Wednesday, February 20

The Seal Serpent

A book review by Tony Gerard

The Seal Serpent 
by Rob Cormes and Gary Cunningham

It has long been a favorite contention of those who believe sea serpent stories describe real, although unknown , types of animals that stories describing a long necked, plesiosaurus looking creature could actually be describing a mammal. Bernard Heuvelmans, one of the founding fathers of cryptology, actually differentiated three different types of long necked, mammalian “sea serpents” in his classic work on the subject “In the Wake of Sea Serpents”.

Cormes and Cunningham, in “The Seal Serpent”, investigate and speculate on the possibility of at least some sea serpents being an unknown type of long necked seal. While there have actually been descriptions by scientists in past centuries of long necked seals, any such creatures remain scientifically unknown today.

This is a very through investigation, and consequently not light reading.  The authors look at the “bunyip“of Australia, more or less concluding that most reports describe out of place or unknown seal types.  They relentlessly examine accounts of out of place seals and sea lions. They examine the folklore of various sea serpents and lake monsters. They examine scores of long necked sea serpent and lake monster reports looking for similar traits, behaviors and appearances. One thing I was struck by was that, although reports of the long-necked type sea serpents are common, the similarities pretty much end with a head on a long neck. Some have large eyes, others have small eyes or no visible eyes, some have a mane running down the neck, others don’t, some have ears or horns, others don’t. Heads are variously described as horse like, camel like, dog like, sheep like, cat like and yes, even seal like.

In the end the authors do something unheard of in the annals of cryptozoology literature. They relate that their thorough search through reports of long necked sea serpents has actually moved them further from a belief in a long-necked seal rather than closer. I’ve got to respect that kind of investigator.

If you have a real interest in sea serpents in particular, unknown animals or cryptozoology, then I recommend this book. If your interest in sea serpents is more general, then there are less specialized books on the subject that would probably suit you better.

Tuesday, February 19

Popham's Signal Flags

Popham as a young Lt.
The Admiral Popham Telegraph Signal book of 1806 is the book used on board Royal Navy ships, including the Acasta. Lord Nelson's final signal at Trafalgar was giv'n using the same system.

In way of explanation as to how to read the Popham Signals:

I. Preparatory flag consisting of a red-and-white diagonal flag which is flown at the start of a signal to show that it was a telegraphic signal.

II. The message finished flag consisted of blue and yellow diagonal.

III. If the message was understood the affirmative signal or a repeat of the signal that was sent.

IV. If the message was not understood then the affirmative signal with a white flag was flown.

V. If the message was to be answered a further flag was flown.

VI. If a number was to be sent then a numeral pennant was flown.

You may find a copy of Popham's Telegraph Signal book HERE. Have a look through it, it is a fairly simple system. You will need this as a reference from time-to-time when the Acasta hoists her signal flags.

Here is the previous signal hoisted, just before the Trafalgar Dinner, for practice:
Click on image to see a larger version.

 This message was hoisted after the capture of the Two Brothers to the Prize Crew from the Acasta

Monday, February 18

Procedures for Taking Prizes

Today's post researched and written by Acasta crewmember N. Weremeichik

When an enemy ship is taken for a prize, here are the procedures that follow such an event in the 1790 Regulations for use at Sea:
When an enemy ship is taken, the ship is to be locked up to protect from embezzlement until it is assessed and sentenced by the Admiralty Court, which is impowered to take Cognizance of Causes [a] of that nature.
The Captain is to have the officers of the prize vessel examined, including three or more of the crew, and bring them to the Admiralty Court. All necessary papers, Charter-Parties and Lading Bills found are to be presented also.
If any Englishmen are to be found among the prisoners, their names are to be written down along with a recount of the circumstances of their capture. Their word can also be used against them.
The aforementioned prisoners (who are found to be Englishmen) are to be examined before the Magistrate with his own witnesses. Copies of the Declaration they make are sent to the Secretary of the Admiralty.
When a Privateer is taken, all the ship’s papers (especially the Commission) is to be secured. If no legal Commission is found, then the Prisoners are to be brought before a Magistrate for examination, and committed as Pirates.

[a] Cognizance: n. (1) Judicial notice or knowledge; the hearing, trying and determining of a cause or action in court. (2) Jurisdiction, or right to try and determine causes.

“American Dictionary of the English Language.” Websters Dictionary 1828,

“Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea: Established by His Majesty in Council.” Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea: Established by His Majesty in Council, 13th ed., Printed in the Year, 1790.

Friday, February 15

Charles Robert Malden

Acasta Volunteer under Capt. Beaver, c. 1809, aged approx 12 years.

Charles Robert Malden was born, 9 Aug. 1797, at Putney, co. Surrey. His father, a medical man and general practitioner of repute, resided at Maiden, in Essex, a place from which his family, who had been seated there for many generations, derives its name.

This officer entered the Navy, 22 June, 1809, as a Supernumerary, on board the Diligence Navy transport, Master-Commander Alex. Black, in order to await an opportunity of joining the Acasta 40, Capt. Philip Beaver, from which latter vessel he eventually, in Oct. of the same year, removed to the Scipion 74, bearing the flag in the Bay of Biscay of Rear-Admiral Hon. Robt. Stopford. Being again, in June, 1810, placed under the orders of Capt. Beaver in the Nisus 38, and awarded the rating of Midshipman, he sailed for the Cape of Good Hope and the East Indies, and assisted, while on those stations, at the reduction of the Mauritius and the island of Java. Soon after the commencement of the war with the United States, he was sent home in a captured American Indiaman.


Wednesday, February 13

Of Charles Winchester

I was passing an alley one night on Bermuda when out from it came multiple cries for Charles Winchester. As I could tell they was all drunk as Lords I paid no mind but went on into the tavern myself.  As it turned out Charles was in that very tavern. I told him of the hullabaloo, and he was curious, so back we went. 

So it had become custom among some of our fellows when given shore leave to make a pact before time that one would agree to stay sober enough to carry or pilot the other back to their berth once they was full to the gills. That work usually required one man to tend one other. Some of them hit upon the idea to rent a horse and then several fellows could be heaved on him at oncet with only one to steer. 

As it happened, they had turned down a blind alley with no way out. 

“The damn thing keeps missing her stays and we’s grounded on this lee shore” explains the almost sober one who was to pilot.

Winchester got the horse turned around for them and set them off again, but after that it become their custom to pay for Winchester’s drinks if he would agree to be the horse pilot.  It seems he had been in the business of trading horses before he run off to sea.  Charles could not just lead a horse , but ride and all, which was a rare skill in a tar.

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

Tuesday, February 12

January 1813 Capture

His Majesty's Ship Poictiers, at Sea, 
January 9, 1813. 


I BEG leave to acquaint you, that His Majesty's ship under my command, in company with the Acasta, captured this day the American schooner privateer Highflyer, mounting five guns, and having on board a complement of seventy-two men : she was on her return from the West Indies, where she had made several captures, is a particularly fine vessel, coppered and copper fastened, and sails remarkably fast.

I have the honour to be, &c.
(Signed) J.P. BERESFORD, Captain
Admiral Sir J. B. Warren, Bart and K.B.
&c. &c. &c.

Taken from: "Bulletins of the campaign [compiled from the London gazette]." page 129 

U.S. Privateer- High Flyer
Class- Schooner
Commanded by- Capt. Jeremiah Grant
Out of- Baltimore
Ships- 2
Brigs- 4
Schrs- 1
Sloops &c.- 1
Cargo, and estimated value- Nails, R, S, &c.

During the War with Great Britain, from 1812 to 1815.
3 armed, and one a packet, See Table of Actions. Was captured by the Poictiers, 74, February, 1813.

George Foster Emmons, The navy of the United States, from the commencement, 1775 to 1853; with a brief history of each vessel’s service and fate ... Comp. by Lieut. George F. Emmons ... under the authority of the Navy Dept. To which is added a list of private armed vessels, fitted out under the American flag ... also a list of the revenue and coast survey vessels, and principal ocean steamers, belonging to citizens of the United States in 1850. ( Washington: Gideon & Co., 1853.) pages 180, 181 

Monday, February 11

Jack Nastyface

Jack Nastyface, memoirs of an English Seaman 
by William Robinson
a short review by Tony Gerard

Memoirs from actual inhabitants of the lower decks are fairly rare, and this is one of those rare gems. Robinson was a volunteer (he soon regretted that) in Nelson's navy. He was actually at Trafalgar  and several other notable actions. At less than 200 pages the book is an easy read. The first part of the book give a good, but brief and general, over view of the life of a common Royal Navy seaman of the time. The second part is a general account of Robinson's career in the Navy  up to the time of his desertion. The book concludes with a brief account of the common methods of punishment in the Royal navy and Robinson's thoughts on impressment. An excellent book which should be a part of each Acasta's personal library. I especially recommend it as a first research book for anyone just beginning a Royal Navy impression.

You can also find the Acastas on INSTAGRAM where we post images of life in the Royal Navy circa 1800-1810. It is our goal to have these images be as if you are looking through a window in time. Give us a follow and keep up with all things Acasta!

Friday, February 8

The Doctor’s Specimen Jars

When we was in Halifax the Doctor purchased a large number of special jars for those fishes, livers, brains, lizards and such things that he keeps pickled in spirits. A sad waste of spirits it is too. He planned to collect many new things if we was sent to Bermuda. He left the Frenchman that is his mate and his man Vasserman to repack them in shavings and straw to protect them on the voyage.

I was on deck when they handed them aboard. As soon as I had one I knew it was too heavy by twice for what it should be.

“Whats in here?” I say to the Frenchman but he just says “jen say pa” like he does not speak good English, which he does, so I look at Vasserman- who is dumb- and he writes on a little paper pad he carries “doctors jars”.

“Too heavy Mate” I tell him, and they give each other a look, and the Frenchman tells me to just keep mum and I will see when they are stowed. So once we are below we get off by ourselves and they open a case. It’s the Doctor’s jars right enough, but each one is filled to the gills with pickled eggs. They told me that if I would keep their secret they would share them. I suppose they figured the Doctor would not have approved.

Where they got them I never knew, because so many would have cost a pretty penny. Pulled some manner of purser’s trick I reckon, probably the Frenchman because deceit is just part of their nature.

In any case they was good to their word and shared them equal and I was good to my word and never told another soul, and every jar was empty by the time the Doctor set foot on Bermuda.

Robert Watson aboard the HMS Acasta
in a letter to his wife, Dec., 1813

Thursday, February 7

Lieutenant Marshall

Acasta Lieutenant under Capt. Beaver, 18th Nov. 1808.

George Edward Marshall is the son of an old Commander in the R.N., who lost his health on the coast of Africa, and was from that cause, as well as from the effect of wounds, obliged to retire from active service. His brother, Lieut. Thos. Marshall, R.M., was killed in the Repulse 74, Capt. Hon. Arthur Kaye Legge, at the passage of the Dardanells, in Feb. 1807.

This officer entered the Navy, 16 Feb. 1801, on board the Invincible 74, Capt. John Rennie, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Thos. Totty in Yarmouth Roads ; and became Midshipman, soon afterwards, of the Assistance 50, Capt. Rich. Lee, under whom he was wrecked, between Dunkerque and Gravelines, 29 March, 1802. During the five years which preceded his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, Mr. Marshall, it appears, was employed on the Newfoundland and Channel stations in the Falcon sloop, Capt. Henry Manaton Ommanney, Goliath 74, Capt. Chas. Brisbane, and Phoenix and Tribune frigates, both commanded by Capt. Thos. Baker. In the Falcon, at the commencement of the war, he assisted in taking possession of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon ; and in the Phoenix he was present, as Master's Mate, in Sir Rich. Strachan's action, 4 Nov. 1805 ; on which occasion he was sent on board one of the prize-ships to aid in navigating her into port. While serving in the Tribune, we find him contributing, 29 April, 1807, to the destruction, by that ship and the Iris, of the greater part of a convoy of 30 vessels, passing from Ferrol to Bilboa under the protection of several gun-boats. He was also a participator in many boat affairs on the coast of France. On being promoted, as above, he joined the Neptune 98, Capt. Sir Thos. Williams, at the time in the Channel; and he was afterwards appointed—18 Nov. 1808, to the Acasta 40, Capt. Philip Beaver, under whom he served as First-Lieutenant at the capture of Martinique and the Saintes in 1809—25 June, 1810 (after seven months of half-pay), to the Amelia 38, Capt. Hon. Fred. Paul Irby, attached to the force in the Channel— 17 Aug. following, and 27 April, 1811, to the Hannibal'74.


Wednesday, February 6

The Floating Prison

The Floating Prison,
a book review by Tony Gerard 

A remarkable Account of Nine Years’ Captivity on the British Prison Hulks During the Napoleonic Wars by Louis Garneray

Louis Garneray first went to sea at the age of 13. Captured in 1806 he was to spend the rest of the war as prisoner until peace was concluded in 1814. The book is best viewed as a historically accurate novel. First published in France in 1851, Ganeray includes many details which are improbably, such as using direct quotes for almost all conversations. The editor, Richard Rose, does a tremendous job tracing the actual historic Louis Garnery, a difficult job after over two hundred years. His excellent footnotes allow the reader to follow what is most likely truth from outright fiction, which characters are fictitious creations to move the storyline along and which events are inspired by true events which happened to someone else. There are some sections of the book that are apparently directly plagiarized from other accounts at the time.

Throughout the book Garneray never misses a change to expound on the cruelty of the English and their indifference to the suffering of the French prisoners. No doubt life on the hulks was miserable, but oftentimes in this respect he outdoes other contemporary accounts.

Lest the reader think I’m being completely critical of the work let me say I highly recommend this book!

The novel like style make it an easy and fast read. The fact that Garneray skips the months of dreary monotony and moves from one interesting event directly to another keeps the reader’s interest. Even events which Garneray may not have directly experienced himself, such as a duel between two inmates with razors tied to sticks or the forced facial tattooing of a prisoner who betrayed his comrades, are usually based on historic fact.

Garneray’s details of daily life on the prison hulks, when compared to other lesser known accounts, have proven to be accurate. Even those aspects which a modern reader might believe to be fiction are collaborated by other sources. An example are the “rafales”, prisoners so addicted to gambling that they lived semi naked in the bowels of the hulk and formed their own sub society.

Garneray came from a family of painters, and while imprisoned he began painting himself. It allowed him to develop an income which improved his lot and afterward he became one of France’s premier maritime artists.  Another plus for the book is that it contains plenty of illustrations, both of Garneray’s work and others of the period, as well as being illustrated with woodcuts from the original 19th century edition done from Garneray’s sketches.  Oddly Garneray has illustrated the dress of  English sailors in a  fashion later than the actual story.

“The Floating Prison” wasn’t Ganery’s only published work. He also wrote “Voyages, aventures et combats” of his time before his capture. I’m anxious to see if there is a translation available!

Tuesday, February 5

Purvis Lodge part VII

Part VII

The bulk of the work was nearly complete at Purvis Lodge. Sir James, the new owner, had sent half of the sailors back to the ship having completed the necessary tasks and improvements in even less time than he had thought, and he was sure to send them back to the ship with their pockets full of extra shillings for doing so. Less than a dozen men and boys from the Acasta were still on the property, they were in charge of the daily tasks and the care and running of the house. Mr. Higgins had even been moved into the kitchen proper.

One  afternoon, a party of the boys had been sent out to gather great baskets of kindling from the wilderness at the back of the property. They returned instead with a skinny milk cow lead with a length of rope.

Sir James met them at the back of the house, by the walled garden. He was in his banyon and had been pulling up weeds and dead growth for the last hour.

“What is the meaning of this?” Sir James called out from the little stone porch. 

“Sir. sir!” Mr. Thomas, the youngest of the boys cried excitedly and out of breath, “We found her in the woods back behind the pasture.”

Volunteer First Class Mr. Linden, who was the oldest boy of the lot at twelve, knuckled his forehead and continued, “We think she was one of the milk cows owned by the previous fellow, and she must’ve been left here. We found a few chickens too when we first arrived. The pasture wall has a great hole in it where a tree fell and we think she got out there and has been wandering the back side of the estate ever since.”

“Heavens, look at the poor beast!” exclaimed Sir James. 

In fact, Linden was correct, the poor, skinny milk cow had indeed been left in the pasture after the death of the last owner of Purvis Lodge. She was thin, scarred and filthy from her adventures in the wild.

“I’ve never owned a cow of my own before.” Sir James mused, “I find I scarcely know what to do with her.”

“She looks awful hungry sir.” Linden added, looking back at her with genuine affection.

“Indeed she does, I suppose she’s been forced to forage all this time. Let’s see to her feeding and watering.” the Captain ordered.

Linden spoke up again, “Me and the boys could make repairs in the pasture wall and she’d have a place to stay again sir.”

“Ah, a capital idea.” Sir James replied, “How long would the repairs take Mr. Linden?”

Linden looked at his group of boys, there were four of them, “I should say about two hours to clear the fallen tree and restack the stone sir.”

“Very good Mr. Linden then let’s be about it, it’s your party.” Sir James smiled.

“Aye sir, thank you sir.” he saluted and they all ran off down back toward the pasture, leaving the captain’s new cow tied to the gate of the garden wall.

Monday, February 4

Purvis Lodge part VI

Part VI

At midday a week later, Mr. Martin heard the familiar creak of the door of the ‘Plow’ as it admitted, what was hopefully, a customer. Business had been slow since the sailors from Purvis Lodge had stopped ordering beer by the barrel and visiting the tavern in the evenings. He was upstairs tending some cleaning and could not immediately attend the newcomer.

“I’ll be right down.” Martin called out.

“In your own time sir!” came the reply from downstairs, it was a large, booming man’s voice.

A moment later, Martin shuffled down the stairs, broom and rag in hand, to find the owner of the voice. He was seated at a table by the door and rose when Martin approached.

“You must be Mr. Martin?” exclaimed the newcomer thrusting out his hand for a shake.

Mr. Martin shook his hand and answered to the affirmative, looking the new gentleman up and down. He was clad in a naval captain’s uniform and epaulettes, and in Martin’s mind there could be no doubt as to the identity of the man.

“Are you the new master of Purvis Lodge sir?” he asked.

“I am sir! I am Captain Sir James Robert Rehme, only just moved in yesterday.”

“A pleasure to finally meet you sir” Martin gave a little bow and invited the captain to have a seat again.

“I understand you have been supplying my men up at the lodge with beer. Is that the case?” Sir James asked.

“Aye sir, I have.”

“Ah! God save you sir!” Sir James replied, “They have been about some thirsty work, and on board ship they are supplied with a quantity of beer daily. I was affeared they might mutiny if they didn’t find someone nearby to supply them. And you were paid adequately for the quantities they purchased?”

“Oh yes sir.”

“I have walked all the way here from the house in an attempt to familiarize myself with the lay of the land, as it were. I wonder if I might trouble you for some of that beer I’ve heard so much about?”

“I offer three kinds sir.” Martin already had an empty pitcher in hand, “Small beer, table beer and strong beer.”

“A pitcher of the strong if you please sir.”

Martin filled the pitcher and took it, along with a clean glass over to the captain’s table. Sir James drank it in great gulps, a man who was obviously very thirsty from his hike from the Lodge.

“And you brew this here?” Sir James asked, pausing from his glass.

“I do sir, I brew all my own beer.”

“I wonder,” began Sir James, pausing to have another sip, “I wonder if I might prevail upon you to submit a standing order of a barrel of this beer every other week to be delivered to the lodge?”

Friday, February 1

Purvis Lodge part V

Part V

A week later, Mr. Martin had the blacksmith and his two strapping apprentices, whose shop was located conveniently across the road from the Plow, help him to heave the fresh barrels of beer into his cart for his delivery out to Purvis Lodge. They were nearly done with their task when a big black carriage drawn by a handsome matching set of chestnuts passed them on the main road that ran through the middle of the village. It wasn’t one of the carriages anyone knew from nearby Haye-Park, it was of a newer manufacture that no one recognised. 

Martin and the blacksmiths craned their necks in an attempt to get a look at the occupants of the carriage, and everyone on the street outside the shops did the same, all eager to get a first glimpse of who must surely be the new tenant of Purvis Lodge. It was to no avail, the shades were drawn low enough to obscure any passengers who may have dwelt within.

Their disappointment was lessened when, shortly thereafter, two large wagons loaded with crates and furniture passed through. Each wagon’s cargo was piled as high as safety would allow, lashed down with ropes tied in the most seaman-like fashion, and riding escort along the sides of each, clutching the ropes as they went, were sailors, their braids trailing out behind them.

Scarcely had the dust settled before the speculation began afresh all over the village as to the identity of the new master of Purvis Lodge.

When, sometime later, Mr. Martin finally turned the now familiar corner up the drive, the front of the lodge was bristling with activity. The number of sailors about the place seemed to have doubled with the arrival of the furniture, and the wagons that towed it in were nearly empty now, their contents having been offloaded and positioned in the yard like a vast staging ground. All hands were busy about their appointed tasks, several opening the crates and boxes, some were watering and feeding the horses, over there was Nithercott, who looked to be paying the wagon-masters, several of the boys were coiling ropes into neat piles and stowing them in camp.

A party of sailors was wrestling with what looked to be a vast, dark wardrobe as Martin stopped his cart as close to Mr. Higgins’ kitchen as he could. His way was checked by the carriage, which was drawn right up beside the cookfire.

Martin made his way around it in an attempt to find Higgins, and sure enough, he was there by the fire, in as clean an apron as ever he could muster. He had a little silver tray with a cup of coffee and two hard boiled eggs, and was offering it to a young man in a crisp naval lieutenant’s uniform. The young lieutenant took the coffee and looked across it with disdain at the approaching Martin. Mr. Higgins muttered to the young gentleman from behind, and in way of reply, the lieutenant exclaimed, “Ah! The pub man.” and with a dismissive sweep of his hand he continued, “You may place the beer over there.”

“Begging your pardon sir,” Martin interjected, “I wonder if I might be allowed to borrow a few of your men to unload the barrels?”

The young lieutenant looked pained, “I am certain you would never intentionally give offence, but I am the son of the third Duke of Grafton. Lord William Fitzroy, only recently assigned to His Majesty’s Frigate Acasta.”

“Begging your pardon again my lord.” Martin gave a little nod of the head and immediately stopped making direct eye contact.

Lord Fitzroy turned to see what the sailors were about in an attempt to ascertain which ones were the least busy, then called out in a voice that was quite accustomed to making itself heard, “Philips, Miller, Thomas, Nithercott! Lay along to the horse cart there and fetch down those barrels! Lively now!”

The four men met Martin at the back of the cart and after they had gotten the first of the barrels down, Martin found himself beside Nithercott. 

“Is his Lordship the new master of Purvis Lodge?” he quietly inquired of the sailor as they heaved down the second barrel.

“Oh no sir,” Nithercott replied, but stopped when he looked over the barrel toward the young lieutenant and found him glowering at them as they worked. Nithercott no longer felt at his ease to answer any questions and they continued to work silently until the task was completed.