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Fathom

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Fathom was originally a term meaning the average distance between the longest fingertips of the outstretched arms of a man.

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Fathom was originally a term meaning the average distance between the longest fingertips of the outstretched arms of a man.

The name ‘fathom’ was derived from the Old English verb fæðm, meaning to embrace.

It was originally used to measure distance on land, but by the end of the seventeenth century it was generally used to measure the depth of water.

By the early nineteenth century, the length of a fathom was set at six feet (1. 828 meters). However, in the mid-decades of the eighteenth century a fathom containing six feet was used by the Royal Navy, while merchant ships employed a measurement of five and a half feet called the middling fathom. Also, the crew of smaller boats with shallower draughts, such as fishing vessels, used a measurement called the small fathom, which contained five feet.

The Admiralty abandoned the fathom as a standard unit of measurement in favour of the meter in 1968.

 

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Prepared by: Turnbull, P
Created: 4 October 2001
Modified: 11 October 2001

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000015

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