This glossary of terms explains some of the nautical and historical words and phrases found on this website. It will continue to grow as the journey unfolds.

All the terms are listed below in alphabetical order.

‘Our society’

This probably refers to the London Missionary Society….

‘Trying hour’

Labour, childbirth.


Deo Volente – God Willing….

70 fathoms of cable

The wind has grown stronger and the crew has let out a second anchor and extended the chain that fastens it to the ship by 70 fathoms or 128 metres. A second anchor provides more grip against the stronger wind. Extending the cable allows the anchor to lay horizontally and grip more effectively on the sea floor while still allowing some movement of the ship during strong wind.


At or towards the stern or rear of a ship….


Shipping agents provide local knowledge and represent ships in port. Their job is to provide anything that a ship might need. They may arrange a pilot to navigate a ship out of port, arrange clearances…


A type of tuna fish found in all tropical and temperate oceans….


The largest of the sea birds, residing mostly in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. Albatrosses are well known to sailors because of their tendency to follow ships, gliding for long periods on …


Emetic, medicine to cause vomiting….


Apperil – apparel/clothing…


When seafarers joined a ship they signed the articles. The captain signed them as well and they formed a contract that set out conditions of employment including how much crew would be paid, what food…


To be any distance behind a vessel….


Any dense heavy material, such as pig iron or stone, placed in the hold of a ship to help weigh it down and increase stability….

bark or barque

Ships were generally classed by the way they were rigged for sail.  A bark (also spelt barque) is a sailing ship which has: three masts, square sails on the front or forward mast square sails on the…


Shadwell Basin was part of the London Docks. It survives today downstream of the Tower of London and upstream of Limehouse….

batten down

The process of nailing on battens, long strips of wood, to hold down the edges of canvas tarpaulins that cover the hatches in bad weather….


In marine navigation a bearing is a measurement indicating the relative position of two objects, usually of two ships or a ship and a geographical point….

bethel flag

The flag of the Bethel Union, a seaman’s missionary organisation with the word Bethel (House of God) blazened across a blue background with a star above and a dove with olive branch below. The flag was…

between decks

Between decks was the space between any two decks of a ship. It could be used for cargo or passengers but the term was associated with cheap accommodation for third class passengers or emigrants who…

Bilge water

Bilge water accumulates in the bilge of a ship. The bilge is the lowest part of a hold on a ship, where the two sides meet at the keel….

binnacle lamp

Ships were equipped with magnetic compasses that were kept on deck in a binnacle that could be illuminated at night by means of a lamp….

Boat cloak

Boat cloaks provided protection against the cold. An example in the collection of Britain’s National Maritime Museum was made in 1836. It was made of navy wool with a plush lining and was gathered at …


A medium sized fish in the Mackerel family….

Book of homilies

Book of sermons….


A spar (or pole) extending from the bow of a sailing vessel….

brace of pistols

A pair of pistols….


A sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts….


The second to last of the nine ships to leave England and the last to arrive in South Australia on 28 December 1836. The ship conveyed Governor Hindmarsh, his officials and other passengers….


An upright partition dividing a ship into compartments and serving to add structural rigidity….


Sides of a ship raised above deck level to protect objects and crew….

cabin boy

A boy (a low-ranking male employee, not necessarily a minor) who waits on the officers and passengers of a ship….


The cable was a strong chain that held the ship to its anchor.


Without wind….

Cape Pigeon

The Cape Petrel (often called a Cape Pigeon) is a common seabird of the Southern Ocean. They have a speckled black and white appearance and an 86cm wing span….


A machine used to lift heavy loads or to weigh an anchor. The hauling rope passes in turns around the body of the capstan, which is mounted on a vertical axle and rotated by means of horizontal bars…


To caulk is to force fibres of oakum or of old rope into the seams of planking to prevent the entry of water….

Channel squadron

The Channel Squadron of the Royal Navy was first stationed in the English Channel in 1690 to defend Britain against the French Navy….

chief mate

First officer directly coming under the command of the captain. Ships’ Mates were responsible for supervising watches, crew, navigation and safety equipment, and sometimes even served as the ship’s…


A severe, infectious disease of the intestine, often fatal.  Symptoms included vomiting and diarrhorea….

Christian brother

Another member of the Methodist Church….


A chronometer is an instrument for accurately measuring time, important in navigation. A ship’s chronometer would be set at Greenwich Mean Time, and the difference between Greenwich Mean Time and noon…

clever breeze

A gentle wind, which can be described fancifully as ‘clever’, ‘smart’, ‘fine’ or ‘fresh’….


A coffer is a strongbox for holding valuables and money. It is also a treasury or a fund….

Commander of the preventative services

The preventative service was the establishment of coastguards at numerous stations along the coast of the United Kingdom for the prevention of smuggling. It reported to Customs, which also had control…

common place books

Books of useful information or memorable sayings, compiled by individuals.  They were often hand-written, but could also include pasted extracts – hence scrap books….


In this context communication with God, through prayer, Bible reading and meditation.

Company flag

The flag of the South Australian company, which was said to have a Union Jack in the top left corner and three red kangaroos on a blue background….


Abbreviation for South Australian Company….

cross jump of a sea

A cross sea arises when the waves raised by a gale continue after the wind has changed direction. Continuing changes, such as during a cyclone, may result in the waves rising up in pyramids and sending…


The galley or pantry of a small ship….

Custom house flag

A flag hoisted ashore to indicate that the vessel has been cleared out at Customs and is legally free to leave port. However, on the day a ship is to sail a ‘Blue Peter’ is hoisted at the head of the …

delimeted Spaise

Either specified areas on deck limiting access to different groups of passengers for walking, parading or promenading, or just limited space….


Protestant sects that had separated from the Established Church or Church of England for a range of theological reasons….


A dock is an area of water in a port that is enclosed by wharves and fitted with watertight gates so that ships can lie unaffected by tides….

Dr Walton Sermon on Luke 6, 46-49.

Books of sermons were quite common in the early nineteenth century and were used both privately and during religious services.  The text for this particular sermon refers to the story in the Gospel…

drawing and knotting yarns

Extracting threads from old rope and knotting them together for further use….


A military exercise in rifle handling….


Oedema, referred to during the nineteenth century as ‘dropsy’. An abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in one or more cavities of the body causing swelling of the soft tissues (usually in…


Dysentery, severe diarrhoea….

easy sail

To progress comfortably under sail suited to the conditions….


A flag or standard, especially a military or naval one, indicating nationality. A national flag….

fair wind

A wind suitable to the direction in which a ship is sailing….


A fathom is a measure of depth in the imperial system. One fathom is equal to six feet or 1.83 metres.


A rifle salute. In French means “fire of joy”….


A closely woven woolen fabric, used mainly for underwear and infants’ pilchers….

flood tide

Rivers such as the lower Thames are connected to the sea and affected by the ocean’s tides. Flood tide is the period when the water is rising and a current is running from the ocean into the river. Ebb…

flying fish

A family of marine fish (Exocoetidae family) consisting on some 64 species. The species’ defining feature is their wing-like pectoral fins used for gliding above the water’s surface for up to 50 metres….

fore chains

The shrouds supporting the masts pass over channels, broad planks projecting out from the ship’s side, and are tied back to the hull with chains. Thus it is for instance convenient to stand on the channel…

fore top sail

A sail immediately above the lowermost sail of a mast and supported by a topmast….


The forenoon is the later part of the morning, the period before 12 pm or noon.


On a schooner like the John Pirie, the foreyard is the lowest yard attached to the foremast to spread the square sails’….


A gaff is a timber pole that is attached to a mast and supports a fore and aft sail….


A light, narrow ship’s boat that could be rowed or sailed….

great gun

A sea-term for cannon….


Abbreviation of ‘His Majesty’s’. In 1836 William IV was the reigning King of England….


A garden plant with small, fragrant purple flowers….

high wind

A very strong wind….

Hoisted our colours

To hoist and display the national flag to establish that this was a British ship….


Livestock on board were normally kept in pens on deck. Any needing to recover from exposure during severe weather might have been transferred to the between-decks. While loosely described as a ‘hospital’,…

hove to

To ‘heave to’ is to reduce a ship’s sails and adjust them so they counteract each other and stop the ship making progress. It is a safety measure used to deal with strong winds….


The body of an old ship unfit for service, often berthed alongside a wharf and used as a storehouse or prison….

in bond

Goods were said to be in bond when they were allowed to enter a country before import duties had been paid….

in the room of

in the place of…

intermediate cabins

Cabins of lesser comfort than those occupied by privileged passengers and intermediate between them and the dormitory accommodation afforded the emigrants….

Iron crane

Hinged brackets at the ship’s side swinging out to support the underside of whaleboats suspended outboard from davits….


God (from the Hebrew)….


A triangular sail carried on a rope stay running between the foremast and the jib boom, an extension of the bowsprit….

joint stock company

A company or partnership where the stock (shares) is owned by two or more people….

King’s birthday

King William IV’s birthday was celebrated in May 1836. His 71st birthday actually fell on 21 August 1836. Historically, official birthday celebrations of the British monarch bore no relation to the…

knot of a sea

A descriptive term for a sharp crest resulting from two waves crossing each other, just as it can apply to the elevated region where several mountain-chains meet….


The speed of ship or wind in nautical miles per hour. A float is dropped overboard and the speed is indicated by the rate at which the ship sails away from it. Spacing of knots in the log-line connected…


The old term for the left hand side of a ship looking forward. The right hand side is starboard. To avoid mis-hearing an order, it is now referred to as ‘port’….

lash fast

To lash fast is to secure objects or seafarers to the deck of the ship with ropes so that they would not be swept overboard during a storm….


Latitude is the distance of a point north or south of the equator as measured in degrees. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south….


A league is a measure of distance in the imperial system. At sea a league equals three nautical miles or 5.56 kilometres….

lee shore

A lee shore is dangerous. It is a coast onto which the wind blows from the sea, presenting the danger that a ship will be blown onto shore….


Windward is the direction from which the wind is coming. Leeward is the opposite direction, away from the wind….


Lepas are stalked barnacles (shell fish) that attach themselves to the bottoms of ships or pieces of floating timber….

lightness of conduct

Probably flirting….

line of Capricorn

The imaginary line dividing the tropics from the rest of the southern hemisphere, and marking the limit of the sun’s apparent movement southwards during summer. The northern limit is the Tropic of…

line tubs

Coopered wooden tubs in which the whale line attached to a harpoon was coiled ready for use in the whaleboats….


A liturgical prayer consisting of a series of petitions recited by a leader alternating with fixed responses by the congregation….

LM Pelham

The Lady Mary Pelham…


Sailing ships carried various smaller boats for different purposes. A longboat was an open row boat accommodating eight to ten oarsmen that was capable of moving through high waves….


Longitude is the distance, measured in degrees, of the meridian on which a point lies to the meridian of Greenwich. On the other side of the earth to Greenwich is a point with a longitude of both 180 …


Disused furniture or other property inconveniently taking up space; useless or cumbersome objects: in this case, loose objects strewn about the decks of the Duke of York. The reference to the Cygnet…


‘Lumbered’ is an informal term mainly used in Britain to refer to someone being burdened with a thing, or things, unwanted. In shipping terminology, ‘much lumbered’ or ‘lumbered with’ were sometimes used to describe the state of decks that had become cluttered with cargo and other objects during storms.


A magazine is like a newspaper. Captain Morgan may have been referring to small religious booklets in this instance….


The mainsail was the lowest sail on the main mast….


Masts are long poles that extend up vertically from the keel and deck of a ship. They carry the rigging, spars and sails by which ships are propelled. To achieve the desired height of the mast, upper …

Meridian altitude

Meridian altitude is a method of astronomical navigation used to calculate ones latitude on earth, in this case the latitude of a ship at sea. Using a nautical …

meridian of Greenwich

The meridian of Greenwich passes through the Royal Observatory there and has been adopted world-wide as the starting point for recording longitudes to the east and west of it….


Can be used to describe a fresh serving of food, a place for eating or a group of people eating together….


On a vessel with three masts the one at the back is called the mizenmast….

Most Obt humbl servt

Most Obedient humble servant – a common form of ending business letters….


A muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder….

nautical mile

Miles at sea are nautical miles, equal to 1.15 statute miles or 1.85 kilometres. The nautical mile is the length of a minute of latitude, or of longitude at the equator where the earth rotates at the …

Nore light

The Nore is a sandbank in the mouth of the Thames River outside London. It was a hazard to shipping so a lightship (a ship carrying a light similar to a lighthouse) was anchored there from 1793. The…


A small bunch of flowers….

Obsd a distance

Observed the angle between the sun and moon, which was known as a ‘lunar distance’. Taken at a time related to the midday as determined by the sun’s passing, the longitude could then be calculated and…


An infectious inflammation of the eye. Also called Trachoma or Egyptian Ophthalmia….


To overhaul is to examine something for necessary repair and then undertake the work….

Parable of the good samaritan

The Biblical parable (moral story) of the Good Samaritan appears in the Gospel According to St Luke, chapter 10 and describes Jesus telling the story to a group of his followers. See topic: Parable of…

Pertious (purchase) block straps

Purchase (correct term) blocks were systems of pulleys used to lift heavy loads. The blocks were fastened in place by means of a loop of rope passing around them and known as a strap or ‘strop’….


A sea bird….


To navigate difficult stretches of water, ships took pilots on board. Pilots were coastal navigators with knowledge of their local waters and they captained the ship through the channel or harbour.


Devoutly religious….


A ship used for piracy, the act of robbery or violence on the high seas….


A ship pitches when its head plunges up and down under the action of waves….


Technically called a stern deck, the poop is an exposed partial deck on the stern (rear) of a ship. It forms the roof of the stern or ‘poop’ cabin….


A porpoise is a small marine mammal related to whales and dolphins. The word ‘porpoise’ has sometimes been used by sailors and fishermen to refer to any small dolphin….


A dark-brown, bitter beer brewed from charred or browned malt, thought originally to have been made especially for porters….

Portuguese man-of-war

A jelly like marine animal (more commonly known as a bluebottle jellyfish)….


A poultice is a soft moist mass, often heated and medicated, that is spread on cloth over the skin to treat an aching, inflamed, or painful part of the body….

Pratique officer

A port health officer who inspects the health of all on board, usually upon arrival at a foreign port. A ship remains in quarantine on arrival in port until it has been granted its certificate of…


Book of the Old Testament of the Bible….

Psalm 121

We can speculate that in reading this psalm before setting sail again, Captain Morgan was preparing himself mentally for the voyage ahead. From the Bible, Old Testament Book of Psalms (King James version,…


Pumps were essential equipment because all ships took in water. They were worked by hand, either by the crew or by steerage passengers who were expected to assist….


A dance performed by four couples. It became popular in England after 1813….

Quarter deck

The quarterdeck was the area of the deck between the main mast and the back of the ship.It was sometimes raised to give more headroom to the cabins below it. In sailing ships the quarterdeck was the…

quarter deck

The quarterdeck was the deck between the main mast and the back of the ship….


Seafarers reduce sails in strong winds so that ships can move more safely and comfortably. Sails are made with rows of small ropes attached to them and these are tied around spars to reduce the amount…


To record meeting another ship upon arrival in port. In one case, the South Australian Company Directors learnt at their meeting of 17 May that the John Pirie had been encountered on 23 April in latitude…


A sheltered off-shore anchorage area for ships….


For most Christians the Sabbath is Sunday, the day they celebrate their religion. For other Christians and for Jewish people the Sabbath is Saturday.

salt provisions

Salt provisions were the salt pork and salt beef which together with bread, rice, flour and peas were the items that could be preserved for long periods and formed the basis of the diet of all…


A schooner is a vessel with two masts, the main mast is taller than the forward mast and the largest sail on each mast is a fore and aft sail….

second mate

A merchant ship’s officer next in rank below the first mate; also known as a ‘second officer’….


Sennit (correct spelling) is a flattened form of rope made by plaiting three or more rope-yarns together….


A breed of dog often used for hunting game….

seven years since he had a being

His 7th birthday….


Ship can be a confusing term because it actually has two meanings. Its common meaning is an ocean-going vessel that is larger than a boat. When used in that sense, a ship can be rigged in many different…

ship stores

Provision of food, drink, medical comforts, and equipment for all passengers and crew to survive the voyage….

ships’ mate

Ships’ mates were either first, second or third officers who came directly under the command of the Captain. Mates were responsible for supervising watches, crew, navigation and safety equipment, and …

Shortened sail

To reduce sail by taking it in….


Fixed ropes which steady masts or bowsprit against movement across the breadth of the ship. They are secured along the length of the ship by stays….


To signalise is to make contact by use of signal flags….


A framework placed over a deck opening and fitted with glazed windows to admit light….

Slave vessel

A ship transporting slaves for sale in a suitable market….

slipped anchor

‘To slip’ is to let go the cable with a buoy on the end, and quit the position, instead of weighing the anchor. A vessel would slip an anchor if it needed to change positions urgently. The anchor, rather…


Articles of clothing and bedding supplied or sold to sailors….

snug canvas

Under suitably reduced sail in preparation for expected conditions, such as meeting a gale….

Soiree musicale

Literally a musical evening or concert….


The action or process of measuring the depth of water with a sounding line, a line marked at intervals of fathoms and weighted at one end. A fathom is a unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.83 metres)….


The action or process of measuring the depth of water with a sounding line, a line marked at intervals of fathoms and weighted at one end. A fathom is a unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.83 metres)….

South Sea fisheries

South Sea fisheries were whaling fisheries. British ships first sailed west round Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America to hunt whales in the South Pacific in the 1780s. It was a lucrative trade…


A form of British currency, the gold sovereign has been minted to exacting specifications since 1817. Each sovereign contains exactly 7.3224 grams of gold (22 carats). It was worth nominally one…


To speak a ship is to communicate with it by voice or signals (flags)….


‘Sprung’ is the past participle of ‘spring’. In respect of the John Pirie’s Fore-top-Mast, the word ‘sprung’ refers to the mast being split or cracked during the storm it experienced….


A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed….

square sail

Rather than a foresail permanently secured to the fore yard, the John Pirie had a square-sail which was hoisted to the yard when required….


The starboard is the right side of a ship or a boat perceived by a person on board facing the bow (front).The left side was originally called ‘larboard’ but in the early nineteenth century that term was…

Steam packet

A packet was a ship that ran a regular route between two ports and had a government contract to carry the mail, in this case powered by steam rather than sail. The ships also carried passengers and cargo…


A steamer is a steam ship or steam boat. Small paddle steamers were used to tow ships in confined waters such as the Thames estuary….


The area of between-decks occupied by steerage passengers, that is, those travelling at the cheapest rate….


A small boat carried across the stern of a ship and suspended from davits….


A ship’s officer in charge of provisions and meals….

Studding sail boom

A boom run out from the end of a yard to extend the foot of a studding sail….

studding sails

Studding sails were set outside the square sails in fine weather and with a fair wind. Their head was fastened to a short yard hoisted to the end of the upper yard and their foot extended by a boom slid…


To survey a ship is to inspect and determine the structural condition of it….


A bearing half a point south of south-west….

Sweedish turnip

A swede or yellow turnip….


Ships could not sail directly into the wind, but they could sail across it at angles. So, to move forward in the direction of the wind they set a zigzag course, sailing across the wind at alternating …

the itch

This might refer to bed bugs, fleas, lice, or all three. Scabies was also often referred to as ‘the itch’, but the mites which cause it are microscopic and unlikely to be found by inspection of…


A precision instrument for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes….

three quarts

About 1.5 litres….

top gallant

The topgallant mast (pronounced and sometimes written t’gallant) is the mast immediately above the topmast, or an extension of the topmast….


Essay or pamphlet, generally on a religious topic….

Trade wind

Regular winds which move towards the equator within or near the tropics. The earth’s rotation drags them so that in the northen hemisphere they blow from the north-eastward and in the southern from the…

Typhoid Fever

Infectious fever, causing great irritation of the intestines and high fever. Often fatal….


Ult is short for Ultimo which means ‘of last month’….

under weigh

When a ship is under weigh it is in motion. The anchor has been raised or weighed….


Followers of a school of thought proposed by social and political reformer Jeremy Bentham, who argued that policy and law should be based on principles that promoted the greatest good for the greatest…


Van Diemen’s Land, the original name used by Europeans for the island colony of Tasmania. In 1856 the colony was granted responsible self-government with its own representative parliament, and the name…


The portion of the crew, usually a half, that is currently on duty….

water closet

Early form of lavatory, the precursor to the modern flushing toilet….

weigh anchor

When the crew weigh anchor they raise or lift it from the ocean floor so they can put the ship in motion.


A member of the Wesleyan or Methodist Church, which developed from a reform movement led by John Wesley, a Church of England minister, in the late eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century…


A machine with a horizontal axle for hauling or hoisting: in this case it refers to the device used to hoist the anchor on the John Pirie. A windlass is different from a capstan, which has a vertical …


The direction from which the wind blows. The other direction is termed ‘leeward’….

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