Monday, January 6

The New Surgeon's Mate

This letter has been translated from it’s original French.

Dr. Ducett Loremir

Dear Brother,

   In writing to you I often feel I must begin afresh from the start, never knowing which letters you may have received.

This time I shall begin by saying I am now in a happier situation than I have found myself in these last several years. I hope that you have received my past letters and know that I have been transferred from the prison hulk to the frigate Acosta, a fifth rate of forty guns, Sir James Rehme, Captain. We are on the North American Station, which is where you should write to me.

I have written to you past of my assistant surgeon Mr. Girard, a creole of about my own age. While a capable assistant surgeon, he had manifested a dislike for me on the basis of his loyalty to the Acosta’s former surgeon, a Dr. Roberts.  Dr. Roberts apparently had an interest equal to my own in the Natural Sciences and left behind a goodly collection of specimens upon his departure. Mr. Girard had taken upon himself a curatorial guardianship of these specimens. On first discovering these specimens I examined them myself with great interest, an event Girard viewed with obvious distaste. The second time I went to do so I found they had been moved and upon enquiring, found that they had been  “stowed more securely” until Dr Robert’s return, an event which he looked upon with the same reverence and hope which a good Anglican places upon Christ’s second coming. There was even a particular chair, the former good Dr.’s, upon which I was not allowed to set on the charge of its being unsound until the carpenter could make it so. How the man was named assistant surgeon I know not, as he obviously has no formal schooling for such an endeavor, although he can read both French and English well enough. I should have thought that with our shared heritage and interest in the Natural Sciences and we should have worked well together, but such was not the case. His deportment toward me was always overly formal and strained.

The other assistant surgeon was Mr. Reed, English of course, who did have a formal medical education, but who was without imagination or enthusiasm for his assignment. He was capable enough but went about his duties with the same curiosity and investigative spirit a sailor shows for holystoning the deck.

Mr. Andrew Richardson
Most recently Reed was invalided ashore, and I was sent a temporary replacement, Mr. Richardson, and this young man has made all the difference! He is apparently from a good family settled upon one of the English islands in the West Indies or Caribbean and has had a formal medical training. Additionally, he shows a great aptitude as an apothecary, making tinctures, teas, salves and such from herbs and minerals. Being from the Americans he is familiar with the identification of most local plants and knowledgeable about their restorative and healing properties.  Should this horrid war finally come to a close I should expect to see him move beyond the status of a mere surgeon and become a physician of renown.

The Mole Cricket
Shortly after he came aboard I found him with Girard in study of some specimen with their hand lenses. So intent were they that were completely unaware of my approach. The specimen was a most curious insect which Richardson called a Mole Cricket. The name was apt, for its front feet were almost identical in form to that most singular mammal! I shall send you a sketch in the future. I assumed this was one of Dr. Roberts specimens but was gratified to learn that it belonged to Richardson! He has brought with him a specimen collection of his own! Girard’s curiosity was aroused to such a degree that he forgot himself and retrieved some of Dr. Roberts sacred specimens for comparison! Our discussion was so interesting and involved I retrieved some of my own specimens for this impromptu lecture. As I was expanding on the mystery of a turtle’s breathing- for they have lungs and not gills, yet their rib cage composes the shell, which is immobile. How do they draw breath? In any case at this juncture we noticed one of Girard’s young sons who had been standing there I know not how long, he has two which are ship’s boys on the Acosta, who piped in with “Lieutenant McClain’s complements and he wishes Dr. Loremir to know that the sick have been waiting at the mast for some time now”. We had all been so engrossed that we had completely lost the time!

It seems that in addition to an exceptional assistant surgeon and apothecary, Mr. Richardson is an avid student of the Natural Sciences with a particular interest in creatures of the marine realm. Since this happy juncture any time he or Girard go ashore with a wood or watering detail they return with some specimen and usually with some useful herbs. It seems Girard also has some knowledge of simples and their preparations. When the two are allowed ashore together the rewards are even greater. Such discoveries and investigations we shall make!  The restraining cord has even been removed from Dr Roberts throne and I have been allowed the honor of being so seated!

While I wish Reed no ill will, especially not a long illness, I shall endeavor to keep Mr. Richardson with this command with every means in my power!

So Dear Brother wish me the joy of my new situation. I send all my love to you and your family. Write to me at every chance.

Your loving brother,

Wednesday, January 1

Our Solemn Duty

With recent footage of the discovery of HMS Terror, I’m struck once again by the awesome responsibility we have as historical interpreters, and as Acastas. We represent men who left their lives behind to go to war for their King and Country, many of whom never returned home. It is my belief that our group should stand as a monument to those men.

I was first struck by this idea at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans when we recreated a British Hospital. Our tent was a memorial to the men who were injured and killed during the battle like nowhere else at that particular event. I remember at the time being struck by what an awesome responsibility that was.

As a group, we show and teach in many different ways, be it our words, actions and even our clothing. As one of the largest Royal Naval reenactment units in North America, the eyes of the public are upon us… in person at events, on the web via our social media, and people trust that we are showing and teaching them correct history.

I’ve said it before, 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.

Some years ago, I ran the Regency Society of Tennessee (RSATN), a group dedicated to remembering and preserving the history, culture and costume of the 1790-1820 time period. Through public and private costumed events, tours of historic sites, workshops and individual research, we endeavored to keep this fascinating time alive for ourselves and the public.

The RSATN didn’t have a strict dress code, we only asked one thing of those that wished to participate,

“Always be working”.

"How" you ask? Whether that meant 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 group events... we wanted to encourage our members to always be working on improving things for themselves and the group.

I understand that reenacting can be a costly pursuit, fabric, patterns, books and gear don’t come cheap. Almost no one is perfect when they attend their first event. The mandate to ‘Always be working” took this into account, allowing members to build up their impression over time.

But generally what ended up happening is they’d get fired up and make a change or two, then stop like the job was done. They’d ‘plateau’ in their impression if not urged to push forward.

‘Plateauing’ is something I’ve noticed with a lot of reenactors, they reach a certain point in their interpretation and they just stop like this is the 100 meter dash. They want to research really fast to get to the ‘end’ so they can be ‘done’.

I’ve got news for you kids, you’re never going to be ‘done’ researching and improving. There’s always more to learn, more to discover. New things are being found all the time, sometimes they serve to confirm what you’re doing and sometimes they will challenge or even prove what you’re doing is wrong… but history isn’t a 100 yard dash for the finish line so that you can go rest and never research again.

As an historical interpreters/re-enactor your job is correctly displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it. If you’re not doing that, then you’re a costumer and you should confine your activities to cosplaying at comic and fantasy conventions and stay away from historically minded events, otherwise you end up confusing people who attend historical reenactments to get an educational and accurate glimpse of history.

No one is going to be 100% historically accurate, but if you KNOW better, let me beseech you to DO BETTER!

We owe it to the people that we represent to be as knowledgeable, accurate and correct as possible in all aspects of our interpretation. And in so doing, the skills, deeds and the people themselves live again in the minds of the public… and in ourselves.