Friday, June 18, 2010

Way back when in history, the Basques chased whales all over the Atlantic Ocean, and long before Chris Columbus and even John Cabot made their famous trips to the new world, the Iberian whalers built settlements at Red Bay, Labrador. The reason for living in such a black fly and mosquito infested place? Well, there was lots of wood to put under cooking pots to render down whale blubber into whale oil, and lots of privacy. Especially privacy, since whale oil was a VERY valuable material. Also, it was on a migratory route for whales, the place where the gulf stream meets up with the Labrador current, creating a food supply second to none for shell fish in the world. And whales eat shell fish, so there were lots of whales. The heyday for whale hunting was during the 16th century, and thousands of whales were killed and rendered down into oil.
The basques hunted whales in a manner which remained unchanged for centuries...a shallop (rowboat for about 7 men) went out to the whale, and stabbed it with a harboon. The whale would take off, dragging the row boat in what was referred to much later as a "Nantucket sleigh ride". The whale could not sound (dive deep) because the water was comparatively shallow here. If he had been able to, he would have dragged the whalers to Davy Jones' Locker. As it was, the poor animal bled to death, and floated to the surface.
In the Parks Canada building, there is a room set aside that is like a museum. (Actually it resembles nothing so much as a self-congratulation room, and is about the same size as the Arthur Evans Room in the Ashmolean Museum in England, but doesnt contain nearly as much stuff) In there you find the paintings, several artifacts from the wreck, some models. The models pictured here are from the San Juan, a ship which came to grief in Red Bay.

The model above is of the sloop San Juan. The earliest Atlantic Ocean boat ever found.
The San Juan sank in fairly shallow water, and settled on its keel. Swimmers at the time yanked out the cross beams which formed its deck in order to salvage masts, decent sized wood, and of course, the expensive cargo. The sides of the ship folded outwards like the leaves of a book and settled on the bottom. Eventually, they were covered in silt, thereby preserving it to the present day.
Canada became a world leader in under water archeology, partly as a result of this wreck, among others. As I talked to the present day diver-archeologists, they told me that they much prefer under water archaeology to conventional land based research because "we are not standing on the artifacts when we are in the water".
This was not your nice Carribean or Great Barrier Reef diving experience either...this water was cold-cold-cold! Its the Labrador current after all, that is so cold that icebergs (being made from fresh water) don't melt in it! The divers gave up on using dry suits, and went to wet "hot water" suits, where hot water was pumped into their suits down the same umbilical which brought their air. The visibility was problematic since they were actually digging into that silt! Hoses were brought down to do the "digging", which had air blown into them in order to cause a flow of water, like a vacuum cleaner....the silt was brought up to the surface, and passed through screens so that nothing would get missed. So when this operation was going on, you saw your assigned aluminum taped square and that was about it.

More on the find here....

ip-location map zoom

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


click on these images to enlarge.
Above is the before picture. Below is the "after" picture.
What a difference four hours on the buffing wheel makes!
(actually, they are two different Brown Bess flintlock actions, not really a true before and after! But trust me, the one below looked exactly like the one above!)

Both of these actions had broken main springs. You can see the busted main spring in behind in the above picture.

This is what they look like from the outside.

The above picture is a good one, you can really see what needs to be done!

Below are a couple of pictures I took when I was in "Parks Canada" for the "doors open". This is the archaeology room, and these are how the muskets look after being on the bottom of the St. Lawrence River for a couple of hundred years.

I particularly like the x-ray in the back. Now, these are not Brown Bess Muskets, but rather, they are an American made musket. Or should I say, a British musket made in the Colonies in the Americas! It was lost during King Philip's war. (1675) (Don't be surprised, nobody ever heard of that war either! Too bad, it nearly put paid to the whole British colony thing in the New World!)
Note the remarkable upturn at the butt. Other than that, the above flint lock could drop into that big open space on the side with no modification at all!

ip-location map zoom

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Burgundian Armour, Leeds

click on these images to enlarge.

This is a remarkably interesting armour because it has so many "late period" features in it, and yet it is quite early, circa 1525. It would have been on the cutting edge of armour making at the time, and likely nobody else would have had an armour as nice. Anywhere!
Which come to think of it is as good a reason as any!

This armour is clearly a jousting armour. It has been beautifully dished out in that nice "globe" style which was so popular at the time. The placquart is really nothing more than a waist defining belt, and the wrap around leather belt might be regularly chewed up by the armour since I note a fair amount of wear on the surface of the bottom half of the placqart. Probably by the faulds.

above is a close up of the incised St. Andrews cross, shewing the damage. There is more damage in the upper corners of the breastplate. I suspect from the damage (the above looks like a crossbow bolt or possbly a musket ball hole which has been carefully laid back into place.) Why would he do that? Well, honourable battle scars come to mind.

The pattern in the bottom of the insised cross is hard to make out. To my eye, it doesn't really look like a pattern, so much as swirly bits perhaps designed to hold enamel or neillo in place. This is the earliest example of a breastplate which was level and straight across the top, which means of course that you will need a very very good gorget. If anybody wants the full size (1.5 meg) picture, just email me and ask for Leeds2009 288, and I will send it to you.

For those that say that centre bar buckles are not period, I say "in your face!".

The gorget is a thing of absolute beauty. A four lame gimbaled gorget. How advanced is that!

And the gloves. Nice late period mitten gloves with semi-belled cuffs.

ip-location map zoom

Thursday, June 3, 2010

German Armour

This is a German armour on display in Nurenburg. The general form of this armour is designed to make the owner look out of proportion. Observe the size of the upper arms...they are bigger than the legs! The huge rondels, the odd stacked gorget, and the really open face helm conform to civilian fashions of the day. Lets get over that shall we, and see what we can see. Click on the images to enlarge them.
The first thing you see is a lance rest. So this is a jousting armour right? Well, maybe. Or maybe that was just the style of the time. But it was most definitely a horseman's armour. The lack of armour on the inside of the legs tells us that. The profusion of decoration merely means the owner wanted to show people that he had lots of money. My personal feeling is that if somebody went to all the trouble to decorate the armour he would probably not want to get it scratched up in the joust. But hey, maybe he knows an armourer.
The arms and gauntlets are general issue...would have been worn by anybody from Malta to Inverness. The elbows are those big late period pieces with the huge wrap around wings. The gauntlets are flared, a little bell shaped to allow the wrist to "break" from side to side. In common with almost all the gauntlets of the age, you can not curl your wrist inwards when you wear these gauntlets, though of course, you can put your hand on the ground and heave yourself back up...they bend backwards just fine. The scales for fingers is very unusual for a German armour...normally the Germans liked the knobby knuckle look. And the Spadlers up top are neat and plain, and the fact that they are symmetrical left to right puts the last nail into the idea that this would have been used for jousting!

This armour is worth taking a little closer look at. From a distance, you would think it was has those nice smooth lines and not a bit of that fluting which we normally associate with German armour. I should develop a big essay about the movement of armour styles from Italy to Germany to England to France, however I think its been done. This being only a mere blog, we will just take a quick look at these pics I imported from the Nuremburg Museum web site. Suffice it to say that in one year, everything changed, and made it a real trick to be able to spot the country of origin from a distance.

I originally studied this picture because it has such a great cod piece and fauld arrangement. Its very complicated, the faulds and the tassets are designed to match neatly together, the only way you can tell one from the other is by the buckles in fact! It really IS a three lame fauld, the big difference of course is that the lames are sort of "vee" shaped. I would have thought that the point of the vee would have made a weak spot, but the rolled edge at the top of the cod arch would stiffen things up remarkably. I see the armour maker had a really difficult time making that arch lie neatly...glad I am not the only one!

Those little spikes at the top of the tassets towards the inside...I'm open to suggestions...I just don't know why they are there. If a reader does know...well, the comments section is below!

I don't usually talk a lot about the decoration of armours since even then, the armour let this armour out of his artisan hands and into the hands of an artist. However the faux roping along the top edges of all the plates is a bit unusual, and makes a nice fancy decoration.
The buckles which hold the tassets onto the fauld are also worth a second look. They are not centre bar buckles, but rather, more standard "dee" ring buckles, and the keepers are spaced well away from the buckle itself. The "keepers" (those little metal things that keep the free ends of the leather under control) are attached to the metal tasset. A great idea, especially since they match the buckle itself, as well as that of the surprisingly light duty main armour waist belt. And of course, I don't think I have ever seen tassets which have straps which attach to the leg, but since they are made up of six lames each, there had better be a way to keep them tucked in nice and tight.
The cod piece itself. Hmmm. This is a masterpiece of the metal worker's art! A very devil to make. It probably takes twice as long to make that codpiece as it would to make the faulds and tassets together. I could not do it without a fair amount of welding!

A closeup of the breast plate. The armourer had his placqart sliding under the breastplate. An arrangement which is new to does not normally see that! It likely helps the owner to look less plump. Clearly this was a time when skinny was the thing to be. The decoration also provides a bit of tromp l'oil, making the fellow look thinner than he actually was. A great trick borrowed from the clothing of the time.
The breastplate narrows as much as he dares in front, and side pieces ride in slots to allow the fellow to be able to get his arms forward, say, to grasp his reins.
The fastening systems are also not the usual jousting types...observe the turning keys for the spadlers up top, the cords holding the rondels in place, (they must bang around in a MOST annoying fashion when he rides!) are just two items which would get sheared away pretty quickly in a real battle.

ip-location map zoom