Sailor Speak of the Week – Black Gang

The fire room aboard the USS Massachusetts (BB-2)



  • (slang) The crew of the fire room(s) in coal-burning steamships.


19th Century.


Fairly self-explanatory. The poor sailors who slaved away shoveling coal into the boilers. It’s hot down there, they sweat, and the coal dust sticks to them. In modern times this is simply the engineering department who work in the machinery spaces aboard a vessel. It’s still hot and noisy down there, but not nearly as dirty.


Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum.

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