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To amuse themselves and others, plays were performed by the officers and men.

Some bits from the January 1841 USJ taken from a piece called "The Passage of the Gironde in 1815":

"...and for this purpose, a play, to be followed by a splendid ball, was proposed to be got up in good style. So, accordingly Pearce [the first luff], and a fine young midshipman named Mends, both of whom were skilful artists, immediately put their talents into effect, and commenced painting the requisite scenery and decorations, whilst our worthy marine officer, John M'Lauchlan, was appointed stage manager."

They ended up performing a play entitled The Point of Honour and the theater was constructed on the main deck.

A funny bit:

"The Royal Marines and the jolly tars were in ecstasy; and everything progressed, as Jonathan says, until it came to that portion of the drama where Mrs. Melfort and her daughter Bertha are discovered weeping over the sentence of Durimel as a deserter, when, unfortunately for the pathos of the scene, the curtain, on being drawn up, got entangled with their dresses, and hitched their petticoats considerably above the knee; the female portion of the audience were horrified of course—up flew the fans to the faces, whilst they tittered and blushed decorum to the eyes; their lords and masters, in conjunction with the assembled tars, literally roared and shouted with laughter at this unseemly accident; but fortunately, as Bertha and her mother (two reefers, of course) had taken the precaution to wear white trousers under their petticoats, the delicacy of the ladies was not much outraged, and this little contre temps ended amid the universal pleasantry of all present."

The details about the ball I will put in the Dancing thread.

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Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:02 am
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From The Private Journal of Captain G. F. Lyon, of H. M. S. Hecla (1824) by George Francis Lyon:

"A liberal subscription having been made amongst the officers prior to leaving England, by which a stock of theatrical clothes, &c. was purchased, it was now proposed by Captain Parry that, as our active operations had ceased for a time, we should make arrangements for performing plays once a fortnight throughout the winter, as a means of amusing the seamen..."

"The coldness of the weather proved no bar to the performance of a play at the appointed time. If it amused the seamen, our purposes were answered, but it was a cruel task for the performers. In our greenroom, which was as much warmed as any other part of the theatre, the thermometer stood at 16°, and on a table which was placed over a stove, and about six inches above it, the coffee froze in the cups. For my sins I was obliged to be dressed in the height of the fashion, as Dick Dowlass, in the 'Heir at Law,' and went through the last scene of the play with two of my fingers frost-bitten!"

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Tue Apr 18, 2006 12:16 am
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From Steam Warfare in the Parana by Lauchlan Mackinnon:

"In the meantime, the men of the Firebrand had been preparing a theatrical representation; and as they thought that some of the scenery and dresses might be damaged in the forthcoming action, they petitioned to perform the drama at once. The evening of Saturday 24th was therefore fixed on for the play. The 'Theatre' was rigged up on the starboard side of the forecastle, and very nicely decorated, forming a respectable stage, the port side being partitioned off as a dressing-room for the actors. Considering the means, the play ('Pizzaro,') was creditably got up and performed.

After one of the most affecting scenes, the heroines, Elvira and Cora, (personated by two clean-shaved stokers, captially dressed, except a total want of bustles,) came off the stage into the green-room. Elvira immediately lit a pipe; this rather excited risibility; but when Cora leant back against one of the the large forecastle guns and hitched up her concealed unmentionables, such a roar of laughter ensued that the whole audience were disturbed from their tearful sympathies."

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Thu Jun 01, 2006 7:41 am
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We have spoken of the bravery of Edward Riou in several other threads including his heroism aboard the Guardian and I was not totally surprised to find in the The Times of September 29 1790 that at Sadler's Wells there was an "... Historical Representation, in two Parts, founded on a late interesting Nautical Event, called ENGLISH HEROISM. In which is particularly and correctly given, a Living Picture of the GUARDIAN FRIGATE with Lieut. Riou and his Crew in her very Perilous Situation amongst Floating ISLANDS of ICE, with her providential arrival afterwards at the Cape of Good Hope...."

There was also other entertainment of various dancing and sketches and places were charged at 3s.6d. for a Box, 2s. in the Pit, and 1s. for the Gallery.

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Thu Jun 15, 2006 2:10 pm
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From The Times, September 9th, 1786, at Royal Grove, and Astley's Amphitheatre, Westminster Bridge:

" .... COMBAT NAVAL...or a trial of skill, strength and dexterity, in real boats, in a stile[sic] quite new, and never performed in this country ..... the assailants uniformly dressed, forming two squadrons ... which will conclude with a grand Regatta. The whole country boats, barges &c illuminated in a manner entirely new ....."

The evening also included music, a Jingling Match (whatever that is), Dancind Dogs, Monkey-Rope-Dancer, Tumbling, Fete and Fireworks, and Young Astley's Exercises **, and all for prices ranging from 3s. to 6d.


** I will endeavour to find out what they were - sounds fascinating.

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Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:28 pm
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From Life in a Man-of-War, or Scenes in "Old Ironsides" During Her Cruise in the Pacific by "A Fore-Top Man" (Henry James Mercier):

There is a section in the book, entitled "Aquatic Theatricals."

"At the commencement of our cruise the entire ship's company came forward, with all a sailor's frank generosity, and subscribed something like two hundred and fifty dollars towards the theatrical fund. In Rio de Janeiro articles necessary to constitute a wardrobe were purchased, together with paints, &c.; two or three of our "ocean artists" went to work, and in a little time completed a set of scenes in a style considerably above mediocrity."

He goes on to describe the scene at Callao, where they performed "Damon and Pythias" and "The Lying Valet."

"...the entire quarter-deck from the mainmast was closed in on all sides with sails, and lined with the several national flags, which had an uncommon pleasing effect—the battle and signal lanterns, arranged with tasteful regularity, emitted a halo of brilliancy. A great number of French and English officers from the vessels of war in port were present, together with several of the beau monde of Callao and Lima; and as our band struck up 'Hail Columbia,' one to look around him, and to see the happy, pleasant group that met his gaze, could not for a moment believe but that he was seated in some theatre ashore, so completely had we metamorphosed the after part of 'Old Ironsides.'"

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Fri Aug 04, 2006 6:23 pm
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George Home, midshipman aboard the Bellerophon, writes of a performance attended by Napoleon:

" ...this was managed by one of the lieutenants of marines....and some one or two of the midshipmen, who pretended to skill in the Shakespearian art ....the stage was fitted up between decks, more, I am afraid, in ship-shape than theatrical style .... He (Napoleon) was much amused with those who took the female parts, which, by the way, was the most smooth-chinned of our young gentlemen, remarking that they were rather a little Dutch built for fine ladies......"


- Memoirs of an Aristocrat and Reminscences of the Emperor Napoleon -

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Fri Sep 15, 2006 7:31 am
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From Naval Surgeon (Dr. Edward H. Cree). Part of a journal entry dated 11 Sept 1837:

"Then we went to the Hospital [at Malta] and bathed, and then back to the Princess Charlotte where the officers had got up some theatricals. The quarterdeck was fitted up as a stage, and She Stoops to Conquer was performed capitally by the gunroom officers, the female parts taken by midshipmen. Afterwards some songs were sung and the ship's band played some good music."

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Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:13 pm
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Although I've mentioned Astley's before I've never really looked into it after seeing so much mention of it in the Times Digital Archives. Anyhow, the following I found interesting.

A search brought this information up about the amphitheatre generally with further mention of the nautical dramas.


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Thu Sep 13, 2007 4:17 pm
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From George Back's Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores, in the Years 1836–7 (1838):

"Good, however, as was the general health, it was necessary to relieve the monotony of scene and occupation; and in this view the officers kindly undertook to perform a play for the amusement of the men....every preparation that our limited means would permit having been made, it was announced that the Farce of Monsieur Tonson would be acted that evening. The exhibition at the appointed hour, ushered in by an appropriate prologue from the first lieutenant, and set off by scenery from the brush of the same accomplished performer, occasioned hearty laughter, plentiful plaudits, and in conclusion, three hearty cheers. After the performance, the dramatis personae, with the other officers, passed a few hours together; and I question whether in any other quarter of the globe, an equal number could be found more free from care than were the merry group so assembled."

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Mon Sep 24, 2007 7:14 pm
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Mil Goose wrote:
We have spoken of the bravery of Edward Riou in several other threads including his heroism aboard the Guardian and I was not totally surprised to find in the The Times of September 29 1790 that at Sadler's Wells there was an "... Historical Representation, in two Parts, founded on a late interesting Nautical Event, called ENGLISH HEROISM. In which is particularly and correctly given, a Living Picture of the GUARDIAN FRIGATE with Lieut. Riou and his Crew in her very Perilous Situation amongst Floating ISLANDS of ICE, with her providential arrival afterwards at the Cape of Good Hope...."




I found another reference to this in The Times, May 19, 1790:

" .... the increase of company to the boxes at Sadler's Wells this last week has been very great, to see Lieutenant Riou and his Crew on board the Guardian the reputation of the piece grows every night. Among the honourable visitants on Friday last were his Royal Highness the Duke of York, the Duke of Orleans, Duke of Bedford, and a large party ..."






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Fri Jan 18, 2008 1:17 pm
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On-board entertainment was often provided by the men themselves. Thomas Fremantle notes in a letter to his wife that, having dined with Nelson, he was invited to stay on and watch a play which the men had rehearsed. He describes how one man took a female part very convincingly with appropriate gestures and voice, and remarks that it was 'entertaining to a degree'.


Sat Jan 19, 2008 10:25 am
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From a letter from Captain George Duff to his wife Sophia from the Naval Chronicle (Volume XV):

"You cannot imagine how gay we are to be to-night. About a week ago I received a petition from the gentlemen of the cockpit, requesting to be allowed to perform the tragedy of Douglas, with the pantomime of Harlequin and the Miller; and last night a ticket was sent to me, with a bill of the play. The performance to commence at 5 o'clock. What think you of all these fine doings? It is an innocent amusement, much better than being idle and drinking."

The next day's entry...

"...I went to the theatre last night, and I can assure you it was no bad performance. Between the play and the farce we had a most excellent Irish song, from one of the sailors. The music indeed was very good, and the entertainment for the night concluded with God save the King.... The ladies' dresses were not very fine, but did credit to their invention. Lady Randolph was all in black, made out of silk handkerchiefs; and I believe Anne's dress was made of sheets; but upon the whole they looked remarkably well."

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Fri Apr 04, 2008 7:00 am
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From The Times, October 2nd, 1793:

".... Two new and very splendid scenes are to be introduced into the pantomime of Harlequin Chaplet at Covent-Garden theatre. A view of Toulon, and the appearance of the British Fleet before it, is said to be design of one of th new scenes. This will be a very entertaining sight to see John Bull, who will now have the opportunity of shewing his family the finest port and arsenal in France, without the expence of a journey thither .... "


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Sun Aug 31, 2008 9:09 am
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An account of entertainment on the 17 Feb 1817 from a Quebec paper, reprinted in the Naval Chronicle (Volume 38 ). After having a "sumptuous dinner":

"The ladies were conveyed to the theatre in sledges, which those good humoured lads, the sailors, insisted on drawing themselves, a distance of a quarter of a mile. The Mould Loft had been fitted up for the occasion. The entrance was through an avenue of evergreens, illuminated with lamps. The scenery and decorations of the theatre, painted by the joint efforts of the officers, were executed in a very superior style. An appropriate prologue was spoken in a masterly manner, and the celebrated comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, was performed by the naval amateurs, in a style far above mediocrity. Between the acts a comic song was given with much humour and stage effect, which was encored by the audience."

Mil...note the play... :lol:

After the play was over, the guests were treated to refreshments then a ball. I will post the details of that in the Dancing thread.

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Fri Dec 19, 2008 5:49 am
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