Sunday, July 11, 2004


Today is the 6th Sunday after Pentecost. Finding a discussion of the “feast” for a Sunday after Pentecost is a lost cause. So instead, a description of how Sunday was kept aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the early 19th century. This is taken from Patrick O’Brien’s book The Commodore which has been noted in the column to the left as my “bedside” book for lo’ these many weeks. (Far longer than it actually has been truth to tell. I finished it some time ago. As of this writing, the one showing is actually correct.)

From page 216 et seq of The Commodore:

There was little likelihood of Stephen's being able to forget that it was Sunday, for not only did Killick take away and hide his newly-curled and powdered best wig, his newly-brushed second-best coat and breeches, but the loblolly-boy said 'Asking your pardon, sir, but you ain't forgot it is Sunday?' while both his assistants, separately and tactfully, asked him whether he had remembered it. 'As though I were a brute-beast, unable to tell good from evil, Sunday from common days of the week,' he exclaimed; but his indignation was tempered by a consciousness that he had in fact risen from his cot unaware of this interesting distinction, and that he had shaved close by mere chance. 'Yet I should very soon have made it out,' he said. 'The atmosphere aboard a Sunday man-of-war is entirely different.'

Indeed it was, with five or six hundred men washing, shaving, or being shaved, plaiting their tie-mates' pigtails, drawing clean hammocks, putting on their best clothes for mustering by divisions and then church, all in great haste, all in a bitterly confined space with a heat and humidity great enough to hatch eggs, and all after having brought the ship and everything visible in her to an exemplary state of cleanliness if wooden and of brilliance if metal.

The Anglican aspect of Sunday did not affect Stephen, but the ritual cleanliness did, and he, with his assistants and loblolly-boy, were present, sober, and properly dressed, with their instruments laid out all agleam and their patients rigidly straight in their cots when Captain Pullings and his first lieutenant, Mr Harding, came round to inspect them. So did the convention of the Captain dining with his officers: but this did not take place until after church had been rigged - an awning shaded the quarterdeck, an ensign over an arms-chest to serve as a lectern from which prayers and sermons were delivered if the ship carried a chaplain (which the Bellona did not) or by the captain; though a captain might well prefer reading the Articles of War. Stephen therefore had time, after the inspection of the sick-berth, to make his way to the poop, where he had a fine view of the Royal Marines, close on a hundred of them, drawn up exactly in their scarlet and pipeclayed glory, and of the long, somewhat more wavering lines of seamen, clean and trim, standing in their easy, round-shouldered way, covering the decks fore and aft, a sight that always gave him a certain pleasure.

During the service itself he joined other Catholics for a recital of a Saint Brigid's rosary under the forecastle: they were of all possible colours and origins, and some were momentarily confused by the unusual number of Aves, but wherever they came from their Latin was recognizably the same; there was a sense of being at home; and they recited away in an agreeable unison while from aft came the sound of Anglican hymns and a psalm. They both finished at about the same time, and Stephen walked back to the quarterdeck, overtaking Captain Pullings as he was walking into the coach, where he lived, necessarily resigning the cabin to the Commodore. ‘Well, Tom,’ he said, ‘so you have survived your ordeal?’ - As Captain of the Bellona he had just read one of South’s shorter sermons to the people – ‘I have, sir: it comes a little easier, as you said; but sometimes I wish we were just a pack of wicked heathens. Lord, I could do with my dinner, and a drink.’