say?"

Young Calhoun, the youngest of the Acasta's midshipmen, fumbled with the copy of Popham's book, attempting to hold the glass to his eye in one hand and the book in the other.

Monday, October 24

Atrocities of the Pirates

The Atrocities of the Pirates 
by Aaron Smith
A brief review by Tony Gerard

 In 1822 Aaron Smith’s merchant ship was captured by Cuban pirates. The rest of the crew was released, but Smith was held captive for the next ten months. Smith is forced to work as a navigator, doctor and member of several boarding parties. Most of the atrocities he witnesses are perpetualed by the pirates on one another. Eventually he escapes and makes his way to Havanna- where he is imprisoned as a pirate! He is sent to England in chains and eventually stands trial for piracy there.

Although the book is slightly after our time period there is really nothing that marks it as such. I highly recommend this book for any members interested in the West Indies and associated piracy.

Thursday, October 20

Sailor's Kit

"The Doctor's man, Vasserman, was mute as a bedbug, but not deaf or simple. He did right well with the ladies despite being dumb- I think it was because he worked double hard at it."

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

Wednesday, October 19

Ill Tidings from the North American Station

10 September, 1813

Captain Frymann:

It is with a heavy and unwilling heart that I send word of the the first unqualified defeat of a British naval squadron in the history of our nation.

Yesterday, on 10 September, 1813, The squadron of Commodore Robert Heriot Barclay on Lake Erie, including HMS Detroit (21), HMS Queen Charlotte (17), HMS General Hunter (10), HMS Lady Prevost (13), HMS Little Belt (3), and HMS Chippewa (1), was lost to a force of nine American ships under the command of U.S. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry.

The full details of this dreadful catastrophe have not yet reached us here in Halifax, but it is our understanding that Commodore Barclay fought the engagement with great courage and valour, even going so far as to nail his flag to the mast to discourage his men from striking. We are told the Commodore was himself grievously wounded twice in the battle, and from what little I know of him I cannot believe that he was in any way shy or negligent in his duty. Speaking frankly between ourselves, I am of the opinion that so complete a loss as this may be explained only by Commodore Barclay's desperately short supplies of powder, rations, and able seamen.

While I place little faith in the discipline of the American land forces, I need not tell you, my dear Captain, what this defeat could mean for our possessions in Detroit and Amherstburg.

I shall send any further news we receive without loss of a minute, and would be grateful for any additional details you may hear prior to my rejoining Acasta when next you touch at Halifax.

I remain, sir, your humble and obedient servant,

Lt. Tumbusch

P.S. I enclose a few artist's renderings of the engagement which have appeared thus far in the local press, with the usual caveat that these are speculative images by landsmen who lack much knowledge of naval vessels.

Images shown are from the 200th Anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie, held on 2 September, 2013.

Commodore Perry's flag aboard US Brig Lawrence (represented by Tall Ship Windy)

HMS Detroit (represented by Sorlandet), US Brig Niagara, US Brig Caledonia (represented by Pride of Baltimore II), and HMS Little Belt (represented by Friends Good Will)

US Schooner Ariel (Privateer Lynx) fires on HMS Little Belt (Friends Good Will)

US Brig Caledonia (represented by Pride of Baltimore II)

US Brig Niagara (replica)

US Schooner Ariel (represented by Privateer Lynx)

US Schooner Porcupine (represented by Halie & Matthew)

Tuesday, October 18

Lady Washington

Learning about the Age of Sail certainly doesn't end with events on land. Volunteers from around the world have devoted countless hours to the meticulous restoration, upkeep, and even reconstruction of real life tall ships under sail from 1812 and beyond for all to see, tour, and even sail aboard!

From their website:

Launched on March 7, 1989, the Lady Washington was built in Aberdeen, Wash., by Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public development authority. The new Lady Washington is a full-scale reproduction of the original Lady Washington.

In 1787, after the war, she was given a major refit to prepare her for a unprecedented trading voyage around Cape Horn. In 1788, she became the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America.

A pioneer in Pan-Pacific trade, she was the first American ship to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong and Japan. Lady Washington opened the black pearl and sandalwood trade between Hawaii and Asia when King Kamehameha became a partner in the ship.

Monday, October 17

The Adventures of John Wetherell

The Adventures of John Wetherell
by John Wetherell
A brief review by Tony Gerard

In 1803 John Weatherall was pressed off a merchant ship into the British naval frigate Hussar. The Hussar’s captain was Philip Wilkinson, a man of less than genteel birth. Wetherall HATED Wilkinson, though probably with just reason. The first fourth or so of the book is Wetherall’s account of his time on the Hussar, which is largely a litany of the wrongs done to Wetherall and the rest of the crew by Wilkinson and his officers. Wetherall apparently wrote quite a bit of rhyming verse about it, most of which was (thankfully) omitted by the editors of my edition. 

In Janurary of 1804 the Hussar is wrecked on an island off the French coast, and Wilkinson is subsequently taken prisoner. He spends the next eleven years as a French prisoner in Givet. The majority of the book concerns his walk across France to reach the prison, his years in prison, and his later walk back across France to freedom. His time in prison is definitely not what I would have pictured. Though not a fast paced page turner I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in British tars held prisoner by the French during our time period.

Thursday, October 13

Brig Niagara

Learning about the Age of Sail certainly doesn't end with events on land. Volunteers from around the world have devoted countless hours to the meticulous restoration, upkeep, and even reconstruction of real life tall ships under sail from 1812 and beyond for all to see, tour, and even sail aboard!

From the Niagara site: 

“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours . . .”

The U.S. Brig Niagara, home-ported in Erie, Pennsylvania, is the reconstructed relief flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. She is the embodiment of the dual mission of the Erie Maritime Museum and the Flagship Niagara League: she is both a historical artifact and a vehicle for sail training, an experiential learning process that preserves the skills of square-rig seamanship.

Wednesday, October 12

Portsmouth Point

Portsmouth Point- The Navy in Fiction 1793-1815
By C. Northcote Parkinson
a VERY brief book review by Tony Gerard

   This is an odd book, but worth the read. I THOUGHT it was going to be short stories with a naval theme written between 1793 and 1815.  It’s not. Instead it is broken down into chapters dealing with some aspect of naval life- such as “The Marines”, “The Food”, “Prize Money”. etc. Each chapter has a short introduction written by Parkinson, then several exerts from period novels dealing with the chapter topic. How odd that someone would choose present historic education like this rather than using exerts of period narratives! It’s still a fun and easy (and educational) read.