Skip to content

The Necessary

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Something I’ve noticed now that I’ve been active on FaceBook for a couple of years and am now on Twitter: I know more about the, um, elimination habits of my contacts’ pets and children than I ever wanted to know. Are we so addicted to social networking that we must post every time a child has loose stools or the puppy pees on the carpet or the cat yaks on granny’s quilt?

Well, I’m joining this “dark side” of TMI-sharing on the interwebs today by sharing this passage from Nelson’s Trafalgar by Roy Adkins, which is a vital piece of research for Ransome’s Crossing:

In the larger ships the captain had his own private toilet in a small cubicle at one end of the stern gallery, which ran across the width of the stern and had a row of windows giving light into the captain’s cabin. This cubicle was known as a quarter gallery, and on the decks below similar quarter galleries were provided for the officers. These toilets merely consisted of a seat with a hole over a vertical waste pipe or over an open drop to the sea, and at the very least they were draughty. . . . Midshipmen and warrant officers used a similar cubicle called a roundhouse, located right up in the bows of the ship in the part called the beakhead. headThis area extended on either side of the bowsprit [mast] (below which was the ship’s figurehead) and was floored over with wooden gratings. There were usually two roundhouses, one on either side, and again they had a seat with a hole over a clear drop to the sea. One roundhouse was often reserved for the use of men in the sickbay. In larger ships, there were about twelve other seats with holes in this area (fewer in the smaller ships), and they were arranged in an equal number on each side of the bow. They did not have the privacy and shelter provided by the roundhouses and were completely exposed to the weather and the sea. Never pleasant to use, these toilets were dangerous in rough weather and high seas.

Probably taking the name from the nearby cathead [beams on each side of the bow, from which ropes were used to heave up and secure the anchor], beakhead, and figurehead, the general name for toilets was ‘heads,’ and ‘going to the heads’ meant going to the toilet. The most basic method of all was not to use such facilities, but for the men to relieve themselves while hanging from the shrouds (the rigging steadying each mast) at the points where they were secured to the side of the ship. . . . [T]he lee (downwind) side of the ship was chosen because the wind tilted the ship over in this direction, giving a clear drop to the sea.

Now . . . isn’t that more than you ever wanted to know about how they went to the bathroom aboard ships in the late 18th/early 19th century? I’d actually run across an obscure reference to the fact that midshipmen had access to a somewhat private privy before making the decision to have Charlotte disguise herself as a midshipman to get to Jamaica, knowing it would be vital for a woman on a two-month voyage. I was actually looking for something else in Adkins’ book when I ran across this passage. So of course, my first reaction was: I have to use that in the story somehow!

Will I? Find out next July . . . πŸ˜‰

  1. greyfort permalink
    Tuesday, October 20, 2009 2:20 pm

    Heh – for a moment I thought you were talking about the time I posted on how brilliant my puppy was – she learned how to use the litter box from the cat.

    Oh wait. You were. πŸ™‚


  2. Tuesday, October 20, 2009 7:41 pm

    Hehehe. Um, interesting, in a very weird way. πŸ˜‰ Haha. No, it’s the little details that are the biggest gems sometimes, you know? πŸ˜‰


  3. Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:47 am

    Wow….and ummmm….ewww?

    Interesting though. πŸ™‚


  4. Wednesday, October 21, 2009 10:07 am

    Yes, well, er, that was quite enlightening. Quite interesting actually. In my random research travels some time ago I came across this site on life before toilet paper: . Fascinating.


  5. Wednesday, May 26, 2010 2:20 pm

    That is more than I ever wanted to know, but quite revealing! I’m so glad for modern advancements! My kids shouldn’t have complained when they were little about using a portable potty chair!


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: