Royal Navy Marines

Members of the State Navies of the world
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Ships Boy
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Joined: Sun Jun 07, 2020 5:38 pm

Royal Navy Marines

Post by Landsgirl »

I am hoping that this forum can help me learn more about the marines onboard Royal Navy ships during the age of sail. I realise I know very little about their place in the ship's organisation. A specific question to start with: Was the Gunner responsible for the marines' weapons? I have seen a Gunner's store inventory and it lists sea-service 'black' muskets; nothing about the 'bright' muskets used by the marines. Was someone else responsible for the those? Where were they stored, or did the marines 'sleep on their arms' at all times? Thanks!
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Joined: Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:40 pm

Re: Royal Navy Marines

Post by Navclio »

According to Brian Lavery, Nelson's Navy (Conway Maritime Press and U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1989), p. 87, "The [British war]ship's muskets, including those of the marines, were under the care of the gunner, and were repaired by his assistant, the armourer. Around 1790, a 74-gun ship carried 184 of these with bright metalwork, and 46 blackened ones, in addition to those for the marines. In 1797, this was reduced to 130, all black. She [the ship] also had 70 pairs of pistols, 200 hand grenades, and various edged weapons for use in boarding." Elsewhere, Lavery states that "bright" and "black" muskets were carried in equal numbers. The "bright" ones were used on sentry duty and for parades, the "black" for nighttime landing parties. Presumably, in a close-range daytime action, both were used. I don't find anything in Lavery about storage of the muskets but they must have been kept under lock and key under the control of either the gunner and his mates or of the commissioned and non-commissioned marine officers. When the watch changed, the marines going off duty might have transferred their weapons to their reliefs, or the reliefs might have drawn fresh ones while those going off duty turned theirs in. I don't know whether the sentry at the door of the captain's cabin had a loaded musket or not; you want to keep the powder in the pan and the cartridge dry, but an unloaded musket is less useful as a weapon in an emergency than a loaded one, even with its bayonet fixed. Keep in mind that on many ships, a shortage of seamen and landsmen required that many of the marine serve on gun (i.e., cannon) crews, not as musketeers. During an action, you would want the marines to have loaded muskets handy in case the range got close or, in very rare instances, the ship was run on board by an enemy ship that attempted to board; when boarding was threatened, you would want to call the marines way from the guns and form them into an organized defensive party. However, despite its frequency in pirate movies and other cinematic fiction, boarding attempts were very rare.
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