Friday, December 29

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, 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.


Tuesday, 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.

Monday, December 25

A Christmas Pudding Saved!

Today's special Christmas post written by our own Tony Gerard:

Well, Mary I suspect that as I write this your Marm is asleep in the chair my the fire and the small ones are still savoring their hard candies. I recon you killed that grey goose? I wish with all my heart I could be there will you all.

As it was, for being without family, I just partook of one of the finest Christmas dinners of my life. It was unexpected, that’s for certain, and how it come about is something of a story. The whole story come from the wardroom's servants who heard it young Mister Hamilton hisself as he told it to the other mids. 

Heres the lay of it. The last two years, of a Christmas, the Captain had his man Schwendau- he was once cook for the king of Prussia or some such- to make up a jolly big pudding, enough for the whole crew, with figs and raisins, and a double ration of rum. And Schwendau would supervise our old one legged cook Bowford – that fellow could boil a silk purse till it turned into a sows ear-with spices and such so that it was something more than just the usual peas and salt beef.

Well now we are without a Captain, and our First Leftentant is too skint to even think of feasting the whole crew, a raisin and figgy pudding was right out. To make matters even worse as we come into winter quarters in Bermuda we find that most of the salt beef is gone over. You could smell it all the way up to the quarterdeck when they broached the barrel- and everyone after almost the same. 

Our purser, Armitage- as soon as we get anchored- goes so the the viticular ashore-and they get into a row with the viticular saying that the beef is still good and Armitage saying that it was a sham when it was casked because it is good a quarter of the way down and rotten below. And we got no Captain to intercede on our behalf. So the first Leftentant puts us on half rations for meat cause he don’t know how long before the meat rations is setteled. So we are looking at a Christmas dinner of peas and a half ration of beef and everyone is right glum about it.

So this is where things get strange and the story comes from Mister Hamiltom and the gig’s crew. 

Armitage gets permission for the Sailing Master MacLachlin and young Hamilton to accompany him ashore. As they are going in Armitage take out a bag and- its full of Yankee silver dollars! He gives a handful to both McLaughlin and Hamilton and tells them “Count them Gentlemen, I would like them returned when we are back again”, but most he keeps hisself. 

Once ashore they go to the tavern most frequented by worthies such as themselves. Armitage tells Hamilton to have a walk around for a bit, then to come in and ask to join their game. So Hamilton takes hisself for a goodly walk and comes back to the tavern. He says the place is packed – it was to be expected cause the harbor was full- and he says Armitage and MacLachlin is playing at cards with a Marine officer and another gentleman. He watches for a bit and then asks to join in, even introduces hisself for good measure. So he’s using the Yankee dollars Armitage gave him from before, and he says at first he has never done so well- but Armitage is doing rather poorly. MacLacklin is also doing rather well, but also at Armitage’s expense. There is so much cash money involved that soon there is a crowd watching and more fellows join in the game. After a bit Hamilton’s luck changes and he loses is whole pot to Armitage, MacLachlin loses most of his pot, then says “Too rich for my blood” and leaves the game, but stays to watch.  

So gentlemen come and go, but Armitage’s luck stays good. He keeps winning- always putting some back in his purse, and by late Hamilton says that Armitage has won a small fortune. When he finally gets up to leave the Marine officer – who has played all night and lost heavily- says “I must protest at you leaving Sir! You must stay and give us a chance to recover some of our loses!” 

And Armitage says “My apologies Sir, but I have duties to attend” and which the Marine- who is in his cups also- says “Damn your eyes! I do not know how you have accomplished it – but you are a scoundrel and a cheat and I will have satisfaction!”

To which Armitage asks “Do you mean to challenge me upon the field of honor, Sir?”

“I do." says the Marine, “You may choose the time, grounds and weapons!”

“Then I shall choose here, now and cards,” says Armitage, cool as a winter faire on ice, “one cut of the deck high card wins. If I win my honor shall be satisfied, if you win you may choose place, time and weapons”.

The Marine looks buffeled, but says “very well”. 

Armitage pushes the deck towards him and says “you may do the honors”. 

So the Marine shuffles the deck and sets it in the center of the table. Armitage nods for him to go ahead. The Marine gives him a glare, and cuts the deck. He smiles wickedly and shows his cut to all those looking- the KING of Diamonds!

Armitages nods again, taps the table twice and makes his cut. Ace of Hearts! “My honor is satisfied Sir” he says as he gets up “I bid you all a good evening”.

So on the way back MacLachlin gives back what Yankee dollars he has left. Hamilton says he knows both him and MacLaughlin is wondering, and he can no longer contain hisself and starts to ask “Sir, I must know..” but then realizes he don’t know how to ask it nice.

“Oh, it’s no deception” says Armitage “one must just pay close attention to which cards have been played and which have not.”

“But the cut?” Says MacLaclin.

“That” says Armitage “was luck”.

So two days later aboard comes two bullocks, shore bread and fresh butter, raisins and figs for pudding and oysters and lobsters for a stew! No one can figure out what has happened, then the story comes out by way of the Mid's servants.

Well Schwindeau and old Bowford done justice by what they had to work with and made a feast to be remembered. As we is all at our messes Hollybrass sends the boy Thomas to ask for Armitage. Well, when Armitage comes down everyone hushes- you could have heard a pin drop on cotton- and then Hollybrass says “To Mister Armitage- the Founder of our Feast” and we all give him three good cheers!

He smiles right kindly and says “Well Gentlemen, just don’t expect me to forgive your debts come the New Year.”

After we is back to eating Rammage says to me "Well, Bobby ye missed Trafalgar, but you was there for something that has never happened before and never will again.”

“What’s that?” I asks.

“A Purser saved Christmas and was cheered by his crew!” he says- and hes right I am sure- them things just don’t really happen.

-A portion of a letter from Robert Watson,
aboard HMS Acasta, to his wife, Christmas 1810

Friday, December 22

Because Research is Important


I'm a firm believer in research… and in theory ALL historical interpreters/re-enactors should be. It's the MOST important tool we have in our arsenal for showing the public what life was like in the past. Because, at the end of the day we're supposed to be displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it… right? It is OUR job as historical interpreters/re-enactors to be as historically accurate as we can for the public.

I was not always this way. When I first got into reenacting as a hobby, I was guilty of what alot of reenactors do when they get started… I copied what I saw other reenactors doing & wearing. It's easy to fall into committing what are commonly referred to as 'reenactorisms', because when you see 'everyone' doing something, it's very natural to assume that it must be right, or at least have SOME basis in historical fact.

With the help of some awesome people along the way, and a TON of reading on my own… I eventually got started in a more 'research based' direction.

Some important things to remember:

DO NOT copy the clothing of other costumed interpreters or reenactors.

DO NOT copy clothing you saw in a period movie or television program (even if it was done by the BBC).

While they may look great, you never know what research (if any) has gone into their interpretation, so it's always important to do your own research.

Want to see some of the research that has gone into my impression? Check out these albums on Facebook:



To that end, everything you wear and carry should be researched. When it comes to primary source documentation, what you're looking for is: WRITTEN DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PERIOD, FASHION PLATES, PORTRAITS, and ORIGINAL GARMENTS.


One of the great things about doing an impression like an officer in the Royal Navy, is that there is a wealth of all of those types of documentation that are fairly easy to find.

If you'd like to see some of the work that went into my particular uniform, be sure to check that project out HERE.

The beauty of our hobby (and History in general) is that you can never know everything! Even if you read and research all the time, you'll never learn all there is to know.

So my mandate to you is this, 'always be working'.

"How" you ask? Whether that means working on your first person impression, working on improving your clothing, working on your knowledge of the period or working to bring ideas to the table for  events you attend regularly… don't get lazy or comfortable, don't plateau in your interpretation. I want to encourage you to always be working and researching, because there is always room for improvement!

Thursday, December 21

Signal from HMS Ramillies

The Acasta, in company with HMS Ramillies and Dotterel, was sent out from the Royal Navy Dockyard at Bermuda in search of an American Frigate that is reported to be in the area. We have been on the lookout for several days.

Today, the Ramillies came within sight and was flying her signal flags. Fetch your copy of Popham's Signal Book and translate that signal stright away! Be sure to post your results in the comment area below.

NO PEEKING IN THE COMMENTS BELOW UNTIL YOU HAVE IT WORKED OUT!


Monday, December 18

Midshipman Creyke

CREYKE.
Acasta Midshipman under Capt. Dunn, May 1805 - 1806

Richard Creyke is son of the late Capt. Rich. Creyke, R.N., by Anne Leming, eldest daughter of Geo. Adey, Esq., of London; brother of the late Capt. Geo. Adey Creyke, R.N. ; and cousin of the present Lieut. R. B. Creyke, R.N.

This officer entered the Navy, 6 March, 1800, as Sec.-cl. Boy, on board the Cambridge 80, flag-ship at Plymouth of Sir Thos. Pasley. He removed, as Midshipman, 5 June, 1801, to the Princess Royal 98, bearing the fiag in the Channel of Sir Erasmus Gower ; served for a few months in 1802 on board the Galatea 32, Capt. Geo. Wolfe ; and, on accompanying that officer into the Aigle 36, witnessed, 12 July, 1804, the destruction off the coast of France, of La Charente of 20, and La Joie of 8 guns. In May, 1805, he joined the Acasta 40, Capt. Rich. Dalling Dunn, with whom we find him enacting a part in the battle of St. Domingo, 6 Feb. 1806, and then visiting the Mediterranean. Being promoted from the Royal George 100, flag-ship off Cadiz of Sir John Thos. Duckworth, to a Lieutenantcy in the Alfred 74, Capt. John Bligh, 7 Nov. 1806, Mr. Creyke, after assisting in the operations against Copenhagen in 1807, accompanied home in 1808 the Russian fleet which had surrendered in the Tagus; and with the same Captain, in the Vamant 74, he was further present at the destruction of the French shipping in Basque Roads and the siege of Flushing in 1809, and at the capture of La Confiance (late 40-gun frigate Cannoniere), with colonial produce on hoard to the value of 150,000l. sterling, 3 Feb. 1810.

Source: A NAVAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY: COMPRISING THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF EVERY LIVING OFFICER IN HER MAJESTY'S NAVY, FROM THE RANK OF ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET TO THAT OF LIEUTENANT, INCLUSIVE. Compiled from Authentic and Family Documents. BY WILLIAM E. O'BYRNE, ESQ.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, PUBLISHER TO THE ADMIRALTY. 1849.

Friday, December 15

From the Medical Journal



James Calloway, aged 40, 
Seaman; 
disease and hurt,
suspended animation, from
submersion. 

Taken ill, 19 January Spithead.

Discharged to duty, 7 February.

Brought on board with the appearance of a corpse, he had fallen over the bow of the launch which had then passed over him, a second boat also drove him under water while trying to assist. He was pulled into the stern of the second boat having been in the water 12 minutes and about to go under a third time. Another 20 minutes elapsed before he was brought on board the Acasta and taken to the galley, where he was stripped and dried with warmed, dry sack. After 15 minutes of this the galley fire was needed and he was removed to the sick bay. He was again put in a warm bed with bottles of hot water under his hams, armpits and feet, and heated pewter plates, wrapped in flannel, were placed along his spine. Tobacco smoke was conveyed to his lungs through the tube of a common pipe. After a further 45 minutes, an obscure palpitation of the heart, the tobacco smoke was continued and after a further 10 minutes, he sighed faintly and closed his mouth. Shortly afterwards a pulse was detected at the wrist and the tobacco smoke was discontinued. An hour and twenty minutes after being brought on board he spoke and swallowed a little brandy.

From his general appearance, I do not find it easy to describe, I think a favourable termination to be very problematical.

Originally Recorded by: Mr. Ben Lara, Surgeon, HMS Princess Royal, 1802

Thursday, December 14

Seaman Williams' Fits



Jonathan Williams
Aged 24
Seaman
Disease or Hurt: Fits
Taken Ill 9 January 1806 At Sea.

This young man has been subject to fitts ever since he was twelve years old in consequence as he says of being frightened by his sister coming suddenly into a dark Room where he was sitting with his father, dressed in a white sheet thro' a frolick. I have twice before today seen him affected and I think they were as severe and lasted as long as Fever witnessed by any one person. this lad is a perfect picture of health and I am informed diligent, and friendly in his disposition. From the great muscular strength that he possesses it required a great number of people to keep him from injuring himself while in a fitt. He tells me that he has no previous notice of the attack, only as he thinks he hears a rattling noise like falling waters in his ears, his consciousness then leaves him. The muscles of the neck, breast and abdomen become strongly convulsed, the eyes are turned upwards, and the agitation of the whole frame becomes excessive. The Tunica adnata of the eyes by this time are highly inflamed, the face becomes red, the jaws, unless something is got between them in Time, get fast locked for a short period, and in the height of the paroxysm if the precaution of putting a spoon into his mouth has not been attended to he is apt to lacerate his tongue very severely. By a profuse sweat breaking out on his face these violent symptoms subside, and he opens his eyes and generally stares wildly round him for a few minutes and sometimes will take a drink if it is offered to him, but if spoken to he very often falls into the same state again. He has now been nearly as I have been describing for these last eight hours. I have carefully watched over him and never could perceive that the pulse was materially altered nor the heat of the skin unless about the head. but always after the convulsions subsided, and when his consciousness was returning the heart throbbed most violently until he became quite recollected. I have endeavoured to be as particular as I can about his case on account of the genuine sympathy excited in the breasts of all who have ever witnessed his malady. --

Part of the original handwritten report.
As the Pathology of this disease as well as our general knowledge of the laws of animal aeconomy are involved in much mystery, I am fearfull about hazarding a conjecture on the best mode of treating this case, yet as I will be obliged to do something, I will just say, that it appears from the time he first received the fright, he has been more or less subject to this disease; from the symptoms, which I have detailed it appears also probable, that some preternatural determination of blood to the head then took place, which by compression on the brain might have induced these violent, convulsive motions, and these may have since continued to recur by means of what some late eminent Physiologists have termed 'morbid association', even altho' the primary cause may have long ceased to act. I confess this reasoning is not very satisfactory, however it is the Best I have to offer. During the height of the Paroxysm, I tried to compress the internal Carotid by pressure with my thumbs, agreeable to the recommendation of the ingenious (Dr. Parry of Bath) but from the strong resistance of the muscles of the neck. I suppose I succeeded very partially, altho' he soon got quiet after I had begun and with an idea that they had entirely ceased I left him.

part of the second page
I confess this might be more owing to the natural termination of the paroxysm  than to any benefit devined from the imperfect compression I was enabled to use, but as it was agreeable to the theory I have detailed above I was resolved to try is as often as I could. The excessive violence of the subsequent attacks however totally put it out of my power to persevere in the compression of the carotids; with a view however to induce a new action (if I may be allowed so old a phrase) and set aside the morbid association, I tried by very strong compression with my hands on the spinous processes of the ilia (these parts being violently agitated by the contraction of the gluteal Muscles) and sticking in thumb nails on the ridge of the bones to excite pain there. Here I also thought I did some good. Because it appeared to me that a speedier termination of the paroxysms took place. The usual remedies of slapping the hands and the soles of the feet and bending back the nails of the fingers which are used by the vulgar on these occasions, and which were diligently persevered in here justified as I thought these conjectures of mine. As soon however as he is quite freed from the fitts I purpose bleeding him plentifully and then to administer half a grain of the argent: Nitrat. and daily increase it as I see it has lately been strongly recommended in cases of this description. I will notice the effects as I proceed.


Originally Recorded by: Mr. Thomas Simpson, Surgeon, HMS Arethusa, 1805-1806

Transcribed by Albert Roberts with spellings from the original journal imaes and text found at:  www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Medical Instrument Illustrations from Copperplate engraving from the First Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences, founded in 1768 and printed in 1771.

Wednesday, December 13

A Scorpion Sting


John Randall, 
place of taken ill [?]; 

sick or hurt: 
Poisoned by the sting of a scorpion or centipede occasioning the most violent symptoms and almost a complete paralysis, the consequence was a tumor on the part affected, which I opened and discharged a great quantity of fetid matter, I have seen several cases of this kind, and when they complain early enough, have relieved every symptoms by the application of rum to the part, but in this case the virus had penetrated too far, as the nervous system was evidently affected therefore no success could be expected, by external application; 

taken ill on 26 February
discharged 19 March to duty
Originally Recorded by: Mr. Thomas Tappen, Surgeon, HMS Arab, 1799-1800
Text from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Tuesday, December 12

A Broken Needle



George Wright, aged 24, Seaman;
Disease or hurt, Punctured wound
Taken ill 7 January at sea.
Discharged to duty 30 January

While laying out on the fore topsail yard to reef the sail a large sewing needle which he had stuck in the breast of his frock run into the sternum and he says that it is gone quite thro' as he feels it pricking him. In attempting to pull it out it broke nearly about the middle, and while he came to me, he held the piece in his hand it appeared about one inch in length and pretty thick.


The original page enlarg'd, part 1
He appeared to be in the greatest apprehension and probably pain - for large drops of sweat fell from his face in profusion and his countenance was quite pallid and dejected. I could see the orifice where the needle had entered, but could neither see nor feel any part of it - altho' he had assured me when I touched the part that he felt the needle prick him inside.

The external orifice appeared about an inch above the joining of the Cartilago Ensiformis. With Mr. P. I agreed to lay the parts externally sufficiently open so as to endeavour to find the remainder of the needle. I immediately made and incision about an inch and a half in a perpendicular direction above and below the orifice but altho' we inspected most carefully we could not discover the slightest vestige of the needle nor where it had got to, all this time the Lad kept telling me that he felt it within him and seemed in very great agitation, and I believe if he had not been supported would have fainted.

After a fruitless search I brought the edges of the wound together and retained them with adhesive straps expecting if suppuration should take place that the piece of the needle would soon appear. I got him put to bed and have administered an anodyne and recommended him to lay in the posture which he finds most ease in.

The original page enlarg'd part 2
8th - He still assents that he feels the needle prick him when he moves, but appears not so much alarmed and I have an idea that he must be in some mistake. I have ordered him to remain quiet and repeat the anodyne.

13th - He is able to walk about without any great uneasiness but the needle has never been found, the incision has suppurated. He says still that he can feel it prick him under the left Breast now - but I can not perceive it. Dress the wound daily.

16th - The incision heals, he does not feel the needle now at all. ------ -------

25th - The wound heals rapidly but no part of the needle has been since seen or felt.

Originally Recorded by: Mr. Thomas Simpson, Surgeon, HMS Arethusa, 1805
Transcribed for hmsacasta.com by Albert Roberts
Journal images and text from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Monday, December 11

Meet Mr. Crabb

CRABB.
Acasta Midshipman under Capt Wood, c.1806

Joseph William Crabb entered the Navy, 4 Sept. 1801, as Midshipman, on board the Royal Sovereign 100,' Capt. Rich. Raggett, flag-ship in the Channel of Sir Henry Harvey. He afterwards, until May, 1806, served, in the Mediterranean, and again on the Home station, on board the Acasta 38, Capt. Jas. Athol Wood, Doris 36, Capts. Rich. Harrison Pearson and Patrick Campbell, Diamond 38, Capt. Thos. Elphinstone, and Chiefonne 36, Capt. P. Campbell. We then find him accompanying the latter officer into the Unite 36, in which frigate, under Cant. Edwin Henry Chamberlayne, he continued until Oct. 1815.

Source: A NAVAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY: COMPRISING THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF EVERY LIVING OFFICER IN HER MAJESTY'S NAVY, FROM THE RANK OF ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET TO THAT OF LIEUTENANT, INCLUSIVE. Compiled from Authentic and Family Documents. BY WILLIAM E. O'BYRNE, ESQ.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, PUBLISHER TO THE ADMIRALTY. 1849.

Friday, December 8

The O'possum, Red Tom and a Broken Leg

Today's post written by Acasta mamber Charles Winchester 


Dearest Brother,

      I take this opportunity to write to you a story which I trust you will find entertaining and perhaps humourous.  I must begin by relating to you an event that occurred nearly a year ago.  You know from my previous posts that we are on Blockade Duty off the coast of North America, in particular the U. States, who are now our enemy.  Whilst idling at sea near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, a bit of flotsam consisting of rotting pieces of trees, marsh grasses and seaweed passed by on the tides emanating from that river.  This platform had, through Heaven only knows what circumstance, become the temporary home and aquatic conveyance of a most peculiar creature: Didelphis Virginiana, or as he is commonly known, the American O’possum.  In form and appearance you would find him unique in every aspect.  At a distance you might mistake him for a great rat, but on closer inspection you would instantly find the similarity to rodent kind to be superficial at best.  His head is long with a pointed snout and a mouth filled with a prodigious number of tiny teeth much in the form of tiny needles.  With these and the ferocious swinging of his head from side to side he tears whatever he finds in his mouth asunder.  He is also covered with long hair, grey, tending towards black in places, almost white in others.  Small, almost inconsequential, pink ears top his head;  His pale pink feet almost in the shape of a hand with each digit mounted by a long sharp claw.  Behind is a long tail, almost the length of the body, which is pink and naked, or rather, covered in very sparse hair so as to appear hairless.  The most remarkable thing about this creature, however, is the fact that on it’s underside it possesses a pocket or pouch.  The doctor’s books say this pocket is used to carry the young of this creature who are born prematurely but afterwards remove to the pocket until they are ready to face the world.  It is also unusual that within the pocket the creature’s teats are located from which the offspring feed before emerging upon maturity.  As far as is known there are no species of creatures related to this sort in N. America, but apparently others of his kind inhabit S. America and New Holland in great variety. But you could find this information in any library of Natural History so allow me to continue my story.

As this unfortunate passenger was sighted on our larboard side the crew and officers to a man looked to see what caused the stir.  Many thought retrieving the poor fellow a good idea but no one seemed willing to enter the water to bring it on board.  There happened among our ship’s company a Red Indian who was familiar with the O’possum, both being the Natural inhabitants of America.  Without a word, the fellow leapt from the side and in a moment had the terrified creature held fast in a length of rope and safely on the deck amid ships.  The unhappy animal writhed and hissed in such a terrible manner that no one would get near it. A cage was called for and soon our O’possum was safely contained.  In a matter of weeks the Indian, whom we call Red Tom, had tamed it and it had grown fat and sleek. The crew held a sincere fascination with the creature and fed it scraps of biscuit, beef and pork on every occasion.  Still no one other than the Red Tom deigned to touch it when it was out of its cage.  In a month’s time he was going about his duty with the O’possum on his shoulder or even clinging around his neck whilst high in the rigging.  The animal seemed very adept at climbing and could often be found in the ropes or on a spar as Tom worked aloft.  Our Frenchman, the Surgeon’s Mate, Baptiste, took a particular interest in the O’possum as was his peculiar passion for animals in general and all things in the Natural world.  And, as they say, thereby hangs a tale.


Five days ago Red Tom grew seriously ill with a fever and great congestion in his chest.  His coughing could be heard all over the ship both day and night without abating.  In his turmoil he called for the O’possum to be brought to him as a comfort.  The Doctor would have none of it, for, in his view, the creature was filthy and would contaminate the sick room with its contagion.  The Doctor, perhaps rightly, believed Red Tom’s close association with the creature had led to his current illness.  In truth, however, from my observations of the O’possum, which, I must admit, has also captured my fascination, I find the thing cleaner and more fastidious than most of the Ship’s crew. But the Doctor is Lord of His Castle and Red Tom would have to heal or die without his companion.  Two days later, it seemed Tom would expire in a matter of hours.  Baptiste, the Surgeon’s Mate, through much pleading and exhortation, and prevailing upon his sympathy for his patient, caused the Doctor to relent his former prohibition. The O’possum was delivered and kept his vigil beside Red Tom, albeit from the safety of his cage.  By morning Tom seemed to have improved greatly. The crew attributed this to the O’possum. The Doctor, however, scorned this opinion, saying his plasters and doses had clearly been for naught.

Last night, during the Middle Watch, it is supposed about two O’clock, as Tom recalls a noise that woke him about that time, the O’possum and his cage was turned out upon the deck. No one knows who the culprit was.  The crew mumbles in secret that it was the Doctor who, being irritated with the animal from the start, removed it in secret. I do not subscribe to this way of thinking as the Doctor, besides being an honourable man, is not the sort to bite his tongue but would remove the animal forthright if that were his desire.  I suspect over the last few days he has grown tolerant of the O’possum, if not fond of it.  I hold that one of the ship’s hands, knowing that Tom was out of danger, released the animal by way of a joke or prank. Whatever the truth may be, the creature had escaped and was round about the ship in the darkness.  This would not do, as most of the crew feared the O’possum and what might happen if he were tread upon in the night.  Lieutenant Lord Fitzroy led the crew a merry chase through the night, searching high and low throughout the ship, to no avail.  No on slept much last night.  

By first light it was generally believed that the hapless creature had fallen overboard.  Red Tom who had become much excited during the endeavours, had come out to join in the search, though in his weakened condition could do nothing more than watch from the Doctor’s chair on the Quarter deck.  About noon, a cry from the main top set all eyes skyward and those below running on deck.  Jemmy Small, a topman, had laid his hand upon the O’possum whilst reaching for a stay.  The animal, as the crew feared he would do if frightened, had bitten the top man ferociously on the hand which had nearly caused him to fall, and would have done, had he not been an experience hand of many years in the tops. Seeing this, a marine climbed up part way with the intent of shooting the creature but the Sergeant of Marines called him down again.  At this point Red Tom was making his way to the ropes but the Doctor restrained him, for as weak as he was, he surely would have fallen.  Before you could jump here goes Baptiste aloft with the O’possum cage tied to his belt. In the tops he removes his jacket, gently wrapping it around the animal, like a mother swaddling her new born babe.  A loud Huzzah goes up from the hands watching with intent from the deck and in the rigging around the Frenchman. He climbs down with a broad smile on his face and his eyes fixt on Red Tom. Just as he is about to take his last step down his leg catches in the cage and down goes Baptiste and down goes the cage and down goes the O’possum.  A loud snap and a crack, the cage spills open and its contents run across the deck.  Red Tom picks up his little friend, holding him inside his coat.  I look back to see Baptiste sprawled upon the deck, wincing in pain and holding his ankle.  The Doctor goes to him but Baptsite can’t stand on his leg nor can he walk.  He is taken below and the Doctor soon reports that the lesser bone in his right leg is broken just above the ankle.  I suppose he is fortunate that this could have been far worse.  The Doctor was able to splint and bandage his leg.  We all feared he would lose the leg but the Doctor scoffed at this, his being not a general surgeon but a true Doctor.  Our ship in general and Baptiste in particular are fortunate in that.  

Red Tom and the O’possum sit with the Frenchman day and night while he is convalescing.  Both seem to bring him cheer.  The Doctor says this will aid in his healing and therefore the O’possum is allowed to stay as well.  As you know, Baptiste is our Story Teller so now that he is free from his duties for a while he is keeping us entertained with his tales of his life before he came aboard the Acasta.

It is my sincerest wish that you, Brother, have found this story amusing and that it may lighten your day and that of your Dear Family, if you so choose to share it with them.  I Remain Affectionately,

Your Brother
Harold H. Day, Midshipman
Aboard HMS Acasta,
Halifax, N. American Station

As recorded in his journal, dedicated to his Brother, James A. Day. 23rd April, 1813.



Real life note: Tony Gerard really DID recently break his leg, and to NO ONE'S surprise, there was in fact a Possum involved. Get well soon Tony!

Thursday, December 7

A Nasty Fall













Robert Sampson, 
Seaman;

Disease or hurt:
Compound fracture, taken ill
2 January at sea. Died later that day.



Unfortunately this evening about five o'clock while the people were reefing the topsails, (a) block strap of the maintopsail gave way and by the sudden driving threw several of the people off the yard. They all got into the top with little damage unless the poor man whose case I am now detailing. He fell down on the quarter deck, (there being no splinter netting in this ship which would have saved Him) near the Sky Light. Both thighs and the left arm were badly fractured. The left thigh was a compound fracture; about three Inches of the femur was propelled thro' the instrumentson the outside nearly about midway between the knee and head of the femoris. This portion had ruptured the femoral artery and dreadfully lacerated the contiguous muscles and by the violence of the fall was left sticking upwards of an inch and a half in the deck it was afterwards dug out with a mallet & chissell. As soon I accurately ascertained the extent of the of the injury he received, with the assistance of Mr. ___________, we proceeded to take off the left thigh and then replaced the fractured ends of the other thigh and left arm with proper Bandages & splints. From the time he fell he never spoke; but he was apparently quite sensible. We got him to bed and exhibited a cordial draght, but his pulse gradually sunk and he expired almost imperceptibly at nine o'clock. He lost a good deal of blood before the operation from the artery being wounded but not so much as to endanger life. -- The Injurys he had sustained independant of concussion rendered his case a hopeless one.


 Originally Recorded by: Mr. John _______ , Asst. Surgeon, HMS Dryad, 1827-1828

Wednesday, December 6

An Interview with Albert Roberts



Jas. Townsend and Sons sent a camera crew out to the Jane Austen Fesitval in July to meet and interview the Acastas about our group and what we do… Townsend has begun a series for people who are new to reenacting and living history about how to get started in the hobby. One of the aspects they cover is how to create and flesh out a persona.

I was so busy over the course of the day that I barely got a chance to sit down with them, but once I did, we talked for a long time. Here is the result of that interview.

Tuesday, December 5

In the Night Watch

Acastas line up with the combined crews of HMS Belisarius, Thunderer and Falcon at St. Augustine's 'Colonial Night Watch' event. Hosted at the Castillo de San Marcos, this popular annual event recreates historic Night Watches in garrison towns, where any citizens still on the streets after the gates were locked were required to carry a light so that they could be seen and identified by the Night Watch.



Your Acastas participated in interpretation inside the fort during the day and marched with the other sailors in the parade that night!

 Sailors take over the 'British quarters'

Acastas lined up inside the fort.