24 January 2008

Daily Life: Thursday 13 at Sea

By Marianne LaCroix

Thirteen Things about Daily Life in the 1700s in the British Royal Navy:

1. The Ship's Bell was used to note the passage of time. When the half hour glass was turned, the bell was tolled.

2. Officers did not have to wear uniforms while at sea. The crew knew who were officers, and uniforms were expensive. They saved their best for important occasions ashore. Second best was typical for receiving a fellow officer at sea.

3. Sailors (non-officers) wore whatever shoes, shirts and pants they had for duty at sea. Sometimes the canvas rigging was used to make clothes. (I assume this would be from sails beyond repair after a battle. ~MLC)

4. Shore goin' rig for sailors were different from clothing worn on duty. They attempted neatness to appear respectable. There were no uniforms, but the men did present themselves accordingly to express the pride and honor of their skills and ship.

5. Shore goin' rig (continued) - Hats were blackened with tar to make them waterproof. Ribbon on hat could be embroidered with name of ship. Jackets were commonly wool and had no universal color. Neckcloths were decorative but could be used as a headpiece or bandage. Trousers were commonly made of canvas (see #3). These are only samples...there was no uniform for the common seaman.

6. At sea, seamen were allotted 18 inches for their hammock with other seamen sleeping on either side.

7. The captain was the only member on board who had the privilege of privacy. He had his own cabin, although it was small and usually stored a variety of navigational equipment.

8. There were three watches on board ship--first, second and third watches. One would be on duty while the second was "at ease" and the third slept, and on and on in rotation.

9. Among the daily food rations included beer, water, and bread. Other foods rationed over a week, but not daily, included salt pork, oatmeal, dried beef, and hard cheese. (No wonder they all had scurvy!~MLC)

10. Ship surgeons required some sort of certification to serve as surgeon, but it was rare to have an actual, trained doctor aboard.

11. James Cook (1728-1779) introduced the use of lime juice and sauerkraut on his ships to fight scurvy based on a study conducted in 1747 by Dr. James Lind. (see #9) He also encourages bathing and exercise to his crew. It wasn't until 1795 when lime juice was distributed by the Royal Navy to all ships to fight scurvy. (Vitamin C, the substance that prevented scurvy, wasn't discovered until 1932.)

12. Navigating was done via compass, lunar observation, and chronometer. They were used to calculate longitude. (Don't ask me to explain this, it is beyond my non-technical mind. ~MLC)

13. Prizes, or defeated enemy ships, were the property of the Crown until reviewed by the Admiralty (head of the Royal Navy). After this, the ship would be sold and the money divided among the officers and crew as previously agreed upon. This is how young men went to sea to make their fortune.

Research sources:
Mr Collins (The site is half there, half not.)

Marianne LaCroix
Crossed Swords, Ellora's Cave