Introducing jig doll Sailor Jan

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I’d like to introduce this engaging little dancing chap. He’s a jig doll, his name is Sailor Jan, and he was made by Harry Price, who was a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy.

Born in 1877, Price lived until 1965, and made his home for many years at Fingle Bridge, near Drewsteignton in Devon.

The young man in the video is noted Dartmoor-style melodeon player Mark Bazeley, who is the grandson of the legendary local dance musician and caller Bob Cann.

I’d just like to drop a name, if I may – I met Bob once or twice in music sessions in the 1970s, and as well as great player I must say he was a most charming and kind gentleman.

I should also add that the music here comes from banjo whizz Rob Murch, and Matt and Dan Quinn. (Everyone involved has given me permission to put this up, by the way.)

Here’s how Mark tells the story:

‘The doll was given to my grandfather at least 30 years ago, probably more, by Harry’s family. Bob always said it was around 100 years old.

‘We later heard from someone else that it was carved from wood from the old de-commissioned ship HMS Warspite. I’ve not been able to confirm this though.’

According to the Wikipedia, there have been quite a few vessels with the name HMS Warspite, but I’d like to think the ship in question was this one, and I wonder whether little Jan was made from a piece of furniture – perhaps a table –  that came from one of the messes.

Alternatively, it may have come from one of the two HMS Warspites that were destroyed by fire. However, I gather that a family joke has it that HMS Warspite’s days came to an end because someone cut a hole in her planking that just happened to be the size and shape of a jig doll just like Sailor Jan himself. Of course that couldn’t possibly be true – or could it?

400 18th and 19th century drawings now at the National Maritime Museum website

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Storm at Mazatlan, Mexico, painted by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe, 1851. As usual, click on the images for a closer look – but expect this one to send a shiver up your spine!

national maritime museum, mutiny on the bounty edward gennys fanshawe schetky, gabriel bray,  website, royal navy,  national maritime museum, mutiny on the bounty edward gennys fanshawe schetky, gabriel bray,  website, royal navy,

Two male figures, one with a large cocked hat and a quizzing glass painted by Gabriel Bray; Ovolu [Ovolau], Feejee Islands painted by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe 1849

A grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation has allowed the National Maritime Museum to make part of its collection of 70,000 prints and drawings available online for the first time.

The newly digitised drawings are mainly by Royal Navy officers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and give a glimpse of tropical islands, exotic cities and indigenous peoples at a time when the ability to draw a landscape was not just a pastime but also a means of intelligence gathering.

Highlights from material recently added to the NMM’s online collection include over 100 working sketches by John Christian Schetky (1778-1874), an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray recording his voyage as second lieutenant of HMS Pallas to West Africa in 1775, and over 100 watercolours from albums by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe (1814-1906), covering his service in the Pacific from 1849-52, in the Baltic during the Crimean War, and in the Mediterranean.

Schetky and Bray’s works are very rare drawings of everyday shipboard life in the age of Cook and Nelson as well as some unique depictions of street-life ashore, while the much less well known Fanshawe was an amateur artist who recorded his varied and distinguished career with a skilled hand in highly finished watercolours.

The journeys Fanshawe depicts include an investigative diplomatic voyage during which he visited Pitcairn, where he met the last survivor of the Bounty mutineers, Susan Young, and heard first hand the account of how she killed the last Tahitian crew member with an axe during the island’s conflict; Fiji, where he drew what are possibly the earliest portraits of Seru Thakombau, founder of the modern state of Fiji; and Samoa, where his drawings of women show the enduring influence of English fashions on their Sunday-best costume.

The prints, along with commentary, can be accessed through the relevant pages of the museum’s website.

An appeal for information: Admiral David Beatty’s steam yacht Sheila


Admiral David Beatty, photo from the Wikipedia, courtesy of Ian Dunster

Yvonne Carter in Sydney, Australia, has written to ask for information about Sheila, the steam yacht belonging to Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty, on which her father served as a very junior member of the crew.

Apparently Sheila pitched rather a lot and a bad bout of sea sickness in the Bay of Biscay made Yvonne’s father  decide upon another career; she adds that he recollected the Beatty family travelling overland to avoid the Bay of Biscay and met picked up the yacht in the Mediterranean.

The yacht is believed to have spent time in the Mediterranean in about 1918 before leaving for Spitzbergen under a captain named Le Geyt. Would there be any records of the crew or a ship’s log around I wonder?

Beatty was an admiral in the Royal Navy who I gather in the Battle of Jutland used his squadron to lure the German fleet towards the waiting British grand fleet under Admiral Jellicoe.

He’s also remembered for a comment at Jutland that ‘there was something wrong with (his) bloody ships today’ after two battlecruisers exploded and sank due to design faults.

His flamboyant style included wearing a non-standard uniform, which had six buttons instead of the regulation eight on the jacket, and always wearing his cap at an angle, as the photograph above shows.

Yvonne has found this reference in the British Journal of Nursing:

November 21,1914: p 404

‘Princess Christian last week paid a visit to the Queen Mary and Princess Christina Hospital at South Queensbury on the Firth of Forth , where there are at present a numberof sick cases from the Fleet in the wards , and afterwards visited Lady Beatty, wife of Rear Admiral Sir David Beatty, on board the steam yacht Sheila which is now equipped as a hospital ship.’

If you have any information for Yvonne, please use the comment link below or write to me at

PS – Peter High (see comments below) has written to say the vessel’s correct name was Sheelah, not Sheila.