Olla-Podrida: Julian Stockwin Newsletter, March 2012

COVER Betrayal UK

March, 2012

[Olla-podrida: an affectionate 18th-century term for a colourful medley of items]


Broadly Boats News

Nighthawk News


Firetrench Directory

+ Betrayal Collectors Set
As usual, there will be a special Collector’s Set for Julian’s new title, BETRAYAL, out in October. It is strictly limited to 500 Sets, so don’t delay if you want to ensure you’re on the list! And all those who’ve pre-paid before the end of February go into the hat for a chance of a full refund of the purchase price.

+ The capital calls
Julian and Kathy are in London next month for location research and to attend a number of editorial meetings. We’ll catch up with what they’ve been up to in the May issue, including a very special private tour…

+ John Chancellor prints
We featured an exclusive discount on John Chancellor prints in the December issue and due to popular demand we’re delighted to be able to offer this again to Olla-Podrida subscribers. A discount of 20 percent applies to ANY of the superb Chancellor maritime prints featured on the site. To qualify for the discount just enter the code JRC20 at the time of payment. The offer expires on March 31.

The King of Fruits

No-one knows when the first pineapple was imported into England but Elizabeth adventurers encountered it and some were probably brought back by them. In 1675 Charles II was painted receiving a pineapple from his gardener John Rose, supposedly the first such fruit cultivated on English soil.

The pineapple became a potent status symbol in Georgian England. It could only be grown at great cost in a special greenhouse called a pinery. With the capital outlay for the hothouse and three years of constant labour to get the plant to fruit, the tab for producing a single pineapple was estimated to be £80, about the same amount of money required to buy a new coach!

One writer describes the scene at a dinner hosted by the eighth Lord Petre in the mid-eighteenth century at Thorndon Hall, his imposing Essex estate. After a sumptious banquet the door of the dining room is majestically flung open and guests are treated to an astonishing sight: a liveried footman enters carrying atop an ornate silver tray a huge pile of pineapples direct from the estate’s hothouses. Spontaneous applause breaks out.

Home-grown pineapples soon appeared at all the best society dinners. Because of their great cost they were often not actually eaten, however, but used as ornamentation at the centrepiece of the table, and were passed on from party to party until the fruit began to rot. If you were not able to grow your own, you could rent a pineapple, for about a guinea. The same pineapple would turn up in several houses until it was no longer fit to present.

As the century progressed it became more acceptable to actually eat the fruit and while still very much luxury items, if you could not grow your own they became available to buy in exclusive fruit shops.

The pineapple entered the broader Georgian culture in a number of ways. The phrase “a pineapple of the finest flavour” came into common usage as a metaphor for the most splendid. In Sheridan’s popular play “The Rivals” Mrs Malaprop exclaims: “He is the very pineapple of politeness.”

Pineapple motifs appeared on Georgian furniture and on Chinaware designs. A very striking form of representation of wealth and hospitality was a stone pineapple atop a gatepost, which is occasionally still to be seen.

And of course the Georgian satirists didn’t miss the opportunity. “The Cabinet Dinner or a Political Meeting” by C. Williams depicts eight cabinet ministers asleep around the dinner table, surrounded by remnants of a lavish meal. Strewn about the room are two pineapples, one only half eaten – as a telling symbol of the decadence of the ruling classes.

This month we have a Stockwin Goodie Bag up for grabs. To enter the contest email <admin@julianstockwin.com> with the answer to this question: Which famous historic ship in Greenwich re-opens to the public in the spring?

Please include your full postal address.
Deadline: March 25

Congrats to last month’s winner of a Seafarer book of choice, Peter York. He chose “Voices from the Bridge” as his prize.

The Georgian age was a time when language was more earthy and colourful than today, slang words often deriving from references to bodily functions.

Among the volumes in Julian’s reference library is “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by a Captain Francis Grose. This and Grose’s “A Provincial Glossary” were, when they were published in the late 1780s, the largest assemblage of contemporary “non-standard” words.

Grose was born in 1731. He was an eminent English antiquarian who lived life to the full in every way. Contemporary portraits of him show a very large man. It is reported that he was so rotund that his servant had to truss him up in bed in order to keep the bed clothes around his vast stomach!

Despite his size, Grose was very active in his fieldwork to record the slang of the day; he wandered the streets picking up speech from all walks of life and frequented drinking dens, carefully listening and noting everything down.

Grose’s military rank was not naval; he served in the Surrey militia for a time. He travelled extensivly throughout the the British Isles and featured in several of Robert Burns’ poems. He died in Dublin of an apoplectic fit in 1791.
The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published in 1785, and went on to be reprinted in several other editions, the latest being 1811.

You can download the 1811 edition free as an ebook:

or read it at Project Gutenberg:

Here are a few entries to whet your appetite!

+ Potatoe [sic] Trap – The mouth. Shut your potatoe trap and give your tongue a holiday; i.e. be silent.
+ Gollumpus – A large, clumsy fellow.
+ Apple dumplin shop – A woman’s bosom.
+ Soss brangle – A slatternly wench.
+ Lumping – Great. A lumping pennyworth; a great quantity for the money…frequently said of a man who marries a fat woman.

A wonderful volume to dip into! Be warned, though, in parts it is wonderfully un-PC!

An occasional feature looking at maritime tragedies through the ages

+ “Wilhelm Gustloff”

The sinking of “Titanic” 100 years ago next month is seared on the public consciousness, however few have heard of the tragedy of “Wilhelm Gustloff”, a ship whose loss of life was equivalent to sinking +six+ Titanics.

The German liner “William Gustloff” was torpedoed in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30, 1945 by a Soviet submarine. Aboard were many German women and children escaping from the advancing Soviet Army.

The ship’s complement and passenger lists cited 6,050 people, but this did not include many civilians who boarded the ship without being recorded in the ship’s official embarkation records. Heinz Schon, who carried out extensive research into the sinking during the 1980s and 1990s, concluded that “Wilhelm Gustloff” was carrying a total of 10,582 passengers and crew.

Initially the ship was accompanied by the passenger liner “Hansa”, also filled with civilians and military personnel, and two torpedo boats. “Hansa” and one torpedo boat developed mechanical problems and could not continue, leaving “Wilhelm Gustloff” with just one torpedo boat escort. “Willhelm Gustloff” had four captains (three civilian and one military) on board, and they could not agree on the best course of action to guard against submarine attacks. Against the advice of the military commander, Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn, the senior civilian captain, Friedrich Petersen, decided to head for deep water. When he was informed by a mysterious radio message of an oncoming German minesweeper convoy, he decided to activate his ship’s red and green navigation lights so as to avoid a collision in the dark, making “Wilhelm Gustloff” easy to spot in the night. The source or authenticity of this radio message was never confirmed and there was no oncoming German minesweeper convoy,it later turned out.

“Wilhelm Gustloff” was soon sighted by the Soviet submarine S-13, under the command of Captain Alexander Marinesko, and three torpedoes were launched at her, at that range each one punching into her vitals.

In the panic that followed the attack, many of the passengers were trampled rushing to the lifeboats and life jackets. The water temperature in the Baltic Sea at this time of year is usually around 4d C; however, this was a particularly cold night, with ice floes. Many deaths were caused either directly by the torpedoes or by drowning in the onrushing water. Others were crushed in the initial panic on the stairs and decks. But the majority of those who perished succumbed to exposure in the freezing water.

Less than 40 minutes after being struck, “Wilhelm Gustloff” was lying on her side and sank bow-first. Thousands of people were trapped inside on the promenade deck.

German forces were able to rescue some of the survivors but the figures from the research of Heinz Schon make the total lost in the sinking to be about 9,343 men, women and children, making it the largest loss of life in a single sinking in maritime history.

Today, “Wilhelm Gustloff” is a protected war-grave. It lies in 22 fathoms of water, off the northwest coast of Poland.

Julian devotes a chapter in STOCKWIN’S MARITIME MISCELLANY to maritime misfortunes in the Age of Sail.

This month we’ve stopped by Whittles Publishing where Julian has selected three salty titles that caught his eye:

“Oriental Endeavour”
by Dave Creamer
An endearing tale of two tugboats and mishap, adventure and intrigue – and Roland, the unfriendly rat…

“Across the Pond”
by Malcolm Archibald
An introduction to the nautical history of the North Atlantic, the ocean that tested some of the world’s hardiest mariners.

“Mariner’s Rest”
by Ray Solly
The last volume in an engrossing trilogy about Jonathan Carridia and his maritime career under the Red Ensign. This title deals with the “golden age” of merchant shipping, the 1950s-1970s.

Two questions from Julian’s mail bag:

1. “What was the typical rate of turn of ships of Kydd’s day?’
Julian replies: “This is a tricky one to answer because in the days before calibrated instrumentation one man’s brisk wind was another’s fresh breeze – and with the height and direction of the prevailing seas (the repeated smacking on the bows of a head sea can seriously delay a staying about) you have external variables easily swamping the constants inherent in the build of the ship itself. Trim of the vessel (by the bow or stern) resulting from variance in stores was another major factor, so plenty of room for argument, little for science!

As an aside, when I am writing about a fictional ship like ‘L’Aurore’ I consult the Admiralty archives for documents such as the ‘Report on the Sailing and other Questions’. This was a long form required to be filled out and sent in by captains taking over a new-captured ship and those having completed a ‘great repair’. They spell out the performance of the ship under various conditions but of course were swayed by the captain’s understandable pride in his vessel and give best times rather than average. I select a ship that most closely approximates mine and adopt its characteristics.”
[Julian writes about the process in VICTORY when Kydd takes on his new frigate ‘L’Aurore’.]

2. “What was the rate of fire for an experienced crew of that era?”
Julian replies: “It depended on the size and type of the gun, and other factors. Twenty-four pounders, for example, came in long and short forms – and carronades were a special case. Smaller guns were much easier to manipulate; a 32-pdr weighing three tons meant a brutal force of inertia. General sailing conditions were important. If the ship was close hauled, for instance, it was heeled to leeward by a fixed amount and you can imagine running out such a beast uphill!

In general, the Brits were better than the French and Spanish because they were at sea for much longer periods and practised gunnery in all weathers. HMS ‘Victory’ at Trafalgar, in calm conditions, was getting away three aimed rounds of her 32s in five minutes. Frigates didn’t have more than 18 pdrs until late in the war so of course were faster. Figures in the logs etc. vary wildly with different ships and guns, and these in turn varied with the freshness – or exhaustion – of the crew.”

Do you have a question you’d like to put to Julian. Emails to <admin@julianstockwin.com> with ASK JULIAN in the subject line.

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