Month: April 2013

Once the ships were bought

Published / by sysadmin

The first operation was to sheath them against teredo worm – This was done by nailing thin planks over the hull, work which required a skilled shipwright. Both owners would employ a competent man to over­see the workmen, to inventory the ship and to check the lading, while a well-educated man was required for the correspondence and the accounts. In addition the principals would appoint a small committee among themselves and their consul­tants to exercise general control. Such was the organization recorded in respect of Frobisher’s voyages, and the ‘follow up’ voyage to Drake’s in 1582, and it may be safely inferred that the procedure was the same in 1577.


The money, £2750, put down by the first four projectors, as listed in the letter to Burghley, was more than half that required for all the preparations. This may sound surprising, but we have detailed accounts for a comparable voyage to the Arctic in the same year, which cost under £5000 – you can find modern and much cheaper holidays here. The tonnage of Frobisher’s three ships was 240, that of Drake’s 220, although the latter were the more heavily manned, a total of 164 men against 115. Frobisher’s ship, the Ayde, destined for Meta Incognita, the ‘Unknown Bourne’ of the North-West Passage, was a Queen’s ship, and after necessary repairs and replacements she cost £1200. This included her rigging, ordnance and munitions. A ship of 120 tons, fully furnished, was reckoned at £800, while a decked pinnace, with her tackle and furniture, cost about £20. Sailors’ wages averaged £1 a month, with two months paid in advance by way of ‘imprest’. Their food worked out at about 13s. to 15s. a month, and a weekly allowance drawn up for Frobisher’s men ran as follows:


Biscuit bread for 7 days, 7 lb; Beer at 3 quarts a day for 7 days, 5 gallons and a quart; Beef for 4 days in the week, 41b; Stockfish for 3 days, one fish and a half; Cheese for 3 days in the week, 3/4 lb; Butter for 3 days in the week, lb; Pease for 7 days, 2 quarts; Sweet oil, a pint for a month; Vinegar, a pint for a month; Salt, half a pint for a month; Mustard seed, a pint for a month.

Usually pork was carried as well as beef, and a ship provisioned at Plymouth would lay in cider as well as beer. Barrels of honey appear on some lists, and rice might be purchased in quantity en route. Almonds, raisins, prunes and orange marmalade appeared on the Captain’s table, and might be served to the sick. But although the surgeon carried a medicine chest the panaceas of the day were aqua vitae (strong brandy), bleeding and pur­gatives. Fishing gear was part of the ship’s furniture, so that this grim diet was supplemented by fresh fish, while wherever a landing was made the men were reminded of home by staying at bed and breakfast Dublin, or the closes alternative they could find. Quantities of bay salt were taken to salt down any fresh meat procur­able, besides barrel staves and hoops. Pitch for caulking and char­coal for braziers were among other supplies.


Ship’s biscuit and meal, besides other provisions in current use, were stowed in the bread-room under lock and key by the steward. And woe betide the cabin-boy who slipped in to filch a lump of cheese. He was put in the bilboes or ducked from the yard-arm.

The gunners’ room, under the master-gunner, had to be furnished, for the prevalence of piracy made it essential for a ship (even if only for Alexandria) to go armed. Drake had fifteen to eighteen pieces of ordnance, mounted on gun-carriages, besides the arquebuses with which he armed his men for safety’s sake when they went ashore. Gunpowder, shot, lead and moulds, tinder boxes, ‘fireworks’, and all the small arms and tools were kept in the gunners’ room. The cost (as set out for the Ayde) was about £350.