Life on a Battleship

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A rare chance to see what life was like on board a Royal Naval battleship during the 1890s. These superb photographs shown in the Army & Navy Illustrated of 1896 show crew activities while at sea and training.

The last thing done when a warship went to sea was to take on powder, which is received on board after a ship has left her harbour moorings and is clear of the port. In the dockyard the officers and men of the ship have a busy time drawing stores and provisions, fetching torpedoes, while gangs of men pass and re-pass trundling casks of necessaries and artificers hurry to and fro seeing to electrical appliances.

Manning The Guns                                                       Working With Torpedoes

In the Smithy on Board a First Class Battleship (1895)

Every British ship of war carries a number of skilled artificers on board, and for their use is fitted with various workshops, and a smithy where minor repairs are effected of every nature that can possibly be executed on board ship at sea.  Thus not only is the troublesome and expensive process of going into a dockyard frequently avoided, but the ship is also rendered in the highest degree self supporting and independent of assistance from shore.

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On the Look Out on Board Ship. (1896)

Jack has to keep his eyes about him at all times on board ship, but more particularly when he is one of the Watch on Deck and a Look-out Man on the Bridge, like the bluejacket shown in the illustration with his telescope to his eye.  It may be he is examining a strange sail at a distance, or watching the movements of a consort, or if in a fleet, reading off a signal made on board some other ship, perhaps by the flagship herself.

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Ready to Salute on Board a Royal Navy Warship. in 1896 

Saluting on board a ship of war nowadays is done with the lighter guns of the vessels armament, with which we make more noise at less cost than our ancestors could.  Here a saluting party are shown awaiting orders to fire the regulation number of rounds from an upper deck quick firer.  The unfortunate case, which happened some seven years ago, when the Dreadnought with the Duke of Edinburghs flag on board, was unable to salute the French flag in a French port, because there were no light guns on board, is not likely to recur.

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Ambulance Drill on Board HMS Tartar a Cruiser in 1896

Our illustration represents bluejackets at ambulance drill, with imaginary wounded men on board the cruiser Tartar.  Jacks repertory includes a general education in the arts of both land and sea fighting, and it stands to reason that so important a detail as the rendering of First Aid to the wounded is not omitted from his course of training.  With modern war, such as it is, ambulance drill is for him is the first importance.  As a fact, too, there is no better or more deft handed ambulance man than the sailor, or one more tender and kindly with the injured in his care.

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The ship has been coaled and sea stores taken on board, now the crew wait for the sailing orders from the flagship. 1897.

The last of the powder and shell is coming on board. 1897.

General Quarters - Lowering a Wounded Man to the Sick Bay

A wounded man is shown being lowered down a hatchway to the deck below the water-line, where the surgeon and his assistants are waiting. The fighting decks throughout the ship were supplied with stretcher parties stationed near the guns to pick up and carry those struck down, the wounded men being lowered by a tackle rigged on a beam above the hatchway.  (1898)

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General Quarters - Dealing with a Small Fire during Action

A 6 ins gun crew are called away to put out a small fire, which a petty officer of the party, wearing the respirator and eye protector, is descending a hatchway to locate. In action small fires were dealt with by the nearest guns crew, other men from other guns would be sent to assist if their services were needed. (1898)

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A picture of how targets are built and repaired on the beaches by ordinary seamen. (1901)

Weighing the anchor on a battleship c.1900.

The leadsman in the chains c.1900.

The Idlers on Board a Man-of-War 1896

The photograph shows at a glance the various artificers regularly employed on board a Man-of-War in 1896. We see such things as knotting and splicing, men of the carpenters crew and of the sail-makers crew, the painter at work, the blacksmiths, armourer, cooper and others. The photographs shows how a ship could constitute within itself in its various craftsmen, practically a small manufacturing township. These tasks and men would not generally be seen together at the same time but were asked to be present for the photograph. In normal circumstances these men would be found at work all over the ship, distributed about the deck and below. The denomination given to these men was Idlers not as a reflection on their work or capabilities but because they were excused watch duties.

Studying the Seamans Art

Although by this time sails were no longer used, it was still necessary for the bluejackets to learn a good deal of what used to belong to everyday seamanship. This was one of the first things taught to youngsters on trainings hips. Beginning by learning how to make knots, bends and hitches, they would pass through a complete course of instruction in what was called rope lore: - how to make gummets and selvage drops, and how to use them; how to point a rope, to graft it and splice it and lengthen it. When the trained boy was drafted as a seaman on board a ship of the fleet in commission he would be given innumerable opportunities at odd times for carrying on in practice what he learnt in his harbour training ship, as is seen in the photograph of three bluejackets of the cruiser Theseus.

A Smoking Circle on a Royal Navy Ship.  1896.

We are looking at Jack and Joe off duty : at a group of bluejackets and marines enjoying a few leisure moments after hard work.  Smoking on board ship is nowadays permitted, with a few reasonable restrictions, but it was not always so.  Once upon a time the rules in force in the Service against smoking on board drove the men to indulge the habit in dangerous places and out of the way corners, causing a real risk from fire to the safety of the ship and the lives of all on board.  Nowadays, common sense regulations prevail and smoking is not considered a crime.

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Repel Boarders!  1896

Though boarding is not an incident likely to occur often in warfare at sea under modern conditions, yet as a test of efficiency and an exercise calling for unusual smartness and alacrity, the drill is still carried on regularly on board every British ship of war.  Modern appliances and engines of warfare, such as the machine gun shown in the picture, are brought into active requisition, and can be trusted to play their part with deadly effect.  It is an exciting experience and a thrilling scene for all who witness it, as the newspaper correspondents who attend the Naval Manoeuvres testify regularly every year.  The last occasion on which boarding took place in naval warfare was in 1879, when in the struggle between Chili and Peru, the Gallant Arturo Prat fell dead on the deck of the Huascar.

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Photograph of a rowing boat being lowered into the water at Arosa Bay - scene of the Channel Squadron Regatta c.1900.

Ordinary seamen shown giving their ship a fresh lick of paint c.1902.

Naval signalers at work in 1902. By this time the days of using flags and blinking lights were numbered.