Moby Dick on the Mersey: Maritime Lectures

The lecture programme for the Moby Dick on the Mersey project is taking shape. This is still in draft, but it will be updated as speakers confirm. Here’s the list: Maritime Lectures.

Moby Dick on the Mersey, a Marathon Reading in Liverpool

This is going to be keeping me busy for a while. Moby Dick on the Mersey is a marathon reading of Melville’s famous novel, taking place at the Merseyside Maritime Museum from the 4th to the 6th of May 2013. I am organising it through the University of Liverpool’s department of Continuing Education, where I look after courses in English. The reading will take over 130 readers 26 hours, and we are arranging other events alongside it, including a series of talks and lectures about Liverpool and whaling, Herman Melville, and the novel itself. With a bit of luck we will also have a Moby Dick ale brewed for refreshment.

How old is Liverpool’s Cain’s Brewery?

There seem to be three main, and sometimes overlapping, trends in the self-image of British brewers: the traditional, the modern, and the ill-advised. Of these, the older brewers usually go for the first. They like to be seen as brewers of traditional ales, and it helps to let everyone know just how long they have been doing it. Some examples are brewers such as Young’s (1831), Fuller’s (1845), and Daniel Thwaites (1807), but there are many others keen to make the point that they have been around for a very long time. Shepherd Neame proudly declares itself Britain’s oldest brewer, trumping them all with the date “1698”, but hinting that brewing has been going on in their home town of Faversham much longer than that. Who would have thought it?

Cain’s, Liverpool’s biggest, and of late most controversial, brewer has the phrase “Established 1850” positioned prominently on its branding. That was the year that founder Robert Cain bought his first brewery, in Limekiln Lane; he bought the current brewery, on the other side of the city, as a going concern in 1858. When I was writing my book about Robert Cain and his brewery the question of how old the brewery is came up a lot, and I was unable to find a definitive answer. So I was only mildly surprised to hear yesterday from Sudarghara Dusanj from Cain’s, asking if I could tell him definitively how long there had been a brewery on the current site. Here’s what I wrote in my book:

“Cain bought the Stanhope Street brewery from George Hindley, the vicar of St. George’s Church, Everton. George and Robert Hindley had inherited the brewery from their father. After his father’s death Robert Hindley had tried and failed to make the brewery a success and was followed by Messrs. Hyde and Rust, brewers, who rented the premises but lasted only a few months before they were forced out of business. Soon after acquiring the brewery Cain set about modernizing and improving his investment:

“During the first two years of Mr. Cain’s occupancy all the old brewing utensils and machinery were taken out and replaced with the most modern appliances. The place was thus carried on for some years when further increase of business necessitated an extension. This was effected by purchasing some of the adjoining property called ‘Cotter’s Terrace’ and throwing it into the brewery. An old building, containing offices and a warehouse, which originally stood in the yard was removed, and a new building, fronting Stanhope-street, was erected in its place. From the earliest time in Stanhope-street till the present moment Mr. Cain has been adding to and improving his brewing plant and machinery, and everything new which comes out and which is better than older machinery he buys without hesitation.”(Liverpool Review, September 17, 1887)

Cain’s willingness to keep up with developments and his commitment to relentless expansion and ‘improvement’ made the brewery a success where others floundered.  The brewery itself had been bought by ‘old Mr. Hindley’ as a going concern 72 years earlier in 1786 so its long-term viability was not in doubt. But knowing its recent history of failure, Cain must have been very confident in his own ability to make it work. He was certainly helped by Liverpool’s own growing success story.”

That was the best I could do at the time, concluding that there had been a brewery on the Stanhope Street site since at least 1786, which is actually quite impressive. But after my conversation yesterday, the following snippet jumped out at me from something I was reading for my book on William Scoresby. This is from James Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, published in 1873:

Returning to St. James’s Church, I will now ask the courteous reader to accompany me in a walk along the Old Park Road. This road, with Smithdown Lane, Lodge Lane, and the eastern part of Ullet Lane, down to 1775 were the only roads in the township. The house and outbuildings at the corner of Stanhope Street — now greatly metamorphosed — were built in 1775, about the time when Harrington was planned out. They were long the residence of Lord Sefton’s land-agent. In 1803 three houses had been built on the west side, near the corner of Mill Street, With this exception, and one or two shortly to be mentioned, no houses existed in the entire length of the road.

Swire’s Map of Liverpool, based on a survey made in 1823 and 1824, shows the area looking like this (click for a large version in another tab):

I’ve outlined in yellow the area referred to above as “Harrington” which, before the street layout was settled in 1775, was open fields and parkland, belonging to Lord Sefton. Until 1775 it was even beyond the limits of the town of Liverpool, which at that time reached only as far as Parliament Street, the borough boundary (marked by my vertical yellow line). I have also indicated on the map the site of Cain’s brewery, on Stanhope Street, and from this we can conclude that brewing on the site began some time between 1775 and 1786, but certainly no earlier than that. It makes it one of the oldest brewing sites in (more or less) continuous use in Britain, but the marketing department at Shepherd Neame can relax.

Read more about Cains: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint, listen to me reading from Chapter 1, or buy the book here.

Where Scoresby’s Ship, the Baffin, Was Built

A note on where Scoresby’s ship, the Baffin, was built, by Mottershead and Hayes, shipwrights, in 1819-1820. It seems she was constructed in a yard on the site of what became, in 1846, the Albert Dock. More at my Scoresby blog, Letters to Elizabeth.

Monday 11th March, 1811

In 1811 William Scoresby Jr. sailed to the Greenland sea in command of his own ship for the first time. He was 21 years old and had by then spent nine summers in the Arctic, first as apprentice to his father, and later as chief mate on the Resolution, his father’s ship. In 1806, the Scoresbys achieved the record for ‘furthest north,’ reaching a latitude of 81 degrees 30′ north, a record that stood unbroken until 1827.

By 1811, when Scoresby Jr. took over command of the Resolution from his father, he was an accomplished whaler and expert navigator. He had studied, at the University of Edinburgh, and had served in the rescue of the Danish fleet from occupied Copenhagen. He was emerging as a scientist of some talent, and a keen observer of the world around him. In his introduction to the first volume of Scoresby’s journals, C. Ian Jackson notes that even as early as 1807, Scoresby had met Sir Joseph Banks, impressing him enough for the teenager to be invited to social occasions with the most eminent natural scientists in Edinburgh at the time, in particular Robert Jameson, Professor of Natural History at the university there.

Scoresby begins the first of his extraordinary journals, part scientific journals, part customs inspectors’ logs, on March 11th, 1811, with the Resolution about to leave Whitby for the whale fishery. Guns were loaded because, in 1811, Britain was at war, and whaling ships were valuable targets:

The ship not having floated on the morning tide some things were moved forward to trim her being near one foot by the [Stern?] as regards the draught of water[.]

The weather fine and favourable made preparation for the sailing[.] At 3PM several of the other Greenland Ships were in motion it was not until near full tide however that we were enabled to heave the Resolution off the Ground we presently afterwards hauled through the Bridge nearly as far as the pier where we made sail and got safe out of the harbour[.] At 5 1/2 PM the Pilot left us we then made sail loaded a few of the guns[.] In the Morning fine weather moderate or fresh breezes and hazy[.] … steering to the NNE the rate of 6 to 8 knots[.]

Cross posted from Letters To Elizabeth

Sea Pie, Stale Beer, and a Catchup to Keep 20 Years

The question of food on board an Arctic whaler is a matter of some mystery. While there are accounts of the proceedings on board ship in the act of pursuing and catching whales, little is known about the lives of the whalers themselves. William Scoresby Jr. documents the provisions loaded onto a whale ship in preparation for the fishery: vast quantities of salt pork, hams, and beef, as well as bread, and potatoes, but little else. Variety might be had in the form of whale meat, fish, or seabirds. Scoresby notes that the price of Shetland oysters doubled when ships were nearby.

Basil Lubbock, whose The Arctic Whalers (1937) remains an important work in the history of the ‘fishery’ devotes little more than a paragraph or two to the subject of food, and then only to say that the ‘half deck’ men received better quality rations than the rest of the crew. These men were skilled hands, and included the second mate, harpooners, cooper, carpenters, and the specksioneer. They shared a mess, where they received their own special menu, which included a ration of cheese, and ‘Sea Pie’. Lubbock gives the following description, taken from a sailor’s log, written in 1820:

This savoury dish was made in layers or decks; the first one of bones to keep the paste from burning to the bottom of the pan; then followed a stratum of fresh beef paste and seasonings, deck after deck, until the great kettle was full. Sufficient water was added to enable the mess to be cooked. (Lubbock, p.53)

Captains fared rather better. The closest recipe I can find to this is in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), in the chapter headed For Captains of Ships:

To make a Cheshire Pork Pie for Sea

Take some salt pork that has been boiled, cut it into thin slices, an equal quantity of potatoes, pared and sliced thin, make a good crust, cover the dish lay a layer of meat seasoned with a little pepper, and a layer of potatoes, then a layer of meat, a layer of potatoes, and so on, till your pie is full. Season it with pepper, when it is full, lay some butter on the top, and fill your dish above half full of soft water. Close your pie up and bake it in a gentle oven.

Elsewhere in the same chapter is a recipe for a ‘Catchup to keep twenty years’:

Take a gallon of strong stale beer, one pound of anchovies washed from the pickle, a pound of shalots peeled, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of whole pepper, three or four large races of ginger, two quarts of the large mushroom flaps rubbed to pieces. Cover all this close and let it simmer till it is half wasted then strain it through a flannel bag, let it stand till it is quite cold, then bottle it. You may carry it to the Indies. A spoonful of this to a pound of fresh butter melted makes a fine fish sauce or in the room of gravy sauce. The stronger and staler the beer is, the better the catchup will be.

Cross-posted from Letters to Elizabeth

Spitzbergen Ale

In late 2009 and early 2010 Scottish brewer Brewdog engaged in a tit for tat battle of super strength beers with German brewer Schorschbrau. First came a 32% abv beer from Brewdog, named Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Schorschbrau followed up with 40% Schorschbock, which Brewdog quickly trumped, in February 2010, with Sink the Bismarck, a beer that came over the horizon at an astonishing 41% abv.

At the time, these freeze distilled beers seemed like something new, but there is a precedent from almost 400 years earlier, recounted by William Scoresby Jr., in his Account of the Arctic Regions (1820). Perhaps one of these two brewers might like to try the following:

Seven Dutch sailors who wintered in Spitzbergen in the year 1633-4, were exposed to such a degree of cold, that as early as the 13th October, casks of beer placed within eight feet of the fire froze three inches thick, and soon afterwards became almost entirely consolidated. In all cases of beer, ale, wine and spirits freezing, it may be observed, that the aqueous parts only freeze so as to become solid; whereby, even in ale or beer, the liquor becomes concentrated in the centre, until almost as strong as spirits.

When you think about it, there is only one way Scoresby could have known that.

Advice On Dealing With Cold

Few people in history can have been more experienced in dealing with cold than Arctic whalers. This 1820 account by William Scoresby, master of the Baffin gives an insight into the conditions on board ship, and is smart advice on how to stay warm for longer in very cold conditions. Bear in mind that the temperatures he describes are in Fahrenheit, so 10 degrees, is actually -12 Celcius, and of course 60F is around 15C. At -12C, Scoresby found he could remain at the masthead “for several hours without uneasiness” if he drank tea beforehand:

It is a prevailing opinion, that sudden transitions from heat to cold, are very inimical to health. Where the heat is productive of copious perspiration, the sudden exposure to cold might operate unfavourably; but where no sensible perspiration prevails, I have never seen, in a healthy person, any ill effects resulting from the greatest transitions. For my own part, indeed, whenever I have occasion to expose myself to a severe cold, I like to get the body well warmed, finding that the more I am heated the longer I can resist the cold without inconvenience. Internal warmth, however, is clearly preferable to superficial heat, and the warmth produced by simple fluids, such as tea or soup, preferable to that occasioned by spirits. After the liberal use of tea, I have often sustained a cold of 10°, at the masthead, for several hours without uneasiness. And though I have often gone from the breakfast table, where the temperature was 50 or 60 degrees, to the mast-head, where it was 10°, and without any additional clothing excepting a cap, yet I never received any injury, and seldom much inconvenience from the uncommon transition. Hence when the sea is smooth, so that the smoke of the stove can make its escape, I generally have my cabin heated as high as 50 or 60 degrees, and sometimes upward, though I am liable to be called upon deck or even to the mast-head, at a moment’s warning.

From Letters to Elizabeth

The Greenland Trade and Social Mobility

In late eighteenth century England there were few opportunities for rising up through the social ranks, or even improving on one’s financial situation. Most people lived a life of hand to mouth, dependent on the harvest, and the availability of work. Labourers tended to remain labourers, and ordinary sailors remained, on the whole, ordinary sailors. In its boom years, between about 1760 and 1820, Arctic whaling was an exception. Sailors who had talent with the harpoon, or who showed leadership in a whaleboat, had a real chance to earn more, and to have a ‘career’ in the modern sense. Whalers were paid a share of the profit on the catch, so in a good year, some of them might have more money than they needed to see them through the winter. It was not uncommon for whaleship captains to have begun as ordinary seamen, and then, having impressed the owners of the ship, made their way through the ranks to a command of their own.

This was true of William Scoresby Sr., the father of the better known Scoresby, the Arctic scientist. Scoresby Sr. was originally a farmer, but went to sea in 1785 as an ordinary sailor on board the whale ship Henrietta. He so impressed the master, and the ship’s owners, that in 1791, two years after the birth of his famous son, he was given command of the Henrietta. This success allowed him to move his family to a large house in Whitby, to send young William to a good school, and eventually to become a shipowner in his own right.

In Elizabeth Gaskell’s romance Sylvia’s Lovers (1863) there is evidence that this was not an isolated case. The novel is not one of Gaskell’s best known, and it is at times rather melodramatic, but it is one of only a small number of novels set amongst whalers. Early in the novel, Gaskell describes the town of Monkshaven (Whitby, North Yorkshire) in the 1790s, and the press gangs that roamed the streets waiting for the return of the whalers from Greenland. Whalers were exempted from the press gang, as the supply of oil was deemed too important to put at risk. Whalers signed up for the following Spring’s voyage could, in theory, show their papers and be set free. In reality, and in Gaskell’s story, whalers were as susceptible as any other sailor, whether they had papers or not. Interestingly, Gaskell speculates that the possibility of social improvement made Northern whalers less willing to be pressed than sailors in “southern towns,” since a sailor on the deck of a frigate had much the same hard life as a sailor on a cargo ship:

… it is certain that the southerners took the oppression of the press-warrants more submissively than the wild north-eastern people. For with them the chances of profit beyond their wages in the whaling or Greenland trade extended to the lowest description of sailor. He might rise by daring and saving to be a ship-owner himself. Numbers around him had done so; and this very fact made the distinction between class and class less apparent; and the common ventures and dangers, the universal interest felt in one pursuit, bound the inhabitants of that line of coast together with a strong tie, the severance of which by any violent or extraneous measure, gave rise to passionate anger and thirst for vengeance. A Yorkshireman once said to me, “My county folk are all alike. Their first thought is how to resist. … [From Sylvia’s Lovers, Chapter 1.]

Letters to Elizabeth