Organisation of the crew: Warrant Officers
Warrant officers were men with specialist skills responsible for the maintenance and management of the ship. Whereas the officers of the wardroom, who had become lieutenants, with a commission granted by the Admiralty, the warrant officer received his commission independently from the Navy Board.
Warrant officers had to be able to read and write, as they were required to manage the ship's stores and keep an accurate account of them. They were subdivided into four categories;
1. The first of which contained men enjoying the privileges of the wardroom and consisted of the master, surgeon, purser, chaplain and schoolmaster.
2. The second category comprised the standing officers, being the boatswain, gunner and carpenter.
3. The third section consisted of petty officers - the master-at-arms, sailmaker, armourer and carpenter's mate.
4. Finally, belonging more properly to the lower deck, were the cook caulker, ropemaker and sailmaker's mate.
The master was the most senior warrant officer, and was responsible to the captain for everything concerning navigation, steering and the general manner of the sailing the ship. Thus, the master had charge of all navigational instruments, including charts, compasses, nautical tables and astronomical instruments. His additional duties required him to look after the condition of the rigging, sails, anchors and cables. it was his responsibility moreover to ensure that the ship sat evenly in the water, which meant that he had to supervise the stowage of provisions. Stores improperly loaded would adversely affect the ability of the ship to sail at its most efficient and could even imperil those aboard by causing the ship to heel. The master also maintained the security of the ship and had charge of the spirits aboard it, as well as the ship's logbook, or journal. It was this vital document that was produced at a court martial in the event the ship grounded, foundered or was otherwise lost. Masters often entered the Navy from the merchant marine, though others joined first as midshipmen or lieutenants, or had attained their rank by advancing up from quartermaster or as a mate from the lower deck.
The Surgeon was not trained by the Navy, but would have learned his profession as a civilian and then entered naval service after passing an exam at Surgeon's Hall in London or by a Physician of the Fleet if he applied for work while aboard. The Navy Board having granted him a warrant, he then served an apprenticeship as a surgeon's mate before receiving promotion to surgeon.
Over 700 surgeons served in the Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As to be expected, the surgeon was responsible for the health of the officers and crew, from administering the very crude forms of medicine of the time to those laid up ill, to coping with injuries from accidents, to performing operations, particularly in the wake of battle. He was also responsible for the management of the ship's sick berth, which stood on the orlop deck.
It was generally maintained that:
A naval surgeon of abilities and circumspection is generally the most independent officer in the ship, as his line of duty is unconnected with the others. He has the entire charge and management of the sick and hurt seamen on board his ship; is to perform surgical operations on the wounded as he may deem necessary to the safety of their lives; and to see that the medicines and necessaries with which he is supplied from the said board, or their agents, are in good in kind, and administered faithfully to the sick patients under his care.
Much has been said about surgeons being quacks or drunkards; clearly a few were incompetent or inebriated on duty, but most surgeons were well-intentioned and conscientious men with a good understanding of contemporary medical science (such as it was), who did their best under difficult circumstances.
Indeed, the difficulty of those circumstances is difficult to exaggerate. Surgeons had to cope with every conceivable malady and injury on a daily basis, including seasickness, abscesses, boils and toothache, to physical injuries - a common problem aboard ship with stenuous work so much a part of the regular routine - such as fractures caused by falls or concussion resulting from banging one's head on low deck beams or being struck by a falling object.
The purser served in a civilian capacity in charge of managing the provisions aboard ship. As such, he procured all the food, spirits, wine, clothing, tobacco, bedding and other provisions needed for the entire ship's company. He actually ran a business of sorts, for while the Navy provided these various commodities, the purser was required to purchase some of these items with his own means and sell them on to the crew either for a profit in the case of clothing, or slightly underweight, in the case of food, profiting from the difference. Thus, for every pound of food supplied to the ship, the purser issued 14 ounces. When he sold clothing or tobacco he took a commission of 5% and 10%, respectively. He also managed the distribution of coal and wood for the galley fire, the heating stoves of the officers' cabins and the lower decks, as well as lanterns, candles, wooden cutlery and other items.
The chaplain held the same rank as the master and surgeon, though obviously his position was not so essential to the daily routine of the ship. As a result, very few could be found aboard ships lower than third rates. Chaplains during this period were in all cases Anglicans, with responsibility for conducting religious services every Sunday for the entire ship's company, irrespective of denominations actually represented. They were always in attendance at funeral services, which in almost all cases concluded with burial at sea, and held services of thanksgiving after battle. Chaplains were often learned men with training in theology, classical languages and modern languages - these last skills being useful in interpreting captured or intercepted dispatches and in communication with foreign ships and ports.
The schoolmaster, normally only found on a ship of the line, was principally concerned with the education of midshipmen in mathematics, theoretical navigation and trigonometry in order to prepare them for commissioning. Candidates for schoolmaster underwent an examination to ensure their fitness for the post. They might also teach reading and writing to younger members of the crew.
The boatswain held many responsibilities and was answerable to the ship's master for all matter connected with the rigging, sails, cordage, blocks, anchors, cables and ship's boats. The boatswain was greatly experienced in all aspects seamanship, and held the rank of a standing officer, which meant that he remained aboard the ship even when it was laid up and out of service. This ensured that when the ship transition, for his intimate knowledge of the ship was invaluable to the captain. The boatswain not only inspected the rigging every day, but saw that his mates (all petty officers) roused the men to take up their watch on deck or aloft. Regulations required that he be:
Very frequently upon deck in the day, and at all times both day and night, when any duty shall require all hands being employed. He is, with his mates, to see that the men go quickly on deck when called, and that, when there, they perform their duty with alacrity and without noise and confusion.
Responsible for the sails and a large amount of stores and equipment, the boatswain was required to provide monthly accounts to the captain indicating the articles purchased or used during that period. To prevent fraud, the ship's provisions were gathered and inspected by boatswains from other ships, and the boatswain would in turn perform the same service aboard other vessels. Prominent among his responsibilities was ensuring that the sails were kept in good condition and properly aired and dried. The boatswain saw to it that all the stores were removed and stowed ashore during re-fitting or when the ship was laid on its side and cleaned, a process known as 'careening'. Once the ship was ready for sea the boatswain ensured that all the stores were returned aboard. While the ship sat at anchor, the boatswain saw that the sides were washed and kept free of lines or ropes.
The gunner was responsible for the ship's ordnance, which meant more than merely the guns themselves, but also the magazines, gunpowder, shot, cartridges, gunlocks and other equipment such as small arms and edged weapons. The gunner remained with the ship when it was decommissioned, ensuring that it was ready for service at short notice. Together with the Inspector of Ordnance, who was dispatched by the Board of Ordnance, the gunner inspected all the guns and carriages supplied to the ship. He also checked to see that all magazines were dry and ready for the arrival of the powder to be stored there. In addition to examining all the stores and equipment connected with gunnery, the gunner had charge over his mates, the quarter gunners, yeomen of the powder room and gun captains, and saw to the training of the gun crews.
As with the boatswain, the gunner was responsibile for a large amount of stores and equipment, and thus had to provide accounts to the captain on a monthly basis showing the articles expended. In addition, he would account for the amount of powder, shot and small arms ammunition expended during practice firing. Again, like the boatswain the gunner's stores were inspected by gunners from other ships to protect against fraud, and in turn he himself would be called upon to do the same aboard other ships. When the ship sat in dock for refitting or to be heeled over and its hull cleaned to remove barnacles and other sea creatures, the gunner saw that all the guns and associated stores were transferred to facilities in the dockyard. When the ship was ready again for sea, the equipment and guns were then re-embarked.
The carpenter had to serve a seven-year apprenticeship on shore before taking up his position aboard ship, which meant that he would have begun his trade as a civilian. He might then have spent another seven years in teh capacity of a carpenter or shipwright before joining the Navy. Many such men had worked in the Royal dockyards or in private facilities or been seized from merchant ships. The carpenter was responsible for a large quantity of supplies and equipment and therefore was accountable to the captain every month with lists showing the items expended in the course of his duty. He used specialist equipment, an array of other items such as nails, bolts, copper and lead sheeting, glue, glass, paint, pitch and tar. The nature of his trade also required that he managed a supply of timber to enable him to repair the hull, as well as spare spars which lay in a crudely cut state to be prepared to the required specifications, whether for yards or topmasts, as circumstances demanded. The carpenter paid particular attention to masts that split as a result of heavy seas or high winds. In these cases, he attached a type of splint to reinforce them. As with the boatswain and gunner, the carpenter's stores were periodically checked to ensure that he was not engaged in fraudulent activity. As the carpenter worked only during the day, he did not keep watches like most of the rest of the ship's company, and hence came under the category of 'idler'.
The carpenter was responsible, in addition to the aforementioned tasks, for determining if the hold contained any water that had leaked in, and if so to see that it was pumped overboard. He ensured that all the ship's pumps were in proper working order - a vital service, for without them the ship potentially stood in mortal danger. Water trapped in the bilge also had to be extracted, for it could have a deleterious effect on the health of the crew. The carpenter and the carpenter's crew played an important role in action, when they stood in the depths of the ship, below the waterline, ready to plug shot holes with oakum, nails, sheet lead and wooden plugs. When the ship was moored for refitting or careening, the carpenter would see that the hull was properly shored up by stout timbers, and that any newly fitted masts were firmly fixed at each deck level.
The armourer worked with the gunner, looking after the small arms, both firearms and edged weapons, including muskets, pistols, cutlasses, pikes and tomahawks (sometimes called 'boarding axes'). In this respect he possessed skills as a blacksmith and understood and could repair the mechanisms and component parts of firearms. His task extended beyond weaponry to a limited extent, for he repaired anything aboard ship made of iron and could produce replacement articles such as nails, bolts and hinges. Often a civilian locksmith or blacksmith before entering naval service, the armourer repaired locks and any other device that required skills in metalwork.
A ship's cook need not have any specialised skill in cooking, though he occasionally had civilian experience of working in a tavern. Occasionally the cook was a disabled sailor whose impairment fitted him for no other position aboard ship. The most junior of the warrant officers, the cook nevertheless held this position above the ordinary seamen as he had the important responsibility of maintaining the safety of the galley stove fire - the only major fire hazard aboard ship. In addition to preparing the ship's company's meals, the cook had to present clean utensils and pots for inspection every afternoon.
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