Maritime Art

Two men walking past a woman asleep (c.1774)

By Gabriel Bray, (1750-1823)

In 1991 The Society for Nautical Research purchased an album of 73 sketches by Lieutenant Gabriel Bray and donated them to the National Maritime Museum. Bray served as a second lieutenant on the 38-gun HMS Pallas between December 1774 and September 1775.  Read more about the Bray collection at the National Maritime Museum and see a Lieutenant’s Log for Bray’s Journey to the Caribbean in 1774. The Captain’s Log also survives at the National Archives in Kew, Ref: ADM 51/667.

This wonderful image shows two men walking past a sleeping woman. One man, smirking, smokes a distinctive long pipe and another, turning to see the scene unfold behind him, holds a hefty stick. The men are dressed quite differently: one with baggy trousers, tight jacket and narrow hat; the other with a heavy and long frock coat and broad-brimmed hat. They are unmistakably civilians. The sleeping woman, in red shawl and bonnet, rests on a wheelbarrow full of fruit, which is being stolen by two mischievous boys.

The uniform of sailors was quite different, making them stand out in such company. The Society has published a number of articles on this.

British Seamen’s Dress‘ from 1912 explores extracts from the Marine Society in 1757 which reveal that although there was no formal uniform for seamen, the adoption of distinctive seamen’s clothing was important in transforming landsmen to seamen accepted by their shipmates. Advances on anticipated prize money enabled the purchase of clothing is one instance cited. Lists here reproduced show the clothing that was issued to men and boys by the Marine Society. A note to one list shows that whatever may have occurred later, the origin of the practice of sewing strips of canvas on the seams was a purely utilitarian one, and not for the purpose of ornament.

The Dress of the British Seaman Part II‘ from 1923 explores various sources which describe an English seaman’s dress in 1598, the generous outfits provided for the Arctic in 1602, naval clothing provided in 1602, and the elaborate attire of an English pirate captured in 1603. During the reign of James I, popular plays highlight the distinctive dress of sailors, but official sources reveal serious inadequacies which by 1627 made it practically impossible to fit out a squadron. Regulations made provision in 1828 for the manufacture of standard clothing or ‘slops’ and the recovery of its cost from the users, which resulted in unsurprising disputes. Several portraits illustrate the dress of naval officers in 1642.

Document: Seamen’s Clothes Part I‘ from 1913 is part of Edward Nicholas’ (Secretary to the Duke of Buckingham, the Lord High Admiral), collection of letters and orders. It is important as it appears to be the first attempt to supply the seamen of the Royal Navy with clothing fit for purpose. Prior to its issue on 11 January 1628 there were numerous references to the poor state of seamen in State Papers, with a Captain Watts, in 1626, seeking a substantial loan to allow the men of his squadron to buy appropriate clothing for the winter.

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