Thursday, December 22, 2016

A True British Tar, 1795

"A True British Tar" Royal Museums Greenwich.
Today's image, drawn by James Gillray, and published by Hannah Humphrey, both of London, has an interesting story behind it. While at first glance it might appear to show a common British tar, the exaggerated features of the sailor's face and a reference in the lines below the portrait makes this a clear satire of Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, a professional naval officer with Nelson as well as his friend, and the future William IV.

The print shows him as a ‘tar’ in stereotypical sailor clothing: a misshapen black hat, blue jacket, and striped trousers, with a printed neckerchief. The text reads
Damn all Bond-Street-Sailors I say, a parcel of smell-smocks!
They'd sooner creep into a Jordan than face the French!- dam me!' 
"Jordan" was slang for a chamber-pot, but here refers to Dorothea Jordan, the Prince’s actress-mistress and mother of his illegitimate children, the FitzClarences. The pun gave rise to far cruder satires than this print. (1)

Gillray's reference to the lewd behavior of the "Bond-Street Sailors" is thus a veiled "criticism of the Duke's own decadent life style. Any real scorn is so deeply embedded in visual and verbal innuendo that Gillray would have nothing to fear by turning his attention to the high-ranking royal." (2)
"A True British Tar" Royal Museums Greenwich.
In both images the prince wears a blue (or purple) coat with small yellow buttons and mariner's cuffs with one button worn open, a double-breasted white waistcoat with small yellow buttons, and striped trousers with yellow buttons - red in one image, blue in another. A truly massive yellow and red handkerchief that looks more like a woman's fichu with a fringed edge visible is tied tightly around his neck, completely covering his collar and shoulders. His straight blond hair hangs limply around his face, and a strange smushed black hat sits on top of his head.

1. Description note from A True British Tar (caricature) - National Maritime Museum. Accessed 23 Dec. 2016.
2. Davey, James, and Richard Johns. Broadsides: Caricature and the Navy 1756-1815. Seaforth Publishing, in Association with the National Maritime museum, 2012. P. 19.

1 comment:

  1. The black felt hat I sometimes wear fir my impression looks just as bad as this one! Perhaps I shoukd start passing myself off as the Duke of Clarence!