Spotlight on boatswains in vintage photography and art

by | Mar 31, 2023 | Maritime Art, Culture and History, Photography, Seafaring, Shipping

The important role played by the boatswain (often called “bosun”) cannot be gainsaid. He is the senior crewman of the ship’s deck department — the major-domo, as it were, in charge of planning, scheduling, and assigning work to be carried out by the other deckhands.

It’s a job that demands a strong set of skills. Notes an article on “From supervising the deck crew and managing the ship’s equipment and supplies to conducting inspections and ensuring the ship’s and its crew’s safety, a Bosun plays a vital role in the smooth running of any maritime operation.” [Read more here].

Interestingly, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 (STCW) talks about ratings but makes no mention of boatswains or bosuns. The latter are also rarely, if ever, spotlighted in the maritime press. At any rate, Marine Café Blog would like to pay tribute to this special breed of seafarers with the following photographs and artworks:

Boatswain Karl Muller smoking a pipe and hosing the deck of SEETEUFEL, 1938
Photo by Samuel J. Hood (Australian, 1872–1953)
Courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum

The Bosun [John Vincent] of the ‘Endurance’ mending a net, 1915
Photo by Frank Hurley (Australian, 1885–1962)
Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

John Murphy, Peary’s boatswain, 1909
Photographer unidentified
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Boatswain on board the ship l’Heureuse Marianne, 1778
Chalk and watercolour on paper
Louis Ducros (Swiss, 1748-1810)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Portrait study of a boatswain; a sketch of his silver whistle or ‘call’ below left, 1797
Watercolour over graphite
Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (French, 1740–1812)
Image © The Trustees of the British Museum
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence

The Old Boatswain, 1875–1876
Wood engraving
Frederik Hendrik Weissenbruch (Dutch, 1828–1887)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

~ Barista Uno

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