In Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, during the encounter with the Cacafuego, Aubrey says the following to Ellis:

"Cut along to the galley. Tell the cook to put all his dirty pans and coppers upside down."

Is this a literal command, or some kind of nautical jargon? In either case, what is the purpose of it?

1 Answer 1


The full passage is

‘Cut along to the galley. Tell the cook to put all his dirty pans and coppers upside-down. Pullings, Babbington, stop the firing. Boom off, boom off. Back topsails. Mr Dillon, let the starboard watch black their faces in the galley as soon as I have spoken to them.

It is a literal instruction.

The men of the starboard watch are to go to the place where the pans are, the galley, and once there they will use the soot from the bottom of the pans to blacken their faces.

  • Ah, I'd assumed they kept something on hand for blacking their faces. Hadn't considered the possibility of soot on pans, but that makes sense. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 17:31
  • 2
    The joy of modern life, we have a product for everything and only really need to worry about cleaning the insides of our pans! I probably wouldn't have realised if it wasn't for the experiences of campfire cooking and washing up when I was in the Girl Guides.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 9:23
  • 1
    Brings back memories of a theatre production I did where a character was supposed to have been in an electrical explosion, and one of the actors insisted, every night, burning an actual cork to generate the blacking effect. Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 4:25

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