In particular, I was curious about how and where regular sailors slept. I’ve seen hammocks in movies, but wanted to know more.
Unlike flat garden hammocks, the sides of a canvas naval hammock wrapped around the sleeper like a cocoon, making an inadvertent fall virtually impossible.
Prior to the adoption of naval hammocks in the mid 1500s, sailors would often during heavy seas be injured or even killed as they fell off their berths or rolled on the decks.
Sail makers issued each sailor a hammock. A Royal Navy hammock was 72” x 36” of No. 12 cotton, with 16 hitched eyelets (grommets) at either end, and with two cord-covered brass rings that hook onto clews hooks fastened into the ship’s beams.
It was a favorite prank for mates to loosen or cut the hammock riggings sending the poor victim crashing to the floor in the middle of the night.
I learned something interesting about their provisions too. Apprentice seamen were issued the following: one pea-jacket, cloth cap, pair of cloth trousers, flannel over and under shirts, pair of drawers, shoes, neck-tie, socks, white duck pants and frock, comb, knife, pot, pan, and spoon, one bar soap, clothes-bag, and a badge.
They would register their provisions and hammock with the master-at-arms who assigned them a time and place for meals (mess) and a place for their hammock, usually on the cannon deck. He would also assign newly enlisted sailors a number, which they kept as long as they were an apprentice.
|A sick bay hammock for an officer in the movie |
Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World
According to tradition, when a sailor died, his mates would sew him up in his hammock, making the last stitch through the nose to make sure he was dead. Holystones, which were used to scour the deck, or cannon balls were tied around the deceased’s ankles for ballast, and then his body was laid on the top of an 8-man mess table, and given up to the sea.
Susan F. Craft is the author of The Chamomile, an inspirational Revolutionary War romantic suspense set in South Carolina.