I was contacted last year for a Port of Chester 1863 marine print by a lady in the U.S.A.
We have become friends.
She is writing a book and no I’ll not give away the story, it does though include a ship visiting New Crane Wharf as in my acclaimed marine painting The Port of Chester 1863.
My new friend has asked about the language and words of command, maybe you can add to the following?
Working, writing, and researching as much as I can! I was just wondering if you might have a chance to sit down and take a quick look at the following questions?
I think they are actually all pretty simple questions, and hopefully won’t take too long to answer.
Have a great day!! Thank you so much!!
1. Here is a question for you, what would the small building in front of the “Sailmaker’s shop” have been called? Was it a storage building? Not a “shed” ? I talk about it briefly and want to call it by the right name. ~ Sailmakers Loft was and still is the most usual term.
2. Ooooo, what were the proper breeds of horses back then? (I take it you have that info based on your comment on your website) (this question is not really important, I am just curious, I may use it as a reference) ~ I’ll have to find my notes!
3. ok, I was wondering if you can help explain to me about when you talked about “the rudder is going over”. I know what the rudder is but what do you mean by “going over” 🙂 thanks ~ “going over” means the rudder is being turned. Some times people would and still do say “Helm over”.
If turning towards the wind “bring her up a point”, or away, “down a point”, this refered to compass points.
The command for a large change in course would be “steer … ” followed by the direction usually given as a compass direction such as “steer North East” or if nearer North, “North by North East”.
Often the word steer was omitted and often the helmsman (man at the wheel or tiller steering the ship), would repeat the command by way of confirmation, thus the officer would know his order was correctly heard.
There were of course many other “helm commands”.
4. Now, my Captain is calling out direction, as you know and I was trying to describe it, using words he would have actually used, so I am wondering what he would have said for “back the topsail” ~ yes.
In this case “May” is backing her topsail and has already let go her t’gallant sheets, followed by let go t’gallant hal yd, (the sail above the topsail) meaning the haulyard (pronounced “hal’yd)” has been let run to drop the t’gallant yard and douse (take the wind out of) the sail.
and “hang the fenders” or would they have been just that, or might he only have said the first and the second been done routinely without need to be told? ~ a good crew would routinely do this however the Captain might just call “fenders out” or simply “fenders”.
Any other really good ones that you think should be included or even anything slightly humorous he may have shouted out? 🙂
Other commands relating to the topsail might include, “let go topsail sheets”, “lay aloft Paddy you son af a whore” or more politely, “lay aloft double quick and make fast, harbour stow”.
Our ship will also need to drop her other sails which would probably be done as “down forsail”, “down gaff topsail”, “down main”, “down staysail”, or some times in a drole way, “Mr. would you be so good as to down the fore sail”, or any varyation humour can contrive.
If some one had a problem, you might hear, “lend a hand Jack” or “free that sheet/clew/halyd or what wever line way jammed”.
Or “don’t stand there, free that **** knitting”. “Look lively” was a common expression when required to move fast as was “jump to it”.
A warning might be “watch out mate!”.
Letting a rope go slowly would be easing so a crewman might say “easy does it” or “easy that sheet/line”.
You probaly know, sheets are part of the running rigging , the parts that control the clews and luffs of the sail, haulyards are the ropes that are used to pull sails up or if let fly, the sails come down.
“Make fast” means to tye off.
Mostly on small ships dicipline was easy going, crews experienced and all the crew knew each other very well so remarks would depend very much on individual characters.
Of course if things were not going well, language might deteriorate in sync with the urgency. On the other hand there were captains who had never been known to swear and most of the men were quite “matey”, caring for each other and always ready to “lend a hand”.
There are literaly hundreds more nautical phrases and terms, is the above enough?
5. On the same sort of subject, when you painted the dinghy being towed behind “May” in the sentence where you describe it on your website, ~ The dinghy was in tow as a precauction, to be readily available in case of a problem e’g an urgent need to get a like ashore or to put out a kedge anchour if the ship missed the channel and went aground (“on the mud”, “on the putty”)
I am not sure if you meant that is stalling her way in the current, or is that something else? I also briefly mention that. ~ stalling her way means to reduce speed, her “way” is her motion through the water thus to stall her way is to slow down, maybe stop. An engineless ship that has stalled her way will begin to drift unless managed by some other form of propulsion like kedging, quanting, hauling or towing.
In the case of May, her commander wants her to go along side gently so you can see a light line with a monkey’s first is being thrown to the attendant dinghy. This will be passed ashore then hauled to bring a heavier line ashore which in turn is used to pull the ship along side. During this exercise, the current still acts as a force on the hull so the rudder is often used to steer the ship even though she is not fully under command.
After which she is “make fast fore and aft”, the skipper might as “rigg springs” “coil down” (meaning make all rope ends tidy and ready for the next manouver) “harbour stow all sails”, a crewman might call for more gaskets while stowing the fore and aft sails.
If in a hurry to handle cargo the captain might call for “hatch covers off”.
6. Alright, if a crew member came bounding off the Phoenix down the gangplank (don’t want to use those exact words because I use the actual word “gangplank” too much, want to avoid it), would I say he came “bounding off deck”, or how would that best be relayed? ~ Best by usuing terms from the period. The word “gangplank” was in common usage or simply “plank”. A man would talk of going ashore, maybe in “double quick time”.
7. Another word search, I know that now-a-days we call them “shipcats or ship cats” but with the understanding that “ship” was a technical term back then, what might they have been known as? At the same time, “shipmates”, what would be the correct terminology for that word in the 1860’s? ~ ships cat would be normal. Ship was a specific term but then as now, words were abused, changed meaning , were reinvented etc.
That should really help! I’d like to go back and adjust what needs to be adjusted before I get too far out of the territory and forget what I was doing!
Thank you again for your help, I appreciate it dearly!! -K
Today I added in a new email:
have you enough words re docking a schooner in my previous email?
I have been thinking about this for you,
Which reminds me, typical of the laconic humour often found afloat, you might have one deck hand say to another,
1.”I’ve been thinking, when I gets ashore I’ll…”
2. My old Father back in (insert place name eg Mousehole (pronounced mauwsell) Cornwall) use to say leave thinking to ‘eros, they ‘ave bigger heads than your’n.
1. Hmm, I’ll try to contain myself”.
So, back to docking a schooner,
our ship would have her sails flapping lazily in the light airs.
Barely a ripple under her stem as she glides purposefully toward New Crane Wharf and her embraces with the land.
Officials and friends are awaiting expectantly on the quay, enjoying the spring sun and the the sight of this fine little ship working up to their wharf.
Hands to topsail braces, Her topsail shivers then backs as it is reversed to slow her way.
“Keep her in mid stream, ‘lot of putty up here” says the captain to the helmsman, “until I give the word”.
Of the crew, these men would be people who had chosen to make the hard sea life their career, better than most they would know that conditions ashore could be in many circumstances worse than life at sea. At sea they had some sort of security, with a fair commander and a portion of luck a man could make his way, even do well with private ventures (petty cargo crew would buy and trade for themselves), possibly enough to buy a share in a ship or a good ale house ashore…
Men ashore could be thrown out of work or enslaved by poverty, paid just enough for a family to survive, not enough to prosper or move and given a hard winter might starve.
For all the risks, at least at sea a man got 3 square meals a day, often of good grub and better pay.
The captain again, “hands to trim sheets and prepare halyards”, the motionless crew each at his allotted station, spring to life.
The fore man in the dinghy might call for the heaving line to be thrown (which you see happening inn the painting).
Captain, “Tops’l clew lines”. “helm to starb’d”, this to used the current and the last of the vessel’s way to turn her toward the quay, “let go gaff tops’l, let go fores’l,” thus halyards already off their rails would be instantly let run to smartly douse the sails.
As soon as the captain is sure the maneuver is well times he’d call, “Down stays’l, down main, fenders out, stand by to make fast, Mr. Mate, I’ll want those springs on smartly and keep a hand watching our lines as the tide falls”.
If unlucky maybe the main haly’d would jamb the it would be “aloft and smartly one of you lazy swabs, clear that block smartish or I’ll have your hide nailed to the masthead”.
Or maybe more gently, to one of the hands, “Mr.Toms your assurances about the main halyard block are ill founded, kindly go aloft and sort it, a proper job this time” and he might mutter just loudly enough to by heard by the helmsman , “seaman indeed, he couldn’t even tell which way up to put paint…”.
To stop an action (or rope) or countermand an order the word would be “belay that…”.
Instead of “shut up” or stop doing some thing a sailor would be more likely to say “stow that”.
A rope is never tied up or off, it is “made fast” and decks are “made secure”, “all ship shape and Bristol fashion”.
A seaman was often even in the late 19th century know as a Jack or Jack Tar or less so by your period as a shellback (an older very experienced Able Seaman, so their language, the language of the sea was some times called jackspeak and not to be confused with the language mermaids speak.
Once alongside the deck would be “a mess” “like a cats cradle”. and hands would be employed fisting and stowing canvas (sails), a harbour stow would mean tighter than normal, so you might here “lets see a good harbour stow on that canvas,
Ropes have different names depending on the job they do, eg
Morring lines, sheets and clews (for trimming sails)
Halya’ds, for hoisting / lowering sails and yards
Coiling down sometimes called flaking down (rope tails).
Rope would have been 3 strand not plaited so it is important to left flake them, so they are always coiled so they are free of kinks thus ready to run free not foul when next used, very impotant at night, in foul weather and in emergencies.
A kindly captain or more likely the mate would explain this sort of thing to new ship’s boy or landsman before the evolution or draw their attention to watch how it is done.
The novice who hoped to become an Ordinary Seaman and maybe later an Able Seaman.
Once ropes were re coiled and made good” they would be re hung on their pins “belaying pins”.
Clearing the decks and making good might take 1/2 and hour for the whole crew.
Let me know if I can help more,
Very best wishes, Gordon