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Title: Windjammers and Sea Tramps
Author: Runciman, Walter, 1847-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Author of "The Shellback's Progress in the Nineteenth Century."_





       X. BRAVERY


"I went in at the hawse-hole and came out at the cabin
window." It was thus that a certain North Country shipowner
once summarised his career while addressing his
fellow-townsmen on some public occasion now long past, and
the sentence, giving forth the exact truth with all a
sailor's delight in hyperbole, may well be taken to describe
the earlier life-stages gone through by the author of this
book. The experiences acquired in a field of operations,
that includes all the seas and continents where commerce may
move, live, and have its being, have enhanced in value and
completed what came to him in his forecastle and
quarter-deck times. He learned in his youth, from the lips
of a race now extinct, what the nature and traditions of
seamanship were before he and his contemporaries lived. He
has seen that nature and those traditions change and die,
whilst he and his generation came gradually under a new
order of things, whose practical working he and they have
tested in actual practice both on sea and land.

It is on this ground of experience that the author ventures
to ask attention to his views in respect of the likeliest
means to raise a desirable set of seamen in the English
merchant navy. But he also ventures to hope that the
historic incidents and characteristics of a class to which
he is proud to belong, as set forth in this book, may cause
it to be read with interest and charitable criticism. He
claims no literary merit for it: indeed, he feels there may
be found many defects in style and description that could be
improved by a more skilful penman. But then it must be
remembered that a sailor is here writing of sailors, and
hence he gives the book to the public as it is, and hopes he
has succeeded in making it interesting.



It was a bad day for Spain when Philip allowed the "Holy
Office" to throw Thomas Seeley, the Bristol merchant, into a
dungeon for knocking down a Spaniard who had uttered foul
slanders against the Virgin Monarch of England. Philip did
not heed the petition of the patriot's wife, of which he
must have been cognisant. Elizabeth refused the commission
Dorothy Seeley petitioned for, but, like a sensible lady,
she allowed her subjects to initiate their own methods of
revenge. Subsequent events show that she had no small share
in the introduction of a policy that was ultimately to sweep
the Spaniards off the seas, and give Britain the supremacy
over all those demesnes. This was the beginning of a
distinguished partnership composed of Messieurs John Hawkins
and his kinsman Francis Drake, and of Elizabeth their Queen.
Elizabeth did not openly avow herself one of the partners;
she would have indignantly denied it had it been hinted at;
yet it is pretty certain that the cruises of her faithful
Hawkins and Drake substantially increased her wealth, while
they diminished that of Spanish Philip and that of his
subjects too. Long before the Armada appeared resplendent in
English waters, commanded by that hopeless, blithering
landlubber, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who with other sons
of Spain was sent forth to fight against Britain for "Christ
and our Lady," there had been trained here a race of
dare-devil seamen who knew no fear, and who broke and
vanquished what was reckoned, till then, the finest body of
sailors in the whole world. That our sailors have maintained
the reputation achieved in the destruction of the great
Spanish Armada is sometimes disputed. I am one of those who
trust that British seamen would be worthy of British
traditions were they even now put to the test by some
powerful invader. To suppose that the men who smothered the
Armada, or those who broke the fleets of Spain and France at
Trafalgar, were more courageous than those of our day would
be found in similar circumstances, is arrant folly. In
smaller things we can see the same sterling qualities shown
by members of our Navy now as their forebears exhibited of
old. The impressive yet half comic character of the religion
that guided the lives of seamen during Drake's time has been
faithfully handed down like an heirloom to the genuine old
salt of our own time.

The great Admiral had inconsistencies of character, and
conduct that would seem to live on in more or less elevated
examples up till now. He conducted himself in regal style on
his long voyages, dressing in an imposing way for dinner,
during which he commanded fine music to be played--for at
that day England was the home _par excellence_ of music--and
no food was eaten at his table until the blessing of the
Almighty had been asked upon it, and "thanks" was solemnly
offered ere rising. The Holy Sacrament was partaken by him
with Doughty the Spanish spy. The latter, after being kissed
by Drake, was then made to lay his head on the block, and
thereafter no more was heard of him. Afterwards the Admiral
gave forth a few discourses on the importance of unity and
obedience, on the sin of spying into other people's affairs;
and then proceeded, with becoming solemnity and in the names
of God and the Icy Queen, to plunder Spanish ports and
Spanish shipping. Drake believed he was by God's blessing
carrying out a divinely governed destiny, and so perhaps he
was; but it is difficult somewhat to reconcile his
covetousness with his piety. But what is to be said of his
Royal mistress whose crown and realm were saved to her by
free sacrifices of blood and life on the part of thousands
of single-minded men, whom the Royal Lady calmly allowed,
after they had secured her safety and that of England, to
starve in peace on Margate Sands? Times have changed. Were
such reward to be meted to the sailors of to-day after some
great period of storm, stress and national peril had been
passed through by virtue of their prowess, the wrath of the
nation might break forth and go near to sweep away such
high-placed callousness for good and all.

The modern austere critic of the condition of the seamen of
the mercantile marine is somewhat of an infliction. He slays
the present-day sailor with virulent denunciation, and
implores divine interposition to take us back to the good
old days of Hawkins, Drake, Howard, Blake and the intrepid
Nelson. He craves a resurrection of the combined heroism and
piety of the sixteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth
centuries. The seaman of those periods is, to his mind, a
lost ideal. And without doubt the men trained and
disciplined by Hawkins and Drake _were_ the glory of Britain
and the terror of other nationalities. Their seamanship and
heroism were matchless. They had desperate work to do, and
they did it with completeness and devotion. And the same
credit may be given to the sailors of still later times
under altered conditions. But Nelson's and Collingwood's men
did great deeds in different ways from those of Hawkins and
Drake. Both sets of seamen were brave and resourceful, but
they were made use of differently, and were drafted from
different sources. The latter were seamen and piratical
rovers by choice, and warriors very often by necessity.
They were willing, however, to combine piety, piracy, and
sanguinary conflict in the effort to open out new avenues of
commercial enterprise for the mutual benefit of themselves
and the thrifty lady who sat upon the throne, and who showed
no disinclination to receive her share of the booty
valiantly acquired by her nautical partners.

The race of men which followed the Trans-Atlantic, Pacific,
and Mexican buccaneers of Cadiz, San Juan and Armada fame
has been different only in so far as transitional
circumstances have made it so. Indeed, the period which
elapsed from the time of the destruction of the Armada up to
the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the
nineteenth century had evolved innumerable changes in modes
of commerce which changed our seamen's characteristics as
well. But although the circumstances of the sailors'
avocation had changed, and they had to adapt themselves to
new customs, there is no justification for the belief that
the men of the sixteenth were any more capable or well
behaved than those of the eighteenth and the beginning of
the nineteenth centuries. Nor is it justifiable to assume
that because of the rapid changes which have taken place
during the last fifty years by the introduction of steamers,
the seamen who man the steamers are inferior to those who, a
generation before, manned sailing vessels, or who man what
is left of sailing vessels now. The steamer seamen of to-day
are mentally, physically and mechanically as competent to do
the work they are engaged to do as were any previous race of
seamen, and, taking them in the aggregate, they are better
educated than their predecessors and quite as sober. Their
discipline may not be all that could be desired, but that is
not the fault of, nor need it even be considered a defect
in, the seaman himself. It is a defect of the system they
live under, the responsibility for which must rest with
those whose duty it is to train them. It often happens that
those who declaim so cynically against the shortcomings of
the present-day sailor are incompetent to make a suitable
selection of captains and officers who may be entrusted with
the task of establishing proper discipline and training
aboard their vessels. Very frequently the seamen are blamed
when the captain and officers ought to be held responsible.
If captains and officers are not trained properly in their
graduating process themselves, and have not the natural
ability to make up for that misfortune when given the
opportunity of control, it is inevitable that disorder must
follow. There are, however, exceptional cases where, for
example, an officer may have been reared in a bad,
disorderly school, and yet has become a capable
disciplinarian. An instance of this kind seldom occurs; but
the merchant service is all the richer for it when it does.
It must not be supposed that I have any intention of
defending the faults of our seamen. I merely desire that
some of the responsibility for their faults and training
should be laid on the shoulders of those critics who shriek
unreasonably of their weaknesses, while they do nothing to
improve matters. Many of these gentlemen complain of Jack's
drunken, insubordinate habits, while they do not disapprove
of putting temptation in his way. They complain of him not
being proficient, and at the same time they refuse to
undertake the task of efficient training. They cherish the
memory of the good old times. They speak reverently of the
period of flogging, of rotten and scanty food allowance, of
perfidious press-gangs, and of corrupt bureaucratic tyranny
that inflicted unspeakable torture on the seamen who manned
our line of battleships at the beginning of the
century--seamen who were, for the most part, pressed away
from the merchant service.

In my boyhood days I often used to hear the old sailors who
were fast closing their day of active service say that there
were no sailors nowadays. They had all either been "drowned,
killed, or had died at home and been decently buried." I was
impressed in those days with the opinions of these vain old
men, and thought how great in their profession they must
have been. As a matter of fact, they were no better nor any
worse than the men against whom a whimsical vanity caused
them to inveigh. Many years have passed since I had the
honour of sailing with them and many, if not all of them,
may be long since dead; but I sometimes think of them as
amongst the finest specimens of men that ever I was
associated with. Their fine manhood towered over everything
that was common or mean, in spite of their wayward talk.



The average seaman of the middle of the nineteenth century,
like his predecessor, was in many respects a cruel animal.
To appearance he was void of every human feeling, and yet
behind all the rugged savagery there was a big and generous
heart. The fact is, this apparent or real callousness was
the result of a system, pernicious in its influence, that
caused the successive generations of seafaring men to swell
with vanity if they could but acquire the reputation of
being desperadoes; and this ambition was not an exclusive
possession of those whose education had been deplorably
neglected. It was proudly shared by some of the best
educated men in the service. I do not wish it to be
supposed, however, that many of them had more than a very
ordinary elementary education; but be that as it may, they
got along uncommonly well with the little they had. Mr.
Forster's Educational Bill of 1870, together with Wesleyan
Methodism, have done much to nullify that cultivation of
ignorance, once the peculiar province of the squire and the
parson. Amongst other influences, Board Schools have
revolutionised (especially in the villages and seaport
towns) a condition that was bordering on heathenism, and no
class of workmen has benefited more than seamen by the
propaganda which was established by that good Quaker who
spent his best years in hard effort to make it possible that
every English child, no matter how poor, should have an

At the time of the passing of the Education Act there were
thousands of British lads who were absolutely illiterate
(this does not apply so much to Scottish boys); and there
were hundreds of master-mariners who could neither read nor
write, and who had a genuine contempt for those who could.
They held the notion that learning, as they called it,
always carried with it nautical ignorance and general
deterioration; and in some instances the old salts' opinions
seemed amply borne out by palpable blunders in practical
seamanship which were not uncommonly made when the theoretic
seaman or navigator was at work. These shortcomings of the
"learned" were never forgotten or forgiven by the practical
though illiterate seamen.

Until well into the 'fifties the north-east coast collier
brigs and schooners were usually commanded by this type of
illiterates, and innumerable stories might be told of their
strange methods and grotesque beliefs. The following is a
fair example. The London trade once became congested with
tonnage, and a demand sprang up for Holland, whereupon a
well-known brig was chartered for Rotterdam. She had been so
long employed running along the coast with the land aboard
that the charts became entirely neglected. When the time
came to say farewell there was more than ordinary affection
displayed by the relatives of the crew whose destiny it was
to penetrate what they conceived to be the mysteries of an
unexplored East. There were not a few females who regarded
the undertaking as eminently heroic. With characteristic
carelessness the trim craft was rollicked along the
Yorkshire coast until abreast of Flamborough Head, when it
became necessary to take a departure and shape a course for
Rotterdam. She scampered along at the rate of six to seven
knots an hour amid much anxiety among the crew, for a
growing terror had possessed the captain and his mate as
they neared the unknown dangers that were ahead of them. The
captain went below and had begun to unroll the chart which
indicated the approaches to his destination, when he became
horrorstruck, and rushing up the cabin stairs called out,
"All hands on deck! Hard, a port!" The mate excitedly asked,
"What's the matter?" "The matter?" said the infuriated and
panic-stricken skipper, "Why the b----y rats have eaten
Holland! There is nee Rotterdam for us, mister, _this_
voyage." But in spite of a misfortune which seemed serious,
the mate prevailed upon this distinguished person to allow
_him_ to have a share in the navigation, with the result
that the vessel reached the haven to which she was bound
without any mishap whatever.

It was not unusual for those old-time brigs, when bound to
the North in ballast, to be blown off the land by strong
westerly gales, and these occasions were dreaded by the
coasting commander whose geographical knowledge was so
limited that when he found himself drifting into the German
Ocean beyond the sight of land, his resources became too
heavily taxed, and perplexity prevailed. It was on one of
those occasions that a skipper, after many days of
boisterous drifting, remarked to his mate, "I wish our wives
knew where we are this terrible night!"

"Yes," replied the shrewd officer, with comic candour; "and
I wish to heaven we knew where we are ourselves!"

Such was the almost opaque ignorance, in spite of which a
very large carrying trade was successfully kept going for

The writing of the old-time skipper was so atrocious that it
brought much bad language into the world. One gentleman used
to say that his captain's letters used to go all over the
country before they fell into his hands, and when they did,
they were covered over with "try here" and "try there."
Their manners, too, were aboriginal; and they spoke with an
accent which was terrible. They rarely expressed themselves
in a way that would indicate excessive purity of character.
They thought it beneath the dignity of a man to be of any
other profession than that of a sailor. They disdained
showing soft emotion, and if they shook hands it was done in
an apologetic way. The gospel of pity did not enter into
their creed. Learning, as they called it, was a bewilderment
to them; and yet some of those eccentric, half-savage beings
could be entrusted with valuable property, and the
negotiation of business involving most intricate handling.
Sometimes in the settlement of knotty questions they used
their own peculiar persuasiveness, and if that was not
convincing, they indicated the possibility of physical
force--which was usually effectual, especially with
Levantines. Here is an instance: one of the latter plethoric
gentlemen, with an air of aggrieved virtue, accused a
captain of unreasonableness in asking him to pay up some
cash which was "obviously an overcharge." The skipper in his
rugged way demanded the money and the clearance of his
vessel. The gentlemen who at this time inhabited the banks
of the Danube could not be made to part with money without
some strong reasons for doing so. The Titanic and renowned
captain, having exhausted a vocabulary that was awful to
listen to, proceeded to lock the office door on the inside.
That having been satisfactorily done, he proceeded to unrobe
himself of an article of apparel; which movement, under
certain conditions, is always suggestive of coming trouble.
The quick brain of the Levantine gentleman saw in the
bellicose attitude assumed possibilities of great bodily
harm and suffering to himself; on which he became effusively
apologetic, and declaimed with vigorous gesticulation
against the carelessness of his "account clerk who had
committed a glaring error, such as justified his immediate
dismissal!" That stalwart hero of many rights had not
appealed in vain. He got his money and his clearance, and
made a well-chosen and impressive little speech on the
wisdom of honest dealing. His convert for the time being
became much affected, declaring that he had never met with a
gentleman whose words had made such a strange impression on

This then was the kind of creature who wrought into its
present shapes and aspects England's Mercantile Marine. In
carrying out his destiny he lashed about him with something
of the elemental aimlessness of his mother the sea. The next
chapter will show how the captain of to-day grew up and,
literally, got licked into his present form at the rough and
cruel hands of the old-time skipper.



During recent years I have had the opportunity of listening
to many speeches on nautical subjects. Some of them have not
only been instructive but interesting, inasmuch as they have
often enabled me to get a glimpse into the layman's manner
of thinking on these questions. It invariably happens,
however, that gentlemen, in their zeal to display maritime
knowledge, commit the error of dealing with a phase of it
that carries them into deep water; their vocabulary becomes
exhausted, and they speedily breathe their last in the
oft-repeated tale that the "old-fashioned sailor is an
extinct creature," and, judging from the earnest vehemence
that is thrown into it, they convey the impression that
their dictum is to be understood as emphatically original.
Well, I will let that go, and will merely observe how
distressingly superficial the knowledge is as to the
rearing, training, and treatment which enabled those
veterans to become envied heroes to us of the present day.
Much entered into their lives that might be usefully
emulated by the seamen of our own time. Their unquestionable
skill and hardihood were acquired by a system of training
that would have out-matched the severity of the Spartan, and
they endured it with Spartan equanimity. A spasmodic growl
was the only symptom of a rebellious spirit. The maritime
historian who undertakes to write accurately the history of
this strange society of men will find it a strain on the
imagination to do them all the justice they deserve. Their
lives were illuminated with all that is manly and heroic and
skilful. They had no thought of cruelty, and yet they were
very cruel--that is, if they are to be judged by the
standard of the present age; but in this let us pass
sentence on them with moderation, and even with indulgence.
The magnitude of the deeds they were accustomed to perform
can never be fully estimated now, and these should excuse to
some extent many of their clumsy and misguided modes of
operation. It must not be supposed that all these men were
afflicted by a demoniac spirit. It was their training that
blanketed the sympathetic side of them, until they
unconsciously acquired all the peremptory disposition of
Oriental tyrants. But the stories I am about to relate of
childlife aboard ship will show how difficult it is entirely
to pardon or excuse them. The blood runs chilly at the
thought of it, and you feel your mind becoming impregnated
with the spirit of murder.

No personage ever attracted so much attention and sympathy
outside the precincts of his contracted though varied sphere
of labour as the cabin-boy who served aboard the old sailing
brigs, schooners, and barques, and I must plead guilty to
having a sentimental regret that the romance was destroyed
through this attractive personality being superseded by
another, with the somewhat unattractive title of "cook and
steward." The story of how poor boys of the beginning and
middle of the century and right up to the latter part of the
'sixties started sea-life is always romantic, often
sensational, and ever pathetic. They were usually the sons
of poor parents living for the most part in obscure villages
or small towns bordering on the sea, which sea blazed into
their minds aspirations to get aboard some one of the
numerous vessels that passed their homes one way or the
other all day long. The notion of becoming anything but
sailors never entered their heads, and the parents were
usually proud of this ambition, and quite ready to allow
their offspring to launch out into the world while they were
yet little more than children. It very frequently happened,
however, that boys left their homes unknown to their
families, and tramped to the nearest seaport with the object
of engaging themselves aboard ship, and they nearly always
found some skipper or owner to take them. Swarms of Scotch
and Norfolk boys were attracted to the Northumberland ports
by the higher rate of wages. Many of them had to tramp it
all the long way from home, and quite a large number of them
became important factors in the shipping trade of the
district. It was a frequent occurrence to see a poor
child-boy passing through the village where I was brought
up, on his way from Scotland to Blyth, or the Tyne, his feet
covered with sores, and carrying a small bundle containing a
shirt, a pair of stockings, and flannel pants. This was his
entire outfit. My mother never knowingly allowed any of
these poor little wanderers to pass without bringing them to
our home. They were promptly supplied with bread and milk
while the big tub was got ready so that they might be
bathed. They were then provided with night clothing and put
to bed while she had their own clothes washed, and mended if
need be (they always required washing); they were then sent
on their journey with many petitions to God for their safety
and welfare. Some of the villagers were curious to know why
this gratuitous hospitality was given to unknown passers-by,
and my mother satisfied their curiosity by pointing to her
own children, and remarking, "Don't we live within the sound
of the sea? and I wish to do by these poor children that
which I should like some one to do by mine if it ever should
come to pass that they need it." Little did she suspect
when these words were uttered that one of her own sons was
so soon to be travelling in an opposite direction in quest
of a cabin-boy's berth.

One of the most touching memories of sweetness comes to me
now. It was a chill winter afternoon; a little boy stood out
on the common fronting our house; the customary bundle was
under his arm, and he was singing in a sweet treble these
words, with a strong Scotch accent:--

    "A beggar man came over the lea
       Wi' many a story to tell unto me.
     'I'm asking for some charitie,
       Can ye lodge a beggar man?'"

The charm of his silken, childish voice quickly attracted
attention. He was put through the usual catechism by my
parents, and this being satisfactory, he fell into my
mother's hands to undergo the customary feeding and bathing
operations. One of the questions my father put to him was
why he sang "The beggar man." He said they told him at home
that he could sing well, and as he had learnt this song he
thought it might serve the purpose of bringing him succour,
as he was very tired and very hungry. He was the son of a
peasant farmer on the outskirts of Kirkaldy in the Firth of
Forth, and had walked the whole distance, his object being
to apprentice himself to some shipowner. This he succeeded
in doing; and many years after, when he had worked his way
into a position, he made himself known to me by recalling
the occasion when he sang his way into our home.

By the seaside on the coast of Northumberland, there stands
one of the prettiest little villages in all England. Tacked
on to the north and south end of it there are two stretches
of sand unequalled in their clear glossy beauty. It was from
this spot that a boy of twelve summers, smitten with a craze
for the sea, secretly left his home one December morning at
three o'clock with the object of becoming a sailor. He made
his way to the beach, walked to a seaport, and after much
persuasive eloquence in which he recklessly pledged himself
to impossible undertakings, the negotiations were ratified
by his being told by a burly skipper of the old school that
though he was very small, yet seeing he exhibited such
eagerness for the fray, he would look over that, to which
the seaman in embryo promptly replied, "But, sir, I will
grow bigger." And the weather-beaten old mariner responded,
"I hope you will; but mind, you'll have to work."

The poor child, fearful lest any hitch should come in the
way, assured him that he could work very hard, and that he
could run up aloft, as he had tried it aboard a schooner
which came once a year to his home with coals for the
squire. He was anxious that his accomplishments should be
tested without delay. His future commander interjected that
he would sign his indentures the following week, which was
done, after communication with the boy's family; and he
proceeded aboard with his kit made up of the following
articles. I give this, as it may be useful to parents who
have boys going to sea:--

    1 Box.
    1 Go-ashore suit.
    2 Suits of working clothes.
    1 Suit of oilskins.
    1 Pair of sea-boots.
    1 Pair of shoes.
    3 Changes of flannels.
    6 Pairs of stockings.
    2 Mufflers.
    4 Towels.
    3 Coloured flannel shirts.
    1 Bar of soap.
    6 Collars, 2 neckties.
    2 Pillow-slips.
    1 Bed and full set of bedding.
    2 Caps.
    1 Canvas bag.
    1 Ditty bag well stored with needles, thread,
      buttons, thimble, worsted to darn stockings, and
      cloth to patch worn or torn clothes.

This outfit is quite ample, and is more than double what
some poor boys had to start life with; indeed, scores of
them had to depend on what their first quarter's wages would
provide for them. In many country homes boys were taught,
as this boy was, sewing, darning, and even washing. The
knowledge of it cannot eat anything, and it is immensely
useful to have it. This might be commended to present-day
parents in town and country who have lads to send out into
the world. There is no loss of dignity in being able to do
something for yourself in the event of being too poor to pay
for having it done for you. A more exhilarating sight could
not be witnessed than that of sailors and sailor boys
sitting sewing their clothes or doing their week's washing.

I have said the initial training and experiences of a
cabin-boy were not only harsh but oft-times brutal. No
allowance was made for his tender years. The gospel of pity
did not enter into the lives of either the captains,
officers, or men. He was expected to learn without being
taught, and if he did not come up to their standard of
intelligence, his poor little body was made to suffer for
it. This happened more or less to every boy, and our new
recruit was not made an exception. He was given to
understand that certain duties devolved upon him. The
language perplexed his little brain. He had heard nothing
like it before, but he determined to avail himself of every
opportunity of learning. His inquisitiveness was a trouble
to the men; they rebuked him for bothering them; but by
steady plodding he began to learn the names of the
multiplicity of ropes, and the different things he would
have to do when the vessel put to sea. He was ordered to
have the side lights trimmed ready for lighting, the day
before sailing (a very wise precaution which should always
be adhered to). This was done, and although the wee laddie
had only been four days amidst a whirl of things that were
strange to him, he seemed to think that he had acquired
sufficient knowledge to justify him in believing that he had
mastered the situation. He wrote home a detailed account of
his doings, and complicated matters by using phrases that
were not commonly heard or understood in quiet villages far
away from the hum of seaports. The family were sent into
consternation by the description of his climbing
experiences, and an extra petition for his safe-keeping was
offered up when the time for family devotions came. No more
was heard of him for many months. His experiences had become
more real and fuller ere the next letter came. On the fifth
day after he had embarked the tug came alongside, the
tow-rope was handed aboard, and the vessel towed out of dock
to sea. Night was coming on, and the boy was ordered to
light the side lamps; he was in the act of doing this when
the pitching of the vessel afflicted him with strange
sensations, and in spite of a strong resistance he suddenly
parted with his last meal into the lamps. The misfortune
gave the captain more concern than the cabin-boy, who was in
the condition that makes one feel that all earthly joys
have passed away from you for evermore, and drowning would
be a happy relief from the agony of it. Needless to say, he
was soundly trounced for the misadventure; handy odds and
ends were thrown at him; he was reminded of his daring
promises on the eve of engagement, and an impassioned
oration was delivered on the curse of engaging "useless
rubbish who could not guide their stomachs when they got to
sea." His troubles had begun. The flow of curses, which he
now heard for the first time in his life, cut deeply into
his little soul, and made him long to be landed, so that he
might even wash doorsteps for a living rather than be
subjected to such coarse abuse. Ah, but there was worse to
come. This was merely a rude awakening. Could he have seen
into the series of hardships and cruelties that lay in front
of him, he might have deemed it better to close his
desolating troubles by allowing the waves which swept over
the vessel (as she was scudded along by the screaming wind)
to bear him overboard into the dark.

Home-sickness or sentimental sensations were soon made to
disappear by the busy life and rough, barbaric discipline
enforced. First-voyage impressions live long in the memory.
If they were not thrashed into permanent recollection, they
were bullied or tortured into it by revolting methods of
wrong which were recognised at that time in England to be
legal. To their shame be it said, but how often have I
heard men who had sprung from the masses and abject poverty,
and who had succeeded in getting into position (so far as
money would allow them to do so), deplore the introduction
of a larger educational system and the enactment of more
rigid laws to provide against a despotism that had become a
national disgrace! And it was not until a few demoniacs had
committed hideous murder, and were hung for it, that the
legislature took the trouble to inquire into what was going
on upon the high seas--nay, at times even before their very

One duty of a young sailor is to tar down the fore and aft
stays. At any time and under any circumstances this was a
precarious undertaking, and yet these fine young athletes
would undertake it quite joyously, provided it was called
for in the ordinary course of their duty, and there was no
intimation or suspicion of it being intended as a "work-up"
job, as they called it. The main and mizen stays stretched
from mast to mast; the fore stays were more perpendicular,
as they stretched from the masts to the jib-boom and
bowsprit. It was usual to have a boatswain's chair to sit
and be lowered down in while tarring these stays. Some mates
disdained pampering youths with a luxury of this kind, so
disallowed it, and caused them to sit in a bowlin' bight
instead. But the most villainous thing of all was when a boy
for a mere technical offence, perhaps, indeed, no offence
at all, would be ordered to ride a stay down without either
chair or bowlin'. The tar-pot was held in one hand, the
tarring was done with the other, and the holding on was
managed by a process of clinging with the legs and body as
they slid along in a marvellously skilful way; and woe to
the unhappy culprit who allowed any drops of tar to fall on
the decks or paint-work! Sometimes these lads lost their
balance and fell with their bodies under the stay, and
failed to right themselves; in that case they had to slide
down to where the stay was set up, get on top of it again,
and climb up to where they had left off tarring. They were
not allowed, even if they could have done so, to ride over
the painted portion by sliding over it. Occasionally there
occurred fatal falls, but this was a rare thing. I remember
losing my balance while riding down a main top-gallant stay.
The tar-pot fell to the deck, and I very nearly accompanied
it. There was much commotion caused by this mishap, as part
of the contents of the bucket had splashed on the covering
board and white-painted bulwarks. The exhibition of grief
was far-reaching. The captain and his devoted officers made
a great noise at me; they asked with passionate emotion why
I didn't let my body fall instead--"there would have been
less mischief done," said they! Of course they did not mean
that exactly, though to the uninitiated it would have seemed
uncommonly like it. The indications of combined grief and
fearful swearing might have meant anything of a violent
nature. I could not be disrated, as I was only a cabin-boy,
but a substitutionary penalty was invoked against me. The
chief officer, who had a voice and an eye that indicated
whiskey, was a real artist in profane language. He vowed
that as sure as "Hell was in Moses" I would never become
worthy the name of a British sailor. This outburst of
alcoholic eloquence touched me keenly, and ever since that
time I have wondered wherein this original gentleman saw
connection between the great Hebrew law-giver and the nether

The cabin-boy's duties were not only numerous, but arduous.
Under serious physical penalties he had to keep the cabin,
its lamps and brass-work clean, and wash the towels and
table-cloths. (The latter were usually made of canvas.) The
skipper's and mate's beds had to be made, and washing done
for them; small stores such as coffee, tea, sugar, biscuits,
&c., were under the combined care of him and the commander.
In addition to this, he had to keep all the deck brass-work
shining; keep his watch and look-out; and, when he had
learned how to steer, take his trick at the helm. If any of
the small sails, such as royals, top-gallant sails, main
top-gallant stay-sail, or flying jib had to be taken in, he
was expected to be the first to spring into the rigging or
along the jib-boom to do it, provided it was his watch on
deck. It was really a sensational sight to witness these
mannikins spinning up aloft and handling the flapping sail.
I wonder now that more of them did not come to grief because
of the stupid aversion many of the skippers had to allowing
them to pass through what is known as the lubber hole--that
is, a hole in the main-and fore-tops leading to the top-mast
rigging. Occasionally both men and boys would lose their
hold and fall on the rail, and be smashed to pieces.
Sometimes they struck the rail, were killed outright, and
then fell into the sea. And this is not to be wondered at
when it is considered that their bodies were at right angles
to the mast while passing over the round top from the main
to the top-mast rigging. The mortality from this cause was,
however, very small; such accidents generally occurred on
cold, icy days or nights, when the hands had become
benumbed. Yet it was amazing how these mere children managed
to hold on at any time. But that is not all. If the vessel
had to be tacked, it was the cabin-boy's duty to let go the
square mainsail sheet when "tacks and sheets" was called;
and when the order was given to "mainsail haul," that is,
swing the main yard round, he had to haul in the opposite
main sheet; and if he did not get it in so that the foot of
the mainsail came tight up against the foremain shroud
before the sail filled, he got into grievous trouble. If the
vessel was at anchor in a roadstead, he had to keep his
two-hour anchor watch the same as the rest of the crew. In
beating up narrow channels such as the Swin, he was put in
the main-chains to heave the lead and sing the soundings,
and the sweet child-voiced refrain mingled with the icy
gusts, which oft-times roared through the rigging whilst the
cold spray smote and froze on him. Never a kind word of
encouragement was allowed to cheer the brave little fellow,
and his days and nights were passed in isolation until he
was old enough and courageous enough to assert himself. The
only peace that ever solaced him was when his watch below
came, and he laid his poor weary head and body in the
hammock. If the vessel was in port, and the shore easy of
access, it was he who had to scull the captain ashore, and
wait for him in the cold, still, small hours in the morning,
until the pleasures of grog and the relating of personal
experiences had been exhausted. If the boy were asleep when
the skipper came down, he got a knock on the head, and was
entertained to a selection of oaths which poured forth until
he got alongside the vessel. He was then told with strong
manifestations of dignity to pass the painter aft; this
done, he was rope-ended for having slept.

If the vessel were anchored in a roadstead, and the captain
had to be rowed ashore, he had to be one of the crew of
four, he pulling the bow oar, and, as soon as the rest
landed, he was left in charge of the boat. The sequel to an
incident of this kind is one of the most gruesome in the
annals of maritime life. The captain of a vessel, anchored
in Elsinore Roads, was rowed into the harbour. The crew of
the boat were told that he would require them at 10.30 that
night. The cabin-boy was left in charge, and the two A.B.'s
and the oldest apprentice proceeded to a grog-shop, where
they became more or less intoxicated. The captain had
ordered a keg of gin to the boat, and at midnight he ordered
the men to go off to the vessel with it, and come for him in
the morning. They did not wish to go, as there was a strong
south wind and current in the sound, but the captain
insisted, and they went, with the result that the boat was
picked up the following day covered with ice, and four dead
bodies were the ghastly occupants of it.

Well nigh two years had passed away since our young friend
planted his feet for the first time aboard ship. He had
sailed far and learned much. The treatment he had been
accustomed to made strong impressions on him; and he
determined to emancipate himself from such tyranny the first
opportunity he had; so that, when his vessel glided into a
lovely landlocked harbour on the north-west coast of Ireland
one bleak winter morning, his plan of escape having been
secretly formed and kept, he determined to put it into force
as soon as it was discreet to do so.

All hands having been paid off, excepting the mate and
three apprentices, the task of cooking fell upon the
cabin-boy. He always had to do this when in a home port;
that was another of his many functions, and not the least of
them, which caused him very frequently to come to grief,
though this young man had been impressed with the importance
of learning to cook, amongst other things, long before he
left home, so that, as a rule, he got along fairly well
whenever it became his duty to work up a plain meal, which
usually consisted of soup and doboys, that is, small
dumplings boiled in the soup with the beef. A double-decker
sea-pie was not only a favourite mess, but was considered
even a luxury at that time, and most sailor-boys could cook
it. It was made in a large pan or in the galley coppers, and
consisted of the following ingredients: A layer of potatoes,
small pieces of beef and onions well seasoned with pepper
and salt, and covered over with water; then a deck of paste
with a hole in the middle to allow the water to have free
access, then more potatoes, beef, onions, and kidney, and
then the final deck of paste, and a suitable amount of water
were added. It was quite a common thing whilst these
exploits of cookery were going on, for the skinflint skipper
to stand over the boy, and if he detected him taking too
thick a skin from the potato, he was lucky if he got off
with a severe reprimand. It was usually an open-handed blow,
intended sternly to enforce economy. Well, the vessel had
been in port four days, and many acquaintances had been made
by the cabin-boy, who had given his confidences to a select
few. He was invited to go to a wake one night by the son of
a gentleman who kept a shoe shop. This was an uproarious
evening, from which he gathered new experiences. As he was
ashore at liberty he deemed it prudent to be punctual in
going on board. On getting on deck the master, who was
standing on the poop, called him to him, and desired to know
where he had been, and why he was ashore so late. He replied
that he was not late, but aboard at the time his liberty had
expired, and that he had been at a wake. The poor man nearly
expired on the spot! He gasped in a screeching sort of tone,
"A wake? You damned young hemp! And your father a
Protestant! I'll learn you to go to a wake! I'll teach you
to disgrace your family and myself! No more shore for you,

And for the purpose of emphasising his displeasure the
inevitable rope's-end was freely used, to the accompaniment
of language that did not bear the impress of a saintly
condition of mind, though he obviously derived comfort from
the thought that he was upholding the dignity and traditions
of the true Protestant faith. As soon as his conscience was
appeased, he asked the Almighty's forgiveness for having
used profane language, and ordered the boy to go to bed! He
went to bed, but not to sleep; the result of his musings on
these everlasting bullyings and thrashings was that at two
o'clock in the morning he had packed all his bits of
belongings into a bag, and woke an apprentice with whom he
was on very cordial terms, to say goodbye before embarking
on a new and unknown career. He had resolved to run away and
conceal himself until the vessel had sailed, and then ship
aboard an American barque which was in port. The other boy
pleaded for him not to risk it, but his mind was made up. He
would stand the insufferable tyranny no longer, and he went.
He had anticipated what was going to happen by previously
informing a well-to-do tradesman of his troubles and
intentions, and so excited the sympathy of his wife and
daughter as well as his own that they assured him of their
hospitality and aid in carrying out the scheme of desertion.
They admitted him into their home as soon as he presented
himself, and he was treated with true Hibernian hospitality.
The chief mate of the American barque was courting the
daughter, a handsome young woman, whom he ultimately
married. She was very solicitous in the poor lad's behalf,
and it was decided that he should have a berth on the mate's
ship, and in the presence of the youth she easily extracted
a pledge from her lover that he would have him kindly
treated. He felt in all probability the acme of joy in
serving this amiable female, but soon there came one of
those accidents that break the current of human affairs. The
boy thought he was safe after dark in paying a visit to the
vessel he had practically shipped to serve aboard of, and
took every precaution to avoid attracting attention. He had
nearly got alongside when a hand was laid on his shoulder,
and a kindly voice proclaimed him a prisoner. He was at
first startled, but soon recovered self-possession, and
seeing the gentleman was in plain clothes he demanded his
right to interfere.

"This is my right," said he, showing a piece of paper, "and
I may as well tell you that I am a detective, and have
shadowed the house you are living in for several days. You
must come with me. Your vessel is on the point of sailing,
and I have instructions to take you aboard."

The boy appealed to the officer not to take him, as he would
only run away at the first port again. The officer protested
that he must do his duty; but, as he desired to say goodbye
to the kind people who had given him shelter, he would
stretch his instructions by taking him to them. They were
deeply moved at the sight of the little culprit, and bade
him an affectionate adieu. He and his clothes were given up
to the irate captain, who received him with cold
acknowledgment, and he was soon sailing towards a port in
Scotland. After a quick run the vessel was docked and moored
ready to receive cargo. The captain had been sullenly
reticent on the passage. He spoke occasionally of base
ingratitude and the extinction of the race, and how the
object of his displeasure would be remembered when he got
him into deep water again, and that he would teach him a
salutary lesson for having broken his indentures and seeking
refuge under the roof of an Irish Jesuit! Apart from these
incoherent mutterings nothing of serious moment transpired.
By way of preliminary chastisement, the boy was ordered to
scrape the main-royal and top-gallant mast down during his
watch below in the daytime, and neither the masts, nor the
yards attached to them, received any real benefit by this
blockheaded notion of punishment. It is said, indeed, that
they suffered materially. The fact of deriving pleasure by
inflicting a cruel act on a mere child is hideous to think
of, but in those days these uncultured, half-savage
creatures were allowed all the powers of a monarch, and
disdained the commonest rights of humanity. The captain was
said to have expressed a sense of pride in what he termed
the smart capture of his erring apprentice, and some talk
was heard of the contemplated exploits of drilling after
sailing again. Poor man! He was never to have the
opportunity of gratifying an ignoble desire, for the night
after the vessel's arrival the youthful incorrigible
disembarked with a vow that he would never return to her
again; and he kept his word. Could those fields and lanes in
Scotland speak out the thoughts and the sufferings of the
days that were spent there, what an ineffable record of woe
they would lay bare!

Tramping by night, and concealed part of the way by day,
this child of respectable parents was driven by cruel wrong
to abandon himself to the privations of hunger, the rigour
of a biting climate, and to the chance of his strength
giving way before he had reached the destination that was to
open out newer and brighter opportunities to him. Four weeks
after deserting his vessel he landed at a large seaport on
the north-east coast of England, and then began a new era.
For many years he led a chequered and eventful life, which,
however, did not prevent him from rising quickly to the head
of his profession. Before he was twenty-two years of age he
was given the command of a handsome sailing vessel, and at
twenty-six he commanded a steamer. He had not seen his old
captain for many years, though he often desired to do so.
One day he came across him in London, and addressed him with
the same regard to quarter-deck etiquette as he was
accustomed to observe when a boy under his command. The old
man liked it, and he observed with a quiver in his speech,
"I am glad to notice that you have not forgotten what I took
so much pains to learn you." His pupil assured him that he
had not forgotten anything he had been taught, and
especially the duty he owed to his old commander. The
veteran was touched with the display of loyalty and the mark
of respect shown him. There seemed to be an accumulation of
recollections passing through his mind as he hesitatingly
said, "I used to knock you about a good deal, but it was all
for your good, and to teach you proper discipline." He was
assured that everything of an unpleasant character had been
shut out of the mind, so they parted with feelings of mutual
cordiality. Some years had elapsed, when the young commander
landed in a port in Denmark. A gentleman whom he knew told
him a sad story of an English captain who had just died in
the hospital under distressing circumstances. His illness
had been brought on by his own excesses, complications set
in, and after a few days' illness, he passed, through the
valley of the shadow of death into Eternity. His bodily
sufferings had been great, and his lonely desolation caused
him unspeakable anguish. Death relieved him of both, and he
was put to rest in a plain deal coffin. The vessels in port
hoisted their flags half-mast, and a few seamen followed his
remains to the tomb. The following day his old apprentice,
whom he had driven from his presence thirteen years before,
had two weeping willows planted at each end of the grave to
mark the spot where his erring master rests; and he has
visited it many times since.



The seamen of the fifties and sixties were grievously
superstitious. They viewed sailing on a Friday with
undisguised displeasure; and attributed many of their
disasters when on a voyage to this unholy act. I have known
men leave their vessel rather than sail on a Friday. The
owner of a vessel who did not regard this as a part of the
orthodox faith was voted outside the pale of compassion.
Then it was a great breach of nautical morals to whistle
when the wind was howling, and singing in such circumstances
was promptly prohibited. If perchance bad weather was
encountered immediately after leaving port, and it was
continuous, the forecastle became the centre of righteous
discussion and intrigue, in order that the reason for this
might be arrived at, and due punishment inflicted on the
culprit who was found to be the cause of all their sorrows.
They would look upon gales and mishaps, no matter how
unimportant, as tokens of Divine wrath sent as a punishment
for the sin of some one of them not having, for example,
paid a debt of honour before sailing. The guilty person or
persons were soon identified, even if they attempted to join
in the secret investigation, and the penalty of being
ostracised was rigidly enforced. It was a hard fate, which
sometimes continued the whole voyage, especially if no
redeeming features presented themselves. The sailor's
calling makes superstition a part of his nature. The weird
moaning of the wind suggests to him at times saintly
messages from afar; and he is easily lost in reverie. He
holds sweet converse with souls that have long since passed
into another sphere, but the hallucinary charm causes him to
fix his faith in the belief that they are hovering about
him, so that he may convey to them some message to transmit
to those friends or relatives who are the objects of his
devout veneration. Yet he ceases to be a sentimentalist when
duty calls him to face the realities of life. An order to
shorten sail transforms him at once into another being. He
usually swears with refined eloquence on unexpected
occasions, when a sudden order draws him from visionary
meditation. Dreams, which may be the creation of
indigestible junk--that is, salt beef which may have been
round the Horn a few times--are realities: privileged
communications from a mystic source. There is great vying
with each other in the relation of some grotesque nightmare
fancy, which may have lasted the twentieth part of a second,
but which takes perhaps a quarter of an hour to repeat;
traverses vast space in a progression of hideous tragedy and
calamitous shipwreck; and is served up with increased
profusion of detail when the history of the passage is
manuscripted to their homes and to their lovers. Here is an
instance of this mania in an unusually exaggerated form. For
obvious reasons it is undesirable that the name of the
vessel, or the captain, should be mentioned here. The
captain had a dream, or, as he stated, a vision, when off
Cape Horn bound to Valparaiso in a barque belonging to a
South Wales port. The vessel had been tossed about for days
with nothing set but close reefed topsails, amid the angry
storming and churning of liquid mountains. One midnight,
when eight bells had been struck to call the middle watch,
there suddenly appeared on the poop the commander, who was
known to be a man of God. He gave the order to hard up the
helm and make sail. When she came before the wind the crew
were puzzled to know the cause of this strange proceeding,
and their captain did not keep them long in doubt. He called
all hands aft, and when they had mustered he began: "Men,
you know I believe in God and His Christ. The latter has
appeared to me in a vision, and told me that I must sail
right back to where we came from; and if I hesitate or
refuse to obey the command the ship and all the crew will
perish." The crew were awestruck; the captain's statement
gave rise to vivid stories of presentiments; while the
luckless craft scampered back to the port where the
unsuspecting owner dwelt. In due course the vessel arrived
in the roads. A tug came alongside, and the captain was
greeted in the orthodox nautical style. The supernatural
tale was unfolded and the tug proceeded to convey the news
of the arrival of the _T----_. The owner would have fallen
on the neck of his captain had he been near. He wept with
uncontrollable joy. His feelings swept him into ecstasies of
generosity. Gifts of an unusual character for captains to
receive were to be conferred upon him, and the owner longed
for the flow of the tide so that his sentiments towards him
might be conveyed in person. "Ah," said he, "how often have
I said that Captain M---- was the smartest man that ever
sailed from a British port! Just fancy, to make the voyage
out and home in two and a half months! It is phenomenal!"

The master of the tug gaped at this local magnate in wonder,
and thought that sudden lunacy had seized him. He blurted
out, "Surely, Mr. J----, you have not lost your reason over
this terrible misfortune?"

"Terrible misfortune?" repeated the impassioned owner. "Is
it a terrible misfortune to make a West Coast voyage within
three months?"

"No," said the burly tug master, "I now see you do not
apprehend the position. I didn't care to say to you that the
captain had a vision off Cape Horn which decided him to
return to this port."

"What?" said the almost speechless potentate. "A vision?
Back here, without being to Valparaiso? My God!--I will
never get over it!"

And in truth he nearly collapsed, business, body, and soul,
over the matter.

The vessel was brought into the harbour. The sanctified
skipper did not receive the promised gifts! The vessel
sailed in a few days without him for the same destination;
and until a few years since he could be seen any day walking
the quay, still holding to the belief that it was the Divine
will he had carried out. This faith was strengthened by the
vessel never having been heard of again after sailing the
second time. I never heard of the owner showing any
vindictiveness to the poor captain, who was, no doubt, the
victim of a strange hallucination.

It would be unfair to impute a monopoly of superstition to
the seafarer. Sailors have superstitions which are not now
exclusively theirs, though they may have been the
originators of them; for instance, placing a loaf of bread
upside down, spilling the salt (and nullifying the mischief
by throwing a few grains over the left shoulder); these, as
well as the leaving of stray leaves and stalks in teacups
are considered sure indications of past or coming events,
even by the large and enlightened public who pass their
lives on dry land. There are few things more comical than to
see the nautical person studiously avoid passing under a
shore ladder. The penalty of it has a terror for him; and
yet his whole life is spent in passing to and fro under rope
ladders aboard ship without any suspicion of evil
consequences. But the landsman's belief in mystic tokens and
flighty safeguards is faint indeed compared with that which
permeates and saturates the mind of the typical sailor. A
gentleman with whom I was long and closely associated held
definite opinions on symbolic apparitions. His faith in
black cats was immovable; but this only extended to those
who actually crossed his path, and to him that was a sign
indicative of good fortune. I have seen him go into
ecstasies of joy over an incident of this kind; and woe unto
the person who interrupted the current of his happiness. He
would curse him with amazing fluency until resentment choked
the power of expression. This same human phenomenon was, in
early life, shipwrecked on one of the hidden shoals with
which the north-east coast abounds, at the very moment when
he was taking from the girdle in the galley a hot cake he
had baked in celebration of his birthday, and as a
precaution against future calamities he ever after wore the
left foot stocking outside in; and although he has passed
through many dangers which nearly ended in disaster, he has
never again been shipwrecked. Hence his faith is unbroken in
the protecting virtue of this mode of wearing that article
of dress, and so is his reverent belief in black cats as
charms against evil fortune. I have never known a person
with a larger sense of genuine humour than this man
possessed, and yet one could never appear to slight _his_
peculiar superstitions without producing a paroxysm of fury
in him. He would watch for the appearance of a new moon with
touching anxiety, and although his finances were very
frequently in a precarious condition, he never allowed
himself to be without the proverbial penny to turn over
under the new moon as a panacea against hidden pecuniary
ills! If, in sailor parlance, a star "dogged the moon," that
was to him a disturbing omen, and great caution had to be
observed that no violation of nautical ethics took place
during the transit. It was never regarded as a transit, but
as a "sign" from which evil _might_ be evolved.

Amidst all this singular piety in externals (for it was
really a species of piety), this typical sailor never gave
up his belief in the efficacy of strong language, which,
among the worst of his class, was frequently indescribable;
and the more eloquent he was in the utterance of oaths the
larger became his conviction that he possessed a gift not to
be acquired by mere tuition. Many years ago, when I was a
very small apprentice boy aboard a brig we had a steward
who was also a sailor of no common ability. His career had
been a long one of varied villainy, he impersonating
alternately a parson and a rich shipowner. In the latter
_rôle_ he succeeded in getting large advances of money from
unsuspecting store, sail, and rope dealers--taking advantage
of a trade-custom which prevails in every port, in return
for which he gave orders, which caused the favoured firms to
be looked upon with envy. They were requested to have these
supplies put aboard four days after the order was given; and
the penalty for not being able to do so was to be the loss
of a very valuable connection. There was much condescension
on the part of the bounteous customer, who "would call again
in two days," and much thanking and bowing and shaking of
hands on the part of the recipients when the time came to
say "Good-day." The stores were duly sent to the docks where
the vessels were lying, but the real owners did not
recognise the person who had given the order as having any
connection with them, whereupon an unhappy dawn broke over
the minds of the unsuspecting victims. Many months elapsed
before the gentleman in question was apprehended and
confronted by the tradesmen to whom he owed a period of
blissful dissipation. Needless to say the meeting was not so
cordial as the parting, though a lack of cordiality could
not be charged against the improvised shipowner. Indeed, to
the great discomfort of his former friends, as soon as an
opportunity was given him, from his position in the
prisoners' dock, he saluted them with playful familiarity;
but this did not prevent him being sent to penal servitude.
He had played many other _rôles_ under many names, but it
was as a parson he prided himself in having met with success
by the startling number of conversions that attended his
efforts. He belonged to a respectable and well-known family,
and their anxiety to have him reclaimed from the vices that
had produced for them so much sorrow induced them to prevail
on his brother-in-law, who was master of a brig, to take him
under his special care; so he was appointed as steward, and
thereby given the opportunity of spoiling much valuable
food, and causing grievous dissension among the crew.

This loathsome creature could only be appealed to through
his superstitions, and even the young apprentice boys soon
discovered his weakness, and terrorised him whenever they
got the chance. One awful morning in November, 1864, the
vessel was hove-to under close-reefed main topsail. All
hands had been on deck during the whole night, which was one
of raging storm and disaster. The decks had been swept, and
the galley carried away in the general destruction, so that
no food could be cooked on deck. The captain gave orders to
the steward to light a fire in the cabin stove, and make
coffee for all hands. He proceeded to do this. The matches,
however, had suffered in the commotion of the night, and
would not ignite. After many futile efforts the steward's
patience gave way; but certain members of the crew had
impressed him with the conviction that the hurricane that
was being encountered and the disasters that had befallen us
were sent as a judgment on _him_ for the blasphemous
language he was accustomed to use at all times, whenever the
slightest thing crossed his devilish nature. He put his
hands on the table, his eyes were upturned, and with a
softness of speech he slowly uttered, "Jesus wept--and so He
might!" Of course he would have preferred a string of oaths
as a relief to his pent-up anger. On the following night the
hurricane still raged, and it was thought that something was
wrong with the maintop-gallant sail. It looked as though it
were blowing adrift. A hand was sent aloft to secure it, but
when half-way up the top-mast rigging, he got on to the
top-mast back stay, and slid down on deck. He was speechless
for some time after reaching the deck. At last he jerkingly
articulated that there was nothing wrong with the sail, but
that which was believed to be sail was really some ferocious
living thing. Whereupon great consternation spread; and
volunteers were asked for to go aloft, and ascertain
precisely what it was. It turned out to be an eagle, and
after considerable difficulty a rope was got round it, and
it was safely landed on deck. It so happened that shortly
after the capture was made a tremendous sea struck the
vessel, causing her to leak badly, and taking the remaining
two boats overboard. This was put down not merely as a
coincidence, but a coincidence that was sent for a purpose,
and every mind was fixed upon the steward. The wretched man
was stricken with panic. His thoughts centred on his past,
and he became an abject drivelling confessionist, emptying
himself of deeds that were awful to listen to, and had been
kept to himself for years. The voyage soon ended, and the
last I heard of him was that he was drinking himself to
death; he had never got over the conviction that the Divine
wrath was upon him.

The sight of a shark is an everyday occurrence in some
latitudes. Nothing is thought of it, and sometimes much
sport is derived in attempting a capture. But should a
vessel be dogged for a succession of days by a shark, or (as
very frequently happens) by a shoal of them, gloom begins to
spread, imaginations begin to widen; whisperings and close
consultations for evil purposes take place; and soon there
has developed an epidemic of melancholia. Conjecture is
rife. The explanation of it all is that these sharks have
designs on human flesh, or they would not follow with such
tenacity. There is much speculation as to how the
unfortunate men are to be delivered into the grip of their
ferocity, and whether the feast will involve the sacrifice
of one or all of them. The more dismal the weather, the more
impressive the danger becomes. Perchance a man falls
overboard, or an accident occurs, no matter which; it is at
once attributed to the proximity of the sharks. "They would
never follow a vessel if they did not know they were to be
rewarded by some tasty recompense." Indeed they were
believed to have supernatural instincts as well as
gluttonous intentions, which filled the sailor with alarm,
and caused him to ponder uneasily over the idea of his last
moments. It did not occur to him that these "slim" followers
kept in close proximity to their vessel so that they might
partake of the food that was daily cast into the sea; they
are not particular whether it is human or not. What they
look for is food. But Jack loves tragedy. He likes to
imagine he is in danger of being eaten or robbed or imposed
upon. The non-fulfilment of his prognostications does not
humiliate him: it seems to inspire more tenacious belief.

The sea serpent, whatever that might be, has caused mariners
of every age much perturbation. Periodically there are
sensational reports emanating from some sea captain, that
the real bleary-eyed monster has at last been discovered.
Illimitable dimensions are given, together with much detail
of its many peculiarities. Three years ago, in the month of
May, I was cruising with some friends in my schooner yacht.
We had traversed many of the Scottish Lochs, amongst them
Loch Fyne, where the finest herring in the world abound, and
are much sought after by fishermen as well as by
bottle-nosed whales. We were making our way from Inverary
towards Campbeltown, and as the wind was shy, off the north
side of Arran, we were hugging the land in order to lead to
our destination. A good wind was carried as far as Loch
Ryan, when it slowly died away and became flat calm. One of
my friends and myself were walking the deck together, when
he excitedly observed, "What is that on our starboard beam;
is it a reef?" I assured him there were no shoals in the
vicinity of the yacht; and I took up the field-glasses, and
saw quite plainly that it was a bottle-nosed whale. It soon
began to move and send masses of water into the air. The
calm continued, and some anxiety was felt lest the leviathan
should playfully come towards us and test its power of
lifting. It passed close to where we lay, and then shaped a
course towards the opposite shore. Naturally our interest
was excited, and as a favourable breeze sprang up and
gradually strengthened we were able to follow at a discreet
distance from the tail of the sea disturber. It would have
taken the vessel out of our way to have followed it far, so
a course was set for Campbeltown, and the monster was soon
lost to view. Navigation was made intricate by a large fleet
of fishing boats beating up towards the playground of the
fish they sought to catch. The day following our arrival at
Campbeltown this fleet re-entered the port, their crews
stricken with a conviction that they had encountered the
much-spoken-of sea-monster. Their tales varied only in
degree, but their convictions were similar, and as they
unfolded with touching solemnity the story of peril, the
little town became the centre of wild, fluttering pulses. It
was a conflict between pride of race and sanctified horror,
for had not their townsmen looked into the very jaws of
death? One imaginative gentleman made a statement that was
creepy in his version of a gallant fight against the
demoniac foe. The monster is said to have raised itself high
out of the water, and opened its jaws, which exposed to view
a vast space, and suggested that the intention was to
receive, if not a few of the boats, certainly a multitude of
the people who manned them. One craft came gliding along,
and the skipper promptly picked up an oar, and put it into
the "serpent's" mouth, whereupon the oar was as promptly
snapped asunder; and the skilful mariner sailed his craft
gallantly out of harm's way while the cause of all the
commotion went prancing about the ocean in defiance of the
vast flotilla which is said at the same time to have
occupied its attention. It would be impossible to give more
than a summary of all the things that were said to have been
done during this trying episode; and all that need be said
now is that the men were stricken with awe. They remained in
port for several days in the belief that their enemy was
still on the rampage outside. Their deliverance had been
miraculous; and no doubt much thanksgiving, and much
petitioning for divine interposition, so that this visitor
from a sinister world might be spirited away to some other
locality, held their attention during the days that were
spent under cover of a safe harbour. There can be little
doubt that the cause of the fishers' frenzy was the quiet,
inoffensive bottle-nosed whale, leisurely prowling about the
Sound in search of a living, and, in fact, none other than
the one that my friend had supposed to be a reef. These
creatures rarely run amuck until the harpoon is thrust into
them. They usually roll about the sea in the most harmless
way. No doubt the sight of a huge creature in localities
unaccustomed to it creates an impression of dull alarm, and,
strange though it be, some minds are so constituted that
their superstitions and imaginations are always thirsting
after association with the nether regions.

A common belief among seamen is that if rats migrate from a
vessel that vessel is doomed; and many hardships have been
endured at times on account of this belief. I am inclined to
favour the idea that these creatures are just as tenacious
of life as human beings are; but to say they have keener
intuitive capacity than we is arrant nonsense. It is true
they do not like leaky ships any more than their crews do;
and they leave them for the same particular reasons as would
induce them to leave districts on shore. Scarcity of food
or comfort, or danger of attack, create their itinerant
moods. Of course if their pasture is good they are difficult
to get rid of. They are prolific and cling to their young.
That unquestionably is a reason for their willingness to be
driven from a position where the food supply may be
precarious. They have their channels of communication which
are as difficult to cut off as to find out, so that when
they do leave a vessel that is in port it is pretty certain
they have heard of some more comfortable quarters and a
better playground. This accounts for them clearing out of a
ship just before she sails, thus throwing some poor
superstitious creature into abject fear that their exodus is
the forerunner of calamity. To carry the superstition out
logically, instead of rats being exterminated throughout a
place or a vessel, they should really be encouraged to
remain and multiply. I saw an extract from an American paper
some years ago, and it told a sensational tale of a steamer
which had arrived at Baltimore from Cuba, laden with iron
ore. During the passage the whole crew were attacked by
swarms of rats, which had come aboard at the loading port.
The crew, including the captain, his wife, and family, were
driven to take refuge on deck. The rats became infuriated
for want of food, and boldly clamoured for it, until it was
decided to feed them discreetly from the ship's stores. Many
of the crew were bitten. Under less startling circumstances
it is quite a common occurrence for seamen to have their
toenails eaten off while they are asleep. It rarely happens
that the flesh is penetrated; and they nearly always go for
the big toe. People who have not seen such things are sure
to be sceptical about the truth of this statement. It can,
however, be easily verified. On the Baltimore vessel's
arrival in the stream, and after communications had been
effected with the shore, it was found that men could not be
induced to risk working in the holds until the rats were
expelled. It was decisively arranged to have the vessel
scuttled. This was done, and the situation became more
perplexing than ever. As soon as the water began to flow
into the vessel, the rats took to the rigging, and every
available space of it became occupied. Never had such a
sight been witnessed before. It was decided to shoot at
them. The panic at once grew into pandemonium, both amongst
the rats and the public. The fear of large numbers of the
rats making their escape seized the imagination, and took
some subduing. Methods were adopted, however, which soon put
an end to mere contemplation, and the rats were speedily put
out of harm's way. The story comes from America, and is an
answer to those who cling to the silly notion that rats have
the faculty of prevision and always leave a ship that is to
be sunk or is sinking. _These_ rats would not leave even
after the vessel was sunk.

Many years ago, long before sailing vessels succumbed to
steam, I was serving as cabin boy aboard a brig laden with
salt, which had been taken on board at St. Ubes, Portugal.
We were in the Bay of Biscay, and had encountered a
succession of gales from the time of leaving St. Ubes. The
vessel had a private leak, that is, a leak which was not
occasioned by constructive weakness, but by some omission of
caulking, bolting, trinnelling, &c. This alone only called
for one pump to be set going every two hours, but the heavy
buffeting made her strain and leak so badly that it
ultimately necessitated the continuous use of both pumps.
The sea was running cross and heavy, which caused the cargo
to shift, and the water to come on the ceiling, that is, the
inner planking of the hull. A portion of the crew that could
be spared from the pumps was ordered to take some forecastle
bulkhead planks down, and make their way into the hold for
the purpose of trimming the cargo over. The work was carried
on vigorously, amid a continuous flow of adjectives. The
captain and owner, both of whom were much-respected men,
were consigned by the sailors many times to perdition and
other more or less sulphurous places. Indeed, the father of
evil was freely invoked against them; but as both captain
and owner are very much alive at the present time, the
former controlling a vast business in conjunction with his
sons, and the captain for many years having been living a
peaceful life far away from the desolate storming of angry
waters, whatever may be in store for those two well-cursed
gentlemen, external appearances up to date favour the
assumption that Jack's invocation has been unheeded. There
was much desultory talk during the spells of shovelling, and
one of the sailors, who, by the way, had at one time
commanded his father's Scotch clipper, remarked, as though
he were soliloquising, "I don't care a Scotch damn so long
as the rats stick to us." Whereupon there arose a discussion
upon the protective influence of rats, and it was decided
that no leaky vessel should go to sea without them. One of
the men thought he heard water coming in at the bow, and, as
that part of the hold was not occupied with cargo, he made
his way towards it, and asked me to bring him a light. He
inquired if I heard anything. I replied in the affirmative.
The carpenter was brought down into the hold, and the
ceiling cut away; it was found that the rats had gnawed a
hole through the _outside_ planking, until they tasted tar
and salt water. The sea pressure afterwards forced the skin
in, and there became a free inlet of water. The hole was not
large, but it had been sufficient to keep one pump going
every two hours. There was now no doubt that this was the
private leak. There was great rejoicing at the discovery,
and after a few appropriate words, not necessary to
reproduce here, against a Providence that could allow the
perpetrators of such infinite mischief to prowl about
attempting to scuttle ships, it was generally concluded that
the occasion being one of peril, should be allowed to pass
without any stronger demonstration of reproach--as it might
excite retaliation.



Nothing is more comic than the sailor's aversion to the
person nautically recognised as the "sky-pilot." I have
known men risk imprisonment for desertion, on hearing that a
parson was going the voyage, or that the vessel was to sail
on a Friday. If any of them were asked their reason for
holding such opinions, they would no doubt make a long,
rambling statement of accidents that had happened, and the
wild wrath that follows in the wake of a ship sailing on the
forbidden day! These prejudices still survive in a modified
form. The younger generation of seamen do not view the
presence of the parson on board their ship with any strong
objection. In many cases he is rather welcomed than
otherwise. But the last generation had a strong tradition,
which could not be subdued, that no clerical gentleman
should be looked upon with favour as a passenger. The
boycott was sometimes carried out against him during the
voyage with unrelenting cruelty. Ever since the Lord
commanded Jonah, the son of Amittai, to arise and go to
Nineveh, and the Hebrew preacher took passage aboard the
ship of Tarshish instead, there has been trouble. The
senseless antipathy has been handed down the ages, and the
legacy comes from a shameless gang who were cowardly
assassins, from the skipper downward! Poor Jonah! The
tempest did not unnerve _him_; for, while the other
drivelling creatures were chucking their wares overboard, he
slept peacefully, until the bully of the crowd, and no doubt
the greatest funk, called out to him, "What meanest thou, O
sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will
think upon _us_ that we perish not!" These creatures always
want sacrifices made to save their own precious skins; and
they found in the poor penitent Hebrew a willing sacrifice.
He _agreed_ that they should cast him into the sea! It is
not recorded what methods of torture were used in order to
extract his consent; but it is pretty safe to assume that
the Tarshish crew made it so hot for the poor man that he
was glad to say to them, "Take me up and cast me forth into
the sea!" Thus it comes to pass that the race of seamen
cling to a tradition which originated in craven ignorance.

Some years ago a large party was invited by me to a trial
trip of a new steamer. Amongst the guests were a number of
ministers, some of whom were my personal friends, and some
the friends of others who had been invited. A gentleman who
had been in my service for many years held strongly to the
old tradition against clerics, and vowed that no good would
ever come of such a reckless breach of nautical etiquette.
He felt assured that much ill would come of it. His
countenance the whole day betokened internal conflict! He
refused to be ridiculed into consolation, and I think has
felt chagrined ever since that nothing has happened to
justify his prophecy. It must not be supposed, however, that
men holding these views carried their resentment ashore.
Many of them were on easy terms of friendship with
sky-pilots, and listened to their devotional efforts and
teaching with fervent submission. A story, which is known
and reverently believed by the typical sailor, has done
service many times. It is this: A parson had embarked aboard
a sailing vessel as a passenger. They were crossing the Bay
of Biscay when a tempest began to rage and the darkness
became full of trouble. The sea lashed with remorseless
effect on the hull of the vessel, until her timbers cracked
and made strange noises. It was discovered that the vessel
was leaking badly, and all hands were ordered to the pumps.
The hurricane continued to roar, and the parson became
alarmed at the tumult. He at last appealed to the captain to
know whether the danger was of a serious character. The
captain informed him the danger was great; but, if he
desired to be _assured_ of his safety or otherwise, he was
to go towards the men that were pumping and listen whether
they were swearing. If they were, there was no immediate
danger. He came back and said to the captain, "Glory be to
God, they are swearing!" A short time was allowed to elapse,
and another visit was paid. He came back and informed the
commander that they were still swearing, but not quite so
hard; "Indeed," said he, "I thought I heard some of them
praying." "Ah," said the captain, "I fear if hard swearing
does not continue, and they begin to pray, there will be no
hope!" Whereupon the man of Holy Orders dropped on his knees
and offered up an eloquent supplication for Divine aid: "O
God, in Thy boundless compassion do Thou cause these sailors
to cease praying, and make them to swear with a vigour and
force that will appease the anger of the waves, and bring
Thy servants out of danger into safety!" The captain called
out "Amen," and added a supplementary petition for their
deliverance, which is said to have been granted.

Sailors of that day spoke of God with the profound belief
that He was their exalted fellow-countryman, and they did
not scruple to charge Him with indifference to their
nautical interests, if a foreigner, or a foreign vessel,
happened to gain a monetary or seafaring advantage over
them. This is not a mere legend. North Blyth, in the county
of Northumberland, was inhabited by personalities who held
definite opinions on these matters. One old gentleman, whom
I remember very well (his name was Readford, but he had the
distinction of being better known as "Barley"--why he was
given this name there is no need to relate), held very
strong views as to the functions and obligations of the
Almighty. He never doubted His existence or His power, and
he always claimed a dispensation of benefit as the right of
British patriots.

The following story, true in every essential, will show his
reasons for doing so: Barley was in command of a collier,
which traded between Blyth and London. On one of his voyages
to London he encountered a strong head-wind, which caused
him to have to beat "up Swin." A Dutch galliot--type of
vessel which has never had the reputation of being a
racer--was in company, to leeward of him. Barley managed by
dexterous manipulation to keep her there until the flood
tide was well-nigh spent; but, alas for human fallibility,
and the eccentric fluctuations of the wind, the Dutchman
stood towards the north shore, while our hero, who was
priding himself on the superior qualities of himself and his
brig, stood towards the south, whereupon the Dutchman got a
"slant of wind" which came off the north shore. The result
was the British vessel was badly weathered by the galliot.
Barley's anger could not be appeased. It was an offence
against national pride and justice! He forthwith called the
attention of his chief officer to the indignity that had
been thrust upon them. "Look," said he, in wrathful
humiliation, "there's God Almighty given that adjective
Dutchman a leading wind and allowed His own countryman to be
jammed on a lee shore!" It was said that Barley never really
forgave this unpatriotic act, though he still adhered to the
belief that the God of British seamen was stedfastly on the
side of conservatives of every kind!

There is no class of workmen that is so much thought of and
cared for as the sailor class, and there is none who need
and deserve such consideration more. It would be invidious
to draw comparisons between classes, so that all I have to
say on the point is that they have always compared
favourably with those whose avocation is different from
theirs. They are susceptible to good or evil influences.
Perhaps not more susceptible to one than to the other; and
considering the malevolent, thievish scoundrels by whom they
are continually beset, their record does not compare badly
with that of others. Vagrancy is almost unknown amongst
them, and if their vices are large their temptations are
great; but, take them as a whole, they seldom premeditate
evil. Their intentions are mostly on the side of right and
goodness. Some of them stand like a rock against being
tempted by the gangs of harpies that are always hovering
about them. Others allow their good intentions to vanish as
soon as the predatory gentlemen with their seductive methods
make their appearance. Agencies such as the Church of
England Missions to Seamen and the Wesleyan Methodist
Mission are to be thanked for the hard efforts made to keep
the sailor out of harm, and to reclaim those who have
fallen. They may be thanked also for having been the means
of diminishing, if not altogether extirpating, a loathsome
tribe of ruffians who were accustomed to feast on their
blood. These Missions are a Godsend not only to the sailor,
but to the nation. No other agency has done the work they
are doing. The Church is apt, to gather its robes round a
cantish respectability, and call out "Save the people," and
the flutter falls flat on the seats. These missions owe any
success they have had to going _to_ the people.

A few wholesome women are worth scores of men in getting at
sailors--or for that matter in getting at anybody else, and
the importance of getting more of them attached to the work
should not be overlooked. The sailor is a person of moods.
Sometimes it is religion, and sometimes it is something very
different, and it is only those women who have grace, comely
looks and supreme tact, and who carry with them a halo of
bright cheerfulness, who can deal successfully with cases
of this kind. The long-faced, too much sanctified female,
doling out fixed quantities of monotonous nothings, is an
abomination, and is calculated to drive man into chronic
debauchery. One look from this kind of awful female is a
deadly agony, and much effort should be used to avoid her.
But there are even men engaged in religious work, whose
agonising look would give any person of refined senses the
"jumps." What earthly use are such creatures to men who
crave for brightness and hope to be put into their lives,
and the passion of love to be beamed into their souls? If
people would only bear in mind that it is always difficult
to find a real soul behind a flinty face, a vast amount of
mischief would be obviated by making more suitable
selections for philanthropic and religious work. Of course
there is more needed than a pleasant look. It is imperative
that there should be combined with it knowledge, and the
knack of communicating it. All denominations have wasters
thrust upon them, sometimes by the ambition of parents that
their sons should be ministers, and sometimes by the
unbounded belief of the young men themselves in their
fitness. But it often becomes apparent that good bricklayers
or blacksmiths have been spoiled in the process of
selection; whereas a little courage and frankness on the
part of the selection people would have saved many souls and
many reputations.



The present-day sailor has a princely life compared with
that of his predecessors of the beginning and middle of the
last century. Those men were ill-paid, ill-fed, and for the
most part brutally treated. The whole system of dealing with
seamen was a villainous wrong, which stamps the period with
a dirty blot, at which the British people should be ashamed
to look. What awful crimes were permitted by the old
legislatures of agricultural plutocrats! Ships were allowed
to be sent to sea in an unseaworthy condition. Men were
forced to go in them for a living, and scores of these
well-insured coffins were never seen or heard of again after
leaving port. Their crews, composed sometimes of the cream
of manhood, were the victims of a murderous indifference
that consigned them to a watery grave; and the families who
survived the wholesale assassination were left as legacies
of shame to the British people, who by their callousness
made such things possible. Whole families were cast on the
charity of a merciless world, to starve or survive according
to their fitness. Political exigencies had not then arisen.
The people were content to live under the rule of a despotic
aristocracy, and so a devastating game of shipowning was
carried on with yearly recurring but unnoticed slaughter. In
one bad night the billows would roll over hundreds of human
souls, and no more would be heard of them, except, perhaps,
in a short paragraph making the simple announcement that it
was feared certain vessels and their crews had succumbed to
the storms of such and such dates. "Subscription lists for
sailors' wives, mothers, and orphans! Good heavens! What is
it coming to? _They_ have no votes! What, then, do they want
with subscriptions?" "But you subscribe for colliery,
factory, railroad, and other shore accidents. What
difference does it make how the bereavement occurs?" "Votes
make the difference--the importance of that should not be

In disdain of the commonest rights of humanity this
nefarious business was allowed to flourish triumphant. The
bitter wail of widows and orphans was silenced by the
clamour for gold until all nature revolted against it. The
earth and the waters under the earth seemed to call aloud
for the infamy to be stayed. The rumbling noise of a
vigorous agitation permeated the air. Strenuous efforts
were made to block its progress. Charges of an attempt to
ruin the staple industry of the country were vociferously
proclaimed and contemptuously unheeded. Parliament was made
the centre of intrigue, whereby it was expected to thwart
the plans of the reformers, and throw legislation back a
decade, but the torrent rushed along, with a spirit that
broke through every barrier. Even the great Jew, Benjamin
Disraeli, funked further evasion and opposition, after the
memorable evening when Samuel Plimsoll electrified the
House, and stirred up the nation, by charging the Prime
Minister with the responsibility of proroguing Parliament in
order that shipping legislation should be evaded, and
further charged him with indifference to the loss of life at
sea! The onslaught was so fierce and irresistible that it
became a necessity not only to listen but to act. Thus it
came to pass that a hitherto obscure gentleman, who had no
connection whatever with the sea, was the means of carrying
into law one of the most beneficent pieces of legislation
that has ever been introduced to the House of Commons; and
his name will go down to distant ages, with renown
unsurpassed in the pages of Mercantile History. And shame to
him who would detract from the great reformer his share in
the act which has been the means of saving the lives of
multitudes of seamen, and which has stamped upon it the
immortal name of Samuel Plimsoll.

Drastic reforms cannot be brought about without causing
inconvenience and even suffering to some one; and I am bound
to say a vast amount of unnecessary hardship was caused in
condemning unseaworthy vessels, many of which belonged to
poor old captains who had saved a bit of money, and invested
it in this way long before there was any hint of the coming
legislation which was to interfere, and prevent them from
being sailed unless large sums of money were expended on
repairs. Scores of these poor fellows were ruined. Many of
them died of a broken heart. Many became insane; not a few
ended a miserable existence by taking their own lives; or
died in almshouses, and under other dependent conditions. Of
all classes of men, I do not know any who have such an
abhorrence for the poorhouse as the sailor class. They will
suffer the greatest privations in order to avoid it. It was
a hard, cruel fate to have the earnings of a lifetime, and
the means of livelihood, taken from them by a stroke of the
pen, without compensation; and England again degraded
herself by substituting one crime for another. These fine
old fellows had been at one time a grand national asset;
some of them had fought our battles at sea; but even apart
from this some compensation should have been voted to all
those who were to be affected by legislation that was sprung
upon them, and passed into law for the public good. It may
be said that any scheme of compensation must face heavy
difficulties, but that is not a sufficient reason for not
grappling with the question.

Compensation to the cattle-owners during the cattle plague
was difficult no doubt to adjust. Indeed all revolutionary
schemes are surrounded with complexities that have to be got
over; but in the hands of skilled, willing workmen they can
be carried out. Not very long ago a political party
introduced a scheme for compensating the
publicans--ostensibly because drunkenness would be
diminished. It bubbled over with difficulties, but it would
have been passed into law had the other party of the state
not intervened in such a way as to prevent it. The same
political party which thought it right that the publicans
should be compensated, were not unmindful of some more of
their friends, and voted something like five million
sterling per annum to be distributed among landowners,
parsons, &c. When the poor old sailors, withered and broken
by hard usage, pleaded, for pity's sake, not to be ruined,
their appeals were ruthlessly ignored.

A most extraordinary feature of the agitation to prevent
loss of life at sea was the attitude of some shipmasters.
They believed it to be an undue interference with their
sacred rights. At the time when Mr. Plimsoll was vigorously
pushing his investigations into the causes for so many
vessels foundering, he went to Braila and Galatz, and
examined every English steamer he was allowed to visit. Some
owners, hearing that he was on a tour of investigation,
instructed their captains not to allow him admittance; and I
heard at the time that these instructions in some cases were
rudely carried out. One forenoon he paid a casual visit to
the steamer "_A----_," and entered into conversation with a
person whom he assumed to be the commander. He chatted some
time with him upon general topics, and soon discovered that
the captain was not of the same political faith as himself.
Shipmasters who take political sides are generally
conservative. Up to that time he had carefully avoided
making known his identity. At last he ventured to approach
the object of his visit. He said, "Now, Captain, we have had
a pleasant little chat; I should like to have your views
before I go, on the Plimsoll agitation. They may be of value
to me. I should like you to state also what you think of
Plimsoll. I have heard varied opinions of him."

"Well," said the captain, in broad North Shields dialect,
"you ask what I think of the agitation. My opinion is that
all the skallywags who are taking part in it should be
locked up, and have the cat every morning at five o'clock,
and every hour of the day after, until they abstain from
meddling with what they know nothing about! And as for
Plimsoll, I would tie one end of a rope round his neck, and
attach the other to a fire bar, and chuck him in there,"
pointing to the ebbing stream of the Danube!

"Then," said Mr. Plimsoll, "you are not in sympathy with the

"No," said the infuriated skipper, "and nobody but a ----
fool would be!"

"But don't you think, Captain," said Mr. Plimsoll, "that the
measures you suggest are somewhat extreme, for after all
they are only trying to improve the condition of the

"Seamen be d----d," said this meteoric Northumbrian. "We
don't want ships turned into nurseries, and that's what it's
coming to!"

There were indications that the interview should cease. Mr.
Plimsoll thereupon prepared to take his leave. He apologised
to the captain for having taken up so much of his time,
handed him his card, and proceeded to land. The gallant
captain looked at the card, and called for his distinguished
visitor to wait, so that he might make known to him that he
was ignorant of his identity, otherwise he would have saved
him the pain of disclosing his opinions!

"And your method of putting a stop to agitation?"
interjected Plimsoll.

"Well," said the rollicking mariner, laughing at the joke
that had been played upon him, "we sailors express ourselves
_that way_, but we have no bad intentions!"

"I apprehend that is the case, Captain," said Plimsoll.

So ended an interview which is memorable to at least one
person; and not least notable for the friendship Mr.
Plimsoll showed towards his would-be executioner! The story
was told to me about two months after the interview occurred
by the captain himself. It is very odd that even one man,
especially a shipmaster, should have been found disagreeing
with a reform that was to be of so much benefit to all
classes of seafaring men.

Up to that time vessels were sent to sea scandalously
overladen. There was no fixed loadline as there is now.
Cargoes were badly stowed; no bagging was done. The fitting
of shifting boards was left pretty much to the caprice of
the master, who never at any time could be charged with
overdoing it, but rather the reverse. I am speaking now more
particularly of steamers, though to some extent the same
reckless disregard for human safety existed among sailing
vessels. It was necessary, however, that commanders of
"windjammers" should be more painstaking in the matter of
having their cargoes thoroughly stowed, and that adequate
bulkheads and shifting boards should be fitted; for the
shifting of a sailing vessel's cargo was accompanied with
the possibilities of serious consequences. Sailing vessels
cannot be brought head-on to wind and sea, as steamers can,
and the weather may be so boisterous as to make it
impossible to get into the holds; and even if these are
'accessible, the heavy "list" and continuous lurching
prohibit the trimming of the cargo to windward.

But the great loss of life was not altogether caused by
allowing rotten, leaky, badly equipped sailing vessels to go
to sea, nor by the neglect of commanders of both sailers and
steamers to adopt reasonable precautions for the purpose of
avoiding casualty. At the very time when the whole country
was ablaze with excitement over the harrowing disclosures
that investigation had brought to light, Lloyds'
Classification Committee was allowing a type of
narrow-gutted, double-decked, long-legged, veritable coffins
to be built, that were destined to take hundreds of poor
fellows to their doom. Their peculiarity was to capsize, or
continuously to float on their broadsides. Superhuman effort
could not have kept them on their legs. Neither bagging
transverse or thwartship bulkheads were of any avail. Scores
of them that were never heard of after leaving port found a
resting-place, with the whole of their crews, at the bottom
of the Atlantic Ocean. They lie there, unless enormous
pressure has crushed them into mud; and their tombs, could
they be revealed, would give ghastly testimony to the
incompetence of naval architects. No amount of precautionary
measures could have made this type of craft seaworthy. They
were not shaped to go to sea. My own impression is, apart
from the crankiness of these rattletraps, there was a vast
amount of overloading which was the cause of many vessels
being sent to the bottom; so many, indeed, that it became a
common saying among seamen who were employed in the Baltic
trade that if the North Sea were to dry up it would resemble
a green field, because of the quantity of green steamers
that had perished there. Perhaps the phrase was merely a
picturesque figure of speech, as the North Sea makes no
distinction as to the claim it has on its victims, and the
colour of paint does neither attract nor repel its favour.
Notwithstanding the startling evidence which proved that
there was something radically wrong in the design and
construction of what was known as the "three-deck rule"
type, Lloyds' Classification and the Board of Trade
officials adhered to the idea of their superiority over
every other class. The Hartlepool Well-decker became the
object of hostility. It was pronounced by dignified
theorists to be unsafe. The long wells combined with a low
freeboard lacerated their imaginations. They could not speak
of it without exhibiting strong emotion. "Suppose," said
they, "a sea were to break into the fore well and fill it,
the vessel would obviously become overburdened. Her buoyancy
would be _nil_, and she would succumb to the elements."

But practical minds had provided against such an
eventuality. These objects of aversion had what is called a
raised quarter-deck; two ends which stood boldly out of the
water, and of course a big "sheer." Heavy seas rarely came
over their bows or sterns, and when they did the bulk of the
water did not remain or seem to affect their buoyancy. The
heaviest water was taken aboard amidship, when they were
running with a beam sea or scudding before a gale; but owing
to their great sheer it gravitated in a small space against
the bridge bulkhead, the structure of which was strong
enough to stand excessive pressure. They were considered to
be the finest and safest tramps afloat by men who sailed in
them. Vessels of two thousand tons deadweight, with only
eighteen to twenty-four inches freeboard, would make winter
Atlantic passages without losing a rope-yarn, while many of
the three-deckers with six or seven feet freeboard never
reached their destination. Still the theorists kept up their
unreasoning opposition to the Well-deckers, and the
Hartlepool men were driven to take the matter up vigorously.
They would have no indefinite, haughty assertions. They
demanded investigation; and the result of it proved that the
theorists were wrong, and the men of practical ideas were
right. It was proved that there were singularly few cases of
foundering among these vessels, and that fewer lives were
lost in them than in any others. This is not the only
instance in which Lloyds' Classification Committee have
been proved wrong in their opinions. They refused in the
same way, for some time, to class Turrets. I was obliged to
give up a conditional contract which I had made with Messrs.
Doxford and Sons, of Sunderland, for the first built of
these, in consequence of their refusal to class. But Turrets
have now been well tested, and prove very superior
sea-boats. Underwriters, indeed, could not have better
risks; and, what is as good a test as any of a vessel's
seagoing qualities, is the readiness of seamen to join and
their reluctance to leave it.

But each successive depression in shipping unrolls the
resources of the mind, and there are evolved new ideas which
disclose advantages hitherto unknown. They may not be great,
but they are usually sufficient to make it possible to carry
on a profitable trade instead of stopping altogether or
working at a loss. It was this that brought the Switchback
into existence: a vessel, by the way, which has a short,
deep well forward; a long bridge; raised after deck; and a
long well and poop aft. Then came the Turret, and then the
Trunk; and last, the Single Decker on the "three-deck rule."
I do not believe it possible that any of these will ever
founder if they are properly handled, if their cargoes are
properly stowed, and if no accident to machinery or
stearing-gear occurs. They may come into collision with
something, run on to a sand-bank or reef, and then founder,
but not by force of hard buffeting. I am persuaded that the
chances are a thousand to one in favour of them pulling
through any storm in any ocean. But this is not all that can
be said of them. The men that compose the crew have
spacious, comfortable, healthy quarters, whereas in the old
days, besides the prospect of being taken to Davy Jones's
locker, men were housed in veritable piggeries: leaky,
insanitary hovels, not good enough to bury a dead dog in.



When I first went to sea, and for many a long day after, I
used to hear the sailors who were more than a generation my
seniors, talking of the wages they received during the
Russian war aboard collier brigs trading from the north-east
coast ports to London, France, and Holland. They used to
speak of it with restrained emotion, and pine for an
outbreak of hostilities _anywhere_, so long as it would
bring to them a period of renewed prosperity! Able seamen
boasted of their wages exceeding by two or three pounds a
voyage what the masters were getting. It was quite a common
occurrence at that time for colliers to be manned entirely
with masters and mates. They stowed away their dignity, and
took advantage of the larger pay by accepting a subordinate
position. Of course it was the scarcity of men that gave
them the opportunity. They were paid in some cases nine to
twelve pounds a voyage, which occupied on an average four
weeks. The normal pay was four to five pounds a voyage for
each man, all food, with the exception of coffee, tea, and
sugar, being found. The close of the big war brought, as it
always does, a reaction, and it is safe to say that collier
seamen have never been paid so liberally since. The racing
with these extraordinary craft was as eagerly engaged in as
it was with any of the tea clippers. It was an exciting
feature of the trade which carried many of them to their
doom almost joyously. Their masters were paid eight pounds
per voyage, and if their vessels were diverted from coasting
to foreign trades their stipend was eight to nine pounds a
month. Considering the cost of living in those days, it is a
marvel how they managed, but many of them did not only
succeed in making ends meet, but were able to save. They
owed much to the frugal habits of their bonny, healthy
wives, who for the most part had been domestic servants, or
daughters of respectable working men, living at home with
their parents until they were married. They were trained in
household economy, and they were exclusively domesticated.
Educational matters did not come into the range of their
sympathies. They were taught to work, and they and their
homes were good to look upon. Many of these thrifty girls
married swaggering young fellows who were before the mast.
They were not merely thrifty, but ambitious. Their ambition
was to become captains' wives; nor did they spare
themselves to accomplish their desire promptly. They did not
overlook the necessity of inspiring their husbands with high
aims, and in order that their incomes might be improved
these married men were coaxingly urged to seek an engagement
as cook--a post which carried with it ten shillings per
month more than the able seamen's pay, besides other
emoluments, such as the dripping saved by skimming the
coppers in which the beef or pork was boiled, and casking it
ready for turning into cash wherever the voyage ended. The
proceeds, together with any balance of wages, were handed
over to the custody of the imperious lady, who was
continuously reminding the object of her affection that he
should apply himself more studiously to learning during his
voyages, so that he would have less time to stay at the
navigation school, and more quickly achieve nautical
distinction when their savings amounted to the sum required
for passing the Board of Trade examination first, only mate,
and then for master. But once they got their mate's
certificates, financing became easier; and, although
domestic expenditure might have increased, the good lady
steadily kept in view the joy that would light up their home
and come into her life when she could hear her husband
addressed by the enchanting title of "Captain!" Hence the
effort to save became a fixed habit.

When their object was attained, and the husband had passed
his examination successfully, he soon got a command, and
although the pay was small many of these men, with the
assistance of their wives, saved sufficient to take an
interest in a vessel. This was an achievement never to be
forgotten. The news spread quickly over a large district.
The gossips became greatly engaged, and the distinguished
person was the object of respectful attention as he walked
up and down the quays or public thoroughfares with an air of
sanctified submission. It was a great thing to become part
owner of a vessel in those days when large dividends were so
easily made, and a small share very often led up to
considerable fortune.

It is not to be supposed that the only road to success was
through the galley doors. I do not mean that at all. There
were scores of men that became shipmasters on our north-east
coast who never sought the opportunity of figuring in the
galley, and even if they had they could not have cooked a
potato without spoiling it! It has long been a saying among
sailors that "God sends grub and the devil sends cooks," and
the saying is quite as true to-day as it was when cooks had
not the advantages they have now of attending cookery
classes. I merely relate the story of how a number of these
men of the middle of last century added to their incomes in
order that they might not stint their families of the
necessaries of life, and at the same time might put aside a
little each voyage until they had accumulated sufficient to
enable them to stay ashore and pass the necessary
examination. How a certain section of these men acquired
their diplomas will always be a mystery to themselves and to
those who knew of them. They were sailors every inch, and
they claimed no higher distinction. It would be ridiculous
to suppose that they were representative of the higher order
of captain. With these they had nothing in common. Indeed,
they were a distinct race, that disdained throwing off
forecastle manners; whereas the higher type of captain,
wherever he went, carried with him a bright, gentlemanly
intelligence that commanded respect. The higher class of man
nearly always soared high in search of a wife, not so much
in point of fortune as in goodness, education, useful
intellectual attainment--a lady in fact, combining domestic
qualities compatible with his position. The merely
intellectual person did not appeal to him. It was rational
culture he sought for, a companionable woman indeed, who
could use her hands as well as her head. Sometimes their
judgment erred, and carried them into a vortex of misery.

The swift pulsations of a generous heart generally do lead
to trouble if not well steadied by sound judgment. One of
the most pathetic instances of this I have ever heard of
occurred to a man who was high up in his profession. I knew
him well. He was held in high esteem by his many friends.
But his big soul was too much for him. He made the
acquaintance of a young lady who intoxicated his fancy. She
was beautiful: a quick, attractive girl of twenty-one, who
could talk brightly of things that excited his attention.
Soon she told him a piteous tale of domestic trouble. She
was an artist in words and facial expression. Her whole
being was indicative of a guileless life. One morning by
appointment they met to say goodbye, for he was to sail from
London that afternoon in command of a large vessel on a long
voyage. She was brimming over with sparkling wit that
overjoyed him. She skilfully hinted of marriage on his
return, and playfully adjured that he should not allow other
attractions when he was abroad to lessen his affection for

"Ah," said she, "sailors are so good, I fear you may not be
an exception."

"Well," said he, "as you seem to have some doubt as to my
_bonâ-fides_ I think the question may be settled by my
marrying you now."

"What!" said the fair maiden, "this forenoon? Surely you
will allow me to consult my mother?"

"No," said the captain; "that would spoil the romance, and
make it uninteresting. We must be spliced at once." And they
were. The result was a ghastly tragedy. The lady turned out
a termagant. Happily she did not live long, but while she
lived it was terrible. He told me the tale long after, and
the pathos of it, in all its hideous detail, was piteous. It
sank deep into his life, and changed his whole character. He
was a man of culture, and in the affairs of life displayed
unusual common sense. No one could comprehend how he came to
be drawn into this ill-assorted union, that might have
sacrificed two lives.

There is no body of men who should be so careful in choosing
their wives as sailors, no matter what their rank may be. If
they have children, the sailor, or captain, sees little of
them, and can have no part in their training, whereas the
mother has it in her power to fashion their lives either for
good or evil. She is always with them, and the
responsibility of forming their characters must rest almost
entirely with her. It would be a reckless exaggeration to
say that all successful men had good wives; but I think it
safe to assume that a large majority of them are blessed in
that way. One thing is certain, if you see a
well-conditioned, well-behaved child, there is a good mother
and a good wife behind it. And it may not be unsafe to
assert that the successful man nearly always owes some of
his success to his wife's assistance. She may not have
assisted actually in the business itself, but she may have
done better still by holding her tongue at the proper time,
and watching a suitable opportunity of making an appropriate
suggestion, avoiding saying or doing anything that will
irritate and break the continuity of thought which is
essential to the husband's success. A great deal may be
achieved by discreet silence.

The wages of captains sailing in north-east coast brigs and
barques that traded to the Mediterranean, Brazils, West
Indies, and America, ranged from ten to twelve pounds per
month. Those trading to the East Indies received fourteen
pounds, and some out of their wages had to find charts and
chronometers. London owners paid higher wages to their
captains, but less in proportion to their crews. These
commanders were on the whole a very intelligent,
well-conducted lot of men. They had high notions, perhaps,
of their importance, but they did no ill to anybody by this.
There were occasional squabbles between their mates and
themselves, and sometimes bickerings with the crew, but
these were never of a very serious or lasting character; in
fact, I have known men sail for years with one captain, and
it was delightful to witness the treatment and mutual
respect shown to each other. The men were frequently far
more jealous of their captain's dignity than he was himself.
There were others whose dignity became a slavish occupation
to sustain. It sometimes happened if the master and mate
differed on some minor matter that their relations became
childishly strained, and each asserted his rights until the
feeling softened. The captain always claimed the starboard
side of the quarter-deck as his special parading ground, the
mate the port. It often happened when these disagreements
occurred the master, to show his authority more drastically,
would ask the carpenter for a piece of chalk and draw a line
down the centre of the deck. When this was done the
aggrieved commander would address his chief officer in a
deep, hollow voice that was obviously artificial. "Sir," or
"Mr.," he would begin, "I wish to impart to you that your
conduct has been such as to cause me to draw this line so
that our intercourse may not be so close as it has been.
Please do not presume to attempt any familiarity with me
again; stick to your own side!" This piece of grotesque
quarterdeck-ism was made all the more comical by the serious
way it was taken by the mate and enforced by the master! It
did not occur to _them_ that there was something extremely
humorous in it. Another ludicrous custom was this: if the
master and mate were on deck together, though there was
ample room for both to walk on the weather side, the mate
was always supposed to give way to the captain, and walk on
the lee side, no matter what tack the vessel was on. If the
officer in charge was smoking, and either standing or
walking on the weather side, and the captain came on deck,
immediately the short cutty pipe was taken out of his mouth,
and, as a mark of respect, he passed to leeward! It was
considered the height of ill-manners for a mate or second
mate to smoke a churchwarden or a cigar!

The food that was supplied to these north country
"southspainers" was neither plentiful nor good. It was not
infrequently bought in the cheapest and nastiest markets--in
fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that large quantities
of it were not fit for human beings to eat.

The owners were, as a rule, of humble birth. Many of them
inherited frugal habits from their parsimonious parents, and
many of them became miserable misers independent of any
hereditary tendency. If their generous impulses ever did
swell big enough to give the captains a few delicacies, they
were overcome with fear lest extravagance should enter into
their lives, and therefore they hastened to caution them
with imploring emphasis to take special care not to allow
too much to be used, as luxuries of that kind were very
costly! The captains were put to sore straits at times to
carry out the wishes of their owners in doling out the food;
and it often happened in the process of economising they
became imbued with the same greedy ways as their employers.
It would not be fair to charge all north-east coast owners
of that period with the shame of stinting their crews of
proper food; those who did so had no idea that they could be
accused of being criminally mean. Their lean souls and
contracted little minds could only grasp the idea of making
money, and hoarding it after it was made. Hundreds of fine
fellows had their blood poisoned so that their teeth would
drop out, and their bones become saturated with virulent
scurvy owing to the unwholesome food the law provided they
should eat. The hereditary effects of this were in some
cases appalling, and yet while this was going on never a
voice in the country was raised effectually against it; and
if the conditions under which the sailor lives to-day are
vastly improved on what they were in the sailing-ship days,
he has neither the country nor the Parliament of England to
thank for it, but the new class of shipowner who sprang into
existence simultaneously with the introduction of steam.

There were many of the old shipowners and shipmasters
generous in all their dealings with their men; but my
experience compels me to say that a great number of them
were heartless skinflints. The economical measures adopted
by some captains in order that their supplies might spin out
were not only comic, but idiotic. For instance, the master
and his chief officer had their meals together, and if they
were not on very lovable terms the few minutes allowed the
mate was a very monotonous affair owing to the forced and
dignified silence of his companion, who eyed with disfavour
his healthy appetite; but this did not deter him from
continuing to dispose of the meagre repast of vitiated salt
junk. The request to be helped a second time broke the
silence and brought forth language of a highly improper
nature, and did the indiscreet officer happen to boldly go
for the butter-pot _after_ he had partaken of beef he was
eloquently reminded that those who "began with beef must
finish with beef," and those who "began with butter must
finish with butter"! I quote the exact words, for I have
heard them. If the mate was of a quarrelsome disposition he
retaliated by declaiming against any attempt to restrict his
food. Then followed mutual cursings, and hot recriminations.
The title of gentleman was repudiated, and "you're another"
substituted. But these little squabbles generally passed
away without any permanent resentment; and although the
mates may have strongly disagreed with the starvation policy
of their captains and owners, as soon as they got command
themselves they adopted the selfsame methods, and in some
cases applied them with a rigour that would have put their
former commanders to shame. The scale of provision was a
scandal to any civilised nation. Both owners and captains
were well aware of this, and shamefully used it as a threat
to prevent men from justly complaining of the quality or
quantity of food they were being served with. An opportunity
was often made so that the men might be put on their
"whack," or, to be strictly accurate, the phrase commonly
used was "your pound and pint," and as an addendum they
were dramatically informed that they should have no fresh
provisions in port. The men, of course, naturally retaliated
by measuring their work according to the food they got; and
then it was seen that the game was to be too costly and too
perilous. The common-sense commander would find a judicious
retreat from an untenable position, and the blockhead would
persevere with it during a whole voyage, and boastfully
retail a sickening story of meanness to an audience who, he
cherished the idea, would regard him as a hero! How much
bitterness and loss was caused by this parochial-minded
malignity can never be estimated. It was undoubtedly a
prolific factor in making sea-lawyers, and a greater evil
than this could not be incubated. The sea-lawyer always was
and always will be a pest on land, and a source of mischief
and danger on the sea. But while so much can be said against
the tactless, and, it may be, the vindictive captain, just
as much can be said against some crews who ignored the duty
of submitting to control. They feasted on unjustifiable
grumbling and discontent. They loafed and plotted to destroy
all legitimate authority, and very often made it a
perplexity to know how to act towards them. I do not class
these men with the criminal class of which I have spoken;
there is a very wide distinction between the two. The men I
am now speaking of, at their worst, never went beyond
loafing, grumbling, and plotting to evade some technical

The wages of the mate aboard these south-going craft were £5
5s. per month, the second mate got a pound above the
A.B.'s, who, on these voyages, were paid £2 10s. to £2 15s.
per month. The cook and steward (one man) got the same as
the boatswain, the carpenter, and the second mate. The scale
of wages for officers and crew aboard a tea clipper was
regulated on more aristocratic lines. Their hands were
carefully picked, and, as a rule, they carried double crews,
exclusive of officers and petty officers. Both pay and food
were vastly better in the clippers than that of the average
trader. The statutory scale of provisions was, however, the
same for all. A copy of it appears on the opposite page.

                              SCALE OF PROVISIONS

_NOTE.--There is no scale fixed by the Board of Trade. The quantity
and nature of the Provisions are a matter for agreement between Master
and Crew_.

Scale of Provisions to be allowed and served out to the Crew during the
Voyage, in addition to the daily issue of Lime and Lemon Juice and Sugar,
or other Anti-Scorbutics in any case required by the Act.


Water                 Qts.   3      3      3      3      3      3      3
Bread                  lb.   1      1      1      1      1      1      1
Beef                    "    1-1/2         1-1/2         1-1/2         1-1/2
Pork                    "           1-1/4         1-1/4         1-1/4
Preserved Meats         "
Preserved Potatoes     oz.
Preserved Vegetables.  lb.
Flour                   "    1/2           1/2           1/2
Peas                  Pint          1/3           1/3           1/3
Calavances              "
Rice                   lb.                                             1/2
Oatmeal                 "
Barley                  "
Salted Fish             "
Condensed Milk         oz.
Tea                     "    1/8    1/8    1/8    1/8    1/8    1/8    1/8
Coffee Beans (Roasted)  "    1/2    1/2    1/2    1/2    1/2    1/2    1/2
Cocoa                   "
Sugar                   "    2      2      2      2      2      2      2
Dried Fruit (Raisins,
  Currants, &c.)        "
Butter                 lb.
Marmalade or Jam        "
Molasses              Pint
Mustard                oz.
Pepper                  "
Vinegar or Pickles    Pint
[1]..............     ....
   ..............     ....

Equivalent Substitutes at the Master's option. No spirits allowed.


[Footnote 1: Other articles may be inserted here.]



It is a noteworthy fact that many of the featherbrained,
harum-scarum captains endeavoured to man their vessels with
men who had been trained in north-country colliers. These
men were considered not only the best, but the most
subordinate in the world. Perhaps this was correct, but I
think the west countrymen could claim a good place in point
of seamanship, if not of subordination. I remember hearing
the captain of an Australian passenger vessel making this
complimentary statement of north-country men to my father,
when I was a very small boy, and I learnt by experience many
years afterwards that it was true. Life aboard some of the
packet ships was a chronic convulsion of devilry. The
majority of the men constituting the crew were termed
"packet rats," and were the scrapings of British and foreign
scoundrelism. No wonder the captains were anxious to have a
proportion of fine, able-bodied north-country sailors, as a
steadying influence on the devil-may-care portion of the
crew. The signing on of a packet ship was quite an historic
occasion. All the "gimlet-eyed" rascals in town were on the
alert to bleed the sailor as soon as he had got his advance.
It was usual for the sailors to sign articles binding
themselves to be aboard at 5.30 or 6 a.m. on a fixed date,
and in order that there might be no mistake as to how the
discipline of the vessel was to be administered, the
officers, who were generally Yankees, or aped the habits and
manners of the Yankee, were stationed at the gangways for
the purpose of suitably receiving the wretched,
drink-sodden, semi-delirious creatures who were to
constitute part of the crew. They were carted to the vessel,
accompanied by animals opprobriously called "crimps," whose
unrestrained appetite for plunder was a scandal to the
public authority who permitted their existence. After these
noxious gentry had sucked the blood of their victims, the
latter were handed over to the officers who awaited their
arrival at the gangway. Having arrived late, and in a
condition contrary to the orthodox opinions of their
officer, they were asked in strong nasal language why they
did not turn up at 6 a.m.

"Do you know," the slap-dashing mate would say, "that you
have committed a breach of discipline that cannot be
overlooked on this craft?"

The half-drunken, whiskey-soaked creature would reply in an
incoherent, semi-insolent way, whereupon the mate would haul
out a belaying pin and belabour him with it. Many a criminal
act of this kind was committed, and if the men as a body
retaliated, they were shot at, or knuckle-dustered, until
their faces and bodies were beaten into a pulp. This was
called mutiny; so in addition to being brutally maltreated,
there could be found, both at home and abroad, gentlemen in
authority who had them sent to prison, and who confiscated
their pay. Many of them were punished until they agreed to
sign the entry in the official log against themselves.

It may be thought that these officers were justified in the
initial stages of the voyage in striking terror into the
minds of these men, so that their criminal instincts might
be kept in check. I am well aware of the risks and
responsibilities attending the control of a terrible class
of persons such as the American "packet rat," and it is
difficult to write of them with calmness of judgment. They
were undoubtedly collections of incorrigible ruffians such
as could not have been easily employed in any other class of
British or American vessel. At the same time, it must be
remembered that the officers of these crafts were not
selected because of their pre-disposition to piety. It was
because of their predilection for living in a chronic
atmosphere of "Almighty Hell." They were trained to it, and
were apt pupils. They saw a glory in the continuity of
combat that raged from the beginning until the end of a
voyage. It is worthy of note that, with few exceptions, they
never allowed themselves to be overcome, though many a
futile attempt was made. Poor devils of sailors! Many a
voyage they made without receiving a penny for it, every
cent of their wages being confiscated in fines and
forfeitures. How many may have lost their lives during the
progress of such passages, ostensibly by accidentally
falling overboard, will never be known. I have heard old
salts talk of these vessels never being hove to to pick up
any of the unfortunate riff-raff who may have made a false
step into the ocean. This may or may not be true; but from
what I know of the desperate character of those commanders
and officers, I am inclined to give credence to a good deal
of what is said to have occurred.

The really first-class seamen on these vessels (both
American and British) were treated not only with fairness,
but very often with indulgence. It was not unusual, however,
for them to have to fight their way to having proper respect
paid to them. The expert seaman, who could box as well as he
could handle a marline spike or use a sail-needle, appealed
to the sympathies of the captain and officers. It must not
be supposed that either the officers or men who were thought
good enough to sail in these vessels were in any degree
representative of the great bulk of British captains,
officers, or men. At the same time, I do not mean to suggest
that the rest of the mercantile marine was, or ever could
be, composed of Puritans. But the men I have been trying to
describe were the very antithesis of the typical British
tar. Many of them were, constitutionally, criminals, who had
spent years compulsorily on the Spanish main, when not
undergoing punishment in prison. Having been shipmate with
some of them I am able to speak of their character with some
claim to authority. They were big bullies, and consequently
abject cowards. The tales I have heard them relate before
and during their sojourn on the Spanish main reeked with a
villainous odour. They always commenced their bullying
tactics as soon as they came aboard, especially if the
vessel had apparently a quiet set of officers and a peaceful
captain. They did not always gauge aright the pugilistic
capacity of some of their forecastle brethren, and so it
came to pass that once one of these six-feet-four rampaging
creatures was threatening annihilation to a little
forecastle colony, and, indeed, to the after-end colonists
also, when there was heard, amid a flow of sulphurous
curses, a quiet, defiant word of disapproval. It came from a
Scottish able seaman who had served long in American sailing
vessels. The orator promptly struck out at the
semi-inanimate Sandy, who woke up, went for his man in true
British style, and had him howling for mercy in less than
two minutes. The Scottish sailor became the idol of the
captain and crew, and the Yankee bullies deserted at the
first port the vessel touched at. In 1871 I shipped aboard a
barque in Liverpool as chief officer. I was very young, and
what perhaps was more sinful, very youthful looking. The
captain was only two years my senior, and the second mate
four. There was a scarcity of desirable men available, which
resulted in our having to engage what we could get, and,
with the exception of three respectable men, the rest were
"packet rats," though few of them had sailed in packets, and
those who had were stamped with the mark of it. We left
Birkenhead in tow. There was a strong wind blowing. It was
my duty to see the anchors stowed properly. I gave orders to
man the fish tackle, and directed one of the men to pinch
the flukes of the anchor on to the gunwale while the crew
were hauling on the tackle. He looked at me for a minute or
two as though he were undecided as to the condition of his
hearing and his eyesight. I repeated the order in
authoritative quarter-deck style. He gaped in amazement
apparently at my audacity, and told me in language that
could not be overlooked there (or repeated here!) to do
myself what I had ordered him to do. I became at once
conscious of my youthful appearance! I assured him that I
would stand no nonsense, and perhaps to awaken him to the
possibilities of a physical encounter, I used some
Americanisms that were obviously familiar to him and to the
others who were ready to act with him. I insisted that the
orders I had given should be carried out. He sneered at my
youth, and intimated, with a grin that foreboded
cannibalism, that he had eaten many a more manly-looking
person than myself before breakfast, and that he would stand
no G---- d---- cheek from a son of a---- like me! "Do it
yourself," said he, "I won't," and suiting the action to the
words, he tossed the handspike on to the top-gallant
forecastle. I instantly picked it up, and it was all over
his body before he had time to recover from the effect of so
sudden an attack. The captain had told me that I was to
beware of treachery, and to remember the advantage of the
first blow. "Hit," said he, "right between the eyes, and see
to it that it makes sparks!" I did not expect that the
necessity would arise so soon after leaving the docks, and I
must plead guilty to inaccurately carrying out the captain's
suggestion, except in so far as the first blow was
concerned, which was quickly and decisively struck, although
not precisely between the eyes. There were visible signs
that the head and face of the rebel had sustained damage;
and it may be taken for granted that other parts of his body
did not escape. He intimated that for the present he wanted
no more, and I was secretly glad of it because I had been
severely punished myself, although my general appearance
did not show it much. Surely the only course open to me
after so unjustifiable an attack was to resent not only the
insubordination, but the filthy personal attack on myself.
We had not arrived at the N.W. lightship where the tug was
to cast off the tow-rope when this rebellion began, and it
continued more or less until the vessel arrived at her
destination, where the whole of the refractory ones were put
in prison and kept there until she was ready to sail. They
were then brought aboard by police escort. Prison diet and
prison treatment had knocked a lot of the fight out of them,
but the ship food soon revived the devil in them again. We
had not been at sea many days before they commenced to
revolt even against steering and making or shortening sail.
It was only by the application of stringent measures that
they were kept in subjection. It was found necessary for the
captain and officers not only to lock their state-room doors
when in bed, but to keep themselves well armed in case of a
sudden rising. The suspense of it was terrible. We knew that
a slight relaxation in the stern disciplinary attitude might
give them an opportunity which they would be quick to take
advantage of; it was therefore resolutely adhered to. The
captain instilled into his officers the doctrine of keeping
them always at work, bad weather or fine. "Make them
permanently tired," said he; "make them feel fit for their
bunks." That was all very well, but in order to carry this
out the officers were kept permanently tired also.

Though many years have elapsed since those troubled days and
nights, the memory of them is still with me, watching,
working, wakeful, always on the alert, anticipating
assassination; even my brief sleep was troubled with visions
of sanguinary conflict. It was no mere delusion. Each day
brought evidences of coming trouble. How and when it would
come did not matter, so long as we were prepared for it.
Whisperings and audible grumblings were ominous tokens of
what was in the wind. The captain and I had some
conversation concerning the situation. He was of opinion
that the sailor who opened the rebellion at the beginning of
the voyage would lead an open and concerted revolt, and
perhaps I agreed with him that something of the sort might
easily happen; so we resolved to keep a tight eye on this
sinister development. One night about ten o'clock, while
beating through a narrow channel, the captain said to me, "I
am going below; you must take charge." And after giving me
the necessary instructions, he said in a low tone, "Now
mind, keep your eyes and ears wide open; you may be taken
unawares at any moment." I thanked him for the advice, and
he bade me good-night and left the poop. An Irishman was at
the wheel, and for a time his steering was good. As the wind
was dead in our teeth and blowing strong, the course was
full and by the wind. It soon became necessary to tack, and
as it is always customary for the officer in charge to take
the helm in performing this evolution, it became my duty to
do so, but as soon as the vessel was round, I told the man
to take the wheel again. I then proceeded to see that all
the sails were properly trimmed. This being done, I went on
to the poop again, and as the helmsman was steering in a
most erratic fashion, first sailing her bang off the wind
and then shaking the sails almost aback, I remonstrated with
him, but to no purpose. At last I said to him that if he did
not steer better, I would be obliged to turn him from the
wheel. No greater disgrace can be inflicted on a
self-respecting seaman than this. I have known men suffer an
agony by the mere threat of it. But the heterogeneous crew
that we had to control had no sensitiveness of that kind. I
was told, amid a running stream of filthy swearing, to take
the wheel myself. The ship and all in authority were cursed
with Hibernian fluency. A special appeal was made for our
immediate consignment to the hottest part of hell. The
harangue was suddenly cut short by my jumping from the poop
on top of him as he was about to pass away from the helm. I
had ordered a hand whom I could trust to steer, while I
became engaged in physically reproving this blackguard for
his insolence and disobedience to lawful commands. During
my struggle with him I felt a sharp prick as though a pin
had been run into me, but owing to the excitement of the
moment I took no further notice of it--indeed, I was too
busy to notice anything. The job did not prove so difficult
as I had anticipated. His accomplices did not come to his
assistance, and he evidently lost heart and became
effusively submissive. The captain relieved me at midnight,
and I returned to my berth. I was awakened during the watch
by some one tapping at my door. It turned out to be the
captain. When I admitted him he showed me a knife which he
had picked up on the deck, and asked if I knew whom it
belonged to. I said "Yes, it belongs to the Irishman."
"Well," said he, "it was evidently his intention to bleed
you." I was sitting up in my bunk, and suddenly observed a
clot of blood on my shirt, and said to him, "I have been
stabbed. Look at this." I examined myself, and found a
slight cut where I had felt the sensation which I have
spoken of. We conferred as to whether he should be put in
irons, and given up to the authorities at the first port the
vessel touched at. I asked to be allowed to deal with him
when he came on deck, and it was agreed that I should. He
was in due course ordered aft, and the knife shown to him.
When asked if it was his, he became afflicted with fear, and
admitted that he had attempted to stab me, and begged that
he should not be further punished, and if he were allowed
to resume his duty he promised with emotional profusion to
give no further annoyance to any one. The appeal was
pathetic; it would have been an act of vindictive cruelty
not to have granted what he asked; though his conduct in
conjunction with the others had up to that time been vicious
in the extreme. It was thought desirable to give his
promises a test, with the result that he gave no outward
signs of violating them while the voyage lasted.

These men were mutineers by profession. Sentiment, or what
is called moral suasion, was unintelligible to them. They
were a species of wild beast that could only be tamed by the
knowledge that they were weaker than the power set over
them; and this could only be conveyed in one way that was
understandable to them: that is, by coming down to their
level for the time being, and smashing their courage (and
their heads if need be) with electrical suddenness. If there
was any hesitation, depend upon it they would smash you. The
moralist will declaim against the adoption of such a
doctrine, and will bring theoretic arguments in support of
his theories; but before commencing a tirade against an
unavoidable method, perhaps the moralist will state whether
he has ever been confronted with a situation which might
involve not only the unlawful absorption of supreme control,
but the sacrifice of life and valuable property as a
consequence of it. Let me put this proposition to them. Here
is a vessel, it may be, out on a trackless ocean hundreds of
miles from land, her forecastle hands consisting of a gang
of murderous ruffians ready to make lawful authority
impotent, and, if need be, to enforce their own by
overpowering the captain and officers and making an
opportunity for mutiny. Let the moralists think of it; four
or five men at the mercy of a score of hang-dog scoundrels
who despise every moral law, and who talk lightly of murder
and every form of violent death! Let me ask them what their
feelings would be suppose any of their near relations were
placed in the position of having to fight for lawful
supremacy and even for life? I think this might be trying to
their faith in theoretic and sentimental government. But the
question might be made more impressive still by devoting a
chapter to the hideous butchery which horrified creation
when the news came of the mutiny of the _Flowery Land_ and
the _Caswell_. I should like people who are so deadly
virtuous as to repudiate self-preservation to picture the
decks of these two vessels washed in human blood, and to
imagine (if it is not too dreadful to do so) that some of it
belonged to a kinsman who was very dear to them. I think if
they are not past praying for they would then give up
dispensing cant, and direct their sympathies to a policy
that has the merit of being not only humane but logical. I
well know how narrow the dividing line is between proper and
improper discipline; and know also the care that should be
used in such circumstances to act with fairness and even
kindness. But I am writing about a section of men who
mistake kindness for weakness, and who can only be appealed
to and swayed by the magic of fear. I could find material to
fill a three-hundred page book with the experiences of that
one eventful and hazardous voyage. Space forbids my giving
more than a brief account of it.

After ten months' absence from Liverpool we arrived at
Antwerp. The conduct of some of the crew had been so
shocking that they feared the penalty of it, and they
absconded immediately on arrival, and were never heard of by
us again. The Irishman fulfilled his pledge so thoroughly
that he was not only pardoned but kept by the vessel. The
more defiant of them saw the thing through, and received
only a portion of their wages, the bulk of it being deducted
for fines and forfeitures. I am bound to say these men got
what they richly deserved. They had on several occasions
endangered the safety of a handsome and valuable vessel and
the lives of all aboard. But for the loyalty of the petty
officers and the unyielding firmness of a strong, capable
captain underwriters would have had a heavy loss to pay for.

The tale I have been unfolding shows one unwholesome and
vicious aspect of sailor life. There is, happily, a more
attractive, peaceful, and manifestly brighter and purer
aspect; and those who live in it are beloved by every one.



In those days the deep-sea shipmaster looked upon the
collier skipper as his inferior in everything, and regarded
himself in the light of an important personage. His bearing
was that of a man who believed that he was sent into the
world so that great deeds might be accomplished. He lavishly
patronised everybody, and never disguised his desire to
repudiate all connection with his less imposing
fellow-worker in a different sphere. He would pace the poop
or quarter-deck of his vessel with the air of a monarch.
Sometimes a slight omission of deference to his monarchy
would take place on the part of officers or crew. That was
an infringement of dignity which had to be promptly reproved
by stern disciplinary measures.

There were various methods open to him of inflicting
chastisement. An offending officer was usually ordered to
his berth for twenty-four hours--that is put off duty. The
seamen's offences were rigorously atoned for by their being
what is called "worked up," _i.e.,_ kept on duty during
their watch below; or, what was more provoking still, they
might be ordered to "sweat up" sails that they knew did not
require touching. This idle aggravation was frequently
carried out with the object of getting the men to revolt;
they were then logged for refusing duty and their pay
stopped at the end of the voyage. It was not an infrequent
occurrence for grown men to be handcuffed for some minor
offence that should never have been noticed. The sight of
human suffering and degradation was an agreeable excitement
to this class of officer or captain. If some of the villainy
committed in the name of the law at sea were to be written,
it would be a revolting revelation of wickedness, of
unheard-of cruelty. Small cabin-boys who had not seen more
than twelve summers were good sport for frosty-blooded
scoundrels to rope's-end or otherwise brutally use, because
they failed to do their part in stowing a royal or in some
other way showed indications of limited strength or lack of
knowledge. The barbarous creed of the whole class was to
lash their subjects to their duties. A little fellow, well
known to myself, who had not reached his thirteenth year,
had his eyes blacked and his little body scandalously
maltreated because he had been made nervous by continuous
bullying, and did not steer so well as he might have done
had he been left alone. It is almost incredible, but it is
true, some of these rascals would at times have men hung up
by their thumbs in the mizen rigging for having committed
what would be considered nowadays a most trivial offence.

One gentleman, well known in his time by the name of Bully
W----, stood on the poop of the square-rigged ship
_Challenge_, and _shot_ a seaman who was at work on the main
yardarm! It was never known precisely why he did it; but it
was well known that had he not made his exit from the cabin
windows, and had he not received assistance to escape, he
would have been lynched by a furious public. This man once
commanded a crack, square-rigged clipper called the _Flying
Cloud_. His passages between New York and San Francisco were
a marvel to everybody. He was credited, as many others like
him have been, with having direct communication with the
devil, and is said never to have voluntarily taken canvas
in. He was one of those who used to lock tacks and sheets,
so that if the officers were overcome by fear they could not
shorten canvas. His fame spread until it was considered an
honour to look upon him, much less to know him. He became
the object of adoration, and perhaps his knowledge of this
swelled his conceit, so that he came to believe that even
the shooting of his seamen was not a murderous, but a
permissible act, so far as _he_ was concerned. But this man
was only one among scores like him.

There was once a famous captain of a well-known Australian
clipper, a slashing, dare-devil fellow, who made the
quickest passages to and from Australia on record. But at
last he lost his head, and then of course his money, and
died in very pinched circumstances. Poor fellow, he couldn't
stand corn! The people of Liverpool gave a banquet in honour
of him. He arrived late in the banqueting hall, and there
were indications that he was inebriated. When he had to
respond to the toast of his health he shocked his audience
by stating that he would either be in hell or in Melbourne
in so many days from the time of sailing. Destiny ordained
that he was not to be in hell, and not in Melbourne
either--only hard and fast on Australian rocks! His
misfortunes and his habits soon put an end to his
professional career, but his deeds are deservedly talked of
to this day. He was undoubtedly one of the smartest men of
his time, and ought to have been saved from the end that
befell him.

Captains who claimed public attention for reasons that would
not now be looked upon with favour were usually known by the
opprobrious name of "Bully this" or "Bully that;" but "Jack
the Devil" and "Hell Fire Jack" were perhaps as widely used
names as any others. There were various causes for the
acquisition of such distinction. It was generally the
fearless way in which they carried sail, and their harsh,
brutal treatment of their crews that fixed the epithet upon
them. I am quite sure many of them were proud of it. They
were conscious of having done something to deserve it. It
will appear strange that seamen should have been found to
sail with such commanders; not only could they be found, but
many were even eager to sail with them, the reason being
that they desired to share some of the notoriety which their
captains had acquired. They loved to talk of having sailed
in a vessel made famous by the person who commanded her,
even if he were a bully! His heroics were made an
everlasting theme. The A.B.s rarely made more than one
voyage with him; many of them deserted even at the first
port. The dreadful usage, and the fear of being killed or
drowned, were too much for them sometimes.



Amid the many sides of the average sailor's character there
is none that stands out so prominently as that of bravery
and resourcefulness. Here is an instance of both qualities.
Three or four years ago a Russian Nihilist made his escape
from the Siberian mines and travelled to Vladivostock. A
British ship was lying there, and the poor refugee came
aboard and claimed the protection of her captain. The vessel
could not sail for a few days, which gave his pursuers an
opportunity of overtaking him. They got to know where he
was, and proceeded to demand that he should be given up.
They relied, as many other whipper-snappers do, on the
importance of their official position and the glitter of
their elaborate uniform to strike awe and terror into the
soul of the British captain! They soon found out what a
mistake they had made. "Gentlemen," said the resolute
commander, "the person whom you call your prisoner has
placed himself under the protection of the British flag. A
British ship is British territory, hence he is a free man,
and I must request that you cease to molest us or make any
attempt to take him by force." They urged Imperial penalties
and international complications; but this brave and
resourceful man disregarded their threats, again reminding
them that he stood on the deck of a British vessel; and that
if they did anything in violation of his power and
authority, complications would arise from his side instead
of from theirs. He was allowed to sail with his interesting
passenger aboard, and I hope the latter was genuinely
grateful to his heroic protector for ever after. The name of
such a man should be covered with imperishable fame.

Here is another bit of quiet bravery, loftier than the
slaughter, in hot or cold blood, of one's fellow-creatures!
About twenty-eight or twenty-nine years ago, a German vessel
ran into and sank off Dungeness an emigrant ship called the
_North Fleet_. She was a fine vessel. Her commander had
married a young lady a few days before sailing from London,
and she accompanied him on the voyage. When the collision
occurred there was a rush made for the boats. Men clamoured
for a place to the exclusion of women and children! The
captain called out that he would shoot the first man who
prevented or did not assist the women to save themselves,
and I believe he had reason to put his threat into
practice. He stood on the poop with his revolver in hand
ready for action. When the proper time came, he asked his
bride to take his arm, and led her to the gangway. They
kissed each other affectionately. He whispered in her ear,
"Courage, dear, I must do my duty." Then he handed her into
the boat which was in charge of an officer, and exhorted him
to take special care of her whom he had so recently led from
the altar and to whom he had said his last farewell! He then
proceeded to his post on the quarter-deck, and stood there
until the vessel sank and the sea flowed over him. The
opinion at the time was that he could have saved his life if
he had made an effort to do so. I question this very much,
as many of the people were picked up in the water, clinging
to wreckage; the boats being overcrowded. The only way by
which he could have been saved was to displace some one or
clutch at a piece of wreck. He preferred death to the
former, and there is no evidence that he did not attempt to
save himself by means of the latter. The probability is that
he gave any such opportunity to some drowning man or woman,
and sacrificed himself. Honour to this brave man who died,
not while taking life, but in saving it!



The signing on and the sailing from Liverpool or London
docks of these vessels were not only exciting but pathetic
occasions. The chief officer usually had authority to pick
the crew. The men would be brought into the yard and formed
into line. The chanty-man was generally the first selection,
and care was taken that the balance should be good
choristers, and that all were able to produce good
discharges for conduct and ability. It was a great sight to
see the majestic-looking vessels sail away. The dock walls
would be crowded with sympathetic audiences who had come not
only to say farewell, but to listen to the sweet though
sombre refrain that charged the air with the enchanting
pathos and beauty of "Goodbye, fare you well." The like of
it has never been heard since those days. Attempts have been
made to reproduce the original, and have failed. Nobody can
reproduce anything like it, because it is a gift
exclusively the sailors' own, and the charm filled the soul
with delightful emotions that caught you like a strong wind.

The chanty-man was a distinguished person whom it was
impolitic to ignore. He was supposed to combine the genius
of a musical prodigy and an impromptu poet! If his
composition was directed to any real or even imaginary
grievances, it was always listened to by sensible captains
and officers without showing any indications of ill-humour.
Indeed, I have seen captains laugh very heartily at these
exquisite comic thrusts which were intended to shape the
policy of himself and his officers towards the crew. If the
captain happened to be a person of no humour and without the
sense of music this method of conveyance was abortive, but
it went on all the same until nature forced a glimpse into
his hazy mind of what it all meant! Happily there are few
sailors who inherit such a defective nature. It is a good
thing that some of these thrilling old songs have been
preserved to us. Even if they do not convey an accurate
impression of the sailors' way of rendering them, they give
some faint idea of it. The complicated arrangement of words
in some of the songs is without parallel in their peculiar
jargon, and yet there are point and intention evident
throughout them. For setting sail, "Blow, boys, blow" was
greatly favoured, and its quivering, weird air had a wild
fascination in it. "Boney was a warrior" was singularly
popular, and was nearly always sung in hoisting the
topsails. The chanty-man would sit on the topsail halyard
block and sing the solo, while the choristers rang out with
touching beauty the chorus, at the same time giving two
long, strong pulls on the halyards. This song related mainly
to matters of history, and was sung with a rippling
tenderness which seemed to convey that the singers'
sympathies were with the Imperial martyr who was kidnapped
into exile and to death by a murderous section of the
British aristocracy. The soloist warbled the great Emperor's
praises, and portrayed him as having affinity to the
godlike. His death was proclaimed as the most atrocious
crime committed since the Crucifixion, and purgatory was
assigned as a fitting repository for the souls of his mean
executioners. The words of these songs may be distressing
jargon, but the refrain as sung by the seamen was very fine
to listen to:--


    Haul th' bowlin', the fore and maintack bowlin',
      Haul th' bowlin', the bowlin' haul!
    Haul th' bowlin', the skipper he's a-growlin',
      Haul th' bowlin', the bowlin' haul.

    Haul th' bowlin', oh Kitty is me darlin',
      Haul th' bowlin', the bowlin' haul.
    Haul th' bowlin', the packet is a bowlin';
      Haul th' bowlin', the bowlin' haul.

As for the song itself, it was as follows:--


    Oh, Boney was a Corsican,
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh, Boney was a Corsican,
        John France wa!    (François.)

    But Boney was a warrior,
        Oh aye oh,
    But Boney was a warrior,
        John France wa.

    Oh, Boney licked the Austrians!--
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh, Boney licked the Austrians!--
        John France wa!

    The Russians and the Prussians!
        Oh aye oh,
    The Russians and the Prussians!
        John France wa.

    Five times he entered Vienna!
        Oh aye oh,
    Five times he entered Vienna,
        John France wa.

    He married an Austrian princess,
        Oh aye oh,
    He married an Austrian princess,
        John France wa.

    Then he marched on Moscow,
        Oh aye oh,
    Then he marched on Moscow,
        John France wa.

    But Moscow was a-blazing!
        Oh aye oh,
    But Moscow was a-blazing,
        John France wa.

    Then Boney he retreated,
        Oh aye oh,
    Then Boney he retreated,
        John France wa.

    Boney went to Waterloo,
        Oh aye oh,
    Boney went to Waterloo,
        John France wa.

    And Boney was defeated,
        Oh aye oh,
    And Boney was defeated,
        John France wa.

    Oh Boney's made a prisoner,
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh Boney's made a prisoner,
        John France wa.

    They sent him to St. Helena!
        Oh aye oh,
    They sent him to St. Helena,
        John France wa!

    Oh Boney was ill-treated!
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh Boney was ill-treated,
       John France wa!

    Oh Boney's heart was broken!
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh Boney's heart was broken,
        John France wa.

    Oh Boney died a warrior;--
        Oh aye oh,
    Oh Boney died a warrior,
        John France wa.

    But Boney was an Emperor!
        Oh aye oh!
    But Boney was an Emperor,
        John France wa!

This song never failed to arouse the greatest enthusiasm, so
much so that the officer in charge had to keep a keen eye on
what was going on and shout out "belay!" before something
should be broken! The sailors' regard for the great Emperor
was a passion; and as they neared the final tragedy they
seemed to imagine they were in combat with his foes, so that
it was dangerous to leave them without strict supervision.

One of the most rollicking and joyous days the sailor had
during a voyage was that on which his dead horse expired;
that is, when his month's advance was worked out. If he took
a month's advance, he always considered that he had worked
that month for nothing: and, literally, he had done so, as
the money given to him in advance usually went towards
paying a debt or having a spree; so it was fitting,
considering these circumstances, that special recognition
should be made of the arrival of such a period. An
improvised horse was therefore constructed, and a block with
a rope rove through it was hooked on to the main yardarm.
The horse was bent on, and the ceremony commenced by leading
the rope to the winch or capstan, and the song entitled "The
Dead Horse" was sung with great gusto. The funeral
procession as a rule was spun out a long time, and when the
horse was allowed to arrive at the yard arm the rope was
slipped and he fell into the sea amid much hilarity! The
verse which announces his death was as follows:--

    "They say my horse is dead and gone;--
    And they say so, and they say so!
    They say my horse is dead and gone;--
        Oh, poor old man!"

The verse which extinguishes him by dropping him into the
sea goes like this:--

    "Then drop him to the depths of the sea;--
    And they say so, and they say so!
    Then drop him to the depths of the sea;--
        Oh, poor old man!"

This finished the important event of the voyage; then began
many pledges of thrift to be observed for evermore, which
were never kept longer than the arrival at the next port, or
at the longest until the arrival at a home port, when
restraint was loosened. The same old habits were resumed,
and the same old month's advance was required before sailing
on another voyage.

The "White Stocking Day" was as great an event ashore as the
Dead Horse day was at sea. The sailors' wives, mothers, or
sweethearts always celebrated half-pay day by wearing white
stockings and by carrying their skirts discreetly high
enough so that it might be observed. This custom was carried
out with rigid regularity, and the participators were the
objects of sympathetic attraction. Poor things, there is no
telling what it cost them in anxiety to keep it up. Their
half-pay would not exceed thirty shillings per month, and
they had much to do with it, besides providing white
stockings and a suitable rig to grace the occasion.

"We're homeward bound and I hear the sound," was the
favourite song when heaving up the anchor preparatory to
pointing homeward. This chanty has a silken, melancholy, and
somewhat soft breeziness about it, and when it was well sung
its flow went fluttering over the harbour, which re-echoed
the joyous tidings until soloist and choristers alike became
entranced by the power of their own performances; and the
multitudes who on these occasions came to listen did not
escape the rapture of the fleeting throbs of harmony which
charged the atmosphere, and made you feel that you would
like to live under such sensations for ever!


    Our anchor's a-weigh and our sails are well set;--
      Goodbye, fare you well; goodbye, fare you well!
    And the friends we are leaving we leave with
      Hurrah! my boys, we're homeward bound!

    We're homeward bound, and I hear the sound;--
      Goodbye, fare you well; goodbye, fare you well!
    Come, heave on the cable and make it spin round!--
      Hurrah! my boys, we're homeward bound!

    Oh let ourselves go, and heave long and strong;--
      Goodbye, fare you well; goodbye, fare you well!
    Sing then the chorus for 'tis a good song;--
      Hurrah! my boys, we're homeward bound!

    We're homeward bound you've heard me say;--
      Goodbye, fare you well; goodbye, fare you well!
    Hook on the cat-fall, and then run away!
      Hurrah! my boys, we're homeward bound!

After a long, dreary pilgrimage of trackless oceans, the
last chant had to be sung as their vessel was being warped
through the docks to her discharging berth; and now all
their grievances, joys, and sorrows were poured forth in
"Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!" It was their last chance of
publicly announcing approval or disapproval of their ship,
their captain, and their treatment. Here is a sample of

    "I thought I heard the skipper say,
      'Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!
    To-morrow you will get your pay,
      Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!'

    The work was hard, the voyage was long;--
      Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!
    The seas were high, the gales were strong;--
      It's time for us to leave her!

    The food was bad, the wages low;--
      Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!
    But now ashore again we'll go;--
      It's time for us to leave her!

    The sails are furled, our work is done!
      Leave her, Johnnie, leave her!
    And now on shore we'll have our fun!
      It's time for us to leave her! &c, &c."

Such songs were not stereotyped in their composition. They
varied according to circumstances. Sometimes they were
denunciatory, and at other times full of fun, praise of the
ship, and pathos. There was seldom a middle course, but
whatever side was taken the spontaneous poetic effusion was
not ended until the whole story had been unfolded.



As soon as the vessel was moored in a home port, decks
cleared up and washed down, the mate intimated to the crew
that their services would not be required any longer; and
those who wanted it, received a portion of the balance of
wages due to them in advance until they signed clear of the
articles. There were few who did not take advantage of this,
and many of them had disbursed it in one way or another long
before the three days' grace, which was allowed the captain
to make up his accounts and pay off, had expired.

The villainous agencies at work in those days (and even in
these) to decoy poor Jack, could be counted by the score.
Their task was not a difficult one. They knew him to be a
complacent prey for their plans to drug and rob him. Many of
these poor fellows on the first night after landing would
allow the whole of a voyage's earnings to be bartered from
them, so that before they actually received their balance of
wages they had spent it, and they became ready for the first
ship, which oft-times, indeed, was long in turning up.
Meanwhile they were turned into the street without any
compunction, just as they stood. Of course they were to
blame; but what about the evil tribe who tempted them? They
should have been made to refund every penny that had been
extorted while their victims were under the influence of
drink, or should have been made to do six months in lieu of
refunding. This plan might be adopted with advantage to the
community even at the present time.

In these sailor circles there was once a well-known
incorrigible named Jimmie Hall, a native of Blyth, who for
the most part sailed out of London on long voyages. It did
not matter how long Jimmie had been away on a voyage, or how
much pay he had to take, he was never longer than a week in
funds, and more frequently only one or two days. This
half-tamed creature was walking up Ratcliffe Highway one
winter morning between two and three o'clock, and he met an
old shipmate of his. They greeted each other with some
warmth. Jimmie's friend related to him a tale of
destitution. He had been on the spree, spent all his money,
and two days before had been turned out of the boarding
house, and had slept out for two nights. Jimmie, with
sailor-like generosity, said, "I am glad to have met you.
It gives me an opportunity of asking you to share with me
rooms at my hotel."

"Hotel!" gasped the bewildered shipmate. "Have you had money
left you? You always were a good sort."

"No," said his companion; "I have had no money left me, but
I thought I would stay in an hotel this time. I can go out
and in whenever I like, and I find it an advantage to do so.
The doors are always open. Come along!"

The two friends walked up the highway arm in arm, Jimmie
observing a patronising silence while his companion covered
him with affectionate compliments. After they had walked a
considerable distance in meditation, the shipmate said--

"Where is the hotel? Are we far off?"

"No," said the accommodating Jimmie; "here it is. I must
make one condition with you before we get any nearer. You
must go in by the back door."

"I will go in by any b---- door you like. I am not a
particular chap in that way!"

"Very well," said Jimmie, pointing to an object in the
middle of the road; "then you go in there, and I will go in
by the front."

"But," said his shipmate, "that is a boiler."

"_You_" said the philanthropic James, "may call it what you
like, but, for the time being, it is my hotel! It has been
my residence for two weeks, and I offer you the end I do not
use. If you accept it, all that you require to make you
perfectly comfortable is a bundle of straw. We shall sit
rent free!"

Needless to say the offer was accepted, and the two "plants"
lived together until they got a ship.

Mr. Hall's knowledge of the Highway, as it was called,
enabled him to be of occasional service to the police, hence
he was on the most cordial terms of friendship with them. He
could swoop plain-clothes men through intricacies which
flashed with the flames of crime, without exciting the
slightest suspicion of the object he had in view. He could
talk, swear, and drink in accurate harmony with his
acquaintances, and was looked upon with favour by a circle
of estimable friends. Members of the constabulary were
always considerate and accommodating towards him during his
periodic outbursts of alcoholic craving. He owed much to the
care they took of him during his fits of debauchery; and he
was not unmindful of it when he had the wherewithal to
compensate them. Like most of those wayward inebriates who
followed the sea as a calling, he was a perfect sailor; and
even his capricious sensual habits did not prevent him being
sought to rejoin vessels he had sailed in.

Jimmie Hall was only one among thousands of fine fellows who
were encouraged to go to bestial excesses by gangs of
predatory vermin (men and women) who infested Wapping and
Ratcliffe Highway.

There was a tradition amongst sailors, which I am inclined
to give some credence to, that a certain barber who had a
shop in the Highway availed himself of the opportunity,
while cutting the hair or shaving his sailor
customers--mainly, it was thought, those who were sodden
with drink--to sever their wind-pipe, rob them of all they
had, and then pull the bolt of a carefully concealed
trap-door which communicated with the Thames, and drop their
weighted bodies out of sight! This system of sanguinary
murder is supposed to have been carried on for some years,
until a sailor of great physical power, suspecting foul play
to some of his pals, went boldly in, was politely asked to
take his seat, and assumed a drunken attitude which caused
the barber to think he had an easy victim. The barber wormed
his way into Jack's confidence, who was very communicative
as to the length of his voyage and the amount of money he
had been paid off with. He flattered him with loving
profusion, and was about to take the razor up and commence
his deadly work, when the sailor, who had discerned the
secret trap, jumped up, pulled a revolver from his pocket,
and demanded that the trap-door should be shown to him, or
his brains would be scattered all over the place! The barber
implored that his life should be spared, and piteously
denied the existence of a secret communication with the
river. Jack's attitude was threatening; the supplicant
pleaded that if his life was spared he would do what was
asked of him. The condition was agreed on, and the trap
opened. It disclosed a liquid vault. The sailor accused the
panic-stricken villain of foul murder, and of having this
place as a repository for his unsuspecting victims, and the
man shrieked alternate incoherent denials and confessions.
The sailor suspected the awful truth all along, but now he
became satisfied of it, and forcing the barber towards the
vault, he ordered him to jump down; he had to choose between
this and being shot. He preferred the former mode of
extinction, so plunged in. The hatch was then covered over
him, and there were no more murders.

Another of the many instances of the resourceful mariner's
irrepressible gaiety even under most embarrassing conditions
is contained in a story which I heard related aboard ship in
the early days of my sea-life many times, and the veracity
of it was always vouched for by the narrator whose personal
acquaintance with the gentlemen concerned was an
indispensable factor in the interest of the tale, and a
distinction he was proud of to a degree. I have said that
Ratcliffe Highway was the rendezvous of seafaring men. It
provided them with a wealth of facilities for the
expeditious disposal of money that had been earned at great
hazard, and not infrequently by the sweat of anguish. One
chilly November morning a sailor was walking down the
Highway. His step was jerky and uncertain, for his feet were
bare; his sole articles of dress consisted of a cotton shirt
and a pair of trousers that seemed large enough to take
another person inside of them. These were kept from dropping
off by what is known as a soul-and-body lashing--that is, a
piece of cord or rope-yarn tied round the waist. His manner
indicated that he felt satisfied with himself and at peace
with all creation, as he chanted with a husky voice the
following song:--

    "Sing goodbye to Sally, and goodbye to Sue;
    And you who are listening, goodbye to you,
    For we're bound to Rio Grande!
        And away--Rio, aye Rio!
    Sing fare ye well, my bonny young girl,
        We're bound for Rio Grande!"

He was met by a shipmate just then who had been searching
for him during several days. The song was cut short by the
mutual warmth of greeting.

"What ho, Jack!" interjected the faithful comrade, with a
gigantic laugh; "you are under very small canvas this
morning. Have you been in heavy weather?"

"Yes," said Jack, "I have; but there's a fellow coming up
astern must have had it worse than me. He _was_ under bare
poles, but I see he's got a suit of newspapers bent now, and
he's forging ahead very fast!"

There is a grim humour about this story which brings a
certain type of sailor vividly to mind.



I always feel inclined to break the law when I see a West
End or any other dandy on a theatrical stage libelling the
sailor by his silly personification: hitching his breeches,
slapping his thigh, lurching his body, and stalking about in
a generally ludicrous fashion, at the same time using
phrases which the real sailor would disdain to use: such as
"my hearty," "shiver-my-timbers," and other stupid
expressions that Jack of to-day never thinks of giving
utterance to. If theatrical folk would only take the trouble
to acquaint themselves with the real characteristics of the
sailor, and caricature him accurately, they would find, even
in these days, precious material to make play from. Even
Jack's culpable vagaries, if reproduced in anything like
original form, might be utilised to entertaining effect; but
the professional person insists upon making him appear with
a quid rolling about in his mouth and his stomach brimful
of slang, which he empties as occasion may require. It may
or may not go down with their audiences, but the tar himself
cannot stand it. I was seated beside a typical sailor in a
London theatre not very long ago, and a few gentlemen in
nautical attire came one after the other strutting on to the
stage. Their performances were quite unsailorly, so much so
that my neighbour said to me: "If this goes on much longer I
shall have to go. Just fancy," said he, "a matter-of-fact
sailor making such a d----fool of himself!" I reminded him
that this achievement was not so rare an occurrence. But he
was not to be appeased! The sailor of the olden times never
used tinsel nautical terms. His dialect was straight and
strong, and his peculiar dandyism very funny. His hair used
to be combed behind his ears, he wore a broad, flat cap
cocked to one side, and his ears were adorned with light
drops of gold or silver; and when he went forth to do his
courting he seemed to be vastly puzzled as to the form his
walk should take. Alas! all this has passed away, and our
eyes shall see it never more; but the fascination of it is
fixed in one's memory, and it is pleasant to think of even

The average seaman has always expressed himself with
unmistakable clearness on matters pertaining to his
profession. I was walking down the main street of a
seafaring town some years ago, when I saw a group of people
standing at a window looking at an oil-painting of a large,
square-rigged ship which had been caught in a squall. The
royals and top-gallant sails had been let fly, and they were
supposed to be flapping about as sails will in a squall if
the yards are not trimmed so as to keep them quiet. There
were two sailors in the group who were criticising the
painting with some warmth: the ropes were not as they should
be, the braces and stays were not properly regulated, and
"Whoever saw sails flying about like that!" said the more
voluble of the two. The other dryly retorted, "I don't know,
mister, what _you_ think, but I want to say that I have seen
them cut some d---- funny capers at times!" This very
sailor-like sally both tickled the audience and convinced it
that the sails were really correctly drawn.

On another occasion, during the prevalence of one of the
most terrible easterly gales that ever visited the
north-east coast, a multitude of people had congregated on
the south pier at the mouth of the Tyne to witness the
vessels making for the great Northern Harbour. The sight was
awful in its peculiar beauty, the foam fluted and danced on
the troubled air until it found a resting place far up the
inner reaches of the harbour. There were seen in the
distance two sailing vessels labouring amid a wrathful
commotion of roaring seas. As they approached the harbour
the excitement became universal. Women stood there
transfixed with dread lest the storm-tossed vessels should
be conveying some of their beloved relations to a tragic
doom. Two gentlemen of clerical voice and appearance
conversed with obvious agitation, one of whom audibly spoke
of the grandeur and picturesque charm of the flurry of wild
waters. "Look at them," said he, "as they curtsey and rustle
along to the kiss of the tempest. Oh, it is a magnificent
sight!" A few burly, weather-beaten sailors stood hard by.
It soon became apparent that their professional pride had
been touched by the poetic babble to which they had
listened. One of them took upon himself the task of
interjecting what the practical opinion of himself and
friends was by addressing the aesthetic dreamer in accents
of stern reproof: "_You_," said he, "may call it grandeur
and picturesque and magnificent and curtseying, but we call
it a damned dirty business. If you were aboard of one of
them, you wouldn't talk about rustling through the cloven
sea to the kiss of the tempest, you would be too tarnation
keen on getting ashore!"

The orator had just finished his harangue when one of the
vessels, a brigantine, was crossing the bar. The supreme
moment had come. All eyes and minds were fixed on the doomed
vessel; men were seen clinging to the rigging, and one
solitary figure stood at the wheel directing her course
through a field of rushing whiteness. She was supposed to
have crossed the worst spot, when a terrific mountain of
remorseless liquid was seen galloping with mad pace until it
lashed over her and she became reduced to atoms. Nothing but
wreckage was seen afterwards. The crew all perished. It was
a heartrending sight, which sent the onlookers into
uncontrollable grief. The sailor was right: "It was a dirty

The sporting instinct in the _bonâ-fide_ British seaman was
always very strong. The white-washed Yankee--that is to say,
not a real American, but a Blue-nose, _i.e._, a Nova
Scotiaman--was never very popular, because of his
traditional bullying and swaggering when all was going well,
and his cowardice in times of danger. Once a vessel was
coming from 'Frisco, and when off Cape Horn she ran into an
ice-berg which towered high above the sailors' heads. There
was great commotion and imminent peril. A Blue-nose was
chief mate, and he became panic-stricken, flopped on to his
knees, and piteously appealed for Divine interposition to
save them from untimely death. The second mate, who was a
real John Bull, believed in work rather than prayer, at
least so long as their position threatened sudden
extinction. He observed the petitioner in the undignified
position of kneeling in prayer beside the mainmast. It
angered him so that he put a peremptory stop to his
pleadings by bringing his foot violently in contact with the
posterior portion of his body, simultaneously asking him,
"Why the h--- he did not pray before? It's not a damned bit
of good praying now the trouble has arisen! Get on to your
pins," said the irate officer, "and do some useful work!
This is no time for snivelling lamentations. Keep the men in
heart!" There was pretty fair logic in this rugged outburst
of enlightenment. But while this striking flow of opposition
to prayer under such circumstances was proceeding, the
thought of peril was briefly obscured by the sight of a
pretty little girl, a daughter of one of the passengers,
frollicking with the ice which had tumbled on the deck, in
innocent oblivion of the danger that encompassed her. What a
beautiful picture! By skilful manoeuvring the vessel was
extricated from an ugly position, and the unhappy first mate
who had neglected to put himself into communication with the
Deity before the accident happened, became the object of
poignant dislike for having broken one of the most important
articles of nautical faith by doing so afterwards!



If the oceans of the world could speak, what marvellous
tales of heroism they could relate that are hidden in the
oblivion of their depths. Sailors generally are singularly
reticent about their adventures. They are sensitive about
being thought boastful; the nature of their training and
employment is so pregnant with danger that they become
accustomed to treat what most people would consider very
daring acts as a part of their ordinary business that should
not be made a fuss about. Hence many a gallant deed has been
done that was never heard of beyond the ocean and the vessel
where it took place.

There is not a crew that sails on salt water that could not
relate after every voyage they make events and doings
thrilling with interest which would be considered stirring
and brave if they had taken place on shore among persons
other than sailors. It is no uncommon thing to hear the cry
"A man overboard!" while a vessel is being rushed through a
heavy sea at a great speed, and the alarm is no sooner given
than some gallant fellow is seen to jump overboard to his
rescue. Not long ago a large vessel bound out to the west
coast of South America was running before heavy north-east
trade winds and a high following roller. A man was seen to
fall from the foretopsail yard right overboard before the
order could be given to haul the vessel to the wind. One of
his shipmates plunged into the bosom of a mountainous sea
without divesting himself of any clothing; even his boots
had to be taken off in the water. The ship was promptly
brought to the wind, and skilfully manipulated towards the
drowning man and his rescuer. The order was given to lower
the cutter, and a scramble was made for the distinction of
being one of the crew. The two men battled with the waves
until the boat reached them. They were taken into her and
saved. A short paragraph in the newspapers telling the
simple story was all that was heard of it.

Three years ago, Mr. Barney Barnato, the millionaire, was
coming home from South Africa, and when off the Western
Islands, from some cause or other he fell overboard. The
mail steamer must have been going sixteen or seventeen knots
an hour at the time, but it did not prevent the second
officer (I think it was) from jumping in after him and
recovering his body, though, alas! it was inanimate. This
brave fellow's act was made famous by a gifted and wealthy
young lady passenger falling in love with him, and he of
course with her. They have since been married, and I wish
them all the blessings that earth and heaven can bestow upon
them. I believe Mrs. Barnato and the executors of the genial
Barney showed their appreciation in a suitable way also.

Few people except sailors and passengers who may have
witnessed it can fully realise how difficult it must be to
keep an eye on a person in the sea, even if it is perfectly
smooth. It is one of the most exciting experiences of
sea-life. All except the rescuing party and the man at the
wheel run up the rigging and gaze with frantic eagerness to
keep in view and direct the boat towards where they think
the object of their mission is. It often happens that all
their efforts are unavailing, and when the search has to be
given up a creepy sensation, like some shuddering hint of
death, takes possession of you. I have more than once felt
it. Sailors on these occasions are subdued and divinely
sentimental, though their courage remains undaunted.

There are, however, phases of bravery, endurance, and
resourcefulness that test every fibre of the seaman's
versatile composition; and a communication to the outer
world of the tremendous struggles he is called upon to bear
would be calculated to stagger the lay imagination. It would
take a spacious library to contain all that could be
written of his bitter experiences and toilsome pilgrimages
throughout ages of storm and stress. The pity is so much of
it is lost to us, but this again is owing to the sailor's
habitual reticence about his own career. A characteristic
instance of this occurred to me about six months ago. I had
business in a shipyard, and the gateman who admitted me is
one of the last of the seamen of the middle of the century.
He was for many years master of sailing vessels belonging to
a north-east coast port. He is a fine-looking, intelligent
old fellow. I knew him by repute in my boyhood days; he had
the reputation then of being a smart captain, and owners
readily gave him employment. After greeting me with
sailor-like cordiality, he commenced to converse about the
old days, and as the conversation proceeded the weird
sadness of his look gradually disappeared, his eyes began to
sparkle, and joy soon suffused his ruddy face. His soul was
ablaze with reminiscences, and his unaffected talk was easy
and delightful to listen to. I was reluctant to break the
charm of it by introducing a subject that might be
distasteful to him. It was my desire to hear _from his own
lips_ a tale of shipwreck which is virtually without
parallel in its ghastly tragedy. I instinctively felt myself
creeping on to sacred ground. As soon as I mentioned the
matter his countenance changed and he became pensive. A
far-off look came over him, which indicated that a tender
chord had been touched. Obviously his thoughts were
revisiting the scene of a fierce conflict for life. The
sight was sublime, and when I saw the moisture come into his
eyes and his breast heave with emotion, it made me wish that
I had not reminded him of it. At length he began to unfold
the awful story. He was master of a brig called the _Ocean
Queen_. I think he said it was in the month of December,
1874. They sailed from a Gulf of Finland port laden with
deals. After many days they reached the longitude of
Gotland; they were then overtaken by a hurricane from the
west which battered the vessel until she became water-logged
and dismasted. The crew lashed themselves where they could,
and huddled together for warmth to minimise the effects of
the biting frost and the mad turmoil of boiling foam which
continuously swept over the doomed vessel, and caked itself
into granite-like lumps of ice. At intervals they would try
to keep their blood from freezing by watching a "slant" when
there was a comparative smooth, and run along the deckload a
few times, keeping hold of the life-line that was stretched
fore and aft for this purpose. After twelve hours the force
of the tempest was broken, and they were able to take more
exercise, but they were without food and water, and no
succour came near them. They held stoutly out against the
privations for two days, then one after another began to
succumb to the combined ravages of cold, thirst, and
hunger. Some of them died insane, and others fought on until
Nature became exhausted, and they also passed into the
Valley of Death. There were now only the captain and a
coloured seaman left. The wind and sea were drifting the
vessel towards the Prussian coast, and on the fifth morning
after she became water-logged the wreck stranded on a sandy
beach two hours before daylight. The captain and his
coloured companion attached themselves to a plank, and by
superhuman effort reached the shore. They buried their
bodies up to the waist in sand under the shelter of a hill,
believing it would generate some warmth into their
impoverished systems. Their extremities were badly
frostbitten, and when they were discovered at daylight by a
man on horseback who had been attracted to the scene of the
wreck, they were both in a condition of semi-consciousness.
He galloped off for assistance, and speedily had them placed
under medical treatment, and under the roof of hospitable
people. A few days' rest and proper attention made them well
enough to be removed to a hospital. It was soon found
necessary to amputate both of the coloured man's legs, and
also some of his fingers. The captain had the soles of his
feet cut off; and he told me that he always regretted not
having the feet taken off altogether, as he had never been
free from suffering during all these years. He said the
doctor advised it, but that he himself was so anxious to
save them that he preferred to have the soles scraped to the
bone, hoping that the diseased parts would heal; "but," said
he with an air of sober melancholy, "they never have."

Long before this story of piercing sadness, and horror, and
heroism, and superb endurance was finished, I felt a big
lump in my throat, and every nerve of me was tingling with
emotion; and as I passed from the presence of this noble old
fellow and pondered over all he had so reluctantly and
modestly told me of himself, it made me conclude that I had
been holding converse with a hero! I have been obliged to
confine myself to a brief outline of this tale of shipwreck.
There are incidents of it too painful to relate, and I am
quite sure I am consulting the wishes of the narrator by
abstaining from going too minutely into detail. The main
facts are given, and they may be relied on as absolutely

The seamen of the middle of the nineteenth century were
trained to be ingenious and resourceful in emergencies, and,
as a rule, they did not disgrace their training. If a
jib-boom was carried away, a mast sprung, or a yard
fractured, they had only to be told to have it fished. They
knew how to do this as well as their officers did, and would
not brook being instructed. If a mast was carried away they
regarded it as a privilege to obey the captain's
instructions to have jury masts rigged, and it is not an
exaggeration to say that astonishing feats of genius have
been done on occasions such as these.

In 1864 I was an apprentice aboard a brig bound from the
Tyne to the Baltic; Tynemouth Castle bore west 60 miles. A
strong north-west wind was blowing, and the sea was very
cross. A press of canvas was being carried. The second mate
being in charge, orders were given to take in the
foretopgallant sail. It was clewed up, and just as another
apprentice and myself were getting into the rigging to go up
and furl it one of the chain-plates of the maintopmast
backstays carried away. The maintopmast immediately snapped
and went over the side, dragging the foretopmast with it.
Fortunately we had not as yet got aloft, or we would have
come to a precipitate end. The storm was increasing, and the
confusion of ropes, chains, sails, spars, &c, all lurching
against the side, caused the captain and his crew much
concern, lest the vessel should be so injured as to endanger
her safety. The men worked like Trojans to minimise danger,
and to save as much gear as possible to rig jury masts with.
The accident happened at 6 a.m., and at 8 p.m. the wreck had
been cleared away and all the necessary gear saved. Over and
over again during that toilsome day men risked their lives
to save a few pounds' worth of gear; indeed, it was a day of
brave deeds. On the following days it blew a hard northerly
gale so that the vessel had to be hove-to. After that it
gradually fined down, and the task of rigging jury topmasts
began. It took four days to accomplish all that was
necessary; and, although the men were fagged, they were also
proud of their work. Any adverse criticism would have been
visited with rigorous penalties. They were not boastful
about it, though they quite believed a smart job had been
carried out; and perhaps they took some credit to themselves
for saving the vessel from total destruction. I have reason
to know that neither the owner nor his underwriters
estimated their services as being worthy of any recognition
whatever. It was a custom in those days to guard strictly
against the sin of generosity, even to recompense brave
deeds done or valuable services rendered!

A fine clipper barque in those old days, one that was
originally built for the tea trade, and had made many
successful passages with that cargo from China to London,
acquired an enviable reputation for her sailing qualities,
but, like many others, she was driven out of the trade by
the introduction of steam and more modern methods of
transit. She, however, still continued to make for her
owners large profits in the West Indian and American trades.
In 1873 freights were very good out and home from the higher
Baltic ports, and the owner decided to make a short voyage
in that direction before resuming the West Indian
employment. She had made a rapid passage from the Tyne, and
was sailing along the island of Gotland with a strong
northerly wind. The season was far advanced, and the captain
was carrying a press of canvas which made her plunge along
at the rate of at least twelve knots an hour. The captain,
who had been on deck nearly the whole passage, set the
course, and gave strict instructions to the second mate,
whom he left in charge, to keep a sharp look-out while he was
below having a wash.

It was 8 p.m.; the moon was just coming from below a hazy
horizon, which made it difficult to see anything under sail
except at a short distance. The look-out suddenly reported a
vessel under sail right ahead without lights. The helm of
the barque was starboarded; but it was too late. The vessel,
which proved to be a brig, struck and raked along the
starboard side, carrying away nearly the whole of the fore,
main, and mizzen rigging, irreparably damaging some
important sails. As soon as it was discovered that the
colliding vessel had suffered no material damage, the
captain gave orders for the vessel to be put on her course,
and to unbend the torn sails and bend a fresh set before
starting to secure the lee rigging, so that as little time
as possible might be lost. While this was being done a
minute survey was being made by the captain and the
carpenter to ascertain the extent of the damage to rigging,
chain-plates, and hull. It was found that the latter was
uninjured; but the shrouds and chain-plates were badly
damaged, especially the latter, and the only way of
securing the rigging thoroughly was to heave-to for a while
and pass two bights of hawser chain under the bottom so that
some of the starboard fore and main rigging could be set up
to it. This was soon done, and the barque put on her course
once more. The men worked with commendable skill and energy
during the whole night, and when the livid grey of the dawn
came they had all but finished their arduous task.
Fortunately the wind kept steady on the port beam, so that
the damage to the starboard rigging could be secured without
interrupting the progress of the voyage, it being on the
leeside. At 9 a.m. the watches were again resumed, and those
whose duty it was to be on deck proceeded to carry out the
finishing touches. These were satisfactorily completed, and
by the time the evening shadows had fallen the temporary
repairs were closely scrutinised and pronounced so strong
that no gale could destroy them. The moaning of the hoarse
wind through the rigging, and the sinister appearance of the
lowering clouds as they hurried away to leeward, indicated
that mischief was in the air, and that there was every
probability of the soundness of the renovated rigging being
promptly tested. The wind and sea were making, with swift
roaring anger, but not a stitch of canvas was taken in,
every spar and rope-yarn aboard was feeling the strain as the
clipper was crashed into the surging waves which flowed
between the shores of an iron-bound gulf. The vessel was
swept with exciting rapidity towards her destination, but
before morning dawned the gale had become so fierce sail was
ordered to be shortened. Soon the course had to be altered,
and the full weight of the tempest was thrown on the damaged
parts. The crew had the encouraging satisfaction of seeing
that their hastily accomplished work refused to yield to the
vast strain it was suddenly called upon to bear. They
arrived at their discharging port without further mishap,
and, with the exception of fitting new chain-plates to
connect the shrouds to, everything else was secured by the
crew, and she was brought home without incurring any further
cost to her owners and underwriters. A very profitable
voyage was made, and the captain had the distinction of
receiving a condescending benediction from the manager on
his arrival home. He was told with an air of unequalled
majesty that in many ways the mishap was disastrous, "but,"
said the manager, "I am impelled to confess that it is
atoned for by the singular display of merit which has been
shown in not only extricating your vessel from a perilous
position, but for your expedition and economy in carrying
out the repairs!" The captain responded to this eloquent
tribute by assuring his employer that he was deeply grateful
for this further token of his confidence, and very shortly
after he was materially rewarded from quite an unexpected
source by being offered the command of a fine steamer, which
he only accepted after considerable pressure had been
brought to bear on him by the owners of the steamer and his
own friends.

Long before steamers had captured the coasting trade of the
northern coal ports, a brig which carried coal from the
Tyne, Blyth, or Amble to Calais, was caught by a terrific
gale from the east when returning north in ballast. She
managed to scrape round all the points until Coquet Island
was reached, when it became apparent from the shore that it
would be a miracle if she weathered the rocks which surround
that picturesque islet. Her movements had been watched from
the time she passed Newbiggin Point, and grave fears for her
safety spread along the coast. The Coquet was closely
shaved, but she was driven ashore between Alnmouth and
Warkworth Harbour. The position was excitingly critical. It
was low tide, and the storm raged with malignant force, so
that when the flood made there seemed little hope of saving
the crew. As to the vessel herself, it was only a question
of time until she would be shattered into fragments.

A large crowd of people had congregated as near to the wreck
as it was prudent, for the waves swept far up the beach. The
crew sought refuge in the forerigging, as heavy seas were
sweeping right over the hull, and as no succour came to them
one brave fellow made a small line fast to his waist, and
sprang into the cauldron of boiling breakers. He reached the
shore almost lifeless, and his gallant act was the means of
saving several of the crew, who dared to risk being hauled
through the surf. Alas! as often happens, some of them still
clung to the rigging that held the oscillating mast. It was
assumed that they must be benumbed, or that they dreaded
being dashed to death in the attempt to attach themselves to
the rope that had been the means of rescuing their
shipmates. The people gesticulated directions for them to
take the plunge, but it seemed as though they were riveted
to a tragic destiny.

Darkness had come on, and some one in the crowd shouted at
the top of his voice, "Silence! I hear some one shouting."
Instantly there was a deathlike hush, and mingling with the
hurricane music of the storm, the sweet feminine voice which
was said to be that of the cabin-boy was heard singing--

    "Jesu, lover of my soul
      Let me to Thy bosom fly,
    While the nearer waters roll,
      While the tempest still is high.
    Hide me, oh my Saviour, hide,
      Till the storm of life be past,
    Safe into the haven guide,
      Oh receive my soul at last."

These sentences came tossing through the troubled darkness,
and when the last strains had faded away the subdued anguish
of the people was let loose. Women became hysterical, and
strong men were smitten with grief. It was a soul-stirring
experience to them; and their impotence to save the
perishing men was an unbearable agony. A shriek from some of
the crowd told that something dreadful had happened. All
eyes were directed towards the wreck, but nothing could be
seen now but a portion of the half-submerged hull. The masts
had gone by the board, and soon the coast was strewn with
wreckage; she had broken all to pieces. When daylight broke,
a search-party found the little songster's cold, clammy
body. They wiped the yellow sand from his eyes and closed
them, and in the course of the day his fellow-victims were
laid at rest beside him.



At the present time there is much writing and talking as to
how the merchant service is to be kept supplied with seamen.
Guilds, Navy Leagues, and other agencies of talk have been
set at work to solve what they term a problem. Theories that
are exasperating to read or listen to have been
indiscriminately forced upon an enduring public; and after
all the balderdash and jeremiads that have flowed copiously
over the land we are pretty much where we were. The modern
shipowner and his theoretic friends prefer to waste their
energy in concocting theories to solve an imaginary
problem--the only problem being that which exists in their
own minds. There is nothing else to solve. Once the mildew
is out of the way and the doors are set wide open, we shall
soon have a full supply of recruits. During the last few
years several steamship owners have so far overcome their
prejudices as to take apprentices. Those who have worked it
properly have succeeded; while others complain of the system
being absolutely unsuccessful. My own impression is that the
want of success is not the fault of the lads, but those who
have the controlling of them.

Mr. Ritchie, when he was the head of the Board of Trade,
introduced a system of barter, whereby a certain reduction
of light dues was to be made to the firms who undertook to
train boys for the merchant service and the Royal Naval
Reserve. Needless to say, the very nature of the conditions
caused it to fail. In the first place the parents of the
boys looked upon the proposal as a form of conscription; and
in the second, owners would have no truck with a partial
abatement of the light dues. They very properly claimed that
the charge should be abolished altogether. All other
countries, except America and Turkey, have made the lighting
of their coast-lines an Imperial question; and America only
levies it against British shipping as a retaliatory measure.
Mr. Ritchie lost his chance of doing a national service by
neglecting to take into his confidence shipowners who were
conversant with the voluntary system of training seamen. Had
he done this, it is pretty certain they would have guided
him clear of the difficulties he got into, and his measure
would have been fashioned into a beneficent, workable scheme
instead of proving a fiasco.

There are shipowners who believe that it is the duty of the
State to pay a subsidy of twenty to fifty pounds per annum
for every apprentice carried. I have always been puzzled to
know from whence they derive their belief. When pressed to
state definitely what arguments they have to give in favour
of such a demand, their mental processes seem to become
confused. They are driven to prophetic allusions to future
naval war, and the usefulness of seamen in that event. Of
course no one can dispute the usefulness of sailors at any
time and under any circumstances; but if that is the only
reason for asking the Government to pay owners part of the
cost of manning their ships, then they are living in a
fool's paradise, and are much too credulous about public
philanthropy, and very unobservant and illogical too if they
imagine that national interests are entirely centred in the
industry they happen to be engaged in. It would be just as
reasonable for Armstrong's or Vickers' to request a subsidy
for training their men because their business happens to be
the manufacture of guns and the construction of warships. Or
on the same logical grounds the ordinary shipbuilder and
engine-maker would be justified in cadging subsidies for
training every branch of their trades, and thereby work
their concerns at the expense of a public who are not
directly connected with them. But no one has ever heard of
these people making any such demand on national generosity.
I believe I am right in stating that there are only very
few shipowners who advocate such a parochial view. The great
bulk of them regard it with disfavour, first, because it
smacks of peddling dealing; and, secondly, even if it were
right they know that State aid means State interference, and
State interference savours too much of working commerce on
strictly algebraic lines, which only an executive with a
wealthy, indulgent nation behind it could stand. The Chamber
of Shipping last year vigorously declared against subsidies
of this kind; and the way in which the proposal was
strangled leaves small hope of it ever being successfully

An encouraging feature of the situation is that the Shipping
Federation has at last taken the matter up. The late Mr.
George Laws was always in favour of doing so, but
unfortunately he got scant support from his members. Since
his death, and the pronouncement the Chamber of Shipping
gave in its favour at the last annual meeting, Mr. Cuthbert
Laws, who succeeded his gifted father, has with commendable
energy and marked ability undertaken the task of reviving
the old system of every vessel carrying so many apprentices.
He is penetrating every part of Great Britain with the
information that the Federated Shipowners are prepared to
give suitable respectable lads of the poor and middle class
a chance to enter the merchant service on terms of which
even the poorest boy can avail himself, without pecuniary
disability; and I wish the able young manager of the most
powerful trade combination in the world all the success he
deserves in his effort, not only to keep up the supply of
seamen, but to raise the standard of the mercantile marine.

In the early years of the last century, right up to the
seventies, north-country owners placed three to four
apprentices on each vessel, and never less than three. Many
of them came from Scotland, Shetland, Norfolk, Denmark and
Sweden. There were few desertions, and they always settled
down in the port that they served their time from. If any
attempt was made at engaging what was known as a
"half-marrow"[2] there was rebellion at once; and I have
known instances where lads positively refused to sail in a
vessel where one of these had been shipped instead of an
apprentice. Impertinent intrusion was never permitted in
those days. As soon as they were out of their time the
majority of the lads joined the local union. One of the
conditions of membership was that each applicant should pass
an examination in seamanship before a committee of the
finest sailors in the world. They had to know how to put a
clew into a square and fore-and-aft sail, to turn up a
shroud, to make every conceivable knot and splice, to graft
a bucket-rope, and to fit a mast cover. The
examination was no sham. I remember one poor fellow, who
had served five years, was refused membership because he had
failed to comply with some of the rules. He had to serve two
years more before he was admitted. I have often regretted
that Mr. Havelock Wilson did not adopt similar methods for
his union, though perhaps it is scarcely fair to put the
responsibility of not doing so on him. The conditions under
which he formed his union were vastly different from what
they were in those days. He had to deal with a huge
disorganised, moving mass, composed of many nationalities.
At the same time I am convinced that a union conducted on
the plan of the one I have been describing is capable of
doing much towards training an efficient race of seamen, and
I hope Mr. Wilson, or somebody else, will give it a trial.

Since the above was written Lord Brassey, by the invitation
of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, has read a carefully
prepared paper, in the Guildhall, to a large audience of
shipowners and merchants, on the best means of feeding the
Mercantile Marine and the Royal Navy with seamen. Lord
Brassey must have been at infinite trouble in getting the
material for his paper, and, notwithstanding the errors of
fact and of reasoning in it, I think the shipping community,
and indeed the public at large, owe him their hearty thanks
for giving so important a subject an opportunity of being
discussed. So far as his advocacy of the establishment of
training vessels for the supply of seamen to the Royal Navy
is concerned, I have nothing to say against it. The lads in
those ships are trained by naval officers, under naval
customs and discipline, and there should be some recruiting
ground of the kind for that service. But Lord Brassey
advocates it for the Mercantile Marine also. He suggests a
plan of subsidy to be paid to the owner or the apprentice,
and that the lad after serving four years, should be
available for service in the Royal Navy. But to begin with,
it may be objected that men trained in Royal Navy discipline
and habits never mix well with men trained in the other
service; their customs and habits of life and work are quite
different to those of the merchant seaman. It used to be a
recognised belief that the sailor of the merchantman could
adapt himself with striking facility to the work of the
Royal Navy and its discipline, but the Navy trained man was
never successful aboard a cargo vessel. The former
impression originated, no doubt, during the good old times
when it was customary for prowling ruffians from men-of-war
to drag harmless British citizens from their homes to man
H.M. Navy, and all the world knows how quickly they adapted
themselves to new conditions, and how well they fought
British battles! But what a sickening reality to ponder
over, that less than a century ago the powerful caste in
this country were permitted, in defiance of law, to have
press-gangs formed for the purpose of kidnapping respectable
seamen into a service that was made at that time a barbarous
despotism by a set of brainless whipper-snappers who gained
their rank by backstair intrigue with a shameless
aristocracy! All that kind of villainy has been wiped out;
and the men of the Royal Navy are now treated like human
beings; and they do their work not a whit less courageously
and well than they did when it was customary to lash God's
creatures with strands of whipcord loaded with lead until
the blood oozed from their skins. There is no need to press
either men or boys to enter the King's Naval Service. It has
now been made sufficiently attractive to obviate the need
for that. Nor is there any necessity for shipowners to be
called upon, with or without subsidy, to train and supply
men for the Navy. They have enough to do to look after their
own manning, and this can be done easily by the adoption of
methods that will break down any objection British parents
may have to their sons becoming indentured to steamship
owners, who will find work for them to do, and who will have
them trained by a kindly discipline, paid, fed, and lodged
properly; but still, if they are to be thorough men, there
should be no pampering. Unquestionably, then, the place for
training should be aboard the vessels they are intended to
man and become officers and masters of. No need for
subsidised training vessels; and certainly no need for a
national charge being made for the benefit of shipowners,
who have no right to expect that any part of their working
expenses should be paid by the State.

As an example of how sympathy is growing for the
apprenticeship system, Messrs. Watts,[3] Watts & Company, of
London, have for many years carried apprentices aboard their
steamers, and the grand old Blythman who adorns the City of
London commercial life with all that is ruggedly honest and
manly, has just purchased, at great cost, a place in
Norfolk, which his generous son, Shadforth, has agreed to
furnish, and then it is to be endowed as a training-field
for sailor-boys. The veteran shipowner is well known by his
many unostentatious acts of philanthropy to have as big a
heart as ever swelled in a human breast; but, knowing him as
I do, I feel assured that his philanthropy would have taken
another form had he not been convinced he was conferring a
real national benefit by giving larger opportunities to
British lads to enter the merchant service.

I give two other notable examples of success because of the
care taken in selecting the boys and the care adopted in
training them. Mr. Henry Radcliffe, senior partner of
Messrs. Evan Thomas, Radcliffe & Co., of Cardiff, has taken
a personal interest in boy apprentices for years. His
experience of them has long passed the experimental state,
and his testimony is that this is the only way the merchant
navy can be adequately and efficiently maintained.

Daniel Stephens, senior partner of Messrs. Stephens, Sutton
& Stephens, which firm has carried apprentices for a number
of years, is a sailor himself, who has had the good sense
never to try and hide the fact that he was trained amid a
fine race of west-country seaman, and he is proud to be able
to say that he has been training boys for years with uniform
satisfaction. He relates with obvious pride that one of his
boys, a coal-miner's son, seven years to a day from the date
of joining his firm as an apprentice, sailed as chief
officer of their newest and largest steamer.


[Footnote 2: A "half-marrow" was a young man who was trying
to become a seaman without serving his apprenticeship.]

[Footnote 3: During the passage of this book through the
press, Mr. Watts, senior, has passed away.]


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operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.