At the beginning of several sections, additional notes try to contextualize the information and make clearer the relationships of the following terms to the novel. Also, when possible, terms that share the same base and vary only in application -- foretop, foretopsail, foretopmen, etc. -- are grouped together.
If you come to this page from the text of the novel, you may click the "Back" button on your browser or click on the chapter number at the end of the entry. If you are interested in looking at the various groups of terms, you may scroll up and down this page clicking on the chapter number to see the word used in context.
OrientationAs in many novels where the action takes place at sea, Billy Budd is filled with references to direction that can seem quite foreign to many readers. Below is a basic diagram as well as several of the most common directional references used in the novel.
The Royal Navy circa 1797
Throughout Billy Budd, much is made of the type of ships involved in any given action. Below are several specific descriptions of the vessels to which Melville refers.
Hierarchy at Sea
Masts and Rigging
Other Useful Terms
Cabin: The apartment occupied by the commanding officer and other line officers. the cabin is often divided into compartments by light bulkheads to form two or More staterooms. Vere's cabin is divided thus.
Watch, Dog-watch: The watch is the period of time that each division of the ship's company alternately remains on deck. A watch lasts for four hours, with the exception of the dog-watch which lasts two and serves to prevent the watch from being kept by the same men every day. The various watches are: First (2000 to midnight); Middle or Graveyard (midnight to 0400); Morning (0400 to 0800); Forenoon (0800 to 1200); Afternoon (1200 to 1600); First Dog (1600 to 1800); and Second Dog (1800-2000).  
Drumhead, Drumhead Court: The Drumhead itself is the circular top of the capstan where the bars are fitted to aid in turning. The Drumhead Court, a summary court martial held while the ship is still at sea and presided over by the ranking officer, takes its name from the occasional necessity of the drumhead doing service as a writing table. Usually, only the senior naval officers -- as opposed to marine officers -- make up the court which has full power to convict and sentence while at sea.     
Duck Trousers: The duck trousers get their name from the material from which they are made, a linen or cotton fabric that is finer and lighter than canvas. While occasionally used for men's clothing, generally, the fabric is used for the lighter sails of vessels and the sacking of beds. 
Grades: Although in some ways synonymous with rank, there is a fine distinction between ranks and grade when used by members of the military or navy. In this usage, the former term distinguishes the relative authority between individuals of the same grade. That is to say, while there may be many of the same grade, there can only be one of a certain rank.
Mess, Messmates : Each mess designates the specific divisions of a company of officers or crew who take their meals together in a given place. Those members of the same mess are termed messmates. 
Muster : As a verb, to muster is to assemble the entire ship's company for an inspection, exercise, or other communal activity. A a noun, the muster is a list of the members of the ship's company.