Chapter 4 Notes

Bosun’s pipe

Among the most important roles a Bosun played, was controlling the deck of the ship. He ordered the crew on it to perform all the duties which the deck supported: basically everything except sleeping and eating. He played a different set of blasts and tones on a pipe to indicate the next order or manoeuvre to be carried out.

A  pipe from the period:


Never heard one myself, but they are described as shrill and piercing sounds, able to penetrate the wind and wake, and the din of battle.

Midshipman Mapleton is mentioned in Thomas’ autobiography.

Frederick Marryat:

Here’s his Wiki entry. He was one of the midshipmen on board Thomas’s Impérieuse at the Battle of Aix Roads. He commanded the second exploding ship as I related in Chapter 44. His version of the battle is here.

Bit-by-Bit I shout

Replying to this question with the name of a boat instead of one’s own indicates the Captain of that vessel is aboard its tender.

The Heads: When Josh tells Ses that, “You’ll have to bunk with the other midshipmen, use the same heads as the men.” he is referring to the toilets. On a man of war, the toilets were located on either side of the bow of the ship (its head in a manner of speaking).

Given that the crew were all men, many of them would have simply urinated off the leeward side of the boat or, perhaps if new to the sea, off the windward side on the first time, but never again. This could be the origin of the expression, “Pissing in the wind,” to mean a foolhardy or useless action. But to perform a bowel movement, he would walk to the bow and climb over the rail to squat on a small seat with a hole in it, so that his droppings would fall cleanly overboard without hitting the ship. The seat was thus in clear view of anyone standing on the bowsprit or bows.

The Russian Campaign. Given the wealth of material covering this campaign, I’ll list here only two of my favourite resources: The Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne, and Through Fire and Ice with Napoleon in 1812, by Eugéne Labaume. It was Captain Labaume who used the phrase which I borrowed, describing a face without its head, like a mask.