Monday, July 31

Ship's Rats

An article by Tony Gerard

Since pre-Roman times sailing vessels have always found themselves carrying these unintended stowaways. We’ve all heard of “rats deserting a sinking ship”, but rats also deserted many a seaworthy vessel and colonized the world in short order.

Among the British Tars rats were often referred to as “Millers” as they were sometimes covered in flour dust from their bread room raids. Rats served as one item in the below decks economy. Today we tend to think of rats as filthy, disease ridden vermin. Under uncrowded conditions rats are relatively clean animals and probably no more unhealthy for consumption than the domestic animals carried shipboard. Their taste has been compared to wild rabbit. Eating rats may also have had a hidden health benefit for tars. Scurvy, from a lack of vitamin C, was the great killer of seamen throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. Humans cannot produce their own vitamin C from raw materials, but rats can. So consuming rats provided as small amount of vitamin C in the diet, and probably helped protect against scurvy.

Rats also played a role in below decks entertainment. “Rat Baiting” was a popular shore side entertainment.  In this activity, a number of rats were released into a special constructed pit or arena and a small dog, cat or ferret was put in to see how many he could kill in a given period of time. A good ratting terroir could sell for big money. Rat catchers advertised “Country rats” which were regarded as more vigorous and healthy, and commanded higher prices. Shipboard there are accounts of rat baiting using ship’s cats or pet dogs. Coils of ship’s cable served as a pit.

Historically the ship’s rat of the 18th and early 19th centuries was not the same rat that you see scurry arcoss the alley today. What we collectively call “rats” in common jargon today are actually two different species, Black Rats and Brown (or Norway) Rats. The names are unfortunate, because both species are the same grey-brown color and to a casual observer look identical.

Brown Rats probably originated in northern China, spreading into Europe by medieval times along human trade routes. By the 18th century they were established in England, but black rats were far more common.

Brown rats are more terrestrial than black rats, they dig extensive burrows and on land often favor damp environments. They were preadapted for the human development subterranean sewer systems. The common name of “Norway Rat” comes from a mistake. The scientist giving them the scientific name “ Rattus norvegicus” in the 1760s thought they came into England with loads of timber from Norway. In actuality, this species apparently hadn’t yet invaded Norway at that time. Another early English name is “Hanover Rat”, a slur developed by those who wanted to blame all of England’s problems on the House of Hanover. Modern pet rats, in their plethora of selectively bred colors, are Norway rats.

The ship’s rats of the 18th and early 19th centuries were probably more often black rats. Black rats developed in southeastern Asia. They apparently invaded the British Isles along with the Roman legions. Black rats are arboreal, generally nesting in trees, and superb at climbing ship’s lines and rigging. They are less likely to burrow than Norway rats, and are smaller and less cold tolerant. The rat pictured with this article is a black rat from the Philippines. Notice it’s head is a little longer and it’s ears are proportionally larger than what we typically see on a pet rat?

Although the black rat colonized the world first, it was no match for it’s larger, more adaptable cousin. As tile and other materials began to replace thatched roofs (perfect black rat habitat) throughout England in the 18th century, Norway rats began to displace black rats. Today in England black rat populations are limited to several offshore islands and isolated pockets in seaside towns. The same thing happened in North America. In fact, if black rats were native to the US, they might well be considered an endangered species now.

Friday, July 28

Pick Your Poison

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

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.

Thursday, July 27

Lady Linnington & Mrs. Brown

Lady Linnington is none too pleased by Mrs. Brown's quiet demeanor during dinner
at the 2017 Jane Austen Festival.

Wednesday, July 26

A Prayer at Jane Austen Festival 2017

Acasta ship's chaplain the Rev. Mr. Griswold offers a prayer before dinner at the
2017 Jane Austen Festival.

Tuesday, July 25

Jane Austen Fest in Images 2017

The Doctor has a look over the men ashore on Sunday morning.
Lady Hamilton says something amusing before the dinner.
Lord Nelson at the dinner table.

Mr. Whinchester keeps an eye on the end of the dinner table.
Lt. Lord Willam Fitzroy watches over the boarding party exercise.
A group of well dressed ladies takes over the table in the private room of the Lord Nelson Arms tavern.
Acasta sailors cling to the shade on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Hobbs and his bottle.
Mr. Armitage discusses boarding party tactics and the equipment used.

Monday, July 24

Lady Hamilton and the Volcano

Emma Lady Hamilton entertains the guests at the Acasta dinner with stories of Mt. Vesuvius.
At the Jane Austen Festival 2017.

Wednesday, July 19

Dinner at the Jane Austen Festival

The Acasta hosted a number of special guests at their dinner at the 2017 Jane Austen Festival. The above video features some of the highlights of that magical dinner experience. Special thanks to all the hard work of the guests and the cooks and servers and servants who helped to make this amazing dinner take place!

Tuesday, July 18

Mr. Apple at the Helm

At this year's Jane Austen Festival the Acasta hosted a magnificent meal with special guests from all over. The Doctor was forced to hand over the videography duties to ship's carpenter Jim Apple. 

The following are some of the delightful results.

Monday, July 17

The Voyages of Captain Cook

The Voyages of Captain Cook
edited by John Borrow and Ernest Rhys

a review by Tony Gerard

This particular book is a reprint of a 1906 edition originally titled “Captain Cook’s Voyages of Discovery”. It is edited somewhat oddly. Cook made three voyages of discovery between 1768 and 1779. The original editor uses original sources to write a third person narrative account of the first two voyages. For the third voyage he uses Cook’s journal to write a first person narrative, later switching to Lieutenant King’s journal after Cook’s death at the hands of native Hawaiians.

Although it’s an interesting read, I often wondered what I was missing by not reading the actual account. For instance in the introduction it’s mentioned that Cook had a difficult time convincing his crew to eat walrus meat during his time in the Arctic. The book only makes a mention that the crew eventually cane to like walrus meat and I’m left wondering what type of juicy historical tidbit, the kind that we history nerds love, I might have missed.

Another issue I have is that of maps. I’d really like to see where Cook was when. The book does provide a map for each voyage, but it’s just a line drawn on a silhouette map with various islands named. Since many of the names used at the time have changed from what we currently use the maps are of only vague help.

Cook’s voyages were spectacular – from the coasts of New Zealand and Australia, to the islands of the south Pacific, to the artic coasts of North America and Russia. His emphasis on cleanliness and scurvy prevention (using sauerkraut, ship brewed beer and fresh provisions at every opportunity) revolutionized certain aspects of naval health care. I’m sure tales and accounts of the voyages would be well known by the average British tar. 

So in summation, if you want a good solid account of all three voyages all in one place, this isn’t a bad book. If you actually want the historic detail, and you want to know exactly what happened where, there is probably a more modern selection that might be a better choice.

Friday, July 14

The 2017 Mail Packet, Deliver'd

The MAIL PACKET gets deliver'd to the ACASTA on Sunday while they are ashore at the Jane Austen Festival! Herein find a sneak preview of a few of the many excellent letters we rec'd this present year for inclussion in the packet. 


As you can see, it was another year of beautiful submissions from our friends and readers! We'd like to take a minute to thank those who contributed to the 2017 packet:

J. Winchester
E. Rust
A. Miller

and Melissa Alexander who taught a special class for period letter writing
and had her pupils write 50 letters to be added to the packet!

We are so pleased and honored by the interest you all showed and by the submitted pieces themselves. Without you, the mail packet project would be woefully empty. The Packet is slated to be delivered on Sunday at NOON at the 2017 Jane Austen Festival. 

Keep watching participants, there's more to come!