Practical Seamanship


Practical Seamanship
War At Sea
Nautical Hardships
Nautical Fiction

Bibliography & Credits

[Richard Hall Gower]. A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of an Officer in the Service of the India Company. London: for G.G. and J. Robinson & Gilbert, Wright, and Hooke, 1793.

This slim volume, the first edition of a standard work of naval theory, is indeed a treatise, with section headings such as "Upon the Centre of Motion" and "A Mechanical Increase of Power is Loss of Time". But it is also a practical manual for the handling of a ship under various conditions to the best advantage. The model of the ship can be rotated and the sails adjusted to provide representations of various situations. Currently, it is set in accordance with the instructions on page 23.

While serving as a midshipman aboard an East India Company ship, Richard Hall Gower earned the nickname the "Young Philosopher". Gower was a prolific naval architect, designing a number of successful ships as well as making numerous smaller improvements to existing designs. In the Advertisement to his Treatise, Gower describes the book as a good value: "When the prices of most books on Seamanship are considered, it is hoped that this little treatise will be thought reasonable, especially since the Figure at the beginning of the work is a matter of some nicety".

William Mountaine. The Seaman's Vade-Mecum, and Defensive War by Sea. London: Mount and Page, 1757.

First published in 1744, Mountaine's handbook for seamen was immensely popular, with 12 editions appearing in print by 1783. As is evident from the copy on display here, it was also used extensively by actual sailors: hand-written annotations indicate at least 4 different owners during the period from 1760 to 1804. One of these owners, Jeremiah Noble, added a brief poem beneath his signature: "If this I lend to any friend/ Pray keep it not too long/ Keep dear & fair & send with care/ To whom it doth belong". The book includes a fold-out diagram of a ship keyed to descriptions in the text, and one of the previous owners has added additional material and new numbers to the illustration. Mountaine himself seems to have been an educator with a wide range of interests. Included in this volume is a full page advertisement for his boarding school, which offered training in "Accompts, Book-Keeping...also, French, Drawing, Music, Fencing and Dancing".

[David Steel]. The Art of Sail-Making, as Practised in the Royal Navy. London, for David Steel, 1796.

David Steel has been described as the "doyen of all the maritime publishers" of his age. Originally published in 1794 as part of his most popular work, Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, this manual of sail-making includes a dictionary of terms and tools with engraved illustrations, rules for determining needed quantity of canvas and rope for a particular type of sail, and descriptions of how each individual type of sail is created. Like a number of the works exhibited here, The Art of Sail-Making taps into the increased demand for skilled professional sailors and crewmembers occasioned by the growing dominance of the British Navy during the eighteenth century.

The Sea-man's Companion, or Vade-Mecum . London,1729.

Like William Mountaine's vade mecum this handbook contains a dictionary of nautical terms, a list of officers and their pay, rules and regulations, a limited discussion of the basic principles of navigation, and other miscellaneous information necessary for the new sailor. This work also emphasizes teaching simple mathematics, "fitted to the Meanest Capacity". The pages exhibited here discuss the duties of seamen.

Pedro De Medina. L'Art de Naviguer. Rouen: Theodore Reinsart, 1607.

Pedro de Medina, whose Arte de Navegar was originally published in Spain in 1545, has been called "the founder of the literature of seamanship". At the very least, his work was extremely popular and was soon translated into French, Italian, and English in 13 editions during the next century. Among its many contributions, his work represents the first occurrence in print of a discussion of magnetic variation, the difference between the earth's magnetic north and true north and an aberration that would continue to plague navigators for centuries to come.

The pages exhibited here include a fold-out map of the Atlantic Ocean similar to the sea charts that were a staple of navigation during the period. Typical features include rhumb lines (the geometrical pattern of intersecting lines)—which allowed navigators to plot a simple compass course from one point to another, even though such courses were less efficient over long distances—and the compass rose in the center.

Nathaniel Bowditch. The Improved Practical Navigator. London: for James and John Hardy and David Steel, 1802

Bowditch's American Practical Navigator was the standard work of American navigation throughout the nineteenth century. The pages exhibited here include a description and illustration of John Hadley's quadrant. The quadrant is an instrument used to measure the angle between two objects (for instance the horizon and the sun), which is still in use, in modified form, today. Accurate readings of the sun's height, particularly at noon, were an essential component of navigation, and a number of instruments—from the complicated astrolabe to the bulky cross-staff—had been in use for hundred's of years prior to Hadley's invention. The primary drawback of these earlier instruments is that they were difficult to use accurately from the rolling deck of a ship at sea. Using a system of mirrors, the quadrant (or variations like the sextant) allows a navigator to bring the horizon and the sun into alignment in a viewfinder and then read the resulting angle on the scale at the bottom. This design reduced the difficulty of taking an accurate reading, and the quadrant became a standard navigational tool for years to come.

Next: War at Sea