Archive for April, 2011

Mystery 18th Century Shipwreck Found in the Gulf of Finland

Here’s some news which will delight everybody with a love for the Age of Sail. And if you should lament the decline of figureheads as much as I do, then even more so!

Thanks to the enthusiastic divers of Finnish non-profit organisation Badewanne, the world has now one more 18th century shipwreck to study and admire. Their find is remarkable, and their documentation fascinating. Thanks to the conditions in the Gulf of Finland, the wreck of the (so-far) unknown ship is exceptionally well preserved. Just have a look at this amazing figurehead!

Figure head of unknown 18th century ship

I’ve already mentioned that I’m fond of figureheads, haven’t I …?

Figurehead of unknown 18th century ship

The wreck was found in a depth of 60m, which is probably one of the reasons why there are currently no plans to recover the ship’s bell, which might help to identify the ship. Thought to be a merchantman first, the discovery of twelve gunports on one deck, with six guns still in their original position, might hint that the ship was actually also employed in battle.

Please read all about the ship and it’s discovery here.

There’s also a gallery and a video.

As I said, the ship has so-far not been identified – but maybe one of you fellow AoS afficionados could give the Badewanne team a hint? Maybe the bell rings one with you, or you recognise the figurehead? If you should know something, please keep them posted. (And me. Because I’m curious!)

I’d like to thank Badewanne for all their efforts and finding this gem, and for giving me permission to use their photograps.

About Badewanne Oy
We are a group of divers that have been documenting shipwrecks in the Gulf of Finland for more than 15 years. We are a multi talented team with a broad skill set on underwater video, still photography, drawing & painting, 3D modeling, underwater engineering and marine sciences.

27 April, 2011 at 10:31 am 2 comments

Happy Easter – beware of the Hare!

23 April, 2011 at 9:04 pm Leave a comment

History Bites – the Perfect 18th Century Smile

TV ads bring out the worst in me. My inner six-year-old merrily sings along to “Compare the Market” (I should know better than to fall for the brilliant marketing ploy that’s Aleksandr Orlov, but in my defense I have to say that it’s terribly difficult not to love a talking meerkat wearing a dressing gown!) And don’t get me started on Bogdan, the meerkat pup.

Other TV ads, however, turn Mrs. Joyful into Mrs. Hyde. If only the Go Compare tenor knew of my anger as soon as he makes an appearance on TV! And my comments on his insufferable colleague from Aviva Insurances couldn’t be repeated in decent company, either.  But  if there ever was a character at risk of being hit with my fan through the screen, then it’s the bride from the Blend A Med 3D white TV ads.

Bride of Dentenstein

“Oh no! My wedding will be ruined because my my teeth are a different shade of white than my wedding dress! Drama! Despair! Disaster!”

We have to mention here that her teeth have already been of an unnatural blinding white before the treatment with the magic toothpaste. But afterwards, she looks like she’s wearing one of those plastic sets of teeth you can buy for 0.99p and wear on Hallowe’en to scare the neighbours. The grande finale sees her miming biting an apple and a batting of lashes I connect with creepy porcelaine dolls. *hisscoughhairballhiss*

Watch the commercial if you dare!

Teeth are important.  Pearly whites will signal to the world: Hey, look at me! I’m pretty! I’m healthy! I’m successful! I can bite your head off if I have to! And you need them to eat, of course. If you belong to the privileged part of the world with access to a working health system, you can have them fixed if they hurt. No need for you to suffer from excruciating pain for years like poor King Tut. He’d probably given all his wealth plus the sphinx for a pack of paracetamol.

In the 18th century, however, dentists weren’t available to the poor. And there was no anaesthesia, unless you count getting drunk before medical treatment. Instead, you got barbers with rusty pliers and quacks who’d sell you horse urine as a remedy for your “tooth-ach”.

For the majority of the population, there was little to no dental hygiene, but gengivitis, cavities and abscesses instead.  Basically, the Tooth Fairie was on sick leave all through the 18th century.

Money, however, could buy you a perfect smile – well, at least to 18th century standards. You could have them straightened, get fillings and “a composition for the purpose of making of artificial teeth either single double or in rows or in complete sets and also springs for fastening or affixing the same in a more easy and effectual manner than any hitherto discovered which said teeth may be made of any shade or colour, which they will retain for any length of time and will consequently more perfectly resemble the natural teeth” (means: dentures, as patented by Nicholas Dubois De Chemant). This set here belonged to Arthur Richard Dillon (1721-1806), Archbishop of Narbonne in France:

No, I don’t want to know how they were fixed. La la la… as I said, if you had the money, you had the means. And there were plenty of quacks who were only too willing to take advantage of rich people’s vanity. While doing some research on dental treatment aboard the ships of the Royal Navy in the 18th century (which was often better than ashore), I stumbled over yet another creepy sidenote of history:

Let’s assume Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom loses a tooth or two, as it happens. Quite naturally, she’s unhappy; after all, she’s famous for her smile and can’t hide behind her fan all the time. What to do? Luckily, Dr. Quackman is at hand, and has the perfect ailment for her suffering – a tooth transplantation!

Now, remember, this is the 18th century, so please forget anything you know about the modern procedure of the same name. Tooth transplantation in the case of Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom meant that poor people, often children (because their teeth were healthier and smaller than the ones of adults) had their teeth pulled for a couple of coins, and the extracted teeth were “transplanted” into the gums of the customer. This caused great pain, and as you can imagine, the “implants” didn’t last long, but by the time Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom realised that she’d been conned, Dr. Quackman was already miles away, working his dental magic on the next victim customer.

Rowlandson’s caricature “Transplantation of Teeth” shows this cruel procedure. Two beggar children, a boy and a girl, are leaving the room, crying and clutching their cheeks. On the sofa, a malnourished young chimney sweep (who might have been forced to “agree” to this torture by his master) has his teeth pulled by a quack, while the “doctor’s” assistant works on a female customer. It’s really difficult to wrap one’s brain around such cruelty and contempt for the poor, but at least we have the small comfort of knowing that Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom eventually ended up with just the looks she deserved…

More on the history of (professional) tooth transplation can be found here.

20 April, 2011 at 10:07 pm 3 comments

Fabrics! Costumes! Corsets! Bumrolls! Other things you might like!

I promise to return to naval history very soon – in fact, a new book review will follow soon – but for now, allow me to do a bit of promotion for Izodiea’s current online sale.

Izodiea knows how to use needle and sewing machine like Sir Joshua Reynolds knew how to handle a paintbrush. A true artist of thread and fabric, her work, especially her 18th century clothing, never fails to take my breath away (though she’s not limited to 18th century fashion).

She’s currently selling some of her work, fabrics and assorted other things you might wish to purchase. So have your purses at the ready, ladies and gentlemen, and have a look at her offers. Fabrics, costumes, books, , antiquities, patterns, tools and much, much more. Clicking on the link below will transport you to her journal and a list of offers as fast as any coach-and-six!


My personal favourite is her black Elizabethan robe – though the black silk callash is very fetching, too! Ah, decisions, decisions…

And while you’re already over at her journal, don’t forget to look at her 18th century fashion work.

12 April, 2011 at 3:48 pm Leave a comment

Event tip: Record office lecture on Collingwood by Dr. Tony Barrow

On Friday, April 15 at 7.30pm, Dr. Tony Barrow will hold a lecture on

“Collingwood’s Northumbrians”

in the Parish Centre of Berwick.

Dr. Barrow will speak on the men from Tyneside and Northumberland who had social and family connections with Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood and how the latter supported them (or otherwise) in their naval careers.

Great subject, everyone is welcome,  admission is free and refreshments are available – so what are you waiting for?

( Source )

8 April, 2011 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

The Fashionable Sailor of 1785

I never leave the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich without having spent far more time than necessary in front of the uniform displays.  My favourite is the 1748 lieutenant’s dress coat, though this one is a close competitor. Yes, they might have all smelled like rancid sheep underneath all those layers of wool, but at least they looked good doing so.

But what about the ordinary sailors? What did Jack Tar wear while tarring, rigging and splicing? We know from paintings, illustrations and reports that sailors togged up when on shore leave, impressing the ladies in ports all over the world to equal parts with ribbons on their hats,  brightly coloured neckerchiefs and generously embellished tales of adventures at sea.

Yes, we can read about it, we can look at the pictures, but there’s a world of a difference between imagining what they looked like and actually seeing it.

Ordinary sailors didn’t have the money to fill their chests with tons of clothes. Unlike officers, who might have a spare uniform at home with their loved ones and were far more likely to have their portraits painted, they travelled with all their worldly belongings, and once a ship went down, they took clothes, dity box and the stories of their lives with them. What they looked like is mostly left up to our imagination.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m always excited when archaeologists unearth – or would that be unwater? – personal belongings of sailors in wrecks. A sailor’s shoe or stocking is like a personal message from the past, so it’s far more interesting to me than a treasure chest.

In 1785, the General Carleton of Whitby sunk during a storm off the Polish coast, with all 25 men aboard dying  (read more about it here). The General Carleton was a merchant man, transporting iron and tar. In the 1990ies, archaeologist of the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdansk (tip for your next trip to Poland!) found the wreck and started to excavate it. They made a number of exciting finds, among them the ship’s bell, a telescope and hundreds of shoe buckles (part of the cargo).

Most exciting find for me, however, are the items of clothings which survived through the centuries and were brought to the surface by the archaeologists. The colours have faded, but looking at the slopes, it’s really easy to imagine how they must have looked while being worn.  I’m particularly in love with the mittens and the hat!



A book about the General Carleton is available from the online shop of the Polish Maritime Museum. It’s in Polish-English, and as soon as I’ve figured out how to place an order, I’ll do just that!


A monograph in book form presenting research results and a full catalogue of historical objects from a wreck of General Carleton – a Baltic ship from the 18th century.

Please also consider the following book on Amazon:

The Yorkshire “Mary Rose”: The Ship “General Carleton” of Whitby


7 April, 2011 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment


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