A crossing-the-line ceremony is something that many naval and merchant seamen have experienced over the centuries. Traditionally when a vessel passes over the equator, any sailor aboard that is also crossing for the first time is initiated into the brotherhood of shellbacks by King Neptune himself, attended by his lovely court, of course. Duckings, being “shaved” with giant implements, dosing with some sort of medicinal potion and being smeared with tar are just some of the events that might take place during a mandatory appearance at the good King’s court. Nowadays, certificates of such a graduation into the ranks are even made available to the “lucky” inductee.
The accompanying image is a plate taken from a rare book in the G.W. Blunt White Library’s collection at Mystic Seaport. “Crossing the Line” is from A Picturesque Voyage to India : by the Way of China, by Thomas Daniell and William Daniell published in London in 1810 by Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme [etc.]