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Competing tars pressing their suit

Date: 1792
Overall: 395 x 340 mm, 127 g
Image: 301 x 307 mm
Medium: Watercolour
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Watercolour
Object No: 00050197

User Terms

    Dressed in their best clothes these tars appear to be competing for the attention of the young woman earnestly engaged in her handiwork. Paintings such as this watercolour dated to 1792 provide some insight into the social life and fashion of sailors ashore.
    SignificanceThis watercolour is significant for its evidence of the social life and fashions of sailors ashore in the late 18th century.
    HistorySome 200 years ago, Britain's navy relied heavily on press-gangs to supply its labour. Dupes or unsuspecting drunkards would wake up at sea, still in their inappropriate land clothes. Bit by bit a uniform evolved. Trousers were made from ticking, the material used to cover mattresses, then smeared with tar to make them more waterproof. Kersey jackets were dyed blue with indigo from India. A hat, again tarred to protect it from the elements, was often adorned with gaudy ribbons and flowers when in port.

    The dress of the tars is shown particularly clearly. They are in shore-going clothes with baggy wool or cotton trousers, a short blue wool jacket and buckled shoes (and probably silk stockings). The sleeves have mariner’s cuffs and the cut of the waistcoat reflects contemporary civilian fashions. The shirt is in cotton or linen, and a coloured silk neckerchief has probably been imported from India. The seaman on the right is wearing a hat, probably tarred straw; while the one of the left wears a cloth cap.

    Sailor’s dress was much the same in the merchant service and the navy. There was no uniform for the lower ranks at this time.

    Jack tars are most often portrayed as jolly, lively and happy-go-lucky lads chasing their dreams. From 'Vale Jack Tar' comes another typical portrayal - as a womaniser:
    "Jack loved women.
    He loved to chase them to the ends of the earth.
    Sometimes he even caught one, less often than he would have you believe though.
    His tales of the chase and its conclusion, win or lose, is the stuff of legends."

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