Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Nautical The person using the lead line in taking soundings.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. lodesman (a leader or guide)
  • n. A sailor who takes soundings with a lead, measuring the depth of water.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The man who heaves the lead.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. One who leads the way.
  • n. Nautical, a seaman who heaves the lead.

Etymologies

From the Middle English ledes-man ("a military commander”, “a general"); equivalent to leads (the genitive form of lead: “a leading”, “a directing”, “a guiding”) + man. (Wiktionary)
leads (the genitive form of lead: “heavy base metal” = the Latin plumbum) + man (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • He was the leadsman, that is to say, it was his business to sound the depths of the sea; he had plumbed the profound abysses of the ocean, calculated the elevation of the land and the apparent motion of the sky; he knew the exact time by looking at the sun, and he could tell from the stars how far they had travelled.

    In Midsummer Days, and Other Tales

  • Though she received nine shots in her hull, the leadsman was the only man wounded on board.

    The Three Commanders

  • The leadsman was a rather pompous individual, duly impressed with the importance of his position, in having charge of the deep-sea line, which was something short of two fathoms in length.

    Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 423 Volume 17, New Series, February 7, 1852

  • Giving the cub pilot the wheel in what he knew to be safe water, Bixby arranged for the leadsman to begin calling out ever more dangerous readings, while Clemens grew increasingly agitated, finally crying out in an agony of doubt and despair: Quick, Ben!

    LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY

  • The halt is a matter depending on the sounding-line, and not on the leadsman.

    Les Miserables

  • The veteran pilot arranged with the “leadsman,” the deckhand who took constant soundings of the channel depth with a lead-weighted rope, to falsely cry out smaller and smaller depths as Sam manned the pilot wheel across a passage that he knew to be safe and deep.

    Mark Twain

  • We were surrounded by reefs, a light breeze, and fair depth of water-called out by the leadsman, 2, 2½, 2, 3 fathoms, until after some time we got into deeper water, and passed out of the Bay in safety.

    Narrative of an expedition undertaken for the exploration of the country lying between Rockingham Bay and Cape York

  • Lieutenant Otero, who had charge of the frigate, paused to listen to the leadsman who was calling the depth.

    Sharpe's Devil

  • The leadsman called the three fathom mark over an unsettling quaver of sound.

    Stormwarden

  • The captain called for a leadsman to sound the depth, that the ship could be run to the limit of her draft on each tack.

    Stormwarden

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