- Periodical, The Spectator
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN 1844 THE ADMIRALTY issued an order, stating: ‘The word ‘Port‘ is frequently substituted for the word ‘Larboard‘, and as the distinction between ‘Starboard‘ and ‘Port‘ is so much more marked than that between ‘Starboard‘ and ‘Larboard‘, it is the Lordships’ direction that the word ‘Larboard‘ shall no longer be used.’
This convention has since sensibly been adopted internationally.
Starboard is the side of the vessel from which originally one steered, with an oar. Thus, it would be convenient to take on board goods on the other side, the Lade Board or Larboard. In those days cargo would come aboard through a port (as in port-hole or gunport). This word comes from the Latin porta (denoting door or gate). For this reason it would be natural to bring that side (larboard) alongside the shore, jetty or dockside. Similarly, the origin of the Latin portus (meaning harbour) is related.
While this may seem ambiguous, the port side (left side looking forward to the vessel’s bows) was in use in English by the mid-16th century. In the sailing ships era, to port the helm meant to turn it to larboard. This became confusing in steamships and the helm orders were changed to mean turn in the direction ordered, early in the 20th century. (However, the previous convention was still in force when the Titanic hit the iceberg and sank in 1912 – and the film is technically correct as portrayed).
A pre-eminent harbour at the mouth of the Tagus River (in the portus sense – see above) on the Iberian peninsula was well known as O Porto (The Port). Subsequently it gave its name to the whole country, known in mediaeval Latin as Portus Cale (the Port of Gaya – not sure why Gaya – but it is not relevant). From this region came port wine, which was shipped for centuries to Britain. At naval mess dinners and formal functions ashore the port is passed to the left – but that is a coincidence!