RANSOME’S CROSSING: Life Aboard Ship
Since so much of Ransome’s Crossing takes place aboard the ships, I thought it might be fun share a little more of my research about early 19th century Royal Navy, the ships, and the men who populated them. (Yes, I spent a few hours yesterday scanning images from some of my reference books: Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections: Man-of-War, Patrick O’Brian’s Navy, Men O’ War, Men-of-War, and The World of Jack Aubrey.)
With Charlotte disguising herself as a midshipman and joining the crew of the smaller of the two Royal Navy ships, Audacious, there’s a question that naturally arises, whether spoken or not. How did she . . . um . . . you know?
Well, first, you need to click over and read the post “The Necessary” that I wrote last fall.
Did you read it? No? Okay, I’ll wait . . .
Great, now for some pictorial explanations of what that passage from Nelson’s Trafalgar really means.
In this picture, you see a big, gaping hole in the middle of the ship (the “waist”)—this is where the ships boats were stowed until needed. At the BOW (front) of the ship, you’ll see I’ve added an arrow pointing to the Cockpit—or the Midshipmen’s berth, at either end of which you’ll see two semi-circular bump-outs known as the roundhouses. And at the STERN (back), I’ve bracketed the Quarter Galleries—ornamented sections with windows that bumped out at an angle at the side of the ship. (Here’s another image of the HMS Victory—which has a third deck the ships in RC don’t have—showing just how they hug the back end of the ship.)
The ships had quarter galleries on both sides. The captain probably only had one set up as a privy and used the one on the other side for storage (he could also look forward through the windows and see the sails without having to leave his cabin—very nice in foul weather!). The lowest quarter gallery was open to the sea, while the upper galleries had discharge piping. As mentioned yesterday, in the wardroom, there were two quarter galleries—one for the first lieutenant’s private use, accessible only through his cabin, and one shared by the remainder of the wardroom officers.
Though I’ve taken creative license and placed them farther apart in Ransome’s Crossing, typically the sick berth and the cockpit (midshipmen’s berth) shared the fore part of the main gun deck (just below the forecastle), giving the sick berth the benefit of light and circulation from the windows as well as access to a private privy. The midshipmen (all 18+ of them on Audacious) shared the other roundhouse—though most of the midshipmen, like most of the sailors, didn’t usually bother with the roundhouse, instead making use of the open-air “heads” in the beakhead (just behind the figurehead).
In this image, you can actually see that, contrary to the line drawing above, the beakhead extended quite far from the main body of the ship and was floored with open grating.
Let’s move on to something more pleasant, shall we?
Bells and Watches
A few times in Ransome’s Honor and much more often in Ransome’s Crossing you’ll notice reference to the “bells” when naval officers talk about time. Aboard ship, time was marked by the ringing of a large brass bell. The bells were rung in single strikes and couplets—so eight bells would be ding-ding ding-ding ding-ding ding-ding with a slight pause between each couplet. Eight bells always marked the beginning of a watch, as watches were four hours long, and the day began with the “marking of noon”—when the midshipmen with their sextants marked the sun’s zenith (remember, no time zones yet). The top of the hour was marked by an even number of chimes, the half hour with an extra single chime. (Here’s a modern-day example of the officer of the watch marking noon aboard Queen Mary II.) The crew were split into watches—usually two, alternating every four hours, though larger ships (like those in Ransome’s Crossing) had a large enough crew they could split into three watches, meaning the crew got between six and eight hours off between each watch instead of two to four).
Afternoon Watch (1200 to 1600 hours)
12:00 pm. . . . .8 bells. . . . .Traditionally the day starts at noon with the entering of the day, date, and observation on the log board. Crew were piped to dinner. The crew receives the first half of the grog or beer ration afterwards on deck.
12:30 pm. . . . .1 bell
1:00 pm. . . . .2 bells. . . . .The Officers dined
1:30 pm. . . . .3 bells. . . . .The watch on duty was called to their stations. The other watch(es) were at ease, unless all hands were called to drill (fire, boarding, gunnery, etc.)
2:00 pm. . . . .4 bells
2:30 pm. . . . .5 bells
3:00 pm. . . . .6 bells
3:30 pm. . . . .7 bells
To create an odd number of watches during the day—and ensure the crew rotated fairly between the watches—the Dog Watch was only two hours long.
First Dog Watch & Second (Last) Dog Watch (1600 to 1800 hours) & (1800 to 2000 hours)
4:00 p.m.. . . . .8 bells. . . . .Evening meal and second grog or beer rations served (by watches of crew)
4:30 p.m.. . . . .1 bell
5:00 p.m.. . . . .2 bells
5:30 p.m.. . . . .3 bells
6:00 p.m.. . . . .4 bells
6:30 p.m.. . . . .1 bell
7:00 p.m.. . . . .2 bells
7:30 p.m.. . . . .3 bells
Just before sunset, the drummer beat to quarters, assembling the whole ship’s company at their battle stations for inspection. Men then were released, and recovered their hammocks from the netting.
First Watch (2000 hours to Midnight)
8:00 pm. . . . .8 bells. . . . .Eight Bells, Lights extinguished. Master at arms begins his series of nightly rounds.
8:30 pm. . . . .1 bell
9:00 pm. . . . .2 bells
9:30 pm. . . . .3 bells
10:00 pm. . . . 4 bells
10:30 pm. . . . 5 bells
11:00 pm. . . . 6 bells
11:30 pm. . . . 7 bells
Middle Watch (Midnight to 0400 hours—graveyard Watch)
12:00 mid. . . . 8 bells
12:30 a.m.. . . . 1 bell
1:00 a.m.. . . . .2 bells
1:30 a.m.. . . . .3 bells
2:00 a.m.. . . . .4 bells
2:30 a.m.. . . . .5 bells
3:00 a.m.. . . . .6 bells
3:30 a.m.. . . . .7 bells
Morning Watch (0400 to 0800 hours)
4:00 a.m.. . . . .8 bells. . . . .The Carpenter and Boatswain begin their repair work. Cook lights fires and begins breakfast.
4:30 a.m.. . . . .1 bell
5:00 a.m.. . . . .2 bells. . . . .The watch begins to wash the decks and polish the planks. Decks were dried while others polished the brightwork, and still others flemished lines.
5:30 a.m.. . . . .3 bells
6:00 a.m.. . . . .4 bells
6:30 a.m.. . . . .5 bells
7:00 a.m.. . . . .6 bells. . . . .The first Lieutenant to supervise remaining work for the day.
7:30 a.m.. . . . .7 bells. . . . .Boatswain’s mate pipes up all hammocks, and the crew stores their hammocks in the netting.
Forenoon Watch (0800 to 1200 hours)
8:00 a.m.. . . . .8 bells. . . . .Captain on deck at Eight Bells. Captain confers with First Lieutenant, and releases crew for Breakfast.
8:30 a.m.. . . . .1 bell. . . . .New watch comes on deck. Crew bags and chests brought on deck by this watch, so lower decks can be cleaned. The watch worked in messes (divided by the mess tables that each group uses at dinner) Each mess may work at assisting the cook, stow provisions in the hold, shift ballast, repair duties, or maintenance. The Captain reviews the Gunner’s, Purser’s, Boatswain’s, and Carpenter’s accounts, and examines the Midshipmen’s logs, and Confers with the Lieutenants.
9:00 a.m.. . . . .2 bells
9:30 a.m.. . . . .3 bells
10:00 a.m.. . . . 4 bells
10:30 a.m.. . . . 5 bells
11:00 a.m.. . . . 6 bells. . . . .Captain may call hands to witness punishment and order the boatswain to rig a grating for a flogging.
11:30 a.m.. . . . 7 bells. . . . .(new “day” begins at noon)
Thursday, we’ll look at the crew. Who were they? What did they wear? How did one get promoted/become an officer?
In the mean time, what questions do you have about the Royal Navy, her ships, or the men who served?
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