Lord Charles Beresford – 1861 – Manning the Ships


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Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919) was a British Admiral and Member of Parliament, he was a hero in battle and a champion of the Navy in Parliament.  This is the seventh installment in our series of his memoirs – taken from ‘The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford’ written by himself and published in 1914.

Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

Memoirs of Lord Charles Beresford – 1861 – The Marlborough     

HMS Marlborough

Manning the Ships

Ships in those days were manned according to the number of guns they carried. The theory was that if the boats’ crews were absent from the ship, there should always be sufficient men on board to work the sails and the guns. The watch-bills were made out upon this principle, the men being distributed among what were called the “parts of the ship.”

In the case of a newly commissioned ship, the making out of the watch-bills and assigning his place to each man, was the first thing to be done. It was no small task, especially as no printed forms were supplied for the purpose. The watch-bills were ruled and entered by the officers on paper supplied by themselves, and were arranged upon the tradition handed down for centuries. Even the signalmen supplied their own pencils and paper. Each ship made its own arrangement. It was not until [1860] that uniform watch-bills, quarter-bills and station-bills were instituted.

The men were classed in the following categories, each “part of the ship” being divided into port watch and starboard watch.

The Forecastlemen
The Foretopmen
The Maintopmen
The Mizentopmen
The Gunners
The Afterguard
The Royal Marines
The Idlers

The Forecastlemen were most experienced seamen. They wore their caps a little differently from the others. They manned the foreyard, and worked the foresail, staysail, jib, flying jib, jibboom, flying jibboom and lower studdingsails.

The Foretopmen worked the foretopsail, foretopgallant and foreroyal yards, foretopgallantmast, foretopmast and topgallant studding-sails.

The Maintopmen worked the maintopsail, maintopgallant and main-royal yards and maintopgallantmast, maintopmast and topgallant studding-sails.

The Mizentopmen worked the mizentopsail, mizentopgallant and mizen-royal yards, and mizentopgallantmast, mizentopmast and mizencourse (if there was one), also the driver.

The upper-yard men were the smartest in the ship, whose character largely depended upon them.

The Gunners, assisted by the Afterguard, worked the mainsail and mainyard. These were generally old and steady men, who were not very quick aloft. The gunners were also responsible for the care and maintenance of the gun gear, side tackles, train tackles and the ammunition. The senior warrant officer was the gunner.

There were only three warrant officers:- gunner, boatswain and carpenter.

The Royal Marines were divided between fore and aft, working on forecastle and quarterdeck. I remember seeing a detachment of Marines, upon coming aboard, fallen in while the blacksmith, lifting up each man’s foot behind him, wrenched off and dropped into a bucket the metal on the heel of his boot, lest it should mark the deck.

The Afterguard worked on the quarterdeck and helped with the mainyard. They were the less efficient men and were therefore employed under the eye of the commander.

The Idlers were not idlers. They were so called because (theoretically) they had their nights in, although actually they turned out at four o’clock a.m. They were artificers, such as carpenters, caulkers, plumbers, blacksmiths, etc. They worked all day at their several trades until their suppertime. They were nearly all old petty officers, steady and respectable. It was part of their duty to man the pumps every morning for washing decks. I made up my mind that, if ever I was in a position to do so, I would relieve them of an irksome and an inappropriate duty.

In action, the carpenters worked below decks, stopping holes with shot-plugs, while many of the other Idlers worked in the magazines. Among the Idlers was the ship’s musician; unless the ship carried a band; who was a fiddler. He used to play to the men on the forecastle after working hours and when they manned the capstan. Personally I always considered the name of Idlers to be anomalous. They are now called Daymen.

Excerpt from The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford written by himself and published in 1914.


Further Reading and External Links

Lord Charles Beresford on Wikipedia

Lord Charles Beresford on The Dreadnought Project