TATTOOS have been part of the Royal Navy’s cultures for centuries.
But long-gone are the days of sailors inking themselves with skin art in the dimly-lit mess decks.
That was, however, until a tattoo artist set up shop in one of the Senior Service’s historic warships for a one-off event.
Sara Pengelly, from Portsmouth’s Furious Weasel tattoo studio, was invited to ‘ink’ volunteers on HMS Warrior.
The live session was part of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s on-going Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition.
And one of the first people to up to have a tattoo inside the iron-hulled warship was the exhibition’s curator, Alice Roberts-Pratt.
Alice had three swallows tattooed on her arm – adding to her collection. She said: ‘This was the first tattoo I’ve had in five years so I was quite nervous.
‘But it was such a unique experience. We were here before the public came in so we had the whole ship to ourselves.’
She added: ‘Traditionally, each swallow would represent 5,000 nautical miles at sea. I obviously haven’t done that but it all fits in with the naval theme of all today’s tattoos.’
The exhibition, which has been running for several weeks in Portsmouth, looks at the history of tattoos –with particular focus on its links with the military.
Alice added there was a ‘real buzz’ around the display and said the live session on Warrior ‘captured the imagination’ of the public.
‘HMS Warrior has a proud association with tattooing, although we think this is the first time it’s been done live on the ship,’ she said. ‘We have a wonderful log book from the ship that records the details of every crew member from 1861-1864.
‘There are two sections ‘Marks on Person’ and ‘Wounds or Scars, etc.’ and both of these reveal that many of the sailors suffered with small pox scars but also include description of the crew’s tattoos.’
Tattoo artist Sara Pengelly inked five people during the day, inside Warrior’s gun room.
The 42-year-old said: ‘We’ve been making a little bit of history here today because no-one else has done this on Warrior for so many years.
‘I’m probably the first woman to a tattoo on this ship so it’s incredibly special.
‘Honestly, when Alice told me about this, I almost bit her hand off. It’s a dream come true.’
Royal Navy engineering veteran John Barnard, 44, of Southsea was among the last to have his tattoo completed.
The former Warrant Officer 2 is covered almost head to toe in various bits of body art, ranging from intricate chest designs to his son’s name on his arm.
‘Having served in the Royal Navy for 22 years there was no way I could ever turn down the chance of getting a tattoo on here,’ John told The News as Sara completed his ‘Warrior’ tattoo on his hand.
‘This has been absolutely brilliant. It’s amazing to think that I’m one of the first people to have to have been tattooed on a warship in 200 years. ‘
He added events like yesterday were able to shine a light on the navy’s proud history of tattoos, while also dispel hurtful myth about those with the body art.
‘Exhibitions like this are definitely helping to break those preconceptions people have,’ he said.
Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed will remain in the city until January.
Veterans and current-serving military personnel are still being urged to submit photos of their tattoos, and the story behind them, to feature as part of an archive.
To do so, email firstname.lastname@example.org