“The mate has been drunk all day”


January 31, 1892

What to do with a drunken sailor?

What to do with a drunken sailor?

One of the great sources of archival information about the men who have made their living from the sea can be found in the “Crew Agreements and Log Books.” English logbooks survive from as early as the mid-17th century and a few more general journals from even earlier. By 1730, the British Admiralty identified the need for consistency and issued the order in their Naval Instructions of 1731 that  a log book had to be maintained on all vessels.

Prior to departure from any port crew members signed the crew agreement  and the Captain would designate one of the crew members, typically the “first mate” to keep a log of the trip.

These logs were treated as sacred, the logs provide considerable information on the vessel, including the port of registry, tonnage, owner and intended voyage. The information relating to the individual crew members includes the person’s name, year and place of birth, capacity, previous vessel served on, and date of signing on and off the vessel.

The St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Herald, reported on January 31, 1892 about an incident  on one vessel that involved an entry in the ship’s log book.

The newspaper reported:

“A good story is told of a well-known sea captain who has more than once visited this port.  (St. John’s). He always allowed his mate to keep the log. On one particular occasion the mate became intoxicated, and was unable to attend to his duty. As the mate very rarely committed the offence the captain excused him and attended to the log himself, concluding with this: “The mate has been drunk all day.” Next day the mate was on deck and resumed his duties.

Looking at the log he discovered the entry the captain had made and ventured to remonstrate with his superior.” What was the need sir””, he asked, “of putting that down on the log?” “Wasn’t it true?” asked the captain. “Yes sir; but it doesn’t seem necessary to enter it on the log””. “Well” said the captain, “since it is true it had better stand, it had better stand.”

The next day the captain had occasion to look at the log, and at the end of the entry which the mate had made was found the item: “The captain has been sober all day.”

The captain had the mate summoned and thundered “What did you mean by putting down that entry? Am I not sober every day?” “”Yes sir, but wasn’t it true?” “Why of course it was true.” “Well then sir”, said the mate, “since it was true, I think it had better stand, it had better stand.”

Recommended Archives: One of the best collections of “Crew Agreements and Log Books” in the world can be found at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.  https://www.mun.ca/mha/index.php

Recommended Song: What to do with a Drunken Sailor:  Great Big Sea: http://www.elyrics.net/read/g/great-big-sea-lyrics/drunken-sailor-lyrics.html