|sloop of war under fighting canvas S.J. Waldock BA|
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Naval Glossary of Nelson's and Jane Austen's time
This is by no means a comprehensive list but covers the terms used in the first two stories about William Price.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but covers the terms used in these first two stories about William Price.
Accommodation ladder A portable flight of steps down a ship's side
Aloft: In the rigging of a sailing ship.
Amidships aka midships: In the middle portion of ship, along the line of the keel.
Anchor: metal object with hook like arms to engage with the seabed and prevent drift attached by a line or chain raised and lowered by the capstan
Anchor’s aweigh: the anchor has cleared the sea bed
Articles of War: the regulations. Read by the Captain when first coming aboard as part of ‘reading himself in’ and to be read out every Sunday to remind the crew. Article 36 ‘…and any other crime not covered……’ was known as ‘the captain’s cloak’, there to cover the more ingenious mischief of the British sailor, but could be abused.
Astern: towards the stern (rear) of a vessel, behind a vessel.
Athwart: At right angles to the fore and aft or centerline of a ship
Avast: Stop, cease or desist from whatever is being done.
Aweigh: Position of an anchor just clear of the bottom – ie its weight on the cable not resting.
Back and fill: To use the advantage of the tide being with you when the wind is not.
Beam: the width of the vessel.
Beating aka Tacking: sailing as close to the wind as possible on a zig zag course in order to sail essentially into the wind.
Beat to quarters: to beat the signal on the drum to go to quarters, ie to be in position to fight the ship.
Belay:  To make fast a line around a fitting, usually a cleat or belaying pin.  or to secure a climbing person with a line.  An order to halt a current activity or to countermand an order previously given.
Bight: A loop in a rope.
Binnacle Where the compass is situated.
Bitter End: the last part of a loose cable or rope. The anchor cable is tied to the Bitt, a post at the bow, and when all the cable is paid out the bitter end has then been reached.
Block: a pulley.
Bosun aka Boatswain: warrant officer in charge of ropes, sails, rigging and boats who uses a pipe to send commands to the men and may ‘start’ or hit them with a cane if they are not fast enough.
Bow: the front end. [‘the pointy end’]
Bow chaser: a gun pointing forward for use in pursuit.
Bowsprit: Spar extending forward from the bow used to secure the forestay and other rigging
Bulwark: The part of the ship’s side extending above the upper deck generally to about waist height of a man.
Cable: A heavy rope.
Cable length: a tenth of a nautical mile.
Capstan: A winch operated by capstan bars that fit into it that sailors may push against walking round the capstan to lift the anchor or winch other heavy objects. In small vessels floggings usually took place with the offender lashed to the capstan.
Cat o’ nine tails: the nine ended whip used for flogging. Each was made for an individual punishment and placed in a red baize bag, leading to the sayings ‘to let the cat out of the bag’ and ‘not room to swing a cat’.
Caulk: driving oakum into the ship’s seams which is then covered in tar to ensure that she is watertight.
Close hauled: sailing close to the wind, ie with the wind on the quarter [side] of the ship and the sails adjusted to get some modicum of forward motion from it.
Course: Lower or main sail
Dunnage: personal baggage
Figurehead: The identifying carving set at the bow beneath the bowsprit representing the name of the ship.
First Rate: the largest 3-masted ships of the line with more than 100 guns and a crew of more than 800.
First Lieutenant: the position of the lieutenants was decided purely on the date of their commission, ie when they had passed as lieutenant. The first lieutenant was the senior officer under the captain and his right hand man.
Fish: repairing a mast or spar with a fillet of wood which may then be woolded, wrapped with cordage for extra strength.
Forestay: long cable from the bow to masthead to hold the mast
Furl: To roll or gather a sail against its mast or spar.
Gaff: spar holding the upper edge of a fore-and-aft rigged sail
Go about aka tacking aka come about: to change direction from one tack to another by going through the wind
Gunwale: upper edge of the hull
Gybe: To change from one tack to the other away from the wind, with the stern of the vessel turning through the wind. The command ‘gybe oh’ is given.
Hardtack aka Ship’s biscuit/bread: the unpalatable staple hard and long lasting biscuit
Hawse [hole]: the hole in the side of the bow through which the anchor cable passes.
Heaving to: stopping a sailing vessel by the expedient of using the helm and setting the sails in opposition to each other to stay as stationary as possible.
Helm: the wheel used to steer the ship.
Holystone: the chunk of sandstone used to scrub the decks, named partly for its size and shape that was similar to a church Bible, and partly for the kneeling position in which it was used by the sailors as though in prayer.
Junk: old cordage past its useful life. Picked over for oakum to caulk [seal] the ship’s seams.
Jury rig: verb or noun, to rig a temporary repair of a mast or spar and sails when the original is damaged, to use to sail to a place a proper repair can be effected, refers too to that temporary rig.
Kiss the gunner’s daughter: slang for bending a boy over a gun for a caning
Larboard: obsolete term for port, the left side of the ship, used for such things as the larboard watch.
Lee: the side in the shadow of the wind
Lee Shore: a shore towards which the wind is blowing, ie it is risky to manoeuvre close to it for fear of being blown onto the shore unless the vessel handles well to windward.
Leeward: the direction towards which the wind is blowing.
Letter of Marque [and reprisal]: a document awarded to a privateer to condone certain acts of piracy as acts of reprisal against enemy vessels
Lubber's hole: Space between the head of the lower mast and the inner edge of the top. An alternate route into the top of the futtock shrouds for the timid climber rather than climbing over the edge of the top using the shrouds. It was considered unseamanlike to use it.
Mainmast: the tallest mast.
Mainsail: the lowest and largest sail on the mainmast.
Mainsheet: control line that most controls the trim of the mainsail.
Master: captain of a commercial vessel, or when Sailing Master the highest warranted rank on board ship in charge of navigation and day to day running of the ship.
Master and Commander: an obsolete position still used in colloquial description of a lieutenant commanding a ship. On board he is ‘the captain’ but his rank is still ‘Lieutenant’. By the time of William Price the appointment was just ‘commander’; like commodore it was an appointment not a formal rank.
Masthead: a small platform part way up the mast just above the main yard, where a lookout is posted whence men working on the main yard will gather and thence go about their duties. Being mastheaded – sent to the masthead – was a minor punishment for midshipmen, less for any danger or unpleasantness as for being banished for a while and probably missing a meal. In cold weather one would get cold and stiff.
Mess: a group of crewmen who eat together; also the place were they eat.
Mizzen Mast: the hindermost mast on the ship. [technically the third mast but this was often the third]
Nipper: short length of rope used to attach a cable, that is too large to be itself by the capstan, to the ‘messenger’ or rope moved by the capstan, to draw the cable along with it. The job of attaching this rope was in the purview of the ships’ boys, hence the term ‘nipper’ for a small lad.
Orlop Deck: the lowest deck above the hold, it is below the waterline. Here the surgeon performed any necessary operations.
Port: Lefthand side.
Prow: the pointy end aka bow.
Purser aka pusser: warrant officer in charge of victualling and other supplies. His perks were the buying and selling of slops [clothing] and luxuries like tobacco at a profit. Pursers had a reputation for corruption and some certainly provisioned with poor goods in order to pocket the difference between the permitted cost and what they actually paid.
Quarterdeck: the aftermost deck, the preserve of the officers.
Quarter Gallery: toilets for the use of the officers.
Rates: the means by which fighting ships were classified. A first rater had over 100 guns and 800+ crew; a frigate would be a fifth rater, 36 guns, 300 men; the smallest war ships were sixth raters, a dozen or so guns and about 40 men.
Ratlines: rope ladders permanently rigged between bulwarks and tops to permit access to tops and yards.
Rigging: the system of masts and lines permitting the manipulation of the sails.
Scarfed aka scarphed: a joint to wood when jury rigging to extend a broken spar, in which both pieces are partially cut back to be lapped together.
Scuppers: drainage pipes and channels to channel any water coming inboard out through holes in the bulwarks.
Scuttlebutt: the barrel with a hole cut in the lid for a dipper, set at the foot of the mainmast where water was freely available to the men [except in times of water shortage]; that the men would hang around gossiping gave the name ‘scuttlebutt’ to rumour and speculation.
Sextant: an instrument used to measure latitude.
Sheet: a rope used to control a sail in relation to catching the wind.
Shrouds: standing rigging from the masts to the ship’s sides.
Sloop: A small warship, sixth rater. Very difficult to define as the Navy Board seemed to define by the work it undertook more than any particular configuration.
Slush: the grease scooped off the top when cooking the meat. First call on it was from the Master and bosun for greasing blocks and parts of the running rigging, any surplus was the cook’s perks to sell or barter. Essentially it is dripping; and made the ship’s biscuit less unpalatable if spread on it.
Sounding: checking the depth of the water with a sounding line weighted with a lead weight. Sounding leads had a hole in which wax could be inserted to bring up a sample of the bottom to check what comprised the sea bed.
Spar: the wooden pole used to support the sails and various rigging.
Starboard: the right-hand side.
Stern: the back, or blunt end, of a ship.
Sternlights: the large windows across the rear of a ship generally giving onto the maindeck giving light to the captain’s cabin.
Swinging the lead: Skiving. when sounding, the lead needed a good heave to get it to go a decent distance, but this being tiring work, someone who was just swinging the lead was skiving.
Tack: to move on a zig-zag course to enable some progress against the direction of the wind.
Under way: moving in a controlled manner.
Vang: a rope holding the boom from riding up on a fore-and-aft rigged sail, or a rope securing the gaff to the ship’s rail.
Watch: a period of the day during which a part of the ship’s company are on duty; watch also refers to the division of men, generally being known as the starboard watch and the larboard watch.
Wearing Ship: tacking by turning away from the wind.
Weather gauge: Favourable position over the enemy sailing vessel with respect to the wind; having the opportunity to get the jump on them.
Woold: more a carpentry term, the use of old [stretched] cordage to wrap around a fished or scarfed joint to strengthen it in jury rigging.
Yard: the horizontal spar from which a square sail is suspended.
Yardarm: the end of the yard.