New York Sporting Event

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog!

One of my favorite genres of fiction are the sea stories involving the British navy of from the time of the American Revolution through the Napoleonic Wars.  During that time period 1770’s through 1815 the British couldn’t get along with anyone.  During that time the British fought the Americans, the Dutch, the French, the Spanish, the Swedes, various pirates, the Barbary States and proxies for all of them.  They may have lost some individual battles, but overall they won, sometimes in spectacular fashion. These victories gave rise to a form of naval fiction such as C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series and Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie.  All of these authors chronicled life not only on board ship but also English society in general.

All of them have something to say about rats. As an aside, each Naval Captain collects a retinue of followers as they make their way through the service.  These could be personal servants in charge of the Captain’s cabin, wardrobe, meals and other chores.  Each Captain has a coxswain who is in charge of his barge and crew.  These individuals would follow the Captain from one commission to the next.  

C.S. Forester relates the strange injuries sustained by one of the boat crew for Hornblower.  Hornblower tries to obtain an explanation but is put off.  In the end the explanation comes out.  The crew is gambling, a violation that would lead to lashes if caught.  The game, is to stick the player’s head in a confined space full of ships rats, catch them in his teeth and kill them.  The one with the most kills wins.  Aubrey notes to Maturin that while on a long commission, the ships rat population drops off, as members of the crew supplement their rations with rat.  All three, at various times, make mention of the sport of ratting. This involves a pit, a terrier and a sack of rats.  The terrier that kills the most rats in the least time wins.  Betting is lively.  

Modern day New Yorkers are now emulating their 18th and 19th century forbearers, probably without even knowing it.  I don’t know how the sailors of Hornblower’s era would feel about the doggie sweaters, but they would be right at home with the rest.  I wonder if we could interest the New Yorkers in 30 lashes at the grating, keel hauling, and impressment.