ePub 版

thus the character or judgment of the individuals concerned becomes implicated.

They, on the other hand, set themselves in array against innovations, and regard with strong veneration the customs and even the prejudices of their puerile years; and the older the individual is, the more obstinate will he be to relinquish his early conceptions, however erroneous they may be. Hence Dr. Cullen used to say, "Habit makes us believe and revere the grossest absurdities." But to return to my subject, viz. the consideration of the pernicious effects of so repeatedly WASHING DECKS on the health of British seamen: and first

Of Washing the Main and Quarter Decks.

WASHING DECKS in His Majesty's navy, is generally conducted under the direction of the lieutenant of the morning watch, while at sea, and by the first lieutenant, or, more frequently, the mate of the morning watch, in harbor. The watery operations most usually commence about half past four, or five o'clock A. M. and are generally finished just in time to go to breakfast a little before eight o'clock.

And as the quality of the officer is frequently estimated by the style in which he performs this piece of service, the greatest pains is, consequently, taken, on the part of the lieutenant or mate, to give complete satisfaction. When the ship is at anchor, all hands are turned up at half past four; but when she is at sea, the morning watch only is called. Immediately the watch comes on deck, water is pumped from the main deck, and drawn from the head, and thrown on the main and quarter decks in the utmost profusion; and this is followed (or sometimes preceded) by buckets of sand being strewed on the decks, and the seamen, during the whole of this period, are compelled to work without their shoes and stockings (although the thermometer may range at or below the freezing point), dragging the large holy stones, working the hand holy stones, pumping and carrying water, and, ultimately, using brooms and swabs to dry the decks, before going to breakfast.

The large holy stones, are stones, en verité, with smooth under surfaces, slung in the middle by a rope, and dragged backward and forward by means of six or eight stout hands; these stones (as may be anticipated) have the property of rendering the deck whiter and smoother, as well as of grinding every species of animal and vegetable matter into a fine pappy consistence.

The hand stones are used in the corners, and where the larger ones cannot be applied; and, during the whole of this process,

the weight of the body is sustained on the naked knee, as they can only be conveniently used in that posture. It would be end less to enumerate the diseases of the knee-joint I have seen excited by thus throwing the whole weight of the body on the knees.

After the large and small holy stones have been kept in play for upwards of two hours, by which the decks have been worn and saturated with moisture, the men's clothes drenched, and every atom of matter finely ground down, they are set aside, and this well-blended heterogeneous fluid is suffered to escape by means of the scupper-holes.

The dumb-scrapers are next used to take out stains, which could not be acted on by either of the holy stones; and, thus, by the assistance of more water, brooms and swabs, the operations (as already mentioned) are completed about half past seven or eight o'clock.

Let us now examine the effects of this system of cleaning the ship on those individuals who had just been turned out from their hammocks, and who have passed three hours and a half of an amphibious existence, previous to going to breakfast. Let us also remember that, in this watery circle, the victims of venereal pleasure, who have just completed their six weeks' course of alterative medicine, meet with the hepatic valetudinarian after a long residence in a tropical climate; or the friend of his youth, who has a predisposition to, or is already affected with, incipient consumption, &c. all performing their various parts in the watery throng. But the evil arising from those early and tedious forms of ablution, has not yet been seen in its most alarming shape; for during the period that water was so lavishly dashed on the decks and sides of the ship, it is evident the seamen could not escape being wetted; and in this state they go down to breakfast; and from which they rise to the cleansing or

Washing the Lower Deck.

THE washing or cleaning of the lower deck, after breakfast, now remains to be described. This piece of service is performed in one of the three following ways: viz. 1st, by dry holy stoning, i. e. using dry sand, and rubbing it on the deck without water; 2dly, washing the deck after the same manner as the main and quarter decks which have already been spoken of; and, 3dly, by sprinkling and scrubbing, that is, watering the deck in a different way, either by throwing it out of a bucket with the hand, or applying it by means of wetted swabs to the whole surface of the deck. Afterwards dumb-scrapers are used, and where those

implements cannot be applied, the seamen's knives are generally called into action, for scraping the previously wetted tables and ladders, &c. and the second ablution is usually finished about half past ten or eleven o'clock.

In those ships where sprinkling and scrubbing are practised to do away with the name of washing decks (but its effects are nearly the same), there are, in general, two days set apart in every week (Thursday and Sunday), for making the utmost effort in the cleaning art. On those days, every wooden surface below is doomed to be visited by holy stones, sand and water, dumb-scrapers, knives, and swabs, so that the decks, &c. may be put in a proper state to meet the approbation of the commanding officer, who generally goes round after such occasions, to bestow praise or censure, as he may judge necessary.

After breakfast, on the above-mentioned days, the bustle of working the holy stones, carrying water, and strewing sand on the deck, becomes general over the ship; and, as the washing is supposed by many to do good, and be salutary, according to the quantity of the element used, I have frequently seen the whole lower deck covered with water to a considerable depth, while the small and great eight-handed holy stones were ploughing the water on the surface of the deck in every direction.i

After these measures have been pursued for a certain length of time, regulated by the opinion of the superintending officer, an effort is at last made to dry the deck, either by swabbing up the water, or allowing it to escape by means of two small scuttle-holes, that are usually cut through the deck close to the ship's side, by which the sand and water, vegetable and animal matter, pass down between the ship's side and her lining, and, ultimately, percolate into the


I sincerely trust the time is nearly past for any one to assert, that no bad effects will arise from this exposure, and the accumulation of such a mass in the lower department of a ship; in any place or climate, but more particularly within the Tropics, where the putrefactive process runs its course most rapidly.2

Let us now return and take a careful survey of the lower deck,

'It will hardly be credited, that the rage for washing in some ships is carried so far, that the midshipmen's chests and others, on the lower deck, are regularly white-washed about thrice a week, by a man who goes round with a bucket and brush for that purpose. The injury done by this custom is beyond calculation, not only in diffusing moisture, but, also, by the lime or chalk absorbing the oxygen or vital part of the air, for which it has so strong an affinity; and, from this cause, the constitution of the atmosphere of the lower deck becomes greatly deteriorated.

2 On going first to a warm climate, one is instantly struck by the rapidity with which even metallic substances become rusted.

half an hour after this system of washing has been finished; and let us observe the influence of the moisture on the health of its inmates. It ought to be kept in mind, that the men have been laboring in water since half past four o'clock, with the exception of the breakfast hour; and then, their clothes had been wetted by previously drawing, carrying, and throwing water on the main and quarter decks. Under this system of cleaning the ship (let us suppose the month of December has been ushered in), we shall find, on examination, the deck and every other article below, thoroughly saturated with moisture, and in this most miserable situation will generally be found the following persons, sitting or lying on deck, and that most probably in canvas trowsers, viz. individuals resting from fatigue; the habitual drunkard taking his nap after last night's debauch; tailors, who are compelled to sit on deck professionally; seamen and marines, making, mending, or cleaning clothes; the lazy, the delicate, and those undergoing a course of medicine, are all doomed to suffer by this humid enemy, from which they cannot fly, and which has now become fixed in the decks after such constan previous application; and long before it can be dried by animal or combustible heat, it is again deemed necessary to have recourse to ablution, and so on ad infinitum.

It will appear, on reading the foregoing statement, that British seamen are in the habit of laboring in water at least three hours daily, before breakfast, and nearly double that time (twice a week) in those ships where washing the lower deck is practised; and every morning after breakfast, in other ships where sprinkling and scrubbing are deemed salutary. But, as any thing in the shape of exagge

In the West Indies and at Bermuda, polished iron surfaces and buttons become partially oxidized in a few days; while at Quebec, but yet more particularly at Montreal, some houses which have been covered with tinned plates for forty years, remain still untarnished; and scythes, &c. exposed to the open air, in that country, continue nearly free from rust till the ensuing year.

It is generally admitted, that iron has the property of decomposing water by uniting with its oxygen to form rust, while hydrogen, the other component part of water, is carried off by caloric in the form of hydrogen gas.

It would appear, however, this process does not take place rapidly, unless the atmosphere has been previously charged with marine evaporations. For to what are we to attribute the little or non-oxidizement of metal at Montreal, but to its great distance from the sea; or, in other words, from all the oceanic exhalations having been condensed on their passage hither by the tops of mountains, and immense tracts of cold desert land, over which the wind has to pass before it reaches that city.

Rain-water, in Europe, according to Margraaf, always contains traces of the muriatic and nitric acids; it would be interesting to learn, if rain near Montreal (at a distance of 500 miles from the sea) is impregnated with marine acid.

ration would defeat my purpose, I would rather be under than over the truth; and certainly it cannot be denied, that British seamen, on an average, are daily three hours employed working in water, and the remainder of the 24 hours under its pernicious influence.

Although washing the lower deck is so very hurtful to the constitution of seamen in the temperate zones, by producing a continual train of inflammatory complaints; yet it is, sometimes, far more dreadful in its consequences within the Tropics. It being generally admitted, where ablutions of the lower deck are most frequent, the greater will be the quantity of vegetable and animal matter, which finds its way into the lower department of a ship; and, consequently, the greater will be the danger of fever; admitting animal and vegetable matter in a state of putrefaction, to be its great common cause.

All vegetable and animal substances, when deprived of life, have a tendency to perform a retrograde process, and are dissipated in the atmosphere in the form of putrid gas.

In tropical climates, this process is known to be quickest, owing to the greater strength of the putrefactive agents there; which are, 1st, a high range of temperature; 2dly, a certain quantity of moisture; and, 3dly, the free admission of atmospheric air.

And it is not a little wonderful that, even by the partial abstraction of either of these destructive agents (heat, air, or humidity), we are enabled to preserve vegetable and animal substances from decay, for a great length of time.

I am aware, that the present pernicious practice of so frequently washing decks, is founded on the venerable monument of ancient custom, rather than want of attention towards the health of our mariners and it would be wonderful indeed, if there did not exist some difference of opinion between officers, respecting the best mode of cleaning a ship, as well as on every other subject.

It cannot be denied, however, that executive officers generally adhere strictly to that method of cleaning which is best adapted to give the fairest show; while, on the other hand, the surgeon usually recommends those measures, which he thinks will give him the least trouble.

It is painful to remark, that there generally exists an unbending disposition on the part of an executive officer, to yield to the suggestions of a surgeon, however salutary his injunctions may be; partly, it is true, because this is not the source from which orders should be issued; and partly too, from a certain esprit du corps, and a belief that the customary means are preferable.

For instance, I was once in a line-of-battle ship, where the surgeon recommended dry holy stoning the lower deck, in place of

« 上一頁繼續 »