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Rigging Elements: Deadeyes

Terry describes one of the important elements for properly rigging a ship - the deadeye.

Author: Terry Williams, Conservator

Batavia rigging
Rigging from the reconstruction of Batavia

Long before the advent of motors and automation it took manpower to achieve long distance sail. In a ship the size of La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge, there would have been a tremendous amount of rigging to make this happen. While there are many rigging elements from which to choose, this blog post will focus on the deadeyes.

First, some definitions. A deadeye is a circular wooden block with a groove around the circumference to take a rope or iron strap; they are used singly or in pairs to tighten a shroud. A shroud is a set of ropes forming part of the standing rigging of a sailing vessel which supports a mast from the sides. In short, deadeyes function as pulleys. The block has one or more holes through it, perpendicular to the plane of the disc for ropes to pass through. Single and triple-hole deadeyes are most common. The name deadeye is thought to come from the resemblance to a skull.

We are very fortunate to have graduate and doctoral students interested in studying our collection. Annaliese Dempsey is a PhD student in Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program who studied the rigging from La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge for her thesis. Annaliese found that the largest and most diagnostic artifact assemblage related to the rigging included wooden deadeyes, iron deadeye straps, and chainplates. Of 18 deadeye straps, only 3 have been identified with at least some wood remaining from the deadeye. Many of the deadeyes and chainplates are still covered by concretion and in wet storage, while others remain on the wreck site, so there may be more information to gather in the future.

Deadeye from LC/QAR
Deadeye from La Concorde/QAR

One deadeye (QAR2385.000) has been completely conserved. Made of ash, the deadeye measures 17.5 cm in diameter and has a round face with 3 lanyard holes. Additionally, it has visible black stains on the face from pitch used to protect the rig from wear and tear, and it has visible wear from a lanyard. The conserved deadeye appears to be smaller than many of the other straps yet may be the only deadeye in use at the time of the sinking. It was found 25-30 meters away from most of the other deadeye strap and chainplate concretions. Most of the others were found close together and in a variety of sizes, so it seems likely this cluster of deadeyes were not in use, but spares.

Check back for more posts on other rigging components, their use on the ship as well as other interesting factoids.

Dempsey, A. 2020. Reconstructing the Rig of Queen Anne’s Revenge. MA Thesis, Texas A&M University, Department of Anthropology.

Rigging from the replica of the Dutch ship Batavia. Image by Ökologix, 2007. Public Domain.
Deadeye from the La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge site. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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