battle flags, as large as topgallant sails, showing like
red flames in the sky as soon as the enemy Avas sighted.
The sails of the Stuart ships, though no longer gay
with religious and heraldic designs, were mighty
cylinders of wind, for these ships were by no means as
narrow in sail plan as those of later dates, for instance
the Royal Sovereign's mainyard was 100 feet long.
Sir Thomas Clifford, writing to Lord Arlington from
on board the flagship Royal Charles on 20th July, 1666,
when the fleet under Rupert and Monck was putting
to sea, from refitting after the Four Days' Fight,
The King had seen the Fleet under sail yesterday, he would have been
infinitely pleased. They took up in length 9 or 10 miles. Was never
so pleased with any sight in my Hfe. There is a new air and vigour in
every man's countenance, and even the common men cry out. " If we
do not beat them nov.', we never shall do it."
And on 24th July, Silas Taylor wrote from Harwich : —
At 4 a.m. the English Fleet sailed cheerfully, beating drums, and
stood towards the King's Channel and Sledway. At 3 p.m. the Fleet
cleared itself of victuallers and stood after the Dutch by Longsand Head,
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
lying close to the wind, which was easterly.
On the following day Rupert and Albemarle defeated
screw on the sextant. Added to which, he was a real " tarpauhn."
As a proof of this last, there is an account of how he once took the helm
of his ship, when she was caught on a lee shore, and steered her to safety,
although at the time it seemed impossible that she could weather the
rocks and the ship's company had almost given up hope.
De Ruyter and Van Tromp at the Battle of St. James'
In the days of the Stuarts our Mercantile Marine
was small both in the number and the size of its ships,
and we have to wait until the Napoleonic wars for big
fleets of merchant ships. Then, indeed, the swarms ot
French privateers in the Channel compelled huge
convoys, of which the following reports from the Naval
Chronicle give us but a faint idea : —
Plymouth Report, 10th December, 1800. —Passed by to the west-
ward the immense large fleets for Oporto, the Straits, Lisbon and the
West Indies, nearly 650 sail under convoy of the Sea Horse, of 36 guns;
Maidstone, 32; Alliance, 44; Chichester, ii; Serapts. 44; La Ptque. 44;
Harpy, 18; and Dromedary, 24; a dead calm took them aback off the
Eddystone, and the whole horizon was covered with the floating com-
merce of Albion's proud Isles. The fog cleared off about noon, and
presented with the setting sun a spectacle from the high points of land
round this port, at once grand, picturesque and interesting to every
lover of his country's commerce and welfare.
Plymouth Report, 10th August, 1801. — This day presented a most
beautiful scene from the Hoe, 200 sail laj'ing to, becalmed from horizon
to horizon, of East and West Indiamen under convoy of the Theseus,
74 guns; Santa Margarita, 2Q g\in%; and two other frigates. By 10 a.m.
a fine breeze from E.N.E. sprang up, and the whole fleet by noon was
clear of the Dodman Point.
And here is another testimony to the beauty of a great
fleet of sail underweigh. It is given by Fitchett in his
Fights for the Flag: —
In his Autobiography Prince Metternich tells how on 2nd May, 1794,
from the summit of a hill behind Cowes, he watched a great and historic
spectacle. More than 400 ships — great three-deckers, smart frigates,
bluff -bowed merchantmen — were setting sail at once. Their tall masts
and wide-spread canvas seemed to fill the whole sea horizon. It
was the Channel Fleet under Lord Howe, with a huge convoy of
" I consider this," wrote Prince Metternich, " the most beautiful
sight I have ever seen. I might say, indeed, the most beautiful that
human eyes have ever beheld! At a signal from the Admiral's ship
the merchantmen unfurled their sails, the fleet for the West Indies turned
to the west, the fleet for the East ladies passed to the east side of the
10 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
island, each accompanied with a portion of the Royal Fleet. Hundreds
of vessels and boats, filled with spectators, covered the two roads a.
far as the eve could reach, in the midst of which the great ships followed
one another, in the sam. manner as we see great masses of troops moved
on the parade ground."
One's imagination can hardly grasp the varied
beauty of such a sight. I happen to possess an old
wash drawing by Butterworth, labelled " The British
Fleet at Spithead, 1797, " and this gives me a faint idea
of the grandeur of our old wooden walls when seen
Butterworth 's fleet lie at anchor in three lines. In
the first line 7 three-deckers and 7 two-deckers swing to
their great hempen cables. They hide the second line
with the exception of 4 ships, all two-deckers; behind
whom again lie 2 frigates, with the entrance to
Portsmouth just open.
There is, however, a great deal more than its mere
beauty to interest a sailor in this drawing. The
rigging of each ship is most carefully drawn, the figure-
heads are worth studying with a magnifying glass, and
more than a hint is given of the colouring. To anyone
who has ever been to sea with masts and yards, the
riggers' work on any ship is always a source of never-
failing interest. Let me therefore attempt to give a
slight sketch of the various changes which have taken
place in the sails and rigging of a full-rig ship between
the days of the Tudors and those of the Blackwall
Let us begin forward. The Tudor bowsprit was only
used to stay the foremast. It had a good steeve to it
and must have been a very hefty spar — so hefty indeed
that before very long a large square sail, called a
spritsail, was set about half-way out underneath it.
The next innovation, during the reign of James I.,
Old East India Company Flags,
I 6 8 O - 1 7 O O . (f^rom an 0/dMenuscrifit.)
DRESS FLAGS FOR MAIN
ENSIGN ON FLAG-STAFF.
was to place a round top at the end of the bowsprit or
boltsprit, on which a flagstaff was stepped. This
flagstaff was sufficiently large on the "great ships" to
support a small square sail, and so the first sprit topsail
came into being. This in its turn led to another
pole being fidded onto the old flagstaff, in order to carry
the jack, whose place had been taken by the sprit
topsail. All this weight at the end of the bowsprit
compelled shipwrights to not only shorten that spar
but so increase its diameter that it was soon bigger than
the main topmast.
It may seem to landsmen that this giant candlestick
arrangement at the end of the bowsprit was of more
ornament than use. But, of a truth, spritsails and
sprit topsails were not only of use, but they were a
necessity. They were really steering sails, sails to
help in the handling of the ship. They did the work
of the jibs in helping a ship off the wind when the helm
was put up, for except for a large fore topmast staysail,
which came in about the middle of the Stuart period,
headsails were not introduced until the sprit topsail
was done away with and its place once more taken by
the jack, which was well into the eighteenth century.
The sprit topsail, indeed, had a reign of about 100
years. I know of one interesting instance of a sprit
topgallant. It is mentioned in the manuscript log
of an old Stuart tarpaulin, who happened to be in
charge of the " xMocha Fleet " when Captain Kidd
committed his first piracy. The incident is thus
described by old Barlow : —
The Fifteenth of August being got past the small Bab Island in the
morning betime we espied a ship more than our Company almost gotten
into the midell of our fleet, for being a little parted there was a vacancy
in the midell that a ship might pass allmost out of shot reach from aney
oi our fleet. He shewed no colours, but came joging on with his coursec
12 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
hauled up under two topsails, having more sails furled than usually
ships carry namely a mizen top galon sail and a spritsail top gallon sail'
which made us judge presently what he was, he coming pretty near U9
but scarce within shot, we perceived what like ship he was, a prety
friggat — a ship as we understood afterwards built at Bedford called the
Adventure galley, she carrying about 28 or 30 guns, having on her lower
gun deck a line of ports for owcrs to row withall in calm wether.
We shewing no colours neither but had only a red broad pendant
but without any cross in it; and thinking he might take us for one of
the Moors ships, having our ship in readiness, were willing to let him
come as near to us as he would, for the Dutch convoy was a long way
astarne, and we had verey litell wind and he could not come nere us.
But seeing the pirat as nere as he intended to come, being all most
abrest of us, we presently hoisted our colours and let fly two or three
guns at him well shotted and presently gott both our boats ahead, having
verey little wind. Rowing towards him, he having fired 4 or five times
at one of the Moor's ships, striking him in the hull and through his sails.
But he seeing us make what we could towards him, presently made
what sail hee could from us, getting out his oars and rowing and sailing,
we firing what we could at him, our men shouting which I believe he
heard and that he took us for one of the Kings ships. We fired at him
as long as he was anything nere and judge did hit him with som of our
shot. But he sailed far better than we did, and being out of shot of us,
he took in his oars and his smal saile, hauling up his lower sailes in the
brales, staying for us; but having no mind to engage, as we drew nere
him made saile again from us. Dooing so twice and seeing us still
follow him, at last set all his sails and away he went.
It being almost sunset, we brought our ship to and lay by till the
fleet came up to us, being 4 or 5 leagues astarne. Some of the Moors
ships having a great deal of money abord and sartainly the fleet being
a littele parted, had not our ship happened to have been in their
corapeney, he had sartainly plundered all the headmost ships of all their
welth and the Duch ship could not have helpen them being a heavy
sailor and littell or no wind
Being secured at that time from ye pirrat, whose commander being
called William Kid, as we heard after, and the next morning being the
16 of August, he was gon out of our sight.
Space forbids me from quoting any more of this
interesting old manuscript, but Barlow has more to
say about the pirate, Captain Kid, and his descents
upon some of the trading ports of the Malabar Coast.
It will be noticed from the above that the Adventure
galley carried a mizen topgallant sail. This sail
remained quite a rarity for another fifty years.
When a jibboom was sent out at the end of the
bowsprit, in order, as its name implies, to carry that
unwieldy sail, the huge low-footed eighteenth century
jib, the sprit topsail was set outside the spritsail under
the bowsprit and jibboom.
And the spritsail had no sooner gone out of fashion
before it came in again in the shape of the tea clipper's
" Jamie Green. " That the spritsail was a true working
sail is shown by the fact that it was generally provided
with a diagonal row of reef points.
Next to the development of the modern head sails,
the changes made in crossjack and spanker are of most
interest. As is well known by old seamen, no sail
was bent on the crossjack yard until about 1840, the
first man to set a crossjack being an American skipper.
Indeed a crossjack did very little useful work until
ships began to increase in length so as to allow of
more drift between the main and mizen masts. The
French call the crossjack yard " la vergue seche, " the
The development of the spanker from the old lateen
mizen went through one or two interesting stages. The
lateen yard, indeed, was still aloft on a great many
of our ships up to the end of the eighteenth century.
The Victory herself only gave it up in 1798, and the
Vanguard and several of the French ships still carried
it at the Battle of the Nile.
But before the middle of the eighteenth century the
part of the sail forward of the mast was cut away, its
place being taken by the staysail on the mizen stay.
When this was done, the luff of the shortened sail was
tacked down to the foot of the mast, and no attempt
14 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
was made to keep it into the mast either by means of
hoops or screw-eyes, at the same time the foot of the
sail was kept boomless.
For some years before this the lateen yard had
gradually been growing shorter and shorter, and by the
time that it was changed into the modern gaff with
jaws to the mast, it was so short as make the sail too
small to do its proper work of helping the ship to bring
her head to windward.
Thereupon, instead of increasing the size of this
early spanker, the old rigger bent a ring-tail outside
it. This sail, which was called a driver, had a boom
on its foot which was tacked down to the rail, it had a
bowline on its luff, and was hoisted by halliards to a
block at the peak of the spanker gaff. The next
change was the fitting of a spanker boom, and the
driver or ringtail was carried rif^ht into the mast, its
head being hoisted to the gaff by three halliards at
equal distances apart, the after one being bent on
to the short ring-tail yard which stood out beyond
To give place to this sail, the old mizen was hauled
up and made fast to its gaff, and the new sail, which
gradually came to be called the spanker, was hauled
out to the end of the boom like a loose-footed mainsail
and was tacked down to the foot of the mast by a strong
purchase, and still there were no mast hoops or traveller
to keep the sail into the mast. And from this the
present day spanker was evolved.
It is always difficult for the reader to follow a des-
cription of rigging, for what is easy enough to understand
when demonstrated on a model becomes both confusing
and wearisome in cold print. But for this, I should
have been tempted to branch off into many a fascinating
by-path in the evolution of a ship's rigging, such
as bentinck shrouds, jeers and slings, gammoninfrs,
Royals, stunsails or more properly studding sails,
and other flying kites came into being as soon as our
trade with tropical countries became so securely estab-
lished that King's ships were sent out to foreign stations
for long commissions, but I do not think that anyone
has yet found out the first ship to send royal yards aloft
or rig out stunsail booms.
Next to rigging and sails, we require to know the
colour schemes of hulls, masts and spars before we can
form any picture in our minds of what our old wooden
walls really looked like.
And, curiously enough, though we know the colours
favoured in the seventeenth century, those used in the
eighteenth have been somewhat obscured through the
eagerness of nineteenth century marine painters to
paint every ship a la Nelson. Perhaps the most common
colour scheme for British ships up to the date of
Trafalgar was yellow sides with a black streak along the
In my Butterworth drawing of the British fleet lying
at anchor off Spithead in 1797, the ships are painted
almost brown with a lighter yellow band from the level
of the main deck to that of the lower deck.
There are some very interesting notes and sketches,
taken by a Colonel Fawkes at the Battle of the Nile,
which are in the possession of my friend, Mr. Louis Paul ;
these he published in the Mariners' Mirror just before
It may be of interest to give the colours of the British
and French ships, as noted by Colonel Fawkes,
16 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Audacious. — Plain yellow sides.
Zealous. — Broad red sides with small yellow stripes.
Go/»a//».— Light yellow sides with a black streak between the upper
and lower deck ports.
Tksseus.—Ught yellow sides with a black streak between the upper
and lower deck ports, with hammock cloths yellow and ports
painted upon them to resemble a three-decker.*
Vanguard.— YeWow sides with a black streak between the upper and
lower deck ports.
Mmotaur.— Red sides with a black streak between the upper and
lower deck ports.
Orion. — Plain yellow sides.
Defence. — Plain yellow sides.
Leander. —YeWow sides with a black streak between the upper and
lower deck ports.
Swiftsure. — ditto.
Majestic. — ditto.
Alexander.— Plain yellow sides.
Bellerophon. — ditto.
Culloden. — Yellow sides with two small black streaks between the
upper and lower deck ports.
Muiine (brig). — Yellow sides.
Le Guerrier. — Dark yellow sides.
Le Conquerant. — ditto.
Le Spartiate. — Light yellow sides.
L'Aquilon. — Red sides with a black streak between the upper and
lower deck ports.
Le Franklin. — Plain yellow sides.
Le Peuple Souverain.- — Dark yellow sides.
Le Tonnant. — Broad light yellow with small black streaks in a line
with the muzzles of the guns and two between the upper
and lower deck ports
L'Heureu.x. — Very dark yellow sides.
Le Timoleon. — Very dark red sides.
Le Guilleaume Tell. — Light yellow sides with a black streak between
the upper and lower deck ports.
Le Mercure. — Dark yellow sides.
Le Genereux. — Dark red sides.
The frigates were all yellow.
♦This is interesting as showing that our ancestors were quite alivs
,o the value of camouflage.
Mr. Louis Paul goes on to remark that yellow sides
and black bands predominated up to Trafalgar; but I
think they continued until long after that date, though
Nelson was the first Admiral to order all the ships of his
fleet to be painted alike.
The interiors of all British men-of-war were always
painted red, in order, as it was said, to hide the
Nelson is generally supposed to have painted his hulls
black with yellow strakes along the gunports and black
port lids. This was called double-yellow or chequer
painting, as the ships were chequer sided. But as
regards the black hulls, I have my doubts. Captain
Hoffman, who was present at the Battle of Trafalgar
on board the Tonnant, has the following clear statement
in his journal: — "All our ships' sides were ordered to
be painted yellow with black streaks, and the masts
It would have taken some time and paint to have
slabbed black over the yellow hulls, though painting in
black strakes along the gunports would have been a small
matter. There is no doubt, however, of the chequer -
board appearance, so we can conclude that at any rate
the gun strakes were yellow and the port lids black.
There was no uniformity, however, in the painting
of the French and Spanish ships at Trafalgar, and the
various painters of the battle have missed a great
opportunity in neglecting such a picturesque detail as
the many different colours displayed. For instance,
the huge Spanish Santissima Trinidada was painted a
rich crimson lake with four narrow white ribbons under
her four tiers of guns. And her figurehead, representing
the Holy Trinity, was a Cyclopian group of figures
18 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Another historic ship, the Santa Anna, Alava*s
flagship, was black from her hammock nettings to her
water-line, the only note of colour being in the red
robes of the Mother of the Virgin, another figurehead
noted for its immense size.
All shades of yellow were to be found on the hulls
of the French and Spanish ships, and gun strakes were
often red, so the British ships were unmistakable owing
to the chequers.
There was one small point — but one which a com-
mander of Nelson's experience was quick to note and
take advantage of — the Frcxich always painted their
mast hoops black, so Nelson ordered his mast hoops to
be painted white, thus making sure with his white
mast hoops and chequered sides that none of his ships
could mistake each other for the enemy during the
smoke and confusion of battle.
By the date of Trafalgar much of the gilt and ginger-
bread had been stripped from the British ships of war
and merchantman, and the carvers and gilders were
only allowed to decorate the Royal yachts and one or
two special first-rates. The elaborate coats-of-arms,
the cupids and nymphs and golden caryatides had gone
from the sterns of most ships. Wreaths around the
circular gunports of the upper deck and poops with the
bundles of carved weapons in between, gleaming yellow
against the bright blue paint, had departed with the
last of the Stuarts. Entry ports lacked carved pillars
and handrails. Knight-heads had become bollards;
and even the belfreys required only the craft of the
joiner instead of that of both carver and gilder.
The figureheads and a certain amount of carving
around the quarter galleries alone remained.
And now, the quarter galleries have gone, and the
few remaining figureheads, gracing the bows of the
survivors of the golden age of sail, are looked upon as
curiosities and photographed and sketched wherever
they are seen.
Leslie in that delightful but very scarce book, Old
Sea Wings, Ways and Words, traces the figurehead
back to the Eg}^tians, to the Greeks and Romans,
who ornamented the heads of their galleys with graceful
swans and imperial eagles : he also refers to the elabor-
ately carved images at the heads of Maori war canoes.
The most famous figurehead is, of course, the winged
Victory of Samothrace, in the Louvre, which stands
upon the bow of a trireme. There is no evidence,
however, that this bit of sculpture was ever afloat. It
was set up at Samothrace by Demetrius, one of Alex-
ander's generals, in 306 B.C., in order to celebrate a
naval victory. The first figureheads that graced
British ships appeared about the thirteenth century.
The Trinity Royal, of 1416, is supposed to have had a
Royal leopard, with a crown of copper, on her beak-head.
We have all heard of the "dragons" of the Vikings.
Figureheads in the Middle Ages were generally in the
shape of a dragon or monstrous fish with a projecting
barbed tongue, which did duty as a spear-head for
By the time of the Stuarts figureheads were universal
and most elaborate. Indeed Leslie declares that the
only people who have never adopted them were the
Chinese and Japanese.
Up to 1700 and even later British first-rates usually
had kingly figures on prancing horses weighing down
their beak-heads. The figurehead of the Sovereign of
the Seas was a very well-known group of statuary,
consisting of King Edgar on horseback, trampling on
20 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
those seven kings, who, according to history, were
compelled to row the Royal barge round the Kingdom.
In those days the woodcarver was a man of im-
portance, both at sea and ashore, at home and abroad.
Probably there was never more elaborate carving than
that of the great French flagship Le Roi Soleil. Her
figurehead was a magnificent mermaid balanced on
the bend of her tail. Hardly less wonderful was the
bow of a French 80-gun ship, which held a full length
female figure in flowing draperies, blowing a trumpet
and holding a flag. The whole of the beak of this ship
was carved with a carpet of oak leaves, on which the
goddess was standing.
The smaller rates of both English, Dutch and French
men-of-war in the seventeenth century usually had the
"lion rampant" at the bow. This lion figurehead
generally supported his fore paws on a shield of the
Royal arms, and he was very often crowned. "The
sweep of the lion," as the curve of his head was called,
had to be absolutely correct according to the laws laid
down in the standard shipbuilding works of the day.
In 1703 an Admiralty regulation made this "sweep
of the lion" the national figurehead for every man-of-
war except first-rates; but there was no checking the
woodcarver in this way, and the regulation was rarely
A very common figurehead in the eighteenth century
was the Roman warrior, with his chain mail, his short
stabbing sword and round shield. This figurehead
adorned the bows of the Fighting Temeraire, the Warrior
(a 74. of 1781), the Kent (a 74 of 1798), and the Canopus,
which was captured from the French at the Battle of the
Nile. Another common figurehead was the conven-
tional representation of Father Neptune, with his beard
of oakum and Royal trident. This was, of course, the