Fearnought (But the Captain)

hull maritime2
Courtesy Hull Maritime Museum. Victim William Papper (centre) and suspects; Rycroft, Brand, Yates and Blackburn, in a similar case.

In next month’s The Knitter magazine, (Issue 93), I’ve written an article about how I used crime reports to gather information about nineteenth century clothing.

Here’s a news story that is not in the article, but still interesting – as it explodes the myth promulgated in recent years, that ganseys were incredibly warm, waterproof; basically all you needed to wear at sea to keep warm.

Clothes got mentioned in newspaper stories often in the context of harrowing events like murder, suicide, and on the inland waterways, the frequent ‘Found Drowneds’. Sometimes, clothes were mentioned to identify bodies; sometimes, because clothing – or the lack of it – part of the reason for death.

From The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Monday, September 26th, 1842:


[Phillip Partridge, a sea Captain of Jarrow, was accused of murdering a Spanish seaman, Jose Maria Balager. The day before, he had been cleared of killing another sailor, called Mariani. Witness John Fisher describes  the captain beating Mariani. Fisher was relieved by Mariani at the ship’s wheel]:


…the weather was very cold, and he had a pea-jacket on him, and some old rags over it to keep him warm…Partridge ordered him to take off his jacket … and [the captain] threw it overboard…


[Witness Henry Allen described how the Captain made Mariano stand, almost naked, in the rigging for hours, flogging him if he tried to come down]:


 He had only a little Guernsey frock on him….The weather was too cold for a man to be without his jacket.


The ‘jacket’ , here a ‘pea jacket’, was often the ‘Fearnought’ – made from heavy, woven wool. (Fearnought trousers were also worn so it appears to be a name for the heavy duty woollen fabric used). Pea-jackets may or may not have been made from Fearnought type fabric. The Fearnought jacket pictured in the link, is from a Yorkshire ship of the 1780s – and so the wool was very likely to have been manufactured in Leeds or thereabouts.

The use of Fearnought also, of course, belies the myth that somehow ganseys were magical garments, impervious to the elements. As does this news story.

Crime reports have to be used with caution but often they give valuable context for and insights into, clothing history.



Knitting As Punishment

MARY Bowler, a young woman and an inmate of the Faringdon Union [workhouse], was on the 5th inst., brought before the Rev. J.F.Cleaver and Sir R.G. Throckmorton, charged by the Governor with having refused to perform the work assigned her, namely, knitting socks; she was committed to Reading Gaol for 21 days’ hard labour.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday, January 10th, 1852


Mary is on the 1851 census. She was at Farringdon District Union Workhouse, in Berkshire; Occupation: Ag Lab., born Great Farringdon, Berks., in 1827. She was 25 when she refused to knit socks! Mary was also in the workhouse on the 1841 census, aged only 15.

Imagine being sent to prison for refusing to knit socks at the workhouse. Especially as some female prisoners were also expected to… knit stockings.



Jules Breton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jules_Adolphe_Breton_-_Jeune_fille_tricotant.jpg