Help with Royal Navy Uniform

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Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby Redcoat 57 » 13 Oct 2017 12:03

I have recently been reading about Sir John Franklin’s 1845 Artic Expedition and was particularly intrigued by the Daguerreotype portraits of the officers that were taken just before the ships sailed. These early photographs reversed the image of the sitter, yet the image of Franklin shows his decorations on the correct side(left) but with his coat buttoned up ‘right over left’ not ‘left over right’ (see attached image)

It has been assumed that Sir John was aware of the reversing of the image so moved his medals to compensate for it, which seems a fare conclusion. But looking at the other officers, most of whom only have their waistcoats buttoned, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency with the way they do up the buttons.
So my question is; was there any rule about how buttons were fastened on Royal Navy coats/waistcoats? Or did the officers have some discretion?
You can view the original images online (but not download them) at the Scott Polar Research Institute website;

https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/picturelibrary/catalogue/bnnpe1845-48/gallery/


These are the only original images still existing; there are a set of early copies in the Derbyshire County Council Archive. Whoever made these copies reversed some (but not all) of the originals, thus moving Sir John’s medals to the incorrect side!
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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby Frogsmile » 13 Oct 2017 13:22

I will be interested to hear what others have to say, but I think that it just reflects common practice in that period with double breasted garments that catered for both the preference of left and right handed men and the ability to even out wear and tear by periodically changing from one side t'other. The Army may not have done so for reasons of strict regimental uniformity, but for mariners living at sea it was an eminently practical arrangement. Uniform was always less important in the old RN than in the Army, and it took many years before any attempt was made to regularise the dress of ordinary seamen.
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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby t100 » 14 Oct 2017 17:53

I believe we can just see on the front left side of the cocked hat (our right) the edge of the bullion loop which should be clearly visible on the front right (our left) (or completely unseen in the unlikely event it is worn backwards!). Therefore I think it is much more likely that we are looking at a reversed image.

I think it was fairly standard practice to mitigate the effects of image reversal by moving medals. wearing belts over the 'wrong' shoulder, holding the sword on the wrong side, etc. I agree with Frogsmile's comment on the waywardness of RN officers' dress, however!

I would guess that some of the other images published on the site have been digitally 'flipped' by the archivists/librarians to compensate, as some of the single-breasted clothing shown would only have buttoned in the normal left over right fashion, as seen.

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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby theironduke1 » 14 Oct 2017 20:13

Despite the medal arrangement, it is fairly obvious that the image has been reversed because his cocked hat clearly has gold lace on the forepart, and there would have been a gold lace loop and button on his right. Frogsmile and t100 are correct in that dress regulations in the Royal Navy were interpreted with convenience and individuality. The 1878 regulations had more impact as the dress regulations were illustrated and applied to all ranks. However, it was the 1891 regulations that imposed a stricter standard as to how the RN dressed and would remain that way for the next sixty years.

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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby Redcoat 57 » 14 Oct 2017 20:23

Frogsmile, T, thank you for your replies.

I can well believe, as you both say, that the RN at the time were known for a practical approach to uniforms, and the pictures certainly bear this out! I believe they were interrupted in the middle of their preparations in order to sit for portraits (one of them even borrowing someone else's coat for the occasion!) and they certainly look like practical men.

The images often appear flipped but the actual plates in the SPRI should all be in the original state ie reversed, which is what confused me as these originals show buttons done up both ways. It would seem that some reversed the buttoning for the portraits and some didn't, and some may have just been in the habit to save wear and tear etc.

They are certainly great portraits; I wish there were high resolution images available on line as the detail is amazing considering the originals are only 3" x 4" in size. The only example I could find is the detail below from the image of Le Vesconte;

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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby Redcoat 57 » 15 Oct 2017 12:16

Ironduke,

Apologies I missed your response earlier (we must have been writing at about the same time). Interesting thoughts about the headdress which was something I hadn't considered before. At the moment the only image I am 100% sure about is the one of Le Vesconte holding the book which I posted the detail from above, as the title of the book can be clearly seen. This is reversed in the image in the SPRI but was flipped for the Derbyshire archive.

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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby t100 » 15 Oct 2017 13:46

theironduke1 wrote:it is fairly obvious that the image has been reversed because his cocked hat clearly has gold lace on the forepart, and there would have been a gold lace loop and button on his right.


It really doesn't matter, but I believe that's the same point I was making in my first paragraph, perhaps in too convoluted a fashion - you seem to think I said something different?

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Re: Help with Royal Navy Uniform

Postby Redcoat 57 » 15 Oct 2017 15:27

T,
I certainly caught your drift and as I say it was something I had not considered before.
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