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  ships                                            Man-powered stevedoring:

The available sources of energy are the wind for propulsion (and a small windmill) and the strength of men using several devices, mainly capstans.

Berths alongside a wharf being rare at the time, the following were needed:

  • Transport by launch (rowers), from the shore to the anchorage in the roadstead, of necessary supplies. Ship’s boats can serve on occasions to tow the ship over short distances.
  • Hoisting on board provisions (dozens of barrels each weighing 250 kg) then stowing them in the hold, embarking live animals, various spares (spars, etc.), and wood for cooking the food (about two tonnes per month).
  • Bringing on board the ship’s boats, the heaviest of which is the launch, before departure.
  • Raising the anchors, 1-2 tonnes each depending on their type, and which may be stuck in the ground.
  • Hoisting the sails or furling them on the yards, even in high winds or when the ship is heeled hard over.
  • Steering in bad weather directly with a tiller-bar four metres long or by repeater gear controlled from a steering wheel on the quarter-deck.
  • Artillery can require many men on board a military vessel, but these store-ships are armed with only a few cannons firing 16-pound balls. These guns are usually struck down into the hold (except in the Sea of Japan)

(above:  Astrolabe – Left and Boussole in Alaska)

WEB MillstoneLiving on board:

  • Available space: A large commercial store-ship (500 dead-weight tonnes) requires about 65 crewmen to operate, housed in the quarter-deck with some in the forecastle. The store-ships of the [French] Royal Navy fitted out for far-distant hydrography have 100 crew, with about 200m2 of living space sheltered from bad weather. It is rather a high density [of men] for voyages lasting years, with few excursions ashore for the crew.
  • Housing: Approximately 20 small cabins with bunks in relatively private conditions (raised quarter-deck, quarter-deck, ward room, gun-room) for officers, scientists and senior petty-officers). Most of the sailors sleep in the central tween-decks and some in the fore-castle in individual hammocks, which are unhooked and set to air outside sleeping hours. All the few personal belongings of a sailor are kept in a trunk or a bag, and for the petty officers in their store.
  • Hygiene: Officers have two ‘bouteilles’ (privies), which is the name of the toilets adjoining the ward room. There are chamber pots in the cabins. For the sailors, hollowed seats (latrines) in the open air are found at the forward end of the ship, which can only be used in good weather. The sailors get by as well as they can for washing themselves and their clothes, if possible in fresh water, laundry being done by their servant for the officers.
  • Drink: The daily ration of water is three litres/person (for all purposes: drinking, food preparation, and washing) with 0.75 litres of wine daily, providing a large part of the 3,500 calories/day required. For the bulk of the men on board, the liquids embarked correspond to 120 standard barrels (250 litres capacity) of water and wine for two months sailing, to which must be added several barrels of brandy and vinegar, as well as spruce beer (an antiscorbutic).
  • Food: Wheat grain to make bread and sea-biscuit is the main ingredient, with rice, broad beans or lentils stored in sacks. Supplements in the form of salt meat or fish (salting is the only means of preservation) are kept in small casks which also are used to store cheese and salt. At the outset of the voyage, livestock is brought on board: a few cows, sheep, or pigs (which consume much scarce water) and chickens in cages. At sea, one can possibly fish for surface fish or, near the coast, bottom‑dwelling types. Fruit and vegetables are eaten during stopovers ashore. The officers are served at table and the crew eats sitting on the deck, the men serving themselves with their cutlery directly from a common mess tin for a group of seven men, the petty officers being served first.

(Pictured above Millstone for grinding wheat, salvaged from L’Astrolabe by Reece Discombe and on display in the Laperouse Museum)

[With the kind permission of the Editor of the ‘Journal de bord’, of the Association Lapérouse Albi-France. This article appeared in issue No 65, Autumn 2015. Translated by Dr. William Land, AM]

Part 2 of Life on Board the Ships of Laperouse

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