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RN in the age of sail - was it as bad as all that?


There's a few books of this genre about but I think this is the one I've read and reccommend it.
The best I have on the subject. Interesting to read Patrick O'Brian's books with that at hand. O'Brian did a massive amount of research on the navy of the time, and most of the tales are of apparently happy ships' companies, although pressed men do feature. They tend to be regarded as 'landsmen', or grass-combers, and not really worth their weight unless pressed from the merchant service. Corruption, however, was rife, and the quality of rations was highly variable as a result. The quality of the ships also suffered; in 'Post Captain', the ship Polychrest is found to have been built using 'robber-bolts' - copper, expensive, and the weight of one would pay a shipwright's wages for a day. "...but if you are a damned villain, you cut off the middle, drive each end home and pocket the money for the length of the copper in between". Not good when they hold the hull to the ship's frame.
 
I’ve read stories of a number Ships Pursers, who weren’t completely honest with their purchasing of ships stores. Rotten meat, bad water storage barrels etc.
I’ve mentioned this book before, Billy Ruffian, The Bellerophon and the downfall of Napoleon 1782-1832. David Cordingly.
I can’t recommend this book more highly, it goes into every iota of life on board.
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8FEA4A30-05B9-49F3-86B0-7C9D036475E3.jpeg
 

Pteranadon

LE
Book Reviewer
I can't recommend the Patrick O'Brian Master & Commander novels enough.

Sure, they're fuctiin in the strictest sense of the word but his research, sense of time and place and attention to detail is second to none.

Yer can't beat C S Forester. Hornblower was the best. All the rest are copies
 
The best I have on the subject. Interesting to read Patrick O'Brian's books with that at hand. O'Brian did a massive amount of research on the navy of the time, and most of the tales are of apparently happy ships' companies, although pressed men do feature. They tend to be regarded as 'landsmen', or grass-combers, and not really worth their weight unless pressed from the merchant service. Corruption, however, was rife, and the quality of rations was highly variable as a result. The quality of the ships also suffered; in 'Post Captain', the ship Polychrest is found to have been built using 'robber-bolts' - copper, expensive, and the weight of one would pay a shipwright's wages for a day. "...but if you are a damned villain, you cut off the middle, drive each end home and pocket the money for the length of the copper in between". Not good when they hold the hull to the ship's frame.

The 18th century version of supergluing the rivet head on!
 

endure

GCM
Any kindlers interested in Nathaniel drop me your email by PM...
 
In recent history there has been a subsection of the navy where life was particulary 'hard living'. The ships were male only- this often led to feral living as the testosterone built up to competetive levels-and existing became an enduring contest to simply 'out gross' one another. Scurvy was rife, as were STDs - mainly due to the lack of female interaction leading most to shag anything with 3 holes and a heartbeat upon going ashore.
The lack of females onboard also equalled no need to impress/look good. These ships were full of sailors who prided themselves on the length of their sideburns-often growing hairdos that could best be described as Princess Diana tributes. On the pipe of "secure" at 11:30 on a Friday- historic NASA imagery shows a distinct cloud of Lynx Africa and Denim deordorant emanating from an area above Pompey dockyard.

These ships were known as Type 42s.


@Ravers
You've not sailed on submarines, have you?
 
a farm labourer was employed by the day and earned 9/- shillings a week when the work was there. His Master had no duty or liability to look after him. His life was short, hard and brutal.

the most junior rate in a ship was ‘landsman’, a new man with no experience, even he started on 22/- shillings a month, and was guaranteed 3 meals a day, grog and somewhere to sleep. And if he got ill? A free Doctor on hand And access to some of the best hospitals of their day. his life expectancy was much higher than ashore. And if you’d had a good war, a Seaman could be going ashore with enough money to buy a house.
 
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Interesting thread. There was obviously a draw to life at sea back then otherwise people wouldn’t have done it. It wasn’t all press gangs.

I liken it to space exploration now.

300 years ago, going to South America or Australia on a ship was probably as alien to most people as going to the moon. They knew it was dangerous, but the chance to earn some money and do something very few people got to experience, probably made it worth it.

The risk of flogging, disease or getting cut in half by a French canon ball was probably pretty tame compared to living in your average city back then, where crime and disease was rife and the only real jobs were basically akin to slave labour in mills or factories.

I would’ve signed up.
In the modern context, you did.

As a young man how much was the idea of adventure a draw to you?

From my time it seemed to be a major part, along with the idea of a well-paid job with prospects.

The prospect of losing one’s life didn't really get a look in.
 
If they survived you mean? Look at the career of Bligh post Bounty.

For the fatal cases, see the instance HMS Hermione under Piggott.
The changing perception of Bligh is an example o tempora o mores.

Initially perceived as the innocent victim of devious, scheming plotters who committed the ultimate sin of their day (in British eyes) of rebelling against their legitimate rulers, set in place by God and better men to rule over the lower orders, by the late Victorian age he had turned into a pettifogging tyrant who oppressed free-born Englishmen, and then in the 20th century he became a pantomime villain and his crew became representatives of the square-jawed every-man standing up for his rights against petty officialdom and outdated and dehumanising rules, and then by the late 20th century we start admiring Bligh's technical skills and abilities, concentrating on his feat of navigation as he successfully steered his little boat across the Pacific to Timor.

All these viewpoints and more can of course be justified at the same time from different perspectives and given the imperfect nature of human beings. However, one salient point for me shines forth, during the Nore and Spithead bolshiness Bligh's crew again mutinied. Now you can say that wasn't all, or even mostly, his fault but the fact remains that under his command not one but two of his ships' companies rose up in mutiny against him.

Whatever about his famed nautical skills I think we can take it as a given that Bligh was a crap leader of men.
 
The changing perception of Bligh is an example o tempora o mores.

Initially perceived as the innocent victim of devious, scheming plotters who committed the ultimate sin of their day (in British eyes) of rebelling against their legitimate rulers, set in place by God and better men to rule over the lower orders, by the late Victorian age he had turned into a pettifogging tyrant who oppressed free-born Englishmen, and then in the 20th century he became a pantomime villain and his crew became representatives of the square-jawed every-man standing up for his rights against petty officialdom and outdated and dehumanising rules, and then by the late 20th century we start admiring Bligh's technical skills and abilities, concentrating on his feat of navigation as he successfully steered his little boat across the Pacific to Timor.

All these viewpoints and more can of course be justified at the same time from different perspectives and given the imperfect nature of human beings. However, one salient point for me shines forth, during the Nore and Spithead bolshiness Bligh's crew again mutinied. Now you can say that wasn't all, or even mostly, his fault but the fact remains that under his command not one but two of his ships' companies rose up in mutiny against him.

Whatever about his famed nautical skills I think we can take it as a given that Bligh was a crap leader of men.
Bligh’s term as 4th Governor General of New South Wales was also marked by mutiny. He took on the vested interests of the illegal rum racket run by the Army, leading to the Rum Rebellion of 1808 when Major George Johnston marched on Government House with 400 soldiers in what was effectively a coup. Bligh escaped to Tasmania and returned only when the British Government declared the Rum Rebellion a mutiny.

The interesting bit is Bligh’s well documented popularity with newly arriving settlers who saw him as protecting their interests against the corrupt actions of the military authorities. The names William Bligh we’re common Christian names for boys born during and after Bligh’s governorship and Bligh still quite common as a result (Australia’s recent PM Malcolm Turnbull’ second name is Bligh and it has been a family name since 1809).
 
One of the BLM threads is being derailed by an interesting discussion on whether life in the Royal Navy in and around the Napoleonic Period was one of misery, harsh discipline, rubbish food and general petty theft of working age people in sea towns to crew the King's Ships.

I would argue strongly that by the standards of the day it was pretty good as these things go. In times of war there was always a significant shortage of experienced seamen and consequently wages on merchantmen flew up. Whilst you could ostensibly earn a lot more, you also faced harder work as they ran with the minimum crew and so the tons per person was very high (with greater exertion needed).

Conversely on a King's Ship there were a lot of extra hands who could muck in with the unskilled manual work such as weighing anchor and the like, whose role otherwise was to be there for warfare only (i.e serving the guns). This varied per ship, with men per ton being greater in a first rate than a small cruising vessel, but even then this would likely be better than a merchantman.

It's also interesting that the Navy did try perhaps more than an other large employer to treat its crews well. A mill would not go out of its way to do anything but forget a worker who got mauled in its machinery.

Contrast that to a service which built specific hospitals for its men, found appropriate billets for disabled crew (the one-legged ship's cook stereotype exists for a reason) and which used permanent positions in port and aboard ships-in-ordinary as an extra means of pension for service senior ratings (uncrewed ships in reserve nevertheless would have permanent warrant officer positions). These went beyond the practicalities of keep the ships serviceable and evidence can be seen of using these means to look after loyal men who otherwise would have been discharged.

This is not to say it was some philanthropical organisation on a crusade of workers' rights. The welfare considerations didn't often stretch beyond practical reasons -- a means of keeping its ships reasonably well manned, or rewarding loyal followers. Likewise efforts were made to keep the channel fleets well victualled with fresh food. Not for morale but to reduce avoidable manning wastage which may not be replicatable in foreign seas.

But that being said, were I to pick between being a sailor or a soldier, or otherwise a labourer on land or a factory worker, I think I would probably take The Service.

What would your take be?
I would tend to agree with your evaluation, though I don't think reasonable pay and fringe benefits were because of altruism or some sense of enlightenment so much as desperation at the lack of sea going personnel.

You don't send a one-legged person to sea if you have a two-legged person to go instead.

Likewise, if you have a shortage of personnel the crippled and lame are found jobs that free up the able-bodied.

It was ever thus.

On a lighter note, a lesser known fact is that the RN of the period were the first to employ professional nurses, though that said ‘professional nurse’ might be a stretch by modern standards and should possibly read as ‘those who are paid to nurse’.

Apparently, the most common infringement and cause for disciplining the nurses was because they would get caught bringing in alcohol for their patients.
 

GingerNavs

Swinger
Brian Lavery has authored a 3 volume series (Royal Tars, Able Seamen, and All Hands) which look specifically at life on the Lower Deck from 875 to the present(ish) day.
 
One of the BLM threads is being derailed by an interesting discussion on whether life in the Royal Navy in and around the Napoleonic Period was one of misery, harsh discipline, rubbish food and general petty theft of working age people in sea towns to crew the King's Ships.

I would argue strongly that by the standards of the day it was pretty good as these things go. In times of war there was always a significant shortage of experienced seamen and consequently wages on merchantmen flew up. Whilst you could ostensibly earn a lot more, you also faced harder work as they ran with the minimum crew and so the tons per person was very high (with greater exertion needed).

Conversely on a King's Ship there were a lot of extra hands who could muck in with the unskilled manual work such as weighing anchor and the like, whose role otherwise was to be there for warfare only (i.e serving the guns). This varied per ship, with men per ton being greater in a first rate than a small cruising vessel, but even then this would likely be better than a merchantman.

It's also interesting that the Navy did try perhaps more than an other large employer to treat its crews well. A mill would not go out of its way to do anything but forget a worker who got mauled in its machinery.

Contrast that to a service which built specific hospitals for its men, found appropriate billets for disabled crew (the one-legged ship's cook stereotype exists for a reason) and which used permanent positions in port and aboard ships-in-ordinary as an extra means of pension for service senior ratings (uncrewed ships in reserve nevertheless would have permanent warrant officer positions). These went beyond the practicalities of keep the ships serviceable and evidence can be seen of using these means to look after loyal men who otherwise would have been discharged.

This is not to say it was some philanthropical organisation on a crusade of workers' rights. The welfare considerations didn't often stretch beyond practical reasons -- a means of keeping its ships reasonably well manned, or rewarding loyal followers. Likewise efforts were made to keep the channel fleets well victualled with fresh food. Not for morale but to reduce avoidable manning wastage which may not be replicatable in foreign seas.

But that being said, were I to pick between being a sailor or a soldier, or otherwise a labourer on land or a factory worker, I think I would probably take The Service.

What would your take be?

I believe it was Samual Pepys who to paraphrase said
A sensible man will seek to go to jail rather than life at sea - the conditions are the same and prisons seldom sink
 
Ships surgeons?

each ship carried a properly qualified Surgeon, as well as apprectice trained assistants and trained on the job in basic care nurses, (see above).
a Ships surgeon was very well paid, @ £320 a year, a very good salary, had a servant provided, and could claim significant expenses.

in 1815, the Royal Navy had on its books the following registered with medical staff,

14 physicians
850 surgeons
500 assistants surgeons

which is a very high number for the 130,000 men in the RN of the time.
 

Themanwho

LE
Book Reviewer
One of the BLM threads is being derailed by an interesting discussion on whether life in the Royal Navy in and around the Napoleonic Period was one of misery, harsh discipline, rubbish food and general petty theft of working age people in sea towns to crew the King's Ships.
My Bold above: Makes a wonderful change!

Only on Arrse....
 
Can someone explain how the prize money thing worked ?
First scenario ..
HMS Desperate captures a French frigate or whatever , a skeleton crew then sails it back to the nearest RN part and it becomes HMS Capture .
How much do the crew get for this ?
Where do you keep it without it being stolen ?
Is it enough for the crew to say thanks for the ride , but I'm leaving ?
Second scenario ..
HMS Desperate , on station in the Caribbean captures a Spanish cargo ship loaded with two tons of silver destined for the Spanish treasury .
What then ?
Does the captain turn round and say " Well lads , get in touch with Savills because you'll all be wealthy landowners as soon as we dock in Portsmouth " ?
Or do they sail to America , sell the ship and become entrepreneurs ?
Are there ANY tales of happy ever after ?
 
Can someone explain how the prize money thing worked ?
First scenario ..
HMS Desperate captures a French frigate or whatever , a skeleton crew then sails it back to the nearest RN part and it becomes HMS Capture .
How much do the crew get for this ?
Where do you keep it without it being stolen ?
Is it enough for the crew to say thanks for the ride , but I'm leaving ?
Second scenario ..
HMS Desperate , on station in the Caribbean captures a Spanish cargo ship loaded with two tons of silver destined for the Spanish treasury .
What then ?
Does the captain turn round and say " Well lads , get in touch with Savills because you'll all be wealthy landowners as soon as we dock in Portsmouth " ?
Or do they sail to America , sell the ship and become entrepreneurs ?
Are there ANY tales of happy ever after ?


All done under an Act of Parliament - it was big business robbing the French!

"
Distribution[edit]

Command structure of a Navy ship c. 1810, showing prize money groupings
The following scheme for distribution of prize money was used for much of the Napoleonic wars until 1812, the heyday of prize warfare. Allocation was by eighths. Two eighths of the prize money went to the captain or commander, generally propelling him upwards in political and financial circles. One eighth of the money went to the admiral or commander-in-chief who signed the ship's written orders (unless the orders came directly from the Admiralty in London, in which case this eighth also went to the captain). One eighth was divided among the lieutenants, sailing master, and captain of marines, if any. One eighth was divided among the wardroom warrant officers (surgeon, purser, and chaplain), standing warrant officers (carpenter, boatswain, and gunner), lieutenant of marines, and the master's mates. One eighth was divided among the junior warrant and petty officers, their mates, sergeants of marines, captain's clerk, surgeon's mates, and midshipmen. The final two eighths were divided among the crew, with able and specialist seamen receiving larger shares than ordinary seamen, landsmen, and boys.[55][56] The pool for the seamen was divided into shares, with each able seaman getting two shares in the pool (referred to as a fifth-class share), an ordinary seaman received a share and a half (referred to as a sixth-class share), landsmen received a share each (a seventh-class share), and boys received a half share each (referred to as an eighth-class share).

A notable prize award related to a capture in January 1807, when the frigate Caroline took the Spanish ship San Rafael as a prize, netting Captain Peter Rainier £52,000.[39]"

Thats nearly £5 MILLION in todays money

 

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