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USS Constitution - appearance of the stern galleries - an interesting discussion

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  • Member since
    December 2005
  • From: San Diego
USS Constitution - appearance of the stern galleries - an interesting discussion
Posted by jgonzales on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 3:13 PM

Hello all,

I would like to call lovers of the USS Constitution and the American Frigates to an interesting discussion on another board regarding the appearance of the stern galleries on the ships: 

Markus K presents strong evidence that the stern quarter galleries on the Constitution and her sister ships were generally boarded up, with only a small window, and false windows painted on as decorations.

My takeaways

1. I love the paintings of Antoine Roux - there is much to be gleaned from them. For examples, a. the split removable gunport lids, evident in the two paintings of the USS President, and b. the canvas covers of the last two gunports on the gun deck. Between the two paintings of the USS President, Roux is highly consistent in the details

2. There is often a large difference between our ideal image of the subject that we are modeling, in my case Old Ironsides, and the reality of the appearance that contemporary evidence points to, in this case the stern gallery windows. The model I'm building would look so much prettier if I represented real windows in the galleries, but this series of paintings would suggest reality is otherwise. I don't particularly like the appearance of the gun stripe as continuing forward and over the trailboards, and yet that is quite possibly how she appeared during war- similarly several paintings of the HMS Victory shows the stripes continuing across the bow - see the Clarkson Stanfield or the Turner paintings. Would I ever depict HMS Victory that way when I get to building my Heller Victory?

Thoughts, anyone? 

Jose Gonzales San Diego, CA
  • Member since
    April 2016
Posted by Staale S on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 8:06 AM

Well, the quarter-galleries on such ships were the officers' toilets. There are very good reasons why one would not want a full set of glass windows in rooms of this kind! Mooning the admiral is a bad career move.

The practice of having boarded-up "fake" windows in the quarter-galleries instead of real ones, save perhaps the center window or the upper half of it, just to let some light in, was quite common. I'd be tempted to say that it was actually normal practice. The same goes for the outmost one or two windows on the stern itself, for similar reasons. Only the central stern windows were normally glazed; the central five windows in a row of seven for example.


  • Member since
    June 2014
  • From: New Braunfels , Texas
Posted by Tanker - Builder on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 8:29 AM


 I have to agree with you . Dr.Tilley might want to ring in here too . I painted over mine on the Victory and the Constitution . I thought false windows looked better . Especially knowing those were the officers toilets ! .  T.B.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 11:04 AM

Going by the drawings of Victory in McKay, the Quarter Galleries are on the Quarter, Upper and Middle decks. Each is wider than the one above. As for this business of the toilets, it would seem to me that would only be feasible on the Middle Deck.

There are nine columns of windows across the stern, on all three decks. The outer column on each side are the Quarter Galleries. A fairly early photo in Nelson's Day Cabin on the Upper Deck shows that all seven windows into that room are open, and show every sign of being built to be fully usable. I feel safe assuming that would be the case for Hardy's Day Cabin on the Quarter Deck. As for the Middle Deck, the stern is subdivided into one window each side for the officer's cabins, and five in the center into the gun deck. The drawings appear to show the framing set up so that all seven are openings, but in practice I would suggest that the two cabin windows were that and the center five would be hard to know.

But I think the point is that whether open or not, they always appear to me in paintings, drawings, and well the thing itself, to look like they were glazed. maybe the closed up ones were painted with glass panes. That didn't stop the carpenters from giving them the full sash treatment.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.


  • Member since
    April 2016
Posted by Staale S on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 1:36 PM

The windows in the admiral/captains/officer's cabins would certainly be glazed. The question regarding the stern is whether the windows that were outside the profile of the hull proper were. The outermost one on either side often/usually were not, and depending on the exact design of the stern decorations there might be one window either side inboard of the outmost one, which would also belong to the quarter-gallery instead of the cabin, or simply overlap the joint so to speak. In Victory this is not the case, in some other ships it was. I have the plans for a Danish 80 of 1789, eleven windows across the stern in the lower row of windows, seven of which open to the wardroom cabin (certainly glazed) and two either side which do not (probably just "simulated" windows).

Handily, the decoration plan for this vessel can be found on


  • Member since
    April 2016
  • From: Ludwigsburg Germany
Posted by dafi on Thursday, September 1, 2016 11:21 AM

Interesting discussions. All those traditional pictures in our heads how the ships are ought to look.

For the french frigates and ship of the lines it is well documentated to have had plenty of false windows, especially the side galleries, see M. Delacroix´s Commerce de Marseille. Very much as the Consti shows in the painting shown.

Even Steel mentions the false windows for the british but does not give hints, for what size or type of ship.

The models in NMM have mostely glazed windows, but this could be an artistic lisence: one wanted to impress the admirality or king.

For the Vic I am investigating already for quite some time. The classic mistake is to have a look at the "thing" in Portsmouth. The more I research, the less I believe that this is the state of Trafagar :-)

Interstingly Livesay gives a different color for the outer windows in his famous sketch of 1806.

Also the Swaine painting only shows glas reflexes on the center windows of the side galleries. Also a hint on false windows?

This lead me to do some tests on my model, with glazing and with fallse windows.

As for the discharges, it would work als for the upper galleries, especially, it this area hade fake windows, then the pipes could be even straight and be hidden behind a fake planking :-)

By the way, let me introduce you to Sir  Archibald, being busy with his important businesses :-)


As for the nice horrible stripes around the bow, most of the painings were done much later, when this was already established fashin in the RN.

It was usualy believed that those were introduced in the 1814 with the introduction of the round bow. But then I found a drawing of Robert Dodd published in 1807 with those stripes and even Turner´s drawing are giving a faint hint to confirm this. Not to mention the missing entry port, the build barricades of fo´cstle and poop, missing side davits and the feather of Prince of Wales.

Fellow Victory traditionalists be brave, the changes of the color on the V. in P. was only a minor start ;-)

Cheers, Daniel

  • Member since
    April 2016
Posted by Staale S on Thursday, September 1, 2016 12:42 PM

I seem to recall that there are some patents for flushing water-toilets from... oh, the late 1700s, designed for use in the quarter-galleries of ships. They did not yet have a water-trap in the discharge tube to keep sewage odors out, but of course they wouldn't really need one either.


  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, September 1, 2016 1:49 PM

The only firm piece of evidence I can add to this discussion is a snippet of information I bumped into when I was researching H.M.S. Bounty, more years ago than I like to think about. In Bligh's logbook (not his published book about the mutiny), there's a notation that, in a sea off Cape Horn, a wave "struck the stern and stove all to pieces between the cabin windows where the sham window is." That would, in the case of that particular vessel, make sense; a window in the middle of the transom would serve no purpose other than to give outsiders a view of the rudder post.

The various incarnations of the plans for the merchant/navy schooner Sultana kit from Model Shipways over the decades have all indicated that the center window in the transom was a fake - which makes sense for the same reason. And there are examples of warships with "quarter badges" that have "windows" in them - but don't open into anything. (Those of the American brig Syren, for instance,are above the level of the weather deck; the quarter badges clearly are fastened to the bulwarks, which are planked on the inboard sides. Surely nobody would put real glass in such a contrivance.)

I've been lucky enough to visit the Victory a couple of times. One of the first things that struck me on looking up at the quarter galleries and transom was how small the individual panes of glass were. Glass in those days was expensive - and big sheets of it especially so. The carpentry required for the framing of such a window pane is pretty mind boggling. Remember, those windows slant inward (with the "vertical" lines actually radiating from a specified point several feet above the poop deck), and they all taper from bottom to top. By my count there must be twenty-four muntons in each transom window - the "horizontal" ones in fact being curved slightly. And a total of twenty-seven windows. And every single piece of those muntons is different. Even today, the job of replacing those window frames must be pretty staggering. Imagine what it would have been like in the eighteenth century, when the carpenter had to shape every little piece with a saw and a plane (with a specially-ground blade). There were certainly plenty of reasons to fake windows.

And I wonder what would happen when one of those windows got busted - as must have happened pretty frequently. Did the ship's carpenter grind a new plane blade to shape some new muntons, and cut a new piece of glass to fit? Somehow I doubt it.

I don't have any trouble believing that what appear to be three-dimensional window panes on contemporary plans was actually, in some cases, paint.

As for drain pipes - I know they did exist in various forms, but don't underestimate the onerous duty of the officers' stewards. I have no doubt that the lavatory often consisted of a board with a hole in it and a bucket, or a more elaborate chamber pot (otherwise known as a Thunder Mug) underneath it. The plumbed toilet, shipboard or otherwise, didn't become common until well after the period we're talking about here. (For those whose minds run in such directions, here's a link to an interesting Wikipedia article: .)

There was a very interesting article in the Nautical Research Journal not long ago about the Victory's Trafalgar appearance. The author had consulted no fewer than seven sketches that J.M.W. Turner made on board the ship shortly after the battle. Raised quarterdeck bulwarks, no entry ports - and swivel guns on the rail at the break of the poop, among other interesting little tidbits. I can't lay my hands on my copy of that issue; wish I could.

Interesting stuff.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:26 PM

By a rough layout exercise on my drafting board, the point of convergence of the window system "verticals" is a point pretty close to a dimension of twice the width of the poop deck, above the poop deck, at a point above the transom.

Yes the geometry of the whole affair is pretty complex. Consider the muntins. Each as noted not only follows an upward facing curve from side to side, but also an outward facing curve in plan.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.


  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:36 PM



I take polite exception to the statement that studying the real ship is a mistake. To take it as a historically accurate representation from 1805, of course. But it is an available resource.

Even Turner, who painted his great scene about 20 years after the battle, from sketches made earlier, was forced to repaint parts of the picture following its exhibition. Seems the "old salts" found so many things to disagree on. IIRC a major issue was the location of the waterline.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.


  • Member since
    February 2011
Posted by cerberusjf on Sunday, September 4, 2016 3:54 PM


It was usualy believed that those were introduced in the 1814 with the introduction of the round bow. But then I found a drawing of Robert Dodd published in 1807 with those stripes and even Turner´s drawing are giving a faint hint to confirm this. Not to mention the missing entry port, the build barricades of fo´cstle and poop, missing side davits and the feather of Prince of Wales.

Fellow Victory traditionalists be brave, the changes of the color on the V. in P. was only a minor start ;-)

Cheers, Daniel



Side davits missing on "Victory" at Trafalgar?  I'm not really researching "Victory" but I hadn't heard this..  interesting..  I wonder if the new paint is a consequence of "Victory" no longer being under the Royal Navy?


I don't think I can add to the debate about windows being painted, they were commonly painted on French ships and also on UK ships such as "Trincomalee" and "Unicorn".  But if there's no proof, then I think modelers has the choice to do what they want.

  • Member since
    March 2013
Posted by Marcus.K. on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 5:44 PM

Gentlemen, I am sorry, I missed this posts - and I very much appreciate the discussion and interesting pictures here. Thanks!

One aspect I want to add here: the discrepency between the way ships are sometimes presented in some paintings, models.. or even as existing ships - and on other hand those interesting "realistic" views by some artists - as the Roux paintings... 

It may be, that in fact both is possible: the ship being in harbour and or in becalmed seas .. it may well have had glas windows in each of the frames (were it makes sense - not of course in front of a rudder post ;-) ).. but ... in duty, at sea, in wartimes : those expensive glasses may easily have been taken off and put in the hold for the painted wooden "windows".  

This would explain paintings and models with a lot of glass ...

I also want to add that real glass windows especially in the galleries may have been a risk for any bigger wave rolling alongside the ships hull .. Hitting those glass windows .. I would fear for the fragile elements - even if its kind of angled to not give a water wave too much restance .. 

Or in case of warfare .. would you want to risk the expensive glas beeing crushed by cannon balls?

So this speaks for dismantled glass panes - and replacement by the elements of solid wood - as to be seen in realistic paintings showing the "working" ships.

  • Member since
    June 2014
  • From: New Braunfels , Texas
Posted by Tanker - Builder on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 9:18 AM


 You must remember this too . All naval commanders of the time would intentionally Go by , giving a broadside or such . Hopefully they would cross the other ship's wake at the stern , thus firing into the weakest part of the ship .

 The walls inside were taken away and stowed for battle .This left the Whole Gun Deck open to any fire right down the length of the ship from astern .

 The maneuver is known as " Crossing the T " It was very effective too !The idea was to capture the ship , not sink it . A sunken vessel gets no " Prize Money " for the crew and officers from any of the Admiralties involved .

 The Stern galleries would therefore have many " False Windows " I believe . During peace-time maybe more real ones . T.B.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 4:26 PM


Well, crossing the T is an invention of the 20th century. When a ship has rotating turrets it can aim eight guns or so at an advancing enemy to its side. But a sailing warship would be lucky to get a hit.

More often, a fleet of sailing warships in line in a big battle would approach the enemy head on and engage that line in broadside. Once that plan inevitably went to hell, individual ships might find themselves looking at the stern of an enemy from broadside while engaged with another ship in close combat and let them have it through the galleries.

The last wooden ships did get round sterns, and iron ships did away with the silliness because the bridge moved up to the middle of the ship.

Any flyweight partitions that shielded the officers from the animals on the gun deck probably were no better protection from stern attack than the guns that replaced them at battle stations.


 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.


  • Member since
    December 2006
  • From: Jerome, Idaho, U.S.A.
Posted by crackers on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 5:19 PM

The stern galleries of ther USS CONSTITUTION originally launched in 1797 appeared as in this fine model, not as configurerd today. The Ravell plastic model of the CONSTITUTION is like the ship now being refitted at Boston. The broad hull stripe was of a yellow ochre color, not the white band that is seen now.

Happy modeling     CrackersCool

Anthony V. Santos


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