Thursday, October 20, 2016

Landing at Middleburgh, Friendly Islands, 1774-1777

Landing of Captain Cook at Middleburg, Friendly Islands, William Hodges, between 1774-1777, National Maritime Museum.

William Hodges, the artist of this painting, was a witness to this scene. Hodges sailed aboard the Resolution with Cook on Cook's second voyage, and documented numerous scenes along the way. According to the curators at the British Museum, Hodges' painting documents Cook landing with his sailors at the island of Eau, accompanied by the Tongan chief Tioonee who bears a plantain leaf aloft.

Unlike other paintings of Cook's voyages that I've examined, Hodges' piece gives us a good view of common sailor's clothing. Common sailors are often given little detail in his paintings for a reason: the artist Hodges was trying to document previously unknown people, lands, plants, and animals, not what British subjects were already familiar with.

At the bow of the jolly boat is a sailor laying his oar into the sand to slow the vessel. He wears a short brimmed round hat and a waistcoat that hangs open. His white shirt is rolled up well above his elbows, tucked into his petticoat trousers.

Amidships stands captain Cook leaning on his musket, and between him and Tioonee is a sailor in the water, guiding the boat in by hand. He is bare headed, wearing an open white shirt and an open blue jacket.

Aft of Cook are three oarsmen. In the foreground is a sailor with a red waistcoat. A black round hat and short brim is atop his head, and a checked shirt is rolled up well above his elbows. The mariner appears is also wearing a dotted neckerchief.

Beside him is an oarsmen wearing a round hat and blue waistcoat. Standing in the water and guiding the boat by hand stands a sailor in a blue jacket. At the stern is an oarsman in an open blue jacket and a single breasted waistcoat. This jack wears a pair of trousers and his shirt is notably open, lacking a neck cloth.

A quick note on dates. The National Maritime Museum's catalog entry states a wider range than I give the painting. The event depicted occurred in 1774, and so could not have been earlier than that. However, prints of this painting begin to appear in 1777, and so the painting must have been completed or nearly so by then. Thus, my date range differs from that proposed by the National Maritime Museum.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Perspective view of the River Thames, 1782

"A Perspective view of the River Thames," artist unknown, 1782, National Maritime Museum.

The curators at the National Maritime Museum did not include the inscription for this print in their catalog entry, but are kind enough to transcribe it for us:
Taken from the Kings Arms at Blackwall; Shooters Hill, Woolwich; The East India Dock Yard. From London Magazine Mar 1782.
To the far left of the gram are a pair of East Indiamen on the stocks under construction. Afloat to the right of the frame is a twenty gun ship that might be either a small Royal Navy sixth rate or an East Indiaman. Her ensign at the stern might suggest a Royal Navy vessel, as it is not the colors of the East India Company, but depictions of East India Company ships in the eighteenth century certainly did fly other colors.

This image is largely unremarkable and much like all other "Perspective Views." There is one detail that sets it apart.

To the stern of our twenty gun ship we can see a malefactor gibbeted for display. Doubtless hanged at Execution Dock, this hapless criminal is displayed as a warning to others.

The sailors in this image seem to take little mind of the rotting corpse.

These two are busy at the shipyard. It is difficult to say much about them, except that the standing sailor (or waterman) wears a round hat turned up front and back, and what appears to be a jacket.

Two oarsmen in shirtsleeves and hatless row a well dressed couple away from the yard. Their coxswain wears an oddly shaped hat that might be a cocked hat reversed. He wears a jacket and single breasted waistcoat.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 3: A Practical Guide

This is part two of a guest post by Buzz Mooney. You can find part one here. Also, visit Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 for part two.

There appear to be two variations on the "sailors' fashion" of shoes: one features one strap hanging loosely over the forward edge of the buckle frame. Illustrations seem to indicate that this was the more common style. The second style has the straps crossed and fed under the forward side of the buckle frame, as seen in  "Watson and the Shark."

Here are some images of one of my own shoes, with the straps buckled and trained in various manners:

The buckle attached to the chape strap in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual fashion:

The shoe buckled in the usual manner, but with the straps pulled forward:

The buckles installed on the chape strap in the conjectural “quick-release” fashion:

The tongue strap buckled:

The “quick-release” method, with both straps loose:

A possible arrangement of the straps, from the “quick-release”. (Note: this would no longer be a quick release, but may be a way to secure the shoe better, while maintaining the overall style):

“Quick release” with both straps fed under the frame:

After these experiments, I am inclined to think that my conjectural “Quick-release” method may have been used on shipboard, to allow quick removal of the shoes for running up aloft, but it seems impractical for going ashore, because it allows the buckle to release from the chape strap, too easily, and tucking the straps to make it more secure eliminates the quickness.

In all, this fashion seems to have been common from at least the mid-1760's to 1810 or so, and may continue as long as buckle shoes are common. Does it go much earlier than 1768? Further research may reveal the answer, but for now, I think we can safely say that yes, sailors did commonly wear their shoes with trained straps, for at least 50 years.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Straps in Training, Part 1: 1740-1790

Today's post comes to us special from Buzz Mooney. Buzz is a longtime reenactor, maritime history enthusiast, and personal friend.

Straps in Training:
Wearing Shoes "Sailor Fashion" in the Age of Sail

In Bill Sullivan’s recent article on, I found this intriguing little gem:  “Sailors wore their shoes 'sailor fashion,' swaggering around with one buckle strap flapping out of the buckle and tugged to the front; others in the backcountry and German-speaking areas turned both buckle straps outward to flap up and down like mule ears, tying them with a string—kind of like wearing your cap backwards or loose-lacing your Timberland work boots.”

I decided to see what I could find, to illustrate or verify the notion of shoes worn “sailor fashion”. Were there period sources that mentioned this, and was it shown in period illustrations? When did sailors wear their shoes in this manner, if at all? The article didn’t cite any sources, so I had to explore this notion on my own, as best I could.

I posted an inquiry on Facebook, to see if any of my naval re-enacting friends could shed some light. Fortunately for me, my list of friends includes the authors of two respected blogs on the subject of period Sailor attire; Kyle Dalton, of British Tars; 1740-1790 and Ben Bartgis of the related Napoleonic Tars; 1790-1820as well as some of the best naval re-enacting units in the US, including HMS Acasta and Ship’s Company.

Tom Apple told me that the cordwainer at Colonial Williamsburg had told him that this practice was called “training the strap”, and both he and Steve Rayner directed me to Bennett Cuthbertson’s A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry... (London, 1768:135)
"XVI. It should be particularly observed, that the Men do not wear their Shoes, on the same feet, but that they change them day about, to prevent their running crooked; nor should they be permitted to have their Shoe straps pulled toward the toe, like Sailors: but are to be accustomed to tuck the ends of them, under the rim of the buckle.”
So here was a direct, period reference to the style, with a description that told me what to look for. The next step was to see what illustrations I could find, to show this “in action”, and, I hoped, to give me an idea whether this was a brief fad, or a long-running fashion. My particular hope was to show whether it ran throughout the periods cited in Dalton and Bartgis’s blogs, which cover the range of periods I re-enact, as a Sailor. I was pleased to find that artists of the period often showed some variation of “training.”

The Cuthbertson book told me the style was commonly recognized as a sailors’ fashion in 1768, which suggests that it had been common for some years, so that at least gave me a fairly early confirmation, and the images I found showed that the style continued into the 19th century.

Before showing the illustrations, and photos of my own shoe “trained”, I’ll give the terminology I’ll be using, with the assistance of an illustration from American Duchess’s website, showing the parts of a shoe buckle. The buckled shoe of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century has the same sort of tongue, common today, and requires no elaboration, but the straps which buckle across the instep of the foot are no longer common. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call the strap by which the buckle is usually attached, the “chape strap”, and the strap which is then buckled to secure the shoe on the foot, as the “tongue strap”. This illustration of a buckle may help to make it clear why I use these terms:

Normally, the chape strap would be passed under the frame, but over the chape, and then passed down through the chape, (to the left of the center bar) and either folded back and tucked under, or laid against the foot, under the tongue strap. The tongue strap is then passed upward through the frame, (to the right of the center bar) and is drawn snug, with the forked tongue of the buckle passed through holes in the chape strap. In the “trained” fashion, some illustrations seem to show the tongue chape simply allowed to hang loose, without being tucked under the left end of the frame, but others  seem to show both straps drawn forward, with the tongue strap either loose, above the frame, or passed through under it, and drawn forward. Other illustrations seem to suggest, however, that the buckle may be installed in an unusual fashion, with the tongue strap buckled first, then the chape strap passed upward through both chape and frame. Ben Bartgis suggested the possibility that training might serve to speed up the process of putting on the shoes, and this method seems to me to be particularly suited for that. 

Before showing my experiments with my own shoe, I’ll show the illustrations which I felt showed both the variety of approaches, and the duration of the fashion, as I’ve been able to trace it, thus far.

I’ll start with John Singleton Copley’s evocative "Watson and the Shark" (1778). There is only one shoe visible, but it’s painted with fine detail. Here’s the close-up: 

It appears both straps are trained forward, with both passed under the frame. I’ve found this to be a somewhat challenging style to mimic, but also the one most likely to keep the shoe securely buckled to the foot.

In this detail from Gillray’s "The Liberty of the Subject" (National Maritime Museum, 1779), we see a sailor with one strap (presumably the tongue strap , as I find it’s easier to buckle the shoes with the tongue strap to the outside) trained forward under the frame. Note that the Tailor being pressed into naval service has a loose strap, which may be in imitation, or may simply be because he’s being roughly handled.

In Carrington Bowles’ “The True British Tar” (1785) we see a single strap hanging loose, not passed under the frame. It appears his left shoe may be styled in the same manner, but this isn’t clearly depicted. Here’s the detail:

Next, we have “Poor Jack”, By Bowles and Carver (1790). In this case, we see both shoes, with one loose strap, drawn over the frame.

Be sure to visit Napoleonic Tars: 1790-1820 for Part Two.

The conclusion, Part Three, can be found here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Jack the Guinea Pig, 1790

"Jack the Guinea Pig," C. Sheppard, 1790, Bodleian Ballads Online.

The author of "Jack the Guinea Pig" wrote a cheerful and peppy ballad of the joys of life at sea, and how hardened sailors can revel in their difficulties. To accompany this piece, the prolific engraver C. Sheppard illustrated a party of tars drinking atop a rum or water cask, taking delight in the suffering of the nearby landsmen. As the ballad writer put it:
When we sail with a freshening breeze,
And landsmen all grow sick, sir,
The sailor lolls with his mind at ease,
And the song and the can go quick, sir.
Laughing here,
Quaffing there,
Steadily, readily,
Cheerily, merrily,
Still from care and thinking free, Is a sailor's life at sea.
Sure enough, these landsmen are having a miserable time.

The two landsmen in the left of the frame are without waistcoats. One wears a cocked hat, the other is hatless. The fellow in the background wears an unremarkable jacket and trousers that end at about the bottom of the calf with white stockings and shoes. His mate in the foreground wears a single breasted jacket with white buttons (possibly metal) and turned back cuffs with dark breeches or trousers.

To the right is a party of sailors on deck. Those that we can see have trousers. The sitting tars has close fitting trousers that show off his calves and a jacket with a single vent at the back and closed, scalloped mariner's cuffs. Though difficult to be certain, I think he is wearing a neckerchief around his neck. Certainly the other three wear neckerchiefs, but at least two of them are without waistcoats. All of them wear jackets and round hats with wider brims. Interestingly enough, the crowns of their round hats are both rounded and conical, showing a wider variety in round hat headgear than I've seen in any other single image.

Climbing aloft on the ratlines is a sailor on watch, wearing the same as his mates: a round hat, jacket, shirt without waistcoat, and dark trousers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Repairing of Capt Cook's Ship in Endeavour River, 1770?

"Repairing of Capt Cook's Ship in Endeavour River," artist unknown, date unknown, National Maritime Museum.

The famous barque Endeavour was the trusty vessel that Captain James Cook commanded on his exploration expedition of 1769-1771. Captain Cook and his men faced numerous perils on their journey, and in this particular scene the Endeavour is being repaired after striking a reef off of Australia. Beside the shore where she was run up and repaired runs a river that now bears her name. This is the second time I have visited this storied shore.

Unfortunately, this piece is low resolution, and doesn't yield much, but there is still something to e said of the sailors in it.

At a pair of boats in the background, two sailors maneuver spars or oars. One, standing or sitting in the boat, wears a jockey style barge cap and jacket, with what appears to be the neckerchief hanging over his back. His mate wears a pair of trousers and a jacket.

In the foreground, a sailor cooks over a large cauldron while wearing a round hat, single breasted jacket, and plain trousers.

Inspecting the damage is a standing tar who wears a round hat, single breasted jacket, and what might be petticoat trousers or trousers. The cox wears the same, except he may be wearing breeches. And the oarsman is bare headed.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771-1772

Penn's Treaty with the Indians, Benjamin West, 1771-1772, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art via With Art Philadelphia.

Benjamin West was a Pennsylvania born artist who specialized in historical scenes. He is perhaps most famous for his "Death of General Wolfe," which I have featured here before.

West was a contemporary of General Wolfe, but not of William Penn. In this painting, West relates the famous treaty with the Lenape that was signed shortly after the establishment of the colony of Pennsylvania.

West illustrates the scene almost a century after it happened, but the clothing of both the Pennsylvania Quakers surrounding Penn and the sailors that carry their trade goods are apparently unchanged from West's own time.

This is not the first time an artist of the eighteenth century depicted sailors of the seventeenth in anachronistic clothing. Today's popular culture often depicts sailors as either pirates or whalers, with an implied idea that those sailors were wearing basically the same slop clothes throughout the centuries with little change. The concept of the rigidly unchanging tar's slop clothes appears to have existed in the past as well.

Though this painting depicts a scene from the seventeenth century, it depicts sailors in the clothing of the time it was painted, and so I will be tagging it and including it in my examination of common sailor's clothing of the mid to late eighteenth century.

At the center of the piece and kneeling beside Penn, a pair of sailors offer trade goods to Tamanend, a chief of the Turtle Clan of the Lenape.

The sailor in the background wears remarkably close cut hair, a white collared shirt, and a purple neckerchief with white spots. He also sports a blue jacket.

His mate wears a green waistcoat with a yellow neckerchief and white shirt. His plain petticoat trousers run down to below the knee, and a bright red cloth garter snakes out from beneath the hem. Our sailor's stockings are dark blue, and his shoes are black or brown.

In his compositional study for this painting, Benjamin West original depicted the sailor at center with a longer waistcoat, but shortened it in the final piece. Shortening the waistcoat serves to make it more appropriate to the fashions of the 1770's. This small detail supports the theory that they are depicted in clothes that are more contemporary with West than intended as strictly historical.

The first thing that should be addressed is whether these men are sailors at all. Short hair, petticoat trousers, and jackets with mariner's cuffs could certainly suggest that they are. Back when I wrote the piece on West's "Death of General Wolfe," there was some objection that those figures were sailors, as their clothing had some overlap with rangers. These men, however, are clearly shown resting over crates with more being hauled up by their mates from the Delaware River. There can be little doubt that these are indeed sailors.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Sitting in the foreground is a sailor showing off something I have never seen before: bare knees and thighs beneath petticoat trousers. There are many, many examples of sailors wearing breeches beneath their petticoat trousers. For quite some time there has been debate on whether or not sailors went without breeches beneath their petticoat trousers, and this painting adds a bit of fuel to the fire.

Could it be that this is exceptional? His sleeves are rolled up well above the elbow, and he's taking a break from hauling heavy cargo. Could this be a nod to the historical setting, with West presuming a different fashion for sailors in the seventeenth century? If so, he would probably have made some other changes to their slop clothes. Maybe West was unfamiliar with how sailors dressed and presumed they went without breeches? As a transatlantic traveler and resident of the two largest port cities in the British empire (London and Philadelphia), it seems unlikely that an artist with an eye as trained as West's would miss a basic fact about the physical appearance of sailors.

As this is the only image to depict sailors without breeches beneath their petticoat trousers, it would be unwise to draw any conclusions.

In any case, like his mates to the right, he wears blue stockings and red garters. His shoes are black with pointed toes and white metal buckles. Out of the slit pocket of our sailor's orange waistcoat with horizontal stripes with a blue handkerchief striped with white. Around his neck is a pink or purple neckerchief, matching that of the man immediately behind him.

This sailor wears a green jacket with buttoned downed mariner's cuffs and white metal buttons. He wears a white shirt, blue stockings, plain petticoat trousers, garters, and a neckerchief identical to his mate's.

The only other tar we can see clearly is hauling a crate over his left shoulder. His knees are bared as well, showing him without breeches either. Otherwise he wears a smock and dark blue stockings.