Hammock Boards on Victory 1805

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    Malcolm Lewis

      Peter Goodwin, one time Curator and Keeper of HMS Victory, wrote in his Pocket Manual 1805 of the famous ship (pub.2015 Page 122 The Prelude to Battle) that various repairs were carried out to Victory lying off Portsmouth including the hammock boards that formed a solid bulwark along the sides of the Poop Deck. He wrote that this particular feature, unfortunately erroneously not visible in the restored ship, had been permanently fitted when Victory was earlier armed with carronades on her poop.
      I have not come across hammock boards previously and am only familiar with the hammock nettings seen today. So far, I have not noted hammock boards in illustrations of other warships of that era. I presume the boards were made of wood which must have added the risk of splinters injuring the crew if they were hit by cannon shot.
      Any pictures and references would be of great interest. Many thanks.

      Peter Leech

        There are two photos on this page at the very bottom that probably illustrate what he meant from before Victory’s refit:-


        Presumably the wood helped keep the hammocks dry, and if backed with the hammocks then the splinters would largely get absorbed by the hammocks. I would assume that it was more meant as concealment and protection against small arms than being proof against cannon shot. Paintings and models suggest that quite a few ships appear to have acquired more substantial bulwarks during the course of the Napoleonic wars.

        Gary Morgan

          I tried to post this yesterday, but it didn’t take for some reason, so here goes again.

          I understand that the hammock crane boarding was made from lightweight deal (pine), probably 2” / 3” in thickness, and fastened to the outer stanchions of the hammock cranes, and that they were renewed at least twice during the campaign of Trafalgar (unless the Lavery note below is of the same date as Goodwin).

          So, if this is not the same instance as quoted by Goodwin, then there is a further ‘Trafalgar contemporary’ source quoted by Brian Lavery in his ‘Nelson’s Victory; 250 Years of War and Peace’ – notes on page 28, that following the Caribbean chase of 1805 he quotes Midshipman Rivers as recording that the carpenter “Bunce and his crew were hard at work on various jobs such as making new hammock boards for the old decayed ones on the poop”.

          We also have 2 visual records, firstly, although produced somewhat belatedly, is from FJ Roskruge R.N. who published an article in The Mariner’s Mirror of 1921 entitled ‘The “Victory” After Trafalgar’, in this article he recounts how by “the courtesy of Commander W.F. Carslake, I have been able to make the accompanying pen and ink drawing of H.M.S. Victory, from a water colour painting in his possession”, the original painting had been made some 25 years after Trafalgar for Commander Carslake whose grandfather John Carslake was a mate in the Victory at Trafalgar. The boarding is clearly visible (see attachment below), although the hances are contemporary with the date of the painting.

          We also have the Constable sketches of 1803, the stern 3 quarter view which also clearly shows boarded over hammock cranes, pierced for 2 ports (see attachment, taken from John-constable.org)). I would imagine as the Poop wasn’t armed that these gun port openings were not formed or ‘let into’ the subsequent replacement boards.

          There is also a third source from JMW Turner, who after Trafalgar went on board off Sheerness in late December 1805, and painted his fist work, the watercolour ‘The ‘Victory’: From Quarterdeck to Poop’ (Tate Ref. D08275), he shows the Poop hammock cranes covered in a canvas envelope, this seems to sit over the boards, and would explain why the boards on contemporary paintings are not always visible. Interestingly, you can see part of the hammock cranes on the starboard side just forward of the Sauve Tête stanchion if you zoom in. Picture attached.


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          Gary Morgan

            Correction, should read Commander Carslake’s grandfather John Carslake, who was a mate in the Victory at Trafalgar’.

            Malcolm Lewis

              Thank you for your responses. It appears difficult to say when the use of hammock boards began and when it ceased. A ship such as Victory had a complement of 820 officers and men with the majority using hammocks. Frigates at that time did most of the sea time whereas a first rate like Victory spent long periods at anchor. This meant that only a few men spent any time on night watches and more time in their hammocks regularly stowing them in the morning in the hammock nettings/cranes. At all times hammocks had to be stowed in clean and dry conditions and it is understood the nettings and the hammock nettings were covered with a water proof canvas. Gary Morgan refers to the boards being fastened to the outer stanchions presumably with a lashing. The canvas covering would also need to be secured to prevent it lifting off in a breeze but not so large as to prevent access by individual seamen when they wanted their hammocks at pipe down.
              It is surprising that more is not recorded about hammock stowage as it would have been a major feature of life aboard. Does anyone know where the term “cranes” originates? References are hard to find.

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