The “Clarke of the Cordage” looked after the ropes, marlin, “twyne,” ordnance, “great shot,” pulleys, blocks and the like. The “Clarke of the Iron Works” was similarly responsible for all the anchors, nails, bolts, chain-plates, and so on, and had to look to these when the ships came home from the East. He was further responsible for the lead and copper. If an anchor or anything had to be made or repaired in this metal it was done by the Company’s smith on the yard.
The “Chirurgion Generall” and his deputy had their lodgings in the yard, and one or the other was bound to be in attendance daily from morning till night “to cure any person or persons who may be hurt in the Service of this Company, and the like in all their ships riding at an anchor at Deptford and Blackwall,85 and at Erith, where hee shall also keepe a Deputy with his Chest furnished, to remaine there continually, until all the said ships be sayled downe from thence to Grauesend.” And it is amusing to read that the duties of the “chirurgion” included that of cutting the “hayre of the carpenters, saylors, caulkers, labourers” and other workmen once every forty days “in a seemely manner, performing their works at Breakfast and Dinner times, or in raynie weather, and in an open place where no man may loyter or lye hidden, under pretence to attend his turne of trimming.” In addition this same surgeon had to report all persons who seemed to be decrepit or unfit: and every carpenter, sailor, labourer or workman in the yards or ships had to pay twopence every month out of his wages to the said “Chirurgion Generall”; so you may take it as certain that he was not the most popular of beings. He was also compelled to find “skilfull and honest chirurgions and their Mates” for the ships. The Company took special precautions to see that these vessels set out with all the medical comforts and supplies of those days, having regard to the changing climates and the heavy losses of life through scurvy and dysentery (or flux). Thus these medicine-chests had to be brought into the Company’s house fourteen days before the ships sailed, so that the doctors and apothecaries and other people appointed by the Committee dealing with this subject might make a full inspection.
In addition to the officials on the Thames there was also a “Keeper of Anchors and Stores in the Downes,” at Deal, who looked after the cables, hawsers, anchors and ships’ boats sent to the Downs, so that whenever any of the Company’s ships arrived86 there lacking any of these articles they could always be supplied. At Deptford yard there was every single trade represented that was employed in the construction and fitting out of a seventeenth-century ship. There were coopers and boatmakers and the carvers who deftly gave those fantastic decorations to the ships’ hulls. There were smiths and painters and riggers, but in addition to the large staff which were concerned with the ships themselves, there was another staff who had to look after the providing of the salt meat for the voyages. For the Company was determined to keep the profit of victuals to itself. This department was under the management of the “Clerk of the Slaughter-house,” his duties being to look after the killing, salting, pickling and packing of the “beefes and hogges.” This salt beef and pork comprised the main food of these sailormen to the Far East and back. They had no vegetables except dried peas and beans, no bread other than mouldy ship’s biscuit, and no fruit.
The Company included a “Committee for Entertaining of Marriners,” and they were on the look-out for “able men, unmarryed and approved saylors.” Many of these fellows were of the reckless, dare-devil type, coarse of morals and frequently drunk when ashore: yet heroic in a crisis, imprudent, contemptuous of danger, brutal and unruly. Many a young man—sailor and factor alike—was sent in these ships in order that he might be got out of the way after disgracing his family: and numbers of them never again set foot in England. If the seamen who were shipped happened to be married, the “Clarke of the Imprest” paid the wages allowed to their wives whilst the men were at sea. This official87 was also bound to pay the wages to the “marriners which shall returne home in the Companies ships, or to their Assignes.”
After the masters and their mates of the respective ships had been hired for a voyage, their names were entered under the list of harbour-wages, and they took their oaths openly in the Court of the Committees of the Company. After this they sought able and good mariners “whom they shall preferre for entertainment unto the Committees appointed to that businesse.” These masters were bound to sleep on board the ships to which they had just been appointed, every night, and there keep good order. They were also to appoint quartermasters and boatswains, who were to see that the victuals, provisions, stores and merchandise were properly stowed. The boatswain, gunner, cook, steward, carpenter and other officers were each responsible for their own special stores.