A Jolly Jack Tar

Whilst reading through the various records of court appearances throughout the 19th century, you come across some that make you wish that you could board a time machine to be able to sit in on the hearings and join in the evident merriment that the cases were generating amongst all those present.

Some of them have a decidedly Dickensian flavour to them, and it doesn’t take long to realise where Charles Dickens may well have got the inspiration for at least his early works.

The “rich tapestry of life” was on show in the courts for all to see, as is evidenced by the following account, which appeared in The Yorkshire Gazette on Saturday November the 19th 1825:-


The office was kept in great humour this morning by the arguments and deportment of an honest tar, whose weather-beaten countenance, while it spoke of perils past in “strange climates and all sorts of weather,” gave evident demonstration at the same time, that in the intervals of duty he had no particular aversion to “splicing the main brace” with a fair allowance of grog.

It appeared that, last night, Jack, whose ship had arrived some five days since in the river, after a long voyage, was out upon a cruize.


In such a situation, all the world knows that rum, a girl, a coach, and a fiddler, rank, in the estimation of every true sailor, among the necessaries of life; with the first two, accordingly, Jack Wyer, of his Majesty’s ship the —– , was soon provided; the musician and the vehicle remained among his desiderrata, till, bearing down the Strand with his fair consort in tow, Jack espied No. 601, lying at anchor near the bottom of Southampton-street.

The coach was hailed and boarded without ceremony; and now fairly afloat, the jolly couple started off without any particular haven in view, to drift along whithersoever the wind might blow, the Jarvey drive.


After cruizing about for something less than two hours, during the which space of time they had touched at one or two victualling offices in Hungerford-street, Bow-street, &c., and taken in fresh stores of rum, Jack grew tired, and ordering his pilot bring to, opened the door, and landed himself on the pavement.

He was walking off with much nonchalance, when Mr. Bury, under whose especial suprintendance No. 601 is conducted, accosted him with a polite intimation, that he had forgotten to pay his freightage.


Jack, however, swore roundly that he had nothing to do with that.

“The lass had hailed the coach,” and she might pay for it out of the largess which he had already liberally disbursed in that quarter.”

But the young lady had other things to mind than the payment of coachmen, and had gone off to look for another sweetheart; so poor Jack, who could not be made to comprehend his liability, was given in to custody, on his positive refusal to fork out any more, and placed in limbo.


Some delay having occurred in the appearance of his creditor this morning, Jack Wyer, who employed the interval in walking up and down the office with a regular quarter-deck roll, seemed impatient for the termination of his captivity.

At length Mr. Bury appeared and, after receiving a rating for being an hour behind his time, detailed the particulars which we have already given in substance, adding that, had the sailor kept the coach three minutes later, he should have been entitled to three shillings; he should be content, however, with two shillings.

Jack still rested his defence on the ground that “the lass” was the person responsible; nor during a long colloquy, which kept the risible muscles of every one in full play, could he be persuaded to the contrary.

He “could lay his hand on plenty of money, if that was all,” but he did not like to be choused by a lubber.


A settlement of the matter out of doors was at length proposed; to this Jack more readily assented, and the parties walked off together, in full argument, to arrange the business over the mediating influence of that divine liquor, which, if it often occasions war, is frequently no less instrumental in making peace.