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Bo'su'n William Stevens, RN

As a warrant officer, Stevens was in an interesting position. He had been raised from the ranks of common sailors, but wasn't a commissioned officer, like Broke and Lawrence. The Admiralty rules of 1807 say “And the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty do hereby further give Notice, that the Uniform directed, in pursuance of His Majesty's Order on the 17th November 1787, to be worn by the Warrant Officers of His Majesty's Fleet, viz. Blue Cloth Coat, with Blue Lappels and round Cuffs, fall down Collar, Three Buttons to the Pocket and Cuff, white lining, but not edged with white; Button with an Anchor, same as the Captain's former one; white Cloth Waistcoat and Breeches. Shall be worn only by Gunners, Boatswains and Carpenters; and the subordinate classes of Warrant Officers shall not be allowed to wear Lappels.” As the 1812 regulations say nothing about the dress of the warrant officers, essentially, nothing in their uniform had been changed since 1787. Because of this, and because the few images that show a bo's'un in his uniform are wildly varied, (likely because fashion was changing) there wasn't a firm image of exactly what a bo's'un wore.

Because Stevens was among the Shannon crew said to be wearing “old uniform,” the red vest I chose to put on him was a conscious choice to suggest that he wasn't wearing a complete, up to date bo's'un's uniform.

The other artwork from around this period that shows a bo's'un is “Sailors Carousing,” painted by Julius Caesar Ibbetson in 1802. In the upper left corner of the image a figure is seated on a chair being hoisted above the crowd, and is indicated to be a bo's'un by the silver chain that can be seen around his neck. This would be the chain holding his whistle. Although small and hard to make out,he seems to be wearing a pair of brown trousers and a tan waistcoat with a blue coat, white shirt, black stock, and a black tall hat. His coat looks to be dark on the inside as well as the outside, again suggesting that it was likely unlined. Because a bo's'un didn't make the money of a commissioned officer, they likely had only one coat and would wear it constantly, meaning that there's no distinction to be had between “dress' and “undress” for Stevens. The only existing coat similar to that of a warrant officer's is the one belonging to Surgeon Joshua Horwood at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. This is his full dress uniform, but said to be of “not very high quality, completely unlined, except for the sleeves, which are lined in cotton, and the buttons are those of a warrant officer.” While a surgeon was still a step up from a bo's'un, the lack of quality means that Stevens may have looked similar.

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