Thursday, September 30, 2010

30 September 2010 What shall we do with a drunken sailor

One of the first folk songs I ever learned, or at least the sanitized Kingston Trio version, still comes easily to mind. The litany of punishments that might be meted out to said offensive sailor is long and brutal.

“Put ‘im in the brig on bread and water”

The water was certainly green and scummy, unfit for human consumption unless diluted with lots of alcohol; thus recreating the likelihood that the Jack tar will once again become drunk. The bread would be ships’ biscuit, rock-like, weevil-laden, and inedible without substantial soaking in some sort of liquid. The ration would be delivered grudgingly by shipmates who would steal anything resembling food, once daily. The brig would be as near the bilge as possible, lightless, airless, shared by rats and misery. Still, this was one of the most benign punishments that might be handed down at Captain’s mast. Survivable

“Put ’m in the scuppers with a hose-pipe on im.”

Scuppers were the areas of the deck where ocean water, spray, rain water, dirty scrub water and all other liquids that were retained above decks by design were collected and subsequently directed overboard. The hose pipe was a pipe or flexible tubing used to direct water from pumps onto something or someone. The water from the ocean would be cold and painful. Think about being sprayed with a modern fire hose in winter. Survivable

“”make ‘im dance with a cat-o-nine-tails.” Or

“Throw ‘im in bed with the Captain’s daughter”

The cat-o-nine-tails, cat, or “Captain’s daughter” is a rope whip constructed with nine terminal knotted thongs. Wielded by an experienced master-at-arms, it would strip flesh from bone and leave a tell-tale mass of scars on the back and sides of any victim. To increase the amount of physical pain delivered it was not uncommon for Masters-at-arms to add bits of chain, wire, or other materials to the end of the lashes. Post-flogging medical care consisted of buckets of salt water poured over the victim to wash off the blood. The flogged were expected to return to duty immediately after receiving punishment.

The number of lashes meted out for any offense was determined by the captain rather than by regulation until after the Napoleonic wars. Truly serious offenses could be punished with “flogging round the fleet.”

“"The severest form of flogging was a flogging round the fleet. The number of lashes was divided by the number of ships in port and the offender was rowed between ships for each ship's company to witness the punishment."[3] Penalties of hundreds of lashes were imposed for the gravest offences, including sedition and mutiny. The prisoner was rowed 'round the fleet in an open boat and received a number of his lashes at each ship in turn, for as long as the surgeon allowed. Sentences often took months or years to complete, depending on how much a man was expected to bear at a time. Normally 250–500 lashes was when a man taking this punishment would kill him, as infections would spread."[4] After the flogging was completed, the sailor's lacerated back was frequently rinsed with brine or seawater, which served as a crude antiseptic. Although the purpose was to control infection, it caused the sailor to endure additional pain, and gave rise to the expression, "rubbing salt into his wounds," which came to mean vindictively or gratuitously increasing a punishment or injury already imposed.

The offender was tied to a deck hatch, the hatch placed in a long boat and the victim rowed from ship to ship. The prescribed number of lashes would be delivered at each ship. Unless carried out in staggered fashion as above, lashing around the fleet was, mercifully, not survivable. Flogging was abolished in the U.S. Navy on 28 Sept 1850 by act of Congress.

Keel haul ‘im until ‘e’s sober.

The offender would be tied to lines at hand and foot. One line would be fed under the keel of the ship and brought up on the opposite side of the ship. The offender would be thrown into the water and dragged by the line tied to his hands down the side of the ship, under the keel, and up the opposite side of the ship. The barnacles on the ship’s hull would scrape and abrade any flesh or clothing that made contact with them. The victim would need tremendous lung capacity and miraculous ability to remain calm and hold his breath while slowly being dragged beneath the ship. Given that most sailors could not swim and that the punishment was intended to intimidate and horrify everyone who saw it take place, it was lethal in nature and intent but still meted out into the 19th century.

“Ang ‘im from the yard arm till ‘e’s sober”

Hanging was carried out by securing a line to the victim’s feet, tying them to ad deck rail or belaying the line in some manner. A second rope was passed over the yard arm and tied in a noose which was placed around the victim’s neck. At the signal, the victim was hauled aloft toward the yard arm and both lines were belayed to prevent the victim swaying back and forth as the ship rolled. Death was by strangulation, not by breaking the victim’s neck.

It is not recorded if keel hauling and hanging induced sobriety in the offender. It is, however, likely that those so punished did not imbibe to drunkenness again.

There are many more verses to this song. Drunkenness aboard ship was not conducive to military readiness, to discipline, or to good morale among the crew. The British Navy partially dealt with this by supplying a daily ration of rum and water (grog) that made the bad water more tolerable and satisfied some craving for alcohol. The U.S. Navy banned the storage or consumption of alcohol aboard U.S. ships. That ban is still in effect today. Only ethanol intended for medicinal use and controlled under lock and key as if it were a narcotic is permitted.

Keel-hauling is no longer practiced by 1st world navies. Hanging is still a permissible means of execution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I’m in the mood for some

Scotch tonight. I may have to crack a bottle of Scapa.

Dinner tonight will be Chili-mac.

No comments:

Post a Comment