Page 868
Previous/Next Page
William Falconer's Dictionary of the MarineReference Works
Table of Contents




MATE of a ship of war to MIDSHIPMAN
MATE of a ship of war
MATE of a merchant-ship




Contact us


MIDSHIPMAN, a sort of naval cadet, appointed by the captain of a ship of war, to second the orders of the superior officers, and assist in the necessary business of the vessel, either aboard or ashore.

The number of midshipmen, like that of several other officers, is always in proportion to the size of the ship to which they belong. Thus a first-rate man of war has twenty-four, and the inferior, rates a suitable number in proportion. No person can be appointed lieutenant, without having previously served two years in the royal navy in this capacity, or in that of mate, besides having been at least four years in actual service at sea, either in merchant-ships, or in the royal navy.

Midshipman is accordingly the station in which a young volunteer is trained in the several exercises, necessary to attain a sufficient knowledge of the machinery, discipline, movements, and military operations of a ship, to qualify him for a sea-officer.

As the chief object of our attention has been to facilitate the acquisition of this intelligence, we have endeavoured to treat those subjects at large, in the different parts of this work, according to their importance. We have also sketched the general outlines of the respective charges of all the superior officers, which, in conformity to the plan of this work, become previous to this article. Thus the duties of the admiral, the captain, the lieutenant, and the master, are already explained in their proper places; and whatever intelligence appears necessary to discharge those office; is also, in a high degree, essential to the midshipman. Those officers indeed, as well as many others, are furnished with suitable instructions to regulate their conduct; but the midshipman, being invested with no. particular charge from the government, is by consequence omitted in those official regulations. In a work of this kind, however, the importance of the subject is not always determined by the superiority of rank or station. If our province is to communicate instruction, those who are the least informed are certainly the principal objects thereof, and to them our attention is more peculiarly directed. Hence the extent of our design comprehends many circumstances which would be immaterial in general orders and regulations; and hence abundance of particular directions to respective officers, inserted in those general regulations, are rejected here as foreign to our purpose. Averse as we are, on other occasions, to offend the rigid nicety of a critic, by introducing moral reflections, in a performance dedicated to scientifical description, we must for once be indulged with a short deviation from the plan hitherto invariably followed. Happy if our efforts may in any degree operate to produce the effects for which they were calculated.

On his first entrance in a ship of war, every midshipman has several disadvantageous circumstances to encounter. These are partly occasioned by the nature of the sea-service, and. partly by the mistaken prejudices of people in general, respecting naval discipline, and the genius of sailors and their officers. No character, in their opinion, is more excellent than that of the common sailor, whom. they generally suppose to be treated with great severity by his officers, drawing a comparison between them not very advantageous to the latter. The midshipman usually comes aboard tinctured with these prejudices, especially if his education has been amongst the higher rank of people; and if the officers happen to answer his opinion, he conceives an. early disgust to the service, from a very partial and incompetent view of its operations. Blinded by these prepossessions, he is thrown off his guard, and very soon surprized to find, amongst those honest sailors, a crew of abandoned miscreants, ripe for any mischief or villainy. Perhaps, after a little observation, many of them will appear to him equally destitute of gratitude, shame, or justice, and only deterred from the commission of any crimes by the terror of severe punishment. He will discover, that the pernicious example of a few of the vilest in a ship of war is too often apt to poison the principles of the greatest number, especially if the reins of discipline are too much relaxed, so as to foster that idleness and dissipation, which engender sloth, diseases, and an utter profligacy of manners. If the midshipman, on many occasions, is obliged to mix with these, particularly in the exercises of extending or reducing the sails in the tops, he ought resolutely to guard against this contagion, with which the morals of his inferiors may be infected. He should however avail himself of their knowledge, and acquire their expertness in managing and fixing the sails and rigging, and never suffer himself to be excelled by an inferior. He will probably find a virtue in almost every private sailor, which is entirely unknown to many of his officers: that virtue is emulation, which is not indeed mentioned amongst their qualities by the gentlemen of terra firma, by whom their characters are often copiously described with very little judgment. There is hardly a common tar who is not envious of superior skill in his fellows, and jealous on all occasions to be out-done in what he considers as a branch of his duty! Nor is he more afraid of the dreadful consequences of whistling in a storm, than of being stigmatized with the opprobrious epithet of lubber. Fortified against this scandal, by a thorough knowledge of his business, the sailor will sometimes sneer in private, at the execution of orders, which to him appear awkward, improper, or unlike a seaman. Nay, he will perhaps be malicious enough to suppress his own judgment, and by a punctual obedience to command, execute whatever is to be performed, in a manner which he knows to be improper, in order to expose the person commanding to disgrace and ridicule. Little skilled in the method of the schools, he considers the officer who cons his lesson by rote as very ill qualified for his station, because particular situations might render it necessary for the said officer to assist at putting his own orders in practice. An ignorance in this practical knowledge will therefore necessarily be thought an unpardonable deficiency by those who are to follow his directions. Hence the midshipman, who 'associates with these sailors in the tops, till he has acquired a competent skill in the service of extending or reducing the sails, &c. will be often entertained with a number of scurrilous jests, at the expence of his superiors. Hence also he will learn, that a timely application to those exercises can only prevent him from appearing in the same despicable point of view, which must certainly be a cruel mortification to a man of the smallest sensibility.

Previous Page Reference Works Next Page

© Derived from Thomas Cadell's new corrected edition, London: 1780, page 193, 2004
Published by South Seas, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher
To cite this page use: