Dr Watson’s “ship’s”

Dr Watson states, “I always smoke ‘ship’s’ myself” Anyone care to define ‘ship’s’ which later becomes Ship’s without quotes and a capital “S”? Over a half-century ago, a Sherlockian with the first name of Sherry ploughed this ground, but the definitive answer remains elusive. Are you up to the challenge?

8 Replies to “Dr Watson’s “ship’s””

  1. Scrolling through bits and pieces found for me by Google, I discovered that the British Navy supplied tobacco to its sailors in the form of ropes, which could be either chewed and smoked. The tobacco would be preserved with rum.

    From this I would go one step further on my own and speculate that Watson smoked a rum-flavored tobacco with a flavor similar to that supplied to sailors.

    Sounds like it might smell fairly nice, assuming one likes the smell of rum.

    1. Roxie… Good information. Thank you. To chew, sailors bit off a “hank” or a short bit of rope. To smoke, they “picked” or shredded the rope of tobacco into a small pile for their pipe bowl.

      Now we have to deal with the “ship’s” and the Ships dichotomy.

    2. We’ve all heard of “Navy Cut” which refers to this very item. I suppose/guess that Watson had a source of an Afghan steward or nurse that knew how he liked it cut from the ‘rope’ given to the sailors and military. Then, he’d simply smoke the rum-flavoured tobacco – eventually getting almost addicted to the flavour. His (Watson’s) also followed the same patterns of ‘addiction’ as he beomes more and more Addicted to Sherlock Holmes.

  2. An inquiry to the George Arents Collection on Tobacco at the New York Public Library revealed they had almost nothing on ship’s tobacco per se. Librarian Kyle Triplett kindly located the following:
    Dodd, J. “A Glimpse of the manners and customs of the hill tribes of Formosa.” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 15 (1885): 69-78. Quote:
    ” …Tobacco grows wild in many parts of the country inhabited by the savages, and in Chinese territory it is cultivated to a large extent in certain districts. The savages simply sun-dry it, then rub it in their hands and place it in their pipes. In this form it is very mild. Foreigners make it into blocks by placing the leaves one above the other; a little water is then sprinkled over them, sometimes a dash of rum, the leaves are then pressed into a compact block, or are compressed into a circular shape about the size of the wrist and tapering to a point at both ends. Tobacco made in this form is tied round tightly together with rope, and is a very good substitute for what is called ship’s tobacco. Native-grown tobacco, has been often prepared in this way by sailors on board British gunboats visiting Tamsui, and has been much appreciated by every one fond of a pipe.”

    He stated that there may be further references in other books, but that I would need to come to New York and research them myself (put on the to-do list).

    So, ship’s appears to have been a densely-packed rope or twist of tobacco as Roxie described. This is reflected in Antarctic Adventure: Scott’s Northern Party by Sir Robert E. Priestly (London: Unwin, 1914; NY: Dutton, 1915), p. 187, where he writes that “large quantities of leaf tobacco as well as some plug and cut tobacco had been landed. The latter, however, had run out entirely…and…some of the smokers were unable to smoke pure ship’s tobacco….” So, ship’s was neither leaf, plug or cut, but something different.

    As far as the smell, Roxie, it appears to have been pretty awful. Priestley describes it as “vile” (p. 188) and states (p. 127) that “ship’s tobacco has always been my greatest enemy on a sledge journey, and has on more than one occasion made me lose a meal….”

  3. What awesome pieces of information. I wonder if Holmes smiled to himself at Watson’s braggadocio and surmised that the doctor’s experience was a bit of nautical hazing by the crew of the Orontes?

  4. And I wonder if Watson smiled to himself when Holmes said, “You still smoke the Arcadia mixture of your bachelor days, then” and Watson replied, “No, ship’s, Sherlock!”

  5. many years ago a shop in Charingcross london sold ships tobacco/looked like a fist wrapped in canvas and rope. tasted like old socks soaked in stuff you would not like to eat. It was vile ,and this from a person who would smoke any tobacco on the market.
    Bewleys the tobacconists, sold a black oily looking rope that I was told was chewing Tobacco.If Sherlock took snuff it was from Smiths Snuff shop in the strand .Alas now defunct.

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