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 Uniforms? 
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Post Uniforms?
I believe that by the beginning of the 19th century (or thereabouts) ships' officers of the Hudson Bay Company had a uniform.

Did the HEIC have a uniform? If so, when was it introduced and what did it look like?

Any other early uniformed companies?

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Sun Sep 06, 2009 9:15 pm
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A uniform for HEIC officers was introduced in 1781. A Commander’s dress suit consisted of a blue coat with blue lapels and a light gold embroidery, white waistcoat and white breeches, with buttons of yellow metal engraved with the Company’s crest. His undress suit was similar omitting the lapels and embroidery. Other officers wore a blue coat, with lapels and buttons like those of a commander, white waistcoat and breeches. Because of confusion with RN uniforms, in 1787 the Court of Directors decided to abolish the coat-lapels and introduce crimson waistcoats and breeches. After protests from the officers this was later amended by restoring the lapels which, with the cuffs and collar, were to be black velvet and the waistcoat and breeches became deep buff.

In 1818 new regulations were issued and a commander’s dress suit was defined as a blue coat with black velvet lapels, cuffs and collar with a light gold embroidery “as little expensive as may be”; a deep buff waistcoat and buff breeches; buttons of yellow metal with the Company’s crest; a cocked hat, side arms (to be worn under the coat) and a black stock. The Chief Officer was distinguished by one small button on each cuff and the second, third and fourth officers by the corresponding number of buttons.

Sources: “East Indiamen”, Cotton & Fawcett, London, 1949.
“Trade in the Eastern Seas”, Parkinson, London, 1937.


Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:30 am
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Here are a couple of images from the NMM site:

Waistcoat detail 1830
Jacket 1830

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Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:07 pm
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Post HEIC uniform
Susan

The NMM have a much better HEIC uniform coat on display than the 1830 'bum-freezer' pattern shown on the web site.

It is full length and is similar in style to the cut-away undress coat in which Nelson was shot. The difference (as has been pointed out) is that the turn backs are black, and that there are gold embroidered figures-of-eight round the button holes. It is exactly the same as that in which Commodore Dance had his portrait painted in after seeing off Linois in 1804.

I am surprised that it isn't on the NMM website.

Brian Vale


Tue Sep 08, 2009 9:41 pm
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Hi Brian,

It may be somewhere on the NMM's website. I find it difficult to find things, due to the volume of information they have and how they have it categorized.

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Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:40 pm
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East India Service: Captain. 1st Officer 1829

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Wed Sep 30, 2009 8:43 am
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Apologies if this counts as thread necromancy, as the last message on this is back in September...

Does anyone know if any American companies issued any sort of uniform? The Black Ball Line, perhaps?


Wed Nov 18, 2009 3:11 pm
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Post uniform
Xiombarg!

I fear that I don't know the definitive answer to your question, or to its predecessor of 17 November, but here are a few ideas.

I think the majority of people on this site are interested in state navies not because they are 'sexy' but because i) the history and tactics involved in international conflict at sea are interesting and ii) the navies involved were coherent bodies with ample records which enable detailed study.

I am sure that the study of sea borne commerce is certainly as interesting, but the problem is that whereas the term 'Royal Navy' or 'United States Navy' is meaningful in that it indicates a unified force of ships and men (whose relationship to the state and to each was demonstrated by the fact that they wore a uniform), the word 'merchant navy' does not. It is merely an adjective which loosely describes a miriad of ships and owners of different sizes and shapes who are unconnected except by the fact that they happen to be engaged in commerce.

I have never heard of any the small private owners who operated merchant ships with comparatively tiny crews in the early period (when money was tight and life precarious) indulging in the vanity of having, and paying for, a superfluous and possibly pretentious uniform.

The British East India Company did of course have a uniform but that was because it was a huge, quasi-official enterprise - the exception that proves the rule in fact.

Privateers were not of course pirates (ie sea going thieves preying on ships of all nations). They were privately owned ships licensed by the state in time of war to attack vessels of the enemy only. They operated under strict rules, their seizures were not legitimate until condemned by an official prize court, and they often paid a heavy deposit for the letter of marque which was technically forfeit in cases of misbehaviour. I have seen the privateering regulations of a number of countries and, although all insist on privateers flying the national flag, none mention the wearing of any uniform.

Nevertheless, the prestige of the Royal Navy had become great by the end of the 18th century, and the blue and brass button style of its uniforms was copied by others, including (for example) all the 'new' navies of the Americas - from the USA to Chile and Argentina. (The last, significantly not following Spanish models.) This is not surprising. Military fashion always follows that of the most successful nation. Thus, after 1815, British and American army uniforms copied French models (just look at the 5th Cavalry - though not Custer!) until they were defeated by the Prussians in 1870 when everybody (in Europe at any rate) started wearing spiked helmets and jackboots.

For the same reason, one suspects that blue with brass buttons had by the 1800s time acquired a general 'maritime' connection. There was certainly a revolt in the EI Company - and later in the RN - when someone tried to introduce a touch of red. It is also interesting that before RN masters and surgeons were given an official uniform in the early 1800s, they often wore blue-and-button civilian dress so as to look as 'naval' as possible.

I would imagine that the connection rubbed off on captains of merchant ships as well, and that although they no doubt wore broadly civilian dress on board ship, it may well have been in blue in acknowledgement of its maritime association . I cannot believe however that they would have worn their civilian top hats. Anything more unsuitable for a life at sea cannot be imagined.

Just guesswork I'm afraid.

Brian


Wed Nov 18, 2009 10:43 pm
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Post Re: uniform
Brian Vale wrote:
Xiombarg!

. I cannot believe however that they would have worn their civilian top hats. Anything more unsuitable for a life at sea cannot be imagined.



Not a top hat but the Master in a bowler was neither unseen nor unheard of!


Wed Nov 18, 2009 11:20 pm
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Post Re: uniform
Brian Vale wrote:
I have never heard of any the small private owners who operated merchant ships with comparatively tiny crews in the early period (when money was tight and life precarious) indulging in the vanity of having, and paying for, a superfluous and possibly pretentious uniform.

First of all, I'm definitely not an expert on merchant vessels (although I've been learning a bit over the past year!). However, I think Brian makes a good point here about economy. Owners were concerned with getting the goods as cheaply and as quickly as possible to their destinations to maximize profit, especially in the case of bulky cargo. Ship design reflected this need as the 19th century progressed. The ships were bigger and could be sailed with fewer hands.

If they were trying to cut expenses, a uniform would probably be a luxury. But, who knows? Maybe some were willing to spend the money.

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Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:16 am
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It might be worthwhile to investigate if any of the shipping companies that existed during the early 1800s still exist today (in whatever form) and contact them.

I've had recent experiences contacting companies about old steam pumps and galley stoves. In the case of the steam pump, I was lucky and was able to find out some details.

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Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:40 am
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Post Re: uniform
Xiombarg!

In case you and American friends are puzzled by my last post, I think I made a mistake. Shouldn't Custer's regiment be the '7th Cavalry', rather than - the '5th'?

Brian


Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:19 pm
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Post Re: uniform
Brian Vale wrote:
I am sure that the study of sea borne commerce is certainly as interesting, but the problem is that whereas the term 'Royal Navy' or 'United States Navy' is meaningful in that it indicates a unified force of ships and men (whose relationship to the state and to each was demonstrated by the fact that they wore a uniform), the word 'merchant navy' does not. It is merely an adjective which loosely describes a miriad of ships and owners of different sizes and shapes who are unconnected except by the fact that they happen to be engaged in commerce.
I'm aware of this. If the answer is, in fact, "civilian clothes", I'm fine with that answer, tho, as pointed out with the top hat comment, what's practical on land isn't neccessarily practical on the sea, and I'd be curious what was most commonly worn. Mainly I want some sort of reasonably accurate answer, if one can be found.

As far as the tactical element... I have interests there as well, which is why I've been studying up on privateers. But it seems to me there's more to sailing than battle. Perhaps I'm unusual in my interests. :) But it seems to me protecting shipping was a very important military role during the time period covered by this web site.

I'm not neccessarily expecting an immediate answer but my hope was those of you with a more military interest may, in your research, have encountered passages relating to the civilian side of things, such as a journal entry regarding a military captain having to deal with a civilian captain.

Does that make sense?


Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:20 pm
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Post Re: uniform
xiombarg wrote:
I'm not neccessarily expecting an immediate answer but my hope was those of you with a more military interest may, in your research, have encountered passages relating to the civilian side of things, such as a journal entry regarding a military captain having to deal with a civilian captain.

Does that make sense?


British convoys were regulated by the "Convoys and Cruisers Acts"; for a commentary thereon see page 62 of:

http://books.google.com/books?id=PCA1AA ... q=&f=false

and Page 364 of:

http://www.archive.org/details/lexmerca ... 01chitgoog

Outward-bound British Convoys were assembled at certain points e.g. the Nore for the Baltic and Portsmouth Road for convoys to the west.
When the vessels were assembled, the convoy escort commander would summon the masters on board his ship to receive their sailing instructions. These were printed forms which described the signals for ships in the convoy and instructions for sailing discipline. Additional instructions would be given when the escort commander considered it necessary. Other instructions during the passage could be given by speaking trumpet, signal flags, lights or guns.


The escorts generally spent more time and trouble keeping the convoy together than fighting off privateers. Owners of ships were encouraged to impress upon their masters the necessity for obeying all convoy instructions and remaining with the convoy by, among other things, the fear of violating the terms of their insurance policy.

I am not sure whether this is the sort of information that you are looking for and if not please let us know.


Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:54 am
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Post Re: uniform and military-civilian maritime contacts
Xiombarg!

In time of peace of course the convoys act seldom applied, but commerce protection was a major objective of state navies.

I have done some work on the maritime side of the S American wars of independence and their aftermath (1817-25) when the principle role of the Royal Navy was the protection of British commerce and the many merchant ships caught between the maritime forces of the 'patriots' and the colonial powers of Spain and Portugal (and between Brazil and Argentina in their 1826-8 war) and were consequently threatened with seizure by both sides through the activities of privateers or state ships. The USN also deployed a couple of warships on station with the same view in mind.

In this situation there was inevitably constant communcation between the captains of warships and both the captains of merchant vessels and the shore based representatives of their owners. Indeed, some commanders had special letter books devoted entirley to this correspondence.

Likewise, there is ample correspondence and details of cargoes etc in relation to ships that were detained as prizes.

None of this correspondence throws any light on uniform wearing - but perhaps there is another angle you are interested in too.

Brian


Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:12 pm
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