18th Century Sailing Ships

During the 18th Century sailing ships of the East Indian companies carried the world’s richest cargoes. Called East Indiamen these armed merchantmen carried bullion of silver and gold on their outward journies to buy the fabled goods of the east such as tea, spices, furniture, Chinese porcelain and jade, and jewellery. These cargoes were worth millions even in those days and had to be defended against pirates so they were heavily armed with up to 50 guns.

Sailing Ships of the 18th Century had a quarter gallery which was outside the stern cabins on the quarterdeck at the stern and had ornate glass windows. Above them the roundhouse cabins also hung out over the stern and had lovely glass windows. Under the poop deck at the stern was the Captain’s cabin where the captain slept, organised his charts and dined with his officers. On the poop deck poultry and livestock such as a goat would be kept. Sheep may have been kept also in the boats lashed over the spare spars over the top deck. Cattle may have been penned in the lower deck area. These animals would have been kept to supplement the hard tack and salted beef and possibly slaughtered on a special occasion or when starvation was at hand. Sailors would sleep in hammocks and on warships were allowed 14 inches per man, not so squeezy!

The officers would dine in the gunroom below the captains cabin. The carpenter had a space in the lower hold and would be called upon to repair damages or make objects that were needed. In Moby Dick by Melville the carpenter is called upon to make a coffin for the Maori harpooner Queequee. Sometimes the ship may have had a blacksmith and possibly a forge to make metal implements and running repairs to equipment. As to how they dealt with fire and kept it safe I have no idea. The magazine for storing the gunpowder was situated below the waterline and kept safe from sparks and flame with felt door flaps soaked in water and strictly controlled access to powder monkeys. To go to the toilet , sailor’s used the heads which were situated in the bowsprit. In the hold at the very bottom of the ship was the ballast which helped to keep the ship upright and the stores, barrels of water, and cargo.

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