This section is from the book "Elizabethan Sea Dogs", by Gerhard R. Lomer and Charles W. Jefferys. Also available from Amazon: Elizabethan Sea Dogs.
A sack of straw were there right good; For some must lay them in their hood: I had as lief be in the wood,
Without or meat or drink !
For when that we shall go to bed, The pump is nigh our beddes head: A man he were as good be dead
As smell thereof the stynke!
Howe—hissa! is still used aboard deepwater-men as Ho — hissa! instead of Ho — hoist away! What ho, mate! is also known afloat, though dying out. Y-howe! taylia! is Yo — ho! tally! or Tally and belay! which means hauling aft and making fast the sheet of a mainsail or foresail. What ho! no nearer! is What ho! no higher now. But old salts remember no nearer! and it may be still extant. Seasickness seems to have been the same as ever — so was the desperate effort to pretend one was not really feeling it:
And cry after hot malvesy— 'Their health for to restore.'
Here is another sea-song, one sung by the sea-dogs themselves. The doubt is whether the Martial-men are Navy men, as distinguished from merchant-service men aboard a king's ship, or whether they are soldiers who want to take all sailors down a peg or two. This seems the more probable explanation. Soldiers 'ranked' sailors afloat in the sixteenth century; and Drake's was the first fleet in the world in which seamen-admirals were allowed to fight a purely naval action.
We be three poor Mariners, newly come from the Seas, We spend our lives in Jeopardy while others live at ease. We care not for those Martial-men that do our states disdain,
But we care for those Merchant-men that do our states maintain.
A third old sea-song gives voice to the universal complaint that landsmen cheat sailors who come home flush of gold.
For Sailors they be honest men, And they do take great pains,
But Land-men and ruffling lads Do rob them of their gains.
Here, too, is some Cordial Advice against the wiles of the sea, addressed To all rash young Men, who think to Advance their decaying Fortunes by Navigation, as most of the sea-dogs (and gentlemen-adventurers like Gilbert, Raleigh, and Cavendish) tried to do.
You merchant men of Billingsgate,
I wonder how you thrive. You bargain with men for six months.
And pay them but for five.
This was an abuse that took a long time to die out. Even well on in the nineteenth century, and sometimes even on board of steamers, victualling was only by the lunar month though service went by the calendar.
A cursed cat with thrice three tails Doth much increase our woe is a poetical way of putting another seaman's grievance.
People who regret that there is such a discrepancy between genuine sea-songs and shore-going imitations will be glad to know that the Mermaid is genuine, though the usual air to which it was sung afloat was harsh and decidedly inferior to the one used ashore. This example of the old 'fore-bitters' (so-called because sung from the fore-bitts, a convenient mass of stout timbers near the foremast) did not luxuriate in the repetitions of its shore-going rival: With a comb and a glass in her hand, her hand, her hand, etc.
On Friday morn as we set sail It was not far from land, Oh, there I spied a fair pretty maid With a comb and a glass in her hand.
The stormy winds did blow, And the raging seas did roar, While we poor Sailors went to the tops And the land lubbers laid below.
The anonymous author of a curious composition entitled The Complaynt of Scotland, written in 1548, seems to be the only man who took more interest in the means than in the ends of seamanship. He was undoubtedly a landsman. But he loved the things of the sea; and his work is well worth reading as a vocabulary of the lingo that was used on board a Tudor ship. When the seamen sang it sounded like ' an echo in a cave. ' Many of the outlandish words were Mediterranean terms which the scientific Italian navigators had brought north. Others were of Oriental origin, which was very natural in view of the long connection between East and West at sea. Admiral, for instance, comes from the Arabic for a commander-in-chief. Amir-al-bahr means commander of the sea. Most of the nautical technicalities would strike a seaman of the present day as being quite modern. The sixteenth-century skipper would be readily understood by a twentieth-century helmsman in the case of such orders as these: Keep full and by! Luff! Con her! Steady! Keep close! Our modern sailor in the navy, however, would be hopelessly lost in trying to follow directions like the following: Make ready your cannons, middle culverins, bastard culverins, falcons, sakers, slings, headsticks, murderers, passevolants, bazzils, dogges, crook arquebusses, calivers, and hail shot!
Another look at life afloat in the sixteenth century brings us once more into touch with America; for the old sea-dog directions for the takyng of a prize were admirably summed up in The Seaman's Grammar, which was compiled by 'Captaine John Smith, sometime Governour of Virginia and Admiral of New England' — 'Pocahontas Smith,' in fact.
'How bears she? To-windward or lee-ward? Set him by the compass!'
'Hee stands right a-head' (or On the weather-bow, or lee-bow).
'Let fly your colours!' (if you have a consort —else not). 'Out with all your sails! A steadie man at the helm! Give him chace!'
'Hee holds his owne — No, wee gather on him, Captaine!'
Out goes his flag and pendants, also his waist-cloths and top-armings, which is a long red cloth . . . that goeth round about the shippe on the out-sides of all her upper works and fore and main-tops, as well for the countenance and grace of the shippe as to cover the men from being seen. He furls and slings his main-yard. In goes his sprit-sail. Thus they strip themselves into their fighting sails, which is, only the foresail, the main and fore topsails, because the rest should not be fired nor spoiled; besides, they would be troublesome to handle, hinder our sights and the using of our arms.
'He makes ready his close-fights, fore and aft.' [Bulkheads set up to cover men under fire] . . .
'Every man to his charge! Dowse your topsail to salute him for the sea! Hail him with a noise of trumpets!'
'Whence is your ship?'
'Of Spain — whence is yours?'
'Are you merchants or men of war?' 'We are of the Sea!'
He waves us to leeward with his drawn sword, calls out' Amain' for the King of Spain, and springs his luff [brings bis vessel close by the wind].
'Give him a chase-piece with your broadside, and run a good berth a-head of him!'
'We have the wind of him, and now he tacks about!'
'Tack about also and keep your luff! Be yare at the helm! Edge in with him! Give him a volley of small shot, also your prow and broadside as before, and keep your luff!'
'He pays us shot for shot!'
'Well, we shall requite him!' . . .
'Edge in with him again! Begin with your bow pieces, proceed with your broad-side, and let her fall off with the wind to give him also your full chase, your weather-broad-side, and bring her round so that the stern may also discharge, and your tacks close aboard again!' . . .
'The wind veers, the sea goes too high to board her, and we are shot through and through, and between wind and water.'
'Try the pump! Bear up the helm! Sling a man overboard to stop the leaks, that is, truss him up around the middle in a piece of canvas and a rope, with his arms at liberty, with a mallet and plugs lapped in oakum and well tarred, and a tar-pauling clout, which he will quickly beat into the holes the bullets made.'
'What cheer, Mates, is all Well?'
'Then make ready to bear up with him again!'
'With all your great and small shot charge him, board him thwart the hawse, on the bow, midships, or, rather than fail, on his quarter; or make fast your grapplings to his close-fights and sheer off' [which would tear his cover down].
'Captain, we are foul of each other and the ship is on fire!'
'Cut anything to get clear and smother the fire with wet cloths!'
In such a case they will bee presentlie such friends as to help one the other all they can to get clear, lest they should both burn together and so sink: and, if they be generous, and the fire be quenched, they will drink kindly one to the other, heave their canns over-board, and begin again as before. . . .
'Chirurgeon, look to the wounded, and wind up the slain, and give them three guns for their funerals! Swabber, make clean the ship! Purser, record their names! Watch, be vigilant to keep your berth to windward, that we lose him not in the night! Gunners, spunge your ordnance! Souldiers, scour your pieces! Carpenters, about your leaks! Boatswain and the rest, repair sails and shrouds! Cook, see you observe your directions against the morning watch!' . . .
'Boy, hallo! is the kettle boiled?'
'Ay, ay, Sir!'
'Boatswain, call up the men to prayer and breakfast!' . . .
Always have as much care to their wounded as to your own; and if there be either young women or aged men, use them nobly ...
'Sound drums and trumpets: saint george for merrie england!'