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Historical Knotwork – The Sea Chest Becket

Historical Knotwork of a sea chest becket

Historical Knotwork – A Naval CV of Sorts

This sea chest becket (handle) is exactly the sort which would have been found on the naval chests used by sailors in Nelson’s Navy. Not only is it a beautiful item in itself, it’s also an object which would have worked as a sort of “knotwork CV” for any boy who wished to be hired.
Nelson himself joined the Royal Navy in 1771 at the age of twelve. In that era, children of this age were old enough to take up training or apprenticeships and it was normal for boys to go to sea to train as officers and, if they passed the examination before the Commissioners of the Admiralty, they could expect to be lieutenants at the age of eighteen.
If any boy (or trained sailor for that matter) needed to prove his worth to a prospective captain or other marine employer, then a sea chest becket such as this one would show his skill with ropes, and prove that he would be a skilled pair of hands to have aboard ship. However, usually they would not be done by the sailor, but would come already installed on the chest. Those with the skill to make them would get the chest with plain beckets and then replace them when he had the time.
How is it made?
This sea chest becket is made from a rope centre, spliced at either end,  padded with canvas (or “pudding’d” to give it it’s technical term) to give it a bit of shape, and then covered with a variety of hitches and techniques. Each historical knotwork technique would be needed on board ship for a different use.
What are the knot and what would they be used for?
Techniques visible from the top down are:
double crown knots…
…ring bolt hitching on the top loops beside the red washers…
…moku hitching…
…and coach-whipping.
Each section is joined by a Turk’s Head, which hides the joins of the different coverings and makes for a decorative touch.
These knots could be used on board ship for such things as making stair handrails (moku hitching), covering metal rings so that they would not slip or rub and were easier to handle (ring bolt whipping), stopping masts from chaffing on the ropes, or creating stoppers (as is the case for the double crown knot).
A pair of these beckets would be fastened to each end of a sea chest with a wooden boss, similar to the one shown here.
If you wanted a last bit of detail on your sea chest beckets they could be painted (and commonly were)  with shiny oil blacking and with the accents picked out in gold. Some genuine examples from the Georgian era have been coated over again until they take in a lacquered look. One of the big advantages of leaving the beckets unpainted is that you can see the knotwork better.
*****
This sea chest bracket was made at the Orkney College Maritime Dept, to be presented to Princess Anne who presided over their graduation ceremony this year (2018).
The knotwork information and photos were kindly provided by Mark Shiner, who also made the bracket itself, and who is the curriculum leader for Maritime Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands – Orkney College.
Words by Jenni Waugh.
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Captain Wentworth’s trip to Portsmouth is a Victory

Captain Wentworth aboard ship

From Captain Wentworth’s Travel Journal:

Visiting Victory is ‘one off the bucket list’

So Admiral Horatio Nelson has been something of a hero of mine for… well, for as long as I can remember. My hero worship started (believe it or not) with Star Trek’s very own Captain James Tiberius Kirk. When William Shatner accepted the role he had trouble getting into the head of the starship captain whose ship and crew were more important to him than his own life. He asked the shows creator Gene Roddenberry for help in finding the character’s motivation and Roddenberry suggested he read the Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester.

Everything you need to understand Kirk resides with Hornblower – his courage, his self doubt, his sense of duty. From there it was a short hop to the wonderful Patrick O’Brien novels and more recently the phenomenal work of Julian Stockwin and Dudley Pope. From there further still, the real life stories of the men and women who served as inspiration to these novelists – Lord Cochrane, Edward Pellew, and of course Admiral Nelson.

It is because of my naval history obsession that I was able to turn up for work on my first day at the Jane Austen Centre with my own historically accurate costume. An Admiral’s dress coat and white ‘smallclothes’, breeches, stockings, waistcoat appropriate to a Napoleonic officer. I was most fortunate to be ‘offered the part’ of Captain Frederick Wentworth. I put the badge on for the first time and suddenly with immediate effect felt a pressure to live up to peoples pre-existing expectations of the character. Wentworth is one of literature’s greatest naval characters. He can hold his head high with the likes of Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, Ramage, Kidd etc.

I do my very best on a daily basis to embody all that Wentworth stands for. Honourable, courageous, purposeful, loyal, dutiful. Now comes the small confession… I am (slightly) older than Captain Wentworth. In fact I recently celebrated an important, let’s just say… round numbered birthday. To that end, my fiancée surprised me with an arranged trip to Portsmouth to visit HMS Victory.

Wentworth with his ‘Anne Elliot’

So it was that on my birthday I found myself on board this amazing 104 gun first rate ship of the line, launched in 1765, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, and Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

I simply couldn’t resist visiting without looking the part so I toured the ship in my naval attire. The naval enthusiasts will probably notice from the photos that my coat (rather than my usual Captain’s frock coat) is an exacting replica of the rear Admiral coat worn by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile.

It was a strange experience walking the decks just as Captain Hardy and Nelson would’ve done 200+ years earlier. In fact an odd symbiotic fusion of man and ship took hold from the moment I stepped aboard. I was able to get a sense of the overwhelming responsibility the captains of these ships must have felt as they ‘did their duty’ for what would then have been king and country.

It was a truly fantastic experience. I enjoyed every second of it and I think it shows in the photographs.

Boarding HMS Victory for a birthday treat

 

Wentworth on the quarterdeck

 

Pacing the upper gundeck

 

Making sure the 32-pounders are aimed straight

 

Here is Captain Wentworth concerned that his battle plan won’t work without a few other captains around the table for support.

 

Looking over some battle plans in Captain Hardy’s quarters

 

Now where did I anchor that ship again?
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Limeys and the Cure for Scurvy

Throughout Jane Austen’s life, she was to hold an affection for the British Royal Navy. This was due to the enlistment of two of her brothers, Francis and Charles. Readers of her novels will find a number of positive naval characters, none more so that Captain Wentworth of Persuasion. Officers like these would have been well aware of the dangers of scurvy and alert to its presence aboard ship.

Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy often presents initially with fatigue, followed by formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. Spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person may look pale, feel depressed, and be partially immobilized. As scurvy advances, there can be open, suppurating wounds, loss of teeth, yellow skin, fever, neuropathy and finally death from bleeding.

Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. 1841/2.
Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. 1841/2.

Scurvy was at one time common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored (subsisting instead only on cured and salted meats and dried grains) and by soldiers similarly deprived of these foods for extended periods. It was described by Hippocrates (c. 460 BC–c. 380 BC), and herbal cures for scurvy have been known in many native cultures since prehistory. Scurvy was one of the limiting factors of marine travel, often killing large numbers of the passengers and crew on long-distance voyages. This became a significant issue in Europe from the beginning of the modern era in the Age of Discovery in the 15th century, continuing to play a significant role through World War I in the early 20th century.

Between 1500 and 1800, it has been estimated that scurvy killed at least two million sailors:

  • Jonathan Lamb wrote: “In 1499, Vasco da Gama lost 116 of his crew of 170; In 1520, Magellan lost 208 out of 230;…all mainly to scurvy.”
  • In 1593, Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins advocated drinking orange and lemon juice as a means of preventing scurvy.
  • In 1614 John Woodall, Surgeon General of the East India Company, published “The Surgion’s Mate” as a handbook for apprentice surgeons aboard the company’s ships. In it he described scurvy as resulting from a dietary deficiency. His recommendation for its cure was fresh food or, if not available, oranges, lemons, limes and tamarinds.
  • A 1707 handwritten book is by Mrs. Ebot Mitchell discovered in a house in Hasfield, Gloucestershire, contains a “Recp.t for the Scurvy” that consisted of extracts from various plants mixed with a plentiful supply of orange juice, white wine or beer.

In 1734, the Leiden-based physician Johann Bachstrom published a book on scurvy in

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Lind with the frontspiece of his findings on scurvy.

which he stated that “scurvy is solely owing to a total abstinence from fresh vegetable food, and greens; which is alone the primary cause of the disease” and urged the use of fresh fruit and vegetables as a cure. In 1740, citrus juice (usually lemon or lime juice) was added to the recipe of the traditional daily ration of watered-down rum known as grog to cut down on the water’s foulness. Although they did not know the reason at the time, Admiral Edward Vernon’s sailors were healthier than the rest of the navy because of the daily doses of vitamin C his sailors received. However, it was not until 1747 that James Lind formally demonstrated that scurvy could be treated by supplementing the diet with citrus fruit, in the first ever clinical trial. In 1753, Lind published A Treatise of the Scurvy, in which he explained the details of his clinical trial, but it occupied only a few paragraphs in a work that was long and complex and had little impact. In fact, Lind himself never actively promoted lemon juice as a single ‘cure’. He shared medical opinion at the time that scurvy had multiple causes – notable hard work, bad water and the consumption of salt meat in a damp atmosphere which inhibited healthful perspiration and normal excretion – and therefore required multiple solutions. He was also side-tracked by the possibilities of producing a concentrated ‘rob’ of lemon juice by boiling it. Unfortunately this process destroyed the vitamin C and was unsuccessful.

During the 18th century, scurvy killed more British sailors than enemy action. It was mainly by scurvy that George Anson, in his celebrated voyage of 1740–1744, lost nearly two-thirds of his crew (1300 out of 2000) within the first ten months of the voyage. The Royal Navy enlisted 184,899 sailors during the Seven Years’ War; 133,708 of these were “missing” or died by disease, and scurvy was the leading cause.

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c. 1794.
HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland, by Samuel Atkins c. 1794.

Although throughout this period sailors and naval surgeons were increasingly convinced that citrus fruits could cure scurvy, the classically trained physicians who ran the medical establishment dismissed this evidence as mere anecdote which did not conform to current theories of disease. They considered that scurvy was a disease of internal putrefaction brought on by faulty digestion caused by the naval diet. Although this basic idea was given different emphases by successive theorists, the remedies they advocated (and which the navy accepted) amounted to little more than the consumption of ‘fizzy drinks’ to activate the digestive system, the most extreme of which was the regular consumption of ‘elixir of vitriol’ – sulphuric acid taken with spirits and barley water and laced with spices. In 1764, a new variant appeared. Advocated by Dr David McBride and Sir John Pringle, Surgeon General of the Army and later President of the Royal Society, this idea was that scurvy was the result of a lack of ‘fixed air’ in the tissues which could be prevented by drinking infusions of malt and wort whose fermentation within the body would stimulate digestion and restore the missing gases. These ideas receiving wide and influential backing, when James Cook set off to circumnavigate the world (1768–1771) in HM Bark Endeavour, malt and wort were top of the list of the remedies he was ordered to investigate. The others were beer, sour crout and Lind’s ‘rob’. The list did not include lemons. Cook did not lose a single man to scurvy, and his report came down in favour of malt and wort, although it is now clear that the reason for the health of his crews on this and other voyages was Cook’s regime of shipboard cleanliness, enforced by strict discipline, as well as frequent replenishment of fresh food and green stuffs. Another rule implemented by Cook was his prohibition of the consumption of fat scrubbed from the ship’s copper pans, then a common practice in the Navy. In contact with air the copper formed compounds that catalytically oxidised the vitamin C, destroying its efficacy.

The first major long distance expedition that experienced virtually no scurvy was that of the Spanish naval officer Alessandro Malaspina, 1789–1794. Malaspina’s medical officer, Pedro González, was convinced that fresh oranges and lemons were essential for preventing scurvy. Only one outbreak occurred, during a 56-day trip across the open sea. Five sailors came down with symptoms, one seriously. After three days at Guam all five were healthy again. Spain’s large empire and many ports of call made it easier to acquire fresh fruit.

Although towards the end of the century McBride’s theories were being challenged, the medical establishment in Britain remained wedded to the notion that scurvy was a disease of internal ‘putrefaction’ and the Sick and Hurt Board, run by administrators, felt obliged to follow its advice Within the Royal Navy however opinion – strengthened by first-hand experience of the use of lemon juice at the siege of Gibraltar and during Admiral Rodney’s expedition to the Caribbean – had become increasingly convinced of its efficacy. This was reinforced by the writings of experts like Gilbert Blane and Thomas Trotter and by the reports of up and coming naval commanders.

Detailed taxonomic illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897.
Detailed taxonomic illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler, 1897.

With the coming of war in 1793, the need to eliminate scurvy acquired a new urgency. But the first initiative came not from the medical establishment but from the admirals. Ordered to lead an expedition against Mauritius, Rear Admiral Gardner was uninterested in the wort, malt and elixir of vitriol which were still being issued to ships of the Royal Navy, and demanded that he be supplied with lemons to counteract scurvy on the voyage. Members of the Sick and Hurt Board, recently augmented by two practical naval surgeons, supported the request and the Admiralty ordered that it be done. There was however a last minute change of plan. The expedition against Mauritius was cancelled. On 2 May 1794, only HMS Suffolk and two sloops under Commodore Peter Rainier sailed for the east with an outward bound convoy, but the warships were fully supplied with lemon juice and the sugar with which it had to be mixed. Then in March 1795, came astonishing news. Suffolk had arrived in India after a four-month voyage without a trace of scurvy and with a crew that was healthier than when it set out. The effect was immediate. Fleet commanders clamoured also to be supplied with lemon juice and by June the Admiralty acknowledged the groundswell of demand in the navy had agreed to a proposal from the Sick and Hurt Board that lemon juice and sugar should in future be issued as a daily ration to the crews of all warships.

It took a few years before the method of distribution to be all ships in the fleet had been perfected and the supply of the huge quantities of lemon juice required to be secured, but by 1800, the system was in place and functioning. This led to a remarkable health improvement among the sailors and consequently played a critical role in gaining the advantage in naval battles against enemies who had yet to introduce the measures

The surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon’s army at the Siege of Alexandria (1801), Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, wrote in his memoirs that the consumption of horse meat helped the French to curb an epidemic of scurvy. The meat was cooked but was freshly obtained from young horses bought from Arabs and was nevertheless effective. This helped to start the 19th-century tradition of horse meat consumption in France.

Lauchlin Rose patented a method used to preserve citrus juice without alcohol in 1867, creating a concentrated drink known as Rose’s lime juice. The Merchant Shipping Act established in the year 1867 required all ships of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy to provide a daily lime ration to sailors to prevent scurvy. The product became nearly ubiquitous, hence the term “limey”, first for British sailors, then for English immigrants within the former British colonies (particularly America, New Zealand and South Africa), and finally, in old American slang, all British people.

Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897.
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897.

The plant Cochlearia officinalis, also known as “Common Scurvygrass”, acquired its common name from the observation that it cured scurvy, and it was taken on board ships in dried bundles or distilled extracts. Its very bitter taste was usually disguised with herbs and spices; however, this did not prevent scurvygrass drinks and sandwiches becoming a popular fad in the UK until the middle of the nineteenth century, when citrus fruits became more readily available.

West Indian limes replaced lemons because they were more easily obtained from Britain’s Caribbean colonies and were believed to be more effective because they were more acidic, and it was the acid, not the (then-unknown) Vitamin C that was believed to cure scurvy. In fact, the West Indian limes were significantly lower in Vitamin C than the previous lemons and further were not served fresh but rather as lime juice, which had been exposed to light and air and piped through copper tubing, all of which significantly reduced the Vitamin C. Indeed, a 1918 animal experiment using representative samples of the Navy and Merchant Marine’s lime juice showed that it had virtually no antiscorbutic power at all.

The belief that scurvy was fundamentally a nutritional deficiency, best treated by consumption of fresh food, particularly fresh citrus or fresh meat, was not universal in Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and thus British sailors and explorers continued to suffer from scurvy into the 20th century.

In the Royal Navy’s Arctic expeditions in the 19th century it was widely believed that scurvy was prevented by good hygiene on board ship, regular exercise, and maintaining the morale of the crew, rather than by a diet of fresh food. Navy expeditions continued to be plagued by scurvy even while fresh (not jerked or tinned) meat was well known as a practical antiscorbutic among civilian whalers and explorers in the Arctic. Even cooking fresh meat did not entirely destroy its antiscorbutic properties, especially as many cooking methods failed to bring all the meat to high temperature.

Ernest Shackleton, Scott, and Edward Wilson before their march to the South Pole during the Discovery Expedition, 2 Nov 1902.
Ernest Shackleton, Scott, and Edward Wilson before their march to the South Pole during the Discovery Expedition, 2 Nov 1902.

At the time that Robert Falcon Scott made his first expedition (1901-1904) to the Antarctic in the early 20th century, the prevailing theory was that scurvy was caused by “ptomaine poisoning”, particularly in tinned meat. Fortunately, Scott immediately discovered that a diet of fresh meat from Antarctic seals cured scurvy before any fatalities occurred.

800px-Vilhjalmur_Stefansson
Canadian explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 17 September 1915.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an arctic explorer who lived among the Inuit, proved that the all meat diet they consumed did not lead to vitamin deficiencies. He participated in a study in New York’s Bellevue Hospital in 1935, where he and a companion ate only meat for a year while under close medical observation, yet remained in good health. Some Antarctic expeditions, such as Scott’s two expeditions and Shackleton’s Ross Sea party, suffered from scurvy, mainly during inland sledge journeys when the men had access to a very limited range of food, virtually none of it fresh. Scurvy was rare or absent when they had access to a wider range of stored food or relied on seal meat.

In 1907, the needed biological-assay model to isolate and identify the antiscorbutic factor was discovered. Axel Holst and Theodor Frølich, two Norwegian physicians studying shipboard beriberi contracted aboard ship’s crews in the Norwegian Fishing Fleet, wanted a small test mammal to substitute for the pigeons then used in beriberi research. They fed guinea pigs their test diet of grains and flour, which had earlier produced beriberi in their pigeons, and were surprised when classic scurvy resulted instead. This was a serendipitous choice of model. Until that time, scurvy had not been observed in any organism apart from humans and had been considered an exclusively human disease. (Some birds are susceptible to scurvy, but pigeons, as seed-eating birds, were later found to be unaffected by scurvy, as they produce vitamin C.) Holst and Frølich found they could cure scurvy in guinea pigs with the addition of various fresh foods and extracts. This discovery of a “clean” (reliable) animal experimental model for scurvy, which was made even before the essential idea of “vitamins” in foods had been put forward, has been called the single most important piece of vitamin C research.

 

Images and information from Wikipedia.com

 

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James Lind: Medical Pioneer

James Lind  (4 October 1716 – 13 July 1794) was a Scottish physician who may be credited with improving if not actually saving the lives of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers, Francis and Charles. The advancements he made in  the treatement and prevention of Scurvy and Typhus were breakthroughs for their time and continue to be implemented today.

James_Lind_by_Chalmers
James Lind (1716-1794) by Sir George Chalmers, c 1720-1791

Lind is known for conducting the first ever clinical trial after he developed the theory that citrus fruits cured scurvy. He argued for the health benefits of better ventilation aboard naval ships, the improved cleanliness of sailors’ bodies, clothing and bedding, and below-deck fumigation with sulphur and arsenic. He also proposed that fresh water could be obtained by distilling sea water. His work advanced the practice of preventive medicine and improved nutrition.

Lind was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1716 into a family of merchants. He had an elder sister. In 1731 he began his medical studies as an apprentice of George Langlands, a fellow of the Incorporation of Surgeons which preceded the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. In 1739, he entered the Navy as a surgeon’s mate, serving in the Mediterranean, off the coast of West Africa and in the West Indies. By 1747 he had become surgeon of HMS Salisbury in the Channel Fleet, and conducted his experiment on scurvy while that ship was patrolling the Bay of Biscay. Just after that patrol he left the Navy, wrote his MD thesis on venereal diseases and earned his MD from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, and was granted a license to practice in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Scurvy is a disease now known to be caused by a Vitamin C deficiency, but in Lind’s day, the concept of vitamins was unknown. Vitamin C is necessary for the maintenance of healthy connective tissue. In 1740 the catastrophic result of Anson’s circumnavigation attracted much attention in Europe; out of 1900 men, 1400 had died, most of them allegedly from having contracted scurvy. According to Lind, scurvy caused more deaths in the British fleets than French and Spanish arms. Continue reading James Lind: Medical Pioneer

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Arthur Phillip: Founder of Sydney, Resident of Bath

1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley (National Portrait Gallery, London)
1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement which became Sydney.

After much experience at sea, including command of a ship that was saved in a storm by convicts, Phillip sailed with the First Fleet, as Governor-designate of the proposed British penal colony of New South Wales. In February 1788, he selected its location to be Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour).

Phillip was a far-sighted governor, who soon saw that New South Wales would need a civil administration and a system for emancipating the convicts. But his plan to bring skilled tradesmen on the voyage had been rejected, and he faced immense problems of labour, discipline and supply. Also his friendly attitude towards the aborigines was sorely tested when they killed his gamekeeper, and he was not able to assert a clear policy about them.

The arrival of the Second and Third Fleets placed new pressures on the scarce local resources, but by the time Phillip sailed home in December 1792, the colony was taking shape, with official land-grants and systematic farming and water-supply.

Phillip retired in 1805, but continued to correspond with his friends in New South Wales and to promote the colony’s interests.

Early life and naval career
Arthur Phillip was born 11 October 1738 in London England, the son of Jacob Phillip, a Frankfurt-born language teacher, and his English wife, Elizabeth Breach. His father died a year after he was born. His mother Elizabeth was originally married to a sailor named Herbert who died at sea of yellow fever. Phillip’s mother claimed him as the father of her son so he could be enrolled in the Greenwich Hospital School, part of Greenwich Hospital,a free school for the orphans of men lost at sea supported by Queen Mary. The treatment of the students was spartan but educational. Phillip learned how to navigate, draw (a skill necessary for making navigation charts) .At the age of 13 was apprenticed to the merchant navy. He spoke a number of languages in addition to English, including French, German and Portuguese.

Continue reading Arthur Phillip: Founder of Sydney, Resident of Bath

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The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

It is easy to imagine, from reading Georgette Heyer, for example, that all Georgian men walked about, sword on hip, ready to fight for their honor in a duel at a moment’s notice. This ‘spoiling for a fight’ attitude might be a bit over stated, but the sword was, at least during the early Georgian era, a perfectly acceptable, and even expected accessory for the well dressed man. By Jane Austen’s day, however, swords had been replaced by pistols as a means of personal defense (not that all men walked about armed!) and the sword had been relegated to a lovely, if practical accessory of the military man. As the sister of naval officers, Jane was, no doubt, familar with the small sword as a sidearm.

Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.
Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.

The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword’s popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century. It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French duelling sword (from which the épée developed) and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L’Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. Small swords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories; for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis. Continue reading The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

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William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers

blighVice Admiral William Bligh,  (9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. His naval career was contemporary with that of Jane Austen’s brothers and the Austen family no doubt followed the details of his unusual history through the London papers.

A historic mutiny occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty’s launch by the mutineers. Fifteen years after the Bounty mutiny, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia, with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the New South Wales Corps, resulting in the so-called Rum Rebellion.

Bligh was born in Tinten Manor in St Tudy near Bodmin, Cornwall, to Francis Bligh and his wife Jane. He was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, it being common to sign on a “young gentleman” simply to gain experience at sea required for promotion. In 1770, at age 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term used because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year. In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to the Crescent and remained in the ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook for the position of sailing master of the Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook’s third and fatal voyage to the Pacific. Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to give details of Cook’s last voyage.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of a Customs Collector (stationed in Douglas, Isle of Man), on 4 February 1781. The wedding took place at nearby Onchan. A few days later, he was appointed to serve in HMS Belle Poule as Master (senior warrant officer responsible for navigation). Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker. For the next 18 months, he was a lieutenant in various ships. He also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782. Continue reading William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers

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The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas

Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
-Persuasion

Two of Jane Austen’s brothers were sailors, and, in the grand tradition of the Austens, were content not to merely exist in their capacities, but rather, excelled in them. By the end of their long careers they were known as Sir Francis Austen, G.C.B., Admiral of the Fleet, and Rear-Admiral Charles Austen (though Jane referred to him as her “own particular little brother”).  Both brothers joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth upon reaching the age of 12, and as both had several years of service “under their belts” so to speak, would, no doubt have watched with interest the rapid developments in naval warfare produced by the American inventor, Robert Fulton.

450px-FultonNautilus1
Full-sized section model at Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg, France.

It was Fulton, who, in 1800 tested  The Nautilus, often considered the first practical submarine (though preceded by Cornelius Drebbel’s of 1620.) And Fulton, who, always in need of financial support for his experiments, worked first for the French Navy, then the British and finally the Americans (during the War of 1812).

Continue reading The Nautilus: Submarine Terror of the Seas