bells to tell time on Titanic


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mike disch

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I know the ship had lots of clocks (I just read hte thread) but did they, by any chance, also do "Six bells and all is well" or something similar. I think I recall this somewhere. And would Capt Smith have carried a timepiece, or did he rely on assistants to let him know.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Yes, bells are all part and parcel to things nautical, although I don't think you'll hear anything like "X Bell's and all's well." It's simply a way of keeping time during the watch. Watches are typically four hours long with a given number of bells being rung on the hour and the half hour.

Offhand, I don't know if Captain Smith carried a timepiece or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. Pocket watches were quite common then.
 
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David Haisman

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Quite right Michael and there are other ''bell signals'' in the British Mercantile Marine that some may find confusing. For instance 7 bells is usually rung on the last half hour of each 4 hour watch but for watch keepers it's 20 minutes past the last hour of each watch. That's to give them that extra ten minutes to get ''sorted''
One bell is usually rung after the first half hour of each 4 hour watch but again for watch keepers starting work it's rung 15 minutes before going on watch.
Lookout Men can ring up to four bells from the crows nest in certain circumstances and some crows nests have ''point studs'' that also ring a bell in the wheel house.
The only ''bells'' that interest me these days come in a bottle of amber liquid under that name !
All the best,
David
 

Dave Gittins

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A saying derived from all this is 'to knock seven bells out of' somebody. In other words, to beat him up seriously, seven bells being only one short of the full watch.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Six bells and all is well"

There used to be a custom in some companies whereby the foc'sle head lookout would return the following:

"x bells, all's well, lights are burning bright sir."

It became discontinued when some disaffected wags started rendering it as "x bells, go to hell, like to **** your wife sir". They would get away with it on a windy night!

Noel
 
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David Haisman

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Hi David,
Calling the watch at 7 bells means 20 minutes past the hour although the 7 bells will ring on the last half hour of a 4 hour watch from the bridge.
At 15 minutes to the last hour of a four hour watch, one bell will also ring from the bridge.

All the best,
David
 
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mike disch

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Sorry, I'm a bit confused. Perhaps we could use hypothetical times. If I understand the last message correctly, assuming a watch from 6:00 to 10:00a, 7 bells will ring at 9:20 (20 minutes past the hour) and 7 bells will ring at 9:30. Can't be right. What am I missing?
In Cooper's bio of Smith, he says somewhere (referring to the day of the iceberg) that 7 Bells sounded. (Was this a real bell from the crow's nest, or an amplified speaker, or was he being metaphorical?)
Also, does anyone know the standard watch times (From - to)?
 
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David Haisman

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Hi Mike,

Let me simplify the ringing of bells for watch keeping and time keeping. Watch keeping hours are 12-4, 4-8- and 8-12 continuously throughout the voyages. On the British coast, they are of 4 hours duration. Alternative watch keeping hours are called ''dog watches'', two hours etc. but I won't confuse you on that or on Royal Navy procedures.
All watch keepers are called at 11.20, 3.20 and 7.20 to ensure that they have time to have a meal among other things. This is known as 7 bells to watch keepers. However, bells are only rung on the hour and half hour for the exception of 11.45, 3.45 and 7.45 which is one bell, 15 minutes before the start of a new watch.
Many wheelhouse clocks have the bell chimes calibrated for these times and many ships used the old fashioned method of the quartermaster doing the job.
This was the case in intermediate vessels( cargo/passenger) where a bell on the fore part of the bridge was rung by a cord passing over the helmsmans head when at the wheel.
He would call out '' 7 bells sir''or whatever time appropriate and then ring them usually with a nod from the officer of the watch.
Always remember that the Merchant Navy in Britain was made up of many company's that had their own ideas and the above procedures are a generalisation.
I hope this is easier to understand and helps a bit,
All the best,
David
 
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David Haisman

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Mike,
Regarding the coastal ships, it's 4 hours on and 4 hours off as opposed to foreign going vessels of 4 on and 8 off.

Regards,
David
 
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David Haisman

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Yes David, most of that was true in Titanic's day but when I joined in the early 50's, many of those expressions had long since been phased out.
The big passenger liners favoured ''Day Workers''( probably persuaded by the unions)which did away with ''Dog Watches'' and was a ''plum'' job for Able Seamen.
Their hours were 7.30 am -5.30 pm with an hour for lunch but they would ''overlap'' with watch keepers and carry out sanitary duties and ''blood hours''.
Officers worked the same hours as the men. The Mate on the 4-8 with a junior, the Second Mate on the 12-4 with a junior and the Third Mate on the 8-12 sometimes with an apprentice or a junior.
The Third Mate was on the 8-12 so that the ''Old Man'' could keep an eye on him which meant he would have to be ''on the ball'' at all times.
The Second Mate was always the busiest man on board being responsible for the upkeep of all life boats , charts and navigation equipment. He had the ''graveyard watch'' and no one envied him that role but they all had to go through it.
The Mate on the 4-8 was in charge of the apprentices, checked their weekly written work, taught them the practicallities of seamanship and forever warned them about mixing with the crew when ashore.
The crew on the other hand would get the apprentices drunk and try to fix them up to a ''nice girl'' for the evening. On the bridge in the mornings some of these apprentices looked as though they had encountered a combined harvester during the night with their eyes resembling organ stops. The mate would observe them as though they had just crawled out of a bit of cheese, probably forgetting his own apprenticeship days.
The Mate with the best hours, had time in the evening to wine and dine if he chose and perhaps get amongst the more attractive females before turning out again at 4am.
There was nothing special about the 6 Quartermasters on board as all Able Seamen were qualified but most didn't want the job.
Captains on big ships had their own personal steward known as the ''Captains Tiger''and they would look after all the ''Old Man's'' needs.

There are many more to mention but to get back to watch keeping it had changed considerably since Titanic's day.

All the best,
David
 

Dave Gittins

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As usual, fascinating stuff from one who's been there and done that.

What on earth were 'blood hours'? Sound like a relic of piracy.
 
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David Haisman

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''Blood hours'' originated from the crew saying the company wanted ''blood'' regarding their duties. It was written in the Articles that deck crew could be expected to work up to 4 hours without pay for safety of the ship, wash down after dirty cargo's, or generally anything regarding health. I can assure you they used this at every opportunity!
As a matter of interest the Articles also stated that no seaman should carry a sword stick, bowie knife or offensive weapon of any kind.
All Able Seamen had a six inch mast knife in a sheath around their waists however, and felt naked without it. Not only could it be a life saver, you couldn't do your job without it.
It was just one of those things in the Articles that had to be overlooked.

All the best,
David
 
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mike disch

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One little question, so much info. Thanks to all.
One question still remains, aside from speculation, does anyone know if the "bells" on the Titanic were the actual bell (as the one rung when they say the iceberg) or something else.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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The time signals would be made on the wheelhouse bell and the engine room bell.

The crow's nest bell and the fo'csle head bell were used by the lookouts for signalling the bridge; One ring for an object sighted to starboard, two rings for an object to port and three rings for an object dead ahead.

The fo'csle head bell was also used to signal the bridge of the amount of anchor cable veered out during mooring operations.

Noel
 
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David Haisman

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On some ships where the crows nest doesn't have a phone link with the bridge, the lookout may find himself ringing 4 bells..................and so it goes on !

All the best,

David
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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And I forgot to mention that the fo'csle head bell, being at an extremity of the vessel, also has a function as a fog signal when the vessel is moored (at anchor or buoys)....

Noel
 
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David Haisman

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Not forgetting the clanging of a ''gong''on the stern of a ship when anchored in fog.
This to indicate to other vessels how the ship is lying.

Also the continuous ringing of a bell from the Lookout when flying fish are seen to be walking across the foredeck

I rest my case.
David.
 
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David Haisman

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Not to mention of course all bells ringing together, along with the ship's siren, as the Lookout reports sighting a black light that had escaped his notice!

I definitely rest my case

David
 

ian Hough

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David

What about any alarm clocks that either the crew or passengers may have had?
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Houghie
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