Reply To: Small arms and weapons on a man-of-war

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Nicholas Blake

    There are various regulations in the Admiralty’s Regulations and Instructions concerning the arms chest, which in a sloop of 40 guns would be 6ft long, 2ft 1in wide, and 2ft 1in deep, but not until 1808 is there an instruction on where to place it: there we find that the marines’ arms chest is ‘on the deck’, and other references show that the ship’s arms chest was usually kept on deck in a suitable place: in the Bounty before the mutiny it was on the main gratings by the main hatchway, in the Sybil (28) in 1780 and the Blandford (20) in 1758 it was forward next to the hen coop, in the Hound (16) in 1792 it was on the quarterdeck, etc; in the Retribution (32) in 1800 it was in the gunroom, which the surgeon thought an improper place. The marines’ arms chest was kept abaft, as in the Blandford in 1758 where it was on the quarter deck.
    The marines’ commanding officer kept the key to their arm chest. For the ship’s I haven’t seen a regulation, so either the gunner or the captain but probably the captain since he kept the key to the magazine. The armourer and his mates maintained the small arms but reported to the gunner.

    Marines’ muskets were kept in the marines’ arms chest: there were armed marine sentinels 24 hours a day at various places in the ship; again I’ve seen no regulations on this but I would think each marine would hand his musket to the man relieving him, which wasn’t necessarily at the change of watch since at some locations they were relieved more frequently. There would always be a petty officer of some sort awake. RN ships in the Georgian period had either two watches or three, although when the mutineers had the Culloden in 1794 it appears they had nine.