Every wondered what Christmas Day was like aboard an 18th century man of war? Judging by the log of HMS Indefatigable, pretty much like any other day really! Captain Sir Edward Pellew’s log entry for the 25th of December 1797 reads as follows:
Monday 25th Winds NW then SW, still moored in St Marys Road.
Mist in middle ditto at 10 At 2pm hove to for a pilot Am fresh gales bore up for Scilly at 10 moored ship in St Mary’s Road.
However, as is so often the case, the log provides us with only the barest details of life aboard ship and, from what we know of Pellew, it seems unlikely that he would have let Christmas Day pass unmarked, by officers and crew alike. Pellew may have been a renowned fighting captain, but he also had something of a reputation for enjoying hospitality and the finer things in life, as is evident from his personal correspondence to family and friends. We have also come across at least one incident in the log of a prize laden with claret, taken by the Indefatigable off the French coast, that doesn’t seem to have been despatched to England along with the other prizes. One wonders what happened to all that claret…
What ever happened to it, I am quite sure that Pellew would not have been fooled for a minute by the kind of Christmas Day stunt pulled by Rear-Admiral Bartholomew James who, while serving as a Midshipman in 1776, also had charge of a prize laden with claret…
In 1776, he arrived at New York and secured the prizes he had brought alongside the wharf, where others were already tied up, and here, commenced the most agreeable time he ever experienced during his “servitude” as a midshipman, for he had almost every luxury of life, without an anxious care or an unhappy moment; he and his messmates were free from the snubs they had been accustomed to.
Among the innumerable good things I was in possession of there was on board one of the prizes three cases of the best Bordeaux claret, which Captain Hudson had directed to be sent to him and Captain Chinnery, of the Daphne. We were keeping as usual Christmas Day, and were desirous to drink good wine; we therefore drank the three cases out, and the following day filled them with claret of a very inferior sort out of the casks, corking them with the same long corks, and sealing them all over with a deal of attention and care; which answered every purpose, as the captains, on drinking the wine, observed, it might be very good claret, but for their parts they found very little difference in that and the cask claret.
Journal of Rear-Admiral Bartholomew James, 1752-1828