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Explanation of Dockyard Terms circa 1691


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Extracts from A Commissioner's Note Book, Annis 1691-1694



Laughton, J.K., W.G. (William G.) Perrin, C. Lloyd, and N.A.M. Rodger. 1912. The Naval Miscellany Vol. II. Publications of the Navy Records Society. [London] : Printed for the Navy Records Society. http://archive.org/details/navalmiscellany02laug.


From the introduction offered in the volume:


Several years ago the late Sir Leopold McClintock was so good as to lend me, for the use of the Society, a couple of small MS. books which he had picked up in a second-hand book-shop. They had no pedigree, but their origin is clear enough. They are rather thin octavos, bound in smooth red morocco, richly gilt on sides and backs, and with gilt edges, in the style commonly adopted by the Admiralty throughout the eighteenth century, and which, in itself, would suggest that they belonged to some official connected with the Admiralty were it not that the contents show beyond any practical doubt, that they must have belonged to a commissioner of the navy, in the early nineties of the seventeenth century ; very probably to the comptroller, who at that date was Sir Richard Haddock.


The second part is my focus in this post - it “gives, from the most approved source, the explanation of a few terms which are of frequent occurrence in the lists of ships and comments on their efficiency all through the eighteenth century, but especially in the early part of it



So, if interested, here is the Explanation of Dockyard Terms (starts on page 146 of the reference).


An Explanation of the Terms of Distinction commonly used in the Navy, of Ordinary Repairs, Extra Repairs, and Rebuilding.




[Ordinary Repair is the annual caulking, tarring, rozining and paying sides and decks, masts also and yards ; palpable defects are made good. Extra Repair is more thorough ; decayed planks, &c., are renewed ; all artificers' work is seen to, and the whole carefully overhauled. Rebuilding consists of virtually pulling the ship to pieces and building into a new ship as much of the old wood as is serviceable. This is dated 16th November 1691, and described as signed by the Commissioners of the Navy. To it ' a larger explication and some other particulars from Mr. Dummer of Chatham ' is added, which here follows.]


Defects in Ships, how discovered.


Without separating the several parts that compose the whole one from another, defects are found either by searching all seams, rents, and treenails with a caulking iron, or by boring into the frame with an auger ; by observing the ship's chambering or reathing(1) ;  the pitched seams to crack or spew out its oakum, or by the looseness of rust-eaten bolts. And as the matter is discernible by any of these means, together with a knowledge how long a ship hath been built, so the estimate of charge for repair is made ; and all beyond this visibility is conjecture, and no better to be discerned than is the condition of the vessels within a consumptive man before dissection.


1 Cambering or wreathing : curving or twisting.


An Ordinary Repair is understood to be the annual trimming of the ship in harbor(2) by caulking all those parts which lie to the weather, and laying on of pitch or other mixed stuff of rozin, tallow &c., upon the same ; and once in three years at furthest, to dock them and burn off the old matter under water ; to search the seams and caulk them as occasion is and to grave them anew, which is to say to pay them all over under water with pitch or other mixed matter, with rozin &c. And in this ordinary trimming and repair we allow only of putting of small pieces, or of plank where the seams are grown too wide, or where knots or rents or a particular plank too much perished to hold oakum for tightness against the weather or other leakage.


2 i.e. of a ship in ordinary.


An Extra Repair is taken to be such a defect in a ship's outward matter to the weather, that their frames cannot be preserved nor the ship fit for any service at sea by an ordinary trimming, without stripping such decayed materials of the outside planking and wales ; also the in-board works about the bulkheads and sides of the ship that lie to the weather ; therewith putting in short chocks and pieces in such part of the timbering of the frame as in this opening and stripping do appear decayed, and to repair the same all anew ; and many times to drive out all decayed iron bolts in the frame above and under water, placing upon the decks and sides an addition of standards, or riders, or both, that never was there before, for better strengthening the frame of a ship under such repair ; and sometimes the ship is sheathed under water, as the occasion calls for it ; and these works always requiring a dock, are finished with a good caulking all over and aying the ship with mixed stuff, pitch &c. for to keep the weather from preying on the materials of the body.



Rebuilding is taken to be when neither the ordinary nor extra repair before mentioned will overcome, and so is an entire stripping down of all the out and in-board works, and removing so much of the timber of the frame, beams, standards, knees, &c., as shall be found decayed and rotten, which is many times done to the leaving only one-fourth part of what is in the old frame in the rebuilt ship ; and sometimes it is only taken to be the unmoulding of the frame and the stripping of the out and in-board work, from the top of the sides to 4 or 5 strakes under the lower wales, and to take out the tires of top timbers and upon futtocks, shifting or scarfing (3) the decayed beams and knees, and making the same good again by new material, completing all in-board works and to caulk all over and to grave.


3 When the ends of two pieces of timber are cut square and put together, they are said to ' butt ' to one another ; and when another piece is laid upon and fastened to both, this is called ' scarfing the timbers.' — Falconer's Diet, of the Marine. But here the term seems rather to mean cuttmg away the decayed part and restoring the thickness of the beam by a new piece laid on.


Girdling . . . cannot so properly be called a repair in the matter as a supply of dimensions in breadth to the form of a ship that wants it ; and as occasion requires is from 4 to 8 and 10 inches thick on each side of the ship, in the parts that lie about the water edge in the midships; and this repair in the form of ships is done to obtain more breadth for their support under a wind, when they are found tender by leaning or lying down their sides too much to their sails.

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I suspect, from only one example, that sometimes the actual keel and associated structure would be removed, new stuff graved in, leaving the upper regions alone.  It's kind of scary, but the remains of the ship seem to indicate that this may have been done.  Less than rebuilding but pretty much extra, it was possibly done to renew an old ship in time of expected extremity.

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I suspect, from only one example, that sometimes the actual keel and associated structure would be removed, new stuff graved in, leaving the upper regions alone.  It's kind of scary, but the remains of the ship seem to indicate that this may have been done.  Less than rebuilding but pretty much extra, it was possibly done to renew an old ship in time of expected extremity.


Interesting observation, Joel. 


Question - which vessel are you referring to?  I presume (always dangerous) that this is from an archeological survey?


Analysis - while possible, this would entail essentially constructing a framework to support the entire weight of the vessel while preventing the movement or deformation of the structures to allow the removal and replacement of the keel and it's associated structures.  The effort to accomplish this would be substantial and I would expect to be able to find some record of it being done.


Follow-up question - any indication in your research where this would have been done and when?


Ahh, the joys of research.  Always another trail to follow!

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Dartmouth, 38, 1655, wrecked in the Sound of Mull in 1690, remains excavated in 20th century, though the guns were salved earlier.  Could have been done in 1680 when there was a war scare and they were trying to get as much serviceable as possible.  Your surmise on the procedure needed to perform the work is probably correct.  Where?  Possibly at Chatham, that seems to have been the major dockyard that wasn't near London, where I think they liked to concentrate on new construction.

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The Dartmouth is an interesting vessel - and does represent an example of taking a "rebuild" to an extreme!


A very detailed report on the archeological survey and supporting research may be found in Martin, C.J.M. 1978. The Dartmouth, a British Frigate Wrecked off Mull, 1690 5. The Ship. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 7, no. 1 (February 1): 29–58. A downloadable version may be found here: http://orapweb.rcahms.gov.uk/wp/00/WP000741.pdf


There is included a precis concerning various repairs, which notes that  during a "Refit at Captain Castle’s Dock, Rotherhithe, 6 June 1678", among other repairs was an expense of 132 £ 15 s 0 d for "Fitting a new maine keele 88 ft 6 in x 13 in square"


There is a rather extensive listing of the additional repairs made at that time included.  Interesting, just a year later (1679) there is an expense at Portsmouth for 408 £ 17 s 9 d for the following:


2 gundeck beames on each side of the maine mast to be shifted ‘being rotten and ready to fall in hold’. Several knees of the same deck to be shifted, and new bolts to be drove in the rest. Two pairs of standards to be fitted to the lower deck. Three lower deck beames-one broken and two decayed to be replaced. Some lower deck knees to be shifted, A string to be brought on under the gun deck ports. Part of the upper deck to be shifted. Quarter deck crossbeames to be replaced. Breast hooks to be new bolted. New cathead timbers. New tillar. Part of the maine wale to be shifted. Several gundeck ports to be new. Gun wales, railes, and planck sheirs to be repaired. Joiner, carver, painter and glazier work required. To be caulked withinboard and without, and to be graved per estimate

Edited by trippwj
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