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AllByMeOnesies

The brig (not the sailing vessel)

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Back in the 17th and 18th centuries were there really such things on sailing vessels? In Defoe's History of the Pyrates, he talks about prisoners being held in the gunroom of one vessel. I've never seen a "brig" (as in jail or holding cell) being mentioned in any of my reading. So is it a modern day naval term that Hollywood hi-jacked for period movies?

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As I understand it, "brig" the shipboard prison and "brig" the sailing vessel share a common origin. In the 18th century (post-GAoP, I think), old brigs that weren't seaworthy anymore would be dismasted and used as prison hulks for miscreant sailors. Thus brig acquired its second meaning as a prison, which was later applied to a prison room aboard ship. Its use in movies set in early 18th century or before is probably anachronistic.

I do recall reading in GAoP sources about sailors being confined in iron "bilboes" that held their feet. I'd have to dig out old notes to know the names of the sources though, and I never found out where aboard ship the bilboes were.

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Bilboes were simply leg irons with a solid bar to hold the legs apart so they might be anywhere on a ship

Bilboes.JPG

None of the cross sections of GAoP era ships that I've seen have a brig aboard. The punishments of the time were more pro-active so having a special room for a prison aboard a ship was just a waste of valuable space.

When did ships start having brigs? No idea TBH. If I had to venture a guess I would suppose that it probably coincided with reforms in punishment practices - probably 19thC.

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The C.S.S. Shenandoah (last of the Confederate commerce raiders) was a mid 19th century ship and had no "brig" per say they used the forcastle to chain up prisoners. Although I am sure there are others prior to this the first ship I can recall that had a brig was the (crap forgot the German spelling so here is the English) Sea Eagle. A 20th century commerce raider for Imperial Germany. She was the last man of war under sail (at least from a major country) and did have a special area aboard to hold prisoners. Prior to this I can think of no refrence to a brig. I do seem to recall several refrences to men being clamped in irons and held below decks but I don't have any specific refrences as to where below decks off hand(besides the Shenandoah's prefrence for the forecastle of course.).

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