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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

George III Reviewing the Fleet at Spithead, 1773


George III Reviewing the Fleet at Spithead, John Cleveley the Younger, 1773, National Maritime Museum.

It was not common (though not unheard of) for a reigning monarch of Britain to review the fleet in the eighteenth century. This particular event lasted four days in 1773, during which the Cleveley family had plenty of time to practice their painting. John the Elder also painted the review, though from a distinctly different perspective.


The sailors of the Royal Oak stand on the yards in a ceremonial display. While the colors are more muted, John's work here is reminiscent of his father's The Arrival of Princess Charlotte at Harwich. All the men aloft wear white trousers and blue jackets.


Aside from a single skiff in which the crew are all clad in blue jackets and round hats, the barge procession is rowed entirely by oarsmen in black barge caps and shirt sleeves.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Spermacaeti whale brought to Greenland Dock, 1762

The Spermacaeti whale brought to Greenland Dock 1762, artist unknown, 1762, National Maritime Museum.

In the cold waters of the North Atlantic, a small squadron of whalers deploy the boats to harpoon their prey. Driven up onto the ice is a surprisingly clean looking whale corpse. The artist is likely depicting a particularly sizable whale, one worthy of capturing on paper.

The first thing I noticed in this piece was the anachronistic flag on the whaler in the left of the frame.


The French tricolor flag did not exist until the Revolution, and so would not have been flown on a whaler in 1762. A closer look reveals that the flag is actually the Union Jack, and that some subsequent colorist sought to re-brand the original image at at later date. If not for obvious anachronisms like this, it would be nearly impossible to tell when a colorist comes along later. This is one of the pitfalls in relying solely on primary source images in a study such as mine. Always be open to questioning your sources and rounding out your knowledge with other sources.


Our sailors are clad in blue and red jackets, cocked hats, and round hats.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Squintums Farewell to Sinners, 1760


Squintums Farewell to Sinners, M. Darly, 1760, Yale University.

Darly's caricature shows the reaction of a diverse crowd to the sermonizing of Squintums, a stand in for the famous preacher George Whitefield.

Notorious for their supposed irreligious nature, it was appropriate for Darly to include a sailor in his representation. The unnamed tar speaks to an attractive lass, "I wish Nancy I had him in the Round top Id make him Dance a Hornpipe to my whistle."


The sailor himself is dancing as he speaks, with the trusty stick tucked under his left arm. A cocked hat with a cockade on the left side is fixed atop his bob wig. Around his neck is a neckerchief or cravat tucked into his shirt, and he is without a waistcoat. The jacket has slit cuffs and runs down to the top of the thigh. His trousers are plain and end at the bottom of the calf.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A View of Gibraltar with the Spanish Battering Ships on Fire, 1784


A View of Gibraltar with the Spanish Battering Ships on Fire, engraved by J.K. Kerwin and published by J.K. Kerwin and William Hinton, 1784, British Museum.

Late in the Great Siege of Gibraltar, the longest siege ever endured by British forces, the Spanish and French decided on a massive push to overwhelm British defences and seize the rock. The Grand Assault, as it would come to be known, involved tens of thousands of sailors and soldiers tackling the British fortifications and ships in an all out blitz. Ten Spanish floating batteries formed the backbone of the attack with well over a hundred heavy guns trained on a British position that had already endured years of bombardment.

The British replied with hot shot and fireships, setting the batteries alight. In total, three of the ten exploded, and the other seven so damaged that they were scuttled. Casulaties were heavy among the Spanish gunners.


Roger Curtis, a Royal Navy officer, led small boats to do battle with the Spanish and French during the assault, but this combat operation quickly transformed into a humanitarian mission. Despite the danger of explosions (one of which even killed the coxswain beside him), Curtis ordered his men to puck as many sailors and soldiers from the sea as they could.

It was this courageous and merciful action that earned Curtis a knighthood and his place in many works of art, including this engraving by J.K. Kerwin.


British sailors shield themselves from the blast by lifting their jackets and colors while their mates pluck the half naked foe from the sea. Though merciful, the sailors aren't too delicate with their helpless foe. One tar even grabs some poor exhausted chap by the hair.

The saiors are in a mix of jackets and shirt sleeves. They wear round hats with short brims. There isn't a hint of a waistcoat among this lot. One sailor lifts his jacket for protection, and holds his neckerchief along with it. The jacket is single breasted with two button mariners' cuffs left open.


Further aft, Curtis stands directing the sailors with a speaking trumpet. These men are also wearing round hats, though the oarsman wears a remarkably short brimmed cocked hat, what was perhaps a round hat pinned up. Both the oarsman and the coxswain (not yet killed by the blast) wear their jackets with open mariners' cuffs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Southwell Frigate Tradeing on ye Coast of Africa, date unknown


The Southwell Frigate Tradeing on ye Coast of Africa, attributed to Nicholas Pocock, date unknown, Bristol Museums.

In a rare depiction of the eighteenth century slave trade, the artist has depicted a frigate collecting enslaved people on the coast of Africa. It is possible that the shoreline depicted in Malembo, which the Southwell visited on her second voyage in early 1749.

PortCities Bristol suggests that this may have been sketched around 1760. That would make sense if Pocock is indeed the artist. Pocock was born in 1740, and would have been far too young to depict the Southwell during her two voyages to Africa in the mid to late 1740's.

This does raise the question of why Pocock would choose to portray a vessel and a voyage that was largely unremarkable for the time, especially more than a decade after the event. Pocock's father was a sailor, so perhaps he had served aboard one of these voyages and inspired Pocock's later illustration. This will require more research.


Regardless of when or why the scene was chosen, it gives us a look at the day to day operations of the transatlantic slave trade. The artist chose to show the trading of more than just human beings. In the lower right, he shows the captain being carried by two Africans, and goods being brought to the boats in boxes, casks, and pots. The box being carried on the head of the African armed with a musket is marked "Bristol." According to the catalog entry for this sketch at the Bristol Museums website, "the long crate probably carries muskets."


In the boats, the sailors of the Southwell wear jackets that end about the top of the thigh, cocked hats (at least one of which is worn reversed), and what might be a jockey style barge cap or two.


The bottom left shows a more traditional scene on the African coast of sailors hauling enslaved people to the ship. Bound by the neck, the enslaved Africans are loaded onto a waiting boat under the watchful gaze of the captain. The ship is crowded with enslaved people who are crammed on the main deck.

According to the Slave Voyages Database, the Southwell loaded 779 enslaved people on her first voyage, which must have been dangerously overcrowded.


Standing at the stern of the jolly boat, the coxswain wears a jacket without vents and a pair of trousers. His head is topped with a round hat or cocked hat. His mate wears a cocked hat and jacket, but it is unclear if he wears petticoat trousers, trousers, or breeches.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Anglo-American Maritime Clothing, 1680-1740

Today's guest post is by David Fictum of Colonies, Ships, and Pirates. David is engaging in a new, exciting project exploring common sailor's clothing in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. If you're interested in what the slop clothes of my era of study evolved from, I encourage you to support David Fictum's research.

Frontispiece to England's Safety, 1693.

Maritime clothing in the Age of Sail is a topic that only receives minimal attention in the greater history of the maritime world. For those interested in the attire of mariners during the latter half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, learning about sailor’s garb in the time preceding that period brings further context and understanding to the latter period. In 2015, I completed and successfully defended my master’s thesis for the Maritime Studies Department at East Carolina University concerning the attire of common sailors and pirates for the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, before I take my thesis to a publisher, I need to conduct more research so I can provide my readers the best work possible. To conduct said research, I need to go to the archives in London for a 3-week research trip. I cannot raise the funds to conduct this trip by myself, a problem I had when I originally worked on my thesis. Therefore, I have established a GoFundMe page and am asking for donations to help fund this research trip.

I used a variety of period documents to study the mariners and pirates of this era. My research used publications from the era, newspaper accounts, Admiralty contracts with slop sellers, Navy regulations, and probate inventories. It is this last type of source that I wish to use collect more of for my studies. I managed to obtain over a dozen relevant probates through published accounts and the help of Dr. Ed Fox. All the information I collected allowed me to gain not only a better idea of what they wore, but what said clothing said about the lives and world of the sailor. They allowed me a good qualitative, but not quantitative, perspective on maritime clothing.

Photo by Ed Fox

My visit to London, specifically to the National Archives, would allow be to access and photograph hundreds of probate inventories of sailors that died at sea. These particular probates offer the best chance at seeing specifically what clothing sailors owned while at sea in a quantitative manner. In addition to probates, I will look into other period manuscripts and documents, including many more documents from the Admiralty.

Once I complete my work at the archives, I will use the data to improve my thesis and create a two-volume work. The first volume would be my main text discussing maritime clothing, while the second volume would contain many transcripts of the documents I used in my research, including those I obtained during the research trip. The latter volume will provide broader access to documents previously accessed by a small number of historians. This work overall would help establish a foundation on this subject that others in the future can build on in later years.

For those of you interested in this topic, or in maritime history, or in clothing history, or the history of the greater Age of Sail and Early Modern Era, I encourage you to donate to my GoFundMe page and to pass on links to my page to others who also might be interested.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Buckingham on the stocks at Deptford, 1752


Buckingham on the stocks at Deptford, John Cleveley the Elder, 1752, National Maritime Museum.

Cleveley was a shipwright by trade, and many of his paintings depict ships on the stocks. He also populates his paintings with sailors and people. Unlike many other marine artists of the time, Cleveley never separated the image of the ship from the people who built and sailed them. A tangible reminder of the importance of the sailors and the tradesmen in creating these beautiful machines.

Astern of the landlocked Deptford is a small barge with two bargemen. They lay on their oars, but have built up enough moments for a very slight wake to follow their rudder.


They are clad in shirtsleeves, white stockings, blue breeches, and black jockey style barge caps.