Discipline and Punishment

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The constant discipline required to organise the crew on a ship as complex as Victory and run her in a safe, efficient way should not be confused with the occasional punishment metred out to the few.

The crew were disciplined and organised in a number of ways. They were placed in one of the two watches and this determined when they had to work and be ‘on watch’. For the more complex activities on board, such as mooring, raising anchor or tacking ship, each man was given a station – a specific place to work. He was also allocated a quarter for fighting the ship, which might be in a gun crew or in one of the magazines or involve working aloft. The ship’s 10 commissioned officers and 21 midshipmen were responsible for a small ‘division’ of men and supervised their health and welfare.

Overall the crew were relatively lightly disciplined in military terms. Although they dressed in standard loose trousers and short blue jackets they did not have an official uniform. With so few commissioned officers on board their life on the mess deck was lightly policed.

When things went wrong the Captain had a range of punishments at his disposal. Most commonly he awarded anything from 12 to 36 lashes for offences like drunkenness, insolence or neglect of duty. This excruciatingly painful punishment was carried out by the Boatswain’s Mates, offenders being brought to the Quarter Deck in front of the ship’s company, stripped to the waist and tied to a wooden grating. A seaman caught thieving was made to run the gauntlet past fellow crewmen who beat him with knotted rope ends. Others would be locked in leg irons on the gun deck, eating only bread and water. Midshipmen, the Navy’s young, trainee officers, were caned rather than flogged if punished, or could be ‘mast headed’ – sent aloft to sit at the head of the mast in the wind and cold.

The most severe punishments for offences like mutiny or desertion were awarded by courts martial. Men ‘flogged around the fleet’ could receive up to 300 lashes, which were often fatal; others were hanged from the yard.