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English Naval Petty Officer’s Cosh, Late 18th/Early 19th C
During the 18th and early 19th Centuries the Royal Navy was largely composed of pressed seamen and the dregs of society. Without strict discipline, order and efficiency could never have been maintained. Seamen were always under the threat of harsh punishment for failure to obey orders or the most minor of infractions. The cosh used by petty officers was for the more minor offenses, but could still leave bruises and welts or even break bones. It would certainly be considered cruel and unusual punishment by today’s standards. This cosh is comprised of strands of interwoven baleen, a plastic-like keratin-based substance found in whale’s mouths used to filter organisms. It is very strong and flexible and was used for a variety of things in the 18th and 19th Centuries, such as whips, bows, corset stays, and eyeglass frames. At each end is an encased lead ball and with its stiff but flexible shaft it would have been a very effective deterrent to disorderly crew members. A poignant reminder of the harsh conditions faced by seamen in the Royal Navy during Napoleonic times. Very good condition, showing some service wear in places. At 14 1/4" inches, it is longer than most examples.