Thursday, January 31

Purvis Lodge part IV

Part IV

When Mr. Martin arrived two days later, it was early morning, and the sailors were all down by the road singing and swinging scythes to cut the overgrown lawn. He stopped the horse cart in the shade of a copse of trees along the road and watched them, it being an exceptionally efficient operation. Ten men were spread out in a line, and would swing their scythes in unison near the end of each verse, 

Safe and sound and HOME again
Let the waters ROLL jack

Two men were by the old gate grinding the age and corrosion off several extra blades, and the youngest sailors, only boys really, were gathering the fresh cut grass in their arms in great bunches and carrying it up toward the house. 

One of the boys was gathering grass near him and Martin called out to him over the low stone wall, “Wherever did they find so many scythes?”

The toe-headed boy turned and squinted, the sun being full in his face, “On account they was in the ol’ barn sir.” he said.

Martin urged his horse onward and up the path to Purvis Lodge, stopping near Mr. Higgins’ outdoor kitchen once again with his cart full of beer. The sailors had all the empty barrels gathered there for him to take back to the Plow.

“Good morning Mr. Higgins.” Martin offered as he got down out of the cart, and for the life of him he thought he heard Higgins offer something to the effect of a reply he could nearly understand. 

Higgins brought Martin a cup of coffee and made, what Martin could only interpret as a friendly face. The old sailor spoke, and Martin only understood the final slurred word, which seemed to be “SIR”. Higgins’ statement had the intonation of a question about it, and the old fellow looked at him, eyebrows raised, expectant for an answer, but Martin found himself quite at a loss.

After a brief pause, each man looked about to see if they could find Nithercott, but he was nowhere to be seen. One of the boys arrived with a parcel of long grass from the front lawn under his arm and deposited it on an ever growing pile near the outdoor kitchen. Higgins motioned for the boy to come over and held on to the lad’s shirt collar as he spoke to him.

When the old fellow was done, the boy turned to Martin, knuckled his brow in way of a naval salute, and translated.

“Mr. Higgins’ compliments sir, and he thanks you for the beer…” Higgins corrected the youth by way of a nudge, “...for the fine beer sir, he also wishes to know if you would be agreeable to the men coming into the village a few at a time to take some of their meals at your establishment?”

“Oh!” replied Martin, “Oh yes certainly, I should be quite agreeable to that.”

“Oh thank you sir!” The lad cried spontaneously, “We shall be much obliged to you sir. We’ll be on our best manners and won’t break up the furniture or nothin’.”

Higgins shoved the lad back toward his duty, and the boy was halfway down the lawn when he called exuberantly back over his shoulder with a wave, “Thank you so very much sir!”

Over the course of the next few days, the sailors would wander into Stoke for the evening and have a meal at the Plow. It was never the entire group, usually around four or five of them, and never the same group twice, almost like small shore leave parties being allowed away from a ship. They were always well behaved, almost as if they were on duty. Martin noted that the only unpleasant one was old Higgins, but then surmised that perhaps he only seemed so due to his rough way of speech and the fact that no one outside of his group could understand him.

Wednesday, January 30

Purvis Lodge part III

Part III

The arrival of the sailors at nearby Purvis Lodge had been all anyone in the village near the great house at Stoke had wanted to talk about, and it made Mr. Martin quite the celebrity with the surrounding shopkeepers.

From where had they come? Upon what ship had they served? Who was their Captain?

Martin had very few answers for them, but every conversation was rife with speculation. He told them the little bit that he knew, but it was shockingly little for the gossip-mongers to work with. 

After the allotted three days, Martin was once again at the reins of the horse cart and on his way to the lodge to deliver his two barrels of beer. Even from a great way off, he could hear the familiar sound of hammers and mallets striking wood. Upon arrival, he saw that the sailors had put together a mill where they were fashioning timbers and planks out of the trunks of English Oak trees they had felled on the property. The men were covered in wood shavings and the wood dust from the saws, and the shavings were so thick upon the ground that it looked as though it had snowed! The branches too small to mill were cut into firewood by the boys and stacked in great piles along the side of the barn out back.

Mr. Higgins’ outdoor kitchen had grown into a sizable operation. He stood in a pile of feathers as he picked a chicken clean, he laid it on a rough hewn table with a number of other birds and wiped his hands upon his dirty apron. Higgins tipped his hat to Martin and then whistled and gestured to some nearby sailors to get their attention. Mr. Nithercott, glistening with sweat from hewing logs was among the group that heaved the barrels down. When he was done, Higgins motioned to him and spoke in his unintelligible manner. Nithercott turned to Martin to translate.

“Mr. Higgins desires to purchase two more barrels and wonders if they might be delivered in two days time?”

“Oh heavens, I’m afraid I’m all out of the table beer sir!” Martin replied, “It would seem you have nearly drunk me dry, ha ha!”

Higgins and Nithercott looked at each other with near panic in their faces. Martin caught the glance and in an effort to assuage their fears added, “I do have three barrels of small beer left that I would happily sell you at 10 shillings a piece.”

Higgins nodded his agreement and looked relieved that they wouldn’t have to resort to water alone.

“I have a few more barrels brewing back home,” Mr. Martin added in way of anticipation, “and it should be ready by the week’s end.”

“Are they spoken for? Because if they ain’t, we should be much obliged to you sir if you would sell them to us.” Nithercott said as he pulled out his little purse again to offer up advance payment.

Tuesday, January 29

Purvis Lodge part II

Part II

The next day, Martin carried the two barrels up to the old place, he hadn’t been there for years, but already he could tell that there had been a good deal of stonework repaired and a new roof put upon it. The old Lodge was beginning to look habitable again and the sailors were removing the carpets in teams of two and airing them in the sunshine as he pulled up.

An older sailor, who was busy about a cookfire, took a pot full of coffee off the flame and set it aside. Martin caught a better look at the fellow and noticed that the right side of the man’s face looked as though he had suffered a great blow, it was scarred and crushed in a similar manner of an eggshell. His eye was covered with a patch, and all the teeth on the right side of his mouth were missing. Martin approached him in regard to the barrels of beer, but when the sailor spoke, he was not able to understand him. His voice was gruff and he seemed barely able to form the words in his mouth.

“That’s Mr. Higgins,” Nithercott approached the two after having deposited his carpet upon the lawn, “He’s hard to understand on account he ain’t got no tongue.”

Higgins gestured to a spot near the sailor’s little camp and a group of men went about fetching the barrels off Martin’s cart. It was as neat a little camp as he had ever seen, the sailors had laid out several small canvas tents in a tight line in front of the house, and Mr. Higgins worked at a little kitchen at the end of the row that they had designed from some loose stones and boards found about the place.

Higgins exchanged incoherent words with Nithercott, who seemed to have no trouble understanding, “Mr. Higgins would like to know if you would be agreeable to deliver two more of them barrels in three days’ time? We get awful thirsty sir.”

Martin agreed that he could do just that, and with the prompting of Higgins, Nithercott paid for the next delivery in advance. Higgins brought Mr. Martin coffee in a delicate cup and saucer which he drank with gratitude as the men began to remove furniture from the house and arrange it in the tall grass.

The sailors sent the boys down the drive with axes, and they were clearing away unsightly brush by the road as Martin drove his horse cart back toward the village.

Monday, January 28

Purvis Lodge part I

"Haye Park might do," said she, "if the Gouldings would quit it -- or the great house at Stoke, if the drawing-room were larger; but Ashworth is too far off! I could not bear to have her ten miles from me; and as for Purvis Lodge, the attics are dreadful."
Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice
Chapter 50

Part I

After a number of years, Purvis Lodge found itself once again with a tenant. 

The place had been vacant ever since the previous owner’s passing at a very advanced age, and with no children unto whom to leave the old pile, it fell into a sad state of disrepair. Initially, there had been a good deal of interest in the estate, but all the potential buyers seemed frightened off by the decrepit state of the house and furnishings along with the dreadful attics. The oldest part of the house had been built in the 15th century, and the most recent additions and improvements were done in the earliest part of the last century.

The estate itself was lush and green, very happily situated between Haye Park and Stoke, and with no one to hunt the grounds, the overgrown shrubbery teemed with game of every sort.

The first signs of activity at Purvis Lodge came in the way of a cart of workmen ambling down the road past Haye Park. The driver stopped and bid the Gamekeeper there good morning and asked if this was in fact the road that lead to the Lodge. When the gamekeeper confirmed that it was said road, the driver turned to one of his workmen and said, “And see, didn’t I tell you it was?” 

That afternoon, the Gamekeeper informed Mr. Goulding, the Master of Haye-Park, of the encounter, which was passed to Mrs. Goulding over supper that night. The next afternoon, word of the encounter had found its way to all the nearby neighbors of quality.

A fortnight later, a large wagon full of shingles along with a team of roofers was espied passing through the village of Stoke headed toward the old Lodge. This elicited a great deal of comment among the shop owners. Had the old place been purchased? Did anyone know who the new owner might be?

But the sight that excited the most speculation was about a week later when two dozen sailors passed through Stoke on foot. They were a mixed lot of well-dressed men and boys, each one carried a large ditty bag and many carried work boxes full of tools. They all stopped at the local tavern, a tidy little place known as ‘the Plow’, to have a meal at midday. They packed the place full, and Mr. Martin, the owner of the establishment, had to bring in several chairs from his own rooms in the back to accommodate so many men. 

Mr. Martin was heard to report some time later that he was struck by the prodigious good manners of the men and that they hardly uttered a single oath the entire time they were there. When they were finished, Mr. Martin noted that so many sailors seemed terribly far from the sea and asked them in the most congenial manner where they might be headed.

One of the sailors, who was a very well dressed fellow with a long queue wrapped in a red ribbon, introduced himself as Mr. Nithercott and confirmed Martin’s suspicions when he replied, “Purvis Lodge”.

Nithercott pulled out a small purse and inquired if he might be able to purchase two barrels of table beer, as advertised on Mr. Martin’s sign for 15 shillings a piece, to be delivered to the Lodge at his earliest convenience. 

Friday, January 25

Two Years Before the Mast - A Review

Two Years before the Mast 
by Richard Henry Dana, Jr  
- A short review by Tony Gerard

Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast" is considered a classic and often billed as such. In my experience when a book written in the 19th century is billed as a "classic" be prepared for overly verbose descriptions and lots of moralizing commentary. That was not the case here. Dana's book is an easy and enjoyable read. 

There were many reprints of Dana's book, several in his lifetime. Apparently as time went by Dana's memories of his time as a sailor softened, and later editions were more romantic and less harsh than the original. I was fortunate to pick up the Penguin classic edition, which is a copy of the original 1840 edition.

Dana dropped out of college due to eye problems and, in 1834, signed on as a common sailor bound for California from Boston.  He gives great descriptions- around Cape Horn twice, the hide trade on the California coast, Sandwich islanders as sailors and the hard lot of a common sailor. Dana was obviously proud of becoming a competent sailor. He sometimes gets overly indulgent in his nautical descriptions of trimming sails and it often seems he is just showing off. 

Although the book was taken from experiences after the time of the Acasta there is very little that actually dates it. It is a wonderful glimpse into the life of a common sailor on a merchant sailing vessel and I highly recommend it for any Acasta who's persona back-story includes time served working aboard a merchantman and/or time on the California coast.

Thursday, January 24

John Moon Potbury, Volunteer Second Class

Acasta Volunteer Second Class under Capt. Dunn, 1 Nov. 1805.

John Moon Potbury died at the commencement of 1848.

This officer entered the Navy, 1 Nov. 1805, as Second-cl. Vol., on board the Acasta 40, Capt. Rich. Dalling Dunn, under whom he fought in the action off St. Domingo, 6 Feb. 1806. Between Deo. in the latter year and July, 1808, he served on the Plymouth station, part of the time as Midshipman, in the Porcupine 24, Capt. Hon. Henry Duncan, in another ship, the name of which has escaped us, and in the El Firme, Capt. Wells. He was next, from June, 1810, to March, 1811, employed in the North Sea on board the Christian VII. 80 ; and in May, 1812, he joined the Namur 74, stationed at first on the coast of North America, and then in the West Indies;


Monday, January 21

Meet John Pickthorn

Acasta Midshipman under Capt Beaver, c. 1806.

John Pickthorn is a native of Devonport, co. Devon.

This officer entered the Navy, 12 Oct. 1796, as Ordinary, on board the Alexander 74, Capts. Joseph Bullen, Alex. John Ball, and P. Ormsby; in which ship he came into frequent action with the enemy's gun-boats and batteries in the neighbourhood of Cadiz, and took part in the battle of the Nile, in the blockade of Malta, and in various operations along the coast of Italy. Quitting the Alexander in Sept. 1800, he was next, until April, 1802, employed on the Mediterranean and Home stations as Midshipman (a rating he had previously attained) in the Guillaume Tell 84, Capt. Thos. Elphinstone, flag-ship of Admiral Milbank, Alkmaar, Capt. Fred. Lewis Maitland, and Malta 84, Capt. Albemarle Bertie. In March, 1803, he returned to the latter ship, commanded at the time by Capt. Edw. Buller on the coast of Spain ; and, from July, 1804, until Oct. 1806, he served in the West Indies and Channel on board the Eagle and Kent 74's, and Ville de Paris 110, all flagships of Sir Edw. Thornbrough ; whom, in Feb. 1807, after having been for about three months attached to the Acasta 40, Capt. Philip Beaver, he again joined in the Royal Sovereign 100, on the Mediterranean station.


Friday, January 18

Seize the Fire, a Review

Seize The Fire- Heroism, Duty and the Battle of Trafalgar 
by Adam Nicolson

A short Review by Tony Gerard

In the preface Nicolson says of the book " It is an attempt to describe the mental landscape of the people who fought and commanded at one of the great battles in history and it asks, in particular, why and how the idea of the hero flowered here.'' If that had been on the back cover I'd have never bought the book. I'm not particularly interested in cultural psychology, I thought it was a book about the Battle of Trafalgar.

If you want a book about Trafalgar get " Nelson's Trafalgar" by Roy Atkins, it's excellent. 'Seize the Fire'  uses the battle as a backdrop and conveyance for the social attitudes it examines. It's not light, easy readin. I did read the book  and I learned some things. Nelson explains why the British Navy was the unstoppable juggernaut they were, and how the difference in psychology handicapped the French and Spanish navies before the first shot was fired. There is good information here about the difference in standard naval operation between the British and their opponents.  He also explains a change in attitudes, and what was acceptable behavior, in gentlemen (read officers) between the 18th and early 19th centuries. Just at the point I would become bored with excursions into cultural psychology Nicholson would bring be back around with some interesting period account. I was pleasantly surprised.

I'm not sure that this book has that much to  offer an Acasta doing a straight up "Jack Tar" only impression. I would recommend this book to our gentlemen types to give them some insight into the proper attitudes of the time and place.

Thursday, January 17

More January 1813 Captures

17 January 1813: ship Lydia, from Rhode Island sailing to Norfolk taken by the Poictiers in company with Acasta and Maidstone; and, also in January: schooner Rhoda taken by the Poictiers and Acasta.

from: Bulletins of the campaign [compiled from the London gazette]. page 138

Wednesday, January 16


Above is my original concept to create a flat, scaled down version of a tall ship for use in a signal flag demonstration. Below are the steps I went through to get to the finished product.

Painted the plywood with white primer and projected the ship artwork onto the board using an opaque projector, the cut all the pieces out and made sure the base pieces were primed as well.

You can see the pencil skecth of the ship on the flat cut out piece. Then I took the ship in, set it up on saw horses and painted it in the kitchen

Here's the ship nearly compled on one side.

Some close up shots of the details.

Painted the base to match the water. This shot also shows how the flat ship slides into the base. 

Here's the complete ship, fully rigged with signal halyards and flags!

Monday, January 14

Gunners Training

Today's post submitted by Acasta member Mark Thomas

This being my first article for the website and Acasta pages I ask that you bear with me as this is the first of a series over the next year. In July I was asked by Capt. Bob to do a Gunners training class for the FGW (Friends Goodwill) Sloop. I had offered my services at the sail training class several of us attended earlier in the year.

To go further I  feel a little background info on me is needed. I was introduced to reenacting at 12 years old, my parents were having a rough patch one of many and dad took me to a civil war event in Georgetown Ky. A year latter they were divorcing and I was looking for a unit to join as a way to escape my reality. I had a lot of trouble with this as most would not fool with a 13 year old I had many rejections. My mother used to sell junk at festivals and it was announced at Augusta Ky there would be reenactors as part of the festival I was determined to be in it.

I met a man who changed my life an old Korean war vet who had a cannon, his name was Tom Henson. He took me in without question and I was soon on his gun crew with the coolest job in the world I fired the cannon. That’s right the #4 man life had just took an upswing. I found I had a love for the big guns and never looked back though I did do a stint in horse artillery. My experience is now at 25 years of messing with cannons and I have never regretted it I have seen some awesome things like 50 firing at once and tradgety such as the accident at north college hill Ohio. It puts me in a good place to teach and pass on my knowledge.

Im sure it made several people nervous when it was announced that I would teach a class for the sloop, who can blame them here I am barely out of training and some of these guys have been sailing the sloop for a decade. I must admit this was intimidating so I brought back up, no not the Acastas as they were all busy. I took my Daughter Allie who wants to attend sail training this year. She was there to take photos and video for me as well as experience her first sail. Unfortunately the sail did not happen however the crew did treat her like family and she loved it. The class started off a little rocky with some push backs and some “well that’s the way we’ve always done its”. I expected this and was prepared backing up what I was teaching with stories of disaster and triumph. I probably put a good healthy fear into several of them which is a good thing in my opinion. I slowly won most of them over I believe. We soon went out to the Ship where I asked Tom to walk through the ship board operation of firing the cannon. As he was talking and not focusing on what was going on the rest of the class was quick to see his potentially disastrous mistakes in the gun drill. It was able to be used as a teaching moment to stress the point that the gun crew needs to focus on the gun first.

As the day drew to an end I decided to talk a bit about maintenance on the cannon I realized some improvements needed to be made in that area so while the crew practiced gun drill I decided to borescope the ships swivels. The one pictured above was actually in very bad shape and full of cracks and stress fractures not a good ending to the day. It had the potential to explode given the right conditions which being on the quarterdeck with all the ships officers this could turn into a very bad thing. As of this writing contracts are in the works to replace the swivels with a new set made form ordnance grade steel.

Shortly after leaving I felt I had made a pretty good impact on the students and staff as well. Within a couple weeks I was asked to become the Master Gunner for the ship, I humbly accepted. As of now there is a rework of the manual to teach the class underway as well as other improvements in the gunners department. I have been able to show a new way of making rounds for the cannon which has made a big difference in reducing misfires. New safety procedures are also in the works. 

All in all I call this one a successful expedition with many more to follow.

Humbly yours,
Mark Thomas
Master Gunner.

Friday, January 11

A letter from the Surgeon

This letter has be translated from the original French

Dear Brother,

     As we are in port, and I find myself with more leisure time than I had expected, I will take this time to write you of a most peculiar situation which has arisen.

    I thank the Almighty each day to have left behind the prison hulks and I pray for the poor wretches there formerly in my care. Here in the Acasta I have the charge of two assistants in addition to “loblolly boys”.  One, Reid, seems adequate if unimaginative. The other, Girard, was temporarily promoted to position of surgeon during the absence of an actual surgeon. Imagine my surprise to find, upon my arrival, that he was imprisoned having shot a Marine in a duel! You can well imagine my opinion of one who-having sent their days attempting to aleve human suffering, would willingly try to take another human life!

  Through some manipulation of the Captain he was returned to the ship to occupy his former position as one of my assistants. Upon his return I had another surprise. He is French! Well, not exactly truly French but Creole, and imbued with all the superstition and jocularity of those crude but honest folk.  He is, apparently, a favorite among many of the crew, who call him by his Christian name of Baptiste. You might expect that finding me a fellow Frenchman would incline me to his favor, but such is not the case.  Having been around him for a bit now I take less offense at this, as I think my greatest fault  with him is merely that I am not the Acasta’s former surgeon. This fellow, a Doctr Roberts, was apparently also favored among the crew, and it seems Girard was dog loyal to him. I have since learned this duel was less over a personal insult to Girard and more over an insult to the good Doctr Roberts. It seems the last word of Doctor is that his transport vessel has gone missing and this is also a source of anxiety for poor Girard.

I do believe that Doctor Roberts and I would have gotten on very well. It seems he was also a student of Natural History, with an interest as great as my own. Many of his collected specimens are still aboard. Girard has a proprietary curatorship over these, as he helped in the collection of most of them and plans to deliver them to Doctor Roberts in the future. The poor fellow will not entertain the notion that Roberts may already be lost. 

When discussing the collection of some particular specimen, Girard will sometimes become animated to the point he even forgets he dislikes me, which is almost entertaining. He has an excellent informal knowledge of Natural History, again infused with many simple superstitions, and good powers of observation. He can read both French and English and is actually attempting to learn Latin. I think he could be most useful in my own studies were I ever able to win him over.

Finding him possessed of those positive attributes I was then disappointed to learn he is an avid patron of the cockfighting pit! How can one so often involved with trying to heal suffering find entertainment in such contrived combat between two creatures, human or otherwise? Such is the inconsistency of Man!

One other small incident, and abord ship where there is no escaping one another, small injuries can quickly become large grievances. Early in our acquaintance Girard came upon me sitting reading. He quickly informed me that the chair I was in was, in some unspecified but very potentially dangerous way, broken and should not be used. The chair was perfectly fine, but I vacated it regardless. He said he would have the carpenter see to it and later put a line across it lest I forget and transgress again. I later asked one of the Loblollies of the chair. It seems it was the former throne of the good Doctor Roberts.

And now I find that I have become weary of my rendition. As always, I keep you and your family in my prayers as I trust you do me,

Your loving Brother,

Thursday, January 10

Further Investigation

Captain Sir Jas. Rehme, K.B.
His Majesty's Ship Acasta
St. Kitts, West Indies Station

Dear Sir,

I have the pleasure of delivering the good news that our surgeon reports Sargent Major Cockburn’s wound appears beyond the danger of sepsis and he is expected to make a full recovery. Should he have died I feel I would have had no option but to have hung your man Girard.

I have done some further investigation and found that several members of your crew were present at this dual, as you have no doubt already surmised.  A man named Apple- it is my understanding that he may be a petty officer- apparently served as Mr. Girard’s second. I have also learned that Mr. Girard rendered the good Sargent major medical aid after he had shot him. One can only speculate weather this was done through Christian charity or the sudden realization of his own dire situation.

I can return your man to you or keep him imprisoned as you see fit. There will need be some manner of official inquiry. Let me know your preference for the result of this official inquiry and we can make it so.

I await your response at your leisure.

I remain, your friend & humble servant,
Wm. Jas. Severn, Port Admiral
HMS Ganges, Pump Bay
Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts

Wednesday, January 9

A found letter

A letter found on the Quarterdeck by the officer of the watch 

Sir Captain Rehme,


Firstly we want to say that we are as loyal to the King and yourself as any ships company in the fleet and have no complaint against you or any of our officers.

Secondly we want to humbly beseech you to do what you can for Mr Batise that he don’t get hanged as he is a good surgeon what we all trust and he was trained my Dr Roberts and surgeons don’t come no better than him.

Thirdly we wish you to know that that Lobster what Mr Baiste shot had it coming and then some for he had insulted both Dr Roberts and his wife most villainously and the fact that Mr Baiste only wounded him not mortal  shows what a kindly fellow he is.

Fourthly we wish you to know that Mr Apple did not serve as secont to Mr Batiste as some have said and that is just a slanderous rumor.

Fifthly which  that we are much indidposed to have Frenchman for our new surgeon as how can a loyal subject of the King trust to a Frenchman even of he can sing God Save and such

Your loyal crew

Tuesday, January 8

A letter to Mother Linden

A portion of a letter from Volunteer First Class Samuel Linden to his mother

“So many changes! Just as we are beginning to become accustomed to the new Captain more things have happened to topple the egg basket!

Volunteer First Class Samuel Linden
Most recent Mr. Baptiste was promoted to acting surgeon as Doctor Roberts was to be gone for some time on some particular circumstance. The Mids all thought it very peculiar, but Mr. Baptiste told me he has done similar in the past. That is true I suppose, but they had not prompted Mr. Baptiste before.

Then Mr. Baptiste seen in the Lloyd’s list that the ship the Doctor was to travel on did not make the rendezvous with the convoy it was to travel with, although it had plenty of time to do so. This seemed to disconfigure him greatly, as he was very attached to the Doctor.

Then Mr. Baptiste fails to return from an errand ashore – and word is he has shot a Marine Sargent in a duel! It did not kill the fellow, but he is under arrest just the same.

Then a NEW surgeon shows up! Which shows that the Admiralty did not intend to let Mr. Baptiste keep that post anyway. On top of that he is a Frenchman- which did not set well with the crew! Mr. Baptiste was a Frenchman, and the crew liked him well enough, but Mr. Apple explained to me that Mr. Baptiste was a Creole, which is what they call a Frenchman born in America. He said that Mr. Baptiste was more like a Jonathan that a real Frenchman. He called him a counterfeit Frenchman at best.

This new surgeon is an old man and seems sad. Mr. Mooney says it is because of what is happening in France. I suppose that would make sad also if I were French. Like the Doctor he is interested in Natural History. He must have a particular fondness for tortoises.  In his dunnage was a box containing nothing but tortoise shells and bones. He come to the mids and said he would pay anyone who could make some sketches of the shells for him, as he said he had no such skill himself. I may try to do this, as a bit of extra coin would be nice when I am sent ashore on errands.

But back to Mr. Baptiste. They are holding him under arrest, and I suppose they will most likely hang him. Dueling is illegal in addition to shooting a Marine. Rumor is that he was once a second in a duel for our former firebrand lieutenant. I suppose that his how he knew about how to go about it. It makes me sad to think of him hung, as he was my friend and was kind to me. Please say a prayer for him when you are in church.”

Monday, January 7

A "damned unfortunate business".

Captain Sir Jas. Rehme, K.B.
His Majesty's Ship Acasta
St. Kitts, West Indies Station


I'm afraid this must be brief, as I write to you in great haste. As you and I are of long-standing acquaintance, and I owe you my heartfelt thanks for having taken on my poor boy George (who you might remember was cut in twain by the wind of Spanish hot shot at Tenerife), I felt I might return the kindness by attempting to save the life of your surgeon, Monsieur Baptiste Girard, who was taken up by the local guard for duelling whilst on liberty.

As you well know, duelling has been recently outlawed, but it seems that from witness accounts, M. Girard took issue when a very drunk Sergeant-Major of the Royal Marines, Nicholas Cockburn, late of the frigate Boreas (now attached to the garrison here at Saint Kitts after she paid off and was towed to the yard in Jamaica for repairs), made very low and black remarks & accusations regarding your late surgeon, a Dr. Rbt. Alberts. Cockburn cast aspersions upon M Girard's loyalty to the Crown - he was publicly accused of being a French spy - and lastly, made vile and ungentlemanly remarks about the virtue of Dr. Albert's wife. I am afraid I am unacquainted with the doctor and his poor wife, but M. Girard spoke of them both most loyally and with a moving show of deep affection. Cockburn may be an idle drunk, and is given to wild stories, but he is an honourable sort of fellow - when sober - and a great asset to the garrison when kept out of the rum shops. Thus, appreciating the merits of each of the principle parties involved, you must see why I am so loathe to bring them up on charges for duelling. 

Regarding the particulars of the event in question, I am informed that the duel took place by the light of the moon on Sandy Point, between Charles Fort & the Fortress on Brimstone Hill. It seems Cockburn's pistol jammed, likely from sand kicked up by the winds, but your man Baptiste's ball struck Cockburn in the shoulder (not mortally wounding him, thank god, but taking him out of commission for a few weeks, surely.).

It's damned unfortunate business, but I cannot turn a blind eye to an incident of this nature; I must see them at least brought up on charges. Cockburn has family with money and thus might weasel his way out of the bilbows he is currently strapped to his hospital bed with, but M. Girard appears to have no connections on the island other than yourself whose influence may be brought to bear in his favour. 

You seem to be a captain who keeps to his ship, thus this message comes by my man Bartholomew, who has searched the whole of the island for you, having heard rumor you were about. I would take it as a kindness if you would see him fed, as he's had a long day of it, running notes to see this unfortunate event hushed up. 

Until the next, I remain, your friend & humble servant,

Wm. Jas. Severn, Port Admiral
HMS Ganges, Pump Bay
Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts

Friday, January 4

Wreck of the Medusa, a Review

A mini book review by Tony Gerard

Wreck of the Medusa- 
Mutiny, Murder, and Survival on the High Seas 
by Alexander McKee.

While technically outside the time period we portray (occurring in 1817), the wreck of the Medusa is an interesting and tragic story.  The Medusa was carrying a load of passengers, soldiers and dignitaries to Senegal at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Through a combination of inept leadership and poor judgment the ship ran aground on an extended sandbank off the coast of the Sahara desert. Through more poor judgment the ship is abandoned and about 150 people end up on a hastily constructed raft and are then abandoned. Fifteen of this group survive to be rescued two weeks later. The incident becomes an embarrassment for the new French government, which attempts an unsuccessful cover-up.

While I found the chapters about the voyage, wreck and the survival stories very interesting I have to confess I got bored with the politics of the coverup and only skim read most of this section. McKee also devotes a chapter to an English ship, the Alceste, which wrecked shortly after the Medusa and had many similarities. In this case the Captain made all the right decisions and didn't loose a man. I found this chapter really interesting. Another chapter is devoted to Savigny Gericault's painting of the Medusa raft survivors. Strangely the final chapter compares the Medusa case to a WWII shipwreck survivors, Airplane hijack victims in Jordan in the 1970s and even the famous soccer team airplane crash in the Andes. It was like the book tried to change from a story about history to a psychological analysis in mid stream. I kept waiting for some really relevant connection to be made here which, at least for me, never happened.

The Raft of the Méduse was painted by Théodore Géricault in 1819,
and is now displayed at the Louvre.'