Fearnought (But the Captain)

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

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.



4 replies on “Fearnought (But the Captain)”

Fearnaught was the type of material, you’re right. It was used well into the 1950’s to keep trawlermen warm in the Arctic. Getting your fearnaughts on generally referred to your thick woolen trousers. It is a cream coloured thick woolen material, very strong and very dense. They were usually button fastened with a flap at the front, also with buttons to attach braces so they don’t fall down while working your 18 hours on deck before your 6 below!
We have some originals here at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre that that the children love to look at. It is quite an itchy material. At sea on a deep sea trawler they would be worn for up to three weeks, working in them and then sleeping in them (only your waterproof frocks were taken off to dry). You can imagine the smell of them when they were finally pulled out of their kitbags by their poor wives at home! Ah… the life at sea!


Been having connectivity problems (again!) so I tried to put this really interesting reply up, but seem to have failed. So here it is. It’s from:
Barbara Smith

Barbara’s knitting blog can be found at:

and her First World War blog at:

Barbara wrote:
“I guess that Fearnought in the 19th century was the same as Fearnought
in the First World War, when there were appeals to provide Fearnought
gloves for men in the Navy to protect them from the extreme cold,
especially when handling metal. I first thought that Fearnought
gloves must be knitted, but as you say, it’s a thick flannel. You’ll
find more details on my blog:


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