“Deaf as a post” and “a well-looking fellow”: Descriptions of crewmen in the Commonplace Book of Captain Edward Rotheram
Have you ever wondered what kind of people manned ships around the time of the Napoleonic Wars? Where they came from, what they did before serving, even how they looked? Well, this is exactly the information found within the Commonplace book of Captain Edward Rotheram (LBK/38). In addition to the official letters and memoranda usually included in the letter-books of Naval officers, Rotheram’s provides us with a fascinatingly detailed list of the crewmen who served under him.
Of one Thomas Walker for example, we are told that he a was 34 year old former-shoemaker from Malton, Yorkshire; that he was single, with a mother in Beverley; and is described as having a “fair” complexion, a “long” visage, and tattoos of a soldier on his right arm and a woman on his left. Not all crewmen get such a balanced description however, with Michael Crawley, a 43 year old former plasterer from Drogheda, Ireland, a little less fortunate in Rotheram’s estimations, being referred to quite simply as a “Stupid looking fellow”.
The wealth of anecdotes contained within this seemingly-administrative list is far from usual, and it’s only thanks to Captain Rotheram’s own peculiar interest in the idiosyncrasies of his crew that we’ve been left with such a uniquely vibrant, albeit somewhat skewed, perspective upon the complexion (both figuratively and literally!) of the otherwise anonymous seamen of the long Eighteenth Century.
Tim (Retrieval Technician)