Finger Rings and Sailors and Finger Amputation

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    Sam Willis


    I’m currently doing some work on the Armada and the number of beautiful finger rings discovered in the wrecks has got me thinking. Rings are very un-sailorly things to wear because of the obvious chance of accident and severe finger damage.

    Has anyone come across any references to sailors suffering finger injury because they were wearing a ring? Or any references to or images of finger amputation because of ring injury?

    I bet that, when on board ship, rings were not allowed.


    Frank Scott

    When serving in modern sail training ships I was very hard line on this, and forbade rings because of the risk that they became caught up in ropes or rigging, resulting in the loss of a finger, or that appalling finger injury that is delightfully known as ‘gloving’.
    Although I cannot recall any formal prohibitions in the naval regulations of my time, the risks were well known, and engineers were actively discouraged from having them.
    I doubt that there are any merchant ship records of such ‘minor’ injuries, but there might be something in the medical reports from warships of the Victorian era, for whom record keeping became a serious issue.


    Byrne McLeod

    I am afraid my Georgian navy sources never mentioned rings or sailors wearing them. Even the descriptions of deserters never included rings. Wigs, yes. Rings, no.

    Chris B

    I joined the forum to add this report. My first tall ship as ‘voyage crew’ was Sir Winston Churchill. We sailed around the Outer Hebrides. All was placid, serene, calm and beautiful. We even visited Fingal’s Cave – playing the inevitable music at the entrance. Our goal was to reach St. Kilda – which was my reason for being on board. But the calm weather did not last. We were to be baptised into tall ship sailing by heeling over in a force 7 / 8 iwht a lumpy sea. We were a mixed bunch of youngsters (late teens and 20s) and oldies in their 50s like myself. Some of us spent the daylight hours leaning over the side (strapped on) feeding the fish. One unfortunate oldie donated his false teeth to the exercise – on the voyage crew track chart this event was depicted as a dolphin leaping out of the water (as they do) with a full mouth of pearlies. I digress. Eventually we reached St. Kilda. The dotty boat (rib?) was launched. We queued patiently to climb into it despite the call of the Puffin Pub being just across the hard. Strict instructions were issued that when sitting in the boat to NOT catch one’s fingers between Sir Winston’s hull and the dotty boat / rib. We had on board one lovely couple in their 60s. They were celebrating some kind of anniversary. The husband climbed down and got in OK. He was followed by his less than agile wife. She had a wedding ring on. Then likely being a first time sailor she grabbed the side of the dotty boat for stability. This then scraped along the side of the neighbouring hull rolling her ring finger with it. Her finger did not break off, nor did it ‘glove.’ But it bent the ring and scraped her skin off to the bone. BIG emergency. Well we all got onto the Island and went exploring, we even found that the pub was open complete with souvenir shop. Meanwhile air sea rescue has been scrambled from Inverness (or somewhere far distant). So after our exploring we then had the excitement (for us) of watching the helicopter swoop over the harbour, circle around, and then land on the hard. Afterwards they said that it wasn’t often they got to called to St. Kilda and implied that this might even be a first. So the said lady was whisked off to hospital, maybe to Inverness (I forget), along with her husband – right? Well actually no. He elected to continue the voyage with the rest of us. Apparently he visited his wife in hospital when we got back to the mainland. We wandered what sort of anniversary they were celebrating? Thank you for reading.

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