The English man—o’—war’s man traces his descent from an institution at least nine centuries old — namely, the Anglo Saxon ‘Butsecarles’ or Buscarles and he connects through the Cinque Ports Navy directly with the Royal Navy of our own time. The ‘Butsecarles’ were a Naval fighting force which corresponded to the ‘Buscarles’ or Royal Bodyguard of landsmen, who were troops of Canute, Godwin and Harold. They were picked men and maintained to fight the King’s ships, and were usually quartered near the mouth of the Thames and along the south coast of England, In peace tine, as a rule, those of the ‘Buscarles’ who were act actively employed in warlike operations were used either as sea police or for manning the ships on the King’s private affairs. This force was kept up until the reign of HENRY Ist, when they were amalgamated with the Cinque Ports Navy from which they had up to this time been entirely separate.

From the Buscarles we learn that in the 11 the Century the ships wore each under a Batsuen or Boatswain or Husband, who commanded her crew in action and acted at all times as Master, Pilot, or Steersman, for which service be was paid 10 Marks. In the Merchant Service at the present time the person charged with the outfitting of the ship is still called the ship’s husband.

Edward The Confessor’s principal ship carried a Rector or Captain, as well as a Boatswain or Steersman, The rowers, who took orders from the Boatswain, were paid 8 Marks per man, and were provided with provisions and clothing. The latter consisted of rough woolen cloth dyed blue; we thus see that Blue, even at this date, was considered an appropriate colour for use at sea, In this respect we can go back still further, namely, to about 55 AD when we find a class of ship named the ‘Pictae,’ which rowed 20 oars a side and was coated with wax below water. In order tobe invisible at sea they were furnished with grey blue sails and manned by oarsmen dressed in a similar colour. With such ships, the Counts of the Saxon shore watched the coasts, and later, Carausius and Eliectus held British seas against all comers. This is probably one of the earliest examples of camouflage in maritime affairs which is mentioned in history.

Besides the Boatswain already mentioned, we find also a Cogswain, who apparently was the Officer in charge of a Cog, a different type of vessel manned by 39 mariners, with one Master in charge and two Constables as assistants. This vessel was popular in the reign of EDWARD Ist, at which time the term Rector was going out of use. Dealt with later will be the powers and position of the Boatswain when we meet him subsequently. In 1645, during the ‘Bong Parliament’ instructions were issued for general Courts Martial to be held for the trial of Captains and Commanders, and for ship Courts Martial on Officers of junior rank. The Boatswain and Gunner were authorized to serve on the court at a Ships Court Martial. Courts Martial probably originated from the ‘Court of Chivalry of which no trace now remains.

Up to comparatively recent times, Boatswain’s Mates and Ship’s Police were armed with small ropes ends known as Colts or Starters. A Sergeant of Marines was similarly armed, but, except in third rates, was forced to confine his attentions to his own Corps. The Boatswain used invariably to carry a cane, and in carrying out every order the laggards were assisted by these worthies. Midshipmen were not exempt, and Jack Mitford mentions a case in which an offending Midshipman was seized to a grating in his Captain’s Cabin and given a dozen with the colt by the Captain’s orders.

The Captain was subsequently Court Martialled and severely reprimanded, which, the historians states, was ‘Nuts’ to every Midshipman in the Fleet. I will not speak of the authorized punishments such as flogging round the Fleet, mastheadings, etc., but we might note that certain punishments were meted out by Mess Deck Court Martial. A Cook of the mess, if he spoilt the dinner, was tried by a jury of Cooks of Messes, the signal to form the Court being the hoisting of a swab by the mess concerned and the beating of’ a can along the messdecks

The punishment consisted of being Cobbed or Firked and carried out with either a stocking full of sand or half a bung stave of a cask, which instrument, owing to the bung hole, caused blisters on the posterior of the culprit. The punishment was prefixed by the words 'Watch There Watch' and everybody within hearing was bound to take his hat off under pain of a like penalty.

The last blow was always the hardest and was known - as the Purse, hence the expression of getting the Purse or Hoisting a swab.

The Reverend Cooper in his standard work of Flagellation says that this punishment was in use in Irish Schools in bygone days, and was known as 'School Butter'.

Cobbing or Firking was the term used for unofficial Flogging, and was similar to the Military punishment known as Sling Belting. The latter punishment was administered with the sling of the old firelock (musket). The number of lashes at an official flogging was left to the Captain, but for theft, a man might be made by Captain’s summary punishment to run the Gauntlet, in which case he was started between two lines of men by having a dozen with the Thieve’s Cat, an ordinary cat with knotted tails. He then advanced between the lines, preceded by the Master at Arms, who held a drawn sword against his chest, in order that his progress should not be too rapid, and every man hit him with a rope’s end wherever he could, He then received another dozen with the Thieve’s Cat at the turn to the starting point, afterwhich he retraced his steps or passed down the other side of the ship.

In this connection, it is interesting to observe that a similar punishment existed in the Russian Army under Peter the Great; this Monarch however limited the number of blows at one time to 2,000.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Pepys, the famous Secretary to the Navy, was given the Duke of York’s commission to be Captain of the ‘JERSEY’ so that he could be a member of a Court Martial for examining the loss ofthe ‘DEFIANCE’ and other things. Although in this instance, the worthy Secretary does not seem to have been an actual member of the Court, he was associated with another held to inquire into the dispute between the Captain of the ‘NONSUCH’ and his First Lieutenant, which he classifies as a ‘Drunken kind of silly business’. Mr. Pepys withdrew before the Court gave judgement, as it was feared that the precedent of his being made a Captain might be hereafter made of evil use.

During the late War, Sir Eric Ceddes was given the rank of Vice Admiral while he held office at the Admiralty. The above instances are the only ones that can be found of civilians being granted Naval Commissions and althoagh the precedent is there, it is doubtful if it will ever become a matter of frequent occurrence.

When attending yardarm executions it was the bow oars of the attending boat who furnished the party on the whip. The bowman of the launches, besides being the most easily spared of the crew — the boat generally being manner and armed with a carronade — were usually the biggest scoundrels in the ship, and the fact that they had actively to assist in the execution, was done as a warning in case they thought of following in the criminal’s footsteps.

It is from this that we get the expression which is still current — ‘As honest as a bow oar,’ or in other words, a ‘thorough paced rogue’.

In the old days, the First Lieutenant, who was the Executive Officer of the ship, had no power to punish unless the Captain was absent ‘with leave from the Admiral’. If one looks at Queen’s Regulations, one will find that the Executive Officer may not cause a boy to be caned unless the Captain is absent by permission of a superior authority for a period exceeding 48 hours.The present code is certainly founded on the former.

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The Articles of War and the Laws of Oleron

 



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