Those Vulgar Tubes
External Sanitary Accommodations aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries
Nautical Archaeology
6 x 9, 112 pp.
45 b&w figs.
Pub Date: 11/01/1997
Studies in Nautical Archaeology
Price:        $15.95 s

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Those Vulgar Tubes

External Sanitary Accommodations aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries

By Joe J. Simmons III

The disposal of human waste is critical, especially where humans are in close quarters. As Joe J. Simmons III shows in this redesigned volume, information about this vital function on ships of the great era of sail is amazingly scarce. In Those Vulgar Tubes, Simmons has collected and interpreted the available archaeological and iconographical evidence, providing historians and anthropologists with a rich view of a historically censored subject.

In his introduction, Simmons discusses evidence of what methods early sailors used for relief. Subsequent chapters focus on each century of pre-modern exploration and the developments of ship design at bow and stern where sailors were accommodated. Officers had the luxury of enclosed, closetlike facilities; the book's title comes from a poem in which the ship's chaplain begs to be allowed to use the officers' luxurious facilities rather than the "vulgar tubes"—the downward-projecting trunking through which effluvia was directed into the sea.

With clear illustrations and a timeline that graphs the development of sanitary facilities, Those Vulgar Tubes fills a longstanding void in the history of maritime travel.

Joe J. Simmons III earned his M.A. in nautical archaeology from Texas A&M. From 1975 to 1994 he served in numerous capacities on nautical archaelogy projects. He is currently a student at the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Members who wish to add more authenticity to ship models from the era of the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries will find this book most helpful. . . . a very useful and amusing, if brief, work.” --Nautical Research Journal

“ . . . an examination into why the head is called the head and other . . . er . . . delicate subjects.” --WoodenBoat

“...a fascinating historical perspective to the rudimentary but hygienically essential evolution of shipboard lavatories...” --Bryan/College Station Eagle

“In Those Vulgar Tubes, Simmons has provided the nautical community with an eloquently written account of the development of an historically censored subject: external sanitary arrangements aboard European ships between the 15th and 17th centuries. . . . The nautical community should congratulate Simmons for ignoring society’s strictures and dealing with the subject of bodily functions in, at times, a humorous but always thorough and matter-of-fact manner. His work has enriched our understanding of the less sanguine conditions of life aboard a ship that prevailed prior to this century.” --Society for Historical Archaeology

“. . . All in all, Those Vulgar Tubes is an interesting little book on an important but neglected subject.” --The American Neptune


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