Captain—Master—Lieutenant—Warrant officers—Duties andprivileges

By comparing Sir Richard Hawkins' "Observations"and Sir W. Monson's "Tracts" with Nicolas Boteler's"Dialogical Discourses," we find that the duties of ship'sofficers changed hardly at all from the time of the Armadato the death of James I. Indeed they changed hardly atall until the coming of the steamship. In modern sailingships the duties of some of the supernumeraries are almostexactly as they were three centuries ago.
The captain was the supreme head of the ship, empoweredto displace any inferior officer except the master(Monson). He was not always competent to navigate(ibid.), but as a rule he had sufficient science to checkthe master's calculations. He was expected to choose hisown lieutenant (ibid.), to keep a muster-book, and acareful account of the petty officer's stores (Monson andSir Richard Hawkins), and to punish any offences committedby his subordinates.
A lieutenant seems to have been unknown in ships ofwar until the early seventeenth century. He rankedabove the master, and acted as the captain's proxy, orambassador, "upon any occasion of Service" (Monson).In battle he commanded on the forecastle, and in theforward half of the ship. He was restrained from meddlingwith the master's duties, lest "Mischiefs and factions"should ensue. Boteler adds that a lieutenant ought not[312]to be "too fierce in his Way at first ... but to carryhimself with Moderation and Respect to the MasterGunner, Boatswain, and the other Officers."
The master was the ship's navigator, responsible forthe performance of "the ordinary Labours in the ship."He took the height of the sun or stars "with his Astrolabe,Backstaff or Jacob's-staff" (Boteler). He saw that thewatches were kept at work, and had authority to punishmisdemeanants (Monson). Before he could hope foremployment he had to go before the authorities at TrinityHouse, to show his "sufficiency" in the sea arts (Monson).
The pilot, or coaster, was junior to the master; butwhen he was bringing the vessel into port, or over sands,or out of danger, the master had no authority to interferewith him (Monson). He was sometimes a permanentofficial, acting as junior navigator when the ship was outof soundings (Hawkins), but more generally he was employedtemporarily, as at present, to bring a ship into orout of port (Monson and Boteler).
The ship's company was drilled by a sort of juniorlieutenant (Boteler), known as the corporal, who was somethingbetween a master-at-arms and a captain of marines.He had charge of the small arms, and had to see to it thatthe bandoliers for the musketmen were always filled withdry cartridges, and that the muskets and "matches" werekept neat and ready for use in the armoury (Monson). Hedrilled the men in the use of their small arms, and alsoacted as muster master at the setting and relieving of thewatch.
The gunner, whose duties we have described at length,was privileged to alter the ship's course in action, and mayeven have taken command during a chase, or runningfight. He was assisted by his mates, who commanded thevarious batteries while in action, and aimed and firedaccording to his directions.[313]
The boatswain, the chief seaman of the crew, wasgenerally an old sailor who had been much at sea, andknew the whole art of seamanship. He had charge of allthe sea-stores, and "all the Ropes belonging to the Rigging[more especially the fore-rigging], all her Cables, andAnchors; all her Sayls, all her Flags, Colours, andPendants;[23] and so to stand answerable for them" (Boteler).He was captain of the long boat, which was stowed onthe booms or spare spars between the fore and mainmasts. He had to keep her guns clean, her oars, mast,sails, stores, and water ready for use, and was at all timesto command and steer her when she left the ship(Hawkins). He carried a silver whistle, or call, about hisneck, which he piped in various measures before repeatingthe master's orders (Monson). The whistle had a ball atone end, and was made curved, like a letter S laidsideways. The boatswain, when he had summoned allhands to their duty, was expected to see that they workedwell. He kept them quiet, and "at peace one withanother," probably by knocking together the heads ofthose disposed to quarrel. Lastly, he was the ship'sexecutioner, his mates acting as assistants, and at hishands, under the supervision of the marshal, the crewreceived their "red-checked shirts," and such bilboedsolitude as the captain might direct.
The coxswain was the commander of the captain'srow barge which he had to keep clean, freshly paintedand gilded, and fitted with the red and white flag—"andwhen either the Captain or any Person of Fashion is touse the Boat, or be carryed too and again from the Ship,he is to have the Boat trimmed with her Cushions andCarpet and himself is to be ready to steer her out ofher Stern [in the narrow space behind the back boardof the stern-sheets] and with his Whistle to chear up[314]and direct his Gang of Rowers, and to keep them togetherwhen they are to wait: and this is the lowest Officer in aShip, that is allowed to carry a Whistle" (Boteler). Thecoxswain had to stay in his barge when she towed asternat sea, and his office, therefore, was often very wretched,from the cold and wet. He had to see that his boat'screw were at all times clean in their persons, and dressedalike, in as fine a livery as could be managed (Monson).He was to choose them from the best men in the ship,from the "able and handsome men" (Monson). He hadto instruct them to row together, and to accustom theport oarsmen to pull starboard from time to time. Healso kept his command well caulked, and saw the chocksand skids secure when his boat was hoisted to the deck.
The quartermasters and their mates had charge ofthe hold (Monson), and kept a sort of check upon thesteward in his "delivery of the Victuals to the Cook,and in his pumping and drawing of the Beer" (Boteler).In far later times they seem to have been a rating ofelderly and sober seamen who took the helm, two andtwo together, in addition to their other duties. In theElizabethan ship they superintended the stowage of theballast, and were in charge below, over the ballast shifters,when the ships were laid on their sides to be scrapedand tallowed. They also had to keep a variety of fishhooks ready, in order to catch any fish, such as sharksor bonitos.
The purser was expected to be "an able Clerk"(Monson) for he had to keep an account of all provisionsreceived from the victualler. He kept the ship's muster-book,with some account of every man borne upon it.He made out passes, or pay-tickets for discharged men(ibid.), and, according to Boteler, he was able "to purseup roundly for himself" by dishonest dealing. The purser(Boteler says the cook) received 6d. a month from every[315]seaman, for "Wooden Dishes, Cans, Candles, Lanthorns,and Candlesticks for the Hold" (Monson). It was alsohis office to superintend the steward, in the serving outof the provisions and other necessaries to the crew.
The steward was the purser's deputy (Monson). Hehad to receive "the full Mass of Victual of all kinds,"and see it well stowed in the hold, the heavy thingsbelow, the light things up above (Boteler). He hadcharge of all the candles, of which those old dark shipsused a prodigious number. He kept the ship's biscuitsor bread, in the bread-room, a sort of dark cabin belowthe gun-deck. He lived a life of comparative retirement,for there was a "several part in the Hold, which is calledthe Steward's room, where also he Sleeps and Eats"(Boteler). He weighed out the provisions for the crew,"to the several Messes in the Ship," and was cursed, nodoubt, by every mariner, for a cheating rogue in leaguewith the purser. Though Hawkins tells us that it washis duty "with discretion and good tearmes to givesatisfaction to all."
The cook did his office in a cook-room, or galley, placedin the forecastle or "in the Hatchway upon the firstOrlope" (Boteler). The floor of the galley was not atthat time paved with brick or stone, as in later days, andnow. It was therefore very liable to take fire, especiallyin foul weather, when the red embers were shaken fromthe ash-box of the range. It was the cook's duty to takethe provisions from the steward, both flesh and fish, andto cook them, by boiling, until they were taken from him(Monson). It was the cook's duty to steep the salt meatin water for some days before using, as the meat wasthus rendered tender and fit for human food (Smith).He had the rich perquisite of the ship's fat, which wentinto his slush tubs, to bring him money from the candlemakers.The firewood he used was generally green, if[316]not wet, so that when he lit his fire of a morning, hefumigated the fo'c's'le with bitter smoke. It was his dutyto pour water on his fire as soon as the guns were castloose for battle. Every day, for the saving of firewood,and for safety, he had to extinguish his fire directly thedinner had been cooked, nor was he allowed to relight it,"but in case of necessity, as ... when the Cockswain'sGang came wet aboard" (Monson). He would allow hiscronies in the forenoons to dry their wet gear at his fire,and perhaps allow them, in exchange for a bite or sup,to cook any fish they caught, or heat a can of drink.
Another supernumerary was the joiner, a rating onlycarried in the seventeenth century on great ships withmuch fancy work about the poop. He it was whorepaired the gilt carvings in the stern-works, and madethe bulkheads for the admiral's cabin. He was adecorator and beautifier, not unlike the modern painter,but he was to be ready at all times to knock up lockersfor the crew, to make boxes and chests for the gunner, andbulkheads, of thin wood, to replace those broken by theseas. As a rule the work of the joiner was done by thecarpenter, a much more important person, who commandedsome ten or twelve junior workmen. Thecarpenter was trusted with the pumps, both hand andchain, and with the repairing of the woodwork throughoutthe vessel. He had to be super-excellent in his profession,for a wooden ship was certain to tax his powers. She wasalways out of repair, always leaking, always springing herspars. In the summer months, if she were not beingbattered by the sea, she was getting her timber splitby cannon-shot. In the winter months, when laid upand dismantled in the dockyard, she was certain to neednew planks, beams, inner fittings and spars (Hawkins).The carpenter had to do everything for her, often withgrossly insufficient means, and it was of paramount[317]importance that his work-room in the orlop should befitted with an excellent tool chest. He had to providethe "spare Pieces of Timber wherewith to make Fishes,for to strengthen and succour the Masts." He had tosuperintend the purchase of a number of spare yards,already tapered, and bound with iron, to replace thosethat "should chance to be broken." He was to see theselashed to the ship's sides, within board, or stopped in therigging (Monson and Boteler). He had to have all mannerof gudgeons for the rudder, every sort of nuts or washersfor the pumps, and an infinity of oakum, sheet lead, softwood, spare canvas, tallow, and the like, with which tostop leaks, or to caulk the seams. In his stores he tooklarge quantities of lime, horse hair, alum, and thin feltwith which to wash and sheathe the ship's bottom planking(Monson). The alum was often dissolved in water,and splashed over spars and sails, before a battle, as itwas supposed to render them non-inflammable. It washis duty, moreover, to locate leaks, either by observing theindraught (which was a tedious way), or by placing his earto a little earthen pot inverted against one of the planksin the hold. This little pot caused him to hear the wateras it gurgled in, and by moving it to and fro he couldlocate the hole with considerable certainty (Boteler). Hehad to rig the pumps for the sailors, and to report to thecaptain the depth of water the ship made daily. Thepumps were of two kinds, one exactly like that in use onshore, the other, of the same principle, though morepowerful. The second kind was called the chain-pump,because "these Pumps have a Chain of Burs going in aWheel." They were worked with long handles, calledbrakes (because they broke sailor's hearts), and some tenmen might pump at one spell. The water was dischargedon to the deck, which was slightly rounded, so that it ranto the ship's side, into a graved channel called the trough,[318]or scuppers, from which it fell overboard through thescupper-holes, bored through the ship's side. Thesescupper-holes were bored by the carpenter. They slantedobliquely downwards and were closed outside by a hingedflap of leather, which opened to allow water to escape, andclosed to prevent water from entering (Maynwaring).Each deck had a number of scupper-holes, but theywere all of small size. There was nothing to take theplace of the big swinging-ports fitted to modern ironsailing ships, to allow the green seas to run overboard.
The cooper was another important supernumerary. Hehad to oversee the stowing of all the casks, and to make,or repair, or rehoop, such casks as had to be made orrepaired. He had to have a special eye to the great watercasks, that they did not leak; binding them securely withiron hoops, and stowing them with dunnage, so that theymight not shift. He was put in charge of watering parties,to see the casks filled at the springs, to fit them, whenfull, with their bungs, and to superintend their embarkationand stowage (Monson and Boteler).
The trumpeter was an attendant upon the captain,and had to sound his silver trumpet when that great manentered or left the ship (Monson). "Also when you halea ship, when you charge, board, or enter her; and thePoop is his place to stand or sit upon." If the ship carrieda "noise," that is a band, "they are to attend him, if therebe not, every one he doth teach to bear a part, the Captainis to encourage him, by increasing his Shares, or pay, andgive the Master Trumpeter a reward." When a prince,or an admiral, came on board, the trumpeter put on atabard, of brilliant colours, and hung his silver instrumentwith a heavy cloth of the same. He was to blow a blastfrom the time the visitor was sighted until his barge camewithin 100 fathoms of the ship. "At what time theTrumpets are to cease, and all such as carry Whistles are[319]to Whistle his Welcome three several times." As the giltand gorgeous row boat drew alongside, the trumpetssounded a point of welcome, and had then to stand aboutthe cabin door, playing their best, while the great man atehis sweetmeats. As he rowed away again, the trumpeter,standing on the poop, blew out "A loath to depart," a sortof ancient "good-bye, fare you well," such as sailors singnowadays as they get their anchors for home. In battlethe trumpeter stood upon the poop, dressed in his glory,blowing brave blasts to hearten up the gunners. In hailinga friendly ship, in any meeting on the seas, it wascustomary to "salute with Whistles and Trumpets, andthe Ship's Company give a general shout on both sides."When the anchor was weighed, the trumpeter soundeda merry music, to cheer the workers. At dinner eachnight he played in the great cabin, while the captaindrank his wine. At the setting and discharging of thewatch he had to sound a solemn point, for which duty hereceived an extra can of beer (Monson and Boteler).
The crew, or mariners, were divided into able seamen,ordinary seamen, grummets, or cabin-boys, ship-boys andswabbers. Swabbers were the weakest men of the crew;men, who were useless aloft, or at the guns, and thereforeset to menial and dirty duties. They were the ship'sscavengers, and had much uncleanly business to see to.Linschoten, describing a Portuguese ship's company,dismisses them with three contemptuous words, "theswabers pump"; but alas, that was but the first duty ofyour true swabber. Boteler, writing in the reign of JamesI., gives him more than half-a-page, as follows:—
"The Office of the Swabber is to see the Ship Keptneat and clean, and that as well in the great Cabbin aseverywhere else betwixt the Decks; to which end he is,at the least once or twice a week, if not every day, tocause the Ship to be well washed within Board and[320]without above Water, and especially about the Gunwalls[Gunwales or gunnels, over which the guns oncepointed] and the Chains and for prevention of Infection,to burn sometimes Pitch, or the like wholsom perfumes,between the Decks: He is also to have a regard to everyprivate Man's Sleeping-place; (to clean the cabins of thepetty officers in the nether orlop), and to admonish themall in general [it being dangerous perhaps, in a poorswabber, to admonish in particular] to be cleanly andhandsom, and to complain to the Captain, of all suchas will be any way nastie and offensive that way. Surely,if this Swabber doth thoroughly take care to dischargethis his charge I easily believe that he may have hishands full, and especially if there chance to be any numberof Landmen aboard."
Under the swabber there was a temporary rate knownas the liar. He had to keep the ship clean "withoutboard," in the head, chains, and elsewhere. He held hisplace but for a week. "He that is first taken with a Lieupon a Monday morning, is proclaimed at the Main-Mastwith a general Crie, a Liar, a Liar, a Liar, and for thatweek he is under the Swabber" (Monson).
The able seamen, or oldest and most experienced hands,did duty about the decks and guns, in the setting up andpreservation of the rigging, and in the trimming of thebraces, sheets, and bowlines. The ordinary seamen,younkers, grummets, and ship-boys, did the work aloft,furled and loosed the sails, and did the ordinary, never-ceasingwork of sailors. They stood "watch and watch"unless the weather made it necessary for all to be ondeck, and frequently they passed four hours of each dayin pumping the leakage from the well. They wore nouniform, but perhaps some captains gave a certain uniformityto the clothes of their crews by taking slopchests to sea, and selling clothes of similar patterns to[321]the seamen. In the navy, where the crews were pressed,the clothes worn must have been of every known cutand fashion, though no doubt all the pressed men contrivedto get tarred canvas coats before they had beenmany days aboard.
The bodies and souls of the seamen were looked after;a chaplain being carried for the one, and a chirurgeon, ordoctor, for the other. The chaplain had to read prayerstwice or thrice daily, to the whole ship's company, whostood or knelt reverently as he read. He had to leadin the nightly psalms, to reprove all evil-doers, and toexhort the men to their duty. Especially was he torepress all blasphemy and swearing. He was to celebratethe Holy Communion whenever it was most convenient.He was to preach on Sunday, to visit the sick; and, inbattle, to console the wounded. Admirals, and peers incommand of ships, had the privilege of bringing to seatheir own private chaplains.
The chirurgeon had to bring on board his own instrumentsand medicines, and to keep them ready to handin his cabin beneath the gun-deck, out of all possiblereach of shot. He was expected to know his business,and to know the remedies for those ailments peculiar tothe lands for which the ship intended. He had to producea certificate from "able men of his profession," to showthat he was fit to be employed. An assistant, or servant,was allowed him, and neither he, nor his servant did anyduty outside the chirurgeon's province (Monson).

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