Life at sea

Gain a fascinating insight into the lives of sailors and seamen throughout history. From the protocols of the Royal Navy to the traditions, customs and working lives of 18th and 19th century crewmen, we explore what life was really like on the high seas.

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The gold lace on naval officers’ uniforms has traditionally be used to indicate rank. But what are its origins?

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Get up close to the actual uniform Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Tattoos have adorned the highest born royals and the lowliest sailor in Europe for at least 5,000 years.

Account of the Arctic Regions by W Scoresby, Vol.II.Frontispiece. Dangers of the Whale Fishery (banner)

Artist and writer John Kelly looks at how the ship’s log has long contributed to literature and the visual arts.

A zebra and giraffe on board the Chindawara at the Royal Albert Dock (1950)

Exotic animals have a long history in Britain. The Royal menagerie at the Tower of London was probably created in 1204 (during the reign of King John). There was an aviary at Greenwich Palace constructed for Queen Anne, which probably included both native and exotic birds, and there were other Royal menageries at Windsor, Richmond Lodge and Kew. 

Nuisance helping himself to a full bench on the train

The Caird Library’s archive collection contains numerous captivating stories of naval service from letters written by famous Admirals to journals kept by ordinary seamen. One of the more unusual instances of this is “Just Nuisance”: Life story of an able seaman who leads a dog’s life written by Leslie M. Steyn (RMG ID: LIS/15/4). 

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An early kind of glossy magazine, the Navy and Army Illustrated was a subtler means of recruitment for the Army and Navy

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The hornpipe dance hasn't always been associated with sailors and dancing on deck. 

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From brass buttons to bell-bottoms, garments traditionally worn at sea have long been adopted and adapted to create new fashions and statements.

The Arrival of the Ship’s Postman. Father Christmas Receives the Season’s Greetings - from The Navy & Army Illustrated

In this festive guest blog, researcher Sarah Penny uncovers some memorable historical Christmas celebrations on board Royal Navy ships. 

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