Key inquiry questions
• What is maritime discipline and why was it important?
• How was disobedience punished?
During Cook's time, discipline in the Royal Navy was a matter of training and obedience. Co-operation and competence were required to ensure the ship was in working order for long periods of time and all sailors recognised that disobedience was dangerous. From commander to cabin boy, each man was expected to carry out his role for the good of all. The Admiralty provided 36 Articles of War which detailed crimes and punishments recognised+ by the Navy, mostly for offences by the officers. There was also a large manual, the 'King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions', which outlined rules for every conceivable event from the time a man entered the Navy to his retirement or death. Punishment was expected by the ordinary seamen and had to be seen to be done. It was carried out in full view of the ship's complement, drama adding to the deterrent quality of the event.
Articles of War
The legal basis for naval discipline was the 36 Articles of War of 1757. These were required to be read out by the captain to the formally mustered crew at least once a month, as part of the 'sermon' at the Sunday service and before punishments. These were the 'laws' they lived by. They defined the major punishments for crimes at sea. Death was mandatory for eight crimes and optional for eleven more. The Crimes can be summarized as; offences against religion and God, the King and government, the duties which men owe to their fellow subjects and withdrawing or keeping back from fight. The last article gave the captain of a ship almost unlimited power. 'All other crimes not capital committed by any person or persons of the fleet shall be punished by the laws and customs in such cases used at sea'. Brutality occurred but most captains realised that hanging and flogging could deprive a ship of much needed labour.
Why was it important for the sailors to obey orders and be disciplined?
How do we view discipline today?
A clean and orderly ship was essential for the safety of ship and crew. Most crimes were committed by men not fulfilling their duties or putting the crew or ship in danger. Crimes included falling asleep on duty, disobedience and insolence and unclean practices such as toileting in places other than the toilet. These crimes were often the direct result of drunkenness and boredom.
The whip or scourge was known as the cat-o-'nine tails. A thick piece of rope was used as the handle and spliced with nine knotted strands. It was hung in a red baize bag in the mess area as a constant reminder to the sailors. Flogging was the most common type of punishment inflicted at the captain's discretion. Carried out at the gangway, the crime was read out in front of the ship's company. The officers watched from the quarter deck and the marines stood between the prisoner and the crew. The convicted sailor had his shirt removed and his hands were tied to the rigging or grating. Usually a dozen lashes for any one crime was given by the boatswain or his mate with enough force to break the skin. The blood and flesh were cleaned from the 'cat's tail' by the mate running his fingers through them after each stroke. The surgeon's role was to assess the sailor's condition until the flogging was complete and the man was cut down.
Running the Gauntlet
This was an alternative punishment for thieves until 1806. Stealing from a fellow sailor was stealing from your 'brother-at-arms' and stealing from the 'ship's stores' threatened the survival of the whole ship. After sentencing, the ship's crew mustered in two rows facing each other. The man sentenced was stripped to the waist and given 12 lashes, often with a 'thieves' cat', a thicker version of the cat 'o nine tails with more than one knot per cord. He was then placed between an officer who walked backwards carrying a short sword called a cutlass levelled at his chest and the ship's corporal who prodded him from behind as he walked between the rows. His shipmates were furnished with small twisted cords called 'knittles' or 'nettles' and lashed him as he passed. A sharp eye was kept on the crew, any man not striking and not striking hard, risked the same punishment. Sometimes the punishment ended with another 12 lashes to reinforce the deterrent nature of the spectacle.
Confinement in irons
One leg or two were locked into 'manacles' or 'iron garters' which slid along iron bolts called 'bilboes'. The man would be restrained below decks and guarded by a marine with a bayonet until the time of his court martial or punishment.
These were required before any penalty of death, imprisonment, floggings of more than 3 dozen lashes or a reduction in rank of senior officers. Convicted offices suffered death by shooting until the 1790s. For other crew, the death penalty was by hanging, usually from the cathead or yardarm. Executions were not common while at sea.
The Surgeon's role
The surgeon assessed the physical state of a prisoner during floggings. If he considered the man could not take anymore, the sailor was treated with smelling salts. Raw welts on his back were rubbed with brine (saltwater) or a salve of mercuric oxide, now known to be poisonous. If the man recovered, the remaining sentence was carried out.
View the photo gallery to learn more about the tools used for punishing seamen onboard the Endeavour.
Examples of crimes on HMB Endeavour based on information in Cook's journal:
|16/09/1768||Henry Stephens, able seaman and Thomas Dunster, marine||'for refusing to take their allowance of fresh beef'||12 lashes each|
|30/11/1768||Robert Anderson, gunner||'leaving his duty ashore and attempting to desert from the ship'||12 lashes|
|30/11/1768||William Judge, marine private||'using abusive language to the Officer of the Watch'||12 lashes|
|30/11/1768||John Readon, boatswain’s mate||'not doing his duty in punishing the above two men'||12 lashes|
|19/11/1768||John Thurman, able seaman||'refusing to assist the sailmaker in repairing the sails'||12 lashes|
|16/04/1769||Richard Hutchins, boatswain’s mate||'for disobeying command'||12 lashes|
|12/06/1769||John Thurman, able seaman and James Nicholson, able seaman||'had taken by force from them several bows and arrows and plaited hair'||24 lashes each|
|30/11/1769||Henry Stephens, able seaman and Manoel Pereira, able seaman||'leaving their duty when ashore last night and digging up potatoes'||12 lashes each|
|30/11/1769||Matthew Cox, able seaman||'leaving their duty when ashore last night and digging up potatoes' and 'he insisted that there was no harm'||12 lashes and confinement|
How do we view punishment in the modern world?
Main image: Cat-o-nine tails, United Kingdom, 1700-1850. Wellcome Collection, L0057128