Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor,
or a Key to the Rigging and to Practical Seamanship
Darcy Lever, Esq.
Edward W. Sweetman Co., One Broadway, New York, New York

Review by Rich Hall

Ever wonder how the rigging looked, or how the seamen rove up the standing rigging? Ever wonder how to right a ship on her beam ends? Ever wonder how Mowat or Babbington remembered all the terms and procedures, or what they referred to while they mastered the art of seamanship?

This book is one of the tools they employed. Of course, like all of you, my friends tease me no end about the Aubrey-Maturin bumper sticker, the Norton paperbacks I always carry around, and my constant searching around the used book stores in the area. It turns out that one of these friends was in posession of this book, and gave it to me. The publisher information on the cover sheet was dated 1963, so it may still to be in print. John Berg of SeaRoom is researching that for us as we speak.

Lever published this book some time prior to 1819, as my copy is a reprint of the Second Edition of 1819. It includes glowing praises of the first edition by many RN admirals and captains, some of the names recognizable by our friends in the searoom. Other recommendations come from the merchant fleet and the press at large.

The book is beautifully illustrated in a manner that each page of text has an accompanying page of illustrations to make it's meaning clear. The book has been in constant use for training seamen since it's original publication, and has been referenced by countless other texts around the world. It is not the be all and end of all of references, nor is it the most complete. We may compare it to today's Bluejacket's Manual, that is given to our young sailors as they train to participate in the U.S. Navy. It is a reference, containing descriptions and diagrams of most technical aspects of their art. How ropes are made, spliced, and used. How the ship is rigged, and how certain maneuvers are performed, such as “Coming to Anchor” and “Veering or Wearing--Taken A-Back”. Indeed, these are titles of sections and diagrams, and will no doubt prove an invaluable reference to those interested in our favorite author.

The language of the author takes a bit of getting used to, and the vocabulary is a bit much for the modern lubberly reader, but those who follow Mr. O'Brian will undoubtedly follow it with great joy, and will use it as a reference in their reading. The text describes in great detail most of the rigging and operation of a ship of the period. One must remember that most of the seamen who coined these words could neither read nor write, and many of the words had origins in words other than English. Thus the spellings or choice of words may seem foreign to us today, but they are understandable and were certainly of common use at the time.

Here's a quote of praise taken from the introduction to the book (one of many):

“This is certainly the most complete Representation of all the Mechanical Operations of Seamanship, which has yet appeared. --The Author has accurately delineated in One Hundred and Eleven large Quarto Plates, containing Five Hundred and Eighty-seven Figures, all the different parts of the Rigging, the various Positions of the Ship, Sails, Shrouds, Masts, Yards, Tackles, Ropes, Cables, Anchors, Bouy, Compass, &c. &c. with ample directions for splicing Ropes, making Sails, &c.--the Engravings are neatly executed, and are very creditable to the Talents of Messrs. Butterworth, of Leeds.--This Key to Rigging and Seamanship will also be useful to Ship-owners, as well a the young Midshipmen of his Majesty's Navy.” (Anti-Jacobin Review)

I believe this was indeed a text for his Majesty's Middies, and will be a useful addition to our readers' libraries.

PS. If anyone desires it of me, I can scan and send a copy of the frontispiece and a sample of the illustrations (like for a homepage maybe?).

Copyright © 1997 by Rich Hall
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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