Ships like Invincible were run by sheer muscle power. From manning the sails and rigging and working the guns in battle, to raising and lowering the ship’s anchors – everything was done by the crew without the help of machinery.
A ship the size of Invincible – a 74-gun warship – needed a crew of about 700. A total of 690 men were on Invincible when she was wrecked.
The Captain and his servants
Captain John Bentley was at the very top of the command chain, with 28 servants and 1 steward tending to his every need. These men looked after his cabin, meals, clothing and uniforms so that he could focus on the more important business of running the ship and its crew. Some of these servants were hand-picked protégés, seen as potential future Royal Navy officers.
Naval officers, army officers and marines
There were many subordinate officers beneath Bentley – lieutenants, the ship’s sailing master, carpenter, bosun, surgeon, purser, gunner and chaplain, to name just a few. All had key management roles in different parts of the ship.
The officers had their own assistants, called ‘mates’, who helped them with their daily tasks and responsibilities.
A hundred marines provided the ship’s security and served as a seafaring combat unit when the ship went into battle.
Invincible was also transporting 46 army officers and soldiers, destined to fight on land when they reached Canada.
The majority of the crew – about 440 men – were seamen with the strength and know-how to sail the ship. The most junior of them were rated as ‘landsmen’. They were just that – unskilled men in training who had never been on board a ship.
More experienced men filled higher ranks, some with very specific skills to carry out expert and dangerous jobs. The ‘Yeoman of the Powder Room’ worked in the ship’s magazines, secure rooms where the gunpowder for the great guns was stored.
How do we know?
We know the name, rank and job of every man who was aboard Invincible for her last voyage, because the ship’s muster book can still be read today at The National Archives. The ship’s community was made up of men with all kinds of background, social standing, wealth and ethnicity. Men like Moses Joap, Coffee Mingo, and Juba Fortune came from across the globe.
You can imagine the rowdy camaraderie of a large, international crew like this, preparing to set sail for months at sea and, ultimately, battle.