A GLANCE AT THE PRINCIPAL DIVISIONS, INTO WHICH A MAN-OF-WAR'S
CREW IS DIVIDED.
Having just designated the place where White-Jacket belonged, it
must needs be related how White-Jacket came to belong there.
Every one knows that in merchantmen the seamen are divided into
watches--starboard and larboard--taking their turn at the ship's
duty by night. This plan is followed in all men-of-war. But in
all men-of war, besides this division, there are others, rendered
indispensable from the great number of men, and the necessity of
precision and discipline. Not only are particular bands assigned to
the three _tops_, but in getting under weigh, or any other proceeding
requiring all hands, particular men of these bands are assigned to
each yard of the tops. Thus, when the order is given to loose the
main-royal, White-Jacket flies to obey it; and no one but him.
And not only are particular bands stationed on the three decks of
the ship at such times, but particular men of those bands are
also assigned to particular duties. Also, in tacking ship,
reefing top-sails, or "coming to," every man of a frigate's five-
hundred-strong, knows his own special place, and is infallibly
found there. He sees nothing else, attends to nothing else, and
will stay there till grim death or an epaulette orders him away.
Yet there are times when, through the negligence of the officers,
some exceptions are found to this rule. A rather serious
circumstance growing out of such a case will be related in some
Were it not for these regulations a man-of-war's crew would be
nothing but a mob, more ungovernable stripping the canvas in a
gale than Lord George Gordon's tearing down the lofty house of
But this is not all. Besides White-Jacket's office as looser of
the main-royal, when all hands were called to make sail; and
besides his special offices, in tacking ship, coming to anchor,
etc.; he permanently belonged to the Starboard Watch, one of the
two primary, grand divisions of the ship's company. And in this
watch he was a maintop-man; that is, was stationed in the main-
top, with a number of other seamen, always in readiness to
execute any orders pertaining to the main-mast, from above the
main-yard. For, including the main-yard, and below it to the
deck, the main-mast belongs to another detachment.
Now the fore, main, and mizen-top-men of each watch--Starboard
and Larboard--are at sea respectively subdivided into Quarter
Watches; which regularly relieve each other in the tops to which
they may belong; while, collectively, they relieve the whole
Larboard Watch of top-men.
Besides these topmen, who are always made up of active sailors,
there are Sheet-Anchor-men--old veterans all--whose place is on
the forecastle; the fore-yard, anchors, and all the sails on the
bowsprit being under their care.
They are an old weather-beaten set, culled from the most
experienced seamen on board. These are the fellows that sing you
"_The Bay of Biscay Oh!_" and "_Here a sheer hulk lies poor Torn
Bowling!_" "_Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer!_" who, when
ashore, at an eating-house, call for a bowl of tar and a biscuit.
These are the fellows who spin interminable yarns about Decatur,
Hull, and Bainbridge; and carry about their persons bits of "Old
Ironsides," as Catholics do the wood of the true cross. These are
the fellows that some officers never pretend to damn, however
much they may anathematize others. These are the fellows that it
does your soul good to look at;---hearty old members of the Old
Guard; grim sea grenadiers, who, in tempest time, have lost many
a tarpaulin overboard. These are the fellows whose society some
of the youngster midshipmen much affect; from whom they learn
their best seamanship; and to whom they look up as veterans; if
so be, that they have any reverence in their souls, which is not
the case with all midshipmen.
Then, there is the _After-guard_, stationed on the Quarterdeck;
who, under the Quarter-Masters and Quarter-Gunners, attend to the
main-sail and spanker, and help haul the main-brace, and other
ropes in the stern of the vessel.
The duties assigned to the After-Guard's-Men being comparatively
light and easy, and but little seamanship being expected from
them, they are composed chiefly of landsmen; the least robust,
least hardy, and least sailor-like of the crew; and being
stationed on the Quarter-deck, they are generally selected with
some eye to their personal appearance. Hence, they are mostly
slender young fellows, of a genteel figure and gentlemanly
address; not weighing much on a rope, but weighing considerably
in the estimation of all foreign ladies who may chance to visit
the ship. They lounge away the most part of their time, in
reading novels and romances; talking over their lover affairs
ashore; and comparing notes concerning the melancholy and
sentimental career which drove them--poor young gentlemen--into
the hard-hearted navy. Indeed, many of them show tokens of having
moved in very respectable society. They always maintain a tidy
exterior; and express an abhorrence of the tar-bucket, into which
they are seldom or never called to dip their digits. And pluming
themselves upon the cut of their trowsers, and the glossiness of
their tarpaulins, from the rest of the ship's company, they
acquire the name of "_sea-dandies_" and "_silk-sock-gentry_."
Then, there are the _Waisters_, always stationed on the gun-deck.
These haul aft the fore and main-sheets, besides being subject to
ignoble duties; attending to the drainage and sewerage below
hatches. These fellows are all Jimmy Duxes--sorry chaps, who
never put foot in ratlin, or venture above the bulwarks.
Inveterate "_sons of farmers_," with the hayseed yet in their
hair, they are consigned to the congenial superintendence of the
chicken-coops, pig-pens, and potato-lockers. These are generally
placed amidships, on the gun-deck of a frigate, between the fore
and main hatches; and comprise so extensive an area, that it
much resembles the market place of a small town. The melodious
sounds thence issuing, continually draw tears from the eyes of
the Waisters; reminding them of their old paternal pig-pens and
potato-patches. They are the tag-rag and bob-tail of the crew;
and he who is good for nothing else is good enough for a _Waister_.
Three decks down--spar-deck, gun-deck, and berth-deck--and we
come to a parcel of Troglodytes or "_holders_," who burrow, like
rabbits in warrens, among the water-tanks, casks, and cables.
Like Cornwall miners, wash off the soot from their skins, and
they are all pale as ghosts. Unless upon rare occasions, they
seldom come on deck to sun themselves. They may circumnavigate
the world fifty times, and they see about as much of it as Jonah
did in the whale's belly. They are a lazy, lumpish, torpid set;
and when going ashore after a long cruise, come out into the day
like terrapins from their caves, or bears in the spring, from
tree-trunks. No one ever knows the names of these fellows; after
a three years' voyage, they still remain strangers to you. In
time of tempests, when all hands are called to save ship, they
issue forth into the gale, like the mysterious old men of Paris,
during the massacre of the Three Days of September: every one
marvels who they are, and whence they come; they disappear as
mysteriously; and are seen no more, until another general commotion.
Such are the principal divisions into which a man-of-war's crew
is divided; but the inferior allotments of duties are endless,
and would require a German commentator to chronicle.
We say nothing here of Boatswain's mates, Gunner's mates,
Carpenter's mates, Sail-maker's mates, Armorer's mates, Master-
at-Arms, Ship's corporals, Cockswains, Quarter-masters, Quarter-
gunners, Captains of the Forecastle, Captains of the Fore-top,
Captains of the Main-top, Captains of the Mizen-top, Captains of
the After-Guard, Captains of the Main-Hold, Captains of the Fore-
Hold, Captains of the Head, Coopers, Painters, Tinkers,
Commodore's Steward, Captain's Steward, Ward-Room Steward,
Steerage Steward, Commodore's cook, Captain's cook, Officers'
cook, Cooks of the range, Mess-cooks, hammock-boys, messenger
boys, cot-boys, loblolly-boys and numberless others, whose
functions are fixed and peculiar.
It is from this endless subdivision of duties in a man-of-war,
that, upon first entering one, a sailor has need of a good
memory, and the more of an arithmetician he is, the better.
White-Jacket, for one, was a long time rapt in calculations,
concerning the various "numbers" allotted him by the _First
Luff_, otherwise known as the First Lieutenant. In the first
place, White-Jacket was given the _number of his mess_; then, his
_ship's number_, or the number to which he must answer when the
watch-roll is called; then, the number of his hammock; then, the
number of the gun to which he was assigned; besides a variety of
other numbers; all of which would have taken Jedediah Buxton
himself some time to arrange in battalions, previous to adding
up. All these numbers, moreover, must be well remembered, or woe
Consider, now, a sailor altogether unused to the tumult of a man-
of-war, for the first time stepping on board, and given all these
numbers to recollect. Already, before hearing them, his head is
half stunned with the unaccustomed sounds ringing in his ears;
which ears seem to him like belfries full of tocsins. On the gun-
deck, a thousand scythed chariots seem passing; he hears the
tread of armed marines; the clash of cutlasses and curses. The
Boatswain's mates whistle round him, like hawks screaming in a
gale, and the strange noises under decks are like volcanic
rumblings in a mountain. He dodges sudden sounds, as a raw
recruit falling bombs.
Well-nigh useless to him, now, all previous circumnavigations of
this terraqueous globe; of no account his arctic, antarctic, or
equinoctial experiences; his gales off Beachy Head, or his
dismastings off Hatteras. He must begin anew; he knows nothing;
Greek and Hebrew could not help him, for the language he must
learn has neither grammar nor lexicon.
Mark him, as he advances along the files of old ocean-warriors;
mark his debased attitude, his deprecating gestures, his Sawney
stare, like a Scotchman in London; his--"_cry your merry, noble
seignors!_" He is wholly nonplussed, and confounded. And when, to
crown all, the First Lieutenant, whose business it is to welcome
all new-corners, and assign them their quarters: when this
officer--none of the most bland or amiable either--gives him
number after number to recollect--246--139--478--351--the poor
fellow feels like decamping.
Study, then, your mathematics, and cultivate all your memories,
oh ye! who think of cruising in men-of-war.
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