At the October meeting, our president, Jackie, welcomed Phil Lyons who had come along to talk about A Sailor’s Life.
Phil started with the fact that 21 men from Colchester and the surrounding villages had served at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. At that time Britain had the greatest navy in the world, with 108 ships but after the battle, they possessed 152 ships as they had captured those of the French and Spanish.
Boys as young as 7 served on board, often at sea for over 2 years before setting foot on terra firma. Crews were recruited by press gangs and quota men who rounded up paupers and criminals to serve in the navy. Interestingly 2 of the Colchester men joined voluntarily. Life on the ships was a mixture of boredom, terror and sheer hard work. It took 8 men to hold the wheel in calm weather and 12 men in a storm, then there was always a danger of catching the wheel and being thrown overboard.
Food was poor with maggots in the meat and weevils in the ship’s biscuits, but men did not complain as at least they were fed. To prevent scurvy, Nelson provided his sailors with onions not limes! The best part was the daily ration of grog, a mixture of half a pint of rum mixed with 4 parts of water, and a gallon of small beer served daily. This provided the men with 200 units of alcohol a week!
The sailors slept in hammocks, caught rats for fun and were flogged for any misdemeanour. 50% died from malaria, yellow fever or typhus and many were wounded in battle. Desertion, mutiny and cowardice were hanging offences!
So was a sailor’s life a merry life? I leave you to decide.
Our next meeting is our 10th anniversary celebration on the 22nd November, as such it will be closed to non-members. You can find details of all our meetings and speakers on the diary of the home page of this website. If you would like further information about P.A.W.S please ring either of the following committee members: