Merry Christmas, Restoration Navy Style

Henry Teonge, a Warwickshire clergyman, was fifty-five when he first went to sea as a naval chaplain, presumably forced into the job by the extent of his debts. In 1675 he joined the Fourth Rate Assistance, commanded by William Houlding, which was despatched to the Mediterranean as part of Sir John Narbrough’s fleet, operating against the corsairs of Tripoli. Teonge kept a lively diary of his time aboard the ship, and during his subsequent service on the Bristol and Royal Oak. This is one of the best contemporary sources for the nature of shipboard life in the Restoration navy, and I’ve used it often during my research for the Quinton books. For example, several of the ‘menus’ for officers’ meals in Gentleman Captain were taken straight from Teonge, while my description of Matthew Quinton’s Christmas at sea aboard the Seraph in The Mountain of Gold was based closely on the following passage in the diary – his account of Christmas 1675 aboard the Assistance, near Crete.

24 Very rough today. No land yet. Our decks are washed for Christmas.

25 Christmas Day we keep thus. At 4 in the morning our trumpeters all do flat their trumpets and begin at our Captain’s cabin, and thence to all the officers and gentlemen’s cabins; playing a levite at each cabin door, and bidding good morrow, wishing a Merry Christmas. After they go to their station, viz. on the poop, and sound three levites in honour of the morning. At 10 we go to prayers and sermon ; text, Zacc. ix. 9. Our Captain had all his officers and gentlemen to dinner with him, where we had excellent good fare: a rib of beef, plum puddings, mince pies, &c. and plenty of good wines of several sorts ; drank healths to the King, to our wives and friends; and ended the day with much civil mirth.

Zacchariah Chapter 9, Verse 9 reads (in the King James version that Teonge would have used) ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.’ (The first part of the verse was later used for a famous soprano solo in Handel’s Messiah.) Teonge records no specific New Year festivities, although he did write a poem as a special New Year’s present for Captain Houlding. William Houlding, a former East India Company captain, held several important commands in Charles II’s reign, including that of the London in the 1673 campaign, and died on 20 September 1682.

A NEW-YEAR’S GIFT TO OUR CAPTAIN.

ACROSTICON.

W — hen Phoebus did this morning first appear,

I — nriching with his beams our hemispheare,

L- eaving the darksome night behind him, and

L — onging to be at his meridian;

I — magine then the old-year’s out of date,

A — new one unto Jove let’s dedicate—

M— an should not be like an old almanack.

H – eavens guide you, sir, that Paul’s words may be true,

O — ld things are done away, all things are new;

U — nto the rich endowments of your mind,

L — ift up your noble courage: Fortune’s kind

D — irections bid you forwards; your Assistance

I — s beggd by Mars for th’ Trypolenes resistance-

N — ‘er man more fit bold acts to undertake,

G — od with his blessings make you fortunate.

On 6 January, Teonge recorded the hilarious festivities for Twelfth Night.

6 Very rough weather all the last night, and all this day.  We are now past Zante; had we been there this day, we had seen a great solemnity ; for this day being Twelfth Day, the Greek Bishop of Zante doth (as they call it) baptise the sea, with a great deal of ceremony; sprinkling their galleys and fishing-tackle with holy-water. But we had much mirth on board, for we had a great cake made, in which was put a bean for the king, a pea for the queen, a clove for the knave, a forked stick for the cuckold, a rag for the slut. The cake was cut into several pieces in the great cabin, and all put into a napkin, out of which every one took his piece, as out of a lottery. Then each piece is broken to see what was in it, which caused much laughter to see our lieutenant prove the cuckold, and more to see us tumble one over the other in the cabin, by reason of the rough weather. 

And with that glorious mental image of the chaplain and officers of the Assistance laughing uproariously and falling over each other (and, presumably, the great cake), I’ll wish you all the compliments of the season and a very Happy New Year!

Thanks so much to all of you for your support of this blog and my books during 2012. Gentlemen and Tarpaulins will return on Monday 7 January, and 2013 will be quite a year! I’ll be using the blog to build up to the UK publication of ‘Quinton 4’, The Lion of Midnight, and the North American publication of ‘Quinton 3’, The Blast That Tears The Skies, both in April, and then to the launch of Britannia’s Dragon: A Naval History of Wales in July. There are also some other interesting irons in the fire, so please continue to watch this space!

%d bloggers like this: