Shipping Wonders of the World

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From Tudor to Victorian Times

A survey of life at sea in British ships from the close of the Middle Ages to the accession of Queen Victoria. During this period seamanship gradually improved and the men-of-war and merchant ships built up British sea-power and sea-borne trade


LIFE IN AN EARLY SHIP
































LIFE IN AN EARLY SHIP is illustrated by this sixteenth-century drawing. On the deck the navigator is taking a sight with a primitive iorm of astrolabe. The anchor, deck-houses, guns and ports are vividly, if not accurately, portrayed. The shields along the waist were placed there not so much for protection as for ornament. Originally soldiers lining the decks wore full-length shields known as pavises and, when the shields were left on the decks as decorations, they became known as the pavisade.



IT was Henry VII (1457-1509) who became the connecting link between medieval and modern seafaring. His policy was not to build a big fighting force; but to consolidate such naval strength as he owned and encourage the building of merchant ships. This policy, combined with his avoidance of foreign wars, brought him great wealth.


His navy list comprised a dozen royal warships, including the four-masted Regent, whose 600 tons made her the biggest vessel of that reign. Henry’s wish was somewhat in advance of his achievement; for while great size was intended to overawe the enemy, yet the technical construction was so deficient that in a sea-way such vessels worked and strained themselves badly.


The invention of gunpowder, which had been coming into use ever since the mid-fourteenth century, changed the art of naval fighting, for the guns were relied upon more and more. The guns, in turn, created-new problems for the shipbuilders. The heaviest cannon in Henry VII’s d ay were the iron or brass breechloading serpentines weighing about 300 lb. They had a range of only 1,300 yards, but their weight strained the hull seriously.


The use of these guns was tactically quite different from twentieth-century practice. At the battle of Jutland, for example, in 1916, the intention was primarily to destroy the enemy’s ships. In the early Tudor period cannon were used for the destruction of men and rigging at close range, so that victory might be attained immediately afterwards by boarding parties in hand-to-hand fights. The modern homogeneity did not exist. The warship Sovereign, for instance, carried such a miscellany as sixteen serpentines on the forecastle, twenty-four on the deck below, twenty at the waist, thirty-two on the summercastle, four at the stern, twenty-five on the deck over the summercastle and twenty on the poop. They were of different calibres, some firing iron shot, some lead, some stone, either over the bulwarks or through gunports. In addition to these were used bows, arrows, arquebuses, lead hammers, axes, spears, darts, fireworks and even quicklime for blinding the enemy.


All those superstructures of poop, poop royal, forecastle and summercastle so overburdened the ship that she was difficult to handle and made considerable leeway. The nearest such ships would sail to a wind was seven points, and the only way to do anything with them was to keep them ramping full with fair wind and tide. Most naval stores had to be fetched from Genoa, Italy, though canvas was beginning to be made in England.


LAUNCHED AT CHATHAM in 1670, the Prince was a first-rate designed by Phineas Pett




LAUNCHED AT CHATHAM in 1670, the Prince was a first-rate designed by Phineas Pett, designer of the famous Sovereign of the Seas. This model was accurately rigged in 1925 from contemporary drawings. The Prince was of 1,463 tons burden. She had a length of 131 feet, a beam of 45 ft 9 in., A depth in the hold of 19 feet and a draught of more than 21 feet. Her maximum armament was 100 guns and her complement 780. Her elaborately carved and gilded stern is typical of the extent to which the ornamentation of ships was carried.






The cut of Tudor sails provided mere windbags, and the Dutch were the best sailmakers down to the time of Charles II. Thus it is not surprising that ships used to get ashore among the Thames Estuary shoals when making for the River Medway or bound for the English Channel. Going to sea was exceptional and not normal. From mid-November to mid-February the men-of-war remained in harbour under caretakers’ responsibility, but, when war threatened, scratch crews were impressed from landsmen, from crews of merchant ships and from fishermen.


The increase of tonnage added to the difficulty of manning. Although the Sovereign had no hard task in finding 400 soldiers, she could not easily obtain her forty gunners and 260 sailors. The sailors were needed for handling sheets and braces, for going aloft, making sail, steering and so on. Their pay was 1s. 3d. a week with victuals. The cost of food worked out at 1s. to 1s. 2d. a man weekly. The contract was allotted to some person whom the King wished to reward, and

there were many opportunities for selfenrichment at the crew’s disadvantage. Bread, biscuits, beer, barrels of herring, oxen, salt for powdering the beef, peas, wood for the galley fire, and candles for the dim illumination were the main domestic items of perishable stores.


Hammocks had not yet been introduced among English sailors. They lay down and slept as best they could — on deck in fine weather and below when it was wet. Only the Captain and the Master had cabins, and they messed apart until later in the Tudor period when they ate together in the Captain’s “great cabin”. Regular uniform was unknown, but the King usually gave the men their coats.


Divided Responsibility


The ship’s organization was still — as it had been in Greek or Roman triremes — military rather than naval. Thus the commanding officer was a soldier — a Captain who knew a good deal about fighting and was expected to be a disciplinarian accustomed to handling men or leading an expedition. His technical knowledge of seafaring generally was ml. Under him was the Master, who received 3s. 4d. a week and served as the officer in charge of boatswain, purser, gunner, quartermaster, steward, cook and sailors. The Master was responsible for the ship as a means of transport, but the navigation belonged to the pilot and the Captain looked after the soldiers. It is scarcely surprising that for generations there existed much friction between the unseamanlike Captains and the unmilitary Masters.


The Tudor ships had their seams caulked with oakum, flax and hair, mixed with pitch and tar. When voyages of discovery began to be made to the tropical seas of West Africa, the West Indies, or Brazil, where the shipworm did untold damage, it was customary to sheathe the underwater portion of a ship’s hull. Half-inch elm boards, smeared inside with thick tar and hair, were generally used in the sixteenth century. Although cables and hawsers were still being bought at Genoa, Italy, smaller ropes could soon be made at home, the thickest cable of Henry VII’s ships measuring 13 in. in circumference.


These vessels looked picturesque with their pavises on poop and in the waist. The pavises were made of poplar wood, painted with coats of arms and heraldic devices, many-coloured and rich with gilt. Aloft floated a plentiful display of streamers, banners and red cross pennants. The Tudor warship generally towed astern her “great” boat, her cockboat or her jollyboat. When carried on board, these boats were hoisted in by tackles (rigged to yards and masts) and stowed in the ship’s waist.


Sectional drawing of a ship at the end of the seventeenth century































A SECTIONAL DRAWING, or, as the draughtsman notes, “The Perspective Appearance of a Ship’s Body In The Mid-ships Dissected”. The drawing shows in considerable detail the interior arrangements of a man-of-war at the end of the seventeenth century. The use of cross-struts in the hold was adopted in the construction of most ships of that period.




The royal bounty on the building of new merchant ships was a far-sighted encouragement alike for merchant and for shipwright. During the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth this ranged as high as five shillings a ton for vessels of 100 tons and upwards. The passing of the Navigation Acts providing for imports to be carried only in English ships manned by English crews still further helped to create a national seamanhood. Moreover, the measure forbidding foreigners to fish in English waters gave some protection to the seashore inhabitants who gained their living by nets and lines. From time immemorial the fishing community has always been the backbone of navies and trading fleets.


A series of good catches off the southwest English coasts enabled the smallboat men to build a few larger craft and go out to the Newfoundland Banks, bringing back wealth and experience to Plymouth. Grandsons of men brought up to haul a few lobster-pots, or to catch a few mackerel in Devonshire and Cornish bays, became masters and part-owners of three-masted traders that were destined later to carry the first emigrants into Virginia.


To men of imagination the sea has always signified wealth. Was not Amsterdam said to have been erected on the bones of herrings? When once inshore fishing gave way to deep-sea fishing, and deep-sea fishing was in turn forsaken for the riches in the West Indies, then the enthusiasm for nautical things spread as if it were a fever.


From peaceful green creeks and picturesque cottages of the Rivers Dart and Tamar, young men of vigour and burning optimism went off with fathers and uncles to bring home those very commodities which would banish their prevailing penury most thoroughly.


Gradually famous naval families were being founded, whose members would rise to become admirals and win unending renown in the clash of battle.


John Hawkins, who was born at Plymouth in 1532, is typical of one who never had the smell of the sea out of his nostrils or the sight of a ship beyond his gaze. Between the ages of twenty and thirty he. had already made a number of voyages down to the Canaries. His father before him had amassed wealth by trading to Brazil and Guinea. The reprehensible carrying of African slaves was regarded in much the same manner as the transport of cargoes of linen and wool taken outwards or hides, pearls, gold and silver which were brought homewards. When such enormous profits were available from the smallest capital, a good crew and sound ship, not all the threats of Spain

Could keep these enterprising mariners from venturing across the ocean.





EARLY EIGHTEENTHCENTURY WARSHIP. An interesting rigged model of H.M.S. Tartar. The ship was built in 1734 at Deptford, on the River Thames. This model, which is one of the few rigged models of the period, is in the valuable collection of the training ship Mercury. The Mercury lies in the River Hamble, Hampshire,not far from Southampton, and is under the control of Commander C. B. Fry.








We know from sixteenth-century literature many interesting details of contemporary ship life. From an account of the voyage of the Barbara, which sailed out to Brazil in 1540, we learn that a quartermaster’s outfit consisted of his whistle and silver chain, his new black cape and coat, his doublet of blue soft stuff, his jerkin of white fustian and another of green cloth, his “frise” coat, two pairs of long hose, one pair of green knee-breeches, one pair of blue, and two pairs of short hose. Besides these he took one pair of long white breeches, a shirt of fine holland, five shirts of buckram and canvas, a new “blacke velvett nyght cappe”, another cap with a silver badge thereon, and one more black cap, as well as his sea-chest. A gun, sword, buckler, dagger, some ready money, a straw sack of new canvas and a pillow for sleeping gear completed the inventory.


Steering was done by a whipstaff attached to the tiller vertically, so that the helmsman could see just above the quarterdeck and note from the sails whether he was going too near the wind. The tiller itself was below his feet, the stern of a ship by this date having become much higher than the rudder head. Except for the fulcrum obtained by a whipstaff or tackle, and in the absence of the steering-wheel (which did not arrive for many years), the man could not have kept the big ship under control.


“Make Fast and Belay!”


Had we been on board, we should have heard the tramp of mariners at the capstan until the anchor was clear of the water. Then, as the ship began to gather way, “Haul, aft the aforesail sheet! Haul out the bowline!” for the ship’s head to pay off and sail on a wind. “God send fair weather! Make fast and belay!” the Master would remark. The hoisting would be done with “One long pull. One long pull — more strength to it! More strength!”


In Elizabeth’s reign the crew had already got “netting” (hammocks) in which to sleep. Drums and fifes, hautboys and cornets made music. There were also hobby horses and other “Maylike conceits” for the sailors’ amusement. They messed in fours, fives or sixes, every man and boy being allowed daily 1 lb. of bread and a gallon of beer. On flesh-days (Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays) each man could have 1 lb. of beef or of “pork with pease”. On fish-days, every mess of four men was allowed a side of salt fish, “ either haberdine, ling, or cod,” 7 oz. of butter, and 14 oz. of cheese—except that on Fridays there was only half allowance.


AN ENGLISH HOY OF 1717




AN ENGLISH HOY OF 1717, from a contemporary drawing published in Sutherland's Shipbuilding Unveiled. Hoys were small cargo-vessels normally engaged in short-distance work round the British coast. The hoy illustrated had a length of 79 feet on the deck, an extreme beam of 21 feet and a depth in hold of 11 feet. A vessel of nearly 154 tons burden, she was described as being “able to carry neer twice as much”. Her rig consisted of four sails, a loose-footed mainsail, a square topsail, a triangular foresail and a jibsail.







A cook was carried who had charge of the cans, platters, spoons and lanterns. The swabbers were responsible for washing and keeping the ship clean; but the first man found telling a lie was indicted of the offence every Monday at the mainmast and placed under the swabber to keep the latrines clean. Spanish ships were kept disgracefully — as one contemporary seafarer remarks, “like hogstyes and sheep-cotes” — every man cooking for himself and with absence of discipline.


On board the Elizabethan ships the Captain made his inspections twice a day to ensure their being kept sweet and clean against sickness; yet Tudor standards of cleanliness were considerably lower than those of to-day. The holds were badly ventilated, damp, dark and offensive. The beer often went sour a few days after the ship had left port. The food became putrid. The gravel ballast, on which the galley was placed, developed into a well of filth, dirty water and stale beer, so that the uncleanly crew succumbed in large numbers to dysentery, scurvy and other diseases. Even the planking and ironwork suffered through lack of attention, but the use of stones instead of gravel was presently adopted to allow the penetration of air. Whatever the anxieties of an Elizabethan Captain, at least he had his cabin and bed. He could withdraw a while, take his meals, drink his punch — known as “rosa solis”, made out of brandy, and spices, with hot water — while the lice-bitten sailors were often cheated of their full rations. So also great hardship followed the sudden discharge of impressed men after the advent of peace with no further need of their services. Thus, after the ill-fated expedition of 1595, which had sailed under Drake and Hawkins to the Spanish Main, 200 miserable creatures (wrote Sir John Fortescue to Sir Robert Cecil) were “hanging at my gate who neither have meat nor clothes”. They were some of the 400 who should have been paid at the rate of 6s. 8d. a month, but now were left to starve on arrival back in England. London was approaching one of her great financial crises, yet since the year before the Armada she had contributed 100,000 marks towards the Sea Service.


AN EARLY FORM OF BAROMETERBy the end of the sixteenth century the position was this: while Spain already owned rich colonies, England, although nationally poor, had shown by adventuring and tough fights that in her seamanhood, no less than in her ships, she could not be excelled by any other European Power. The English investors needed only someone to fire their enthusiasm for overseas trade and to fit out ships for long ocean voyages, to find markets which could consume English goods, such as iron, lead, tin and especially the thirteen different kinds of coloured cloth which were essentially national products. Now that the secret of a sea-route to India had been obtained, imports of pepper, cinnamon, silks, precious stones and other Oriental commodities could be expected to realize high prices at home and reward investors with big dividends.





AN EARLY FORM OF BAROMETER. The instrument illustrated was used by Earl Howe in 1794, and was included in the “Admiral’s All” Exhibition at the Royal United Service Museum, Whitehall. Engraved on the barometer are the words “Invented and Made by Dan Quare, London”.






It was at this moment that the right inspiration was available. Richard Hakluyt became the expert adviser and great support, the tonic to drooping spirits, Jhe mental stimulant of the time; yet he was not a mariner in any sense of the word, but an intellectual cleric who could see far beyond the horizon of his contemporaries.


As a boy Hakluyt once visited the chambers of his cousin in the Middle Temple, and there was shown “an universall Mappe”, with certain books on cosmography. When his relative “pointed with his wand” to all the known seas, gulfs, straits, capes, rivers and territories, relating their respective trades, the lad resolved that if ever he should enter a university, he would pursue that geographical knowledge. Eventually he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, made a special study of voyages and discoveries, and later — in 1598 — published his famous collection which still makes most fascinating reading.


In 1599 a number of London merchants petitioned Elizabeth for permission to send four well-found ships to the East Indies, and a capital of £30,133 was subscribed. Not until the last day in 1600 did the Queen give her consent.


An All-Powerful Corporation


Sir Thomas Smith became the first Governor (or Chairman) of the first English East India Company that, with variations and reconstructions, prospered right down to early Victorian days. To Hakluyt’s well of knowledge, filled from many sources, the original corporation went time after time to quench its thirst.


In spite of disappointments and set-backs, the combined ardour and information from Hakluyt, the enterprise of London’s merchants, the seamanship and navigation of English mariners and — it must be stressed — the enduring courage of the mariners were responsible for the gradual transformation of a poor country into one of wealth and predominance.


It was inevitable that, since jealousy is at the root of many squabbles, there should in the flow of time come the Anglo-Dutch as well as the Anglo-French Wars. But out of these long-drawn contests there emerged a nation that was nothing if not maritime. Throughout the world’s history there has never been such an amazingly powerful concern as the East India Company, with its own navy, its own cavalry, artillery, infantry and its immense political power. Its trading ships were, so to speak, the crack liners of the age, its officers the finest navigators afloat, and its seamen unrivalled.


Only by a knowledge of the ships of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can we realize the dangers and difficulties of the sea service. The English fleet which opposed the Armada had consisted of 197 vessels; thirty-four of them were Elizabeth’s royal ships, another thirty-four were merchant ships, and thirty were ships and barques paid by the City of London. The rest included twenty-three coasters, varying from 160 to 35 tons, and twenty-three volunteer ships. Two of the biggest merchant ships were of 140 tons, the smallest being of 30 tons, with twenty men.


This list is fairly representative of England’s floating strength at the time when Spain’s 130 ships started out for the invasion. The two Elizabethan warships, Ark Royal (800 tons) and Triumph (over 1,000 tons), were representative of the builders’ largest effort, just as the famous Sovereign of the Seas (1,683 tons) was launched as the highest achievement for size during Charles I’s period.




MODEL OF AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY SLOOP, rigged in the Science Museum, South Kensington, during 1904-5. Comparisons show that the masts and yards are a little long in proportion to the other dimensions, but the model corresponds closely in appearance to the Cygnet, a sloop of eighteen guns captured from the French in 1779. H.M.S. Cygnet carried eighteen six-pounders, and the length of her gundeck was 110 ft. II in. She had a beam of 28 ft. 4 in., a depth of 9 feet and a tonnage of 385.







Nothing better illustrates the rapid development which had been made in less than a century and a half since the Middle Ages. From 1637 till the death of Nelson the progress in shipbuilding was comparatively slight, the differences being of detail rather rhan of principle. The reason is twofold. The Tudor period during its brief brilliance was full of mental vigour and adventurous originality, but the next centuries became conservative and imaginative until the nadir virtually coincided with Queen Victoria’s accession.


With the seventeenth century there certainly did come a widening of sea interest for personal careers. The nobility and “sons of gentlemen” were now being urged not “to think scorn” of entering this domain. There existed a prejudice, a snobbishness, against having a “tarpaulin” or merchant skipper in command of a royal warship, yet he might have made ten voyages to India and back and be much more of a sailor than the average captain in His Majesty’s service. On the other hand, the “tarpaulin” might have been pirate or privateer, and he might know nothing of fleet tactics; but neither officer, during that age of inferior moral standards, was normally untainted by dishonesty.


Perhaps the Pursers were at once the most tempted and the most guilty. For instance, their duties included receiving the ship’s food from the Victualler of the Navy and supplying the Treasurer of the Navy with the names of crews and dates of their admission, after which the men’s pay would be sent for distribution. A favourite falsification was for the Pursers to send up faked lists, so that in one particular year about £3,000 on board seven ships became converted. Thus names would be given of men who were not serving, had not yet joined up, or had been discharged. Even the name of the Captain’s dog would be written down as one entitled to draw pay. Another trick was for the Purser to charge a man for clothes which he had never so much as seen.


The average “common mariner” certainly hated serving in the Navy of the Caroline period, because he was generally there against his wishes: either he had no money or he had been impressed by the press-master. The press-master could be bribed to let the better-class men go free, and collect only the criminal type or most disease-ridden. In the Navy much vexation was caused also by the delay in payment of wages, whereas the mercantile crews going to India and back could do a good deal of secret and profitable but illicit trading.


Impressed Men's Grievances


The same opportunity occurred for merchant sailors when they used to man the ships that went out to Virginia. There the planters were only too eager for some brisk trading. But a serious grievance was found in regard to discipline. A sailor might join a privateer ship, where restrictions scarcely existed, and count on receiving, with his shipmates, one third of a captured vessel’s value, and enjoy a long riotous leave ashore. The impressed men, however, were brought to Chatham, Kent, never saw their families for long periods, and for perhaps three months at a time would never be allowed out of their ship, although she kept swinging round her anchors at the same spot in the Medway surrounded by the same monotonous scenery.


The regulation had been intended to prevent desertion, but in truth the more daring of these mariners used to wait for the various local rowing boats to come alongside after nightfall, lower themselves down, be landed on the beach, get drunk and wake up to find all their money gone. Having become sobered, they dared not go back on board, so they preferred to forfeit three months’ pay and be numbered among the deserters. At least they would not have to eat bad salt beef — scanty though the ration might be — or drink “infectious” water.


In the biggest of the seventeenth century warships were carried a chirurgeon (surgeon) and a minister of religion; but if the surgeon was incompetent, the chaplain too often was more interested in feasting and drinking of healths than in anything else. When in December 1606 the expedition of three ships left the Thames at Blackwall for the historical colonization of Virginia, most of the London tradesmen supplied the necessary stores at good prices; but “such juggling there was betwixt them” that they were able to palm off much trash.




DUTCH SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY WARSHIP of about 1,000 tons displacement. This model was made by R. Morton Nance and shows the transom stern common to most warships of this period. Dutch warships were smaller than those of other Powers, for the shallow waters and harbours of Holland limited the draught and depth of her ships. The vessel modelled would have a length of about 120 feet and a depth of about 42 feet.






It cost about £20 in seventeenthcentury money (about £200 to-day) for every planter’s passage to the new American colony. He took out with him his Monmouth cap, three shirts, a waistcoat, three pairs of Irish stockings (which had cost four shillings), four pairs of shoes, three suits, his iron pots, kettles, frying-pans, gridirons, platters, dishes, wooden spoons, hoes, axes, handsaws and other tools.


The ships used to drop down the Thames with the tide, anchor in the Downs for perhaps six weeks waiting for a fair wind, whence they made for the Canary Islands, where they replenished with fresh water. Using the north-east trade winds, they crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, where they bartered with the natives and allowed the travellers to refresh themselves ashore, catching fish and turtles, besides killing wildfowl and obtaining water. Proceeding to the northward, experiencing Gulf Stream gales, spending anxious hours hove-to, the weary voyagers, after three or four months, would finally reach Virginia at Chesapeake Bay. This outward-bound route became stabilized because it was possible to carry fair winds most of the way from Portugal. When homeward-bound, however, with a westerly wind and direct course to England by way of the Azores, the passage could be made in six weeks.


The royal men-of-war in the late seventeenth century differed little from the men-of-war that were contemporary with Nelson’s Victory.


In the seventeenth century man-of-war the Master slept in the roundhouse, which was the uppermost stern cabin; over it was the poop. The Captain had his meals in the “great cabin”. This was a pleasant spot, just over the steerage, whence a passage led to the gallery along either quarter. In the steerage was the bittacle (now called binnacle), with the mariner’s compass inside. At night the white and black points of the compass were illumined by candle rays.


Beneath the lowest deck, in the hold, was the Steward’s Room, with its stores of butter and cheese, the Bread Room and the Powder Room, with its barrels. The hogsheads of wine and butts of beer rested on the ballast.


Middle-aged Midshipmen


In the forecastle was the cook’s room, because this was a more convenient place than deep down in the ship, for the risk of fire and ruination of victuals by heat caused anxiety. The “jeer” capstan was situated between mainmast and foremast for hoisting the lower yards. The main capstan was farther aft, and was used for weighing the anchor.


If the vessel was overtaken by storm she would reduce to mainsail only; or run before the storm —“spoon” it was called — under bare poles. During flat calms and heavy swell, the Master was wont to take all canvas off her, so as to avoid damage to gear. When the wind blew just strong enough for her to carry topsails hoisted as high as possible, this was called a loom gale. When it blew so hard that some of the upper canvas had to be stowed, this was either a fresh gale or a strong gale. But when she could carry no sail at all it was blowing a tempest.


Even in the time of Charles I ships were well accustomed to using a logline (sometimes called a minute-line), which was hove overboard from the poop. Marked at every fathom, the line was allowed to run out. By observing how many knots had elapsed in a given time (measured by the sandglass) the operator could make a rough reckoning as to how many leagues had been sailed in a watch.


Seventeenth-century English merchantmen averaged from 500 to 700 tons, though bigger ships were built. Great reliance in those days of few and indifferent charts was placed on the deep-sea sounding lead, which was marked from 20 fathoms (120 feet) to 100, or even 200 fathoms. The making of charts was, during Queen Anne’s time, still largely a private and personal matter, for every Captain made his own. Not until 1795 was there an Admiralty hydrographer.


George II established a Naval Academy at Portsmouth for the improvement of young officers’ education, but it was an exclusive institution and languished in neglect until in 1806 it was raised to the dignity of a Royal Naval College. But the eighteenthcentury midshipman of the Royal Navy was often a man of low social standing, whose age might be as much as forty-five. On the other hand mere boys, well-born but woefully ignorant of seafaring, were given the rank of lieutenant after having served as midshipmen.


The ablest seamen for smart shiphandling undoubtedly were serving on board the collier and coasting brigs. Until well into Victorian times these seamen were veritable artists in working through narrow and difficult channels — such as threading their way between North Sea sandbanks or tacking up the Thames to London Bridge in spite of the traffic. These vessels could sail within six points of the wind.


Such crews could almost smell their way over the North Sea sands. They had a good deal of anchoring to do, and for this reason held the record of all ships afloat for windlass work. It was always found that whenever an ex-collier’s crew shipped on board another vessel the anchor could be weighed in half the time.


But the ugly steam collier oi the nineteenth century gradually ousted these old brigs and fine seamen. So the era of genuine sailors was preserved in the clippers and full-rigged ships, till they likewise passed into that category which is labelled out of date.


The early nineteenth-century East Indiaman Essex






A RECORD SAIL-CARRIER. The early nineteenth-century East Indiaman Essex was able to set on her three masts the unprecedented total of sixty-three sails. She is seen here running before the wind with all sails set, including skysails, “moonrakers”, “star-gazer” and studding-sails.











[From Part 34, published 29 September 1936]



You can read more on “At Sea in the Middle Ages”, “Life in the East Indiamen” and

“The Sovereign of the Seas” on this website.