Monday, January 22, 2018

Hammocks, Bedding, and Where they Slept

Detail from The Sailor's Farewell, Charles Mosley,
date unknown, National Maritime Museum.
Hammocks were the most common instrument for a sailor to catch his rest, but they weren't the only ones. Sometimes unusual sleeping arrangements were forced on sailors. Such was the case for Samuel Kelly, whose first voyage in 1778 was a miserable affair:
The night before the ship sailed I slept on board, but as there was not sufficient room in the place allotted for the men to sling a hammock for each, I had to spread my mattress on a chest. Soon afterwards a drunken boatswain's mate took possession of my bed and left me to shift for myself.[1]
Twice more in Kelly's memoirs he relates having to sleep on chests, and always as a last resort. William Spavens also had to result to using his chest as a bed:
I lay asleep on my chest under the half-deck with Jerry on the deck by me.[2]
The use of chests as beds appears to have been ad hoc and never a first choice. A more reasonable alternative to hammocks might have been the folding bed. When Mary Lacy disguised herself as a man and took up the role of carpenter's apprentice on the Sandwich, her master possessed 'a bed that turned up.'[3]
Detail from A sailor bringing up his hammock, Pallas,
Gabriel Bray, 1774, National Maritime Museum
Hammocks were, however, the most common form of bed for sailors. They could take some getting used to. Lacy remembered:
When I attempted to get into bed at night, I got in at one side and fell out on the other; which made all the seamen laugh at me.[4]
Sailors also differentiated between hammocks and bedding. Hammocks were the canvas slings that cradled the bedding, which consisted of mattress, sheets, blankets, and pillow. On Royal Navy vessels, sailors could buy bedding for which they paid through deductions in pay. There was even a column for this deduction printed into muster books.
Muster book of the Seahorse, 1755, ADM 36/6610
Bedding could be separated from the hammock for washing, and perhaps to accompany the sailor as he moved from one ship to another. John Nicol mentions putting his 'bedding and chest on board a vessel bound for Leith.'[5] Spavens also carried 'my chest and bedding down between decks.'[6]

Further evidence that bedding was the possession of the common sailor, and the hammock belonged to the ship, might be gleaned from how sailors treated their bedding. When Ebenezer Fox's ship was captured during the American Revolution, the defeated American were ordered into the British boats:
Our crew were ordered to pass down the side of the ship into the enemy’s boats ; but were forbidden to carry anything with them. Some of our crew fastened their bedding upon their backs, and tumbled themselves head foremost down into the boats ; and, as it was quite dark, they would unperceived get into the cuddy with their bedding, trusting to future circumstances for opportunity to use or secrete it.[7]
Samuel Kelly had less luck in saving his gear:
I had heard from several seamen that it was useless when captured to endeavour to save many clothes, as they were generally taken away on going on board the enemy. I therefore only filled a pillow-case and abandoned the rest, with all my bedding.[8]
In 1755, when thirty three seamen and officers of the Royal Navy were ordered by Commodore Keppel to accompany General Braddock on the expedition against Fort Duquesne, they were ordered 'to take with them their Hammacoes only, their Beds being too large & cumbersome.'[9] Even this proved too much, as the hammocks were abandoned after about fifty miles of marching when they were found to be 'difficult in loading' onto the wagons.[10]

Generally speaking, sailors slept on the tween decks. It could get quite crowded, and sometimes sailors had to get creative about where to sling their hammocks. The sailing master on Samuel Kelly's first voyage noted the poor young sailor's pitiful condition without a place to sleep, and:
ordered a hammock to be prepared and slung across, under the clews of the seamen's hammocks, and though this was athirt-ships, and not very comfortable, I had here some peace in the night.[11]

Disposition of his Majestys Ship the Bedfords Lower Deck, artist unknown,
circa 1775,* National Maritime Museum.
During the day, hammocks would be brought up and stowed on the bulwarks. Fox remembered:
The bedding and hammocks of the sailors were brought up from between decks ; the bedding placed in the hammocks, and lashed up in the nettings.[12]
Sailors had to be quick in getting their hammocks stowed, or the consequences could be unpleasant. When John Newton was disrated and turned before the mast, he learned this lesson the hard way:
On that memorable morning I was late in bed, and had slept longer, but that one of the mishipmen (an old companion) came down, and between jest and earnest, bid me rise; and as I did not immediately comply, he cut down the hammock, or bed, in which I lay: which formed me to dress myself.[13]
An exception to these generalities can be found on slave ships. Once guineamen arrived on the African coast, their carpenters were put to work converting them into floating prisons. This included the barricado that separated the main deck from the quarter deck and the wheel.[14] Crews would not sleep below decks. This space was reserved for the enslaved who were forced below. Conditions for the enslaved, it is probably needless to say, was far worse than it was for the common sailor on a merchantman or man of war.
Detail from Coupe interne de La Marie Séraphique, artist unknown, c.1772-1773,
Les abolitions de l'esclavage.
Sailors were moved behind the barricado for the duration of the Middle Passage. As you can see in the cutaway image of the French slaver Marie Séraphique, beds were arranged on either side of the after cabin, behind the barricado, which extends slightly past the bulwarks on the port and starboard side. This elevated the common sailors from their place as subordinates at the bottom of a social hierarchy on the tween decks, to a position of power by the captain's cabin and helm. Sailors were now, by the geography of the ship, placed on a level with their captain.

[1] Kelly, Samuel, Samuel Kelly: An Eighteenth Century Seaman, Whose Days Have Been Few and Evil, edited by Crosbie Garstin, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1925, page 19.
[2] Spavens, William, Memoirs of a Seafaring Life: The Narrative of William Spavens, edited by N.A.M. Rodger, County Somerset: The Bath Press, 2000, page 76.
[3] Slade (Lacy), Mary, The History of the Female Shipwright, London: M. Lewis, 1773. in The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot, Tucson, Arizona: Fireship Press, 2008, pages 66-67
[4] Lacy, Female Shipwright, page 67.
[5] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 55.
[6] Spavens, Memoirs, page 67.
[7] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, page 89.
[8] Kelly, Eighteenth Century Seaman, page 47.
[9] Letter from Commodore Augustus Keppel to Captain Samuel Barrington of the Norwich dated March 13, 1755, on board the Centurion in Hampton Roads, Virginia, from 'IV. The Norwich: Letters,' in The Barrington Papers, Vol. 77, ed. D Bonner-Smith, London: Navy Record Society, 1937, pages 115-165, via British History Online, accessed January 5, 2018
[10] Gill, Midshipman Thomas, 'A Journal of the proceddings of the Seamen,' in Sargent, Winthrop, The History of an Expedition Against Fort Du Quesne, in 1755, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1856, page 370.
[11] Kelly, Eighteenth Century Seaman,, page 20.
[12] Fox, Adventures, page 62.
[13] Newton, John, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Late Rector of the United Parishes of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw, London, Volume 1, New Haven: Nathan Whiting, 1824, page 26.
[14] For more on the construction of slave ships and the disposition of their crews, I strongly recommend Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History.
*According to the catalog entry for the Disposition of His Majestys Ship the Bedfords Lower Deck, the image above is circa 1790. This is in contrast to the (probably twentieth century) mark on the upper left corner that reads 'c. 1760.' The ship was launched in 1775, so I've decided to give this image that approximate date, but I'm certainly open to that date moving forward in history with new evidence or convincing arguments.

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