Maritime Tales - Jolly Jack Tars

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a display of 4 boater hats, 3 covered in tar

Hat display from the Maritime

Today there is a vast variety of waterproof clothing available protected by many different processes which I, Stephen Guy, find amazing.

In the days before modern materials, seafarers used tar to protect themselves and their belongings from the elements. Sailors became known as Jack Tars because of their clever use of this natural gooey substance to waterproof things. The name Tar, in this context, dates back to the 17th century and is short for 'tarpaulin' which in those days meant a seaman.  In a bid to keep dry, mariners slapped tar on hats, capes, coats and even sea chests – anywhere where the ever-restless sea, spume and driving rain were likely to penetrate.

Tar was also used in the days of sail for the Crossing the Line ceremony when seafarers sailing over the equator for the first time had to go through bizarre rituals. The victim’s face was smeared with a mixture of tar and grease before being “shaved” with an iron hoop instead of a razor.

Merseyside Maritime Museum shows many different types of marine clothing from different times. A fascinating display (shown) has summer straw hats and straw hats coated with tar from the 19th century. However, few other items of everyday clothing survive from the days of sail. Another display shows clothing worn by officer cadet Walter George Hiscock when he was on the training ship Conway 1909 -11, including his smart uniform waistcoat and jacket.

A uniform from about 1930 was worn by George Linford when he was chief engineer on the Daldarch. Also on display are his original cap badge and uniform epaulettes. A jacket and cap from about 1936 were worn by Thomas Seed when he served as a lamptrimmer (deck storekeeper).

There is the uniform jacket worn by Sir Ivan Thompson, a Cunard Line commander from 1953 to 1957. Sir Ivan joined Cunard in 1916 and had a long and distinguished career which included commanding Mauretania, Caronia, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

A comfortable woollen dressing gown belonged to Captain Thomas Jones (1869 – 1957), showing the quieter side of sea life. Two jackets from about 1970 belonged to chief steward and purser Jack Hanson of Liverpool. He wore the jackets when he was chief steward with the New Zealand Shipping Company. Working clothes and uniform were worn by Andrew Stammers when he was a trainee deck officer with FT Everard & Sons Ltd in 1994.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.