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 Crossing the Line 
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Post Crossing the Line - American Style
Here is an account of crossing the Equator with a distinctly American flavor. On page 125-126 of "A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession" by Christopher McKee, he quotes from the journal of Midshipman William Boerum who was aboard the USS "Hornet" (20) during the closing days of the War of 1812.

"About eleven a.m. [29 June 1815] we crossed the Equator.... As we expected a visit from Father Neptune, we shortened sail and hoisted a flag bearing the motto of "Sailors Rights and No Impressment" at the fore, the jack on the bowsprit, and our largest ensign at the gaff. Our music striking up ‘Yankee Doodle’ at this time created a general huzzah throughout the ship, for triumph-of whatever kind always brings war and combats to the mind of man. Soon after, Neptune came over the bows accompanied by his usual train of followers, with the American flag waving in his hand. As he approached the quarterdeck, with a long speaking trumpet he hailed to inquire after the captain's health and where we were from. He was answered by the captain [James Biddle], and, when informed of our capturing an enemy's sloop of war [March 1815, HMS "Penguin"] and our escape from the 74 [April 1815, HMS "Cornwallis"], he expressed the greatest satisfaction. He and his followers each drank a toast in their turn; Captain Biddle also drank one; and now Neptune proceeded to business.

His clerk held a book in his hand (bottom upwards) and, after turning the leaves over several times, called one of the men's names and sent his guard to seek him. He was found, brought aft, and set upon a bucket. The barber then blindfolded him and, with a large brush, lathered him with tar, paint, and several other things mixed together and commenced shaving him with an iron hoop. After being shaved, he was lashed to the pump and obliged to take the following oaths:
First. To aid and assist Neptune on all occasions, if called upon.
Second. Never to leave the pumps till the ship was free.
Third. Never to drink water when he could get grog.
Fourth. Never to kiss the maid when he could kiss the mistress, without she was the handsomest. Many others followed, the last of which was "Never give up the ship."

Every time the poor fellow opened his mouth to answer, the barber put his brush full of lather in. After that was over he took the trumpet to hail the line and, as he opened his mouth, a bucket of' water was dashed in. The bandage was then taken off his eyes, and [he was] set at liberty, when another one was called, and he went on [in] the same manner till all those who had never crossed the line before had gone through with the same ceremony. Neptune now made his exit, and all hands were called to mischief. A double allowance of grog was served out, and a universal joy reigned throughout the ship. At six o'clock there was only one sober midshipman in the ship.''

Don


Wed Jun 06, 2007 4:56 am
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A Russian account for a change. This is from Around the World on the Kamchatka, 1817–1819 by V.M. Golovnin (translated by Ella Lury Wiswell).

Golovnin doesn't mention any of the elaborate Neptune ceremonies. Instead he wrote of how pleased he was with the quick passage and the zeal of the officers and men.

"I wanted to announce at a special ceremony how much they had contributed to our rapid crossing, and therefore, at 9 o'clock in the morning, I gathered the entire ship's company on top deck to read the following order..."

The order he refers to allowed him to issue monetary compensation to the seamen. They were immediately issued two months' pay in piasters (unusual currency?). The officers had to be content with Golovnin's promise to "commend them to higher authorities at the very first opportunity."

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susan


Wed Aug 01, 2007 8:02 pm
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Fun picture: Retrenchment - or Whiskeranders Crossing the Line (A New Route)

The chickens look like they are enjoying the scene as well.

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susan


Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:43 am
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From Frederick Hoffman's A Sailor of King George, good descriptions of the costumes worn by Neptune and his wife:

"The cooper, a black man, personated the sea-god. His head was graced with a large wig and beard made of tarred oakum. His shoulders and waist were adorned by thrumbed mats; on his feet were a pair of Greenland snow-shoes. In his right hand he held the grains.... He was seated on a match tub placed on a grating, with his wife, a young topman, alongside of him. Her head-dress consisted of a white flowing wig make of oakum, with a green turban; on her shoulders was an ample yellow shawl; her petticoat was red bunting; on her feet were sandals made from the green hide of a bullock. In her right hand she held a harpoon; her cheeks were thickly smeared with red ochre."

Hoffman continues on with a detailed description of the proceedings.

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susan


Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:14 am
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Another Russian account. From Adam Johann von Krusenstern's Voyage Round the World, in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, & 1806 (translated by Richard Belgrave Hoppner):

"Under a salute of eleven guns we drank the health of the Emperor, in whose glorious reign the Russian flag first waved in the southern hemisphere. The usual farce with Neptune could not well be represented, as there was nobody on board the ship, except myself, who had crossed the equator. One of the sailors, however, who had a talent for spouting, and was rather a wag, was adorned with the trident to welcome the Russians on their first entrance into a strange boundary; and he played his part as well as if he had long been devoted to the sea-god."

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susan


Sat Nov 03, 2007 7:42 pm
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Post Re: Crossing the Line Ceremonies
timoneer wrote:
At the second website, the following comment was made:
The earliest mention of a baptismal, propitiation or initiation ceremony dates from 1529, though similar ceremonies are believed to have been customary in European waters before this time, being performed at such distinctive places as the Straits of Gibraltar, the Sound and the Skaw.

Has anyone heard of ceremonies at such places?


Henry Teonge (naval chaplain, 1670s) makes note in his diary of drunken ceremony when passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, Woodes Rogers' men conducted a similar affair when crossing the Tropic of Cancer, and amongst other things Esquemeling recorded a Dutch tradition when passing the Berlingues off the coast of Portugal.

Quote:
With bagpipes being played, there must have been a Scotsman or two present.


Pah! The Scots aren't the only ones with bagpipes! Admiral Collingwood, for example, always took a Northumbrian piper to sea with him.

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Wed Nov 07, 2007 6:05 pm
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Post Re: Crossing the Line
I have been making my way through Glynis Ridley's book The Discovery of Jeanne Baret. Baret was a woman who disguised herself as a young man in order to accompany her lover, the botanist Philibert Commerson, on Bougainville's voyage. She acted as his assistant and apparently did a great percentage of the actual collection of plant specimens.

Anyway, Glynis gives an account of the crossing the line ceremony. She writes that:

"Officers and gentlemen who had never crossed the Line stood together, tied by a thread that wound its way around each man's thumbs."

Has anyone come across any other reference to this practice? What does the thread around the thumbs symbolize?

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susan


Fri May 13, 2011 5:20 am
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