Figureheads also served as a kind of good luck charm for the ship’s crew. In Germany, Belgium and Holland, it was believed that the ship’s figureheads contained spirits called Kaboutermannekes. These spirits protected the ship and crew from fierce storms, treacherous winds, uncharted rocks, illness or disease, and in the event the ship sank, the spirits would guide the sailors souls to the afterlife. If sailors lost their lives at sea without such protection, it was believed their souls would haunt the sea for all eternity.
Here’s the bow of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, from the early nineteenth century (left).
Left: Prince Henry the Navigator figurehead from "Sagres II", Portugal, 1937... Right: monk figurehead from Amerigo-Vespucci, 1931:
The clippers, which sailed the globe’s trade routes in the mid nineteenth century, usually had full figureheads, but these were usually lightweight versions. Prior to being closed for major restoration, the tea clipper Cutty Sark at Greenwich, London, contained a large collection of ships' figureheads: