Key inquiry questions
• What were the jobs on board ship?
• What did sailors do at rest?
'All hands on deck' is a nautical phrase meaning all available people need to come and help. When sailing the term would be used in an emergency such as a storm. Thankfully crews weren't required to work all day. Work on board was divided using a roster system called a 'watch'. Different divisions would be required to do something different during each watch and each watch would take its turn with the essential activities of manning the helm, navigating, trimming sails and keeping a lookout. On the Endeavour Cook operated the watch system to ensure the men would be well rested and physically able to cope with the strain of life aboard ship on the long voyage.
The Ship's Bell
The ship's bell was used to mark the passage of time on board ship, as a fog signal or audible alarm in poor weather to raise the attention of the crew. The officer of the watch would strike the bells every half-hour. The day of 12 hours is divided into three; noon to four o'clock, four o'clock to eight o'clock eight o'clock to midnight. This continued through the next 12 hours. A ship's bell is usually made of bronze and often has the ship's name engraved or cast on it. The ship's cook traditionally had the job of shining the ship's bell.
Keeping it clean
To maintain health on board, it was important to keep the ship clean. The decks were scrubbed with salt every day and the lower parts of the ship were regularly aired. Sailors had to wash themselves, their hammocks and clothes and ensure their quarters were 'shipshape', with their belongings arranged neatly and tied down securely in case of turbulent seas.
Seaman scrubbed the decks with the 'holy-stone'. This was a piece of sandstone used to rub or scour the wooden decks every morning soon after daylight. Because sailors had to kneel to use it, they thought it looked like they were kneeling to pray. Larger holy-stones were called 'bibles' and the smaller ones 'prayer books'.
Sailing the Ship
The essential activities for sailing included navigation, steering the ship or 'manning the helm', trimming the sails and keeping lookout.
• Trimming the sails or adjusting the sails as the wind changed. The seamen had to climb up and down the rigging in all weather, including the dark.
• Raising or lowering the anchor using a hand-operated windlass whenever the ship stopped or moved on.
• Ropes and knots were vital in running the ship and seaman had to be experts at tying knots. The bowline, Carrick bend, clove hitch, fisherman's knot and the reef knot were some of the many knots that were used on board.
• In periods of calm, men would tow the ship by rowing the longboat. This was known as warping and was also used in dangerous conditions by rowing the anchor out some distance from the ship and dropping it. The ship then pulled itself up to the boat and anchor by using the windlass on deck. Both methods were very hard work for the crew.
Maintenance and repair
General repairs were needed to overcome the constant wear caused by the wind and the sea.
• Any gaps which appeared in the planking on the decks needed re-caulking or sealing with flax soaked in tar and pitch to ensure the ship was watertight.
• Ropes and rigging needed constant attention because they kept the masts up in place and controlled the sails.
• Sails also had to be sewn and repaired.
What skills and characteristics did sailors need on the Endeavour?
How similar or different are the roles and duties between sailors in the 18C and today?
If the wind wasn't blowing, the ship was 'becalmed' which meant the sailors had long periods of time with little work to do. Activities during quiet times included:
• sewing 'ditty bags' from spare pieces of canvas for their belongings
• carving scrimshaw, done on the bones or teeth of whales and walruses
• singing 'ditties'
• Journaling and sketching.
What are the differences and similarities between the activities we do and those undertaken by the sailors?
What activities do you like doing in your spare time?
Main image: HMB Endeavour at sea.