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JLisle

Happy crew under sail ?

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It seems as though from what I have been reading about the days of sailing vessels, the crews were not treated well or that there was a lot of tension between the officers and the men. It didn't seem like a job one would make a career out of and that there was a fair amount of desertion.
Were there ever crews that totally got a long well? Did the crews take any pride in their job, being on one ship as a team, so to speak, and making a fast run?

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I like "Life in Nelson's Navy" by Brian Lavery. I have no clue about how historically correct it is but what he writes makes sense. It wasn't all bad.

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“The days of sailing vessels “ is too broad a term. Also consider that at any given era in history, thousands tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands could be engaged in the same occupation, worldwide.  You shouldn’t assume that all engaged in the same endevour would all have the same emotional makeup. You need to be much more specific.

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Every ship would be different depending on the "owner" be it Navy or commercial, the Captain, and the crew.  And then one has to take into consideration life on land at the time.  Things were a bit harsher and harder back then.

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On 3/2/2019 at 11:30 PM, peveka said:

Well, you didn't want to get sent to the galleys to spend some quality time there ... however nice the owner ;o)

Cheers

Pieter

Again, depends on the time and place. No matter what Ben Hur shows, in ancient Greece and Rome, mediaeval Byzantium and elsewhere, and right up to the Renaissance (when everything changed because of shortage of crews) galleys were rowed by free men. It was a skilled activity.

 

And even galley slaves had rights. Some of them hoarded up a proportion of their food ration and sold it ashore. We know this because the captain wanted them deprived of the profits, but was told they had a perfect right to do it and get the benefits. (Information from the excellent book Age of the Galley. Took me by surprise, too.)

 

Steven

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And then there was the policy of motivating crews by the practice of distributing prize money. Capturing a fat enemy merchantman could be like winning the lottery for a lowly sailor on one of the naval raiders.

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13 hours ago, peveka said:

Steven, thanks for the insight. I didn't know that!

Cheers

Pieter

Yes, Hollywood has a lot to answer for, Pieter. I hadn't known it either till I read Age of the Galley. As Michael Caine would say "Not many people know dat".😉

 

Steven

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Yes, the days of sailing vessels is a broad term and I must say that in my original post I hadn't considered that. I was thinking mostly of a range in the 1600's to late 1800's. However, some brought up much earlier years and after some thought conditions aboard ship through the ages would be a very interesting read.
Thank you all for your thoughts.

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One has to also look at the alternatives the men had and how the conditions were on land then and there. Crews main recruited from the lower echelons of society - being an agricultural labourer could be equally bad and depriving, if you had a bad landowner. And it was even more difficult to escape, if you were a serf. Serfdom wasn't lifted around Europe until the middle of the 19th century or even later.

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And if you were lucky enough to be in Britian's Royal Navy, you had one of the first real guaranteed veterans' pension systems to look forward to. In those days, that was a huge benefit.

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With the possible exception of the American sailor during he American Revolution, seagoing pay could be very lucrative. In merchant ships the crews often were paid  by the cargo. A successful voyage made for good money all around. The same has already been said about prize money on warships. Privateers almost never had a problem signing a crew if the right captain was involved. I think the whaling industry was also done in much the same manner. The more whales the larger the payoff. There was more than one man who after a few voyages was able to buy some land of his own to farm or start up a small store or whatnot to provide a more comfortable existence for himself and his family.

 

The big exception was as I already said, the American Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress had little or no money to pay crews and throughout the war years struggled to fill ship rosters. Sometimes the ship sat at anchor for months trying to get a crew together. There were no shortages of seamen or men willing to go to sea. But the privateers paid better and also out numbered the Continental ships,especially in he last few years of the war. Some Continental sailors, and officers for that matter, were never paid the monies owed to them from serving in the Continental Navy.

 

By the same token it has been said that  the Colonial sailor was also an independent spirit and did not take kindly to rough handling by officers or captain. Even the noted short tempered and tough task master John Paul Jones admitted that he at times had to go to great lengths in dealing with Colonial sailors.He was not always successful.  

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