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Title: A Book for the Hammock
Author: Russell, William Clark
Language: English
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                         A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       WORKS BY W. CLARK RUSSELL.
  Crown 8vo, cloth extra, 6s. each; post 8vo, illustrated boards, 2s.
                                 each.


ROUND THE GALLEY FIRE.

    ON THE FO’K’SLE HEAD: A Collection of Yarns and Sea Descriptions.

    IN THE MIDDLE WATCH.


                   Crown 8vo, cloth extra, 6s. each.

A VOYAGE TO THE CAPE.

    A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK.

                             --------------

THE FROZEN PIRATE, the New Serial Novel by W. CLARK RUSSELL, Author of
    “The Wreck of the Grosvenor,” began in “Belgravia” for July, 1887,
    and will be continued till January, 1888. One Shilling, Monthly.
    Illustrated by P. Macnab.


                 LONDON: CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK



                                   BY

                            W. CLARK RUSSELL



       AUTHOR OF “A VOYAGE TO THE CAPE,” “ROUND THE GALLEY FIRE,”
                      “IN THE MIDDLE WATCH,” ETC.



[Illustration]



                                 London
                     CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY
                                  1887

                 [The right of translation is reserved]


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                PREFACE.


The reader will please regard these papers as the mere whiskings of a
petrel’s pinions skimming the blue surge of deep waters. The utmost hope
of the author goes no further than that here and there something may be
found to pleasantly lighten the tedium of a sleepless half-hour in the
bunk or hammock, or relieve the dulness of a spell of quarter-deck
lounging. The articles are reprinted from _The Daily Telegraph_, _The
Gentleman’s Magazine_, _The Contemporary Review_, and _Longman’s
Magazine_. It would have been troublesome to disturb the original text,
and some new matter, therefore, has been included in the form of notes.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CONTENTS.


                                                       PAGE

             A NAUTICAL LAMENT                            1
             SUPERSTITIONS OF THE SEA                    24
             OLD SEA ORDNANCE                            53
             THE HONOUR OF THE FLAG                      63
             THE NAVAL OFFICER’S SPIRIT                  79
             WOMEN AS SAILORS                            91
             FIGHTING SMUGGLERS                         104
             SEA PHRASES                                115
             THEN AND NOW                               135
             COSTLY SHIPWRECKS                          146
             CURIOSITIES OF DISASTERS AT SEA            157
             INFERNAL MACHINES                          168
             QUEER FISH                                 179
             STRANGE CRAFT                              190
             MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES                  200
             RICH CAPTURES                              219
             PECULIARITIES OF RIG                       230
             HOW THE OLD NAVIGATORS MANAGED             243
             PLATES AND RIVETS                          254
             FRENCH SMACKSMEN                           273
             OLD SEA CUSTOMS                            284
             WHO IS VANDERDECKEN?                       294


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK.



                          _A NAUTICAL LAMENT._


I asked myself the question one day whilst standing on the bridge of one
of the handsomest and stoutest of the Union Company’s steamboats,
outward bound to the Cape of Good Hope, What has become of the old
romance of the sea?

               “Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
                Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”

It was a brilliant afternoon. The sunshine in the water seemed to hover
there like some flashful veil of silver, paling the azure so that it
showed through it in a most delicate dye of cerulean faintness. The
light breeze was abeam; yet the ship made a gale of her own that stormed
past my ears in a continuous shrill hooting, and the wake roared away
astern like the huddle of foaming waters at the foot of a high cataract.
On the confines of the airy cincture that marked the junction of sea and
sky gleamed the white pinions of a little barque. The fabric, made
fairy-like by distance, shone with a most exquisite dainty distinctness
in the lenses of the telescope I levelled at it. The vessel showed every
cloth she had spars and booms for, and leaned very lightly from the
wind, and hung like a star in the sky. But our tempestuous passage of
thirteen knots an hour speedily slided that effulgent elfin structure on
to our quarter, where she glanced a minute or two like a wreath of mist,
a shred of light vapour, and then dissolved. What has become, thought I,
of the old romance of the sea? The vanished barque and the resistless
power underneath my feet, shaking to the heart the vast metal mass that
it was impelling, symbolized one of the most startling realities of
modern progress. In sober truth, the propeller has sent the poetry of
the deep swirling astern. It is out of sight. Nay, the demon of steam
has possessed with its spirit the iron interior of the sailing ship, and
from the eyes of the nautical occupants of that combination of ore and
wire “the glory and the dream,” that ocean visionary life which was the
substance and the soul of the sea-calling of other days, has faded as
utterly as it has from the confined gaze of the sudorific fiends of the
engine-room.

To know the sea you must lie long upon its bosom; your ear must be at
its heart; you must catch and interpret its inarticulate speech; you
must make its moods your own, rise to the majesty of its wrath, taste to
the very inmost reaches of your vitality the sweetness of its reposeful
humour, bring to its astonishments the wonder of a child, and to its
power and might the love and reverence of a man. “Enough!” cries
Rasselas to Imlac, “thou hast convinced me that no human being can ever
be a poet.” And I have convinced myself that the conditions of the
sea-life in these times prohibit the most ardent of imaginative sailors
from the exercise of that sort of divination which is to be found in
perfection in the old narratives. The vocation is too tedious, the
stress of it too harassing, the despatch insisted upon too exacting, to
furnish opportunity for more than the most mechanical motions of the
mind. A man is hurried from port to port with railway punctuality. He is
swept headlong through calms and storms, and if there come a pause it
will be found perilous; and consternation takes the place of
observation. Nothing new is left. The monsters of the deep have sunk
into the ooze and blackness of time and lie foundered, waiting for the
resurrection that will not come until civilization has run its course
and man begins afresh. All seaboards are known; nothing less than an
earthquake can submit the unfamiliar in island or coast scenery. The
mermaid hugging her merman has shrunk, affrighted by the wild, fierce
light of science, and by the pitiless dredging of the deep-water
inquirer, into the dark vaults beneath her coral pavilions. Her songs
are heard no more, and her comb lies broken upon the sands. Old ocean
itself, soured by man’s triumphant domination of its forces, by his more
than Duke of Marlborough-like capacity of riding the whirlwind and
directing the storm, has silenced its teachings, sleeps or roars
blindly, an eyeless lion, and avenges its neglect and submission by
forcing the nautical mind to associate with the noblest, the most
romantic vocation in the world no higher ideas than tonnage, freeboard,
scantlings, well-decks, length of stroke, number of revolutions, the
managing owner, and the Board of Trade!

The early mariner was like the growing Boy whom Wordsworth sings of in
that divine ode from which I have already quoted—

             “But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
               He sees it in his joy;
              The Youth, who daily farther from the East
               Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
              And by the vision splendid
              Is on his way attended.”

Were I asked to deliver my sense of the highest poetical interpretation
of the deep, I should point into distant times, to some new and silent
ocean on whose surface, furrowed for the first time by a fabric of man’s
handiwork, floats some little bark with a deck-load of pensive,
wondering, reverential men. Yes! you would find the noblest and most
glorious divination of the true spirit of the deep in the thoughts which
fill the breasts of that company of quaintly apparelled souls. The very
ship herself fits the revelation of the sea to those simple hearts who
have hardily sailed down the gleaming slope behind the familiar horizon,
and penetrated the liquid fastnesses of the marine gods and demons. Mark
the singular structure swinging pendulum-like to the respirations of the
blue and foamless swell. Her yellow sides throw a golden lustre under
her. Little ordnance of brass and black iron sparkle on her bulwarks and
grin along her sides. Her poop and top-lanthorns flash and fade with the
swaying of her masts. Her pennons enrich the white sails with their
dyes, and how long those banners may be let us conceive from that
ancient account of the Armada in which it is written: “For the memory of
this exploit, the foresayd Captain Banderdness caused the banner of one
of these shippes to be set up in the great Church of Leiden in Holland,
which is of so great a length, that being fastened to the very roofe, it
reached down to the grounde.” Her men are children, albeit bearded, and
not yet upon them have the shades of the prison-house begun to close.
Are we not to be pitied that all the glories which enraptured them, the
wonders which held them marvelling, the terrors which sent them to their
devotions, should have disappeared for ever from our sight? We have
still indeed the magnificence of the sunset, the splendour of the
heavens by night, the Andean seas of the tempest, the tenderness of the
moonlighted calm; but these things are not to us as they were to them;
for a magic was in them that is gone; the mystery and fear and awe
begotten of intrusion into the obscure and unknown principalities of the
sea-king have vanished; our interpretation gathers nothing of those
qualities which rendered theirs as romantic and lovely as a Shakesperean
dream; and though we have the sunset and the stars and the towering
surge—what have we not? what is our loss? what our perceptions (staled
and pointed to commonplace issues by familiarity) compared with their
costly endowment of marine disclosure? You see, the world of old ocean
was before them; they had everything to enjoy. It was a virgin realm,
also, for them to furnish with the creations of their imagination. The
flying-fish! what object so familiar now? The house-sparrow wins as much
attention, to the full, in the street as does this fish from the sailor
or the passenger as it sparks out from the seething yeast of the blue
wave and vanishes like a little shaft of mother-o’-pearl. But in those
old times they found a wonder here; and prettily declared that they
quitted the sea in summer and became birds. Hear how an old voyager
discourses of these be-scaled fowls:

“There is another kind of fish as bigge almost as a herring, which hath
wings and flieth, and they are together in great number. These have two
enemies, the one in the sea, the other in the aire. In the sea the fish
which is called Albocore, as big as a salmon, followeth them with great
swiftnesse to take them. This poore fish not being able to swimme fast,
for he hath no finnes, but swimmeth with mooving of his taile, shutting
his wings, lifteth himselfe above the water, and flieth not very hie;
the Albocore seeing that, although he have no wings, yet he giveth a
great leape out of the water and sometimes catcheth the fish being weary
of the aire.”

It is wonderland to this man. He writes as of a thing never before
beheld and with a curious ambition of accuracy, clearly making little
doubt that in any case his story will not be credited, and that
therefore since the truth is astonishing enough, he may as well
carefully stick to it. And the barnacle? Does the barnacle hold any
poetry to us? One would as soon seek for the seed of romance in the
periwinkle or the crab. Taking up the first dictionary at hand, I find
barnacle described as a “shell-fish, commonly found on the bottom of
ships, rocks, and timber.” But those wonderful ancient mariners made a
goose of it; as may be observed in Mr. John Lok’s account of his ship
which arrived home “marvellously overgrowne with certaine shells” in
which he solemnly affirms “there groweth a certain slimie substance,
which at the length slipping out of the shell and falling in the sea,
becometh those foules which we call Barnacles.” Were not those high
times for Jack? A barnacle, whether by the sea-side brim or anywhere
else, is to us, alas! in this exhaustive age, a barnacle, and nothing
more. Or take the maelstrom—a gyration not quite so formidable as the
imagination of Edgar Allan Poe would have us believe, but by report
exactly one of those features of the ocean to alarm the primitive fancy
with frightful ideas: “Note,” says Mr. Anthonie Jenkinson in his voyage
to Russia, 1557, “that there is between the said Rost islands and Lofoot
a whirlepoole called Malestrand which ... maketh such a terrible noise,
that it shaketh the rings in the doores of the inhabitants’ houses of
the sayd islands tenne miles off. Also if there cometh any whale within
the current of the same, they make a pitiful crie.” And so on. How fine
as an artistic touch should we deem this introduction of the whale by
the hand of an imaginative writer! The detail to the contemporary
readers of Mr. Jenkinson’s yarn would make an enormous horror of that
“whirlepoole,” for what should be able to swallow leviathan short of
some such stupendous commotion as would be caused by the breaking up of
the fountains of the waters of the earth? Let it be remembered that
whales were fine specimens in that age of poetry. They were then big
enough to gorge a squadron of men-of-war, ay, and to digest the vessels.
We have had nothing like them since—the nearest approach to such
monsters being the shark in which, on its being ripped open, there was
found one full-rigged ship only, with the captain and the mate
quarrelling in the cabin over the reckoning.

The age of marine romance supplied the mariner with many extraordinary
privileges. We cannot control the winds as those old people did. There
are no longer gale-makers from whom Jack can buy a favourable blast. The
very saints have deserted us, since it is certain that—at sea—we now
pray to them in vain. Observe that in fifty directions, despite our
propellers, donkey-engines, steam-windlasses, and the like, the ancient
mariner was out and away better off than we are. Did he want wind? Then
he had nothing to do but apply to a Finn, who, for a few shillings,
would sell to him in the shape of a knotted handkerchief three sorts of
gale, all prosperous, but one harder than another, by which he could be
blown to his port without anxiety or delay. Did a whirlwind threaten
him? Then read in the Voyage of Pirard in Harris’ Collection how he
managed: “We frequently saw great Whirl-winds rising at a Distance,
called by the Seamen _Dragons_, which shatter and overturn any Ship that
falls in their way. When these appear the Sailors have a Custom of
repairing to the Prow or the Side that lies next the storm, and beating
naked swords against one another crosswise.” Purchas, in his “Pilgrims,”
repeats this, and adds that this easy remedy of the sword hinders the
storm from coming over their ship, “and turneth it aside.” Did human
skill and judgment fail him? There were the Saints. “Before the days of
insurance offices and political economy,” writes the author of
“Lusitanian Sketches,” “merchants frequently insured their ships at the
highly esteemed shrine of Mantozimbo, by presenting a sum equal to the
pay of captain or mate, and that, too, without stipulating for any
equivalent should the vessel be wrecked.” Was it not his custom to carry
the image of his patron saint to sea with him, to pray to it, to make it
responsible for the winds, and, if it proved obstinate, to force it into
an obliging posture of mind by flogging it? Consider what a powerful
marine battery of these saints he could bring to bear upon the vexed,
refractory ocean and the capricious storming of winds. St. Anthony, St.
Nicholas, whose consecrated loaves of bread quelled many a furious gale,
St. Roland, St. Cyric, St. Mark, St. George, St. Michael, St. Benedict,
St. Clement—the list is as long as my arm, the number great enough to
swell out a big ship’s company. Did pirates threaten him? There was no
occasion to see all clear for action. He had but to invoke St.
Hilarion—who once on a time by prayer arrested the progress of a
picaroon whilst chasing—and away would scuttle the black flag. Was
smooth water required for safely making a port? Then no matter how high
the sea ran, all that was needful was first to find a pious man on
board, light tapers (where they would burn), bring up the incense, erect
a crucifix, read prayers (this being done by the pious man), sprinkle
the decks with holy water, and straightway the sea under the vessel’s
forefoot would flatten into a level lane, smooth as oil, albeit the
surges on either hand continued to leap to the height of the maintop.
Who now regards, save with mild curiosity, the corposant—the St. Elmo’s
fire—the dimly burning meteoric exhalation at the yard-arm? It is no
more to modern and current imagination than the phosphoric flashes in
black intertropic waters. But the ancient mariner made an omen of it—a
saint—a joy to be blessed; he wrought it into a beneficent symbol, and
endowed it with such powers of salvation as comforted him exceedingly
whilst he kneeled on quivering knees in the pale illumination of that
mystic marine corpse-candle. Who now scratches the mast for a breeze?
Who fears the dead body as a storm-maker? What has become of the
damnatory qualities of the cat, and who now hears the dimmest echo of
comminatory power in her loudest mew? And most galling of all
reflections, into what ocean unknown to man has sailed the Flying
Dutchman?

Let it not be supposed, however, that the elimination of poetry from the
sea-life by the pounding steam engine and the swift voyage is deplorable
on no further grounds than these which I have named. The utilitarian
aspect is not the only one. There was romance and lustre outside those
mere conditions of poetic seamanship which enabled the mariner to direct
the wind by a knot, to control the tempest by a candle, to put the
pirate to flight by an invocation. Emerge with me from the darkness of
remote times into the light of the last—yes, and of the beginning of the
present—century. Ladies were then going to sea, as they had in remoter
times, dressed as men. They do so no longer. Who ever hears now of some
youthful mariner with blooming cheeks and long eyelashes exciting the
suspicions of his mahogany-cheeked mates by the shortness of his steps,
or the smallness of his hands and feet, or a certain unboyish luxuriance
of cropped hair? No, the blushing Pollies and Susans of the East End,
resolved by love, by betrayal, or by the press-gang, into the shipping
of breeks have had their day. No longer do we read of pretty ship-boys
standing confessed as girls. I mourn this departed romantic forecastle
feature. Even in fiction how the imagination is captivated by the clever
insinuations of the author in his treatment of the youth whose sex he
springs upon us presently to our glad surprise! The Edwins whom the
Angelinas followed were not indeed very engaging people; but even
attentive consideration of their rascalities will not neutralize the
pleasant poetic bouquet that haunts the old tales of fine-eyed women
going to sea for love or vengeance, living among the sailors, eating the
bitter bad provisions of the forecastle, fighting the guns, doing the
seamen’s work, and remaining for months undetected.

Again, whither has vanished a feature of the old sea-life even yet more
romantically interesting than the nautical masquerading of black-eyed
Susans and yellow-haired Molls—the flirtation of the long ocean passage?
What we call flirtation now at sea is a mere shadow of a shadow as
compared with the robust and solid reality of a period when it took a
ship four months to sail to Bombay or Calcutta. There is no time allowed
in this age for love-making. Before you can fairly consider yourself
acquainted with a girl some wretch on the forecastle is singing out
“land-ho!” I took particular notice of this matter on board the Union
steamer in which I made the passage home from Cape Town. It must
certainly have ended in a proposal in the case of one couple had the
propeller dropped off or a boiler burst and the ship been delayed. They
only wanted another week. But the steamer was impertinently punctual,
about eight hours before her time: the people went ashore at Plymouth,
and, for all I can tell, the young man, in the excitement of landing and
meeting his friends and seeing plenty of pretty women about, may have
abandoned his intention and ended for the girl a chance that would have
been a certainty in the old romantic poetical sea-days. Why, we all know
how the British matron used to ship her darlings off in the East
Indiamen for husbands in the country with which those vessels
trafficked, and how scores and scores of these unsophisticated young
ladies would land engaged, having affianced themselves to gentlemen on
board in calms on the Equator or in the tail of the south-east Trades,
or in a small swell with a moderate breeze off Agulhas, some possibly
hesitating as far as the Madagascar parallels. How many marriages
originate at sea in these times of thirteen knots an hour, I wonder? Out
of the several millions of passengers who are annually sea-borne, how
many pledge their vows on board ship, how many fall in love there, how
many become husband and wife in consequence of meeting on ship board?
But a few, I’ll warrant. But only think of the old East Indiaman; four
months for Captain Thunder and Miss Spooner to be together to start
with; four months, and perhaps longer, with possibly Lieutenant Griffin
to give a swift maturity to emotion by importing a neat and useful
element of jealousy. Oh, if moonlight and music and feeling are one
ashore, what are they at sea, on the deck of a sleeping fabric lifting
visionary wings to the lovely stars, when the sea-fire flashes like
sheet lightning to the soft surge of the ship’s bows or counter upon the
light fold of the invisible swell, when the westering moon, crimsoning
as she sinks, wastes her heart’s blood in the deep for love of what she
is painfully and ruefully leaving, when the dew upon the bulwarks
sparkles like some diamond encrustations to the starlight, when the
peace of the richly clad night presses like a sensible benediction upon
the breathless, enchanted, listening ship, subduing all sounds of
gear-creaking in blocks, of chains clanking to the stirring of the
rudder, to a tender music in sweetest harmony with the fountain-like
murmur at the bows as the vessel quietly lifts to the long-drawn heave
there—think of it! was there ever a bower by Bendemeer’s stream
comparable as a corner for the delicate whispers of passion, for the coy
reception of kisses, with some quiet nook on the white quarter-deck,
shadowed from the stars and protected from the dew by the awning? If you
thrill now it is because the whole ship shakes with the whirling and
thrashing of those mighty beams of steel below. Emotion must be blatant
or it cannot be heard. Not yet has a generation that knows I am speaking
the truth in all this passed away. Confirm me, ye scores of elderly
master-mariners enjoying your well-earned repose in spots hard by that
ocean ye loved and sailed for years! Confirm me too, ye many survivors
of a sea-going time, when the most blissful hours of your long and
respectable lives were passed under the shadow of the cross-jack-yard!

I lament the decay of the old nautical costumes. There was a poetry in
the dress of the people who had the handling of the big Indian ships
which you will not get out of the brass buttons and twopenny cuff-rings
of the contemporary skipper and mate. Nowadays it is almost impossible
to tell the difference between the rigs of the mercantile captain, the
dock master, the Customs man, and the harbour master. But what do you
say to a blue coat, black velvet lappels, cuffs and collar with a bright
gold embroidery, waistcoat and breeches of deep buff, the buttons of
yellow gilt, cocked hats, side arms, and so forth? What dress has done
for romance ashore we know. Pull off the feathered hats and high boots,
the magnificent doublets and diamond buckles of many of those gentlemen
of olden times, who show very stately in history, and button them up in
the plain frock-coat of to-day, and who knows but that you might not be
diverted with a procession of rather insignificant objects? In the
poetical days of the sea-profession the ships very honestly deserved the
dignity they got from the gilded and velveted figures that sparkled on
their quarter-decks. Over no nobler fabrics of wood did the red ensign
ever fly. They went manned like a line-of-battle ship. Observe this
resolution arrived at by the Court of Directors (Hon. E.I.C.) held the
19th of October, 1791:—“That a ship of 900 tons do carry 110 men; 1000
ditto, 120; 1100 ditto, 125; 1200 ditto, 130.”

Were not those fine times for Jack? How many of a crew goes to the
manning of a 1200-ton ship nowadays? And it is proper to note that of
these 130 men there were only ten servants, _i.e._ a captain’s steward,
ship’s steward, and men to attend to the mate, surgeon, boatswain,
gunner, and carpenter. Contrast these with the number of waiters who
swell the ship’s company of our 5000-ton mail boats. Those vessels went
armed too, as befitted the majesty of the bunting under which old Dance
had gloriously licked Johnny Crapeau.[1] The bigger among them carried
thirty-eight eighteen pounders; they were all furnished with
boarding-nettings half-mast high and close round the quarters. The chaps
in the tops were armed with swivels, musquetoons, and pole-axes. In
those romantic times the merchantman saw to himself. There were no
laminated plates formed of iron one remove only from the ore betwixt him
and the bottom of the ocean; he sailed in hearts-of-oak, and the naval
page of his day resounds with his thunder. The spirit of that romantic
period penetrated the ladies who were passengers. Relations of this kind
in the contemporary annals are common enough:

Footnote 1:

  It is interesting to know that Sir John Franklin was in that
  particular fight, and worked the signals for the Commodore.

“Mrs. Macdowall and Miss Mary Harley, who lately distinguished
themselves so much in the gallant defence of the ship _Planter_, of
Liverpool, against an enemy of very superior force off Dover, are now at
Whitehaven. These ladies were remarkable, not only for their solicitude
and tenderness for the wounded, but also for their contempt of personal
danger, serving the seamen with ammunition, and encouraging them by
their presence.”

Again: “I cannot omit mentioning that a lady (a sister of Captain
Skinner), who, with her maid, were the only female passengers, were both
employed in the bread-room during the action making up papers for
cartridges; for we had not a single four-pound cartridge remaining when
the action ceased.”[2]

Footnote 2:

  Many similar notices may be found in the _Annual Register_, the _Naval
  Chronicle_, and other publications of the kind.

The glory and the dream are gone. No doubt there are plenty of ladies
living who would manufacture cartridges during a sea-fight with
pleasure, and animate the crew by their example and presence. But the
heroine’s chance in this direction is dead and over. As dead and over as
the armed passenger ship, the privateer, the pirate, and the
plate-galleon. Would it interest anybody to know that the _Acapulco_
ship was once more on her way from Manila with a full hold? Dampier and
Shelvocke are dead, Anson’s tome is rarely looked into, the cutlass is
sheathed, the last of the slugs was fired out of yonder crazy old
blunderbuss ages ago; how should it concern us then to hear that the
castellated galleon, loaded with precious ore minted and in ingots, with
silk, tea, and gems of prodigious value, is under weigh again? Candish
took her in 1587, Rogers in 1709, Anson in 1742. Supposing her something
more substantial than a phantom, where lives the corsair that should
take her now? The extinction of that ship dealt a heavy wound to marine
romance. She was a vessel of about two thousand tons burden, and was
despatched every year from the port of Manila. She sailed in July and
the voyage lasted six months—six months of golden opportunity to the
gentlemen who styled themselves buccaneers! The long passage, says the
Abbé Raynal, “was due to the vessel being overstocked with men and
merchandise, and to all those on board being a set of timid navigators,
who never make but little way during the night time, and often, though
without necessity, make none at all.” Anson took 1,313,843 pieces of
eight and 35,682 oz. of virgin silver out of his galleon, raising the
value of his cruise to about £400,000 independent of the ships and
merchandise. They knew how to fillibuster in those days. How is it now?
It has been attempted of late and found a glorious termination in a
police court.

The buccaneer has made his exit and so has his fierce brother, the
pirate. That dreadful flag has long been hauled down and stowed away by
Davy Jones in one of his lockers. “The pirates,” says Commodore
Roggewein in 1721, “observing this disposition, immediately put
themselves in a fighting posture; and began by striking their red, and
hoisting a black flag, with a Death’s Head in the centre, a powder-horn
over it, and two bones across underneath.” Alas! even the sentiment of
Execution Deck has vanished with the disappearance of this romantic
flag, and there are no more skeletons of pirates slowly revolving in the
midnight breeze and emitting a dismal clanking sound to the stirring of
the damp black gusts from which to borrow a highly moving and
fascinating sort of marine poetry.

Again, though to be sure it is not a little comforting when in the
middle of a thousand leagues of ocean to feel that your ship is
navigated by men furnished with the exquisite sextant, the costly
chronometer, the wonderful appliances for an exact determination of
position, yet there is surely less poetry and romance in the nautical
scientific precision of the age, reconciling as it undoubtedly
is—particularly when you are afloat—than in the old shrewd half-blind
sniffing and smelling out of the right liquid path by those ancient
mariners who stumbled into unknown waters, and floundered against
unconjecturable continents with nothing better to ogle the sun with than
a kind of small gallows called a fore-staff.

“If,” writes Sir Thomas Browne to his sailor son in 1664, “you have a
globe, you may easily learne the starres as also by bookes. Waggoner[3]
you will not be without, which will teach the particular coasts, depths
of roades, and how the land riseth upon several poynts of the
compasse.... If they have quadrants, crosse-staffes, and other
instruments, learn the practicall use thereof; the names of all parts
and roupes about the shippe, what proportion the masts must hold to the
length and depth of a shippe, and also the sayles.”

Footnote 3:

  Wagenar’s “Speculum Nauticum,” Englished in 1588.

Here we have pretty well the extent of a naval officer’s education in
navigation and seamanship in those rosy times. The longitude was as good
as an unknown quantity to them. How quaint and picturesque was the old
Dutch method of navigating a ship! They steered by the true compass, or
endeavoured to do so by means of a small central movable card, which
they adjusted to the meridian, and whenever they discovered that the
variation had altered to the extent of 22 degrees, they again corrected
the central card. In this manner they contrived to steer within a
quarter of a point, and were perfectly satisfied with this kind of
accuracy. They never used the log, though it was known to them. The
officer of the watch corrected the leeway by his own judgment before
marking it down. J. S. Stavorinus, writing so late as 1768–78, says,
“Their manner of computing their run is by means of a measured distance
of forty feet along the ship’s side. They take notice of any remarkable
patch of froth when it is abreast of the foremost end of the measured
distance, and count half seconds till the mark of froth is abreast of
the after end. With the number of half seconds thus obtained they divide
the number forty-eight, taking the product for the rate of sailing in
geographical miles in one hour, or the number of Dutch miles in four
hours. It is not difficult,” he adds, “to conceive the reason why the
Dutch are frequently above ten degrees out in their reckoning.” Here we
have such a form of Arcadian simplicity, if anything maritime can borrow
that pastoral word, as cannot fail to excite the enthusiasm of the
romancist. A like delightful and fascinating primitiveness of
sea-procedure you find in Mr. Thomas Stevens’ black-letter account of
his voyage; wherein he so clearly sets forth the manner of the
navigation of the ancient mariner, that I hope this further extract from
other people’s writings will be forgiven on the score of its
curiousness, and the information it supplies:—

    You know that it is hard to saile from East to West or contrary,
    because there is no fixed point in all the skie, whereby they
    may direct their course, wherefore I shall tell you what helps
    God provided for these men.[4] There is not a fowle that
    appereth, or signe in the aire, or in the sea, which they have
    not written, which have made the voyages heretofore. Wherefore,
    partly by their own experience, and pondering withal what space
    the ship was able to make with such a winde, and such direction,
    and partly by the experience of others, whose books and
    navigations they have, they gesse whereabouts they be, touching
    degrees of longitude, for of latitude they be alwaies sure.

Footnote 4:

  That is, for the mariners with whom he sailed.

“_Gesse whereabouts they be!_” The true signification of this sentence
is the revelation of the fairy world of the deep. It was this “gessing,”
this groping, this staring, the wondering expectation, that filled the
liquid realm with the amazements you read of in the early chronicles. It
would not be delightful to have to “gess” now. It could hardly mean much
more than an unromantic job of stranding, a bald prosaic shipwreck, with
some marine court of inquiry at the end of it, to depress the whole
business deeper yet in the quagmire of the commonplace. But attached to
the guesswork of old times was the delightful condition of the happening
of the unexpected. The fairy island inhabited by faultless shapes of
women; fish as terrible as Milton’s Satan; volcanic lands crimsoning a
hundred leagues of sky with the glare of the central fires of the earth,
against whose hellish effulgent background moved Titanic figures dark as
the storm-cloud—of such were the diversions which attended the one-eyed
navigation of the romantic days. Who envies not the Jack of that period?
Why should the poetic glories of the ocean have died out with those
long-bearded, hawk-eyed men? I can go now to the Cape of Good Hope—in a
peculiar degree the haunt of the right kind of marvels, and the headland
abhorred by Vanderdecken—I can steam there in twenty days, and not find
so much as the ghost of a poetical idea in about six thousand miles of
ocean. Everything is too comfortable, too safe, too smooth. There is the
same difference between my mail-boat and the jolly old carrack as there
is between a brand-new hotel making up eight hundred beds and an ancient
castle with a moated grange. What fine sights used to be witnessed
through the windows of that ancient castle! Ghosts in armour on
coal-black steeds, lunatic Scalds bursting into dirges, an ogre who came
out of the adjacent wood, dwarfs after the manner of George Cruikshank’s
fancies—in short, Enchantment that was substantial enough too. But the
brand-new hotel! Why, yes, certainly, I would rather dine there, and
most assuredly would rather sleep there, than in the moated-grange
arrangement. What I mean is: I wish all the wonders were not gone, so
that old ocean should not bare such a very naked breast.

Observe again how elegant and splendid those ancients were in their sea
notions. When they built a ship they embellished her with a more than
oriental splendour of gold and fancy work. Read old Stowe’s description
of the _Prince Royal_: how she was sumptuously adorned, within and
without, with all manner of curious carving, painting, and rich gilding.
They had great minds; when they lighted a candle it was a tall one. How
nobly they brought home the body of Sir Philip Sydney, “slaine with a
musket-shot in his thigh, and deceased at Arnim, beyond seas!” The
sails, masts, and yards of his “barke” were black, with black ancient
streamers of black silk, and the ship “was hanged all with black bayes,
and scorchions thereon on pastboard (with his and his wyfes in pale,
helm and crest); in the cabin where he lay was the corpse covered with a
pall of black velvet, escochions thereon, his helmet, armes, sword, and
gauntlette on the corpse.” In the regality of the names they gave their
ships there is a fine aroma of poetry: _Henri-Grace-a-Dieu_, the
_Soverayne-of-the-Seas_, the _Elizabeth-Jonah_, the _Jesus-of-Lubeck_,
the _Constant-Warwick_! The genius of Shakespeare might be thought to
have presided over these christenings if it were not for the
circumstance of numberless squadrons of sweetly or royally named ships
having been launched before the birth of the immortal bard; and a list
of them harmonised into blank verse would have the organ-sounds
delivered by his own great muse.

The visionary gleam has fled; the glory and the dream are over. Yes, and
the prosaics of the sea have entered into the sailor’s nature and made a
somewhat dull and steady fellow of him, though he will shovel you on
coals as well as another, and pull and haul as heartily as his
forefathers. For where be his old caper-cutting qualities? Where be the
old high jinks, the Saturday night’s carouse, the pretty forecastle
figment of wives and sweethearts, the grinning salts of the
theatre-gallery, the sky-larking of liberty days, the masquerading
humours, such, for example, as Anson’s men indulged themselves in after
the sacking of Paita, when the sailors took the clothes which the
Spaniards in their flight had left behind them, and put them on—a motley
crew!—wearing the glittering habits, covered with yellow embroidery and
silver lace, over their own dirty trousers and jackets, clapping tie and
bagwigs and laced hats on their heads; going to the length, indeed, of
equipping themselves in women’s gowns and petticoats; so that, we read,
when a party of them thus metamorphosed first appeared before their
lieutenant, “he was extremely surprised at the grotesque sight, and
could not immediately be satisfied they were his own people.” They were
a jolly, fearless, humorous, hearty lot, those old mariners, and their
like is not amongst us to-day. The sentiment that prevailed amongst them
was in the highest degree respectable.

            “Yes, seamen, we know, are inured to hard gales;
              Determined to stand by each other;
             And the boast of the tar, wheresoever he sails,
              Is the heart that can feel for another!”

And has not the passenger degenerated too? Is he as fine and enduring a
man as his grandfather? is she as stout-hearted as her grandmother? The
life of a voyager in the old days of the sailing-ship—I do not include
John Company’s Indiamen—was almost as hard as that of the mariner. He
had very often to fight, to lend a hand aloft, at the pumps, at the
running rigging. His fare was an unpleasant kind of preserved fresh
meat—I am speaking of fifty years ago—and such salt pork and beef as the
sailors ate. His pudding was a dark and heavy compound of coarse flour
and briny fat, and in the diary of a passenger at sea in 1820 it is told
how the puddings were cooked: “_July 16._ As a particular favour
obtained a piece of old canvas to make a pudding-bag, for all the
nightcaps had disappeared. The pudding being finished, away it went to
the coppers, and at two bells came to table smoking-hot. But a small
difficulty presented itself; for then, and not till then, did we
discover that the bag was smaller at top than at bottom, so that, in
spite of our various attempts to dislodge it, there it stuck like a cork
in a bottle, till every one in the mess had burnt his fingers, and then
we thought of cutting away the canvas and liberating the pudding.” Such
experiences as this made a hardy man of the passenger. There was no
coddling. Everything was rough and rude; yet read the typical
passenger’s writings and you will see he found such poetry and romance
in the ocean and the voyage as must be utterly undiscoverable by the
spoilt and languid traveller of to-day, sulkily perspiring over nap or
whist in the luxurious smoking-room, or reading the magazine—that
outruns its currency by a week only in a voyage to New Zealand—propped
up by soft cushions in a ladies’ saloon radiant with sunshine and full
of flowers. Like the early Jack, the early passenger came comparatively
new to the sea and enjoyed its wonders and revelled in its freedom and
drank in its inspirations. He was not to be daunted by food, by wet, by
delay, by sea-sickness, by coarse rough captains. Why, here before me,
in the same passenger’s diary in which the above extract occurs, I find
the writer distinctly noting the picturesque in that most hideous of
maritime calamities, want of water! “_July 2._ All hands employed
catching rain water, the fresh water having given out. ’Twas interesting
and romantic to see them running fore and aft with buckets, pitchers,
jars, bottles, pots, pans, and kegs, or anything that would hold water.
I was quietly enjoying the scene, when the clew of the mainsail above me
gave way from the weight of water that had collected there, and I
received the whole contents on my devoted head.” _Quietly enjoying the
scene!_ Is not this a very sublimation of the heroic capacity of
extracting the Beautiful—not in the Bulwerian sense—out of the Dreadful!

But enough! Just as you seek for the romance and poetry of the ocean in
the old books, so must you look there for the jovial tar, the jigging
fellow, with his hat on nine hairs and a nose like a carbuncle; for the
resolved and manly passenger, for the unaffected heroine, for the pretty
masquerading lass, and for a hundred lovely gilded dreams of a delighted
imagination roving wild in mid-ocean. The volume is closed; we now carry
our helm amidships; it is no longer the captain but the head engineer
that we think of and address ourselves to when, disordered by some
inward perturbation, we sing:—

                    “O, pilot, ’tis a fearful night,
                     There’s danger on the deep.”

But _Philosophia stemma non inspicit_; and we must take it that in these
days she knows what she is about.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      _SUPERSTITIONS OF THE SEA._


There is a story told of some English sailors who, passing by the French
Ambassador’s house, that was illuminated in celebration of a treaty of
peace between France and Great Britain, observed the word “Concord”
flaming in the midst of several devices. The men read it “Conquer’d,”
and one of them exclaiming, “_They_ conquer us! they be,” etc., they
knocked at the door and demanded to know why such a word was put up. The
reason was explained, but to no purpose, and the French Ambassador, in
order to get rid of these jolly tars, ordered “Concord” to be taken down
and replaced by the word “Amity.”

It is to illiteracy of this kind that we are indebted for much of the
romantic superstitions of the sea. In olden days the forecastle was
certainly very unlettered, and the wonderful imaginings of the early
navigators, whose imperfect gaze and enormous credulity coined marvels
and miracles out of things we now deem in the highest degree prosaic and
commonplace, descended without obstruction of learning or scepticism
through the marine generations. It is easily seen on reading the old
sea-chronicles how most of the superstitions had their birth, and it
needs but a very superficial acquaintance with the nautical character to
understand why they should have been perpetuated into comparatively
enlightened times. Two capital instances occur to me, and they are both
to be found in the narrative of Cowley’s voyage round the world in the
years 1683, ’84, ’85, and ’86. The first relates to the old practice of
choosing valentines.

“We came abreast with Cape Horn,” says the author, “on Feb. 14, 1684,
where we chusing of valentines, and discoursing of the intrigues of
women, there arose a prodigious storm, which did continue to the last
day of the month, driving us into the latitude of 60 deg. and 30 min.
south, which is further than any ship hath sailed before south; so that
we concluded the discoursing of women at sea very unlucky, and
occasioned the storm.” That such a superstition as this ever obtained a
footing among mariners I will not declare. Yet it is easily seen that
the conclusion the author arrived at, that the “discoursing of women at
sea” is very unlucky, might engender a superstition strong enough to
live through centuries. In the same book is recounted another strange
matter, of a true hair-stirring pattern. On June 29, 1686, there had
been great feasting on board Cowley’s ship, and when the commanders of
the other vessels departed they were saluted with some guns, which, on
arriving on board their ships, they returned. “But,” says the author,
“it is strangely observable that whilst they were loading their guns
they heard a voice in the sea crying out, ‘Come, help! come, help! A man
overboard!’ which made them forthwith bring their ships to, thinking to
take him up; but heard no more of him.” The captains were so puzzled
that they returned to Cowley’s ship to see if he had lost a man; but “we
nor the other ship had not a man wanting, for upon strict examination we
found that in all the three ships we had our complement of men, which
made them all to conjecture that it was the spirit of some man that had
been drowned in that latitude by accident.” Thus they resolved their
perplexity, braced up their yards, and pursued their course in a
composed posture of mind; and in this easy way I think was a large
number of the superstitions, which fluttered the forecastle and
perturbed the lonely look-out man, generated.

So of the corposant, that ghostly meteoric exhalation, which in gales of
wind or in dead calms blazes at the end of yards, or hovers in bulbous
shinings upon the mastheads. One readily sympathizes with the old
superstitions here. To the ancient mariner it could be nothing else than
some spirit hand issuing out of the dusk that kindled those magic lamps.
What should they portend to the startled hearts of the Columbian and
Magellanic sailors lost in the deepest solitudes of oceans whose wastes
their keels were the first to furrow? Happily they were found
propitious, and superstition devised a saintly origin for them. “On
Saturday,” we read in the second voyage of Columbus, “at night, the body
of St. Elmo was seen, with seven lighted candles in the round top, and
there followed mighty rain and frightful thunder. I mean the lights were
seen which the seamen affirm to be the body of St. Elmo, and they sang
litanies and prayers to him, looking upon it as most certain that in
these storms, when he appears, there can be no danger.”[5] The sign that
admits of an auspicious interpretation is always useful. The most
literal-minded of men even in these days of hard facts is pleased when
something befalls him which people say is a sign of good luck. There is
a famous instance of a ship having been saved by allowing a Lascar to
discharge a superstitious obligation by securing a bag of rice and a few
rupees in the rigging as a votive offering to some hobgoblin. His black
companions, worn out with pumping, had tumbled down into the scuppers,
saying that the ship was doomed, and heaven must have its way; but when
the Lascar descended the rigging and pointed to the bag swinging up
there, they cried out for joy, fell to the pumps till they sucked, and
enabled the master to carry his ship home. That stout old buccaneer,
Dampier, tells of a tempest in the midst of which a corposant flamed out
from the masthead. “The sight rejoiced our men exceedingly,” says he;
“for the height of the storm is commonly over when the Corpos Sant is
seen aloft, but when they are seen lying on the deck, it is generally
accounted a bad sign.” Anything that heartens men in extremity is good;
and in olden times there were superstitions aboard ship which did more
for the salvation and deliverance of mariners than all the rum punch
that was ever swallowed out of capacious jacks.

Footnote 5:

  Erasmus in his Dialogues, tells of a certain Englishman who, in a
  storm, promised mountains of gold to our Lady of Walsingham if he
  touched land again! Another fellow promised St. Christopher a wax
  candle _as big as himself_. When he had bawled out this offer, a man
  standing near said, “Have a care what you promise, though you make an
  auction of all your goods you’ll not be able to pay.” “Hold your
  tongue,” whispered the other, “you fool! do you think I speak from my
  heart? If once I touch land I’ll not give him a tallow candle!”
  Cardinal de Retz in describing a storm says, “A Sicilian Observantine
  monk was preaching at the foot of the great mast, that St. Francis had
  appeared to him and had assured him that we should not perish.”

One might go even further, and commit an apparent indiscretion by
declaring that—so far as the sea goes—there may even be a virtue in
lies. A vast amount of early marine enthusiasm is due to fibbing. The
amazing yarns the old voyagers spun on their return sent others off in
hot haste; and they took care not to come back without a plentiful stock
of more exciting tales yet. Distinct impulse was given to Arctic
exploration by an old Dutchman’s grave, schnapps-smelling twister. The
story is told by Mr. Joseph Moxon,[6] who, in the seventeenth century,
was member of the Royal Society. “Being about twenty-two years ago in
Amsterdam,” says he, “I went into a public house to drink a cup of beer
for my thirst, and sitting by the public fire among several people,
there happened a seaman to come in, who, seeing a friend of his there
who he knew went in the Greenland voyage, wondered to see him, for it
was not yet time for the Greenland fleet to come home; and asked him
what accident brought him home so soon.” This question the other
answered by saying “the ship went not out to fish as usual, but only to
take in the lading of the whole fleet,” and that “before the fleet had
caught fish enough to lade us, we, by order of the Greenland Company,
sailed unto the North Pole and came back again.” This greatly amazed Mr.
Joseph Moxon, of the Royal Society, and he earnestly questioned the man,
who declared that he had sailed two degrees beyond the pole, and could
produce the whole body of sailors belonging to the ship to prove it. “I
believe this story,” says the Royal Society man, and he delivers it to
the world as a fact, disproving all that has been recorded by the
Frobishers, the Willoughbys, the Davises, and the rest of those who had
steered north. One Dutchman may give rise to many superstitions—does not
the world owe the legend of the Phantom Ship to the Batavian genius?—and
who shall tell the extent of the impulse contained in the fable of an
old Dutch whaleman yarning over a cup of beer in an Amsterdam ale-house?

Footnote 6:

  In Harris’s Collection.

It is not clear, however, that any possible good can result from such
marine credulity as that to which that notable prodigy, for instance,
called the sea-serpent owes what life it has. It is interesting indeed
to find one of the most amazing of the ancient myths vital in
forecastles some thousands of years younger than the legend; but it is
not evident that the Kraken, the Leviathan, the Titanic worm that dieth
not, the monstrous snake of the deep, ever led the way into a wholesome
and worthy issue, such as the discovery of lands or of fishermen’s
hunting-fields.[7] How often the sea-serpent has been seen it would be
hard to say. If there be weight in human testimony there are surely
witnesses enough to its existence. Dr. Samuel Johnson could not have
pointed to a larger cloud of testifiers in favour of those shadowy
beings which he believed in. “All seamen,” says Olaus Magnus in his
“History of the Goths,” “say there is a sea-serpent two hundred feet
long and twenty feet thick, who comes out at night to devour cattle. It
has long black hair hanging down from its head, and flaming eyes, with
sharp scales on its body.” Other early writers describe its body as
resembling a string of hogsheads, and affirm it to be at least six
hundred feet long. Sir Walter Scott, who found the tradition he speaks
of among the Shetland and Orkney fishermen, speaks of the sea-snake as a
monster that rises out of the depth of the ocean, stretches to the skies
his enormous neck covered with a mane like that of a war-horse, and
“with his broad glittering eyes raised mast high, looks out as it seems
for plunder or for victims.”

Footnote 7:

  “The steward relates,” I find in a book of travels, “that in a vessel
  he once sailed in, a hand aloft asserted that he saw land ahead. The
  captain knew this to be a mistake; and on nearing it the land turned
  out to be the carcase of a huge whale left by the fishery, with a
  number of albatrosses preying on it.”

A writer in the _British Merchant Service Journal_ in 1879 seems to have
satisfactorily solved this perplexing ocean enigma. He saw the
sea-serpent three times. First in 1851, during a voyage to Tasmania. The
terrifying wonder lay right in the ship’s path, but the captain would
not shift his helm, with the result that he sailed close past a long log
of wood covered with barnacles of great length—“so long that, being
attached to the logs, they necessarily took all the undulations of the
waves, which gave it the appearance of a sinuous motion.” Again, in
1853, bound for the Cape of Good Hope; the monster lay on the weather
bow with his capacious jaws open; but for the second time the creature
proved no more than the trunk of an old tree, a branch of which nicely
expressed the beast’s jaw. Once again in 1869, this time in seven
degrees north of the equator; on this occasion the serpent exhibited
long, sleek, variegated sides as the sun shone upon him. “He turned out
the veriest old buck of a sea-serpent I have met with in my long career
at sea. There he lay alongside from eleven a.m. until nine p.m., unable
to leave such good company (we had many passengers from New Zealand);
but he left with us, in token of his great regard, 186 fine large rock
cod, averaging at least five pounds each. We hoped to meet him again,
although he was only an old log of timber.”

Many curious sea superstitions can be traced to noises which, when heard
by the old navigators, were found unusual and terrifying. There is a
curious passage bearing on this in the voyage of J. S. Stavorinus to the
East Indies in 1768. He heard a sound just like the groaning of a man
out of the sea, near the ship’s side. It was repeated a dozen times
over, but seemed to recede proportionally as the ship advanced until it
died away at the stern. An hour afterwards the gunner came to the author
and said that on one of his Indian voyages he had met with the same
occurrence, and that a dreadful storm had succeeded, which forced them
to hand all their sails and drive at the mercy of the wind for
twenty-four hours. The author adds that when the gunner told him this
there was no sign of bad weather, yet before four o’clock in the
afternoon they were scudding under bare poles before a violent tempest.
Upon so singular an experience the sufferers might claim a right to base
a superstition; and from that time any sound resembling that of a man
bawling in the water over a ship’s side must take a barometrical
character, and prove an exhortation to the mariner to see all snug.

The nervous system need be suffering from no debilitation of
superstition to find in the approaching and bursting of the cyclone much
that is too terrific to leave room for the display of the qualities of
sublimity, though than these revolving tempests few passionate outbreaks
of nature yield more. First there is the alarming indication of the
barometer, with the slow and sullen glooming over of the heavens, the
wan and beamless aspect of the sun or moon, the light of all the
stars—even to the most piercing of the planets—being shrouded, along
with the sulky heaving of the sea, whose oppressed breathing, as it
comes in clogged and thickish draughts of air from the slope of each
sullen fold will often be charged with a weedy, fish-like, and decaying
odour. Then there is the noise of the approaching storm, that has been
described as a rising and falling sound, of a moaning and complaining
nature, as though the nearer deep were something sentient and crying to
be hidden from the coming furious tormentor. Some have it that this
melancholy and malignant echo may be heard as far off as two hundred
miles, that it is caused by the actual raging of the hurricane at that
distance, and that it is not directly borne to the ear by the wind, but
obliquely reverberated by the clouds. A single sentence written by a
sailor taking his notes from nature will have in it a suggestion of the
ominousness of storm-imports beyond the reach of the finest imaginative
description, as, for instance, when the captain of the ship _Ida_,
quoted by Reid, in his interesting work, says: “Fresh gales and squally
weather; at four, handed the foretopsail and foresail; at intervals the
wind came in gusts, then suddenly dying away, and continued so for four
hours.” Here, in a sentence, is fully described the advent of the
cyclone, leaving to the fancy to make out for itself all that is
comprised of expectation, watchfulness, and even fear in the dull and
sudden dying away of the gusts and the silence of the four hours
following. Then enter, very often, other formidable conditions, features
of livid magnificence, and oppressive because of the confusion they
import into aspects of nature familiar to the eye. Of such are the red
skies, not the strong westerly glowings following the sinking of the
sun, but spaces of blood red witnessed in the midnight zenith, sheets of
purple splendour in the east and the like. One testimony speaks of a
crimson sky beheld late at night both east and west, for three days
before the gale came down; another of the sky catching a red light at
sunset, and continuing to glow all over, as though incandescent till
past midnight, the smooth breast of the sea reflecting the frightful and
wondrous irradiation, so that the ship seemed to rest upon a floor of
fire with a red-hot dome above. When finally the storm bursts, it comes
in the manner faithfully described in “Purchas,” in the passage
referring to the tempest that wrecked one hundred Spanish ships at
Tercera: “This storme continued not onely a day or two with one winde,
but seven or eight days continually, the winde turninge round about in
all places of the compasse at the least twice or thrice during that
time, and all alike with a continuall storme and tempest most terrible
to beholde, even to us that were on shore much more then to such as were
at sea.” In weather-aspects of the cyclonic kind we may safely seek for
the origin of many a wild superstition of the ship and the sailor.

Amongst the most enduring of salt superstitions are those connected with
the wind. In a dead calm to whistle for a breeze is but one illustration
of an ever-abiding faith. “Scratch the foremast with a nail: you will
get a good breeze,” is among forecastle saws and instances. You may
raise the wind, too, by sticking a knife into the mizzen-mast, taking
care that the haft points to the quarter whence you desire the breeze to
blow. The cat, as we all know, is a sort of wind-broker. It is believed
that pussy carries a gale in her tail. To throw a cat overboard is a
storm-prescription never known to fail. In some parts of the north of
England it is said it was a custom for sailors’ wives to keep a black
cat in the house as a guarantee of their husband’s safety whilst away.
At the same time it is a cherished article of Jack’s creed that if you
have a cat on board and a heavy storm arises you may appease the wrath
of the Fiend of the Weather by throwing the cat into the sea.

Wonderful stories are related of people who sold winds. Baxter, in his
“World of Spirits,” gravely tells of an old parson, who, before being
hanged, confessed that he had two imps, one of which “was always putting
him on doing mischief, and (being near the sea) as he saw a ship under
sail it moved him to send him to sink the ship, and he consented and saw
the ship sink before him.” This imp would have done better had he
advised the parson to sell the winds. The mariner was a credulous
creature then, and a prosperous gale to the Spice Islands was surely
worth more ducats than a cure of souls was likely to yield. Of all the
wind-brokers mentioned in history the Russian Finn has ever been
accounted the most famous. In a narrative of a voyage to the north,
included in Harris’s voluminous collection, it is excellently told how
the master of the ship in which the author of the narrative sailed,
finding himself beset with calms and baffling airs on the coast of
Finland, agreed to buy a prosperous wind from a wizard. The price was
ten Kronen, about one pound sixteen shillings, and a pound of tobacco.
The wizard presented the skipper with a woollen rag containing three
knots, the rag to be attached to the foremast. Each knot held a gale of
wind, the third rising to a tempest “so furious that we thought the
heavens would fall down upon us; and that God would justly punish us
with destruction for dealing with infernal wizards, and not trusting to
his providence.” So recently as 1857 a sailor was tried for the murder
of a mulatto, the man’s defence being that he thought the coloured
fellow a Finn, and so put him out of the way of doing harm. In “Two
Years Before the Mast” Dana has stated the case of the Finn
delightfully, by representing a sea-cook and an old ignorant sailor
talking of a wizard they knew; how he raised an unfavourable wind until
the captain starved him into shifting the breeze by locking him up in
the forepeak; how he got drunk every night on a bottle of rum, which,
nevertheless, remained full throughout the voyage; and so forth. The
capriciousness of the wind renders it a very suitable agency for
diabolic influence. The causes which stagnate or fix it in an
unfavourable quarter are wonderfully numerous. Holcroft, the comedian,
tells us in his memoirs that during a trip to Sunderland the sailors,
knowing him to be an actor, concluded that he must therefore be a Jonah.
Happening on an Easter Sunday to be walking the deck with a book in his
hand, he was approached by some seamen, who advised him to read a
prayer-book, instead of a book of plays. “By the Holy Father!” cried one
of them; “I know you are the Jonas; and by Jasus the ship will never see
land till you are tossed overboard—you and your plays wid ye.” The
origin of Jack’s notorious objection to sailing with a parson on board
probably lies in the old superstition that the devil, who is the
greatest of storm raisers, hates priests, and whenever he can catch one
at sea will send a storm to destroy him.

It is not very long ago (1886) that the people on board a ship which was
then off the Horn, running before a small westerly gale, noticed an
immense albatross following in the vessel’s wake. This bird clung so
obstinately to the skirts of the running ship that its identity became,
in a day or two, a distinguishable thing amongst the other sea-fowl of a
like kind that pursued the vessel. One day, as this huge bird was
hovering at a short elevation above the taffrail, it was noticed that an
object about the size of a dollar was suspended from its neck. Glasses
were brought to bear, but nothing could be made of the great bird’s
embellishment. Thereupon everybody grew eager to catch the creature, and
a hook was forthwith baited with a piece of pork and towed astern. Some
of the other albatrosses were caught, but the desired one was not to be
entrapped. It would sail with a sweep to over the bait that hissed
through the water, poise itself on a magnificent length of tremulous
pinion, whilst its eyes, glowing like Cairngorm stones, inspected the
greasy dainty, and then, with a scream that might have passed very well
for an expression of scorn, slide away athwart the path of the wind, and
fall to its old gyrations, narrowing down at last into steady pursuit.

But on the third day the noble fowl took the hook, and was triumphantly
dragged on board, straining and flapping like a huge Chinese kite in a
squall. It was then found that the object hanging at its neck was a
brass pocket-compass case, secured to the bird by three stout strands of
copper wire. Two of these wires had been severed by wear, and the box
itself was thickly coated with verdigris. On opening it a piece of paper
was discovered on which was written in faded ink, “Caught May 3, 1848,
in lat. 38 deg. S. 40 deg. 14 min. W., by Ambrose Cocharn, of American
ship Columbus.” A fresh label, with the old and new dates of capture,
was fastened round the bird’s neck, and the great seagull was then
released. Before the men let the bird fly they measured its wings, and
found them to be 12 ft. 2 in. between the tips. It is perfectly
reasonable to assume, with the captors, that this albatross, when taken
and labelled by the people of the American ship Columbus, was four or
five years old, and the story, therefore conclusively proves that the
natural life of these birds is at least fifty years, though how much
longer they may go on living after that period is attained has yet to be
determined. For thirty-eight years this bird had been flying about with
a brass pocket-compass case dangling at its throat! A writer once
calculated the distance traversed by a little pilot-fish that
accompanied the vessel he was in. It joined the ship off the Cape de
Verd Islands, and it followed her right away round Cape Horn to as far
as Callao; the whole distance accomplished having been about 14,000
miles, the time 122 days, showing a daily average of 115 miles.[8] But
what should be thought of the leagues covered by that winged postman of
the old Yankee ship Columbus in a flight extending over a period of
thirty-eight years?

Footnote 8:

  Davis, in the “Nimrod of the Seas,” a finely-told whaling story.

It is somewhat strange that Cornelius Vanderdecken, the well-known if
not popular commander of the _Flying Dutchman_, should never have used
the seabird as a messenger to his wife and children in old Amsterdam. It
is part and parcel of his unhappy destiny that he shall not be able to
persuade sailors to carry a letter home for him, Jack very well knowing
that, airy as may be one of these phantom missives, it has weight enough
of fatality in it to sink his ship. It was an old custom among seamen on
catching an albatross to secure a bundle of letters for wives and
sweethearts under his wing and despatch him with a loud hurrah. Not
impossibly his usefulness in this direction may have suggested that his
presence signified good luck.

                   “At length did cross an albatross.
                     Through the fog it came,
                   As if it had been a Christian soul
                     We hailed it in God’s name.”

So sings the Ancient Mariner, with this result:

                “And a good south wind sprung up behind.
                  The albatross did follow.”

The famous old buccaneering skipper Shelvocke writes, in his voyages,
“We had not the sight of one fish of any kind since we were come to the
south-west of the Straits of Le Maire, nor one sea-bird, except a
disconsolate black albatross who accompanied us several days, hovering
about us as if he had lost himself, until Sam Huntley, my second
officer, observed in one of his melancholy fits that the bird was always
hovering near us, and imagined from its colour that it might be an
ill-omen, and, being encouraged in his impression by the continued
season of contrary weather which had opposed us ever since we had got
into these seas, he, after some fruitless attempts, shot the albatross.”

Who will question that in those olden times of marine superstitions the
mariners of Shelvocke attributed the failure of their expedition to the
shooting of that disconsolate fowl? But these birds do not appear to
have inspired maritime fancy to any marked degree. The belief of old
sailors that if an albatross be slaughtered it at once becomes necessary
to keep one’s “weather eye lifting” for squalls, but that no harm
follows if the bird be caught with a piece of fat pork, and is allowed
to die a “natural” death on deck, about sums up the traditionary
apprehensions in respect of the bird. Yet this meagreness of forecastle
imagination is strange, for assuredly the albatross is the pinioned
monarch of the deep, the majestic and beautiful eagle of the liquid,
foam-capped crags and steeps of the ocean, and will for days so haunt
the wakes of ships as to impart just that element of the familiar into
the wild and desolate freedom of the cold grey skies and snow-swept
billows of dominion which especially fertilizes the fancy of the
mariner, who needs something of the prosaic to hold on by just in the
same way that he swings by a rope high aloft in the middle air.

Nevertheless it is true that there are scores of comparatively
insignificant sea and land birds whose feathers are supposed to cover
larger powers for good or evil than even the spacious-winged albatross.

The common house-sparrow: here surely is a strange little fowl of the
air to parallel, nay to surpass the wizard powers of the shrieking
monarch of the Horn and the Southern Ocean; and yet it is gravely
asserted that should sparrows be blown away to sea and alight upon a
ship they are not to be taken or even chased, for in proportion as the
birds are molested must sail be shortened to provide against the storm
that will certainly come. In the interests of humanity nothing could be
better than such superstitions. The harmless and beautiful gull, whose
lovely sweepings and curvings through the air, whose exquisite
self-balancing capacity in the teeth of a living gale, whose bright
eyes, salt, shrewd voice, and webbed feet folded in bosom of ermine, it
is impossible to sufficiently admire, though there be unhappily no lack
of sea-side Nathaniel Winkles who regard this pretty creature as a mark
set up by Nature for cockneys to shoot at, has a commercial virtue that
sets it high in the long shoreman’s catalogue of things to be approved;
for when this bird appears in great numbers then is its presence
accepted as an infallible sign of the neighbourhood of herring shoals.

Herman Melville has somewhere said that in his time it was reckoned a
bad omen for ravens to perch on the mast of a ship, at the Cape of Good
Hope. We know that the raven himself was hoarse that croaked the fatal
entrance of Duncan, and there is no reason, no forecastle reason at
least, why the Storm-Fiend should not have ravens harnessed to his
chariot after the manner of the doves of Venus, though why these plumed
steeds are peculiarly obnoxious to mariners at or off the Cape of Good
Hope is not certainly known.

It was an old superstition that the rotten timbers of foundered ships
generated birds.[9] “When,” says a very Early English naturalist, “this
old wrack of ships falls in the sea, it is rotted and corrupted by the
sea, and from this decay breeds birds, hanging by the beaks to the wood;
and when they are all covered with plumage and are large and fat, then
they fall into the sea; and then God, in his grace, restores them to
their natural life.” It will thus be seen how intimate is the
association between sailors and birds, particularly the kind of bird
produced by rotten and sunken timber, and styled by the above very Early
English naturalist “crabans,” or “cravans,” though “barnacles,” perhaps,
is the term to best fit the prodigy. Even a dead bird may prove a
soothsayer, according to Jack, for, says he, if a kingfisher be
suspended to the mast by its beak it will swing its breast in the
direction of the coming wind. Easier even than whistling for a breeze,
and as a weathercock worth the lordliest and more flashing of
ecclesiastical vanes, which will only tell how the wind is actually
blowing. This is a vulgar error in Sir Thomas Browne’s list, but not
exploded by that eloquent worthy. Nay, he rather explains it by
remarking “that a kingfisher hanged by the bill showeth what quarter the
wind is by an occult and secret property converting the breast to that
part of the horizon from whence the wind doth blow. This is a received
opinion, and very strange, introducing natural weathercocks and
extending magnetical positions as far as animal natures—a conceit
supported chiefly by present practice, yet not made out by reason nor
experience.” But neither reason nor experience is desirable in
superstition—that is to say if superstition is to flourish. It was long
believed that gulls were never to be seen bleeding, and that the
shooting stars were the half-digested food of these birds.[10] Why fancy
should ever trouble itself with the blood of gulls is not clear; as to
shooting stars it was reasonable that the method by which they were
produced should be accurately stated and settled once for all. Some of
the superstitions in connection with birds and their influence over
things maritime are very curious and romantic. Anciently, swallows were
deemed unlucky at sea, and we read that Cleopatra abandoned a voyage on
observing a swallow at the masthead of the ship.

Footnote 9:

  I advert to this singular article of marine superstition in another
  chapter.

                            “Swallows have built
            In Cleopatra’s sails their nests; the augurers
            Say they know not, they cannot tell, look grimly,
            And dare not speak their knowledge.”

Footnote 10:

  Both the Rev. John Ray and Dr. Edward Browne (son of the famous
  Norwich Knight) speak of this queer belief in their “Travels.”

On the other hand, it was agreed that if a kite perched on a mast the
omen was a favourable one. A crow lighting on a ship is accepted by the
Chinese as a sure sign of prosperous gales, and they feed the bird with
crumbs of bread by way of coaxing it to remain. The magpie is another
evil bird. A sailor said to Sir Walter Scott, “All the world agrees that
one magpie bodes ill-luck, two are not bad, but three are the very devil
itself. I never saw three magpies but twice, and once I nearly lost my
vessel, and afterwards I fell off my horse and was hurt.”

It is said that fishermen in the English Channel attribute the east wind
to the flight of curlew on dark nights. It is possible that such a
superstition may exist, nor could a far wilder fancy be held ill-founded
by one who, in midnight darkness upon the sea-shore, has heard the
dismal wailings and cryings of invisible birds speeding through the
blackness in detachments, and making their weird noises sound as though
they were uttered by one set of fowl wheeling round and round again.
But, spite of Coleridge’s marvellous poem, the stately albatross, taking
all the sea birds round, stands lowest in the catalogue of the feathered
tribe, accredited with special necromancy in good or bad directions.[11]
The little Mother Carey’s chicken, the stormy petrel, the tiny swallow
of the deep, is distinctly ahead of the huge creature with its span of
thirteen feet, and a score of superstitions crowd about it, such as its
power of evoking storms, its being the soul of a dead sailor, and so
forth. The albatross is beaten out of the field, too, by the common
seagull, whose familiar presence is no doubt the cause of its rich
legendary and traditional endowment. But for all that the albatross
remains the sovereign of the seas, and unless the average duration of
its life is already positively known, the discovery made in 1886 of the
bird with the compass at its neck having been alive so long ago as 1848,
will be received with interest by all admirers of the lovely and noble
creature.[12]

Footnote 11:

  “About this time a beautiful white bird, web-footed, and not unlike a
  dove in size and plumage, hovered over the masthead of the cutter,
  and, notwithstanding the pitching of the boat, frequently attempted to
  perch on it, and continued to flutter there till dark. Trifling as
  this circumstance may appear, it was considered by us all as a
  propitious omen.” This passage occurs in the account of the loss of
  the _Lady Hobart_ in the _Mariner’s Chronicle_. What sort of bird this
  was, unless a gull, I cannot imagine.

Footnote 12:

  An old legend states these birds to be the disembodied spirits of
  captains who have been wrecked off the Cape, and who are condemned to
  wear the feathers for seven years by order of the demon of the deep.
  An author writes fifty years ago: “Caught a splendid albatross;
  measured nineteen feet from the tip of each wing. He had been
  following the ship for many hours; but I was surprised to see what an
  insignificant figure he cut when dissected. He turned out all
  feathers.” He was no doubt a captain!

A boatman told me that once whilst fishing off the coast in forty feet
of water, the tide a quarter ebb, and the sea a dark clear green, he and
his mate were hanging over the boat’s side with lines in their hands
when they saw a mermaid floating past under the surface by about the
depth a man’s arm would penetrate. I asked him what the mermaid was
like, and he replied that she was of a chocolate colour, with short
black hair and very large intensely black eyes. Her figure to the waist
was that of a woman; the rest of her was fish-shaped. Altogether he
reckoned her to have been of the size of a thirty-pound salmon, only
that she was longer than a fish of that weight would be. Her face and
figure—as much of it as was human—were as small as those of a child two
years old. She was an unmistakable mermaid—he’d warrant that. Might he
never airn another shilling in this world if he wor telling a lie. She
floated by at an oar’s length; had the sight of her left him and his
mate their wits they would have secured her; but some minutes passed
before they recovered from their amazement, and though they got their
anchor and pulled in the direction of the creature they saw no more of
her. I was glad to hear that there was, at all events, one mermaid still
in existence, for I had been given to understand that the last of these
ocean Mohicans had been gorged by the sea-serpent a little before the
date on which her Majesty’s ship _Bacchante_ sighted the _Flying
Dutchman_.

It is customary to look into antiquity for the origin of mermaids, to
trace these daughters of the deep to the Nereids and Naiads, with some
reference to the Syrens and to Circe and to Hylas and the Argonautic
voyages. Would it not be easier to take Jack’s word for it? There is the
sea-serpent; nobody would care to say positively that the mighty snake
is a myth. It is like a ghost; one would rather reserve one’s opinion on
the matter. So, in spite of the Barnumisms of the aquarium, who has
courage enough in the face of the testimonies of many scores of
mahogany-cheeked eye-witnesses to assert with all cocksureness that
there is not and never was such a thing as a mermaid?

At all events, Simon Wilkin, F.L.S., who edited an edition of the works
of Sir Thomas Browne, has stated such a case for the mermaid as merits
something better than a smile. It is the business of the learned Norwich
Knight to explode the sea-nymph as a vulgar error, and he certainly
bears hard upon popular faith by denying the syren to be the mermaid’s
original, as “containing no fishy composure,” and, by tracing her to
Dagon, of whose stump “the fishy part only remained when the hands and
upper part fell before the ark.” But what writes Mr. Simon Wilkin in a
note to this passage? He takes the same view that Johnson took of
disembodied spirits, and says that he cannot admit the probability of a
belief in mermaids having lasted from remote antiquity without some
foundation in truth. He examines Sir Humphry Davy’s arguments against
the likelihood of the existence of such an object as a mermaid, and
agrees with that distinguished philosopher’s view that a human head,
human hands, and human mammæ are wholly inconsistent with a fish’s tail,
because—and the logic is good—the head, hands, and mammæ of any creature
furnished also with a tail could not be human; and so, conversely, adds
he, “the tail of such a creature could not be a fish’s tail.” The
philosopher was personally interested in the subject, for if Mr. Simon
Wilkin is to be credited, Sir Humphry, whilst swimming, was himself
mistaken by some ladies of Caithness for a mermaid. Surely no scientific
gentleman ever received a higher compliment. Mr. Wilkin quotes from the
Evangelical Magazine of September, 1822. In that publication was printed
a letter from the Rev. Dr. Philip, dated at Cape Town. The doctor said
he had just seen a mermaid that was then being exhibited. The head was
the size of a baboon’s, thinly covered with black hair, and there were a
few hairs on the upper lip. The ears, nose, lips, chin, breasts,
fingers, and nails resembled the human subject. Of the teeth there were
eight incisors, four canine, and eight molars. This creature was about
three feet long, and covered with scales. It was caught by a Chinese
fisherman, and sold to one Captain Eades, at Batavia. Sir Humphry
pronounced this mermaid to be the head and bust from two apes, fastened
to the tail of the kipper salmon; but this Mr. Simon Wilkin would not
hear of. Sir Thomas Browne’s editor is well backed. Has not Alexandre
Dumas described the mermaid of the Royal Museum at the Hague? It was not
a thing to be disputed about. “If after all this,” says the author of
_Monte Cristo_, “there shall be found those who disbelieve the existence
of such creatures as mermaids, let them please themselves. I shall give
myself no more trouble about them.”

If Sir Humphry Davy were the mermaid that was seen at Caithness in
January, 1809, it would be interesting to know what he thought of the
description of him that was sent to the public journals of that date by
two witnesses, one of whom was Miss Mackay, daughter of the Rev. David
Mackay, minister of Reay. That Sir Humphry should have been bathing in
the sea in the month of January will seem strange to persons whose blood
flows languidly. But there is more to wonder at in the following
particulars: Whilst Miss Mackay and another lady were walking by the
shore they perceived three people who were on a rock at some distance
showing signs of astonishment and terror. On approaching the ladies saw
that the object of their wonder was a face resembling the human
countenance, floating on the waves. The sea ran high, and as the waves
advanced the mermaid gently sank under them, and afterwards reappeared.
The face was plump and round, the nose small, the eyes a light grey, the
head long, the hair thick, the throat slender, smooth and white. The
hands and fingers were not webbed. “It sometimes laid its right hand
under its cheek, and in this position floated for some time.” Other
witnesses declared that it disappeared on a boy crying out. It
reappeared at a distance: the spectators followed it by walking along
the shore, until it vanished for good.[13] Could this have been Sir
Humphry Davy? The narrative was supplemented by a tale copied from an
old History of the Netherlands. There was an inundation in 1403, and
when the water retired a mermaid was found in the Dermet Mere, near
Campear. A number of boats surrounded her; she tried to dive under them,
and finding her way stopped, made a hideous deafening noise, and with
her hands and tail sunk a boat or two. On being cleaned of the sea-moss
and shells which covered her she was found a somewhat comely being, hair
long and black, face human, figure—so far as it went—very good indeed.
The rest was “a strong fish tail.” She was sent to the Haerlem
magistrates, who ordered her to be taught to pray and to spin, but she
never could be brought to speak; possibly she did not like the Dutch
tongue. She also declined to wear any kind of clothing in summer. Part
of her hair was plaited in the Dutch style, and the remainder hung down
her. “She would leave her tail in the water, and accordingly had a tub
of water under her chair, made on purpose for her; she eat milk, water,
bread, butter, and fish. She lived thus out of her element (except her
tail) fifteen or sixteen years.” That posterity might not doubt this
prodigy ever flourished, her picture was painted and hung in the Town
House of Haerlem, and her story written under it in letters of gold.

Footnote 13:

  Annual Register, 1809.

But we must accept the existence of the mermaid on the mariner’s
assurance. A fig for the dugong, and manatee, and sea-horse! Let them in
certain postures look as human as they will, the ape is not more the
brother of man than are those fish the originals of the wild-eyed,
sweet-voiced, silver-shining, golden-haired beauties of the azure main,
rising out of their palaces of pearl to ravish Jack’s gaze with a
picture of girlish loveliness.

                  “Though all the splendour of the sea,
                    Around thy faultless beauty shine,
                   The heart that riots wild and free
                    Can hold no sympathy with mine.”

So the love-sick Tarpaulin may sigh; but though the foam-white form
slide into the glassy profound with virginal fear of his pursuing eyes,
let us not vulgarly call the delicate shining shape dugong, or
sea-horse! Does not John of Hesse, in his travels, tell us of a land
where he saw a stony and smoking mountain, and heard mermaids
singing—sirens who draw ships into danger by their songs? And how, if
not by the witchery of their eyes and the clear melodies of their
voices? And listen to the navigator, Hudson, “One of our men, looking
overboard, saw a mermaid, and, calling up some of the company to see
her, one more came up, and by that time she was come closely to the
ship’s side, looking earnestly at the men. A little after, a sea came
and overturned her. Her back and breasts were like a woman’s, as they
said that saw her; her body as big as one of us, her skin very white,
and long hair hanging down behind, of colour black. Seeing her go down,
they saw her tail, which was like that of a porpoise, speckled like a
mackerel.”

The mermaids must be left alone. They are Jack’s sweethearts, and no
sacrilegious hand should be suffered to rob old ocean of those seductive
spirits which sparkle in its depths or whiten with their forms and gild
with their hair the weedy and shelley embroidery of the coast.

If an ill-word must be said of these creatures, let it be directed at
the merman. _He_ is no beauty, and I believe has no claim to be
considered even respectable. They are said to be drunkards, and have
green hair, red eyes, and noses distinguished for a peculiar kind of
growth termed in ships’ forecastles “grog-blossoms.” Francis Pirard
says, in the account he gives of his shipwreck, that he saw a merman,
when at anchor in St. Augustine’s Bay, in the Island of Madagascar. He
calls it a strange phenomenon, and describes it as a monstrous fish with
a head of a man and a long beard. “It plunged into the water on our
approach, and we could only see part of its back, which was scaly.” I
can well understand the alarm confessedly felt by persons at the sight
of a merman. The mermaid is an engaging and often adorable creature, and
fills the mind with the softest emotions; but the merman is so
disgracefully ugly, and so depravedly and ironically human-like withal,
that no spectacle is more shocking. The old Bishop of Norway tells of
three sailors who saw something floating off the Danish coast. It proved
to be an old merman. He had broad shoulders, a small head, a thin face
of an abandoned and malignant cast of expression, and the usual
fish-like termination. The bishop does not positively say that this
merman was drunk, but he describes his postures as very uneasy—his
attitudes being such as perhaps might be expected in a fish that was in
liquor and that tried to balance itself on its tail—so that there is
reason to suppose the worst. The same bishop tells of a parson who found
a dead merman in his parish. The corpse was six feet long. It had a
man’s face and arms, not unlike a human being’s, only that they were
connected to its body by membranes. It is not impossible but that this
apparent corpse was a merman overtaken in liquor.

I do not gather—at least from my studies in this direction—that these
mermen are related to the mermaids. A literal-minded Swede has indeed
feigned that the merman is the mermaid’s husband, but on no better
ground than the circumstance of having seen a male and a female amicably
swimming about together. I do not mean to say that the merman, being
always found alone, is a proof that he is a bachelor, but it is hard to
reconcile the terrestrial and even marine customs of Nature with the
pairing of such a divinity as the mermaid with such a horrid, drunken
object as the merman. No; if the mermen wive at all they go for their
spouses to the dugongs. The mermaids seek elsewhere for lovers than amid
the ranks of fishes’ tails merging into drunken old men. The sailors
know her as a dainty creature that floats upwards to the surface like a
beam of golden light.

              “Upstarted the mermaid by the ship,
                Wi’ a glass and a kame in her hand,
               Says, ‘Reek about, reek about, my merry men;
                Ye are not very far from land.’”

If the mermen were the pretty creatures’ husbands they would be driven
wild with jealousy; for it is certain that in olden times—it may yet be
the artless charmers’ practice—to make love to human men, to princes as
to peasants, very properly choosing the best-looking. Sometimes, it is
true, their amorous emotions were inspired by motives extremely
sinister. There are many stories told of these marine Becky Sharps
ogling and leering at dashing and handsome and fragrant young men of
quality ashore, whilst possibly some old Lord Steyne, in the shape of a
hideous merman in the depths, watched the wicked comedy with sardonic
sneers and laughter. A mermaid nearly drowned a certain young laird of
Lorntie. The youthful nobleman saw the beautiful girl apparently
struggling for life in the water; but his henchman, bawling out a hearty
“God sauf us!” said that the lady was a mermaid; whereupon they galloped
off whilst the marine Becky piped up—

            “Lorntie, Lorntie, were it na for your man
             I had gart your hairt’s blood, skirl in my pan!”

Some are also charged with embracing their sweethearts from no other
motive than to suffocate them, as in the story of the Manx shepherd, who
was so much hurt by being squeezed that he pushed the mermaid away, for
which she wounded him to death by flinging a stone at him. Of this
deceitful and dangerous kind are those Swedish sea-nymphs who pass their
days upon the rocks combing their hair and viewing their perfections in
hand-mirrors. They are also said to amuse themselves by spreading out
linen to dry, but this fancy clearly springs from the mistakes of seamen
who suppose the white foam crawling about the finny maidens to be the
contents of the wash-tub. If a fisherman sees one of these mermaids, he
is on no account to mention it to his mates, or bad luck will follow.
But other kinds of these girls of the ocean are tender, and extremely
affectionate and lovable. The melancholy, melodious sounds sometimes
heard breathing amid the stillness upon the deep at night are the sighs
of mermaids who have loved and lost, and who rise from their coral beds,
their grottoes of pearl, their pavilions and palaces of shells, to make
their moan to the stars. Mermaids are great lovers of music. They have
been known to sacrifice their sweethearts for a tune. A fisherman was
induced to give his handsome son to a mermaid on her offering in
exchange a brave reward in the shape of luck. But the boy’s mother, who
sang very sweetly, so charmed the mermaid’s heart, that she undertook to
return her adored if his mamma would favour her with another air.

It is gratifying to find old Bailey in his “Dictionarium Britannicum”
(1730), defining the word mermaid with a very sober and sturdy leaning
in favour of the real existence of these ladies. “Whereas,” says he, “it
has been thought they have been only the product of the painter’s
invention, it is confidently reported that there is in the following
lake fishes which differ in nothing from mankind but in the want of
speech and reason. Father Francis de Pavia, a missionary, being in the
kingdom of Congo in Africa, who would not believe that there were such
creatures, affirms that the Queen of Singa did see in a river coming out
of the lake Zaire many mermaids, something resembling a woman in the
breasts, hands, and arms; but the lower part is perfect fish, the head
round, the face like a calf, a large mouth, little ears, and round, full
eyes. Which creatures Father Merula often saw and eat of them.” Which, I
may add, does not say much for Father Merula’s manners and tastes,
unless it is meant figuratively, as in the sense of the saying in the
comedy, “Six weeks before I married her I could have eaten her, and six
weeks after I was sorry I didn’t.” As to the face like the calf, the
large mouth, and so forth, let it be remembered that the place Father de
Pavia wrote of was the kingdom of Congo, where, to be sure, we should
not expect to find even mermaids beautiful. But that these sea-nymphs,
with their golden hair, their shining shapes, their teeth of pearl,
their eyes of the liquid blue of their own glorious element, full of
ocean mystery and the spirit of the unfathomable starless world in which
they live—that they are as beautiful as dreams among shores from whose
silent rocks neither the voice of a De Pavia nor a Merula has ever
fetched an echo, who can doubt?

The mermaid is the sailor’s love. Let us leave her to him.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          _OLD SEA ORDNANCE._


Not very long since a French smack fished up an old cannon a league or
so to the eastward of the North head of the Goodwin Sands. It was
believed to be a gun of the time of De Ruyter and “Trump,” but so eaten,
rusted, and defaced by time and the action of salt water that its
paternity was scarcely a determinable thing.

There is no lack of reminders ashore of the sort of weapons with which
our grandsires fought the battles of their country; but somehow an
interest that no museum could impart attaches to an object dragged from
the tomb of the deep, hauled out of the twilight of its oozy bed, and
set up for all eyes to gaze at in the staring light of day. In marine
collections there are still to be found tomahawks of the pattern which
Nelson’s men handled; but figure one of these death-dealing contrivances
fished up in Cadiz Bay! strangely hooked off a tract of the sand there,
over which the keels of the flaming and thunderous ships of that Titanic
struggle surged in their throes of conflict!

Of all the changes which the sea-vocation has witnessed none is so
complete as the battle-ship’s armaments. The process has indeed been
gradual; great sharpness of transition has only been visible within the
last twenty-five years; yet it is not necessary to talk of hundred-ton
guns to emphasize the growth of ordnance. There was a mighty difference
betwixt the batteries of the old Duke of Wellington, for example, and
those of the ships to which the cannon lately trawled up in the Channel
belonged. But it is instructive, and certainly amusing, to go much
further back still. In an ancient treatise, called “Speculum Regale,” a
description is given of the method of attack and defence as practised in
the navy in the twelfth century. Here the mariner is told to provide
himself with two spears, which he must be careful not to lose in
throwing. One of them is to be long enough to reach out of one vessel
into another. In addition to these spears, the sailor was to be
furnished with scythes fixed to long poles, axes, boat-hooks, slings
fitted to staffs,[14] barbed darts, stones for heaving, and bows for
shooting. How terrible these primitive weapons were in the hands of the
early mariners may be read in the old accounts of sea-fights. Describing
the great naval battle between the English and French in Edward III.’s
reign, Daniel in his “Collection,” p. 227, writes: “Most of the French,
rather than endure the arrows and sharp swords of the English or be
taken, desperately leap into the sea, whereupon the French king’s
jester, set on to give him notice of this overthrow (which being so ill
news, none else willingly would impart on the sudden) said, and
oftentimes reiterated the same: _Cowardly Englishmen_, _Dastardly
Englishmen_, _Faint-hearted Englishmen_. The king at length asked him
_Why?_ For that, said he, _They durst not leap out of their ships into
the sea, as our brave Frenchmen did_. By which speech the King
apprehended a notion of this overthrow.” There were also contrivances
called galtraps, beaks for the vessels like boars’ heads armed with iron
tusks, towers for the bowmen to let fly their arrows from, breastplates
of linen very thick, and helmets of steel. The old Jacks fought stoutly
with these barbarous weapons, but their real qualities had to lie in
wait for gunpowder.

Footnote 14:

  It was asserted that the bullet of a sling “in the course, hath
  continued a fiery heat in the air, yea, sometimes melted, that it
  killeth at one blow, that it pierceth helmet and shield, that it
  reacheth further, that it randoneth less” than gun shot! See Camden’s
  “Remaines.”

When it came, it brought with it some extraordinary engines. There is
extant an account of a ship called the _Great Michael_, built by James
IV. of Scotland, and her artillery was composed of the following: “She
bare many cannons, six on every side, with three great bassils, two
behind in her deck and one before; with 300 shot of small artillery,
that is to say, myand and batterd falcon, and quarter falcon, slings,
pestilent serpetens, and double dogs, with hagtor and culvering,
corsbows and handbows.” Our ancestors, in their choosing of names for
their guns, appear to have been influenced by a hope of terrifying the
enemy by dreadful terms, as the Chinese try to affright their foes by
painting monstrous pictures upon their shields. Batterd falcons, double
dogs, hagtors, and pestilent serpetens! There is destruction in the mere
names, and a stouter than Falstaff should easily run from such sounds.
In Rymer’s “Fœdera” appear some queer appellations for sailor’s weapons.
They occur in an order to the Keeper of the Private Wardrobe in the
Tower to deliver to the Treasurer of Queen Philippa the following
stores: Eleven guns, forty _libras pulveris_ pro guns, forty _petras_
pro guns, forty tampons, four touches, one mallet, two firepans, forty
pavys, twenty-four bows, forty sheaves of arrows, and other matters.

They did well who in their generation used the word gun or cannon
generically, and confined their definitions to calibres as we do to
bores and tons. One needs a close acquaintance with old books to
understand the writers when they come to talk of ships and how they went
armed. Even to the learned the uses of certain old pieces are quite
unintelligible. James, the historian, for instance, could not understand
what was signified by “murdering pieces.” These were cannon mounted upon
the after-part of the forecastle, and the muzzles of them raised so as
to point to the main topmast head. It is certainly difficult to gather
the purpose to be served by such guns, unless, indeed, they were
designed as a remedy against the invasion of the foe by the yards and
rigging. But why were their muzzles pointed at one mast only? and was it
possible that those ancient mariners fully understood what must follow
if with their own powder and ball they succeeded in clearing their spars
of the enemy by dismasting themselves?

The calibre and character of other old guns are fully understood. There
was the “whole cannon,” which carried a 60 lb. ball; there was the
demi-cannon, with a 31 lb. ball; also the cannon petro, 31 lb.; whole
culverine, 11 lb.; and demi-culverine, 9 lb. The cannon royal rose
sometimes to a 63 lb. ball. Then there was a gun called the French
cannon, 43 lb.; the Saker, 5 lb.; the Minion, 4 lb.; and the Faulcon, or
Falcon, 2 lb.[15]

Footnote 15:

  Some of these terms seem to have been supplied by the language of the
  falconer. Among the names mentioned by Strutt as given to different
  species of hawks, I find, the _faulcon_, the _bastard_, the _sacre_,
  and the _musket_. To this may be added the following from Camden’s
  “Remaines,” p. 208: “This being begun by him” (_i.e._ Berthold Swarte,
  whom he considers the inventor of gunpowder and cannons) “by skill and
  time is now come to that perfection, not onely in great yron and brass
  pieces, but also in small, that all admire it; having names given
  them, some from serpents or ravenous birds, as Culverines, or
  Colubrines, Serpentines, Basiliques, Faulcons, Sacres; others in other
  respects, as Canons, Demicanons, Chambers, Slinges, Arquebuze,
  Caliver, Handgun, Muskets, Petronils, Pistoll, Dagge, etc., and
  Petarras of the same brood lately invented.” From the edition of 1657.

These pieces were in use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but
by degrees other names were given, so that the titles applied to cannon
from, let me say, the days of Henry VIII. down to the close of the last
century, should furnish out an inventory long enough to fill many pages.

To the above list, given by Ralph Willett in a paper on British naval
architecture, other examples may be added from the researches of James.
He speaks of the cannon-serpentine and bastard-cannon as corresponding
with the 42-pounder. The carronade dates as late as 1779, and takes its
name from the Scotch town where it was invented. Another comparatively
recent gun he speaks of as Gover’s, or Congreve’s, the Americans naming
a similar weapon a Columbiad. Other guns are not mentioned by the
historian, though of all our marine artillery they played, as small
weapons, the largest part in our wars last century. The swivel cannon
carried a shot of half a pound; it was fixed in a socket on the ship’s
side, or stern, or bow, and in her tops. The socket that supported it
was bored in a piece of oak, hooped with iron, to enable it to sustain
the recoil. It was, indeed, a modernized form of the old pettararoe, and
was turned about at will by an iron handle affixed to its cascabel; when
worked in the tops it was charged with musket-balls, and fired down at
the enemy’s decks. The coehorn was a small mortar, also fixed on a
swivel, and chiefly used for firing grenadoes, as they were called, or
bullets from merchantmen’s close quarters when they were boarded. For
yard-arm fighting there was the “powder-flask”—a flask charged with
gunpowder, and fitted with a fuse; it was hurled into the enemy’s deck
immediately before the assault. Another device was the “stink-pot,”
still in vogue with John Chinaman, an earthen shell suspended from the
yard-arm or end of the bowsprit. This machine was charged with powder
mixed with materials which threw up a disgusting, suffocating smoke and
smell. The notion of these apparatuses was to create confusion, in the
midst of which and under cover of the thick vapour the detachment rushed
aboard, cutlass, and sword, and pistol in hand. Another contrivance was
the “organ,” the grandfather of the Mitrailleuse—a machine formed of six
or seven musket-barrels fixed upon one stock so as to be fired at once.
There was also the fire-arrow, a small iron dart, furnished with springs
and bars, and a match saturated with powder and sulphur, wound round the
shaft. It was usually fired from a swivel, at the enemy’s sails. The
match was ignited by the explosion, and the dart, penetrating the sail,
set the cloths on fire. The springs and bars prevented the arrow from
passing through the canvas. The musquetoon was a sort of carbine, with a
barrel spirally rifled from the breech; the explosion lengthened the
ball to about the breadth of a finger. The old fire-pike possessed
something of the character of the fire-arrow. Another weapon of the
fusil pattern is indicated in Sir William Monson’s “Building of Ships:”
“As I have said, such a ship that has neither forecastle, copperidge
head, nor any other manner of defence, but with her men only; that hath
no fowlers, which are pieces of great importance, after a ship is
boarded and entred, or lieth board and board; for the ordnance stands
her in little stead, and is as apt to endanger themselves as their
enemy; for in giving fire, it may take hold of pitch, tar, oakum, or
powder, and burn them both for company; but a murderer or fowler, being
shot out of their own ship, laden with dice shot, will scour the deck of
the enemy, and not suffer the head of a man to appear.” It is evident
that the “murderer” or “fowler” was a sort of fusil.[16]

Footnote 16:

  I find this word “murderer” frequently occurring in Hakluyt.

There are some curious features of sixteenth and seventeenth century
maritime warfare preserved in this fine old captain’s Naval Tracts. He
tells us that the French used to conceal half their soldiers in the hold
and to call them up as they were required, the others who had been
fighting going below. The Dunkirkers, like the Spanish whom Anson
fought,[17] flung themselves flat on the deck before the enemy, so that
the shot, great and small, should fly over them. The Hollanders he
charges with Dutch courage. “Instead of cables, planks, and other
devices to preserve their men, the Hollanders, wanting natural valour of
themselves, used to line their company in the head, by giving them
gunpowder to drink, and other kind of liquor to make them sooner drunk;
which, besides it is a barbarous and unchristianlike act, when they are
in danger of death to make them ready for the devil, it often proves
more perilous than prosperous to them by firing their own ships or
making a confusedness in the fight, their wits being taken from them.”
It will be supposed that the seamen of Blake had a higher notion of
Dutch courage than Monson.

Footnote 17:

  See the description of the fight with the galleon in Anson’s “Voyage
  Round the World.” This book, that bears the name of Walters, Chaplain
  to the Centurion, was in reality written by Benjamin Robins. _Naval
  Chronicle_, vol. viii. 267.

It is two centuries ago since the _Sovereign_ was launched, a vessel of
1657 tons. There is a curious account of her in Heywood.[18] She was a
big ship for those times, and is about as good an example as I know to
illustrate the mighty change that has been worked in two hundred years.
Her dimensions were—Length of keel, 128 ft.; beam, 48 ft.; length over
all (that is, from the fore-end of her “beak” to the stern), 232 ft.,
making a difference of 104 ft. as between the length of her keel and
that of her upper deck and head! She was 76 ft. high from the bottom of
her keel to the top of her lantern, of which kind of furniture she
carried five, in the biggest of which ten persons could comfortably
stand upright. Her decorations were extraordinarily gorgeous. “All
sides,” we read, “were carved with trophies of artillery and types of
honour, as well belonging to sea as land, with symbols appertaining to
navigation; also their two sacred Majesties’ badges of honour; arms with
several angels holding their letters in compartiments, all which works
are guilded over, and no other colour but gold and black.” Her
figure-head was a Cupid, or a child bridling a lion; her bows were also
apparently ornamented with six figures; on the stern was carved Victory
“in the midst of a frontispiece; upon the beak-head sitteth King Edgar
on horseback, trampling on seven kings.”[19] It would have seemed like a
violation of the choicest canons of old romance to furnish such a
pageant as this with the plain guns grimly generalized with which the
vessels of succeeding days fought for king, commonwealth, home and
beauty. We look in the description of her for culverin and cannon royal,
for the chace ordnance and small artillery of those gilt, plumed, and
glowing times, and find them sure enough. It must have been heartrending
to the curled and booted captain of those days to have offered so gay
and brilliant a fabric to the iron bullets and fiery arrows of the foe.
Think of the Cupid being knocked on the head, and King Edgar violently
hammered off his horse!

Footnote 18:

  Quoted by Ralph Willett in his “Disquisition on Shipbuilding,” 1800.

Footnote 19:

  “The prime workman,” says Heywood, “is Captain Phineas Pett, overseer
  of the work, whose ancestors—father, grandfather, and great
  grandfather—for the space of two hundred years, have continued in the
  same name, officers and architects in the Royal Navy.” This, as
  Willett points out, indicates a regular establishment as far back as
  1437, the reign of Henry VI.

It is interesting to observe how such a ship entered into action. First,
the vessel’s company were divided into three parts—one to tack the ship,
the second to ply the small shot, the third to attend the great guns.
Sail was to be shortened to foresail, main and fore-top sail. A “valiant
and sufficient man” was sent to the helm. Of course every officer was
expected to do his duty; the boatswain to sling the yards, to “put
forth” the flag, ancient and streamers, to arm the top and waist cloths,
to spread the netting, provide tubs for water, and the like. Then the
gunner was to see that his mates had care of their “files, budge
barrels, and cartridges, to have his shot in a locker for every piece,
and the yeoman of the powder to keep his room and to be watchful of it.”
A hundred years later found some enlargement of these plain
prescriptions.[20] The boatswain and his mates see to the rigging and
sails; the carpenter and his crew prepare shot-plugs and mauls and
provide against injury to the pumps; the master and his mates attend the
braces; the lieutenants visit the different decks; crows, “handspecs,”
rammers, sponges, powder-horns, matches, and train tackles are placed by
the side of every cannon; the hatches are closed to prevent the men from
deserting their posts by skulking below. The marines are drawn up in
rank and file; the gun-lashings are cast adrift and the tompions
withdrawn; after which the enemy is to be beaten! This is the routine of
a hundred years ago. What is it now? Not less widely different from the
discipline of the times of forty-two pounders, of round, grape, and
canister, of chain, bar, star, and other dismantling missiles, than was
the routine of the epoch of double dogs and pestilent serpetens from the
days of the spears of the Picts and the coracle of the nude Briton. Yet
what did those little minions and sakers do for us? We shall have reason
to be well satisfied if the hundred-ton gun of to-day obtain for us
one-half the triumphs which were achieved for our country by those
little cannon-royal and brass swivels of the times of Raleigh, Blake,
and Shovel.

Footnote 20:

  See Falconer’s “Dictionary.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       _THE HONOUR OF THE FLAG._


Whatever may have been the other causes of our wars with the Hollanders,
one was unquestionably the herring. No doubt the insinuations of
Richelieu greatly perturbed the phlegmatic Batavian, and helped him into
a fighting posture; but the bloater was at the bottom of it. We took
that fish for a text whereon to discourse concerning our title to
dominion over the sea; and though in these days it is as much the
mackerel as the herring, as much the cod as the mackerel, as much the
turbot as the cod over which the dispute continues, the old battles in
the heart of which Blake curled his whiskers and Tromp flourished his
broomstick are still fought, though, to be sure, without Ruyter’s
fire-ships or the eloquent thunder of Monk’s cannon-royal.

The conflict now is shorn of its old glory. It is waged, indeed, close
into the Thames, though not so high as the Hope; nor, in the direction
of the Medway, does it approach Sheerness; and upon the eastern coast
the struggle is often within view of Scarborough and the Norfolk cliffs.
But there is no more smoke of battle. It is the Dutchman sneaking across
the Englishman’s trawling gear with “the devil”; it is the Frenchman
shearing under cover of the blackness through the league long drift-nets
of the Shoreham or Penzance smack. Years have brought to this nation the
philosophic mind. Instead of declaring war we station a gunboat, put on
a concerned face when we hear of the Dover and Brixham men assaulting
the crews of the Boulogne and Calais craft, and read without emotion of
the capture of a bellicose Hans Butter-box by a small steamer with a
whip at her masthead. Yet the honour of our flag is so inextricably
woven with the literature and traditions of these fishing squabbles
that, spite of the insignificance to which the easy indifference of “my
lords” would reduce them in our day, the reflection of a great and
piercing light in our history is upon them, from the lustre of which
they gather a complexion that is not wholly sentimental.

In 1609 Hugo Grotius wrote a book, which he called “Mare Liberum.” It is
heavy reading in these times of Wilkie Collins and Miss Braddon, and the
heavier, perhaps, for being in Latin. But it was deemed a treatise of
very great eloquence, especially by the Dutch, to whose ocean-rights it
specially referred. In short, the object of Grotius was to prove the
weakness of our title to the sovereignty of the seas, the deep, in his
opinion, being a gift from God and common to all nations. This was
answered by John Selden, the most amazing scholar that any age or
country ever produced, of so candid and great-hearted a nature, as is
particularly exhibited in his Table-Talk, that it is difficult to read
his astonishing answer to Grotius without wishing that his patriotism
had dealt with a subject more answerable to his convictions than this
question of sea rights. But his “Mare Clausum” is a volume that one
would think must be of abounding and enduring interest to Englishmen. It
was translated into English by special command by Marchmont Nedham (as
he spells his name), and published in that form in 1652. It probably has
few readers now. Yet such was the opinion of its potency as a sustained
argument that it was believed, to use the language of Nedham, “had he
(_i.e._ Selden) persisted with the same firm resolution in this
honourable business of the sea, as he did in other things that were
destructive to the nation’s interest, the Netherlanders had been
prevented from spinning out their long opportunitie to an imaginarie
claim of prescription; so that they would have had less pretence to act
those insolencies now which in former times never durst enter the
thoughts of their predecessors.”

The book pre-eminently concerns the honour of our flag, of our dominion
over the seas, more particularly in regard to the right of our kings and
queens to grant licences to foreigners to fish in the sea, and of the
obligation on all ships of what denomination soever to strike their
topsails to our flag, or in other words to salute the symbol of
Britannia’s sovereignty wherever they shall encounter it. For how many
centuries this act of courtesy has been exacted as a right by the
monarchs of England you must read Selden’s book to discover. Writing in
James I.’s reign, he shows how he traces it back for above four hundred
years by this: That at Hastings it was decreed by King John, in the
second year of his reign, with the assent of the peers, “if the governor
or commander of the King’s navie, in his naval expeditions (which were
all in that age upon the Southern Sea) shall meet any ship whatsoever by
sea, either laden or empty, that shall refuse to strike their sails at
the command of the King’s Governor or admiral or his lieutenant, but
make resistance against them which belong to his fleet; That then they
are to bee reputed enemies if they may bee taken, yea, and their ships
and goods be confiscated as the goods of enemies.” He points out that it
was accounted treason in any man who omitted to acknowledge the King of
England in his own sea by striking sail; nor would the circumstance of
his country being friendly with that of the transgressor protect him.
Another illustration of the antiquity of this custom, or exaction
rather, Selden finds in a gold rose-noble,[21] that was coined in the
reign of Edward III. The stamp on one side of it represented a ship
floating on the sea, and a king, armed with sword and shield, sitting on
the ship as on a throne, the device being obviously intended to
represent the maritime dominion of the ocean. All that Selden has to say
about fishing in the sea is full of interest. He points out that Henry
VI. gave leave to the French, and other foreigners, to fish, sometimes
for six months, sometimes for a year; but this leave “was granted under
the name even of a passport or safe conduct; yea, and a size or
proportion was prescribed to their fishing boats or busses that they
should not be above thirty tons.” The French had to obtain leave from
the English admiral to fish for soles for the table of their own king
(Henri Quatre), and such boats as were caught fishing without a licence
were seized as trespassers. In the Eastern waters the Hollanders and
Zealanders were forced to seek permission to fish from the Governor of
Scarborough Castle, and Selden quotes Camden’s expression of wonder at
the vast sum of money the Hollanders made by this fishing upon our coast
and at the apathy of the English, “who have ever granted them leave to
fish, reserving alwaies the honour and privilege to themselves, but
through a kindle of negligence resigning the profit to strangers.” It is
on the mass of evidence as to the antiquity of the British claim to the
sovereignty of the seas that Dr. Campbell, the historian, bases his
opinion respecting the naval power of the Early Britons, who are
generally considered as a race of painted wild men, who speared fish or
crossed their rivers and creeks in wicker boats covered with hides.

Footnote 21:

  The value of this coin was 6_s._ 8_d._ as money then was. The
  Alchymists pretended that it was made by their arts; interpreting the
  inscription on the reverse, _Jesus autem transiens per medium corum
  ibat_, to signify that gold was made by secret art amid the ignorant.
  Four rose-nobles weighed an ounce.

The question of this dominion became a vital one to this country with
the growth and the aggressions of Holland. Was she or England to be
sovereign of the sea? And was an English ship, figuratively speaking, to
bow to a Dutch one when she met her? Selden offered the world precedents
enough on our behalf. That King John should have claimed a universal
striking to the Royal flag was surely proof that what might impress the
foreigner as an extraordinary pretension was founded on the unquestioned
rights of our predecessors. Edward III., in his commissions to his
admirals, repeatedly styled himself sovereign of the English seas,
affirming, with perfect justice, that he derived the title from his
progenitors. In Hakluyt there is preserved a curious metrical
admonition, presumably written in or about the sixth year of the reign
of Edward IV., entitled “De politia conservatira Maris,” with a heading
to the general introduction that runs thus: “Here beginneth the prologue
of the processe of the libel of the English policie, exhorting all
England to keep the sea, and namely the narrow sea; shewing what profite
commeth thereof, and also what worship and salvation to England, and to
all Englishmen.” It will be owned that the anonymous author’s appeal was
not addressed to deaf ears. An immortal proof of British resolution in
this direction occurs in the reign of Queen Mary. Lord William Howard,
created Baron of Effingham, was sent with a fleet of twenty-eight sail
presumably to guard the coast, but in reality to escort Philip of Spain,
whose own fleet, however, consisted of one hundred and sixty vessels.
His admiral came sailing along with the Spanish flag flying at his
masthead, which so offended Lord William Howard that he fired a shot at
him and forced him to strike or haul down his colours before he would
make his compliments to the prince.[22] This was followed by another
lively example of a like kind. When the Spanish fleet went to fetch Anne
of Austria, who was in Flanders, Sir John Hawkins, with a small squadron
of her Majesty’s ships, was riding in Cattewater. The Spanish admiral
endeavoured to pass without saluting. Sir John sent a shot at the
Admiral’s rigging, but no notice was taken of it. A second shot fired
went clean through the Spaniard’s hull. On this the Don sent an officer
of distinction with compliments and complaints to Sir John Hawkins, who
refused to admit the officer or hear what he had to say; but simply
required him to tell his admiral that, having neglected to pay the
respect due to the Queen of England, in her seas and port, he must not
expect to lie there but to be off within twelve hours. Sir John’s flag
was flying on the _Jesus of Lubeck_; to this ship came the Spaniard full
of remonstrance, declaring he knew not what to make of the treatment he
had received, seeing that there was peace between the two Crowns. “Put
the case, sir,” said Sir John, “that an English fleet came into any of
the King, your master’s, ports, his Majesty’s ships being there, and
those English ships should carry their flags in their tops, would not
you shoot them down and beat the ships out of your port?” The Spaniard
confessed himself in the wrong, and submitted to the penalty the English
Admiral imposed.

Footnote 22:

  To strike is to lower. The old salutation was the striking or lowering
  of the top-sail. The introduction of the topgallant-sail must have
  rendered this courtesy extremely inconvenient.

It was the Hollander, however, who gave the English most trouble in
regard to the honour of the flag. In or about 1604 Sir William Monson
was cruising with a fleet with instructions to assert the superiority in
the British seas which came to James I. from his ancestors. Sir William
has told the story himself in his “Naval Tracts.” On his return to
Calais in July, 1605, he found an addition of six ships to the Dutch
squadron he had left off Dover three days before. One of them was the
Admiral’s. “Their object,” he says, “in coming in shew was to beleaguer
the Spaniards who were then at Dover.” As Sir William approached, the
Dutch Admiral struck his flag thrice, meaning that the Spaniards as well
as others should conclude that, by continuing to “wear” his flag, he
represented a sovereignty of the sea as complete as that of the English.
Sir William requested him to take in his flag; he refused, alleging that
he had struck it three times, which he held was acknowledgment enough.
There was some discussion, after which he was told that if he did not
salute, the British Admiral would weigh anchor and fall down to him, and
then the force of the ships should determine the question; “for rather
than I would suffer his flag to be worn in view of so many nations as
were to behold it, I resolved to bury myself in the sea.” “The Admiral,
it seems, on better advice,” adds Sir William, “took in his flag and
stood immediately off to sea, firing a gun for the rest of the fleet to
follow him. And thus I lost my guest the next day at dinner as he had
promised.” Amongst others who witnessed this was Sciriago, the Spanish
General, who told Sir William that if the Hollanders had worn their
flag, times had strangely altered in England, for he remembered his old
master King Philip the Second being shot at by the Lord Admiral of
England for wearing his flag in the narrow seas when he came to marry
Queen Mary.

In spite of treaties of peace between England and Holland, the trouble
about the fishing continued. Disputes arose over the payment of the
assize-herring in Scotland, and the Dutch sent ships of war to protect
their herring-boats against the penalties which must attend the refusal
to pay the licence money. In 1609 King James issued a proclamation
concerning fishing, in which it was stated that commissioners had been
authorized “at London for our realms of England and Ireland, and at
Edinburgh for our realm of Scotland,” to issue licences to such foreign
vessels as intend to fish for the whole or any part of the year, and
that the licences were to be taken out “upon pain of such chastisements
as shall be fit to be inflicted upon such as are wilful offenders.” The
fishing quarrel rose to a height again in 1618, but it does not appear
that the honour of the flag was involved in these trawling politics
until 1652. In that year Commodore Young encountered a Dutch man-of-war
whose captain refused to salute the English colours. The commodore sent
a boat with a polite request that the Dutchman would strike; but mynheer
answered very honestly that the States had threatened to take off his
head if he struck; whereupon a fight began, with the result that the
Dutchman had to haul down his colours. This was on May 14; on the 19th
Van Tromp bore down upon Blake, who was lying off Dover. Blake sent
three shots at the Dutch flag as a hint; which Tromp answered with a
broadside, and then followed an action that lasted till nine at night,
when, Blake being reinforced, the Dutch made off. Peace was made in
1654. In that treaty nothing was said as to our sovereignty in respect
to the fisheries, but amongst other articles was the acknowledgment of
the dominion of the English at sea and the agreement to strike to the
meteor bunting. But the prowess of Admiral Blake may have provided for
this without any obligation of specification; for in this year, coming
to an anchor off Cadiz, a Dutch Admiral who was there would not hoist
his flag whilst Blake was present. Indeed, such was the awe in which
Blake was held, that the Algerines, merely with the idea of obtaining
his favour, made a point of overhauling the Sallee rovers for English
prisoners and sending all they found to him.

The honour of the flag seems a noticeable element in the origin of the
war of 1665. Sir John Lawson, in command of a squadron of ships, was in
the Mediterranean with De Ruyter. The Dutch admiral saluted the English
flag, a compliment which Lawson refused to return, alleging that his
orders did not allow him to strike to the subjects of any king or State
whatever. It may be supposed that such treatment pretty liberally
envenomed the soul of the fine old Dutchman, who, when he was shortly
afterwards sent to commit hostilities against us, made sail on that
adventure with a hot heart. In 1674 we find the Dutch in the treaty of
peace professing to understand a point that in spite of previous
treaties they had refused to admit. In the treaty with Cromwell they had
agreed that their ships should salute the English, and in subsequent
treaties the same undertaking appears. But their usual apology for
failure was that striking was a mere matter of civility, and that if
they declined to pull off their hat there was no obligation upon them to
do so. But by 1674 the political atmosphere had been cleared by British
cannons, and the Dutch were now able to distinguish. The treaty ended
the doubt; what was before styled courtesy was here confessed a right.
Not only was the extent of the British sovereignty clearly defined; the
State undertook that whole fleets, as well as separate ships, “should
strike their sails to any fleet or single ship carrying the King’s flag,
as the custom was in the days of his ancestors.” It was said by
Secretary Coke in a letter addressed by order of Charles I. to Sir
William Boswell, Ambassador at the Hague, “This cannot be doubted, that
whosoever will encroach upon him (the King) by sea, will do it by land
also, when they see their time. To such presumption ‘Mare Liberum’ gave
the first warning piece, which must be answered with a defence of ‘Mare
Clausum,’ not so much by discourses, as by the louder language of a
powerful navy, to be better understood when overstrained patience seeth
no hope of preserving her right by other means.”

                     “The spirits of your fathers,
                      Shall start from every wave,”

sings Campbell, and in Coke’s words one finds a noble example of the
sort of message those spirits knew how to deliver. What has been done
for the honour of the flag by a language louder than discourses may be
easily traced through the Rookes, the Shovels, the Mansels, the Howes,
the Rodneys, Keppels, Nelsons.

How has that honour broadened since the days of striking topsails!
Colonial men-of-war are now entitled to fly the flag of the British
Navy. There was obviously much deliberation before the resolution was
arrived at in respect of the Gayundah, a vessel that has the honour to
signally advance that great scheme of federation which is occupying the
minds of all English-speaking men. Indeed, it is perfectly obvious that
no flag could be so fitly flown at the masthead or peak of our Colonial
men-of-war as those same colours which the heroism of the grandsires of
our distant kinsmen rendered emblematic of power, justice, and freedom.

The British national flag is the Union Jack. This consists of the
blended crosses of St. George, red; of St. Andrew, white; of St.
Patrick, red, marginating Scotland’s cross so as to admit of a portion
of the white being shown. These several crosses combined upon a blue
ground form that meteor flag of which the poet writes, though not
certainly that noble piece of bunting which, we are reminded by the same
poet in the same song—

                      “Has braved a thousand years,
                       The battle and the breeze.”

The wishes of the Colonials were eminently honourable and loyal, and the
gratification of their desires in respect of a flag whose glory and
traditions are certainly not less theirs than they are ours should prove
a source of sincere satisfaction to the people of this country. For the
honour of the flag! We know what that inspiration has done for us of
old, and how it must influence in the future the world-wide
English-speaking races whose artillery shall thunder under the shadow of
Britain’s blood-red cross.[23] Without his flag what would be fighting
or even mercantile Jack? We all know how old Commodore Dance, at the
head of his little squadron of tea ships, put to flight the formidable
Frenchman bristling with tiers of cannon. Even under the red flag,
symbol of peaceful trade, there have been performed many noble and
valorous exploits, and it is no doubt the memory of scores of brilliant
deeds performed by the British merchant sailor that excites the regret
very widely felt that in these times, when the water is smooth, and the
political barometer fairly high, the foreigners in their hundreds should
be driving the English mariner out of his legitimate home—the British
forecastle.

Footnote 23:

  In the last century the Union flag, as it was called, bore these
  words:— “For the Protestant Religion and for the Liberty of England.”
  The flags of that time are thus described: THE JACK.—Blue, charged
  with a saltire argent and a cross gules, bordered argent. MERCANTILE
  FLAG: Red, with a franc-quarter argent, charged with a cross gules.
  There seems to have been two royal standards, the colour unsettled,
  some saying that it ought to be yellow, others white. One was charged
  with a quartered escutcheon of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.

  The other royal flag is described as “quarterly, the first and fourth
  quarter counter-quartered, in which the first and fourth azure, three
  fleurs-de-lis or the royal arms of France, quartered with the imperial
  ensigns of England, which are in the second and third gules, eight
  lions passant; gardant in pale.” The rest of this description, so far
  as I can make out the heraldic jargon, seems to represent the Royal
  Standard of to-day.

  Formerly, if a council of war was to be held at sea, the Admiral hung
  his flag in the main-shrouds, that is, in the lower rigging; the
  vice-admiral in the fore-shrouds; and the rear-admiral in the
  mizzen-shrouds.

But it is to naval story that we must turn for nearly all of what
pertains to the honour of the flag. The contests have been tough and
sharp touching the “doffing” question. Whether it was our duty to bow
first to the haughty Spaniard at sea, as he maintained, or whether it
was for him to “make a leg” at the sight of good Queen Bess’s flag, was
a question for Drake and Raleigh, for Hawkins and that noble gentleman
Charles Howard, Baron of Effingham, to settle, just as Blake and Monk
and Ascue and Commodore Young, as has been shown, decided the same
matter with reference to the broomstick of the brave and desperate
Dutchman. It was the sailor of Queen Elizabeth’s day, however, that made
the flag the emblem which the world has ever since recognized it to be.
The story of Sir Robert Mansell, Admiral of the “narrow seas,” as the
English Channel was then termed, is typical of our naval history from
the first chapter of it. He went to Gravelines to receive the Spanish
Ambassador, whilst Sir Jerome Turner, his Vice-Admiral, attended at
Calais for the French Ambassador. “But,” says the quaint historian, “the
Frenchman coming first and hearing the Vice-Admiral was to attend him,
the Admiral the other, in a scorn put himself in a passage boat in
Calais and came forth with flag in top. Instantly Sir Jerome Turner sent
to know of the Admiral what he should do. Sir Robert Mansell sent him
word to shoot and strike him if he would not take in the flag. This, as
it made the flag be pulled in, caused a great complaint, and it was
believed it would have undone Sir Robert Mansell, the French faction put
it so home; but he maintained the act and was the better beloved of his
Sovereign ever after to his death.”

Even the old pirates talked of the honour of their flag! a very dismal
piece of bunting, indeed, consisting of a skull, cross-bones, and
hour-glass on a black ground. Yet let such records as “Tom Cringle’s
Log,” which are very true history, though disguised with the mask of
fiction, bear witness to the furious heroism with which those murderous
savages, in earrings and sashes, in ringlets and jack-boots, fought for
the abhorred flag at their masthead, swaying in masses half-naked at
their cannons, and occasionally blowing themselves to pieces in their
efforts to sink the enemy, just as ancient mariners tell of mutilated
sharks twisting round to get at their own wounds in their dreadfully
gluttonous desire to eat themselves up. Nelson stormed in among the
Frenchmen and the Spaniards with six flags flying in different parts of
his rigging, because he could not endure to think of the possibility of
a stray shot making him look, even for a breathless moment, to have
struck. There is very little change between the flags of his time and
those of ours. Of course this regards the colours as shown by
men-of-war; in signalling Marryatt’s Code—as all other codes which
existed prior to the clever combinations of the author of “Peter
Simple”—has made way for the International Code. In the British Navy
flags are either red, white, or blue, and are hoisted at one or another
of the royal mastheads, according to the rank of the Admiral. This has
been the custom for centuries. Previous to 1801 the Union flag, as it
was called, bore only the Crosses of St. George and St. Andrew; but it
was then, as after, appropriated to the Admiral of the Fleet, who was
regarded as the first military officer under the Lord High Admiral.

Indeed, the history of our flags is the history of our Navy. Much of the
interest one finds in reading the old accounts of naval battles lies in
waiting to see who was the first to strike. Just as a ship looks
glorified when “dressed”—that is to say, when she has hung out all her
colours from peak end to mastheads, and from mastheads to the end of the
flying-jibboom, and thence to the water—so is our national marine story
radiant with the flags, pennons, and “ancients,” which flutter through
it, sometimes blowing saucily, sometimes riven and seared with flame and
bullet, sometimes a mangled rag valiantly hanging by a nail at the top
of the mast, or “seized” in the rigging, whilst below it the battle
rages like a thunderstorm. It is, indeed, in these days, almost
inconceivable that mortal men should ever have been able to achieve for
the honour of their flag the triumphs which rendered the British colours
the terror they became. Campbell, Brenton, James, Naval Chronicles,
Annual Registers, Maritime Records of all sorts and descriptions teem
with illustrations of dauntless bravery, of headlong fearlessness such
as might make one believe that the Jacks of those days not only bore a
charmed life, but were giants as mighty in stature as the early Irish
are supposed to have been, to judge from the colossal remains that are
occasionally dug up in various parts of that “kingdom.” It is impossible
to read the voyage of Anson or the accounts of the early explorers of
the South Seas without a feeling of pity for the miserable terror
aroused in the Spaniards, the half-castes, and blacks by the sight of
the English flag or by the sound of an English voice. The way the story
usually runs is—the vessel is seen to approach, is recognized as an
English South Seaman; whereupon the Governor collects all his plate and
treasure, piles it into waggons drawn by mules, which he sends up
country, and then hastily follows, occasionally, in his fright, leaving
his wife behind him. A wretched priest is sent off in a boat pulled by
shivering blacks, and, with teeth chattering, suggests a compromise,
which the English regard as a stratagem to furnish the Governor with
time enough to make good his escape. So they send the priest ashore with
a polite intimation that if, by a certain hour, so many thousands of
ducats and dollars, not to mention silver candlesticks and golden
crucifixes, are not brought off and safely stowed away in their hold,
they will sack and burn the town. If the Governor fails to comply, then
we are admitted to a humiliating spectacle. The English row ashore, and
find the coast lined with troops; but as the boats approach the troops
retire, and by the time the keels have grounded upon the beach, the
Governor’s army, along with a band of music and several hundreds of
horsemen, are to be observed watching the proceedings of the English
from the top of a very lofty hill. Such was the honour of the flag! Such
is it still, and such is it sure to remain in the hands of those distant
children of Old England who will grasp the halliards by which it is
hoisted.

But let the humble “driver,” the obscure trawler, have his merit too.
Were the herring woven into the symbolism of the Royal Standard it would
not be amiss. When you hear the pensive cry of “fine bloaters,” or the
melodious rattle of “Caller herrin,” think how much the honour of the
flag owes to that kind of fish. The sovereignty of the sea is still
ours, but to justify our inheritance we ought really to suffer our souls
to be tinged with the old Parliamentary spirit in our response to the
cries of our fishermen calling upon the country to help them against the
Flemish “devil” in the North Sea, and the drift-net-cutting weapon of
the Calais smacksmen in our “narrow waters.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     _THE NAVAL OFFICER’S SPIRIT._


In Admiral Hobart Pasha’s sketches are many well told stories, all of
them delivered with the rough simplicity of the seamen. The most
striking is a slaving yarn. Some boats were in pursuit of a vessel, full
to the hatches with negroes. One of them, swept forward by desperate
rowers, succeeded in getting close under her bows, and a man in her
sprang aboard, “like a chamois.” The slaver was going through it at six
knots, and the boat, from which the man had leapt, do what the oarsmen
would, dropped astern. In a few moments was heard the report of a
pistol, and the vessel suddenly swept round into the wind, all aback,
and her way stopped. The boats thereupon dashed alongside, and after a
short struggle took possession of the brig. “There we found our
lieutenant standing calmly at the helm, which was a long wooden tiller.
He it was who had jumped on board alone, shot the man at the helm, put
the said helm down with his leg, while in his hand he held his other
pistol, with which he threatened to shoot any one who dared to touch
him.”

The date of this is not given, but it falls well within living, indeed,
within comparatively recent memory, and, like much else that is told in
this autobiography, serves as an example of the survival of a spirit
which makes our naval history as lively as if the annals were due to the
imagination of the Scotts, Marryats, and Coopers of romance, and
certainly far more inspiring and stirring than the choicest novels could
prove.

It has always seemed to me as if the whole philosophy and spirit of
British naval history lay in that memorable remark of Blake: “It is not
for us to mind State affairs. We are to prevent foreigners from fooling
us.” It is the broad humorous simplicity of the old salt, his shrewd
perception and unadorned habit of going to work, that make all about him
fascinating reading. Lord Anson said to Captain Campbell, after the
defeat of Conflans, “The king will knight you if you think proper.”
“Troth, my lord,” responded the captain, “I ken nae use that will be to
me.” “But your lady may like it,” said Anson. “Weel, then,” replied
Campbell, “His majesty may knight her if he pleases.” One finds the same
curious sturdiness in demanding rights as in rejecting honours. There is
nothing in this way to beat Admiral Vernon’s letter, dated June 30,
1774, to the Secretary to the Admiralty. During his retirement he had
been passed over in a promotion of flag-officers. “That I might not,” he
wrote, “by any be thought to be one that would decline the public
service, I have thought proper to remind their lordships I am living,
and have, I thank God, the same honest zeal reigning in my breast that
has animated me on all occasions to approve myself a faithful and
zealous subject and servant to my Royal master; and if the first Lord
Commissioner has represented me in any other light to my Royal master,
he has acted with a degeneracy unbecoming the descendant from a noble
father, whose memory I reverence and esteem, though I have no
compliments to make to the judgment or conduct of the son.”

The first lord was Daniel, Earl of Winchelsea. Long service at the
cannon had taught the old sea-dogs the virtue of thunder.

In the account of the loss of the _Earl of Abergavenny_, it is stated
that a midshipman was appointed to guard the spirit-room. The sailors
pressed eagerly upon him. “Give us some grog!” they cried; “it will be
all one an hour hence.” “I know we must die,” replied the gallant young
officer, coolly, “_but let us die like men_!” Armed with a brace of
pistols, he kept his place even while the ship was sinking. Byron has
employed this incident in “Don Juan.” The captain of the _Earl of
Abergavenny_ was John Wordsworth, brother of the poet.

There is an extraordinary instance of naval spirit preserved in
“Burnaby’s Travels in North America,” published in 1775. Captain St.
Loe, commander of an English man-of-war lying in Boston harbour, being
ashore on a Sunday, was taken into custody for walking on the Lord’s
Day. On Monday he was carried before a justice and fined. Refusing to
pay, he was sentenced to sit in the stocks one hour during the time of
change. The sentence was executed. Whilst the captain sat in durance,
the magistrates gravely admonished him to respect in future the
wholesome laws of the province, and he was further exhorted for ever
after to reverence and keep holy the Sabbath Day. At the expiration of
the hour he was liberated. On regaining the use of his legs he stood up,
expressed himself as greatly edified by the lesson he had learned, and
declared himself so thoroughly converted as to rejoice the hearts of the
Boston saints. He acted his part so well that he became extremely
popular among the godly folks, who, on the day fixed for the sailing of
the ship, accepted his invitation to dine with him on board. He gave
them a capital dinner, plied them with bowls and bottles, and in a short
time the whole ship resounded with their roaring merriment. On a sudden
a body of sailors burst into the cabin, laid hold of the saints and
pinioned them, then dragged them on deck, where they were stripped and
tied up. How many lashes the boatswain and his mates dealt them is not
stated; but the story goes that “when they had suffered the whole of the
discipline, which had flayed them from the nape of the neck to the hams,
the captain took a polite leave, earnestly begging them to remember him
in their prayers. They were then let down into the boat that was waiting
for them, the crew saluted them with three cheers, and Captain St. Loe
made sail.”

This fairly comes under the heading of what Wordsworth calls the “good
old plan.” And who can tell how much blood would have remained unshed
had the nations left the settlement of personal affronts to ingenious
individual retaliation? There is a most engaging and delightful history
of England’s navy yet to be written on the plan of Granger’s
entertaining story by biography. James is accurate, but dry; Brenton is
always readable; but James and he are not both wanted. Dr. Campbell is
dull. Tediousness, however, is inevitable in a narrative that does but
tell the same story, somewhat varied, over and over again. One sea
battle is very much like another, and the mind is quickly oppressed with
details of starboard and larboard tacks, of falling top-masts, of
broadsides and lowered colours. But let some diligent collector go to
work on an anecdotal history of the navy, and I should say he can
scarcely miss of a great audience. How lively, for example, would prove
such a chapter as this of the spirit of the naval officer suggested to
me by Admiral Hobart’s book! Let a few plums, picked up here and there
from old records and chronicles, suffice as an example of the sort of
pudding that awaits a cook.

On July 25, 1776, Sir Thomas Rich, in her Majesty’s ship _Enterprise_,
met with a French fleet of two ships of the line and several frigates,
commanded by the Duc de Chartres. The French admiral hailed the
_Enterprise_, and desired the captain to come on board immediately, to
which Sir Thomas replied that if the Duke had anything to communicate he
must come on board the _Enterprise_, as he should not go out of his
ship. The Duke insisted that he should, or he would sink him. “You can
do as you please,” exclaimed Sir Thomas Rich, “but the only orders I
receive are from my own admiral.” On this the Duke begged him _as a
favour_ to come on board, as he wished much to make his acquaintance.
Sir Thomas at once went, and was received with the utmost respect.

Here is another plum from the memoirs of Sir Thomas Graves, Rear-Admiral
at the Battle of Copenhagen. The scene was Noddle’s Island, off Boston.
An American, more daring than the rest, advanced nearly half-way between
his own people and the Marines of the squadron. Graves, who was then
captain, was not a little irritated by the sight of this one Yankee
insolently and contemptuously defiant of the whole of the British seamen
and marines, and, borrowing a musket and bayonet from a brother officer,
went out to meet the American champion in single combat. The Yankee
allowed Graves to come within fifty yards of him. “The eyes of our
respective parties are on us,” shouted Graves, and, after assuring the
other that he had no intention to fire “before he could feel him with
the point of his bayonet,” added that if the battle ended in his favour
he should carry the Yankee’s scalp away with him as a trophy. Just as he
said this he kicked against a stone and fell headlong, whereupon the
American discharged his musket at him, threw it down, and took to his
heels. The shot narrowly missed Graves, who fired in his turn without
hitting his man, and then retreated, receiving as he went the fire of a
score or two of persons who had concealed themselves in order to assist
their American champion. A ludicrous forecast of the fight between the
_Shannon_ and the _Chesapeake_ sixty or seventy years later!

There is wonderful spirit in that saying of old Benbow during the
engagement with Du Casse. His right leg was broken to pieces by a chain
shot. He was carried below to be dressed, and whilst the surgeon was at
work, a lieutenant expressed great sorrow for the loss of the Admiral’s
leg. Benbow replied, “I am sorry for it too, but I had rather have lost
them both than seen this dishonour brought upon the English nation. But,
do ye hear, if another shot should take me off, behave like brave men
and fight it out.” That a man should talk composedly during the agonies
of amputation by such surgical skill as was then to be found in the
cockpit, is, I think, an extraordinary illustration of the fortitude and
self-devotion of the sea-braves of those times.

“The spirit of your fathers” shows in many directions. It is related in
the life of Rodney that when that fine old Admiral’s poverty became a
subject of public notoriety, De Sartine suggested to the Duke de Biron
that the command of the French fleet in the West Indies should be
offered him. On this the Duke invited Rodney to spend some weeks with
him, and one morning, whilst strolling about the grounds, sounded the
Admiral on the subject. Rodney, not catching the Duke’s drift, thought
him deranged, and began to eye him with some alarm. Eventually de Biron
came out boldly with the proposal. “Those,” says the biographer, “who
remember the worthy Admiral, and can recollect the countenance he would
assume when anything unexpectedly broke upon him, may imagine his aspect
and demeanour. He answered thus: ‘My distresses, it is true, have driven
me from my country, but no temptation whatever can estrange me from her
service. Had this offer been a voluntary one of your own, I should have
deemed it an insult; but I am glad to learn that it proceeds from a
source that _can do no wrong_!’”

It is in action, perhaps, that one finds the naval spirit, the wit, the
heroism, the tenderness, the patriotism of the service best illustrated.
I am fond of that anecdote of old Captain Killigrew (related by
Campbell) whilst on a cruise with six frigates in 1695. He met with a
couple of French men-of-war. When Killigrew came up with one of them,
named the _Content_, “the whole French crew,” says Campbell, “were at
prayers, and he might have poured in his broadside with great advantage;
which, however, he refused to do, adding this remarkable expression: ‘It
is beneath the courage of the English nation to surprise their enemies
in such a posture.’” This sort of humanity sometimes finds form in a
kind of ironical politeness. In Howe’s memoirs it is related that whilst
the British fleet lay off Cape Race two large French men-of-war were
discovered. Howe, with a press of sail, arrived just alongside the
sternmost Frenchman, the _Alcide_, the captain of which hailed to know
whether it was peace or war. Howe answered, “Prepare for the worst, as I
expect every moment a signal from the flagship to fire upon you for not
bringing to.” And then, observing a number of officers, soldiers, and
ladies on deck, he pulled off his hat, and, speaking in French, begged
they would go below, as they had no personal concern in the contest, and
he would rather that they retired before he began the action. The French
captain was again requested to go under the English admiral’s stern; he
refused, and then Howe told him that the signal was out to engage—a red
flag hoisted at the fore-topgallant-masthead. The French commander
called out, “Commencez, s’il vous plaît!” to which Howe replied, “S’il
vous plaît, monsieur, de commencer!” The two ships delivered their
broadsides almost simultaneously. The _Alcide_ struck in half an hour.
“My lads,” cried Howe, to his crew, “they have behaved like men, treat
them like men.”[24]

Footnote 24:

  She carried fewer seamen than Howe’s ship.

There is a good illustration of spirit in a quaint story told of Admiral
Gayton. He was making his way home to England when a large man-of-war
was sighted. The Admiral’s vessel, the _Antelope_, was a crazy old
craft, under-manned, and half-armed. Every preparation, however, was
made to receive the stranger, and Gayton, himself crawling on deck,
exhorted his people to behave like Englishmen. “I can’t stand by you,”
he said, “but I’ll sit and see you fight as long as you please.” The
stranger turned out to be an English man-of-war. Gayton’s resolution was
based on something more than spirit only. In fact, he had several chests
of dollars belonging to himself in the ship, proceeds of the sale of
American prizes. His friends pointed out the inconvenience of
transporting specie, and advised him to remit his property in bills.
“No,” said the old sailor, “I know nothing so valuable as money itself,
and should be a fool to part with it for paper.” His friends then urged
him to send his money home in a frigate, as the _Antelope_ was old and
might founder on the way. “No,” answered Gayton, “my money and myself
will take our passage in the same bottom, and if we are lost there will
be an end of two bad things at once.”[25]

Footnote 25:

  The best humour of the marine annals must be sought in anecdotes of
  dry old sea-dogs of the pattern of Gayton. There should be some lively
  stories of American naval officers. This given by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  in his “Note Books” is good. They are dining aboard a revenue cutter.
  “The waiter tells the captain of the cutter that Captain Percival
  (commander of the navy yard) is sitting on the deck of the anchor buoy
  (which lies inside of the cutter) smoking his cigar. The captain sends
  him a glass of champagne and inquires of the waiter what Percival says
  to it. He said, sir, ‘What does he send me this damned stuff for?’ but
  drinks nevertheless.”

Naval literature is like the ocean; many a gem of purest ray serene lies
hidden in the depths of it. It is always the great conquerors one talks
and thinks of; the Admiral on his quarter-deck, not Jack, half naked and
mutilated, still heroically surging at his hot cannon below. It is a
great many years since that an orphan, belonging to Bonchurch, Isle of
Wight, was apprenticed by the parish to a tailor. As he was one day
sitting alone on the shopboard—the ninth part of a man—he spied a
squadron of men-of-war coming round Dunnose. Possessed by an
unconquerable impulse, he ran down to the beach, cast off the painter
from the first boat he saw, jumped into her, and plied the oars so well
that he quickly reached the Admiral’s ship. He was received as a
volunteer, and the boat sent adrift. Next morning the English fell in
with a French squadron, and a hot action began. The young tailor fought
with great cheerfulness and alacrity, but, growing impatient after
awhile, he inquired of the sailors what was the object for which they
were contending. He was answered that the fight would continue till the
white rag at the enemy’s masthead was struck. “Oh, if that’s all,” he
exclaimed, “I’ll see what I can do.” The vessels were engaged yard-arm
and yard-arm, and enveloped in powder-smoke. The young tailor jumped
aloft, gained the main-yard of the French Admiral, mounted to the
masthead, and brought away the French flag. The English sailors,
believing the enemy had hauled his flag down, shouted Victory! The
French, perceiving their colours gone, ran from their guns, on which the
English boarded and took the vessel. The young tailor’s name was Hopson.
For this heroic action he was appointed to the quarter-deck, and
progressing rapidly through the several ranks of the service became
Admiral, with command of a squadron.[26]

Footnote 26:

  This told in the _Naval Chronicle_.

The politeness of Howe as an example of spirit is not quite so common in
the annals as illustrations of heroic bluntness. I find a specimen in
the narrative of the action with the squadrons under Jonquierre and St.
George off Finisterre, when the _Bristol_, Captain Montagu, began to
engage _l’Invincible_. Captain Fincher, in the _Pembroke_, tried to get
in between her and the enemy, but not finding room, he hailed the
_Bristol_, and requested Montagu to put his helm a starboard, or the
_Pembroke_ would run foul of his ship. Montagu answered, “Run foul of me
and be, etc.; neither you nor any man in the world shall come between me
and my enemy.” Similar bluntness is exhibited in a story told of Admiral
Sir Richard King. During an action a shot struck the head of his captain
and blew his brains over King, then commodore, who never flinched.[27]
On being told by the master, towards the close of the fight, that two
more of the enemy’s ships appeared to be coming up, and asked what he
would do with the ship, “Do with her!” he exclaimed contemptuously,
“Fight her, sir! fight her till she sinks.” This is as good as Howe’s
memorable answer to the lieutenant who told him that the fire was
extinguished and that he need no longer be afraid. “Afraid!” exclaimed
Howe; then, fixing his eyes on the lieutenant, “Pray, sir, how does a
man feel when he is afraid? I need not ask how he looks.”

Footnote 27:

  “Captain Scott of the cutter told me a singular story of what occurred
  during the action between the _Constitution_ and _Macedonian_—he being
  powder-monkey aboard the former ship. A cannon shot came through the
  ship’s side, and a man’s head was struck off, probably by a splinter,
  for it was done without bruising the head or body, as clean as by a
  razor. Well, the man was walking pretty briskly at the time of the
  accident; and Scott seriously affirmed that he kept walking onward at
  the same pace, with two jets of blood gushing from his headless trunk,
  till, after going twenty feet without a head, he sunk down at once,
  with his legs under him.” _Hawthorne Note Books._ One seems to hear
  Mr. Burchell’s “fudge!” here.

The charm of British naval biography lies in its modesty and accuracy. A
pity as much cannot be said for the marine records of other countries.
There is an excellent example of impudent and deliberate lying in the
Memoirs of M. du Gué-Trouin, chief of a squadron in the French navy, in
the time of Louis XIV. The book is scarce. It was translated in 1732, by
“A Sea Officer,” who in his dedication writes, after commenting on the
Frenchman’s account of an action with the English, “But this is scarce
anything to the wonders you will find wrought by Du Gué, his people, and
his consorts. For my part, I had scarce gone through his book before I
expected to hear he had attempted to run away with the Land’s End of
England.... No ’tis in France, and France alone, where you must meet
with these men who can do anything, no matter what stands in the way, no
matter for the difficulties; nay, no matter whether they know what it is
they are to do, they’ll do it.” But the Spanish and Dutch annals are too
full of lies also to suffer us to consider the French singular in this
way. As to the Yankees, one should read James’ “Naval Occurrences” to
appreciate their amazing capacity as romancers.

Lord Bacon amused his leisure by collecting the witty sayings of others;
Horace Walpole delighted in ana; there is no choicer reading than the
Menagiana, Selden’s Table-Talk, and Spence’s anecdotes. In the face of
such precursors no apology can be felt needful from any one who should
think proper to attempt an anecdotal history of the British Navy.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          _WOMEN AS SAILORS._


A young lady of Plymouth, having illustrated her able-seamanlike
capacity by diving from the masthead of a vessel at anchor in the Sound,
proceeded some time afterwards to justify her marine enthusiasm by
swimming from the Breakwater to the Hoe in a tumbling sea, the distance
being three miles and the time occupied within an hour and a quarter.
Now, if this young lady took it into her head to start away to sea, for
what aforemast capacity, from boatswain down to boy, would she not be
fit? Even as a skipper might she not excel after a proper course of
ogling the sun through a sextant and a well-digested commitment of Norie
or Raper to heart? A girl capable of measuring three miles of turbulent
surges in seventy odd minutes ought to be equal to a weather top-sail
ear-ring in a whole gale; whilst the lungs that could defy a league of
flying spume should be able to wake some dancing silver pipings out of a
boatswain’s whistle.

A good many ladies have gone to sea as sailors since the first chapters
of the world’s maritime history were written, and the majority of them
not only made excellent seamen, but fought their countries’ enemies with
pike, cutlass, and pistol with a courage and determination equal to any
exhibition of the same qualities in the bravest of their pig-tailed
shipmates. And yet women are deemed unlucky at sea! A French tradition
affirms that the ocean near Cape Finisterre swells at the sight of a
woman. Possibly the old fear originated with the witches. Hideous crones
who wrecked ships for lucre and drowned mariners to gratify their own
spleen or that of others would necessarily taint Jack’s view of “the
sex” in their maritime relations. An American writer[28] quotes from
Sandy’s Ovid: “I have heard of seafaring men, and some of Bristol, how a
quartermaster in a Bristol ship, then trading in the Streights, going
down into the hold saw a sort of women, his own neighbours, making merry
together, and taking their cups liberally; who having espied him, and
threatening that he should report their discovery, vanished suddenly out
of sight; who thereupon was lame for ever after. The ship having made
her voyage, nowe homeward bound, and neere her harbour, stuck fast in
the deep sea before a fresh gaile, to their no small amazement, nor for
all they could doe, together with the help that came from the shore,
could they get her loose, until one (as Cynothea, the Trojan ship)
shoved her off with his shoulder.” For bewitching the ship the ladies
who had been seen taking their cups liberally in the hold were convicted
and executed.

Footnote 28:

  Mr. Bassett, of the United States Navy, who has collected much
  interesting information in this and the like superstitions in his
  work, “Legends of the Sea,” New York, 1886.

But, undeterred by forecastle superstitions, the girls, whenever they
had a mind to go to sea, went. In Von Archenholtz’ “History of the
Pirates” you read of Ann Bonny and Mary Read, two English women, as may
be judged from the names, joining the buccaneers, “not from licentious
motives to gratify their pleasures, but solely by a thirst of plunder,
and as co-partners in their dangers as well as in their profits.” To
appreciate the courage of Mary Read and Ann Bonny it is necessary to
understand the kind of lives the buccaneers led—moral, physical, and
intellectual. The typical pirate of the Antilles—in those times—was a
bruised and battered rogue, dressed in a shirt and a pair of pantaloons,
both made of coarse linen cloth, dyed with the blood of animals he had
killed. His unstockinged feet were protected by boots formed from
hogskins, and his head was covered with a round cap. He tied a raw hide
girdle round him, hung a sabre upon it and filled it with knives. He
also carried a firelock that shot two balls, each weighing an ounce.[29]

Footnote 29:

  Bailey says the word Bucanier is said to be derived from the
  inhabitants of the Caribee Islands who used to cut their prisoners to
  pieces “and laid them on hurdles of Brazil wood erected on sticks,
  with fire underneath, and when so broiled or roasted to eat them, and
  this manner of dressing was called _bucaning_. Hence our Buccaneers
  took their name, in that they, hunting, dressed their meat after their
  manner.”

Such was the dainty figure whom Ann Bonny and Mary Read made a comrade
of, themselves retaining the apparel of their sex, to which they added
long sailors’ trousers. With hair dishevelled, hangers at their waists,
pistols on their breasts, and hatchets in their hands, they must have
been objects nicely calculated to excite whatever of romantic enthusiasm
there yet lingered in the bosoms of the cut-throats whose troop they had
joined for love of blood and gold.

A more heroic female sailor, despite a fierceness that, though
warrantable enough, makes an historical tigress of her, offers in the
famous Jean de Belville, who vowing vengeance for the murder of her
husband, De Clisson, at Paris, in 1343, fitted out a squadron of ships
and swooped down upon the coast of Normandy, firing every castle that a
torch could be put to, and reddening the seaboard with burning villages.
She is represented to have been one of the finest women in Europe, and a
sense of her beauty joining with perception of her wrongs and the
brilliant loyalty of her very scheme of revenge, does unquestionably
give a high quality of majesty to that posture of ferocity in which she
is pictured by the historian.

In one of the old Dutch books of voyages—whether De Weert’s, Van
Noort’s, or Schouten’s I cannot be sure—mention is made of a discovery,
when the ship was off the Horn, of one of the crew as a woman. Even in
these days of science, of canned meats, condensing apparatus,
ice-houses, steam-winches, double-top-sail yards, clipper keels, and
short voyages, a woman would find seafaring a calling bitter enough. But
think of one of the sex a member of the crew of the Dutch ship of the
seventeenth century, on a voyage of discovery, struggling against the
western sleet-laden tempests of the bleak, iron melancholy Horn! Ships
were butter-boxes in those times,[30] sawed-off old wagons, as broad as
they were long, with running gear that worked like drawing teeth, and a
discipline composed of keel-hauling, fixing to the mast by driving a
knife through the hand, and marooning, or, in other words, setting the
culprit ashore on an uninhabited island, with a day’s provisions, and
without the means of obtaining more if more was to be had. That men died
by the scores in those days of scurvy, months of bitter bad meat and
foul water, pestiferous ’tween-deck atmosphere, supplemented by the
barbarous ignorance of the chirurgeons, is readily intelligible; but
that a woman should have managed to exist under such conditions all the
way from the Texel to the Straits Le Maire, doing the sailors’ work, and
eating the sailors’ food, and living in the sailors’ quarters, is little
short of a miracle and an amazing instance of female endurance.

Footnote 30:

  Few features of those chronicles of adventure which are included in
  the collections of Hakluyt, Purchas, Churchill, Harris, and others are
  more interesting than the descriptions given of the tonnage, arms, and
  crews of the vessels which discovered the Indies, penetrated the great
  South Sea, gave names to capes and headlands of the vast but still
  shadowy continent of New Holland; coasted the bleak shores of
  Newfoundland, and searched the ice of the Frozen Ocean for the
  North-west Passage. Of course, the measurements of those days are not
  the measurements of these. A tun might signify a capacity for
  different kinds of freight without reference to cubical dimensions.
  The capacity of some vessels in those days was measured by the number
  of pipes of wine which could be stowed in them. Even in recent times
  there is a considerable difference between old and new measurements,
  the old representing less than the new. Nevertheless it is impossible
  to read about the ships in which the early navigators sailed—it is
  impossible to think of their tub-like forms, their enormous
  top-hamper, the astonishing clumsiness of their yards and gear, their
  castellated poops and rampart-like quarters, without wondering how on
  earth such structures managed to roll in safety over the stormy ocean,
  and to push their way, however slowly, against opposing winds and
  adverse tides. Certain expressions have changed their meaning, and on
  reading the old voyages one is often puzzled with names given to craft
  which, to modern experience, do not in the least degree correspond
  with their titles. For instance, the galley in our times is known as a
  long rowing boat, mounting so many oars. But in former days by the
  term galley was meant a vessel whose complement of men was one
  thousand or twelve hundred. She mounted a good show of ordnance, had
  three masts and thirty-two banks of oars, every bank containing two
  oars, and every oar being handled by five or six men. Equally
  perplexing are those names of shallops, skiffs, pinnaces, lighters,
  and so forth, which are met in abundance in the old stories, and which
  express fabrics very different indeed from the kinds of craft they now
  designate. For Drake’s glorious voyage five ships were equipped. The
  _Hind_ was one hundred tons, the _Elizabeth_ eighty tons, the
  _Marigold_ thirty tons, the _Swan_ fifty tons, and the _Christopher_
  fifteen tons. The captain of this fifteen-ton pinnace was Thomas Moon,
  and we hear of her disappearing in great storms and reappearing in
  fine weather, to the general joy of the rest of the fleet. Such an old
  skipper as this must have made noble company over a mug of strong
  beer, and would have been able to tell of things even more wonderful
  than trees with oysters growing upon them. Schouten, who discovered
  and named Cape Horn, put to sea in vessels which in these days would
  class amongst small, inferior coasters; yet the _Unity_ managed to
  carry nineteen pieces of cannon and twelve swivels and a company of
  sixty-five men. How those ancient mariners contrived to stow
  themselves away in their dark ’tweendecks and black forecastles, how
  in their little holds they could find room for sufficient provisions
  and water to last them for months, not to mention the gunpowder and
  cannon balls which they carried, surpasses modern marine
  comprehension. Among the ships William Funnell writes about, in a
  narrative that is commonly taken to be William Dampier’s, was the
  Cinque Ports galley, for ever memorable as the craft in which
  Alexander Selkirk sailed. This vessel, that was equipped for a
  buccaneering cruise in little known waters against towering and
  powerful galleons, was ninety tons, a burthen which in these days
  would about fit a pleasure yacht intended for the blue skies and
  summer seas of the holiday period. Or take Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s
  expedition, which included the _Golden Hind_ of forty tons, the
  _Swallow_ of forty tons, and the _Squirrel_ of ten tons. “The
  resolution of the proprietors was that the fleet should begin its
  course northerly, and follow as directly as they could the trade-way
  to Newfoundland.” Think of a ten-ton boat starting on such an
  expedition as this! Yet Sir Humphrey took command of her when her
  master deserted, with this sequel: that when off Cape Race homeward
  bound, “the storms and swellings of the seas increasing, he (namely,
  Sir Humphrey) was again pressed to leave the frigate (that is, the
  _Squirrel_), but his answer was, ‘We are as near to Heaven by sea as
  by land.’ About midnight, the _Squirrel_ being ahead of the _Golden
  Hind_, her lights were at once extinguished, which those in the _Hind_
  seeing cried out ‘Our general is lost!’ and it is supposed she sank
  that instant, for she was never more heard of.” Lord Byron exclaims:

               “Columbus found a new world in a cutter,
                Or brigantine, or pink, of no great tonnage,
                While yet America was in her non-age.”

  The conjecture—it seems no more—of Washington Irving that Columbus’
  ships were undecked boats “not superior to river and coasting craft of
  more modern days,” is disproved by Lindsay in his “History of
  Shipping.”

In the cases of women who have put on men’s clothes and shipped as
sailors many were incited by love or jealousy. The old ballad of Billy
Taylor is representative. The best known instance is that of Hannah
Snell, whose story has been often told.[31] This distinguished female
was born in 1723, and married, at Wapping, one James Summs, a Dutch
sailor, who spent her money and abandoned her. Thereupon Hannah made up
her mind to go in quest of her faithless spouse. She dressed herself as
a man, and started. Her adventures would fill three volumes. Romance and
farce, tragedy and comedy are happily combined. She first went a
soldiering, and, of course, a young woman fell in love with her. She
deserted, re-enlisted as a marine, and saw a great deal of active
service. How many men she killed is not stated, but it is conceivable
that her love for the sex was not keen, and that she never discharged a
musket without an emotion of joy mingled with hope that James Summs was
not far off. She was wounded on several occasions, but contrived to
conceal her sex until the news reached her that her Jim, whilst a
prisoner at Geneva, had committed a murder, for which he was stitched up
in a bag and thrown into the sea, when, without further ado, she resumed
the petticoat and returned to London. From a grateful country she
obtained an annuity of £50, which with her earnings as an actress—it
seems she achieved a great popularity as Bill Bobstay, a sailor—enabled
her to cut a genteel figure. Growing weary of the stage, she opened a
public house in Wapping that was very handsomely supported down to the
time of her death by the numerous jolly tars of that marine district.

Footnote 31:

  A very full account of this extraordinary woman is printed in a little
  volume entitled “Eccentric Biography,” 1803.

A less known, but to the full as remarkable a case of a woman
masquerading as a sailor occurs in the life of Mary Anne Talbot,
“otherwise John Taylor.” Her story was written and published by herself
at the beginning of the present century, and may be accepted as
certainly not less accurate than the memoirs of George Ann Bellamy,
whose sweet face crowned with feathers still looks laughingly over the
mask in her hand from the plate after Ramberg in the old collections.
Miss Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, was born in 1778, and was induced by
an officer in an infantry regiment to assume male attire and accompany
him as his foot-boy to the West Indies. Afterwards she acted in the
capacity of a drummer at the siege of Valenciennes, and was twice
wounded. It is observable that this young lady, who claimed to be the
natural daughter of Lord William Talbot, Baron of Hensol, began her
amazing career, like Hannah Snell, as a soldier. The infantry officer
having been killed, Miss Talbot threw off her drummer’s dress, assumed
that of a sailor, and, having made her way to Luxembourg, engaged with
the captain of a French lugger, and sailed with him, in the belief that
the vessel was a peaceful trader. After cruising about awhile the lugger
fell in with the British fleet under the command of Lord Howe. Mary Ann
refused to fight. The French captain swore at her and beat her, but she
was not to be manhandled into firing upon her countrymen. The lugger
hauled down her flag, and her captain and crew were taken on board the
_Queen Charlotte_ to be examined by Lord Howe. On being questioned Mary
Anne replied that she was an English boy, and had shipped in the lugger
in order to escape from France, and with the intention of deserting when
the chance occurred. Fortunately Lord Howe’s questions were not very
minute. She was dismissed, and stationed on board the _Brunswick_,
Captain Harvey. In the great sea fight that followed Mary Anne was
desperately wounded, and conveyed to the cockpit, and on the arrival of
her ship at Spithead was sent to Haslar Hospital, from which, after four
months’ attendance as an out-patient, she was discharged, partially
cured. She then entered the _Vesuvius_ bomb; the vessel was carried by
privateers, and Mary Anne was taken to Dunkirk and lodged in the prison
of St. Clair. On the prisoners being exchanged she met with an American
captain, engaged with him and sailed to America as ship’s steward. She
resided with the captain’s family at New York, and declares that she was
subjected to much embarrassment on account of an attachment conceived
for her by the captain’s niece, who actually proposed marriage, and
obtained a miniature of her beloved in the full uniform of an American
officer, for which Mary Anne paid eighteen dollars. Shortly after her
return to England, the press being hot, she was seized by a gang, and in
the scrimmage received a severe cutlass-wound on the head. She was
carried on board the tender, but having probably had enough of the sea,
she revealed her sex and recovered her liberty. How much truth there is
in this narrative it would now be idle to conjecture. It is certain,
however, that she obtained a pension of £20 a year, and that she
received her money from the Navy Office as John Taylor, the name she had
assumed when she followed the officer in the walking regiment to the
West Indies.

In October, 1759, a person named Samuel Bundy, twenty years old, married
a girl named Mary Parlour. He said he was ill, and his bride patiently
waited until the following March, hoping meanwhile that he would be
cured. Her friends growing tired, insisted upon searching him, and to
the general amazement the bridegroom proved a female. Her story was that
seven years previously she had been betrayed by a sweetheart and taken
away from her mother, and that to prevent her from being discovered he
dressed her as a boy. They separated after a year, and she went to sea
as a sailor. This life she quitted after twelve months of rough work,
and apprenticed herself to a Mr. Angel who lived at the King’s Head,
Gravel Lane, Southwark. A young woman, Mary Parlour, fell in love with
Mr. Angel’s brisk and saucy-looking apprentice, and they were married.
The “husband” declared that his “wife” speedily found out the mistake
she had made, but determined not to expose the matter. After her
marriage “Samuel Bundy,” as she called herself, entered on board a
man-of-war, but deserted for fear of detection. She then tried a
merchantman, but left her also to return to the “wife” whom, says the
account, “she says she dearly loves.”

In 1761, as a sergeant was drilling some soldiers aboard a transport, he
was struck with the prominent breast of one of them named Paul Daniel.
When the drill was over he sent for him to the cabin, where, after
taxing “him” she confessed her sex. Her story was that she had a husband
whom she dearly loved, and who had been reduced to beggary; he enlisted
in a marching regiment and was in Germany for two years, as she
believed. She had not heard of or from him in all that time, and she
finally decided to hunt for him the world over. On learning that troops
were being despatched to Germany she enlisted. This, to be sure, is a
tale of a female soldier, but I introduce it here for its strangeness
and likewise for the scene of it being on board ship.

In 1771, a man named Charles Waddall, on board the _Oxford_ man-of-war,
was sentenced to receive two dozen lashes for desertion; but when tied
up the sailor was discovered to be a woman. She said that she had
travelled from Hull to London after a man with whom she was in love, and
hearing that he was a sailor on the _Oxford_ she entered for that ship.
When she arrived on board she learnt that her sweetheart had deserted,
on which she resolved to run away too. The admiral gave the poor
creature half a guinea, and others connected with Chatham dockyard made
up a purse for her.

The following is illustrative of the power of the passion that inspires
the lass who loves a sailor: In 1808, the relatives of a girl who had
given her heart to a sailor, hoped to end the attachment by procuring
his impressment; but she resolved nevertheless to marry him, and he was
accordingly brought ashore and escorted by the press-gang to the church,
whence, after the marriage ceremony, he was again conveyed to the
tender. I think I see the commiserating expression on the mahogany faces
of those old Jacks, as they witness the impressed man saying good-bye to
his Poll.

In 1807, a woman, dressed in sailor’s clothes, was brought before the
Lord Mayor of London. She said that she had been apprenticed by her
step-father at Whitby to a collier called the _Mayflower_; that she had
served four years out of the seven without her sex being discovered;
that she was bound when she was thirteen years old, and that her
step-father had likewise bound her mother to the sea—this lady being
killed, whilst serving as a sailor, at the battle of Copenhagen! She
said that her ship was at Woolwich, and that she had run away because
the mate had rope’s-ended her for not getting up. She was provided with
female attire and sent to her parish.

In 1792, the Marchioness de Bouillé and Madame de Noailles arrived at
Brighton from Dieppe. The marchioness crossed the channel in an open
boat, and was disguised as a sailor! The other, who was in mean male
attire, crossed in one of the packets, the master of the vessel having
pitied her and taken her under his protection.

Another romantic instance may be quoted: it is given in the _Naval
Chronicle_ (1802), and seems authentic enough. A gentleman, towards the
end of the last century, became bankrupt. He went to Bradford with two
daughters, and there died of a broken heart. The girls were left
absolutely without provision. Rather than starve—or beg, which was worse
than starving to these high-spirited women—they resolved to assume the
character and dress of men and enter the navy. They went to Portsmouth
and obtained a situation on the quarter-deck—as the term then was—of a
troopship bound to the West Indies. They were engaged, we are told, in
the reduction of Curaçoa, “and served with credit in two or three
actions in those seas, till one of them was wounded by a splinter in her
side, when her sex being discovered, she was discharged, and came to
England about six weeks since,” making the date about May, 1802.
Meanwhile, the other sister was ill with fever, having been put ashore
at Dominica. Believing herself to be dying, she sent for one of the
officers of the ship, disclosed her sex to him, and related her story.
“The discovery gave tenderness to the esteem he had before entertained
for his young friend; his attentions contributed to her convalescence.
In short, she recovered, they were married, and are now returned to
England in possession of the means to render happy the remainder of
their days.”

It is a common saying at sea on a fine bright day, “That if it were
always such weather, ships would go manned with ladies.” Possibly if the
romance of women sailors terminated with handsome lovers and well-to-do
husbands, there might, even in these practical days, arise the same
necessity for overhauling the forecastle for masquerading girls that is
now found for overhauling the hold for stowaways. But the time for
Hannah Snells, for Mary Anne Talbots, otherwise John Taylors, for Ann
Bonnys and Mary Reads is dead and gone. Those heroines belonged to a
seafaring age of which old salts are ridiculed for deploring the
extinction. And in sober truth old salts must not grumble if they are
laughed at for thus lamenting, for surely better six days to New York in
a steamer wholly free of Hannah Snells than four months to the same port
in a ship entirely worked by Mary Anne Talbots.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         _FIGHTING SMUGGLERS._


I have noticed of late (1886) an exceptional degree of spasmodic vigour
in the direction of the suppression of smuggling. It is not, indeed,
that the Customs’ people have afforded proofs more astonishing than
usual of their peculiar power of discovering tobacco, spirits,
eau-de-Cologne, cigars, and the like in inconceivable and apparently
impracticable shipboard nooks and holes; the special display takes the
comparatively unaccustomed form of small men-of-war chasing smack-rigged
craft flying Dutch colours, and bearing the strange name of “coopers” or
“copers.” It is not known, I think, that there is any British or other
law which renders illegal the act of sailing the high seas with a hold
freighted with spirits, tobacco, and perfumes. That this is so may be
gathered from the case of a Dutch cooper which, after an “exciting
chase,” was brought to and boarded by a small cruiser and carried into
an English port. But she had not been long detained before orders
arrived for her release. One sees in a thing of this kind how hard it is
to squeeze the least drop of romance from marine events in these days.
Chases may be “exciting:” but they are of the rocket pattern—fire going
up and stick coming down. Where is now the burly smuggling salt with a
face as big and as full of colour as a topside of beef, great fearnought
trousers, and boots; a stout jacket, plentifully garnished with buttons;
a striped shirt and a large silk neckerchief, and a belt broken by the
shafts of knives, the hilt of a cutlass, the butt-ends and gleaming
barrels of a brace or more of big pistols? “Old Stormy he is dead and
gone!” is the burden of a sea-chorus that is very applicable to those
heavy villains of the long-shore theatre, Dirk Hatterick and bold Will
Watch. The issue of a chase in these times is strictly in correspondence
with the decidedly sneaking way in which smuggling—such as it is—is
carried on. The concealment of a few watches in the heels of a pair of
shoes; yards of pigtail snugly coiled away in cheeses; cigars
marvellously well packed in the hollow hearts of balks of timber; how
dull, mean, twopenny are such devices in the face of the defiant heroism
of those historic braves who, waiting for moonless nights, mastheaded
their lug-sails in death-like silence, and stole out into the wide
waters of the English, the Irish, the Bristol Channels, a mere blot of
ink upon the dusk, crossing the hawse of cruisers like shadows of
vaporous wings, and melting into the sullen gloom of some secret bay
flanked by cliffs liberally honeycombed with caves and echoing
corridors![32]

Footnote 32:

  Nevertheless instances abound of extraordinary ingenuity even in the
  faint-hearted directions. “When,” says a writer whose book now dates
  back many years, “I arrived the first voyage from Bombay, I had a few
  rows of Cornelian beads which I had purchased there for some friends
  at home. For some time they lay snug enough in the toe of an old shoe,
  at the bottom of my chest, until we got in the river, when I gave them
  to the second mate to place in greater security. Next day, as the men
  were receiving rations, the word was passed that the searchers were
  alongside. At the instant the second mate came running to me with my
  beads. He had not been able to discover a good place to conceal them.
  I ran to the steward; he took them, and lifting up one of his lockers,
  where lay a large snake coiled up like a top-sail sheet, he lifted up
  its terrific head and threw my beads under its straw. The searchers
  came, overhauled the steward’s traps and lifted up the lid of the
  locker. The snake put forth its forked tongue—the lid dropped from the
  searcher’s hand!”

Long antecedent to the days in which the Dutch cooper coquets with her
Majesty’s customs, and seduces Revenue cruisers into issueless pursuits,
the smuggler gave the naval officer as much to do as the Frenchman or
the Batavian. The fights were desperate; there was scarce an anker of
run brandy that did not represent a life. It is not pleasant, perhaps,
in the old pictures and book “embellishments” to see a smart frigate in
hot pursuit of a top-sail lugger, and to know that yon puff of smoke at
the bow of the chaser represents a cannon ball fired by an Englishman at
his own countrymen. Whenever that sort of thunder is raised under the
British Jack, you feel that the destination of the levin-brand which
preceded it ought not at all events to be an English hull or an English
breast. Nevertheless the blood will tingle to those early cuts and
whole-page illustrations. How grandly the cruiser looms up astern! The
spray breaks as far aft as the gangway, and the silver glitter sweeps in
sparkling smoke over the sprit-sail yard that has been got “fore and
aft” in readiness. Her royals soar cloud-like among the clouds, and her
flag, as big as the main-topgallant-sail, streams its milky splendour of
white bunting, crimson-crossed and nobly jacked in the corner, from the
signal halliards at the end of the spanker gaff. But the eye, and,
perhaps, the heart, is with that nimble shape in the foreground. She is
a three-masted lugger, with yards long enough to give as much head to
the canvas as would serve to blow a _Royal George_ along. What a spring
she has of bow! How elegant is the sweep of the line of her lee rail,
lying dark amid the wash of cream there! Not so much as a puff from a
musket-barrel answers that fore-chaser, blazing away at her astern. If
the Revenue were not the abstraction that, with Charles Lamb, one
somehow regards it, one would wish that saucy smuggler speedily
overhauled. As it is, the sympathetic artist, by introducing a touch of
thickness away to windward there, hints at the approach of a fog, and at
the possibility, even yet, of that crouching whiskered crew successfully
landing their tobacco, spirits, silk, and tea.

The old smuggling laws were somewhat stiff. Compared to them how mild
are the penalties which the modern collector of Customs can press for!
In the good old times, in the days of the fine old English gentleman—on
whose account, by the way, it is nowhere recorded that any human being
ever went into mourning—a penalty of £300 was imposed upon any master of
a ship coming from abroad having more than one hundred pounds of tea on
board or more than one hundred gallons of foreign spirits in casks under
sixty gallons (besides two gallons for each seaman). Foreign spirits
imported from any part of Europe, in a vessel containing less than sixty
gallons, were forfeited along with the ship and her furniture. If any
goods, such as tea or coffee, liable to forfeiture were found on board a
ship bound from foreign ports, lying at anchor or “hovering” within two
leagues of the coast, the ship, if not above two hundred tons, was
forfeited. Any person selling coffee, tea, cocoa-nuts, or chocolate was
forced to write “Dealer in coffee, etc.,” over his door under a penalty
of £200. Illustrations of this kind make one see the sort of risks the
smuggler ran in those days. Not but that the public should have held
themselves very much obliged for all these penalties and punishments. It
is on record that, information having been laid against some persons
living in Dorsetshire for harbouring smuggled tea, their houses were
searched, and there were found about thirty pounds of tea, mixed with
leaves, and one thousand and thirty pounds weight of ash, elder, and
sloe leaves, dried and prepared, ready for mixing with the tea! This was
about the time when the poet Cowper in his nightcap was celebrating the
merits of the cup that cheers. But did it not inebriate? Think of the
proportion of a thousand and thirty pounds of ash, elder, and sloe
leaves, to thirty pounds of the Hong merchant’s sample! All these leaves
were got in the summer, and I read that the poor of the district were so
well paid for collecting them, that the farmers could not obtain
labourers for their harvests.

The war waged by the State against the smuggler was as vengeful as the
hottest against a foreign foe. As an example: in 1784 the severity of
the winter had obliged the smugglers to lay up a great number of their
vessels. It was suggested to Mr. Pitt that a fine opportunity offered
for destroying these boats, if sufficient force could be procured to
prevent the smugglers from attempting a rescue. Pitt sent word to the
war office for a regiment of soldiers to be at Deal on a certain day.
The officer in command of the soldiers found on his arrival that the
people of the town having got scent of what was to happen, had advised
the publicans to pull down their signs that the soldiers should not be
able to get quarters. They consented and no quarters were to be had.
Eventually the men obtained shelter in a barn, but the officer had the
utmost difficulty to procure provisions for them. Next day some cutters
were seen lying off the beach and the soldiers marched down to the
water. The inhabitants thought the troops would embark in the cutters.
Then it was that the order was given to burn the boats, and the force
being great, the people were obliged to stand idly looking on, not
daring a rescue.

Those were days when a cruise against the smugglers promised some
excellent pickings. One of the most successful of the cruising ships was
the _Atalanta_, of eighteen guns, that was hardly paid off and her crew
discharged when, such was her popularity, on being almost immediately
re-commissioned men entered with extraordinary eagerness. In one short
cruise alone she captured eight sail and nearly two thousand ankers of
spirits, besides bale goods; and every man’s share of the prize money
amounted to twice the value of his wages. The old reports run thus:
“Came in the _Atalanta_, eighteen guns, Captain Mansfield, with a fine
smuggling cutter of eighty tons, called the _Admiral Pole_, of Exeter,
with one hundred and seventy ankers of spirits, taken after a long
chase. She was seized some months since at Weymouth for having an over
quantity of spirits on board, and was liberated on bond being given to
the Board of Customs and Excise.” Or, “Came in, the _Eagle_, Excise
cutter, Captain Ward, with a fine smuggling cutter, called the _Swift_
(formerly the _Bonaparte_, French privateer), with five hundred tubs of
brandy, after a long chase within the limits of the _Dodman_.” Or,
“Sailed on a cruise against the smugglers, the _Ranger_, cutter, Captain
A. Fraser.” Or, “Came in from a cruise against the smugglers, the
_Galatea_, of thirty-six guns, Captain Wolfe.”

It will be judged that if bold Will Watch or belted Joe Marline
succeeded in running his goods it was certainly not through lack of
attention to him on the part of the King’s navy. And, as may be
supposed, many black deeds of violence and murder are on record. The
story of an assassination eminently characteristic of the old smuggling
times is preserved in the Old Bailey annals. On the night of December
26, 1798, a Custom House officer went in a boat to look after smugglers
near Cawsand Bay on the coast of Cornwall. He saw a sloop lying at
anchor, the people of which hailed him, and asked him whose boat it was.
He answered that it was a King’s boat. They warned him not to approach;
if he did, they would fire on him; he was then some eight or ten fathoms
distant from the sloop. His men, nothing daunted, continued to row,
whilst he held the Revenue colours in his hand. The smugglers fired a
volley from their muskets, slipped their cable, and made off. One of the
men in the boat was killed. The smugglers were apprehended on the
evidence of one of their own people. This man, named Tom Rogers, said
that he was a sailor on board the vessel (named the _Lottery_) on the
night referred to. They had just arrived from Guernsey with a cargo of
smuggled spirits, and, at the moment of the approach of the Customs’
boat, they were discharging the tubs into boats alongside. The witness
declared that after they had made sail, one of the crew named Potter
said it was he who had fired, that he had taken good aim, and had seen a
man drop in the boat. On this evidence Potter was found guilty, and
hanged at Execution Dock.

But whatever may be thought of the morality of the smuggler, it is
indisputable that his cutter or lugger was a magnificent nursery for
seamen. The exploits of some of these fellows in respect of recaptures
alone would fill a stout volume with wonderful instances of intrepidity
and seamanship. Take the case of the _Echo_, of Poole, that was boarded
by a French privateer, and retaken by the mate and a boy of twelve, who
seized the helmsman, forced him below with two French seamen, battened
them down, and brought them to Plymouth.

Of the _Marquis of Granby_, that was captured off the Goodwins by a
French lugger; the captain and two men were put into the Frenchman’s
boat, in order to be conveyed on board the privateer, that was giving
chase to another vessel, and that, by carrying a press of sail, in a
short time left the boat nearly five miles astern. On observing this the
smuggling skipper wrested a sword out of the hands of the officer of the
boat, and compelled the French sailors to row him back to his own ship.
This done, he gallantly boarded her, sword in hand, and speedily cleared
the deck of the Frenchmen, who, to save their lives, jumped overboard,
and were picked up by their own boat. The smuggler then proceeded on his
voyage; but what became of the French sailors was never known.

Of the _William_, that was captured by a privateer off Bridlington; all
the crew, except three, were taken out and five Frenchmen put on board.
The three Englishmen found means to choke the pumps with ashes, and made
the Frenchmen believe the vessel was sinking. Sooner than go to the
bottom they agreed to make for the nearest port, and eventually they
carried the _William_ to Sunderland. The Frenchmen, I read, were landed
the same evening, “and have since been sent to Durham gaol.”

Of the _Beaver_, that was captured by a French privateer, named La
Braave, of eighteen guns and seventy men. They put a prize-master and
four seamen in the prize, leaving only the captain and a boy on board.
The skipper contrived to secure the French prize-master by seizing him
in the cabin and fastening his hands behind him; he then ran on deck
with a crow-bar and a pistol, and in the scuffle the steersman fell
overboard, and was drowned. The other three were aloft. The English
captain, taking the helm, ordered them to remain aloft, or he would
shoot them. In this manner he steered the vessel all night, and next
morning sighting an English frigate, signalled and was brought safely to
port by her. There is something not a little humorous in the thought of
those three Frenchmen hanging on aloft all night, the smuggling
Britisher at the helm, steering with one hand and with the other
covering them with a pistol.

These are but a plum or two from a pudding very rich with such fruit.
Somehow the British mariner of that period never could be taught to
respect the French seaman as an adversary. Again and again you read of a
man and a boy out-manœuvring and subduing a fair ship’s company of
wooden-shoes. I sometimes fancy that Napoleon Bonaparte helped to
confirm the Englishman’s indifference to the French mariner—the
intellectual heritage of years of conquest—by his coddling policy of
dress and treatment. The uniform he himself designed for his nautical
braves consisted of a blue jacket in the manner and of the cut of those
of dragoons; red waistcoat with gilt buttons, and blue cloth pantaloons;
red stockings, pointed shoes with round buckles, cropped hair “without
powder!” They were ordered to change their shirts three times a week,
and when on shore to wear small cocked hats. They were also provided
with red nightcaps, ordered to be washed once a week. Every man had two
nightcaps and two neckcloths. They were obliged to comb their hair three
times in the seven days, and to be shaved twice a week. Their captains
called them “mes enfans.” It was impossible for Jack to have a high
opinion of marine masqueraders after this pattern, and when it came to
fighting, the more the merrier, as you notice in the actions of
smuggling men and boys.

The smugglers often turned out some fine useful seamen. There was Mr.
Harry Paulet, who happened to be sneaking home with a cargo of brandy
one morning when the French fleet, under Conflans, had stolen out of
Brest, while Admiral Hawke lay concealed behind Ushant to watch the
motions of the enemy. Paulet, loving his country better than his cargo,
ran up to the British admiral, and, asking leave to speak to him, was
allowed to go aboard. On his telling what he knew of the enemy, Hawke
said if he was right he would make his fortune; but that if he _lied_ he
would hang him at the yard-arm. The fleet was instantly under weigh, and
by Paulet’s directions was presently brought between the enemy and the
French coast. The admiral then ordered Paulet into his own vessel; but
the bold smuggler begged leave to remain, that he might assist in
beating the enemy. This favour was granted, a station was assigned to
Paulet, who fought like a gamecock, and when the battle was over he was
sent home with a pocket full of letters of commendation, and
subsequently rewarded in such a manner as to enable him to live in ease
during the rest of his life. The famous comedian, Parsons, used to say
that “he would rather spend a crown to hear Harry Paulet relate one of
Hawke’s battles than sit gratis by the most celebrated orator of the
day. There was,” said Parsons, “a manner in his heart-felt narrations
that was certain to bring his auditors into the very scene of action;
and when describing the moments of victory I have seen a dozen labouring
men, at the Crown public house, rise together and, moved by an
instantaneous impulse, give three cheers while Harry took breath to
recite more of his exploits.”

Johnson, a smuggler, achieved amazing reputation as a pilot and seaman.
He was several times locked up, laid in irons, as for instance in the
New Jail in the Borough, and the Fleet, but always managed to break out,
and at this work was a complete Jack Sheppard. He went to Holland, and
his fame as a seafarer having spread, the French Government offered to
make a settlement of £600 a year upon his family if he would engage in
the attempt to invade England; but the bold smuggler was a patriot, and
said no. His life was then threatened, but the skill that was equal to a
Borough jail was superior to a French prison. Johnson got away, came
home, and received King George’s pardon in consideration of “qualities
which would do honour to a more elevated state.” But smugglers after the
pattern of Paulet and Johnson have long ceased to flourish. Well may the
old tar sing:

                Farewell to every sea-delight!
                  The cruise, with eager watchful days,
                 The skilful chace by glimmering night,
                 The well-worked ship, the gallant fight,
                  The lov’d commander’s praise!

Will Watch has flung down his hanger and pistols, and appears in the
more amiable and less hazardous part of a ship’s steward, a lascar, a
foremast seaman, with a few pounds of cigars in his shirt or a cube of
honeydew under his bunk boards. The coastguard, it is true, still keeps
a look-out; but if it were not for the gardens and lawn-tennis grounds
which his superior officer sets him to work upon, he would find his
calling very dull and uneventful.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             _SEA PHRASES._


“The sea-language,” says Sir William Monson in his “Naval Tracts,” “is
not soon learned, and much less understood, being only proper to him
that has served his apprenticeship; besides that, a boisterous sea and
stormy weather will make a man not bred to it so sick that it bereaves
him of legs, stomach, and courage so much as to fight with his meat; and
in such weather, when he hears the seamen cry starboard or port, or to
bide aloof,[33] or flat a sheet, or haul home a clew-line, he thinks he
hears a barbarous speech, which he conceives not the meaning of.” This
is as true now as then. But the landsman is not to blame. There is no
dialect peculiar to a calling so crowded with strange words as the
language of the sea. Dr. Samuel Johnson, who is never more diverting
than when he thunders forth his abhorrence of naval life and of sailors
as a community of persons, has in some cases perpetuated, and in some
cases created, the most ludicrous errors regarding ships, their
furniture and crews. If, as Macaulay declares, the Doctor was at the
mercy of Junius and Skinner in many of his shore-going derivatives, he
was equally at the mercy of Bailey and Harris when he came to the ocean.
A few samples will suffice.

Footnote 33:

  “Keep your luff!”

“_Topgallant_, the highest sail.” “_Topsail_, the highest sail.” The
word topgallant, as Johnson prints it, is not a sail at all. Had Johnson
defined the “topgallant-sail” as the highest sail, he would have been
right; for in his day there was no canvas set above the topgallant yard.
But it is manifest that if the “topgallant-sail” was the highest sail,
the top-sail could not be the highest too. “_Tiller_, the rudder of a
boat.” The proverbial schoolboy knows better than that. “_Shrouds_, the
sail-ropes. It seems to be taken sometimes for the sails.” It is hardly
necessary to say that the shrouds have nothing whatever to do with the
sails. They are ropes—in Johnson’s day of hemp, in our time of wire—for
the support of lower, top, and topgallant masts. “_Sheets._” This word
he correctly defines, borrowing his definition from a dictionary. But he
adds, “Dryden seems to understand it otherwise;” and quotes—

             “Fierce Boreas drove against his flying sails,
               And rent the _sheets_.”

It is very evident that Dryden perfectly understood the term as
signifying the ropes at the clews or corners of sails. “_Quarter-deck_,
the short upper deck.” This is as incorrect as “_Poop_, the hindmost
part of the ship.” The poop lies aft, to be sure, but it is no more the
hindmost part of the ship than the mizzen-mast is—any more than the
quarter-deck need necessarily be “short” or “upper”—in the sense clearly
intended by Johnson. “_Overhale_, to spread over.” Overhale then
signified what is now meant by overhaul. To overhaul a rope is to drag
it through a block; to overhaul a ship is to search her. It certainly
does not mean “to spread over,” nor, in my judgment, does Spenser employ
it in that sense in the triplet that Johnson appends. “_Loofed_, gone to
a distance.” Loofed in Johnson’s day denoted a ship that had
luffed—_i.e._ put her helm down to come closer to the wind. “_Keel_, the
bottom of the ship.” No doubt the keel is at the bottom of the ship, but
sailors would no more understand it as a ship’s bottom than they would
accept the word “beam” as a definition of the word “deck.” Johnson gives
“_helm_” as “the steerage, the rudder.” It is plain that he is here
under the impression that “steerage” is pretty much the same as
“steering.” In reality the helm is no more the rudder than it is the
tiller, the wheel, the wheel-chains, or ropes and the relieving-tackles.
It is a generic term, and means the whole apparatus by which a ship is
steered. “_Belay_, to belay a rope; to splice; to mend a rope by laying
one end over another.” To belay a rope is to make it fast.[34]

Footnote 34:

  Bailey correctly defines this word: “to fasten any running rope so
  that when it is haled it cannot run out again.” Either Johnson doubted
  Bailey (whom he quotes nevertheless) as an authority, or consulted him
  for his sea-words at capricious intervals.

These examples could be multiplied; but it is not my purpose to
criticize Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. Yet, as it is admittedly the
basis of most of the dictionaries in use, it is worth while calling
attention to errors which have survived without question or correction
into the later compilations.

These and the like blunders merely indicate the extreme difficulty that
confronts, not indeed the etymologist—for I nowhere discover any signs
of research in the direction of marine originals—but the plain definer
of nautical words. The truth is, before a man undertakes to explain the
language of sailors he should go to sea. It is only by mixing with
sailors, by hearing and executing orders, that one can distinguish the
shades of meaning amidst the scores of subtleties of the mariner’s
speech. It is, of course, hard to explain what the sailor himself could
not define save by the word he himself employs. Take, for example,
“inboard” and “aboard.” You say of a man entering a ship that he has
gone “aboard her;” of a boat hanging at the davits that it must be swung
“inboard.” There is a nicety here difficult of discrimination, but it is
fixed nevertheless. You would not say of a man in a ship that he is
“inboard,” nor of davits that they must be slewed “aboard.” So of “aft”
and “abaft.” They both mean the same thing, but they are not applied in
the same way. A man is “aft” when he is on the quarter-deck or poop; you
could not say he is “abaft.” But suppose him to be beyond the
mizzen-mast, you would say “he is standing abaft the mizzen-mast,” not
“he is standing aft it.”

Peculiarities of expression abound in sea-language to a degree not to be
paralleled by the eccentricities of other vocational dialects. A man who
sleeps in his bunk or hammock all night, or through his watch on deck,
“lies in” or “sleeps in.” But neither term is applicable if he sleeps
through his watch below. “Idlers,” as they are called, such as the cook,
steward, butcher, and the like, are said to have “all night in”—that is,
“all night _in_ their bunks or hammocks.” To “lay” is a word plentifully
employed in directions which to a landsman should render its
signification hopelessly bewildering. “This word ‘lay,’” says Richard
Dana, in a note to “Two Years Before the Mast,” “which is in such
general use on board ship, being used in giving orders instead of ‘go,’
as ‘_Lay_ forward!’ ‘Lay aft!’ ‘Lay aloft!’ etc., I do not understand to
be the neuter verb _lie_ mis-pronounced, but to be the active verb
‘_lay_’ with the objective case understood, as ‘Lay _yourselves_
forward!’ ‘Lay _yourselves_ aft!’ etc. At all events, lay is an active
verb at sea and means go.” It is, however, used in other senses, as to
“lay up a rope,” “the ship lay along,” the old expression for a vessel
pressed down by the force of the wind. Other terms strike the land-going
ear as singular contradictions, such as “to _make_ land,” to “_fetch_
such and such a place”—_i.e._ to reach it by sailing, but properly to
arrive at it by means of beating or tacking; “_jump_ aloft,” run aloft;
“_tumble_ up,” come up from below; “bear a hand,” look sharp, make
haste; “handsomely,” as in the expression, “Lower away handsomely!”
meaning, lower away with judgment, but promptly; “bully,” a term of
kindly greeting, as “Bully for you!”[35]

Footnote 35:

  This and other terms must now be called Americanisms. But they are
  Americanisms only as are other old words which the people of the
  United States have preserved from the language of their English
  forefathers, but which on this side of the water are obsolete, or
  employed with a different meaning.

The difficulties of the lexicographer desiring the inclusion of nautical
terms in his list are not a little increased by the sailor’s love of
contractions, or his perversities of pronunciation. Let me cite a few
examples. The word “treenail,” for instance—a wooden spike—in Jack’s
mouth becomes “trunnel.” “To reach” is to sail along close-hauled; but
the sailor calls it “ratch.” “Gunwale,” as everybody knows, is “gunnel,”
and so spelt by the old marine writers. “Crossjack,” a sail that sets
upon a yard called the “crossjack yard,” on the mizzen-mast, is
pronounced “crojjeck.” The “strap” of a block is always termed “strop;”
“streak,” a single range of planks running from one end of the ship or
boat to the other, is “strake;” “to serve,” that is, to wind small
stuff, such as spun-yarn, round a rope, is “to sarve.” The numerous
contractions, however, are pre-eminently illustrative of the two
distinctive qualities of the English sailor—nimbleness and alertness.
Everything must be done quickly at sea: there is no time for
sesquipedalianism. If there be a long word it must be shortened somehow.
To spring, to jump, to leap, to tumble, to keep his eyes skinned, to
hammer his fingers into fish-hooks: these are the things required of
Jack. He dances, he sings, he drinks, he is in all senses a lively
hearty; but underlying his intellectual and physical caper-cutting is
deep perception of the sea as a mighty force, a remorseless foe. The
matter seems trifling, yet the national character is in it.

A great number of words are used by sailors which are extremely
disconcerting to landsmen, as apparently sheer violations of familiar
sounds and the images they convey. To lash: ashore, this is to beat with
a whip, to thrash; at sea it means to make anything fast by securing it
with a rope. To foul: when a sailor speaks of one thing fouling another,
he does not intend to say that one thing soils or dirties another, but
that it has got mixed in a manner to make separation a difficulty. “Our
ship drove and fouled a vessel astern.” A line is foul when it is
twisted, when it jams in a block. “Seize” is to attach: it does not
mean, “to grasp.” “Seizing” is the line or lanyard or small stuff by
which anything is made fast. “Whip:” this word naturally conveys the
idea of the implement for flogging, for driving; in reality, it
signifies a line rove through a single block. “Whip it up!” hoist it up
by means of the tackle called a whip. “Get it whipped!” get it hoisted
by a whip. “Sweep” looks like a fellow who cleans a chimney; at sea it
is a long oar. “Board” is not a plank, but the distance measured by a
ship or vessel sailing on either tack, and beating against the wind
before she puts her helm down for the next “ratch.” “Guy” has nothing to
do with the fifth of November, nor with a person absurdly dressed, but
is a rope used for steadying a boom. “Ribands” are pieces of timber
nailed outside the ribs of a wooden ship. “Ear-rings” are ropes for
reefing or for securing the upper corners of a sail to the yard-arms.

The bewilderment increases when Jack goes to zoology for terms. “Fox” is
a lashing made by twisting rope-yarns together. “Spanish fox” is a
single yarn untwisted and “laid up” the contrary way. “Monkey” is a
heavy weight of iron used in shipbuilding for driving in long bolts.
“Cat” is a tackle used for hoisting up the anchor. “Mouse” or “mousing”
was formerly a ball of yarns fitted to the collars of stays. “To mouse”
is to put turns of rope-yarn round the hook of a block to prevent it
from slipping. “Spider” is an iron outrigger. “Lizard” is a piece of
rope with a “thimble” spliced into it. “Whelps” are pieces of wood or
iron bolted on the main-piece of a windlass, or on a winch. “Leech”[36]
is the side-edge of a sail. “Sheepshank” is the name given to a manner
of shortening a rope by hitches over a bight of its own part.

Footnote 36:

  Sometimes spelt “leach,” and perhaps correctly. “To leach” formerly
  signified to “cut up.” In a sense the “leach,” or “leech,” may be
  taken as meaning the cut sides of the sail. Leach also meant “hard
  work.”

Of such terms as these, how is the etymology to be come at? The name of
the animal might have been suggested in a few cases, as in “lizard,”
perhaps, by some dim or fanciful resemblance to it in the object that
wanted a title. But “monkey,” “fox,” “cat,” and other such appellations,
must have an origin referable to any other cause than that of their
likeness to the creatures they are called after. It is possible that
these names may be corruptions from Saxon and other terms expressive of
totally different meanings. It will be supposed that “Spanish fox” comes
from the Spaniards’ habit of using “foxes” formed of single yarns. We
have, for example, “Spanish windlass,” as we have “French fake,” “French
sennit,” etc. The derivatives of some words are suggested by their
sounds. “Bowse,” pronounced “Bowce,” is a familiar call at sea. “Bowse
it taut, lads!” “Take and bowse upon those halliards!” The men _pull
off_ upon the rope and bow it by their action. It is therefore
conceivable that “bowse” may have come from “bow,” “bows.”[37] “Dowse,”
pronounced “dowce,” signifies to lower, to haul down suddenly. Also to
extinguish, as “dowse the glim,” “put out the light.” The French word
“_douce_” is probably the godfather here. But “rouse,” pronounced
“rouce”? “Rouse it aft, boys!” It means, to drag smartly. Does it really
signify what it looks to express—to “rouse up” the object that is to be
handled? It is wonderful to note how, on the whole, the language of the
sea has preserved its substance and sentiment through the many
generations of seafarers down to the present period of iron plates and
steel masts, of the propeller and the steam engine. The reason is that,
great as has been the apparent change wrought in the body and fabric of
ships since the days of the _Great Harry_ of the sixteenth century, and
the _Royal George_ of the eighteenth century, the nomenclature of remote
times still perfectly answers to a mass of nautical essentials, more
especially as regards the masts, yards, rigging, and sails of a vessel.
And another reason lies in the strong conservative spirit of the sailor.
There was a loud outcry when the Admiralty many years ago condemned the
term “larboard,” and ordered the word “port” to be substituted. The name
was not to be abandoned without a violent struggle, and many throes of
prejudice, on the part of the old salts. What was good enough for
Hawkins, Duncan, Howe, Rodney, Nelson, was surely good enough for their
successors.

Footnote 37:

  Old dictionaries give “to bowse” as meaning “to drink hard.” The
  correct etymology might lie in this direction.

Not in many directions do I find new readings of old terms. As a rule,
where the feature has disappeared the term has gone with it. Where the
expression is retained the meaning is more or less identical with the
original words. A few exceptions may be quoted: “Bittacle” was anciently
the name of the binnacle; obviously derived from the French _habitacle_
(a small habitation). “Caboose” was formerly the name of the galley or
kitchen of small merchantmen. Falconer spells it “coboose,” and
describes it as a sort of box or house to cover the chimney of some
merchant ships. Previous to the introduction of the caboose, the
furnaces for cooking were, in three-deckers, placed on the middle deck;
in two-decked ships in the forecastle; and, adds my authority (the
anonymous author of a treatise on shipbuilding, written in 1701), “also
in all ships which have forecastles the provisions are there dressed.”
“Cuddy” is a forcible, old-fashioned word that has been replaced by the
mincing, affected term “saloon.” In the last century it signified “a
sort of cabin or cookroom in the fore-part or near the stern of a
lighter or barge of burden.” It is curious to note the humble origin of
a term subsequently taken to designate the gilded and sumptuous
first-class cabin accommodation of the great Indian, American, and
Australian ships. “Forecastle,” again, I find defined by old writers as
“a place fitted for a close fight on the upper deck forward.” The term
was retained to denote the place in which the crew live.

The exploded expressions are numerous. A short list may prove of
interest. “Hulling” and “trying” were the words which answer to what we
now call “hove-to.” “Sailing large,” having the wind free or quartering;
this expression is dead. “Plying” was the old term for “beating”—“we
plyed to windward”—_i.e._ “we beat to windward.” The word is obsolete,
as is “spooning,” replaced by “scudding.” For “veering” we have
substituted “wearing.” Some good strong, expressive phrases have
vanished. Nobody nowadays talks of “clawing-off,” though the expression
is perfect as representing a vessel clutching and grabbing at the wind
in her efforts to haul off from a lee shore. For “shivering” we now say
“shaking.” “The top-sail shivers in the wind!” In these days it
“shakes.” We no longer speak of the “top-sail atrip,” but of the
top-sail hoisted or the yard mast-headed. “Hank for hank,” signifying
two ships beating together and always going about at the same moment, so
that one cannot get to windward of the other, is now “tack for tack.” We
have ceased to “heave out stay-sails:” they are now loosed and hoisted.
The old “horse” has made way for the “foot-rope,” though we still retain
the term “Flemish horse” for the short foot-rope at the top-sail
yard-arms. The word “horse” readily suggests the origin of the term
“stirrup,” a rope fitted to the foot-rope that it may not be weighed
down too deep by the men standing on it. It is plain that “horse” is
owing to the seamen “riding” the yard by it. Anything traversed was
called a “horse.” The term is still used. The “round-house” or “coach”
yielded to “cuddy,” as “cuddy” has to “saloon.” The poop remains; but
the “poop-royal” of the French and the Spaniards, or the “topgallant
poop” of our own shipwrights—a short deck over the aftermost part of the
poop—has utterly disappeared.

“Whoever were the inventors,” writes Sir Walter Raleigh in “A Discourse
of Shipping,” included in his Genuine Remains, “we find that every age
hath added somewhat to ships, and to all things else; and in mine own
time the shape of our English ships hath been greatly bettered. It is
not long since the striking of the Top-mast (a wonderful ease to great
Ships both at Sea and in Harbour) hath been devised, together with the
Chain Pump, which takes up twice as much water as the ordinary did. We
have lately added the Bonnet and the Drabler. To the Courses, we have
devised Studding Sails, topgallant Sails, Sprit-sails, Topsails. The
Weighing of Anchors by the Capstone is also new. We have fallen into
consideration of the length of Cables, and by it we resist the malice of
the greatest Winds that can blow.”

Although this passage has reference to improvements made in the fabrics
of ships during the closing years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth and of
the opening of that of James I., it is curious, as illustrative of the
conservatism of the sailor, that by omitting the “sprit-sail” these
words of Raleigh might stand for the ships of to-day. No sailor
unacquainted with the archæology of his own calling would believe that
the studding-sail, the bonnet, the drabbler, the chain-pump, the
topgallant-sail, and even the sprit-sail (a sail that was in use down to
so late a period as the close of the first quarter of the present
century) were as old as Raleigh’s hey-day. Certainly the terms given by
Sir Walter would furnish us with a clue to the paternity of these
cloths. “Studding-sail,” for example. Falconer derives it from _scud_,
_stead_, or _steady_. I am inclined to think it is derived from the verb
“to stud”—to adorn, to cover, but not necessarily, as Johnson says,
“with studs or shining knobs.” It is quite conceivable to think of a
forked-beard lifted over a ruff in admiration of canvas that raises the
cry, “By’r Lady, but she is now studded with sail!” Assuredly we moderns
would not regard a studding-sail as a steadying sail in any sense of the
word. The “bonnet” mentioned by Raleigh is an additional piece of canvas
made to lace on to the foot of a sail. The term _bonnet_ applied to a
thing worn at the _foot_ advises us of an ironical derivative. But of
“drabbler” the etymology is obvious. To drabble is to wet, to befoul.
Now the drabbler is an additional piece of canvas laced to the bonnet,
and necessarily coming very low, unquestionably takes its name from
“drabbling”—getting wet. The sprit-sail and sprit-top-sail are among the
vanished details; so indeed is the sprit-sail-yard, which may be said to
have been conquered, like a cold young virgin, by the invention of
“whiskers”—small booms or irons, one on each side the bowsprit, and
formerly projecting from the _cat-heads_, whence possibly the term. Of
many sea-expressions the origin is sufficiently transparent. I offer a
few examples. “Bilge” is the part of a vessel’s bottom which begins to
round upwards. The word is corrupted from the old “bulge, the outermost
and lowest part of a ship, that which she bears upon when she lies on
the ground.” “Butt” is the joining of two planks endways. “To start a
butt” is to loosen the end of a plank where it unites with another. This
word is got from “abut.” “Chock-a-block,” said when anything is hoisted
by a tackle as high as the block will let it go. Chock here means choke,
and in that sense is implied in such expressions as “chock-aft,”
“chock-home,” etc. Formerly “jib” was spelt “gyb.” A vessel in running
is said to “gybe” or “jibe” when the wind gets on the lee side of her
fore and aft sails and blows them over. As this in the old days of
square rigs and “mizon yards” would be peculiar to the “gyb” or “jib,”
the expression is sufficiently accounted for. “To stay” is to tack; a
ship “in stays” is a ship in the act of tacking. I interpret “to stay”
by the verb “to stop;” “she is staying”—she is stopping; “in stays”—in
the act of stopping.[38] “Tack” is the weather lower corner of a
square-course when set. “To tack” may be accepted as metaphorically
expressing the action of rounding into the wind in the direction of the
tacks. “topgallant,” says Johnson, “is proverbially applied to anything
elevated or splendid,” and quotes from L’Estrange: “I dare appeal to the
consciences of topgallant sparks.” Prior to the introduction of
topgallant sails, there was nothing higher than the topsails. Taking
“topgallant” as of proverbial application to whatever is elevated, if
not splendid, one easily sees how the topgallant fabric of a ship—its
sail, mast, and gear—obtained the name it is known by. “To luff” is to
put the helm down, so as to bring the vessel closer to the wind. This
word is manifestly taken from “loof,” which in olden times was the term
applied to the after-part of the bows of a ship. “Quick-work” was the
name given to that part of a ship’s sides which is above the
channel-wales. “’Tis commonly perform’d with Firdeal,” says an old
writer, “which don’t require the fastening nor the Time to work it, as
the other parts, but is Quicker done.” The ancient spelling gives us
“halyards” for “halliards”—ropes and tackles for hoisting sails and
yards. To hale is to haul; so that “halyards,” “halliards,” is _ben
trovato_.[39]

Footnote 38:

  This may seem too obvious; but meanings may often be sought a great
  deal too deep. “To bring a ship upon the stays” formerly signified to
  luff till the vessel lost all way.

Footnote 39:

  “Dead-eyes” were originally called “dead man’s eyes.” They are blocks
  with holes in them for setting up the rigging with.

In old marine narratives and novels the term “lady’s hole” frequently
occurs. I was long bothered by this expression, which I indirectly
gathered to signify a sort of cabin; but in what part of the ship
situated, and why so called, I could not imagine, until in the course of
my reading I lighted upon a description of a man-of-war of 1712, in
which it is stated that “the lady’s hole” is a place for the gunner’s
small stores, built between the partners of the mainmast, and looked
after by a man named “a lady,” “who is put in by turns to keep the
gun-room clean.” Terms of this kind are revelations in their way, as
showing for the most part the sort of road the marine philologist must
take in his search after originals and derivatives. A vessel is said to
be “hogged” when the middle part of her bottom is so strained as to
curve _upwards_. To the shape of a hog’s back, therefore, is this
expression owing. But the etymology of the word “sagged,” which
expresses the situation of a vessel when her bottom curves _downwards_
through being strained, I am unable to trace.[40] “Gangway” means the
going-way—the place by which you enter or quit a ship. “Gudgeons”—braces
or eyes fixed to the stern-post to receive the pintles of a rudder, I
find the meaning of in the old spelling for the same thing,
“gougings”—the eye being _gouged_ by the pintle. “Lumpers” is a name
given to dock-labourers who load or discharge vessels; it was their
custom to contract to do the work by the _lump_, and hence the word.
“Stevedore” (one whose occupation is to stow cargoes) originates with
the Spanish _estibador_, likewise a stower of cargoes. The etymology of
certain peculiarly nautical expressions in common use on shipboard must
be entirely conjectural. Take “swig off”—_i.e._ to pull upon a
perpendicular rope, the end of which is led under a belaying-pin. The
old readings give it as “swag off,” “swagging off.” The motion of this
sort of pulling is of a swaggering kind, and I have little doubt that
the expression of “swig,” or “swag,” comes from “swaggering.”[41] “Tail
on, tally on!” the order for more men to haul upon a rope, possibly
expresses its origination with some clearness. “Tail on!”—lengthen the
tail of pullers; “Tally on!”—add men in a countable way. It is usual to
speak of a ship as being “under way.” It should, I think, be “under
weigh.” The expression is wholly referable to the situation of a ship in
the act of moving after her anchor has been lifted or “weighed.”
Similarly should it be, “the anchor is aweigh,” not the anchor is
“away”—the mate’s cry from the forecastle when the anchor is atrip or
off the ground.

Footnote 40:

  To _sag_ used to mean “to hang as a bag on one side.” I cannot find
  anything in this definition to correspond with the sea-term. It
  suggests the etymology, however, of the phrase “to sag to leeward,”
  applicable to a ship trending leewardly through the action of waves
  and wind whilst sailing.

Footnote 41:

  Since this was written I find in Bailey, “To swag: to force or bear
  downwards as a weight does to hang on.” This settles the paternity of
  “swig.”

Blocks, a very distinctive feature in the equipment of a vessel, get
their names in numerous cases from their shape or conveniency. A
_cant_-block is so called because in whalers it is used for the tackles
which cant or turn the whale over when it is being stripped of its
blubber; a _fiddle_-block, because it has the shape of that instrument;
a _fly_-block, because it shifts its position when the tackle it forms a
part of is hauled upon; _leading_-blocks, because they are used for
guiding the direction of any purchase; _hook_-blocks, because they have
a hook at one end; _sister_-blocks, because they are two blocks formed
out of one piece of wood, and suggest a sentimental character by
intimate association; _snatch_-blocks, because a rope can be _snatched_
or whipped through the sheave without the trouble of reeving;
_tail_-blocks, because they are fitted with a short length or _tail_ of
rope by which they are lashed to the gear; _shoulder_-blocks, because
their shape hints at a _shoulder_, there being a projection left on one
side of the shell to prevent the falls from jamming. In this direction
the marine philologist will find his work all plain sailing. The sources
whence the sails, or most of them, take their appellations are readily
grasped when the leading features of the apparently complicated fabric
on high are understood. The _stay-sails_ obtain their names from the
stays on which they travel. “Top-sail” was so entitled when it was
literally the top or uppermost sail. The origin of the word “royal”[42]
for the sail above the topgallant-sail we must seek in the fancy that
found the noble superstructure of white cloths _crowned_ by that
heaven-seeking space of canvas.

Footnote 42:

  This sail was, on its introduction, called “topgallant-royal.”

The etymology of “hitches” is not far to seek. But first of the “hitch”
itself. “_To hitch_, to catch, to move by jerks.” I know not where it is
used but in the following passage—nor here know well what it means:

           ‘Whoe’er offends, at some unlucky time
            Slides in a verse, or _hitches_ in a rhyme.’—POPE.

So writes Dr. Johnson. Had he looked into the old “Voyages,” he would
have found “hitch” repeated very often indeed.[43] From the nautical
standpoint, he defines it accurately enough as “to catch.” Pope’s use of
the term puzzled the Doctor, and he blundered into “to move by jerks.”
But Pope employs it as a sailor would; he _hitches_ the culprit in a
line—that is, takes an intellectual “turn” with his verse about him, or,
as the poet puts it, suffers the person to “hitch” himself. To hitch is
to fasten, to secure a rope so that it can run out no further. From
“hitch” proceed a number of terms whose paternity is very easily
distinguished. The “Blackwall hitch” takes its name from the famous
point of departure of the vanished procession of Indiamen and Australian
liners;[44] the “harness hitch,” from its form, which suggests a bit and
reins; “midshipman’s hitch,” from the facility with which it may be
made; “rolling hitch,” because it is formed of a series of rolling turns
round the object it is intended to secure, and other rolling turns yet
over its own part; a “timber hitch,” because of its usefulness in
hoisting spars and the like through the ease of its fashioning and the
security of its jamming. The etymology of knots, again, is largely found
in their forms. “The figure-of-eight knot” is of the shape of the figure
eight; the diamond readily suggests the knots which bear its name
(single and double diamond-knots); the “Turk’s-head knot” excellently
imitates a turban. To some knots and splices the inventors have given
their names, such as “Elliot’s splice” and “Matthew Walker” knot. The
origin of this knot is thus related by a contributor to the _Newcastle
Weekly Chronicle_:—

Footnote 43:

  Indeed, any old Dictionary would have supplied the meaning.

Footnote 44:

  As does the “Blackwall lead,” signifying a rope taken under a pin.

“Over sixty years ago an old sailor, then drawing near to eighty years
of age, said that when he was a sailor-boy there was an old rigger,
named Matthew Walker, who, with his wife, lived on board an old covered
hulk, moored near the Folly End, Monkwearmouth Shore; that new ships
when launched were laid alongside of this hulk to be rigged by Walker
and his gang of riggers; that also old ships had their rigging refitted
at the same place; and that Matthew Walker was the inventor of the
lanyard knot, now known by the inventor’s name wherever a ship floats.”

It has been suggested that “knot,” the sailor’s word for the nautical
mile, springs from the small pieces of knotted stuff, called _knots_,
inserted in the log-line for marking the progress of a ship through the
water. It is worth noting, however, that in the old “Voyages” the word
_knot_, as signifying a mile, never occurs. It seems reasonable to
suppose that it is a word not much older than the close of the last
century.

Amongst puzzling changes in the sea-language must be classed the names
of vessels. “Yacht” has been variously defined: as “a small ship for
carrying passengers;” as “a vessel of state.” The term is now understood
to mean a pleasure craft. “Yawl” was formerly a small ship’s boat or a
wherry: it has become the exclusive title of yachts rigged as cutters,
but carrying also a small sail at the stern, called a mizzen. The
“barge” was a vessel of state, furnished with sumptuous cabins, and
canopies and cushions, decorated with flags and streamers, and propelled
by a band of rowers. This hardly answers to the top-sail barges and
dumb-barges of to-day! The word “bark” has been Gallicized into
“barque,” possibly as a marine protest against the mis-application as
shown in these lines of Byron—

                      “My boat is on the shore,
                       And my bark is on the sea;”

Or the—

                         “My bark is my bride!”

of the sea-song. By bark the poets intend any kind of ship you please:
but to Jack it implies a particular rig. The Americans write “bark” for
“barque,” and rightly; for though Falconer says that “bark is a general
name given to small ships,” he also adds: “It is, however, peculiarly
appropriated by seamen to those which carry three masts without a mizzen
top-sail.” The “pink” is another craft that has “gone over.” Her very
narrow stern supplied the name, pink having been used in the sense of
small, as by Shakespeare, who speaks of “pink-eyne,” small eye. The
“tartan,” likewise, belongs to the past as a rig: a single mast, lateen
yard and bowsprit. The growth of our ancestors’ “frigott,” too, into the
fire-eating _Saucy Arethusas_ of comparatively recent times, is a story
full of interest.

I have but skimmed a surface whose depths should honestly repay careful
and laborious dredging. The language of the sea has entered so largely
into common and familiar speech ashore,[45] that the philologist who
neglects the mariner’s talk will struggle in vain in his search after a
mass of paternities, derivatives, and the originals, and even the sense,
of many every-day expressions. It is inevitable that a maritime nation
should enlarge its shore vocabulary by sea terms. The eloquence of the
forecastle is of no mean order, and in a hundred directions Jack’s
expressions are matchless for brevity, sentiment and suggestion. But the
origin and rise of the marine tongue is also the origin and rise of the
British navy, and of the fleets which sail under the red ensign. The
story of the British ship may be followed in the maritime glossaries,
and perception of the delicate shades and lights, of the subtleties,
niceties and discriminations of the ocean dialect is a revelation of the
mysteries of the art of the shipwright, and the profession of the
seaman.

Footnote 45:

  Take as a single example the expression “The devil to pay.” To “pay”
  is to pour melted pitch into a seam for the purposes of caulking. The
  “devil” is a name given by caulkers to a particular seam hard to get
  at. Hence, “There is the devil to pay, and no pitch hot.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            _THEN AND NOW._


The occasional stranding of an ocean steamer, and the consequent
transhipment or landing of the passengers, furnishes about the best
illustration to be found of the extraordinary inconvenience that delay,
in these days of swift and sure despatch, carries with it. The immense
discomfort experienced is really a tribute to the management of the
people who undertake to convey passengers. We are so habituated to
precision, we are so used to confidently count not only on the hour but
on the moment even of our arrival and departure, that a single failure
is as much felt as though something had gone wrong in nature; and a
small shock of earthquake is not more startling than detention for a day
in a voyage round the world.

I was in the neighbourhood of the Downs not long since; it was blowing a
fresh breeze from the westward, and I believe there could not have been
less than three hundred vessels at anchor: ships of all kinds, from the
large three-masted vessel down to the billyboy, from the high, light,
slate-coloured steamer, down to the little schooner loaded to her ways
with salt. There they lay, and there a goodly number of them had lain
for some days. When they should start for their three hundred
destinations depended entirely upon the wind. It was like a picture out
of an ancient sea-book, an old-world pageant, with something of irony in
what you could not but regard as its affected correspondence with times
whose true spirit found interpretation in a large steamer of the
National line majestically stemming at ten knots into the wind’s eye.
Taking the first volume that comes to hand from a row of maritime
records, and opening it at hazard, my eye lights on this: “Jan. 6,
1771.—The wind having shifted to the East, upwards of four hundred and
fifty sail of ships, outward bound, which had been detained by the
westerly winds many weeks, sailed from the Downs.” 1771, and I, writing
this in the close of 1886, am fresh from beholding just such another
spectacle! How eloquent are time’s comments! how everywhere, throughout
all things, is old human nature breaking out! No need to wade through
history to remark the character of survivals and recurrences, to note
where the echoes die or where the reverberations gather fresh volume.
Study the mighty page of the sea. The years, to be sure, write no
wrinkles on its azure brow, but every ripple is a library, and there are
more meanings in it than herrings. But to be windbound! The traveller
scarcely knows the meaning of the word in this age. To lie off Deal for
a space of time longer than a New Zealand steamer occupies in measuring
the distance betwixt Tilbury and Wellington! Why, in these days you may
be stranded thrice, thrice transhipped, and yet reach your destination
in the time a ship took in the age of the fine old English gentleman to
drop down to Gravesend and let go her anchor in the Downs.

Henry Fielding, when he started on his voyage to Lisbon, left his house
on Wednesday, June 26, 1754. He arrived at Rotherhithe in two hours, and
immediately went on board, expecting to sail next morning. On Sunday,
June 30, the ship “fell down” to Gravesend. Next day she got as far as
the Nore, and brought up. Tuesday, July 2, they again set sail, and
anchored off Deal; weighed on the 4th, and after a short struggle
anchored again off Deal. Started on the 6th, and on the 11th “came to an
anchor at a place called Ryde.” On the 22nd they fell down to St.
Helen’s, and on the 25th were off the island of Portland, “so famous for
the smallness and sweetness of its mutton,” and anchored in Torbay.
Started again August 1. On the 3rd the captain took an observation, and
discovered that Ushant bore some leagues northward from him. So that it
took Fielding thirty-eight days to sail from Rotherhithe to Ushant! The
voyage to New Zealand is now performed in two days less.[46]

Footnote 46:

  It does not seem that the _Lisbon Packet_ forty-eight years later was
  much superior to the vessel described by Fielding, to judge from
  Byron’s verses written in 1809.

                   “Hey day! call you that a cabin?
                     Why ’tis hardly three feet square!
                    Not enough to stow Queen Mab in:
                     Who the deuce can harbour there?
                       ‘Who, sir? plenty—
                       Nobles twenty
                     Did at once my vessel fill’—
                       Did they? Jesus,
                       How you squeeze us!
                     Would to God they did so still!
                     Then I’d ’scape the heat and racket
                     Of the good ship _Lisbon Packet_.”

But the singular slowness of this journey down the Channel is by no
means the strangest feature of Fielding’s voyage, in respect, I mean, of
the contrasts established by the great master’s narrative. A man
proposing a trip to Lisbon nowadays, can, if he likes, choose as a ship
a fabric of above three thousand tons, with a spacious and richly
decorated saloon illuminated by electric lights, a table as elegantly
and hospitably furnished as that of any first-rate hotel ashore,
numerous waiters to fly at his bidding, a comfortable bedroom fitted
with a wire-wove mattrass and a hair bed. He may quench his thirst with
choice of twenty refreshing drinks at a bar. The captain and officers
are as much distinguished for their courtesy as for their seafaring
qualities. The ship is despatched with the punctuality of a mail train;
there is nothing in head winds or boisterous weather to detain her, and
she commonly arrives at her destination before she is due. Fielding’s
ship was a vessel not at all unlike one of the scores of sailing
colliers which to this day go on staggering down the North Sea, laden
with coals from Newcastle or Sunderland. Her master was so great a
ruffian that Fielding has drawn the figure of no completer character of
that kind in any of his novels, not excepting “Jonathan Wild.” When the
novelist ventured mildly to complain of the long detention at
Rotherhithe, this brutal skipper, in whose mouth every other word was an
oath, declared that had he known Mr. and Mrs. Fielding were not to be
pleased he would not have carried them for five hundred pounds. “He
added,” says Fielding, “many asseverations that he was a gentleman, and
despised money, not forgetting several hints of the presents which had
been made him for his cabin, of twenty, thirty, and forty guineas, by
several gentlemen, over and above the sum for which they had
contracted.” The size and comfort of the accommodation may be
conjectured from what Fielding says of the captain’s snoring: “he loved
to indulge himself in morning slumbers, which were attended with a
wind-music much more agreeable to the performer than to the hearers,
especially such as have, as I had, the privilege of sitting in the
orchestra.” The passage money was five pounds a head, and it was
expected that passengers fed themselves. Fielding provided tea and wine,
hams and tongues, and a number of live chickens and sheep; in truth,
says he, “treble the quantity of provisions which could have supported
the persons I took with me.” A sample is given of the captain’s
politeness. I omit the wicked words. Fielding had objected to his cabin
being littered with bottles. “Your cabin!” repeated he many times; “no,
’tis my cabin! Your cabin! I have brought my hogs to a fair market. I
suppose, indeed, you think it your cabin and your ship, by your
commanding in it! but I will command in it! I will show the world I am
the commander, and nobody but I! Did you think I sold you the command of
the ship for that pitiful thirty pounds? I wish I had not seen you nor
your thirty pounds aboard of her.” To appreciate all this it is
necessary the reader should imagine himself dying of dropsy as Fielding
was, seeking in poverty a brief prolongation of life in a more genial
climate than that of England, his wife prostrated with sea-sickness and
the agonies of tooth-ache! It is well that those days are dead and gone.
Hundreds of us are every year going abroad for health;—think of
embarking on that painful quest as the invalid of a century ago did—in a
ship of probably a hundred tons burden, commanded by a pitiless,
foul-mouthed bully, and worked by men who, to use Fielding’s own
expression, seemed “to glory in the language and behaviour of savages!”

It is fair to admit, however, that much of the misery endured by the
sea-borne passenger was, in those and later times, limited to the short
service ships. It is true that on the American route the vessels
continued small and wretched down to the present century. For instance,
you read of two hundred Highland emigrants embarking for Boston in a
snow—a kind of brig—of one hundred and forty tons. A few years ago I was
in company with an old gentleman who, pointing to a small barque lying
moored alongside a wharf, told me that he sailed to New York in her in
1836, and that she was esteemed a high-class commodious passenger-vessel
even in those days.[47] But it must be admitted that at the period of
Fielding’s voyage there were ships trading to the East and West Indies
of a bulk and beauty which might justly entitle them still to
admiration. The craft of both the Dutch and East India Companies were as
capacious and seaworthy as ships of the State: their forecastle
companies were abundantly and highly disciplined; their commanders of
the roughly polite type, excellently represented by the heroic old
Commodore Dance. Their round-houses, or great cabins, were exceedingly
handsome apartments, plentifully embellished with carpets, mirrors,
flowers, hand-painted panels, and in other ways richly decorated. Such
were the ships which carried Clive and Hastings, and such they remained
down to the time of the fine old Earl of Balcarres.

Footnote 47:

  The following lines, published in 1832, and therefore referring to
  shipboard life of a date comparatively recent, illustrate the
  sufferings of passengers in the direction of the accommodation
  supplied:

          “Soon as the twilight closed and I was able,
           I left the cuddy and the folks at table
           Reading the news; and heard not what they read,
           For all I wanted was to find my bed:
           Which, after searching ’tween decks all around,
           Under a pile of hammocks there I found
           All my clean sheets were scattered ’mongst the boxes,
           My blankets, too, that I had bought at Cox’s,
           Laid in a corner where a dog had lain,
           And, curse the dogs! they’d stole my counterpane.
           I managed to obtain a berth that night
           To sleep in, but they woke me ere ’twas light;
           A noise above, and from below a groan,
           I heard a voice say, ‘Hang that holy-stone!’”

It was reserved apparently for the days of the application of steam to
ships for owners of vessels to discover that passengers embarking on a
short voyage stood in as much need of comfort and security as passengers
embarking on a long voyage; and that more misery could be packed into
the run between Dover and Calais than could be found in a journey of
three years round the globe.[48] How much of suffering went to such a
trip as that from Rotherhithe to Lisbon may be read, very much at large,
in Fielding’s wonderful narrative—the more wonderful when we reflect
that the hand that penned it was a dying man’s. Nor is it hard to
collect similar experiences of the old passages to Ireland, to Scotland,
or to near ports, such as from London to Yarmouth or from Southampton to
Plymouth. The risks, the horrors, were increased by the character of the
people who had charge of the vessels. There were no Board of Trade
examinations in those days; no standards of excellence; no special
qualifications insisted upon. That the British mariner was always a good
seaman I should be the last to deny; but he swore, he drank, he was
rude, tempestuous, ruffianly, and little fitted—I am speaking of the
coasting trade—to do the honours of the cabin table, or to provide by
his attention and courtesy for the needs of ladies and children. Henry
Taylor, writing in 1811, says, “The ship in which I engaged belonged to
Hull. The captain was one who indulged himself in bed during night, in
every situation; the mate—a middle-aged man—was much addicted to strong
liquor. In the middle of the night, when the ship was in a perilous
place, the master went to bed, and the chief mate invited the crew into
the cabin to drink. In a short time he fell stupidly drunk down into the
steerage. The sailors dared not arouse the master, and so took their
chance of letting the ship run on until the watch was out.” On another
occasion Taylor was seaman in a ship in stormy weather. The captain went
below to his cabin and “turned in;” the mate, standing on the windlass
end, fell asleep; a young man at the helm suddenly cried out, “We are
running too far in!” Taylor seized the lead, found little more than
three fathoms, and sung out to the other to put the helm hard down. “So
stupidly drunk and asleep was the mate that we were hauling the head
yards about before he awoke.” Such mariners must stand as
representatives, and how passengers suffered when they took passage in
vessels commanded by men of this pattern is only too painfully told in
the relations of shipwrecks.

Footnote 48:

  The duration of the Channel passage depended of course upon the wind.
  Prince Charles and Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, sailed at six in the
  morning and arrived at two in the afternoon. Sometimes the passage
  occupied twelve hours, sometimes twenty-four. A fresh favourable
  breeze made the journey a comparatively rapid one. There is a quaint
  entry touching this passage in Dr. Ed. Browne’s Journal (1663–4).
  “April 6. Betimes in the morning, wee set sayle for Calais in the
  packet boat; wee gave five shillings a piece for our passage and
  having a fair winde, wee got in four houres’ time, into Calais roade,
  from whence a shallop fetch’d us to shoare. At our entryng of the port
  wee pay’d threepence a piece for our heads; they searched my
  portmantle at the gate and the custom house, for which I was to pay 5
  sols.”

Take a single incident of a gale a century ago. A vessel was proceeding
on her voyage from Chester to Dublin. Her provisions, which at the start
had been all too scanty for “the vast number of souls she took out with
her”—as the record describes them—had been stowed on deck, to make room
below for the passengers. In a very short while the sea washed them
overboard. “What followed may be better imagined than expressed. The
wretches were crammed into the hold, without light or air, and all on
board the ship without bread or water, with scarce any other prospect of
seeing an end to their sufferings but by the ship’s foundering.” After
forty-eight hours of misery the captain made shift to enter a small
Welsh port, but the distress of the passengers continued, for the
village or hamlet was too small to afford them either provisions or
accommodation. What became of them is not told.

Contrast such an experience with the cabins and food of a Holyhead
boat—the swift journey, be the weather what it will, the brilliant,
hospitable, comfortable hotels on either side the water! Or read the
account of the loss of the _Union_, the regular packet between Dover and
Calais, in 1792, side by side with the description of the last steamer
built for the Chatham and Dover Railway Company: how, through
unnecessary delays, she had suffered the time of high tide to slip past;
how, in endeavouring to turn to windward, she had missed stays, fouled
the south pier, and lay beating there; how, by a miracle, the crew and
passengers were rescued, but after embarking next morning in the _Pitt_,
Captain Sharp, were wrecked afresh, “being driven on shore at the north
head, in a violent gale, but fortunately no person was lost.” One finds
in such narratives as this the reason why Frenchmen for ages lived in
ignorance of the true character of the English, and wrote fancifully of
boule-dogs, ros-bif, Smeetfield, and Goddam. The fact is, they _durst
not cross_.

Take another wreck of a Dublin boat—the _Charlemont_ packet—a memorable
item in the catalogue of maritime disasters. She sailed on a Wednesday,
and managed to reach Dublin Bay, but was driven back by the weather. She
started afresh on Friday, with the number of her passengers increased to
one hundred and twenty, and was again forced to put back. The people
implored the master to make for Holyhead, but he said he was ignorant of
the coast. After a while, however, he yielded; the mate, deceived by
some lights, mistook his course, the vessel struck and went to pieces.
Of the passengers, sixteen only escaped, one of them being Captain
Jones, a son of Lord Ranelagh. Think of an Irish “mimber” in these days,
thirsting to be in his place at Westminster at a given hour, forced to
take ship after the manner of his ancestors! A gale of wind would make a
large difference in the number of votes, and at times might prove
superior to the closure.

War-time also communicated a degree of discomfort to voyagers beyond all
capacity of realization in this age. It was common enough for an
Indiaman to be engaged by an enemy’s ship or a privateer which, if she
did not carry and seize the vessel, repeatedly succeeded in killing and
maiming the passengers amongst others. “Two gentlemen,” you may read in
an Annual Register of the beginning of this century, “passengers from
Holland, landed at Margate. They affirm they were in the evening boarded
in sight of the North Foreland by an English privateer cutter, whose
crew, in disguise, confined the captain and crew of the vessel in the
cabin, and then plundered it of goods to the value of £2000, demanded
the captain’s money, and took what the passengers had.”[49] This sort of
thing furnishes engaging reading to boys when told in story-books; but
how about the reality? To be tossed for days and days in sight of land;
to be horribly sea-sick and barbarously used by captains and mates: to
be battened down in foul weather in loathsome interiors, there to expire
after a little of suffocation; to be coarsely fed and often starved; to
be boarded and massacred and mutilated; to be plundered of the very coat
on one’s back—such were the pleasures of the short-voyage passengers in
the good old times, of the people who went to France, or sailed to the
kingdom of Ireland, or to the Scotch ports, or those of Flanders.

Footnote 49:

  A striking example of this occurs in the narrative of the capture of
  the _Kent_, East Indiaman, in 1801, by a French privateer off the Sand
  Heads. A number of the passengers who were fighting on the
  quarter-deck and poop were killed by the hand grenades of the corsair.
  The Frenchmen boarded and a desperate fight ensued; but the enemy was
  greatly superior in number and arms. “A dreadful carnage followed,
  they showing no quarter to any one who came in their way, whether with
  or without arms; and such was their savage cruelty that they even
  stabbed some of the sick in bed.”

It is not pleasant, to be sure, to be delayed four and twenty hours by
the stranding of a steamer of 5000 tons. But all the same, I think we
have a good deal to be thankful for.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          _COSTLY SHIPWRECKS._


In 1808, a shrewd and evidently a “highly-calculating” Yankee took the
trouble to express the loss suffered by the United States in consequence
of the then embargo, in a form very nicely designed to go straight home
to the businesses and bosoms of his compatriots. The sum amounted to
forty-eight millions of dollars, which, said the ingenious
arithmetician, at seventeen dollars to the pound weight, would weigh two
millions eight hundred and twenty-three pounds avoirdupois; and it would
require to carry it one thousand two hundred and sixty waggons, allowing
each waggon to carry one ton; and the distance the waggons would occupy,
allowing each waggon seventy-two feet, would be seventeen miles.
Forty-eight millions of dollars, placed edge to edge in a straight line,
would extend over a space of one thousand one hundred and thirty-four
miles. “The above sum,” added the computator, “would be sufficient to
furnish one hundred and twenty-one sail of the line, completely equipped
for a twelve months’ cruise.” So much for the length, weight, and worth
of an embargo in 1808.

Now, what sort of result, I wonder, would come of a calculation of the
weight, and the length, and the waggon-filling capacity of all the
money—in hard cash, in bars, and ingots—which will have been carried
into and out of this kingdom by ships flying the mercantile ensign
between January 1 and December 31 of this present year? I sometimes
fancy that it needs a shipwreck and a great foundering of specie to make
the “average” public realize the prodigious treasure which is at all
hours of the day and night, year after year, and year after year growing
vaster in bulk and in value, afloat under the colours flown by the ships
of the British merchant service. Let any one, during any six consecutive
days, take note of the published records of the bullion movements, and
he would be astounded by the results. “The _Bokhara_ has arrived at
Plymouth, from China, with £42,450 in gold.” “The _Khedive_ has taken
£81,598 in specie for the East, and the _Peshawur_ £65,600.” “The
_Pekin_ has brought £50,012 in specie.” “The _Sutlej_, £16,110 from
Bombay.” “The _Galicia_, from Valparaiso, £80,000 in silver.” “The
_Iberia_, from Australia, £58,000 in gold.” “The _Elbe_, from the River
Plate, £93,379 in specie.” “The _Kaisar-i-Hind_, £46,000 in bar silver,
and £15,000 in bar gold.” “The _Eider_, from New York, with £5920 in
specie.” “The _Trave_, from New York, £7941.” “The _Carthage_, with
50,000 sovereigns from Melbourne.” “The _Ruapehu_, from Wellington
(N.Z.), with £10,000.” And so on, and so on, day after day, month after
month. Think of a year of figures to which the contribution of a single
day may mean as much as half a million! But supplement this huge
floating pile of gold and silver with the value of the cargoes, with the
produce of the east and west and south, the tea, the silks, the cotton,
the tobacco—the hundreds and thousands of packages for which the
despairing cataloguist can find no better name than “sundries.” Where be
the old galleons, the old plate-ships, the monstrous castellated
egg-shells, with their millions of pieces of eight,[50] alongside the
Aladdin-like metal holds, stored with the mintage of the four corners of
the earth, which, in these days, the propeller is steadily threshing
through the billows of all the world’s seas?

Footnote 50:

  A strange use was made of this coin by Sir John Kempthorne. He was
  attacked by a large Spanish ship of war, and fought till all his
  ammunition was spent: “Then,” says Campbell in his “Lives,”
  “remembering that he had several large bags of pieces of eight on
  board, he thought they might better serve to annoy than enrich the
  enemy, and, therefore, ordered his men to load their guns with silver,
  which did such execution on the Spanish rigging, that, if his own ship
  had not been disabled by a lucky shot, he had in all probability got
  clear.”

Yet my veneration for the past would make me very earnestly distinguish.
It is the number in our time that makes the wonder; the thought of
several hundreds of great ocean steamers—English, French, Italian,
Dutch—all afloat at once, heading along the thirty-two points, every one
of them carrying a fortune, small or great—£10,000 or £100,000—in money,
among the other commodities which form her freight; it is the fancy of
this aggregate wealth as compared with the cargoes of the treasure ships
of other times which gives to the sea-borne specie of this age its
prodigious numerical significance. But, ship for ship, our grandsires
beat us. You never hear in our time of a single steamer carrying the
load of gold, silver, plate, and treasure that was heaped into the hold
of the butter-box of the last and earlier centuries. Let me cite an
instance or two.

On February 28, 1769, there arrived at Lisbon a ship-of-war, named the
_Mother of God_, from Rio Janeiro, having made the voyage in one hundred
and twenty days. She had on board nine millions of crusades in gold, two
millions and a half of crusades in diamonds, and about a hundred
thousand “crowns tournois” in piastres, making in the whole twenty-nine
millions and fifty thousand livres tournois. So much for a single ship.
In 1774 two Spanish ships from Vera Cruz and the Havannah arrived with
twenty-two millions of crowns, exclusive of merchandize valued roundly
at twenty-seven millions of crowns. Such examples could be multiplied.
Of the cargo of an English Indiaman in 1771, one item alone—a diamond in
the rough—was valued at £100,000, “coming to be manufactured here on
account of one of the Asiatic Nabobs,” and on the private freight of
this vessel I read that policies of insurance were opened at Lloyd’s
Coffee House at a high premium, so costly were her contents and so
doubtful her safe arrival.[51]

Footnote 51:

  In estimating the expressed worth of the early cargoes the relative
  value of money must be borne in mind.

In those early days of extraordinary long voyages, clumsy ships, and of
a navigation rendered not a little insecure by the blunders or the
conjectures of the chart-makers, we should expect to meet with a great
number of costly disasters, the more since it was the custom to commit
to a single hold the treasure that would in this day be distributed
among eight or ten great and powerful steamers. Yet this sort of
shipwreck is not nearly so frequently occurring in marine annals as one
would suppose. When it happens it takes an historical significance much
more profound than that which attaches to loss of life. The memory of
the foundering of £200,000 of silver and gold will survive the drowning
of a thousand souls in a _coup_. The muse of history has much in her of
the philosophy of the cynic who declared that a man will forget his
wife, his children, yea, and his country; but he will never forget the
person who borrowed £5 from him and forgot to repay it. There was _La
Lutine_, for instance. When some time ago there was talk of a proposal
to recover the money that went down in her, everybody, somehow or other,
seemed to remember the loss of such a ship, though it happened above
eighty years ago. But suppose it had been the _Buckinghamshire_ or the
_Windsor Castle_?

Yet, as a costly shipwreck, _La Lutine_ deserves a reference. She was a
thirty-two gun vessel, commanded by Captain Skynner, and she went ashore
on the bank of the Fly Island Passage on the night of October 9, 1799.
At first she was reputed to have had £600,000 sterling in specie on
board. This was afterwards contradicted by a statement that “the return
from the Bullion Office makes the whole amount about £140,000 sterling.”
“If,” I find in a contemporary account, “the wreck of the unfortunate
_Lutine_ should be discovered, there may be reason to hope for the
recovery of the bullion on board of her. In the reign of James II. some
English adventurers fitted out a vessel to search for and weigh up the
cargo of a rich Spanish ship which had been lost on the coast of South
America. They succeeded, and brought home £300,000, which had been
forty-four years at the bottom of the sea. Captain Phipps, who
commanded, had £20,000 for his share, and the Duke of Albemarle £90,000.
A medal was struck in honour of this event in 1687.”[52]

Footnote 52:

  The story is told at length in Beckmann’s “History of Inventions and
  Discoveries.” The author speaks of William Phipps as the son of a
  blacksmith, born in America. He was bred as a shipwright at Boston,
  and formed a project for searching and unloading a rich Spanish ship
  sunk on the coast of Hispaniola. Charles II. gave him a ship; he
  sailed in 1683, but to no purpose. The Duke of Albemarle afterwards
  backed him, and he started again in 1687, with the result as told
  above. Much about this time several companies were formed and obtained
  exclusive privileges for fishing up goods on certain coasts by means
  of divers. At the head of one of these was the Earl of Argyle. The
  divers of this company worked off the Isle of Mull, and descending to
  a depth of sixty feet, remained there sometimes a whole hour, and then
  brought up gold chains, money, etc. But the returns were trifling.

There was a very costly wreck in 1767. She was a Dutch East Indiaman,
and foundered in a storm within three leagues of the Texel, taking down
all hands but six, and £500,000. But it was not necessary that a vessel
should have so much as an ounce of precious metal in her to be a rich
ship. One of the costliest cargoes ever carried was found in 1764 in the
galleon _Santissima Trinidad_; for she had on board the vast collection
of foreign curiosities formed by Governor Pigot and shipped at Madras,
consisting of wild beasts, serpents, and so forth. There was a great
loss in 1773. The Dons again! You would say that the price of four such
Armadas as that of 1588 went down in the last century alone in the shape
of gold, silver, and plate. She was the annual register ship, as the
term then was, and had in her five hundred thousand piastres and ten
thousand ounces of gold on account of the king, and twice that sum on
the merchants’ account, making her a very rich ship. She foundered
during the passage, and no man escaped to tell how and when. In the same
year the Dutch lost the _Antonietta_, an Indiaman, and with her sank
£700,000 sterling, besides jewels of great value.

In 1871 a Scotchman, named Johnston, patented a treasure safe for ships.
His proposal was that the safe should be suspended at the ship’s davits,
ready at an instant’s notice to be lowered into the sea. He contrived
that the safe should detach itself in the event of a sudden calamity,
and float off to be picked up by some passing ship, or washed ashore.
The idea was ingenious; but it is not every captain who would relish the
thought of an unsinkable chest full of gold and jewels hanging at his
davits ready to the hand of the first daring Jack who should depend upon
a black night and the navigable qualities of the chest to come safely
off with a few hundreds of thousands of pounds. Yet what pickings the
deep would have offered—would still offer—if the money and jewels
carried by ships were stowed in contrivances which floated after the
vessel was gone! The mind is oppressed by the splendid possibilities the
fancy suggests. Here we have something beyond the dreams of avarice.
Where might not such chests be sought with large promise of dazzling
discovery? The ocean is a miser. Like some old woman found dead of
starvation, with guineas and bank-notes stitched away in her rags, is
the sea in her beggarly art of concealing treasure among the squalid
weediness of her shores. “Some time ago,” says an old report, “on the
arrival of the _Two Sisters_, Captain O’Neale, of Bristol, at Dominica,
a chest containing upwards of £40,000 in Portugal gold fell overboard as
they were putting it into a boat, and was lost in ten fathoms of water.”
They had nothing but Dr. Halley’s diving-bell in those times, and the
money lies at this hour where it sank, only deeper perhaps, and very
much out of sight. How such a disaster would be dealt with now may be
known by reference to the comparatively recent recovery of some hundred
thousand pounds off the Grand Canary from the hold of a steamer sunk, if
my memory is correct, in about thirty fathoms of water.

There was a curious kind of smuggling practised aboard the old ships,
and there is reason to believe that in many instances the actual value
of the treasure in foundered vessels was never declared. An example is
given of a Spanish register ship falling into the hands of the British.
Certain discoveries determined the captors not to sell her, but to break
her up themselves, believing that by so doing they might find valuables
artfully concealed. The duty on gold was high, and to evade it many of
the bars of that metal had been thinly coated with pewter and
denominated “fine pewter” in the invoice, by order of the Spanish
merchants. The particulars of the freight are worth giving, as
illustrative of the cargoes of that age (1793) and of the great value
entrusted to a single ship. There were six hundred and ninety-four cases
of silver, each containing three thousand dollars; thirty-three cases of
gold, besides plate and jewels of the value of £500,000; seventy-two
hundred of redwood; sixteen cases of silver in bars; two thousand two
hundred and sixty-two quintals of bark of different weights; two
thousand two hundred and forty quintals of cocoa; four thousand eight
hundred and eighty-seven cases of pepper; a great number of cases of
lead, wool, sugar, medical roots, gum of cocoa, together with hides,
skins, barrels of honey, and eleven cases of the various productions of
Peru. “This cargo,” says the account, “has been two years in collecting
from different parts of the coast, and is without exception the richest
that ever was trusted on board of any single ship. It is impossible to
form a just estimate of its value, but it is certainly not overrated
when it is stated as twelve or thirteen hundred thousand pounds. Think
of the costly wreck such a vessel as this would have made! and
certainly, so far as her freighters were concerned, she was as good as
foundered when she was captured.”

The following illustration of the old methods of concealing treasure I
find in a little sea-book published anonymously in 1834: “I once went,
with others, on board a prize we had taken to make the usual search.
After rummaging the sail-room, I got into the store-room, where I saw a
case filled with bran, and thrusting my hand among it, for I thought it
might prove a hiding-place, I found something hard wrapped up in a piece
of blue cloth. Not having leisure to examine it at the moment, I slipped
it into the pocket of my jacket, and was coming away, when I trod upon
something, and looking down at the place, saw a potatoe that I had
crushed with an English guinea peeping from its hiding place. I picked
up all I could and jumped into the boat.... The murphies yielded me
about thirty guineas; and when I undid the parcel there came from its
swaddling clothes a most beautiful gold watch set round with diamonds.”

Great in its way was that treasure of seven million five hundred
thousand dollars and the value of a million and a half in cochineal and
other effects which five men-of-war, under the command of Rear-Admiral
Don Adrian Caudron Cantin, brought to Cadiz in 1775, and the one
thousand five hundred octaves of gold, two hundred thousand crusades of
silver, and the eighty serons of cochineal which, in the same year, were
brought by a ship to Lisbon from the Brazils. In more modern times the
costliness of shipwreck is to be found in the destruction of the fabric
and her cargo rather than in the loss of the treasure on board. Whatever
may have been the worth of a galleon, as a ship, there need be no
scruple in concluding that when brand-new her value would be but that of
a toy in comparison with such ocean mail boats as now convey specie and
“valuables.” The sinking of an Atlantic, Indian, or Australian
liner—even with a clean hold—would represent an immense treasure if told
in dollars, ducats, or piastres; and when you add the cargo of such a
craft along with the passengers’ luggage, which must often include a
quantity of jewellery expressing many thousands of pounds alone, some
astonishing figures would be the result. As a matter of fact, our later
shipwrecks do not point to the same heavy losses in specie and articles
manufactured out of the precious metals as were sustained in former
times. The destruction or capture of a single ship in the last and in
preceding centuries would frequently signify the sinking of a million to
a million and a half of pounds sterling in chests of pieces of eight, in
ingots and bars, and in religious decorations, and this without
reference to the cargo, the value of which may be inferred when we hear
of tea selling at two guineas a pound.[53]

Footnote 53:

  “Tea was first imported from Holland by the Earls of Arlington and
  Ossory in 1666; from their ladies the women of quality learned its
  use. Its price was then £3 a pound, and continued the same to 1707. In
  1715 we began to use green tea, and the practice of drinking it
  descended to the lower class of the people.” “Johnson’s Works,” vol.
  ii. p. 335. At the beginning of this century tea was 25_s._ a pound.

The _Royal Charter_ is the most notable modern instance of the wreck of
a “treasure” ship that I can just now call to mind. She left Australia
with £350,000 in her. Of this sum, says Charles Dickens in his chapter
on this dreadful shipwreck in the “Uncommercial Traveller,” £300,000
worth were recovered. At the time of the novelist’s visit to the spot
where she had driven ashore, “the great bulk of the remainder,” writes
he, “was surely and steadily coming up. Some loss of sovereigns there
would be, of course; indeed, at first sovereigns had drifted in with the
sand, and been scattered far and wide over the beach like sea shells,
but most other golden treasure would be found. So tremendous had the
force of the sea been when it broke the ship that it had beaten one
great ingot of gold deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron
work, in which also several loose sovereigns, that the ingot had swept
in before it, had been found as firmly embedded as though the iron had
been liquid when they had been forced there.” This is a curiosity of
disaster, but mightily suggestive of the sea’s miserly trick of
concealing her plunder. Meanwhile, how much gold and silver, minted and
otherwise, is annually afloat? How many millions are yearly borne over
the deep to and from India, America, Australia, China, and South Africa,
by English steamers alone? There should be no difficulty in making the
calculation, which, when arrived at, must surely yield a fine idea of
the treasure over which the red flag flies, and an excellent notion of
the trust that is reposed in the British shipmaster, and of the high and
sterling qualities which go to the fulfilment of it.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                   _CURIOSITIES OF DISASTERS AT SEA._


An old sailor once said to me, “If I were to write down one quarter of
what I’ve seen, heard, and gone through, the reader would throw away the
book, calling me all the evil names he could put his tongue to, afore he
had read half of what I’d writ.” I remember an ingenious reviewer of a
nautical romance affirming that it was impossible the author could be
correct in representing such a sea as he described as running off
Agulhas in a gale from the north-west, because, said the critic, “we
have repeatedly crossed the Channel between Folkestone and Boulogne, in
all sorts of weather, without ever having witnessed such waves as we are
here told about.” Yes, sailors see and do strange things; they spend
their lives on a wild and wonderful element, and are a community who
generate gnats at which the landsman is prone to strain. We hear of
amazing escapes on shore, but, surely, they cannot be so astonishing as
the perils which men encounter at sea, or we should hearken with less
incredulous souls when Jack coils his legs up under him and relates his
experiences.

Some time ago I read what the newspapers called “a terrible story of
shipwreck.” An American schooner came across six men washing about on
the top of a deck-house. They were the survivors of a crew of Spaniards
whose barque had foundered six days before. When the captain of her
found that his vessel was bound to sink he set his men to work to make a
raft. They were thus employed when the barque all on a sudden turned
over and sank. Seven of the poor fellows were sucked down with the hull;
the rest, finding the deck-house afloat, crawled on to it. For five days
and nights they were beaten here and there by the seas, without drink
and without food. Ashore the dangers a man confronts and escapes may be
terrible; but the ground he treads is what he is born to: peril is
localized or limited. He is imprisoned in a mine; he is menaced by
suffocation or starvation. He loses his way on a mountain; he is
threatened by death from exhaustion or by stumbling over the edge of a
height. He is in the heart of a panic-stricken crowd; he stands to have
his ribs crushed in and his lungs choked. He is in a house on fire; he
must be burnt if he cannot escape. To be sure, danger on shore is as
little agreeable as it would be in the air or under the waters; but a
man may commonly say of peril on land what he cannot say of peril at
sea, that he knows the form of it and what shape his destruction will
take if he cannot elude it.

But at sea you have a combination of forces working against a creature
who when on the ocean is as much out of his element as the shark that
ogles him would be if lifted high and dry on to a ship’s deck. Take
those six Spaniards washing about on top of a deck-house. What was to be
their fate? Were they to be drowned, or frozen, or starved, or be picked
up raving mad with thirst and other sufferings? Think of the cruelty of
the sea—fiendish in spirit as any torturer of the good old days of the
Inquisition—tossing that deck-house with a horrible human-like delight
in the sport that kept those white-lipped soaking rags of men holding on
for their lives! Consider a little the malignant confederacy of billows
wasting their giant weight, one after another, ceaselessly, restlessly,
one after another, upon those miserable men made mere mocking tumblers
of by the play of the waters, and looking up to God out of the supreme
agony of their ocean struggles! If the surge could not tear them from
their desperate hold it left them drenched to the marrow, and fit for
the freezing part that it was the business of the wind to play. Or, if
the wind left their hearts warm enough for life it was only that hunger
should not be balked in the lodgment of its own particular anguish.

For my part I can well understand why landsmen are incredulous when
sailors who have suffered begin to talk. There is internal evidence to
suggest that when the Wedding Guest left the Ancient Mariner,
unpleasantly fascinated as he had been by his eye, he went to the people
who had been making merry, and informed them that he had been detained
by a yarn that was fit only for the marines. Why, even in the year 1800,
Sir Samuel Standidge was apologizing for writing to say that he had met
ice in the month of May in the Atlantic forty-five degrees north; his
excuse being that it was true. The Wedding Guest flourished in an
earlier reign when not very much was known about bergs, and one thinks
of him as sneering when he told his friends that the Ancient Mariner
said the roar of the ice breaking up was like “noises in a swound.”

In the “Pasha of Many Tales,” Captain Marryat exaggerates the proverbial
“twister” of the marine. But how many experiences have sailors suffered
incomparably more surprising than the most ingenious of the fictions in
Marryat’s book; and more miraculous in the machinery of fortuitous
escape than could ever occur to the most daring among the old Arabian
inventors? There are instances of disasters so complicated by misfortune
as to become sheer eccentricities of peril. I remember being much struck
with a paragraph I came across in a newspaper of the last century:
“Captain Lamire, commander of the _Heureux_, on April 26, being in the
lat. of one deg. 2 min., and 21 deg. 28 min. long. W., reckoning from
Teneriff, several of his crew, and a great number of negros on board,
were seized with a disorder of their eyes, many of whom were blind for
ten or twelve days; nine lost their sight entirely, and seven or eight
the sight of one eye. Accidents of this kind, it is said, are not
unprecedented in latitudes so near the line, but the great number
affected at the same time exceeds anything that was ever heard of
before.” Had that old ship carried such slender companies as vessels now
go manned with, who shall say, in the face of the numbers who were
blinded, that all hands would not have lost their sight? What object
could the imagination fasten upon more dreadful and tragical than a ship
in charge of a blind crew? What possibilities of harrowing description
would such a subject offer to the romancer!

There is preserved a curious account of the Hon. John O’Brien, a brother
or near relative to the Earl of Inchiquin. He was so incessantly in
jeopardy from one cause or another that his career expresses in
perfection the eccentricity of disaster. A few examples will hint at his
story. He was a lieutenant in the Navy in 1747, and his first mishap
befel him off the coast of India, where his ship was wrecked, all hands
perishing with the exception of O’Brien and four sailors. He embarked in
a vessel to return to Europe, but was cast away near the Cape of Good
Hope, and was the only one of a great number who contrived to escape
with his life. The Dutch Governor, discovering him to be a “person of
honour,” supplied him with every necessary for continuing the voyage,
and gave him a cabin in one of the homeward bound East Indiamen. The
Governor of another settlement, who was going home in the same ship,
finding himself rather straitened for room on account of the number of
his own family, begged for the exclusive use of the vessel for his suite
and baggage. The Governor of the Cape complied, and procured
accommodation for O’Brien in another vessel that was to sail on the same
day. Shortly afterwards the ships put to sea, and it is recorded as an
absolute and well assured fact that, within twenty-four hours of their
leaving the Cape, O’Brien saw the ship he had quitted founder in a gale
of wind, taking down with her every creature on board! A few years later
this fortune-hunted gentleman was stationed on board the _Dartmouth_ of
fifty guns. She fell in with the _Glorioso_, a Spanish man-of-war, and
engaged her for some hours. O’Brien was at his station between decks,
when the gunner ran up to him, and, with wildness and despair in his
look, cried out, “Oh, sir! the powder-room!” Lieutenant O’Brien heard no
more, for the ship instantly blew up! Such a catastrophe as this, you
would conjecture, must effectually put an end to O’Brien. In fact, if I
were to write his life I should skip this little disaster for fear that
it should destroy the reader’s faith in the other parts of the story. It
is true, nevertheless, that O’Brien, instead of perishing, was found
floating about on the carriage of a gun. It was supposed that he had
been blown through a porthole with one of the guns. He was picked up by
a privateer named the _Duke_, and as a proof that the natural
sprightliness and gaiety of his character was superior to so slight an
accident as that of being blown up in a man-of-war, he is recorded to
have said to the captain of the _Duke_, speaking with great gravity,
“You will excuse me, sir, for appearing before you in such a dress; but
the reason is I left my ship so hurriedly that I had no time to put on
better clothes.” But enough of the Hon. John O’Brien.

Though it might not be wise in a romancer to represent his hero as being
blown up in a ship without injury, there are, for all that, several
instances in the old accounts—and one or two, I think, in more recent
annals—of mariners and others who have gone up like rockets and come
down all alive, perfectly sound, if not in high spirits. Monsieur de
Montauban, who underwent this experience off the coast of Guinea, wrote
a very thrilling account of it. In his case there were two ships, both
of which exploded simultaneously. “The reader,” says he, “must figure to
himself our horror at two ships blowing up above two hundred fathoms
into the air, where there was formed, as it were, a mountain of fire,
water, and wreck; the awfulness of the explosion below, and the cannons
going off in the air; the rending of masts and planks, the tearing of
the sails and cordage, added to the cries of the men.” He was on the
forecastle giving orders when the ship took fire, and attributes his
preservation to his being blown so high as to go clear of the volcanic
wreckage. In truth, he seems to have topped the whole blazing mass, and
then fallen into clear water, under whose surface he remained so long
that he was nearly spent before he rose.

The Moskito Indian and Alexander Selkirk are representative names for
preservation from marooning—a situation idealized by Defoe. The
“eight-and-twenty years all alone in an uninhabited island on the coast
of America, near the mouth of the great river of Oroonoque,” is very
well for poor old Robinson Crusoe, whose life and strange, surprising
adventures are, perhaps, chiefly imaginary in this span of time allotted
to them by the great master of English fiction. The longest period of
“all-aloneness” I have encountered in my reading may be found in the
memoirs of Captain Edward Thompson, who was “born at Hull, in Yorkshire,
of a respectable family.” But on the whole we must count him a more real
person than that other gentleman of York, mariner. Thompson was the
author of “A Sailor’s Letters,” and in a communication in which he
proposes to write his life, he says, “I shall begin like Daniel Defoe,
with “I, E. T., was born of respectable parents in Kingston-upon-Hull,
from whence I sailed in the _Love and Unity_, (whom God preserve), anno
1750, on a voyage to Greenland.” Whether his discovery was inspired by
his admiration of Defoe, or whether he states a fact in what he records,
I cannot say. He was an officer in her Majesty’s ship _Stirling Castle_,
and being at Tobago, he wandered into the woods in search of wild
oranges. Whilst roaming here and there he discovered a hut, the
inhabitant of which, a venerable looking man, addressed him in French,
and, to his astonishment, declared that he had resided _twenty-one
years_ in that solitary situation, having scarcely any communication
with a human being! He told Thompson that the Indians occasionally
called at his hermitage whilst hunting, gave him part of their game, and
shaved his beard off with a knife, but he never paid enough attention to
their language to converse in it. He had been a priest at Martinique,
but having in some way given offence, he was seized in the night and
transported to Tobago. He declined all offers to convey him to Europe,
declaring that he was reconciled to his all-alone life and happier than
he could be in any other. In this, as in other respects, this singular
person cannot be said to have resembled Crusoe.”

I find the seeds of a romance of the true old pattern combined with what
may justly be termed a curiosity of disaster in this century-old report:
“A vessel coming lately from Newcastle to London at sea, within five
miles of the Port of Shields, took up a wooden cradle with a child in
it. The child was alive and well.” The old is for ever echoing into the
new. Only the other day I read of a boy a few years old going adrift in
a boat. He was hunted after in all directions, but to no purpose. The
parents were said to be inconsolable. The issue of this thing I know
not; but who does not pray that the little fellow was found and
restored? When you think of that old collier jogging along, picking up
the cradle with the bairn in it, the past re-shapes itself; you see the
quaint wooden cradle, the wondering eyes of the child staring into the
amazed faces of the rough Jacks, whose touched hearts give a new impetus
to the working of the jaws upon their quids. “The cradle,” says the
account, “is supposed to have been carried to sea by an inundation in
one of the places adjacent.” There should have been found a good subject
for a poet, I think, even in those bewigged days of heroic measures and
Johnsonian periods, in the meeting of the mother and the babe delivered
back to her love by that old ocean whose tenderness is sometimes as
marvellous as its cruelty is terrible and inexpressible.

Another curiosity of disaster, hardly credible, though it has been often
enough related, may be found in the story of the brig _Nerina_.

She sailed from Dunkirk on Saturday, October 31, 1840, in charge of
Pierre Everaert, with a cargo of oil and canvas for Marseilles, having
on board a crew of seven persons, including the captain and his nephew,
a boy fourteen years of age. At seven o’clock in the evening of Monday,
November 16, she was lying to in a gale of wind, when she was struck by
a heavy sea and turned bottom up. There was one man on deck at the time;
he was instantly drowned. There were three seamen in the forecastle, two
of whom, by seizing hold of the windlass bitts, succeeded in getting up
close to the kelson, and so kept their heads above water. The third,
letting go his hold, was drowned, and his body was never again seen. The
other two, discovering that the bulkhead between the forecastle and the
hold was started and that the cargo had fallen down on the deck, drew
themselves towards the stern of the ship, with their faces close to the
kelson. When the vessel capsized, the captain, mate, and boy were in the
cabin. The mate wrenched open the trap hatch in the deck, cleared a
vacant space there, and then scrambling up into it, he took the boy from
the hands of the captain, whom he assisted to follow them. In about an
hour they were joined by the two men from forward, who managed to scrape
along the kelson to where they were. They are now described as five
individuals, closely cooped together, so that as they sat they were
obliged to bend their bodies for want of height above them, whilst the
water reached as high as their waists. The only relief they could obtain
was by one of them at a time stretching at full length on the barrels in
the hold, taking care, however, to keep close to the kelson, where the
air was. The 17th and 18th passed. They were without food and without
water, and, as might be supposed from their situation, as certainly
doomed as if they already lay dead at the bottom of the sea. They could
distinguish between day and night by the light in the sea that was
reflected up from the cabin skylight and thence into the space where
they lay through the hatch in the cabin floor. In the middle of
Wednesday night, the 18th, the vessel struck. At the third blow the
stern dropped to such an extent that the men were forced forward towards
the bows. Whilst making their way one of them fell down through the
cabin floor and skylight, and was drowned. They noticed presently that
the water was ebbing; on which the mate dropped into the cabin to seek
for a hatchet that they might cut their way out, but, the water suddenly
rising, he had to fly again to his former shelter. At last the day
dawned, and then, perceiving a point of rock sticking into the vessel,
they knew that she was hard and fast ashore. The quarter of the ship
being stove, the captain looked through the rent there and cried out in
French, “Thank God, my children, we are saved! I see a man on the
beach.” Shortly afterwards the man approached and put in his hand, which
the captain seized, to the terror of the fellow, who nearly died of
fright. Several persons arrived, the side of the vessel was opened, and
the four men were liberated, after having been entombed for three days
and three nights.

Any reference to such a subject as the curiosities of marine disaster
must include this amazing narrative, thrice told as it may be. As an
escape there is nothing to be compared to it in the maritime annals,
though to be sure there is no lack of examples of miraculous salvation
from capsizals. The spot where the _Nerina_ struck is Porthellick, in
St. Mary’s, Scilly. Two incidents in connection with this wreck increase
the wonder of it. First, the want of fresh air threatening the men with
death by suffocation, the mate worked with the desperation of a dying
man almost incessantly for two days and one night to cut a hole with his
knife through the hull. The knife broke; but for this the hole would
have been made, with the result that the vessel must have instantly
foundered owing to the liberation of the air that alone kept her
buoyant. Second, it was afterwards shown that during the afternoon of
Wednesday, the 18th, the wreck had been fallen in with, at about five
miles from the island, by two pilot boats which towed her for an hour,
but the ropes parting, the night approaching, and the weather looking
dirty, they abandoned her, little conceiving that there were human
beings alive in her hold. Had the vessel not been towed, the set of the
current would have carried the wreck clear of the islands into the
Atlantic!

The relater of this remarkable story states in a note that the account
was furnished to him by Mr. Richard Pearce, Consular Agent for France.
“As this gentleman,” he adds, “took great care in his examination of the
case, there cannot be a doubt of its correctness throughout.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          _INFERNAL MACHINES._


The invention of a small fabric that sinks under water and rises to the
surface at the will of her occupants should indicate a large approach
towards the perfecting of the whole theory and practice of submarine
warfare. Such a deadly, dangerous engine of destruction has been tried
and not found wanting. Unhappily, I think; for unless the murderous
inventions of our times are ultimately to render warfare impossible, by
occasioning a common dread because of the swiftness and magnitude of the
butchery—a probability not to be contemplated—one cannot but wish that
the patentee would suffer some of the old elements of manhood to dignify
and animate the conflicts of fleets and armies, by a succession of
failures in the direction of a hidden and annihilating machinery. “So
violent it is,” writes honest old Camden, of the cannon, “in breaking,
tearing, bruising, renting, razing, and ruinating walles, towers,
castles, ramparts, and all that it encountereth; that it might seem to
have been invented by practice of the Devill to the destruction of
mankinde as the onely enemy of true valour and manfull couragiousness,
by murthering afar off.” Murthering afar off! very different, indeed, as
a means of exemplifying courage from the hand-to-hand conflict of the
sword and the spear. So Camden implies, speaking of the cannon of his
time, a weapon that even the long-tailed guardians of the Taku forts
twenty-five years ago would have disdained for their own jingalls. But
what would that mostly learned Clarenceux, King of Arms, have found to
say on the subject of “true valour and manfull couragiousness” had his
theme, instead of the primitive engine whereof the effects as he himself
describes were “destruction, violence, fury, and roaring crack,” been an
electric boat in which men could go about their duties whilst under
water, in which they could softly and hiddenly sneak under the keel of
an ironclad of twelve thousand tons, containing a company of perhaps a
thousand souls, and attach to her a machine that—after they had
withdrawn, still under water, to a safe distance—would blow her and her
people into fragments? This craft is no mere fancy; she is an
accomplished fact, as the French say. It is not long since that the
inventors tested her in the West India Docks. She is a cigar-shaped
boat, sixty feet long, and displaces about fifty tons. They sank and
raised her readily, kept her under water for some time, and then
propelled her. I read that a supply of air—of fresh air—large enough to
last for three days, may be stored in this terrible boat, so that the
Jonahs who man her will be perhaps better off in the matter of oxygen or
ozone than are the occupants of the common above-sea forecastle, even
when their hatch is open.

Of course the electric feature is the novelty in this latest invented
diving boat. But as a fabric that can be made to float or sink, as those
who are inside her may choose, this screw-craft is by no means the first
of her kind. In 1801 Fulton experimented with what he called a
_Bateau-Poisson_, or fish-boat at Rouen. The first account of this
invention says that the boat sank and rose seven or eight times. The
longest period during which it remained under water was eight minutes.
The machine was entered by means of an opening shaped like a tunnel.
“When those who conducted the experiment wished to descend into the
river, and disappear, they let down this opening and lost all
communication with the external air. The inventors of this ingenious
machine are Americans, the principal of whom is called Fulton. Three of
them went into the boat, and remained during the experiment. The Prefect
and a vast concourse of spectators were present.”[54] A fuller account,
written by St. Aubin, was printed in 1802. The boat he inspected was in
some respects similar to the one that had been exhibited at Rouen,
Havre, and Brest. He speaks of it as a nautilus, or diving boat,
invented by Mr. Fulton. It could carry eight men, and hold provisions
enough for this number of persons to last twenty days. The inventor had
contrived a reservoir for air large enough to enable the crew to live
under water for eight hours. The boat was of sufficient strength to
plunge one hundred feet deep, and to bear the pressure of water at that
depth. She was furnished with two sails, and when above water presented
the appearance of an ordinary boat. Fulton, in making his experiments at
Havre, not only remained an hour under water with his companions, but
held his boat parallel to the horizon at any given depth. He proved the
compass-points as correctly under water as on the surface, and while
under water “the boat made way at half a league an hour, by means
contrived for that purpose.” At this point M. St. Aubin indulges in the
following prophetical exclamation: “It is not twenty years since all
Europe was astonished at the first ascension of men in balloons; perhaps
in a few years they will not be less surprised to see a flotilla of
diving boats, which, on a given signal, shall, to avoid the pursuit of
an enemy, plunge under water, and rise again several leagues from the
place where they descended. The invention of balloons has hitherto been
of no advantage, because no means have been found to direct their
course. But if such means could be discovered what would become of
camps, cannon, fortresses, and the whole art of war?” He then proceeds
to point out that Fulton’s craft has the advantage of sailing like a
common boat, and also of diving when it is pursued. It was therefore fit
for carrying secret orders to succour a blockaded port and to examine
the force and position of an enemy in their own harbours. He further
tells us that Fulton had already added to his boat a machine by means of
which he blew up a large craft in the port of Brest. He concludes: “What
will become of maritime wars, and where will sailors be found to man
ships of war, when it is a physical certainty that they may every moment
be blown into the air by means of a diving-boat against which no human
foresight could guard them?” St. Aubin does not say how the boat was
sunk and raised, and how it was propelled, when sunk, at the rate of a
mile and a half in an hour. But that Fulton invented such a boat as the
Frenchman describes is indisputable, and it is equally certain that,
although its merit as an invention was remarkable, nothing came of it.

Footnote 54:

  _Naval Chronicle_, 1805.

Fulton, however, was not the first. In 1774 a man named Day, who had for
years been thinking over a method of sinking a vessel under water with a
man in it, who should live for a certain time, and then, by his own
agency, rise to the surface, fancied he had hit upon the right way at
last. The story is worth telling, for it involves a singular tragedy.
Day was so sanguine that he determined to test his invention at the
Broads, near Yarmouth. He fitted a Norwich market boat, and sank himself
thirty feet under water, where he remained for twenty-four hours. His
success so elated him that he at once went to work to see how he could
get money by it. He accordingly wrote the following letter to a Mr.
Blake, a well-known sporting man: “Sir, I have found out an affair by
which many thousands may be won. It is of a paradoxical nature, but can
be performed with ease. Therefore, sir, if you chuse to be informed of
it, and give me one hundred pounds of every thousand you shall win by
it, I will very readily wait upon you and inform you of it. I am,
myself, but a poor mechanic, and not able to make anything by it without
your assistance.—Yours, etc., J. DAY.” Blake wrote to Day to call upon
him. They met, and Day said that he could sink a ship one hundred yards
deep in the sea with himself in it, and remain therein for the space of
twenty-four hours without communication with anything above, and at the
expiration of the time rise up again in the vessel. Blake asked for a
model, which in the course of a month was sent to him. He was struck
with the invention, and supplied Day with money enough to enable him to
carry out his scheme. The vessel is described as having a false bottom,
standing on feet “like a butcher’s block,” which contained the ballast,
and by the person unscrewing some pins she was to rise to the surface,
leaving the false bottom behind. Plymouth was selected as the scene of
the experiment. On the appointed day the vessel was towed to the place
agreed upon, the inventor provided himself with whatever he deemed
necessary, entered the vessel, retired to the cabin, and shut up the
valve. The craft settled slowly down in twenty-two feet of water. The
hour was two o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 28, and she was
to rise again at two o’clock on the following morning. Day had furnished
himself with some buoys or messengers, which he had arranged to send to
the surface to announce his situation below; but none appearing, his
patron, Blake, suspected an accident, and applied to the captain of a
frigate at anchor close by for assistance. But to no purpose; every
effort was made in vain to weigh the vessel, and Day perished.

The comments on the account of which I have given the substance are
curious when read side by side with the recent newspaper narratives of
the experiment at the West India Docks. “That any man should be able,
after having sunk a vessel to so great a depth, to make that vessel at
pleasure so much more specifically lighter than water as thereby to
enable it to force its way to the surface, through the depressure of so
great a weight, is a matter not hastily to be credited.”

But even Day was not first. Cornelius Drebelle, by order of James I. (so
says Robert Boyle), built a vessel to be rowed under water. She was
furnished with a kind of chemical liquor that served to purify and renew
the air. She carried twelve oarsmen besides passengers, and was tried in
the river Thames, and Mr. Robert Boyle, the “Father of Modern Chemistry
and the Brother of the Earl of Cork,” got his account of her from a
person who was in her during her submarine navigation of the river.

And who was before Cornelius Drebelle? “Novelty is only in request,”
says Shakespeare, “and it is dangerous to be aged in any kind of
course.” But what is novelty?[55]

Footnote 55:

  Bacon, in his “New Atlantis,” makes the father of Solomon’s House say,
  “We have ships and boats for going under water, and brooking of seas;
  also swimming girdles and supporters.”

What value the diving vessel of to-day has she owes to conditions which
are scarcely much older than the date of the application of electricity
to purposes of marine locomotion and to naval warfare. And even if you
gave her an electric engine, but provided her with no better apparatuses
of destruction than those which preceded dynamite, gun-cotton, and the
like she could scarcely, for all her twin screws, her forty-five horse
power, her glow lamps, condensed air, and her plates of steel prove more
useful than such a boat as that of Fulton, or as that of Cornelius
Drebelle, which, urged by twelve rowers, swept under the surface of what
was then the silver Thames. Our enormous ordnance and the tremendous
destructive forces which we have received from the laboratory of the
chemist entitle us to smile, perhaps, at the sheet-lightning and faint
thunders of our grandsires’ conflicts. Yet, on the whole, every one must
admit that they made a fine show with what they had. Individually the
sixty-four-pounder would be but a mean weapon, as weapons now go; yet
the flames of a triple row of them caused a mighty blaze, and could one
even now hear the explosion of the broadside batteries of any wooden
liner you may name the aggregate uproar might suggest the detonation of
some greater engine of war than was ever cast at Elswick or at Woolwich.

In submarine machinery the old folks never got further than the Fenians
manage to go; a clock in a barrel of gunpowder defined the extent of
their genius as murderers. On the surface of the water their most
formidable arrangements were the fire-ship and the bomb-vessel, the
latter a ketch very strongly built and equipped with mortars. An example
of what may be termed explosion-machinery dates as far back as 1585. It
was used to destroy the bridge of boats at the siege of Antwerp, and
consisted of a ship in which was built a vault of stone filled with two
hundred barrels of powder, over which were placed stones of all sizes,
together with shot, iron chains, spikes, and so forth. This mine was
exploded by a secret fuse, and was so contrived that the vessel did not
take fire till it bumped against the bridge, which it shivered. There is
extant the description of a fire-ship, called The Infernal, that was
used at the bombardment of St. Maloes in 1693. She was a new galliot of
about three hundred tons. The bottom of her hold was lined with one
hundred barrels of gunpowder, covered with pitch, tar, brimstone, resin,
tow, straw, and faggots. Over these things was a perforated platform,
upon which were three hundred and forty chests or mortars filled with
grenades, cannon-balls, iron chains, loaded firearms, and large pieces
of metal wrapped in tarpaulins. This abominable contrivance proved a
failure, for after it had sailed fairly enough to the foot of the wall
to which it was to be fastened a blast of off-shore wind sent it on to a
rock, where the people in charge were forced to fire her and hastily
withdraw. The chests or mortars were wet, and did not blow up; but the
explosion of what was dry was furious enough to level a part of the town
wall and destroy the roofs and a portion of the walls of about three
hundred houses.

In 1804, the English attempted to blow up some vessels off Boulogne by
casks or coffers furnished with clock-work explosives. A naval officer,
describing the effect of these machines, says: “Each cask was primed and
set, so as to go off at any desired time after drawing out a pin. A
reward depended upon bringing away this pin. We came within pistol shot
of a corvette before we let go our coffers, under a fire of shot and
shells from the shore. The first explosion, which took place in a few
minutes, was very great, and seemed to strike the enemy with general
consternation.”[56] Others were sunk, but would not go off. These
coffers were made of thick plank lined with lead. When filled they were
tarred, covered with canvas, and “payed” with hot pitch. They are
described as exactly resembling a large coffin. They each weighed as
much as two tons. To one end a line was secured to which was affixed a
sort of anchor. Line and anchor were floated with pieces of cork, the
idea being that the anchor would catch the cable of the ship that was to
be destroyed, and cause the coffer to swing alongside. They were
weighted with shot, so that they should only just float, partly that
they might come along unnoticed, and partly that, if seen, they would be
difficult to hit.

Footnote 56:

  “Naval Hist. of the Recent War, 1804.”

These primitive and, as a rule, inoperative “dodges” find another
illustration in an experiment made in the Downs in 1805. A large brig
was anchored abreast of Walmer Castle, about three-quarters of a mile
from the shore. Two or three boats then rowed off and placed the machine
across the cable of the brig. The tide in a few moments carried it under
the brig, where it affixed itself. Presently the clock-work exploded the
contents, a small cloud of smoke was seen to rise, and the brig is
declared to have gone to pieces “without any noise or appearance of
fire.” In less than the third of a minute not a vestige of her could be
seen from the shore. “General Don, with a number of military and naval
officers, went with Sir Sydney Smith to Mr. Pitt’s, at Walmer Castle, to
witness the experiment, and expressed the utmost astonishment at the
destructive powers of the invention.” This was evidently much such a
contrivance as the coffers which had been used in the previous year off
Boulogne, with some improvement, as perhaps in its power of sliding with
the tide under instead of alongside a vessel and attaching itself to the
keel.

I find the Americans using clock-work as a means of exploding gunpowder
some time before the period of its adoption by the English. In 1774,
Captain Vandeput, in the _Asia_, of sixty-four guns, whilst stationed
off New York, was nearly blown up by a plan to which, unhappily, we in
these more civilized times are no strangers. A quantity of powder was
put on board a small vessel. In one of the barrels was an alarum or
piece of clock-work, that was wound up before it was placed in the
barrel and attached to a musket lock that fired the powder around it.
The powder was for the use of the _Asia_, and the barrels would have
been received on board together, of course, with that which contained
the clock-work arrangement, but for the terror of one of the American
prisoners who was in the secret and communicated the plot to Vandeput.
There seems a horrible meanness in this manner of waging war. Yet there
is nothing more despicable in blowing up a foe by putting a barrel of
powder with clock-work in it inside his ship than in annihilating him by
means of a coffin load of combustibles fired by clock-work under his
ship.

It has been reserved for this age, however, to carry these theories of
hidden and deadly warfare to a height assuredly never dreamt of by the
most visionary of the old exploders. I call them theories, for so they
must remain till a war shall determine them into facts. And, indeed, I
think it need not be doubted that many of what in peace-time and on
paper we think will be desperately terrible features of all future naval
struggles will prove mere impediments and clumsy, fallible, and
misleading devices when the time to test them comes. Mr. Pitt and the
military officers at Walmer Castle might justly be astonished at the
sight of a stout brig crumbling away under a puff of smoke, but it was
Jack’s old-fashioned pike that was then doing the real work; that had
begun it, and that had to complete it.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             _QUEER FISH._


I was lately reading an account of two queer fish which had been sent to
the South Kensington Aquarium. One was a trout, three years old, that
was forced to carry its tail hard a starboard—that is, the tail stands
out at right angles with the fish’s body. Whether this deformity is due
to gout, or whether the fish is in the case of the drunken Irishman who,
on becoming sober and discovering that the surgeon at a hospital had
been trying, without result, to put his hip right, cried out, “I was
born so!” I do not know. That a trout should be able to steer a straight
course through the water, however slowly, with his helm hard over,
proves that this kind of fish must have a trick of navigation above the
reach of mortal mariners. The second marine oddity was a stickleback of
the length of a young rat, and extremely like an old mouse. I think I
see these two strokes of nature swimming in company and consoling each
other. We do not require either the fables of Æsop or the maxims of
Rochefoucauld to assure us that there is something in the misfortunes of
our best friends that does not secretly displease us. Possibly the
stickleback in his heart thinks that, on the whole, he would rather look
like a mouse than carry his tail through life athwart ships. On the
other hand, the trout may consider that, though the obligation of having
on all occasions to struggle against a weather helm must weigh heavy on
a life whose essential condition is one of fins, yet, being a fish, it
is better to be distorted as a fish than to carry the emotions of a fish
in the caricature of a mouse. Presuming these to be their confidential
opinions, it may be supposed that their efforts to console each other
would not be entirely wanting in unconscious humour.

When absurd natural touches of this kind are brought under one’s
attention, one gets to see how it happens that in the old voyages the
relaters of the wonders they viewed sometimes wrote as if their hair
stood on end. Suppose the stickleback to be a denizen of the deep; then
conceive it, wearing the shape of a mouse, to rise beside some becalmed
vessel filled with a company of “pilgrimes” of the kind whose narratives
are preserved in “Purchas” and “Hakluyt.” The object is observed by some
old mariner who carries a child’s eye for wonders and marvels amid the
knobs and warts of his walnutshell of a face. Before he can sing out the
mouse vanishes. But the ancient mariner has beheld it, and he
straightway goes and reports the astonishing spectacle to two or three
other ancient mariners, representing the strange fish possibly as of the
size of a cat. The tale is bandied from one long-since venerable
nautical mouth to another till by the time it reaches the captain’s
cabin the sea-mouse has grown as big as a porpoise, collecting, in the
course of its enlargement, a very pretty apparel of flaming eyes, “ears
which itt did cocke, nostrils whence proceeded a sort of white smoak, a
skin whereof ye furre was exceeding riche, and did shine as though
covered with manye gemmes of brighte and piercynge lighte.”[57]

Footnote 57:

  Take Captain Edward Haies’ description of a sea-lion in his narrative
  of Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Voyage: “So upon Saturday in the afternoon,
  August 31, we changed our course, and returned back for England; at
  which very instant, even in winding about, there passed along between
  us and toward the land, which we now forsook, a very lion, to our
  seeming in shape, hair, and colour; not swimming after the manner of a
  beast, by moving of his feet, but rather sliding upon the water with
  his whole body. Thus he passed along, turning his head to and fro,
  yawning and gaping wide, with ugly demonstration of long teeth and
  glaring eyes, and to bid us a farewell (coming right against the
  Hinde) he sent forth a horrible voice, roaring and bellowing as doth a
  lion, which spectacle we all beheld, so far as we were able to discern
  the same, as men prone to wonder at every strange thing, as this
  doubtless was, to see a lion in the ocean sea, or fish in shape of a
  lion; what opinion others had thereof, and chiefly the General
  himself, I forbear to deliver, but he took it for _bonum omen_,
  rejoicing that he was to war against such an enemy, if it were the
  devil.”—Hakluyt’s “Voyages,” vol. iii. p. 154.

Few of the queer fish one reads of in the old travels but were evolved
in some such fashion as this, no doubt. It was in a sort of stealthy,
peering way, crossing themselves often and chanting their litanies, that
the early navigators entered the deep solitudes of the great oceans.
Whatever befel them was startling or affrighting, or of wild and amazing
beauty. Their meteors were not the waterspouts of to-day; the eclipse
provoked their _misericordias_ and _Salve Reginas_ and rendered ashen
the chocolate cheeks of the darkest-burnt on board; the glittering
exhalations, known to us as corposants, which danced in the gale or
burnt in the calm at the yard-arms or on the bowsprit end, were prayed
to as the spirit or presence of a saint; the very thunder, though its
roar was no louder than that which broke the repose of the Portugal or
Andalusian hills of the seamen, snatched a note of horror, reverberated
an echo of terror, from the solemn immensity of the liquid plain into
whose horizon over the ships’ bows the mariners stared under the shelter
of their hands, gaping for the auriferous shores which day after day for
weeks their admirals, their captain-generals, had told them they should
have in view anon.

        “The pilot smote his breast; the watchman cried,
         “Land!” and his voice in faltering accents died.
         At once the fury of the prow was quelled;
         And (whence or why from many an age withheld)
         Shrieks, not of men, were mingling in the blast,
         And armed shapes of God-like stature passed!
          Slowly along the evening sky they went,
         As on the edge of some vast battlement;
         Helmet and shield and spear and gonfalon
         Streaming a baleful light that was not of the sun!”[58]

Footnote 58:

  “The Voyage of Columbus.” There are several fine passages in this
  neglected poem. Rogers, in some places, has caught the spirit of the
  old chronicles very happily.

I am not surprised, then, that many kinds of queer fish—of fish queerer
than the trout with its rheumatically-warped tail, or the stickleback
with the aspect of a mouse—should figure among the astonishments which
the mariners of those prying and creeping, but most bold-hearted, times,
set down for the edification of posterity. You particularly notice in
these records how exquisitely in keeping with the whole picture of those
old ships and oddly-clad sailors, as one loves to imagine them, and with
the spirit of the mystery of those unattempted seas as breathed by the
salt and ancient chronicler, are the terms in which the writers convey
their discoveries. As, for instance, in this passage from the first
voyage of Columbus: “A Wagtail flew very near the Ship, and they
perceived that the Currents ran not so strong as before, but turned back
with the Tides, and there were fewer Weeds; and the Day following they
took many gilt Fishes.” The word may not strike others as it strikes me;
but there is something in the expression “_gilt_ fishes” that is like a
revelation of the intertropical situation of the mariners. You think of
the long bald gleaming heave of the darkly pure blue swell of the sea,
the fragrance of the yet hidden islands of the Spanish main blowing
sweet in the warm wind coming from the west, the liquid light of the
moon showering its splendour upon the pallid fabric and her bearded men,
and gemming the quaint old structure with diamonds in the dew along her
rails and on her yards, lunar brilliants that shine with the glory of
the stars which softly crowd the velvet deeps of the sky of the
Columbian Antilles. To whom but to mariners exploring for the first time
the wonderland of ocean hidden, for how many centuries? from all Europe
behind the Atlantic sea line, could such a queer fish as this exhibit
itself? “They saw a great Fish, like a middling Whale, and it had on the
Neck a large Shell, like that of a Tortoise, little less than a Target;
the Head it held above water was like a Pipe or But, the Tail like that
of a Tunny Fish, very large, and two vast Fins on the side.”[59] Yet,
queer as this marine man-in-armour seems to have been, with its target
and its head like a butt, Columbus appears to have known enough of it to
enable him to witness in it a barometrical signification; for “by this
Fish and other observations in the sky”—the “other” here is a very
fine—“the Admiral perceived there was like to be a change of Weather.”

Footnote 59:

  “The First Voyage of Columbus” in Harris’s collection.

One might justly count that fish queer which was believed to breed
birds. How mean as an illustration of Nature’s capacity as a humourist
would be the gnarled and rounded trout or the stickleback like a mouse
side by side with a turtle, capable of producing, say, wrens or
canaries! The reverend and learned Mr. John Ray, whilst travelling some
two centuries ago through the Low Countries, took some trouble to
inquire into this matter of bird-breeding by turtles and tortoises, and
pronounced it—humbug! He had to oppose a very profound reasoner, no less
a personage, indeed, than Michael Meyerus—of whom, of course, every
schoolboy has heard—a gentleman who has devoted a whole big book to the
subject. But though he terms the statement false and frivolous, there is
so much of possibly designed ambiguity in his “explanation” that I
confess I cannot understand what he means. The “bernacles,” he says,
which are said to be bred in the tortoise, are “hatch’d of eggs of their
own laying, like other birds.” Like _other_ birds! Did the learned Mr.
Ray conceive a tortoise to be a bird?[60] The Hollanders, he goes on, in
their third voyage to discover the North-East Passage, found two
islands, “in one of which they observed a great number of these Geese,”
he is talking of tortoises! “sitting on their Eggs.” He sums up: “All
the Ground of this fancy, as I conceive, is because this fish hath a
bunch of _cirri_ somewhat resembling a tuft of feathers, or the tail of
a bird, which it sometimes puts out into the water, and draws back
again.” Here to be sure is a very great muddle of good meaning. One may
take it that the sailors who believed that turtle and tortoise
“engendered fowlys” were not going to suffer their solemn affirmations
to be discredited by such reasoning as the Rev. John Ray’s.[61]

Footnote 60:

  By “bernacle” I suspect he means the barnacle goose.

Footnote 61:

  Sinbad the sailor saw “a bird that cometh forth from a sea-shell and
  layeth its eggs and hatcheth them upon the surface of the water and
  never cometh forth upon the sea upon the face of the earth.” If the
  tortoise breeds birds time enough is vouchsafed it for that work.
  Grose speaks of the shells of two tortoises: one in the library at
  Lambeth Palace that was brought there alive in 1633, and died of the
  frost in 1753; the other that was brought to Fulham in 1628, and died
  in the same year as the other. “What were the ages of these tortoises
  at the time they were placed in the above gardens is not
  known.”—_Olio._ 288.

So far as the superstitious emotions they excited are concerned, it may
be truly said of queer fish that even in their ashes live the wonted
fires. As an example: the quantity of petrified fish-bones found at
Malta fired the ingenious Monkish imagination with the idea of a curious
fable. It was said that St. Paul when at Malta, on being bitten in the
hand by a viper, did by his prayers obtain of God that all the serpents
in Malta should be turned into stones. That all the petrified bones upon
which this fancy was based belonged to queer fish is not to be supposed;
but that many queer fish did deposit their bones on the Maltese shore in
the course of ages need not be questioned, and such is my faith in the
distorted trouts and mouse-formed sticklebacks of the deep that I do not
scruple to count the above fable concerning St. Paul and the vipers due
to the inspirations of the fossilized remains of the “queer fish” only.
Was not the sea-unicorn a queer fish in the judgment of our great
grandsires? If not, it is strange that they should have endowed its horn
or sword with quite magical properties. It was even believed of the
little _cheval marin_, or _cavaletto_, that if roasted and partly
devoured, the remainder being applied to the wound, after some preparing
of it with honey and vinegar, would cure the bite of a mad dog. There is
no doubt it got this reputation from its fancied resemblance to the
unicorn. An old Danish traveller thought to explode this superstition of
medicinal and magical virtues in the horn of the sea-unicorn: “Supposing
that what has been pretended to be the true horn was really such, I will
venture to affirm there is no more virtue in it than in that of a stag,
a goat, or elephant’s tooth, which is made use of to stop the spitting
of blood, which is done by the astringent quality of these horns, and
that cannot so properly be called a virtue as a malignity.” Yet this
writer was one of a trading party who presented the King of Denmark with
two of these horns, as though they were extraordinary rareties and
possessed of a score of curative qualities; and his Majesty took them to
be real unicorn horns—the horns of a fabled beast—and valued them
accordingly. A queer fish indeed in those old times, but common enough
in these, and universally known as the “sword fish.” Dr. Edward Browne
when at Utrecht, two hundred years ago, saw three of such horns, one of
which, tipped with silver, was used as a drinking cup; and he enters
them in his notes as wonders. Possibly he was impressed by the sight of
a drinking cup five feet long. But he was in the land of Mynheer van
Dunk, who was probably living at that time. He tells of a Danish king
that had one hundred horns of the sea-unicorn “for the making of a
magnificent throne.” And what finer throne should an old sea king desire
to sit upon?

It is not hard to conceive that fish undergo constitutional and organic
changes in the course of centuries, and that, say, about the period of
the Deluge the sea was full of objects which would strike us as
extremely queer specimens now, though to Noah, Ham, and Shem they would
be as familiar as the whiting or the dab is to us. But I cannot imagine
that very remarkable transformations or developments could take place in
three or four, or even five or six centuries. Who shall tell, for
example, how many hundreds of years have gone to the making of the
unhappy stickleback that was sent to the Aquarium? The changes would be
gradual. Taking the evolvments in their gradations, you would possibly
find the family mouse-like expression growing less and less marked as
you worked your way back through this stickleback’s pedigree. But the
extreme circumstantiality of the old voyagers’ descriptions of queer
fish should almost really persuade one to suppose that what they beheld
died shortly after having been viewed, so that the like has never been
seen since. Here is an example of my meaning, taken from Commodore
Beaulieu’s voyage:

“While the calm and the excessive heat continued we saw a certain white
thing about the bigness of an ostrich-egg floating upon the water, which
sunk when the ship came within fifty or sixty paces of it. It resembled
a man’s head without hair, and some say they observed two black eyes and
a mouth upon it.”

It is the “some say” of these tales which makes them so bewildering. Did
this remarkable sea-face with its two black eyes wink? Did it sneer as
it sank? Why did not “others say” that ere sinking it raised its thumb
to its nose and extended its fingers in the form of a fan, “thereby
designing an ironical salutation of farewell”?

But a mere bald head with black eyes and a mouth floating about the sea
is but a twopenny queer fish compared with the marine curiosities which
ancient mariners have beheld and even given portraits of. Figure a hairy
whale, four acres big, with eye-sockets so capacious that fifteen men
could sit in each of them, as in a public house parlour, and pass jacks
of whiskey about; the eyes themselves of ten cubits in circumference! or
hear Père Fournier tell of the monster that “in the reign of Philip II.
of Spain”—the epoch of marine chimeras dire!—“appeared in the ocean with
two great wings, and sailing like a ship. A vessel saw it, and breaking
one of its wings with a cannon ball, the monster swiftly entered the
Straits of Gibraltar with horrible cries, and finally came ashore at
Valentia, where it was found dead.” Then follow these circumstantial
strokes: “Its skull was so large that seven men could enter into it. A
man on horseback could enter its throat. The jaw-bone, seventeen feet
long, is still in the Escurial.” Most readers would feel inclined to say
of this monster, “Very like a whale!”

Unhappily conjecture is blinded by imaginative touches, such as those of
the eyes and mouth of the bald-headed fungus of Beaulieu’s voyage. Queer
fish as big as islands are constantly occurring in the old accounts. The
whale was Job’s Leviathan in those days, and the goggling sailor was
easily persuaded by his terrors to multiply the mountain of blubber by
two or three hundred. A man saw a whale in the sea of Zendi that was
nearly forty-five thousand cubits long—about a mile, if the cubit be
eighteen inches. Sinbad wrote in perfect correspondence with the spirit
of the Ancient Mariner when he describes his landing on an island which
suddenly trembled and proved the back of a prodigious fish. Others tell
of fish like cows and camels; of fish dressed like monks and bishops,
cowled and mitred, and gazing up at the ship with austere and lenten
countenances. Others arrived home with the news of the kraken, that
“hugest of living things” as Sir Walter Scott describes it, whose horns
would be seen “welking” and waving over the heights of a fog-bank, to
the horror and consternation of even the hardiest fishermen, who made
haste to bear away under all press of oar and sail. Others, again, would
tell of cuttle fish, or squid, so vast in size and titanic in power that
they easily coiled their serpentine membranes round about the masts of
ships of a thousand tons and quietly capsized them.

Where have all these queer fish gone? Why did they exhibit themselves
only in the middle ages and down to about old Sir Thomas Browne’s time?
No account of any prodigies such as ravished or affrighted the ancient
seaman is to be met in the records of the _Beagle_ or the _Challenger_.
Yet let us take heart. The stickleback like a mouse is indeed a meagre
substitute for the kraken; and the hard-alee trout looks mean alongside
a whale a mile long. But their existence serves to assure us that the
age is not wholly barren in wonders, and that there are still some queer
fish about.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            _STRANGE CRAFT._


In the beginning of the seventeenth century one Peter Jansen, a Dutch
merchant, ordered a ship to be built for him on the lines of Noah’s ark.
Of course, as this vessel was designed to contain only a few animals,
and those chiefly men, her size was not that of her famous prototype.
The Dutchman’s orders were that the vessel should exactly answer
proportionally to the dimensions of the fabric that was stranded on
Ararat. Jansen flourished in pre-scientific times; but this notion of
his went so far beyond the most extravagant credulities of the period
that the scheme was viewed as a mere fanatical whim of a Mennonite, to
which sect our friend belonged. He persevered, however, in spite of
being heartily jeered at, more particularly by the seafaring folk who
assembled to view the shipwrights at work; but when the vessel was
eventually launched it was discovered that ships built in this manner
were, in times of peace, commodious above all others, because they would
convey one-third more cargo than other holds, and yet be navigated by
the same number of hands which other forecastles carried. Those who
would hear more of this ark may consult—if they can find it—the
“Bibliotheca Biblia,” vol. i.[62]

Footnote 62:

  The story is there related: “Peter Jansen, a Dutch merchant, caused a
  ship to be built for him, answering in its respective proportions to
  those of Noah’s ark. At first this ark was looked upon as no better
  than a fanatical vision of this Jansen; but afterwards it was
  discovered that ships built in this manner were, in times of peace,
  beyond all others most commodious,” etc.

That Jansen erred, according to the light of his times, who shall
declare? Sir Thomas Browne, who lived much about that period, would
prove—I do not say he does—that Noah’s ark was the swiftest vessel that
ever drove a keel through a surge—nimbler than the Baltimore clippers,
the Mediterranean fruiters, the slavers of the Spanish main; in fact,
very nearly as fast as the Atlantic expresses which storm through the
ocean between the Mersey and New York. I find in the “Extracts from
Commonplace Books” in Browne’s works this passage: “Whether Noah might
not be the first man that compassed the globe? Since, if the flood
covered the whole earth, and no lands appeared to hinder the current, he
must be carried with the wind and current according to the sun, and so
in the space of the deluge might near make the tour of the globe. And
since if there were no continent of America, and all that tract a sea, a
ship setting out from Africa without other help would at last fall upon
some part of India or China.” This is as much as to say that Noah sailed
round the world in forty days! Smart work when you consider that it
takes a twelve-knot mail-boat thirty-seven days to steam to New Zealand.

It cannot, however, be concluded from her dimensions that, even though
blown along by a gale of wind right over her stern, the ark equalled the
speed of a Union or Royal Mail steamer. Sir Walter Raleigh, in his
“History of the World,” a mine of exquisite thought and of sweet and
noble expression, devotes a page or two to consideration of the size and
form of Noah’s ship; and what a man who was as great a sailor as he was
poet, philosopher, and soldier, and who lived near to Jansen’s time, has
to say of her must be worth hearing in this particular connection. He is
unable to point to the place where the ark was “framed,” but suspects it
was near the Caucasus where grew “goodly cedars.” “It was thought to
have a flat bottom, and a crested roof, and the wood gopher of which it
was made was very probably cedar, being light, easy to cut, sweet, and
lasting.” The pitch he thinks was bitumen. Her length was six hundred
feet, the breadth one hundred feet, and the depth sixty feet. He
calculates her internal capacity in cubical cubits, four hundred and
fifty thousand, “which is sufficient for an hundred kind of beasts and
their meat in the lower and second stories, and two hundred and eighty
fowls, with Noah and his family, in the third.” So far as beam and
length go she was considerably narrower than the ships in Jansen’s day,
which were commonly about three and a half times as long as they were
broad. But what of her bows? Had she a run? Had she the flat bottom of a
barge or the moulded depth of the clipper? But it matters not; Jansen’s
inspiration found no copyists; his fabric has floated solitarily down to
us as a strange ship; and now that we have viewed her she may brace
round her top-sail yard again and proceed on her phantom course.

I do not think, however, that we can find much title in our own marine
performances to justify laughter at the old folks’ ships. Is it
conceivable that ugly as Jansen’s Noah’s ark must have been she would
not have looked comely alongside some of the metal horrors of recent and
contemporary invention? Something of the indefinable charm you find in
the simpering shepherds and shepherdesses of the crockery age of
literature, in Melibœus piping to the skipping lambkins on an oaten pipe
and Daphne toying with a lover’s true-knot under some spreading shade,
enters into those vanished ships with their black or yellow sides, their
rows of little guns, their gay and fluttering finery of masthead
streamers, ancients, pennons, and the like. I know more than one war
ship now afloat that you might “dress” from stem to pole-masthead and
overboard aft, turn her into a rainbow of bunting, without achieving
more than the accentuation of her ugliness. No! it is not for us,
forsooth, to talk of taste, smile as we may at the illustrations of our
grandsires’ sturdy struggles towards that imperial fruition in which we,
their inheritors, find our most reasonable and sovereign boast.

I find a pretty fancy, and an audacious one, too, in an account of a
strange ship in 1769. In that year there arrived at Naples from Palermo
a small vessel, whose length of keel was twelve feet. She was
ship-rigged—that is to say, she had three masts, with all the yards that
ships then carried across, and her ship’s company was composed of one
man only. She is described as being the model of a man-of-war of sixty
guns. Her builder, who navigated her, was a carpenter; he had worked in
an Italian arsenal, then went to Trieste, where he built his ship,
embarked in her with two men for Messina, then proceeded alone to
Palermo and Naples to present his wonderful model to the King. She is
probably the only full-rigged model of a ship actually sailed by a man
in her from one port to another on record. Figure the blue Italian
waters and this lovely toy, with the sunshine flashing up its canvas
into satin, blandly leaning over from the fragrant breeze, and slipping
through the liquid sapphire with a little curl of silver at her stem!

The model craft exercises a fascination that is felt beyond boyhood.
Many a long hour have I spent on the shores of the Round Pond in
Kensington Gardens, watching the tiny fleets there till imagination has
been transported by the charming miniature imagery into the heart of a
horizon capacious enough to hold some scores of Londons with their
metropolitan suburbs. This diversion seems to have delighted the
fastidious and elegant taste of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, in his
“American Note Books,” speaks of frequent visits to the “Frog Pond”
merely to see the boys sail their ships. “There is a full-rigged
man-of-war,” he says, “with, I believe, every spar, rope, and sail, that
sometimes makes its appearance; and when on a voyage across the pond it
so identically resembles a great ship, except in size, that it has the
effect of a picture. All its motions—its tossing up and down on the
small waves, and its sinking and rising in a calm swell, its heeling to
the breeze—the whole effect, in short, is that of a real ship at sea;
while, moreover, there is something that kindles the imagination more
than the reality would do.” I have a note of another beautiful model
constructed so long ago as 1767. It was a little ship of sixty-four
guns, completely rigged—four inches long! The materials of which it was
composed were gold, silver, steel, brass, copper, ivory, ebony, and
hair. The hull, masts, yards, and booms were of ivory; the guns, blocks,
anchors, and dead-eyes silver; the colours—the Royal Standard, the
Admiralty and union flags, the jack and ensign—were of ivory. The
sixty-four guns weighed fifty grains. The scale was forty feet to one
inch. His Royal Highness the Duke of York was so delighted with its
singular minuteness and the exquisite delicacy of its workmanship, that
he recommended it to the attention of his Majesty, who was graciously
pleased to place it in his cabinet of curiosities. The artist was an
officer in the navy, and I hope the royal admiration was accompanied by
recognition of the sailor’s genius.

Herman Melville, in “Redburn,” speaks of an old-fashioned glass ship,
about eighteen inches long, of French manufacture. “Every bit of it was
glass, and that was a great wonder of itself; because the masts, yards,
and ropes were made to exactly resemble the corresponding parts of a
real vessel that could go to sea. She carried two tiers of black guns
all along her two decks; and often I used to try to peep in at the
portholes to see what else was inside.... Not to speak of the tall masts
and yards and rigging of this famous ship, among whose mazes of spun
glass I used to rove in imagination till I grew dizzy at the main truck,
I will only make mention of the people on board of her. They, too, were
all of glass, as beautiful little glass sailors as anybody ever saw,
with hats and shoes on, just like living men, and curious blue jackets
with a sort of ruffle round the bottom. Four or five of these sailors
were very nimble little chaps, and were mounting up the rigging with
very long strides; but for all that, they never gained a single inch in
the year, as I can take my oath. Another sailor was sitting astride of
the spanker-boom, with his arms over his head, but I never could find
out what that was for; a second was in the foretop with a coil of glass
rigging over his shoulder; the cook with a glass axe was splitting wood
near the fore hatch; the steward in a glass apron was hurrying towards
the cabin with a plate of glass pudding; and a glass dog with a red
mouth was barking at him; whilst the captain in a glass cap was smoking
a glass cigar on the quarter-deck.”

Among strange vessels may be classed fabrics—no matter of what size—of
copper, leather, canvas, cloth, and (for the age) iron. The ancient
Briton’s coracle was the leather boat. This is Rees’ presumption, in his
“Beauties of South Wales,” from the circumstance of the fishermen in
certain Welsh rivers using a corwg, or coracle, “which,” says he, “is
probably coeval with the earliest population of the island.” The form of
the coracle was nearly oval, its length five feet, and its breadth four.
The frame was formed of split rods, plaited like basket-work and covered
with raw hide. It was a portable boat, and its owner carried it on his
back when he wished to convey it to or from his home. How far iron, as a
material for the construction of ships, can be traced back I do not
know. Grantham, a sound authority, gets no further than 1787. I can beat
that record by ten years. In the “Annual Register” for 1777, under the
month of June, I find, “A new pleasure-boat, constructed of sheet-iron,
was lately launched into the river Foss, in Yorkshire. She is twelve
feet long, sailed with fifteen persons, and is so light that two men may
carry her.” Clearly a strange ship to those who beheld her! Twelve years
later another strange craft was sent afloat: “A very curious experiment
was tried—that of proving how far an entire copper vessel would answer
the purpose of sailing. Mr. Williams, a joint proprietor of the great
copper mines, was the projector, and a very numerous party attended the
experiment. It was launched at Deptford, and promises to answer every
purpose for which it was designed. Should it do so entirely it will
prove a very singular advantage to the British navy.” The joint
proprietor’s patriotic scheme apparently bore no fruit. What would the
ship-builder of this day think of copper vessels?

A cheaper experiment in strange craft was adventured in the direction of
cloth. What particular merit this boat had is not stated. It was the
invention of a Frenchman named Desquinemara. The fabric was said to be
impermeable to air and water. All that I can learn of this boat is, the
experiments proved so successful that an account of them was sent to the
class of the Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the Institute, in
order that a decision should be come at as to the useful purposes to
which this novel invention was applicable. After which this cloth boat,
sliding past on Time’s current, slips into blackness and disappears. Of
a strange vessel made of canvas I find a tolerably full account. She was
the invention of a certain Colonel Brown, whose brother, a lieutenant in
the Royal Navy, accompanied by thirty persons, crossed the Thames in
her, and passed through one of the arches of Westminster Bridge, in the
view of many thousands of spectators. She is described as a military
batteau made of prepared canvas, so as to be impervious to water. Her
length was seventeen feet, width five feet, and depth three feet, and
when loaded with thirty people she drew only three inches. She was
capable of carrying one hundred soldiers with arms, accoutrements, and
baggage, fifty of them sitting and fifty lying. She weighed sixty
pounds, and could be taken to pieces and put together again in three
minutes. I do not learn that this strange vessel was ever employed.[63]

Footnote 63:

  In “Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea,” vol. i. (1812), there is
  preserved a singular narrative of an escape of some men from captivity
  by means of a canvas boat. The title is quaint: “A small monument of
  great mercy, in the miraculous deliverance of five persons from
  slavery at Algiers, in a canvas boat; with an account of the great
  distress and extremities which they endured at sea.” By William
  Okeley, 1644.

Another account of a strange craft I find in 1793. This was a vessel
intended to “sail” against wind and tide, and on trial she managed to do
it at the rate of four knots an hour. She was fitted with a pump of a
diameter of two feet, worked by a steam engine, by means of which a
stream of water was driven through the keel. The impetus of the water
forced through the square channel against the exterior water acted as an
impelling power. This idea has been again and again revived, possibly by
some who considered their scheme as surprisingly novel and
revolutionary.

One of the strangest vessels which ever floated was the paddle-wheel
boat of 1472. A sketch of one form of this boat[64] exhibits a
periagua-shaped vessel, sharp at both ends, and fitted with five sets of
paddles fitted to beams, which work in orifices like tholes. A somewhat
similar boat is heard of in 1681, in which year a vessel, fitted with
revolving oars or paddles, distanced the King’s barge, leaving her far
astern, though she was manned by sixteen rowers. An ingenious gentleman,
in the Middle Ages, invented a mode of propulsion by erecting an immense
bellows in the stern of a vessel. He thought that, when the wind
dropped, there was nothing to do but fill his sails with the bellows,
and so blow himself along his course. He hardly foresaw that the bellows
and the sails would act against each other, and leave the ship
motionless; or worse yet, in a calm, give her a small sternway. Jonathan
Hull’s ship of 1736 would also be reckoned by his contemporaries a
strange vessel. She was, indeed, the first steamer that ever blackened
the surface of water with the reflection of the smoke of coal. His
patent was for “a machine for carrying ships and vessels out of or into
any harbour or river against wind and tide, or in a calm.” Hull’s was a
stern-wheel boat, and adaptation of his invention of late years has
familiarized to us an object that would have been viewed with wonder
even a quarter of a century since.

Footnote 64:

  Lindsay’s “History of Shipping.”

An illustrated history of shipbuilding would furnish the student with a
series of plates of objects quite as astonishing for variety of shapes
and freaks of taste as anything to be found in pictures in books of
zoology and the physiology of fishes. The summit of perfection in form,
beauty, in an almost spirit-like interpretation of the poetry of the
sea, moulded and embodied by the hand of the shipwright and the rigger,
was reached in some of the frigates afloat at the period of the
introduction of iron. Grace and loveliness are now perpetuated by the
yacht builder. Some of the iron sailing ships are, it must be admitted,
framed with much elegance of judgment. But the vicious obligations of
economy, supplemented by the severe conditions which now enter into
naval arming, have forced us into many hideous forms, and render this
age in the matter of marine taste the heaviest sinner of all the
centuries. The uncouthness of the junk, the clumsiness of the galliot,
the absurd freeboard, crowning poops, square bows, and tower-like rigs
of the ships of olden times are admitted features; but all staring
qualities were sobered by an atmosphere of quaintness, a complexion of
romance, by elements of colour and furniture and apparel, which did
somehow greatly help the imagination into ideal surveys and
considerations. But is there anything to idealize in the leviathan mass
of twelve-inch plates that floats past like a gasworks gone adrift? And
what of poetry may we find in a metal tube that shows nothing above
water but a short polemast and a conning-tower?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      _MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES._

    “Land in your eye!” said the mate, who was looking through the
    telescope.—_Two Years Before the Mast._


Something of humour goes to the fancy of a shipmaster homeward bound
with a mind oppressed by the discovery of land that is literally “all in
his eye.” The emotions excited by Samuel Weller’s lantern in the soul of
the scientific gentleman would be trifling compared with the _fine_
triumph of a man who is the first to discover land. Though it be but a
rock—nay, a reef or shoal—is it not a surer hand than that of the
greatest poet for the carrying of one’s name down to the remotest
posterity? What as a memorial so excellent and enduring as a piece of
mother-earth? Every new chart enlarges the bounds of the discoverer’s
fame. Take such a man as Bugsby. In what old black-letter book the life
of him lies pierced through and through by worms I know not. I might
search Limehouse and Poplar and find no oldest inhabitant able to tell
me a word about Bugsby, whether he was a great merchant or a haggard
water-thief, whether he fetched his last breath in Execution Dock, or
died very honestly in a four-poster. Yet so long as the silver Thames
continues to flow, so long (I am afraid) will its translucent
tide—particularly in the neighbourhood of the East India Docks and the
aromatic Isle of Dogs—go on murmuring the elegant name of Bugsby.
Bugsby’s Reach! Think of the enormous fame of Bugsby! Then should not a
master-mariner, sailing home with an entry concerning a discovery of
land in his log-book, feel extremely boastful and happy? Supposing it to
be, as it almost always is in this age of an exhausted world, an island
or a rock entirely “in his eye:” it will be the same to him; he will go
to his grave as cocksure about it as if he had landed, hoisted the Union
Jack, taken possession of it in the Queen’s name, and called it by his
own. Several nations may send forth ships to examine the spot: all whose
commanders shall return and say there is nothing to be seen. But the
first discoverer of land is a being not to be easily cheated out of his
convictions. “Land-ho?” “Whereaway?” “Dead abeam!” And there it must
stand, a piece of holy ground in our skipper’s faith, latitude
unquestionable, longitude exact, though a shift of wind or a new
complexion of light would attenuate the solid object into a texture
considerably thinner than the most difficult of the difficult airs of
the mountaintops.

Some islands have been unaffected dreams. Such was that shore which at
the dawning of the day proved to be “a land flat to our sight, and full
of boscage, which made it show the more dark,” called by its discoverer
New Atlantis. Such was that happy republic whose “figure is not unlike a
crescent; between its horns the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and
spreads itself into a great bay.” Such, too, are the queer countries of
Swift and Rabelais, and of several philosophers and poets, both of
ancient and modern times. But, on the other hand, many of the old
sea-girt demon-haunted rocks, the sunny and spice-sweetened and
flower-coloured dominions of the ocean fairies, the little surf-washed
principalities of dead seamen’s souls, were as real as immoderate
private conviction could render them. They had been seen! the ancient
mariner, with a beard as long as his whom Henrie Lane writes of in
“Hakluyt”—“At their rising, the prince called them to his table, to
receive each one a cup from his hand to drinke, and tooke into his hand
Master George Killingworth’s beard, which reached over the table, and
pleasantly delivered it to the Metropolitane, who seeming to blesse it,
sayd in Russe, this is God’s gift. As, indeede, at that time it was not
onely thicke, broad, and yellow-coloured, but in length five foot and
two inches of assize”—the ancient mariner, I say, staring under the
sharp of his hand, with eyes on fire with alarm and amazement, his
mighty beard blowing like smoke upon his breast; this ancient mariner,
standing on his tall poop near to the great lanthorn, with pennons many
ells in length streaming from the topmast heads, the bonaventure mast
sloping well aft, the sprit-top-sail glancing under the yawn of the
forecourse like a sheet of silk, beheld the magic islands with his own
fiery eyes under his own shaggy white brows, and on his return did
depose to them with awful solemnity, calling upon many saints to bear
witness to his veracity, and expressing himself as being perfectly
willing to be boiled, fried, burnt, or in any other way “dressed,” if
his statement could be proved a lie.

His voyages furnished him with queer relations to deliver. The ocean was
a huge mystery; and things which familiarity has long ago rendered mean
were instinct with the terror, the splendour, the power, the majesty of
the ocean, marvellous with the spirit of the measureless surface and the
unfathomed depths, in the midst of which the early mariner found them.
The enchanted island was real enough then. The sea-life was in its
beginning: it was credulous as a man’s childhood is; and, childlike, it
took wonders and astonishments and impossibilities for the truth, and by
sheer stress of prodigious faith made them so.

It must have been a noble time to go to sea in. A boy starts now as a
sailor for India or China, and his head is full of fancies of elephants,
ivory, gleaming towers, wild beasts, coloured men, and strange coins.
His imagination reaches no further than his reading, or what has been
told him. He pretty well knows what he is to see, and of course, what he
sees falls infinitely short of his expectations. But the ocean to the
ancient mariner was pure Wonderland. Read what he has to say of the
whale, the albatross, the iceberg. Coleridge catches the infantile awe
and astonishment of the early voyagers in that exquisite “rime” of his,
in which the commonplaces of the deep show mighty and fearful, as a sort
of prodigies indeed, in the organ-utterance of the aged seaman of lean
and Ember-week-like aspect. In these days if a man arrives home with a
yarn of an uncharted rock his tale is to the last degree prosaic. The
primitive navigator, on the other hand, would have found it a heap of
extraordinary sights, a mass of miracles. Of course he had this
advantage over us moderns: he could hint at its situation with such
happy ambiguity as would defy discovery of it, even if the astrolabe and
the cross-staff had been as precise as the sextant and the chronometer.
But then he credited his own detections. His tales rendered his charts
as queer to the eye as a star-map outlined with the zodiacal symbolism;
and the ocean was like Spenser’s poem for witcheries, marvels,
necromancies, monstrous shapes, dreadful sounds, and mysterious islands.
A romantic marine age, indeed, when Cape Fly-away was to be doubled, and
No Man’s Land made!

Of the unparalleled isles of the ancient mariner many descriptions are
extant. We hear of floating islands, verdant with tropic vegetation,
suddenly rising to the surface of the sea, then foundering; of islands,
covered with medicinal herbs of greater efficacy even than the most
largely advertised of modern pills, approaching the coast once in every
seven years; of islands inhabited by women only; of islands merely
enchanted, such as the old New England voyager’s: “very thick foggie
weather, we sailed by an inchanted island, saw a great deal of filth and
rubbish floating by the ship;” of islands formed of green meadows,
which, says Mr. Wirt Sikes, “were supposed to be the abode of the souls
of certain Druids who, not holy enough to enter the heaven of the
Christians, were still not wicked enough to be condemned to the tortures
of Annwn, and so were accorded a place in this romantic sort of
purgatorial paradise.”—“British Goblins.” Here is one of Mandeville’s
twisters:—

“In an isle clept Crues, ben schippes withouten nayles of iren, or
bonds, for the rockes of the adamandes; for they ben alle fulle there
aboute in that see, that it is marveyle to spaken of. And gif a schippe
passed by the marches, and hadde either iren bands or iren nayles, anon
he sholde ben perishet. For the adamande of this kinde draws the iren to
him; and so wolde it draw to him the schippe, because of the iren; that
he sholde never departen fro it, ne never go thens.”[65]

Footnote 65:

  Quoted by Simon Wilkin in his edition of Sir Thomas Browne’s Works.

How must the apprehension of encountering such islands as this, capable
of wrecking a stout ship by magnetically extracting her iron bolts and
so dissolving her, have set the knees of the sturdiest old sailors
knocking one against another! Or figure the emotions with which they
would view the prospect of going ashore upon such an island as we have
here: “There came a southe winde, and drof the shyppe northward, whereas
they saw an ylonde full dirke and full of stench and smoke; and then
they herde grete blowinge and blasting of belowes, but they might see
noothynge, but herde grete thunderyng.”[66]

Footnote 66:

  The Golden Legend.

But these wonderful isles of the sea differed widely, some being very
horrible and some being delightful. “Oh,” sings Thomas Moore—

             “Oh, for some fair Formosa, such as he,
              The young Jew fabled of in the Indian sea,
              By nothing but its name of Beauty known,
              And which Queen Fancy might make all her own,
              Her fairy kingdom—take its peoples, lands,
              And tenements into her own bright hands,
              And make at least one earthly corner fit
              For love to live in, pure and exquisite!”

Such an island as this was discovered and duly reported. First by a
monk, who after sailing three days due east beheld a dark cloud, which
when it cleared, revealed an island where “was joy and mirthe enough.”
This monk had apparently been induced to put to sea by the assurance of
a mariner that he had met Judas floating on a rock! It was reserved for
St. Brandau, however, to christen this delectable spot, and he called it
the Blessed Island. Though its existence was fully believed in, its
reputation faded as the years rolled by and nobody came home to say he
had seen it. Then, all on a sudden, a Lisbon pilot stumbled upon it in a
gale of wind, and so excited the appetite of a Spanish nobleman for its
felicities that his lordship fitted out an expedition for no other
purpose than to find it. Happier for him had it remained a secret of the
deep! he was wrecked upon it, fell into a trance that lasted some years,
woke up mad, and returned to Spain with a long story of its being
populated and ruled by a descendant of the last King of the Goths. The
Spanish nobleman’s experiences of its blessedness did not weaken the
general faith in this ocean paradise; search was made for it so late as
1721, after which it disappears. Possibly it was the account of some
such an island as this that addled the brains of King Gavran and sent
him seeking for the enchanted fairy meadows which floated upon the sea.
He took his family with him, and he and they were never heard of more.
But does not one see in all this how real those islands were, how
seductive or repellant, and how delightfully different from the plain
discoveries of the modern mariner, whether fancied or real?

“There are traditions,” says Mr. Wirt Sikes, “of sailors who in the
early part of the present century actually went ashore on the fairy
islands, not knowing that they were such until they returned to their
boats, when they were filled with awe at seeing the islands disappear
from their sight, neither sinking in the sea nor floating away upon the
waters, but simply vanishing suddenly.”

There is pleasantness and softness in the fancy of men in olden days
putting forth to sea in search of islands of bliss, of insulated
paradises as visionary as the poet’s dream-like shore dimly resounding
the wash of fairy breakers.[67] The mariner must have spun his yarn to
some purpose to awaken that thirsty desire of emigration. Many wonders,
which might have remained hidden for ever in the dark ocean solitude,
were lighted on by elderly gentlemen with long hair and in costumes like
bed-gowns, who were abroad searching for spots which the Jacks of that
age had declared to be out and away superior to Eden. Maildun, a Celtic
hero, one of these searchers, came across several islands filled with
demons and monsters. He also encountered a Circe, and eventually the
terrestrial paradise. But nothing particular seems to have come of these
discoveries, and it is to be suspected that he did not take the trouble
to verify their position. Another person, a saint, after a long search,
found a holy island inhabited by twenty-four monks. How these monks
managed to get there, in what condition the saint found them, whether
they were spontaneous growths or a kind of melancholic survival of a
state of society whose origin is hopelessly indeterminable, we are not
told. The same saint also met with an island whose inhabitants were
fallen angels, and an island populated by fiends, who fell upon him and
forced him to fly. In fact, if this saint is to be believed, he was
quite the Captain Cook of his day. Yet his search after the Australia
Incognita of bliss must, I think, be pronounced distinctly
unsatisfactory, though one cannot but respect a theory of life that
could impart the animation of adventure to a monastic bosom.

Footnote 67:

            “Magic casements, opening on the foam
             Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”—KEATS.

But much of what old ocean has of romance in its history lies in the
ancient reports of its wonders, and in the interpretation of its legible
characters by the child-like vision of the vanished shipmen. Remove
those Fortunate Islands, those Blessed Islands, those islands haunted by
“demon women wailing for their lovers:” strike out from the annals those
fables, faint with a strange light, of venturesome marine saints, of
marvelling, bright-eyed, hook-nosed “marineeres;” and I am afraid that
what else of human poetry remains must be sought in the ship’s
forecastle. The very fish they saw, sporting in the yeast over the side,
were as astonishing as the islands they passed. “Along all that coast,”
wrote Mr. Thomas Stevens, “we often times saw thing swimming upon the
water like a cock’s combe (which they call a ship at Guinea), but the
colour much fairer; which combe standeth upon a thing almost like the
swimmer of a fish in colour and bignesse, and beareth underneath in the
water, strings, which save it from turning over.”[68] “Od’s fish!” would
seem an appropriate expression in the mouths of such navigators. What
sort of thing is this cockscomb with strings? They wrapt up what they
saw in quaint dark words; and their imagination operating on what they
beheld set life a-teeming with marvels. Or mark them sailing past a
headland: “At this Cape lieth a great stone, to the which the barkes
that passed thereby, were wont to make offerings of butter, meale and
other victuals, thinking that unlesse they did so, their barkes or
vessels should there perish, as it hath been oftentimes seene; and there
it is very darke and mistie.”[69] Thus these poor old fellows, crossing
themselves and singing a litany the while, propitiate the demon of the
place with offerings of wet and dry stores, and you see them in fancy
grouped in a body upon the deck, watching with bowed heads and level,
alarmed gaze the sullen and dismal loom of the coast slowly veering away
upon the quarter, as though the rugged, fog-swollen mass might at any
moment shape itself into the titanic proportions of the fiend-king of
the cold and barren land.

Footnote 68:

  Hakluyt.

Footnote 69:

  “Jenkins’s Voyage.” Hakluyt.

To those early eyes such monsters revealed themselves, that the like was
never heard of before or since. A crew would come home and say that they
had met with an extraordinary animal that had a horse’s body and a pig’s
head; another, that they had seen a similar wonder, only in this case it
was a stag’s body with horns; a third, that one day, the sea being calm,
there rose close to the ship an animal that had the head and snout of a
boar, and that spurted water through a tube at the top of its head.
Those were the halcyon days of the mermaid and the merman; leviathan
then sported in twenty different terrible shapes, with mouth most
hideously garnished with quadruple rows of teeth, gaping moonwards; the
sea-serpent wrapped the spinning globe about with a million leagues of
scales; strange voices whispered in mysterious accents under the still
intertropic starlight, and shapes like the shadows of pinions moved upon
the midnight air; spectral lanthorns were hung up by spirit-hands at the
yard-arms and on the bowsprit-end, and, by their dull, graveyard
illumination, cast a dismal complexion of death upon the upwards-staring
faces of the mariners. I find those early seamen always sailing along as
if possessed with an uncontrollable awe and reverence; they are punctual
in their prayers; the whole story of their navigation is but a
single-hearted reference to the majesty and mercy of the Most High; the
atmosphere about them trembles to their devout muttering of _Aves_ and
the low chanting of psalms. The ocean was a mystery, the home and the
haunt of creatures and objects not to be conceived by the understanding
of men. The spirit and influence of the liquid solitude beyond the
familiar line, over whose edge the sun rose or sank every day, you will
find expressed with artless, most impressive power in the narrative of
the first voyage of Columbus in Harris’s Collection, briefly recited as
the great admiral’s adventures there are. For such and for earlier
mariners—as indeed for later, down even to the times of Dampier,
Shelvocke, Cowley, and the Dutch and French explorers of the early years
of the last century—the sea could not but hold islands of enchantment,
green places deep in its heart, on whose sands the water-nymphs fresh
from their coral pavilions, sat combing their yellow hair; paradisaical
abodes whose soil was brilliant with gold dust, over whose trees,
radiant with fruit, flew birds of a plumage of dazzling splendour, in
whose central valley girls of startling beauty might be seen in the
moonlight threading with languid eyes the mazes of some amorous dance.
Did not even Herman Melville, so recently as 1830 or 1840, find some
such enchanted island as this in the Marquesas group?

The sudden emergence or subsidence of land would also help to confirm
the ancient mariner in his belief in magic isles, and in their
controlment by spells of necromancy. In an old nautical magazine, dated
1802, I find the following: “On the seventh of June, 1790, the
_Seahorse_, Captain Mayo, of Boston, from the coast of Africa, saw (in
lat. 73 south) _a large point of land_ sink in one moment into the
unfathomable deep! As soon as the crew recovered from the inexpressible
horror which so tremendous a spectacle must have impressed on their
minds, they steered to some ships catching whales, and found that their
men had been spectators of the same awful scene. The seamen
involuntarily dropped down upon their knees and thanked God for their
escape, having been on the same point of land a short time before its
sudden disappearance.”

They saw the land disappear; but suppose no other vessels had been in
company, and it had chanced that none of the crew had seen the land
sink, you have then the seeds of an amazing relation. Figure a dead
calm, all hands below at dinner, and nobody on deck but the man at the
wheel nodding drowsily over the spokes. The land was plain enough in
sight, a mile distant, perhaps, when the crew left the deck; when they
return it has vanished. Had it been a ship they would, of course,
suppose that she had foundered. But land! is it possible that a tall,
substantial mass of land shall vanish on a sudden like a wreath of
tobacco smoke? Had the vessel been whirled away out of sight of it by a
fierce current? Had she been insensibly blown some leagues along by a
stout breeze of wind? No. The man at the wheel is questioned; he rubs
his eyes, stares; it is the same marvel to him as to the others. Knowing
something of the sailor’s character, I will venture to say that had not
those men of the _Seahorse_ actually seen the land go down, two-thirds
of them would have gone to their graves persuaded that there had been
witchcraft in the business. But put the date back three centuries, into
the period of the real Ancient Mariner. He shall behold the cliff
founder, if you please, and yet land at Plymouth or Erith with an
imagination charged to bursting point with this obvious Satanic
engorgement. I think I see him telling the story. Can his hearers,
gazing upon his mahogany face, doubt that there are islands which rise
and sink? and how can they rise or sink without magical possession,
without being under the government of something to direct them? The
ancient mariner may, indeed, be beforehand with a solution by importing,
let me say, one jaw of a monstrous fish that did “suck ye londe down to
ye admiration of ye beholders.” But failing some such explanation, the
reason must be sought for devil-wards. The island or cliff easily
becomes the abode of demons or of ocean-spirits, who use their dominions
as a sort of ship, and who, when they desire a change of air or scene,
alter their latitude and longitude by the easy expedient of a submarine
excursion. Such a solution could not long miss of confirmation. For
presently arrives some _Elizabeth-Jonah_, or some _Ascension_, of
London, or _Jesus_, of Hull, with an extraordinary and incredible
report: to wit, that being about fifty leagues to the westwards of the
island of Madeira, there did happen a mighty commotion in the sea; the
water boiled furiously, and out of the midst of it there arose a great
flame that was followed by a thick black coil of smoke which emitted a
most detestable stench. This, rising, did overspread the heavens with a
sable canopy, through which the sun, that had before been ardent, glowed
ruefully with a most affrighting face. When the atmosphere had somewhat
cleared, and the sea fallen flat again, they observed a great heap of
black land floating just where the flame had been; but now, to their
great joy, a small gale happening, they hastily trimmed their sails to
it and departed, with hearty thanksgiving for their merciful deliverance
from a hideous and diabolic spot. There would be to the full as much
truth in this as in the account of the subsidence. In every century
there have been submarine volcanic disturbances which have dislodged or
uphove points of land, rocks, little and even big islands. Suppose what
these cheery old mariners beheld was, instead of land, a body of
compacted weed; or, not impossibly, a dead whale. No matter! home with
the thrilling story; and let any man be pilloried who shall dare to
doubt that the rock that came up is not the very identical rock that
went down!

I find a singular example of the credulity that gives to the sea the
choicest flavour of romance in a note to the life of Sir William
Gascoigne, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in the reign of King
Henry IV., in the first edition (1750) of the “Biographia Britannica”:—

“When the said Sir Bernard Gascoigne” (the writer is referring to a
descendant of Sir William) “returned from his embassy into England, he
took shipping at Dunkirk, and one of the passengers who came over with
him was Mrs. Aphra Behn, the ingenious poetess. It is asserted by the
writer of her life that in the course of their voyage they all saw a
surprising _Phænomenon_, whether formed by any rising exhalations or
descending vapours shaped by the winds and irradiated by refracted
lights, is not explained; but it appeared through Sir Bernard’s
telescopes, in a clear day at a great distance, to be or to resemble a
fine, gay, floating fabrick, adorned with figures, festoons, etc. At
first they suspected some art in his glasses, till at last, as it
approached, they could see it plainly without them; and the relater is
so particular in the description as to assert that it appeared to be a
four-squared floor of various coloured marble, having rows of fluted and
twisted pillars ascending, with cupids on the top circled with vines and
flowers, and streamers waving in the air. ’Tis added of this strange
visionary, if not romantic or poetical, pageant—for fancy is an
architect that can build castles in the clouds as well by sea as
land—that it floated almost near enough for them to step out upon it; as
if it would invite them to a safer landing than they sought by sailing;
or pretended that the one should be as dangerous and deceitful as the
other; for soon after the calm which ensued there arose such a violent
storm that they were all shipwreckt, but happily in sight of land, to
which by timely assistance they all got safe.”

Here, to be sure, we have a very circumstantial account of a very
astonishing apparition. This would seem to have been the Blessed Island
for which the saints and a noble Spanish lord made search in earlier
times. It is a pity that the story comes to us in the life of so lively
a romancer as Mrs. Aphra Behn; one would rather have had the grave and
wary Sir Bernard’s version. Certain points suggest the legend of
Vanderdecken, as for example the circumstance of the storm rising and
shipwreck following the approach of the island-pavilion. This fabric of
fluted pillars and radiant banners must count among the mysterious
disappearances. Why, when these phenomenal glories of the deep floated
into full view of the mariner—why had not he the heart to straightway
launch his shallop, row with anchor and cable to the magic strand, and
“fix” the place, as the Yankees would say, for the satisfaction and
diversion of posterity? Why should all those wonders have been in vain?
If the modern seaman lack the poetic vision of the early navigator, he
is more generous in his detections; he desires the world to share in his
own satisfaction, and goes very painfully and exactly to his relation,
though it does but concern an iceberg or a body of vapour. The gallant
Rodney, when Commodore (1752), was sent cruising in search of an island
which one Captain W. Otton, of the snow[70] _St. Paul_, of London,
discovered in his passage from South Carolina, about three hundred
leagues west of Scilly. The record in Otton’s journal was extremely
minute. He gave the date and hour—March 4, 1748–9, two in the
afternoon—on which he made the land. He related how it bore, how he
tacked, how the wind was, and what the latitude and longitude:—

Footnote 70:

  A snow is a brig.

“This island stretches N.W. and S.E., about five leagues long and about
nine miles wide. On the south side five valleys and a great number of
birds. This day a ship’s masts came alongside. On the south point of
said island is a small marshy island.”

As though all this should not be deemed confirmatory enough of his
discovery, the Captain added that he thought he saw a tent on the
island, and would have gone ashore, “but had unfortunately stove his
boat.” Rodney, in company with Captain Mackenzie, a distinguished
mathematician, cruised for many days, but to no purpose. The island was
entirely in the eye of the captain of the snow _St. Paul_. An old saint
or ancient Spanish nobleman would not have let us off so easily. The
comparatively modern skipper tells of an ordinary island, prosaically
but generously invites all mariners to participation in his discovery,
but humanely leaves land-going imagination and curiosity unvexed. The
saint or the nobleman would probably have heard the sound of viols,
perhaps an organ; the hymning of a collection of monks would have been a
distinguishable music; the more erotic vision of the nobleman might have
witnessed lovely forms and the seductive beckoning of foam-white hands.
We should have had gilded dolphins gambolling among the breakers, and
been tickled by a hundred tales more startling than Marryat’s Pasha was
regaled with.

Of what material are these fantastic fabrics, real to the beholders,
manufactured? Imagination is the loom, but whence comes the stuff? Yet
there are many spectacles at sea which the meditative, artless fancy may
easily work into creations of beauty, or fear, or brilliance,
melancholy, and horror. You must go back—put yourself in the place of
the mariner newly arrived in an ocean-waste whose surface his keel is
the first to furrow. Then think how the iceberg in the heart of the
black gale will strike you: the pallid mountain-mass flashing out to the
wild violet lightning dart, the vision or phantasm of a city of
pinnacles, spires, minarets, with the crystal smoke of the storm
whirling in clouds about its towering heights, whose ravines and scars
thunder back in echoes the cannonading of the rushing surges hurling
their madness upon the side of that mass of rocky faintness. Or consider
the magnificence and splendour of the Northern sunset—different, indeed,
from the bald glory of the sinking of the rayless tropic orb—viewed by
one who, having for days stemmed towards the Pole, penetrates for the
first time the wide white silence of the Greenland parallels. From those
dyes of the luminary, or the more amazing coruscations of the aurora
borealis, what shadows of realities might not the wondering eye of the
mariner evoke, observing rainbow islands to repose on seas of gold,
lands of delicate effulgence and of tints too exquisitely beautiful to
serve for less than the home of a race of beings whose idea and raiment
must be sought in those classic poems in which the gods of the Greeks
and the Romans are described! From the texture of the shoulders of
rising clouds, from shifting veins of moonlight in the lace-like drapery
of white mist, from the luminous shadow of the waterspout with its
wing-shaped peak and boiling base, the new imagination, far out upon the
bosom of nameless waters, would readily snatch material enough for half
those wonders of magic spaces of shore which in those times dotted the
oceans of the world from the latitude of Schouten’s iron headland to the
height of Nova Zembla. Or, to descend to homelier stuff, omitting the
mirage—perhaps the fancy’s noblest opportunity on the deep—there is the
ship bottom up; the inverted hulk that for months may have been washing
about until she has gathered to her sodden timbers a large estate of
sea-weed and marine fungi. The Telmaque rock had undoubtedly no better
foundation than this. The passengers—it was in 1786—saw green grass and
moss on the rock. This settled the matter; the new island was duly
logged and then charted; yet what could it prove but a capsized hull? So
of the famous Ariel Rocks, which, in my humble opinion, must be put down
to a dead whale or two.

“Captain T. Dickson, of the _Ariel_, when on a voyage from Liverpool to
Valparaiso, December, 1827, saw something of a reddish appearance about
a quarter of a mile from the vessel; sounded in forty-seven fathoms,
fine grey sand. Approaching the object it seemed about six feet above
water, when another appeared about three feet below the surface; the sea
broke on both; much sea-weed and many birds around; the position was
determined by good mer. alt. of sun, and by lunar and chronometric
observations.”[71]

Footnote 71:

  “South Atlantic Directory,” 1870. A long list of apocryphal islands,
  rocks, and shoals is given in this volume.

H.M.S. _Beagle_, with the late Dr. Darwin on board, passed several times
over the position assigned to these rocks, but found nothing—yes, her
people found this: “A heavy swell arose on the quarter which struck our
weather-quarter boat, and turned her in upon the deck.... I thought we
had indeed found the rocks, _and the huge black back of a dead whale
which just then showed itself very near the vessel, much increased the
sensation_.”

In more ways than one may the mysterious disappearance of islands be
accounted for. The sternly prosaic mariner will desire nothing in this
direction that is not real, and of this as little as possible. But
happily for the poetic student these disappearances stop short at the
precincts of ocean literature. Enter, and the magic is all before you,
perennial in its gorgeousness or terror, its sweetness or extravagance
of horror. Who would wish one of those enchanted islands away? No prow
built by human hands need fear them as a danger; they lie in a daylight
or a midnight of their own, washed by the elfin surf of faery-land,
lashed by the storms of high imagination, phantoms under phantom suns
and stars, dreams of the young-eyed mariner. They are uncharted; but
love has their bearings, and memory holds them fondly to their moorings.
Of the sea they form the daintiest romance, and they give a colouring of
poetry even to the dry and austere perpetuation of such things in these
days of scientific exactness and the occasional blunders of the
triumphant discoverer.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            _RICH CAPTURES._

On October 4, 1799, despatches were received at the Admiralty from
Captain Young, of the _Ethalion_ frigate, announcing the capture of a
Spanish vessel named the _Thetis_, from the Havannah, with one million
and a half of dollars on board, besides a quantity of merchandise.
Shortly after this came news of the capture of another Spanish galleon,
the _Santa Brigida_, with treasure estimated at between two and three
millions of dollars, in addition to a valuable cargo of cochineal,
sugar, coffee, and the like. A few days later it was rumoured that Lord
Bridport’s share alone of the prize-money amounted to £125,000. But the
excitement caused by this great capture had led to much exaggerated
gossip, and it was shown that if the prizes yielded £800,000, then Lord
Bridport, who, as commander-in-chief, shared one-third of an eighth,
would get about £33,000. The other two-thirds of an eighth went to
subordinate flag officers, who reckoned on £10,000 apiece, whilst the
four captains of the frigates divided £50,000.

On the 29th of the same month a singular procession in honour of this
great capture passed through Stonehouse and Plymouth to the dungeons of
the Citadel. First went a trumpeter of the Surrey dragoons, sounding a
charge; then followed two artillery conductors, an officer of the Surrey
dragoons, an officer of artillery, Surrey dragoons, two and two, with
drawn sabres; a band of drums and fifes, playing “Rule Britannia” and
“God save the King;” then _sixty-three waggons full of dollars_, in nine
divisions of seven waggons. On the first waggon a seaman, carrying the
British over the Spanish jack, and two officers of marines, armed. On
the centre waggon a seaman carrying the British ensign over the Spanish
ensign, midshipmen armed with cutlasses. On the last waggon a seaman
with the British pendant flying over the Spanish pendant; armed mariners
and seamen, two and two: a band of drums and fifes playing “Britons,
strike home!” armed seamen with cutlasses; an artillery officer; two
officers of marines, armed; Surrey dragoons, two and two, with drawn
sabres, and two trumpeters sounding a charge closed the procession. Both
to larboard and starboard of this procession walked a number of armed
sailors and midshipmen.

It is eighty-seven years since this remarkable parade took place. Long
ago death wrested the bugle from the trumpeter in the van and sounded
_his_ charge. Those dollars lying piled in sixty-three waggons have been
spent a hundred times over. The ringing cheers of the thousands of
spectators “who testified their satisfaction by repeated huzzas at
seeing so much treasure, once the property of the enemy of old England,
soon to be in the pockets of her jolly tars and marines,” have been
silenced ages agone by that same choking dust, out of which Spaniards,
equally with Englishmen, are manufactured. The Don and the Briton are
now excellent friends, and one need not be a holder in Spanish
securities to heartily hope that the Spaniard’s shadow may never be
less. But one cannot help one’s instincts. In this pacific age it must
be wrong to feel elated over old triumphs; yet I confess, somehow or
other, I cannot listen to the cheers—how infinitely dim and distant
soever—of the spectators of that procession of soldiers and sailors,
marching with conquering banners, without an unsounding, yet distinct,
lifting up of the voice within me in a huzza of my own. “Our echoes roll
from soul to soul,” says Tennyson; and I defy a true-born Englishman to
watch those waggons of dollars, those rolling seamen, those brave
soldiers and valiant marines, those little cocked-hatted middies,
passing along over the fairy-like soil of history to the elf-like
strains of “Rule, Britannia” and “Britons, strike home!” without joining
in the procession and cheering with all his might the thin phantasm of a
once brilliantly real pageant.

’Twas a fine haul for Jack. Sixty-three waggons of dollars! How many
jorums of grog lay in those piles? How much fiddling, jigging,
caper-cutting? But those waggons only represented a part. It was not
until the last day of the month that the remaining chests of the Spanish
treasure were lodged in the dungeons of the Citadel, and then the record
runs: From _El Thetis_ four hundred and twenty-seven boxes of dollars;
from _Santa Brigida_ five hundred and eight boxes of dollars, containing
nearly three million dollars, besides very valuable cargoes of cocoa,
indigo, cochineal, and sugar, “all safely landed and warehoused in
Plymouth, under the Excise and Custom House locks.” Booty of this kind
makes one think of the old South Seaman, of the big caracks of the spice
islands and Western American seaboard, of Dampier, Shelvocke,
Clipperton, and Betagh, and of the grand old Commodore Anson. His was
possibly as big a bag as ever fell to the mariner’s lot. The galleon he
captured had in her one million three hundred and thirteen thousand
eight hundred and forty-three pieces of eight, and nearly thirty-six
thousand ounces of silver, which, with the treasure already taken by the
_Centurion_, amounted to about £400,000, “independent,” says the writer
of the voyage, “of the ships and merchandize which she either burnt or
destroyed, and which, by the most reasonable estimation, could not
amount to so little as £600,000 more; so that the whole damage done the
enemy by our squadron did doubtless exceed a million sterling.”

The Acapulco galleons had long inspired the dreams of the English
freebooters. All the wonder and romance of the great South Sea, with its
coasts and islands gilded by an imagination of more than Oriental
ardency, had entered into those vast floating castellated fabrics, and
the magnificence of the New Jerusalem as beheld by the holy seer, was
faint in comparison with the substantial splendours which the English
sailor with his mind’s vision viewed in the holds of the tall Manila
ships. Diamonds of incomparable glory, rubies, sapphires, and other gems
of a beauty inexpressible; sacks full of rix dollars, ducatoons, ducats,
and Batavian rupees; chests loaded with massy plate, gold and silver,
with flagons, goblets, crucifixes, and candles—here, to be sure, were
temptations to court Jack from places more distant than Wapping and
Gravesend, and to invite him to a contest with seas more ferocious than
those which shattered the squadron of Pizarro.

In all naval history I can find nothing more remarkable than the immense
courage and wonderful persistency of those old freebooters. Follow
Dampier as he traverses the deep and outlives a terrible gale in a small
canoe; and Shelvocke as he launches his wretched boat, which he called
the _Recovery_, and sails away in her, loaded with seamen, who had
scarce the space to lie down in, and victualled with nothing better than
smoked conger eels, a cask of beef, and four live hogs. “We were upwards
of forty of us crowded together, and lying upon the bundles of eels, and
being in no method of keeping ourselves clean, all our senses were as
much offended as possible. There was not a drop of water to be had
without sucking it out of the cask with the barrel of a musquet, which
was used by everybody promiscuously, and the little unsavoury morsels we
daily ate created perpetual quarrels among us, every one contending for
the frying pan.” Yet despite their miserable condition, these stout
hearts attacked the first Spaniard that came in their way, took her, and
used her in their subsequent marauding adventures. The voyage had a
dismal issue, yet they managed to pick up a little booty here and there.
Some curious old Spanish stratagems are exhibited. In one prize they
found a quantity of sweetmeats, which were divided among the messes. One
day a seaman complained that he had a box of “malmalade,” which he could
not stick his knife into, and asked that it might be changed. Shelvocke
opened it, and found inside a cake of virgin silver, moulded on purpose
to fit such boxes; and, says he, “being very porous, it was of near the
same weight of so much malmalade.” They overhauled the rest, and found
five more of the boxes. “We doubtless,” exclaims the old buccaneer in a
grieving way, “left a great many of these boxes behind us, so that this
deceit served them in a double capacity—to defraud their king’s officers
and blind their enemies.”[72]

Footnote 72:

  Lord Byron would have us believe that the Corsair’s life was a dainty
  one; but of all the seafaring classes, none “roughed it” more
  thoroughly than the pirate and privateersman. Dampier says grimly,
  “’Tis usual with seamen in those parts to sleep on deck, especially
  for privateers; among whom I made these observations. In privateers,
  especially when we are at anchor, the deck is spread with mats, to lie
  on each night. Every man has one, some two; and this, with a pillow
  for the head, and a rug for a covering, is all the bedding that is
  necessary for men of that employ.” (Dampier’s “Voyages,” vol. ii.,
  1699.) Some curious descriptions of the habits and appearance of the
  typical pirate of the last century will be found in “A New Account of
  Guinea and the Slave Trade,” written by Captain William Snelgrave, and
  published in 1754. This man was taken by pirates during a voyage to
  the coast of Guinea in 1718. “There was not in the cabbin,” says he,
  “either chair or anything else to sit upon; for they always keep a
  clear ship ready for an engagement; so a carpet was spread on the
  deck, upon which we sat down cross-legg’d.” When night came the
  captain was asked to provide Snelgrave with a hammock, “for it seems
  every one lay rough, as they called it, that is, on the deck, the
  captain himself not being allowed a bed.” He gives us a taste of their
  manners. “I got into the hammock, though I could not sleep in my
  melancholy circumstances. Moreover, the execrable oaths and
  blasphemies I heard among the ship’s company, shocked me to such a
  degree, that in Hell itself I thought there could not be worse; for
  though many seafaring men are given to swearing and taking God’s name
  in vain, yet I could not have imagined human nature could ever so far
  degenerate as to talk in the manner those abandoned wretches did.” I
  find a formidable figure in this portrait. “As soon as I had done
  answering the captain’s questions, a tall man, with four pistols in
  his girdle and a broadsword in his hand came to me on the
  quarter-deck!”

It always seems to be the haughty Don who, in the old stories, yields
Jack the rich booties. Here, for example, is a passage from the “Annual
Register” of 1762: “The _Hermione_, a Spanish register ship, which left
Lima the 6th of January, bound for Cadiz, was taken the 21st of May off
Cape St. Vincent, by three English frigates, and carried into Gibraltar.
Her cargo is said to consist of near twelve millions of money,
registered, and the unregistered to be likewise very considerable,
besides two thousand serons of cocoa, and a great deal of other valuable
merchandize.” Take these items from her papers: One thousand one hundred
and ninety-three quintals of tin—a quintal, I may say, is one hundred
pounds—two millions two hundred and seventy-six thousand seven hundred
and fifteen dollars in silver and gold, coined; twenty-five arobes of
alpaca wool, and five thousand two hundred and forty-three arobes of
cocoa. A man did not need more than one capture after this pattern to
settle him as a fine old English gentleman, and to qualify him to start
a noble family. The mere rumour of such a haul as this would suffice, in
those fighting days, to cover the seas with privateers.

Another paragraph, one year later: “Five waggon loads of money, escorted
by a party of soldiers, were lately brought to the Bank from Portsmouth,
by the _Rippon_, man-of-war, from the Havannah.” In these piping times
of peace one is apt to forget how very well the mariner did in the years
when his cutlass was never out of his hand. The value of the prize-goods
taken at the Havannah in 1763 amounted to £154,855 10_s._ 11_d._, of
which the admiral took nearly £90,000, the commodore £17,206, captains
£1125 each, and the lieutenants £86 1_s._ each. And the privateerman
fared as well as the naval officer. Not long after the _Centurion_ took
the Manila ship, two privateers, the _Ranger_, of Bristol, and the
_Amazon_, of Liverpool, captured the _Sancte Ineas_, a Spanish
man-of-war, bound from Manila to Cadiz, laden with gold, silver, silk,
coffee, china, cochineal, and indigo, and declared to be the richest
prize taken since the galleon by Admiral Anson. All through the story,
from Elizabeth to the beginning of this century, you hear of the
privateers arriving with rich prizes. “Letters from Fowey state the
arrival there of the _Lord Middleton_, richly laden with cocoa, indigo,
coffee, quicksilver, valued at £45,000, taken by the _Maria_ privateer,
of this port.” “Came in the _Earl St. Vincent_, fourteen guns, Captain
Richards, privateer, of this port, with the _New Harmony_ of Altona,
from Smyrna to Amsterdam, with cargo valued at £80,000.” And so on by
scores.

There were Customs’ seizures, too, such as we never hear the like of
now. You read of an officer of Excise at Falmouth seizing on board a
ship twenty-seven thousand five hundred and twenty-nine pounds of tea,
and nine thousand gallons of brandy! “The officer by this gets £3000. It
is the greatest seizure of tea ever known.” Or, “Arrived, the
_Providence_, smuggling lugger, of Palferro, with nine hundred and
seventy ankers of brandy and thirteen tons of tobacco, sent in by
_l’Oiseau_, of thirty-six guns, Captain Linzee.” The old reports teem
with examples of this kind.

Yet, spite of rich prizes, smuggling captures, and the like, Jack was
always hard up, and by impecuniosity in a chronic state of being “forced
from home and all its pleasures.” There was alive in 1790 an old man,
one John Holmes, the only survivor of the crew who accompanied Anson
round the world. He was in the most distressing poverty. He would tell
the story of the fight between the _Centurion_ and the galleon, and of
the prize-money that fell to the men’s shares; but when asked what he
had done with the substantial sum which had come to him, his answer was,
“Alas! sir, I was a sailor.” Sir George Rooke put it more nobly, if less
pathetically. When he was making his will, some friends who were present
expressed their surprise that he had not more to bequeath. “I do not
leave much,” answered the old heart of oak, “but what I do leave was
honestly acquired; it never cost a sailor a tear or my country a
farthing.”

The wonder is that ships went so richly laden in those war times. If it
was thought proper to convoy vessels of comparatively small value, it
was surely desirable to guard against the cruisers and the privateers
the vast accumulations of money and plate which were to be met with in
Spanish, French, and Dutch bottoms in the corsair-infested Narrow Seas,
in Biscayan parallels, and in the wide Pacific Ocean. Anson’s galleon
was, indeed, a powerful ship for those times, yet she proved no match
for the slender and crippled company of men who attacked her. Had she
been convoyed, had she been in company with other vessels of her nation,
the British commodore must have languished in vain for the immense
treasure in her. The need of a guard, an auxiliary, of some protection
to supplement her own powder and shot seems to us, gazing backwards with
clear perception of the issues which followed, essential to the safety
of the plate or treasure ship in times when it would appear that the
stoutest-hearted of Spanish or French captains were unable to rally
their men when the English colours at the masthead acquainted them with
the nationality of the foe. For example: On November 6, 1799, there
arrived at Dartmouth a Spanish ship, of six hundred tons burden, named
the _N.S. de Piedat_, prize to a privateer called the _Dart_. She
mounted sixteen carriage guns, carried seventy men, and was fitted up
for close quarters, that is to say, she was furnished with “barricadoes”
as a refuge for her crew in case of being boarded. She struck to the
privateer, however, after firing only two guns, though the Englishmen
mounted but fourteen four-pounders. Nevertheless, seventy seamen—Spanish
sailors—in a ship of six hundred tons seem a feeble company to send
along with such wealth as lay in the _N.S. de Piedat’s_ hold. Here is
her value: one hundred and forty-two thousand one hundred and seventeen
silver dollars, thirty-eight thousand nine hundred and forty-nine
dollars in gold doubloons, thirty-one ingots of gold, five ingots of
silver, forty-two bales of fine beaver, twenty-one thousand and
sixty-one hides in the hair, three bales of fine wool, one bale of fine
fur. The rest of the cargo, exclusive of the gold and silver, was valued
at £80,000. The _Dart_ carried sixty seamen. What conceivable chance
would seventy Spaniards have against such a crew as the _Dart_ could
oppose to them—fellows whose living depended upon plunder, and who could
almost count upon the enemy’s striking after the first hail or after the
first two shots? It was a very cosy haul for the _Dart’s_ people. Small
wonder that the privateer should have formed an abounding ocean element,
when the character of the prey and the quality of the baggings are
considered. “Eight ships long expected from New Spain, and another from
Buenos Ayres, arrived at Cadiz the 21st of this month. The cargoes of
these ships are valued at eleven millions of dollars, of which the
registered gold and silver amount to near nine millions.” Such
paragraphs are again and again to be met with in the news sheets of old
times.

And depend upon it, if the privateersman’s mouth watered over such items
of intelligence, they were also read with a swelling heart by the King’s
Navy man. Prize-money is sweet, and it ought to be sweet, for no reward
is more gloriously and heroically earned. What is there in cash—be it
prompt or otherwise—to compensate a man for a leg or an eye? “Went down
into the Sound, _La Nymphe_, of thirty-six guns, Captain Douglas. She
received this afternoon nearly £30,000 prize-money, and sailed directly
on a cruise.” How agreeable this is to read, though it is all over,
years and years ago! In fancy I behold the jolly red faces of those
lively salts, pigtails on back, and quids standing high under their
cheekbones, sheeting home the _Nymphe’s_ topsails, their hearts full of
the Sukes and Sals who have faded out with the receding shore, and their
minds busy with dreams of the dollars this new cruise shall tassel their
pocket-handkerchiefs with. “The great sales for prize-goods captured in
different vessels of the enemy by our cruisers and sent in here
(Plymouth) began this day. The prize-vessels and goods of different
kinds fetched great prices, and were bought up with avidity by
purchasers from London, Liverpool, Bristol, Falmouth, Exeter, etc., much
to the satisfaction of the captors.” Much to the satisfaction of the
captors! The fancy leaps to the sound of these century-old words.
Hamoaze is full of prizes—the brilliant victor with the proud St.
George’s Cross at her peak strains lightly at her hempen cable in the
Sound, her yards braced to a hair, the white line of hammock cloths
crowning her defences, her tompioned guns grinning like muzzled mastiffs
through her ports, the red-coats of marines dotting her almond-white
decks, an epaulet or two flashing aft, and the sale proceeding ashore
“much to the satisfaction of the captors.” Ay, Jack’s grin, though one,
two, or three centuries old, is a living thing yet. The trophies of an
amazing naval history are wreathed around his purple smile. What, after
all, was Britannia’s true Archimedean lever but the mariner’s pigtail;
and what the fulcrum but the mountain of treasure from which the sailor
gathered his little pocketful under the name of Prize Money?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        _PECULIARITIES OF RIG._

I had been talking with an old seaman about the races between an English
and an American yacht. My companion was a man who had spent the greater
part of his life at sea, and was a sailor in the sense that includes not
only smartness, alertness, and skill in those duties expected of seamen,
but thorough knowledge of all that concerns ships, both in the fabrics
of their hulls, and in their masts, yards, rigging, and canvas. He said
to me that he was not sorry the Yankee had beaten the Englishman,
because it might cause yachtsmen to see that beam must still be regarded
as a condition of speed, and that the notion that swiftness was to be
obtained by a shape that answered to Euclid’s definition of a line had
been carried considerably too far. One thing leading to another, he
spoke of schooner yachts, and said that, so far as racing was concerned,
he fancied that the schooner rig was gradually sliding out of date.

“And yet,” said he, “I’m certain that if the prejudices of yachting
skippers and yachting crews could be overcome, and owners induced to see
the thing in its right light, the schooner yacht could be rendered a
faster craft than the most splashing and frothing of the yawls or
cutters which now seem capable of sailing round them. It was only the
other day I was looking at a yacht race. There was a middling breeze
blowing. I turned the glass upon a schooner that was in the race; she
was ratching through it with spars almost erect, whilst the yawls lay
down till their rail looked to be under. Why was that? Would not you say
because the schooner hadn’t canvas enough? She was showing all she had;
but she wanted more, and if more had been given her she would have been
leading instead of hanging in the wake of the toys that were swirling
ahead of her. What other canvas would I give her? Why, of course, I’d
give her a fore-yard and a top-sail and a topgallant yard. Consider what
a square sail would have done for that schooner. I’ve been sailing in a
vessel of that rig when we’ve taken the square top-sail off her, and the
moment that bit of canvas was clewed up you might have felt the way
deadened in her as if she’d lost her life—as if all impulse was gone.
The yachting skippers have got a prejudice against square canvas. It
comes, in my opinion, in a good many cases, from the feeling that if
they were shipmates with a top-sail-yard they wouldn’t quite know what
to do with it. I’ve spoken to a good many of them upon the subject, and
asked how it is that they don’t recommend their gents to rig their
vessels with square yards forward; but their regular answer is, ‘Pooh!
we don’t want no square sails. Who’s going to be bothered with bracing
yards about and mucking up aloft after shipshape bunts when gaffs and
booms ’ll blow us along as fast as we need to go?’ That’s what it comes
to. ‘Who’s going to be bothered?’ A skipper said to me: ‘Take a vessel
in stays. You’ve got your top-sail aback, and instead of shooting ahead
as a fore-and-after will, she stops dead while she slowly comes round.’
That shows his ignorance. I’ve been ratching down the Mersey in a
clipper schooner, and such way did she get from her square canvas, and
such little notice did she take of her top-sail coming aback, that I’ve
seen the skipper head her for the shore with a slow putting down of his
helm to let her edge along, and I’ve watched her run for a good spell
parallel with the shore before she came round on the other tack. The
increased way the square canvas gives a schooner counterbalances
whatever loss of way an aback top-sail is supposed to cause her. My own
opinion of the advantage of that canvas is such that I’d undertake to
fit a schooner yacht with a square rig forward on these terms: That I
was allowed to sail her first; that if she beat I was to receive double
pay for my services, and if she lost what I’d done should be at my own
expense, and I’d restore her to her old rig free. Only fancy in ratching
the pulling power you’d be giving to a schooner. Your foreyard is
suspended by a truss, and if you choose you could sweat it fore and aft
if you liked. There’s nothing in square canvas to prevent a schooner
from lying up as close as if she was fore-and-aft rigged. Naturally
schooners ’ll go to leeward and be lost sight of as racers if the canvas
they compete under is out of all proportion with the canvas that yawls
and cutters spread. This is my notion, anyway, and such is my faith in
my own opinion that I’m willing to stand or fall by it on the terms I’ve
given you, if so be any owner of a schooner yacht is agreeable to give
me the chance.”

I have no comment to offer on this sailor’s observations. My knowledge
of racing yachts, their qualities and requirements, does not carry me
nearly far enough to form any approach to a judgment upon the use that
might be made amongst competing schooners of square sails and square
topsails. I may say, in the language of the old sea-song, “I served my
time in the Blackwall Line.” I went to sea at the age of thirteen and a
half in Duncan Dunbar’s service, and kept to the life until I was nearly
two and twenty. Few sailors combine a knowledge of fore-and-aft with
square-rig seamanship. There is as great a difference between them as
there is between steam and sail. For my own part, I must confess to
knowing very little about yachts and yachting. The point that struck me
most in this man’s conversation was the vast amount of experience that
must obviously be embodied in the innumerable rigs which are found
afloat in all parts of the world. A single sail will make all the
difference between two vessels; nay, even the shape of a sail will as
completely distinguish one craft from another as the uniform of a
soldier distinguishes him from a policeman. Think of the years of
weather, of violent seas, of smooth waters lightly fanned, of strong
head breezes, and soft airs blowing over the stern, which have entered
into the creation of those hundred different types of canvas—square,
oblong, pyramidal, angular, jib-headed, long-headed, and the rest of it,
which pass and repass our shores. Here is an old sailor declaring that
schooner yachts ought to be square-rigged forward, and he says that
nearly all the yacht captains he has talked to upon this subject are
opposed to his ideas. One can perceive in this the difficulty there must
have been in the beginning to settle the question of canvas, a question
only to be dealt with by experience, but an experience so varied and
immense that it is impossible for any man, capable of rightly compassing
the character of it, not to find something absolutely impressive in its
way in every cloth that gleams upon the sea.

I remember once being in the smoking-room of a large hotel, and hearing
two men, in the presence of several companions of theirs, arguing about
what a billyboy was. One man said it was a kind of barge, the other
maintained that it was a sloop-rigged vessel similar to the old hoy.
Much nonsense was talked, yet the people sitting about them listened
with attention, emptied their glasses, and looked as though they thought
that no matter which of the disputants was wrong—and one must be
wrong—both of them evidently knew a very great deal about rigs. At last
an elderly man, with a velvet collar to his black cloth coat, coming out
of his chair in a corner, said, “I beg pardon for intruding, but I
happen to know something about billyboys; in fact, I own a couple. What
sort of a billyboy do you gentlemen mean? Is it a sloop-billyboy, or a
schooner-billyboy, or a ketch-billyboy?” The company looked hard at him,
for it was plain a general misgiving as to his seriousness seized them
when he spoke of a ketch-billyboy. “The sort of billyboy we are arguing
about,” was the answer, “is just simply—a billyboy.” “Well,” said the
other, “as I told you gents, I own two. One’s ketch-rigged, and
t’other’s cutter-rigged. The billyboy,” he added, “is a round starned
vessel with standing bowsprit and jib-stay, and mostly she’s all
hatchways.” That was his definition, and it was accepted, the man who
argued that the billyboy was rigged like a sloop looking particularly
pleased.

Now one would wish to know whether a billyboy, no matter how many masts
she carried, would still be called a billyboy if she had a running
instead of a standing bowsprit? This is one of those delicate points
over which I will venture to say many a hoarse argument has been roared
out amidst clouds of tobacco smoke and the fumes of old Jamaica.

“There,” said I one day, pointing to a very smart schooner that was
passing, “goes a pretty little vessel.”

“Aye,” answered the ’longshoreman whom I had addressed, “a butterman.”

“Freighted with butter, eh?” said I, not doubting that that was what he
meant.

“Butter!” he ejaculated, “No. What I mean is she’s butter-rigged.”

“And pray what is butter-rigged?” said I, for I protest I had never
heard the expression before.

“Why,” he said, “a butter-rigged schooner’s a vessel that sets her
t’gall’nt sail flying. The yard comes down on the taw’sa’l yard, and the
sails is furled together.”

And this is a butter-rigged schooner! A well-defined distinction as rigs
go, and all because the topgallant yard has no lifts! A long while after
I asked an old sailor if he knew how it was that the term
“butter-rigged” came to be applied to vessels furnished with this kind
of topgallant yard, and he answered that he believed the name was given
in consequence of numbers of this kind of craft trading to Holland for
butter.

Niceties in nomenclature may be found as low down even as the humble
barge. For instance, there is the well-known sprit-sail barge; a vessel
with a mainsail that sets on a sprit—that is, a long pole, if I may so
describe it, that stretches the outer head of the sail, from the foot of
the mast. The mainsail of a sprit-sail barge is brailed up when taken
in, and one must be careful that she has brails in talking to sailors
about her, otherwise one’s ignorance will be greatly laughed at,
sometimes secretly, and quite as often openly. For the landsman must
know that there is another species of barge called a boomsail barge,
which is a vessel with a gaff and a boom; so here you have throat and
peak halliards, and brails are not required. Again, there is the
ketch-barge, a long vessel constructed on modern lines, and rigged with
a standing bowsprit and jibboom, a gaff mainsail and a gaff mizzen. Let
these fine distinctions be remembered in speaking of the barge to the
bargee, for here already we see very nearly as many types of barges as
there are types of yachts.

Take the ketch. To the untutored eye she resembles a barge, yet she is
no more a barge than a barque is a ship. And why? Because, says the
nautical man, a ketch is a vessel with a top-sail and small mizzen; and
that settles it. Nor can the list of barges be held as complete without
reference to the dumb barge, that is, a barge without rigging or masts.
Few ship-captains who have occasion to navigate the Thames but execrate
the name of this kind of barge as one of the fruitfullest sources of
their marine troubles and perplexities. This wretched, naked, darksome,
and grimy object is incessantly floating under ships’ bows, bringing-up
in wrong places, getting cut down round corners, generally with the
destruction of one man, the other man nearly always holding on to
something, and in many other ways constantly producing much small
vexatious county-court litigation. The dumb barge is very happily named,
and the term smells strongly of the bridge.

Some of the terms given to certain descriptions of rig mark a degree of
forecastle scorn and illustrate the power of marine irony. As an example
take the “jackass barque.” Only the eye of a mariner would distinguish
any difference between a vessel so termed and the fully rigged barque.
And what is the distinction? A jackass barque has fore and main topmasts
and topgallant masts in one. This is why, I suppose, sailors call her
jackass. Perhaps the term mule would have been more correct; and yet the
polacre, that outdoes the jackass barque, in respect of spars, is
suffered to pass without a derisive appellation. Here you have a vessel
with masts all in one to as high as the topmast crosstrees, after which
you come to separate topgallant masts, fidded.[73] Commonly, in
consequence of there being no tops, the sailors climb aloft by means of
a “Jacob’s ladder” that starts from the eyes of the lower rigging and
ascends to the height of the crosstrees. Thus we find distinctions owing
to masts simply, and not to the number of masts, but the manner in which
they are fashioned. So a sailor speaks of skysail poles, of short royal
mast heads, of stump or short topgallant masts; the vocabulary is
apparently endless.

Footnote 73:

  A _fid_ is a bar of wood or iron passed through the fid-hole to
  support an upper mast. A fidded topmast or topgallant mast, is a mast
  erected above its lower mast, and supported by the fid.

And yet one word means only one thing, and every one is totally
different from another. As a single example, when you speak of skysail
poles you are talking of a length of mast continued above the royal
mast, upon which a skysail yard may be crossed. When you speak of stump
topgallant masts you refer to a mast that is neither royal mast nor
skysail mast, and upon which only a topgallant-sail can be set, thus
losing the two sails which the existence of the skysail pole admits of.

It is noteworthy that the only vessel to which a mast more or less makes
no difference is a ship—that is, a ship in the sailor’s meaning of the
word, and not according to Act of Parliament. For here let me say that
the law defines a ship to be any fabric that is not propelled by oars, a
piece of absurdity forced upon general acceptance by its conveniency.
The proper definition of a ship is a vessel with three masts, each mast
being square-rigged. She would be a ship, even if she did not carry
anything above her crosstrees, for she is made so by her crossjack and
mizzen top-sail yard and mizzen top;[74] yet, if you add a fourth mast
to a ship she is still a ship, even if it be what is termed a spanker
mast—that is, a mast rigged like the mizzen-mast of a barque.
Four-masted ships are now common. They seem comparatively recent; but in
reality they are as old at least as that noble American clipper, the
_Great Republic_, that was afloat some twenty or thirty years ago. These
fourth masts in ships are supposed to have been introduced on account of
the length of the vessels; but I have seen ships as small as any
three-masted craft rigged with four masts. They say that these
four-masted concerns are handy in stays, that, proportionally, they need
fewer hands than three-masted ships, and captains have told me that they
have watched them thrashing to windward in a strong breeze with the
power of an ocean passenger-steamer. I should think this very likely, if
it were not that every vessel of this type which I have watched sailing
or towing away, outward bound, has been so deep as to look amidships as
if there was nothing but the thickness of her covering-board between her
and the water.

Footnote 74:

  “All the yards of a ship,” says Falconer, in his “Marine Dictionary,”
  “are square, except that of the mizzen.” In Falconer’s day the mizzen
  was set on a lateen yard, long since replaced by the gaff. There was
  then a crossjack yard to which the clews of the mizzen top-sail were
  sheeted home, but no crossjack was carried. There was in the last
  century (perhaps in the beginning of this) a vessel called _Bilander_.
  She was a brig, but with this peculiarity, that her mainsail was set
  on a lateen yard. The tack was secured to a ring-bolt in the middle of
  the vessel, and the sheet to another ring-bolt in the taffrail.

Many changes have been made in the rig of ships which have not altered
their character. Double topgallant yards leave a ship a ship, though an
alteration of this sort probably in another kind of vessel would cause
sailors to invent a new name for her. Take, for example, that most
familiar craft, the brig. If the trysail of this vessel sets directly
upon her mainmast, then she is a brig; but if you affix a little mast
abaft her mainmast, and call it a trysail mast, and then set your
trysail upon this mast, the brig, by this very trifling change, becomes
what is called a “snow.” A landsman might be defied to detect any
difference between a snow and a brig, and even when the distinction was
pointed out to him he would scarcely understand what it consisted of.
Nevertheless, the addition or want of a trysail mast creates two kinds
of vessels rigged absolutely alike in all other respects, and so far
from the terms being interchangeable, as might be imagined of names
applied to what looks to be the same thing, the word “snow” is used in
advertisements of sales by auction in order that it may be known the
vessel offered is not a brig; and thus you may see in the shipping
papers advertisements announcing that “On Thursday the snow _Aunt Sally_
will be sold, etc.,” and, perhaps under it, “On Tuesday next, the brig
_Ann Maria_.”

These are queer niceties, and of very little use that I can see; but
sailors insist upon them, and Jack must be allowed to have his way.

Take, again, the yawl and the dandy. Both vessels are cutter-rigged
forward, with a mizzen-mast aft, upon which they set a small sail. To
the inexperienced eye they are exactly alike. What, then, is the
difference? It lies in the little sail that is set upon the mizzen-mast.
A yawl has a lug-mizzen, the foot of which sets on a spar that projects
over the stern. The dandy’s mizzen has a gaff and boom, though the
mizzens of some dandies, I believe, are what is termed jib-headed. The
distinction is minute, and yet the difference when looked into is found
to be decided enough. The yawl is chiefly the pleasure craft, the dandy
the fishing vessel.

Amongst fishing craft the varieties of rigs are few. They consist of the
dandy, the lugger, and the smack. The smack is a vessel that is rigged
like a cutter, and it is not necessary that a vessel should be a fishing
boat in order to be called a smack.

To people who care about the sea there is much that is interesting in
rigs. The variations are curious as illustrating experiments, and the
resolution to adopt certain forms useful in particular trades. There is
the barque, a three-masted vessel square-rigged on her fore and main
masts, and with fore-and-aft sails on her mizzen-mast; she is varied by
the barquentine, a vessel rigged like a brig, or indeed like a barque or
ship on her foremast, but with fore-and-aft sails only on her main and
mizzen-masts.[75] Then out of the brig you get the snow, and out of the
snow the hermaphrodite brig, which is a vessel with a brig’s foremast
and a schooner’s mainmast, and out of the hermaphrodite brig comes the
brigantine, that, unlike the hermaphrodite, carries a square top-sail at
the main, and, unlike the brig, has no maintop. In the same way there
are different types of schooners, such as the three-masted schooner, the
fore-and-aft schooner, the top-sail schooner, and the two-top-sail
schooner. Differences of cut, numbers of masts, spread of sail, give
distinctions to the smallest and humblest class of boats. Thus a tosher
is not a long-shore driver, though both little vessels are employed in
catching what they can close into the land.

Footnote 75:

  The nomenclature of the sea has been so varied by successive
  generations that it is extremely difficult to arrive at the paternity
  of sails, to ascertain when such and such canvas was introduced and
  why the names it bore were given. In some respects Sir Walter Raleigh
  helps us in a passage in his “Discourse of Shipping.” “We have
  lately,” says he, “added the bonnet and the drabler; to the courses we
  have devised studding sails, topgallant sails, spritsails, and
  topsails.” By “topsails,” I take it, he means spritsail-topsails, for
  the top-sail was long anterior to the canvas he specifies. The sails
  thus named are manifestly then as old as the closing years of the
  reign of Elizabeth and the beginning of that of James I. The stay-sail
  I find plentiful in the days of Queen Anne. In an old volume of
  shipbuilding, written by an anonymous author who claims for his work,
  “’Tis the product of thirty-two years study and experience; for it is
  very well known that I have been so long imploy’d in her Majesty’s
  service, and that of her Royal Predecessors”—I find the following:
  “There are other sails called stay-sails, used almost on every stay;
  as the main stay-sail, main-topmast stay-sail, fore-topmast stay-sail,
  mizon stay-sail, and sometimes on the mizon-top-mast stay and
  topgallant stay. And such sails are very useful, if the ship goes
  anything from the wind, that is, when the sails are constantly full
  and not shivering. There is another sail call’d a flying-gib, a sail
  of good service to draw the ship forward, but very prejudicial to the
  wear of the ship forward.” Towards the close of the last century ships
  went so numerously clothed that it really seems as though nothing but
  their prodigious beam enabled them to stand up to the press of canvas.
  There were two jibs, fore topmast stay-sail, sprit-sail and
  sprit-top-sail, and fore stay-sail. Here you have six sails for the
  bowsprit and jibbooms. Royals were by this time used and were called
  the topgallant royals. Over the driver was carried a gaff top-sail,
  outside which was set another sail bent to a light yard. Ring-tails
  and water-sails were common, the latter projecting far beyond the
  stern. There were nine stay-sails, besides those carried at the fore.
  A ship with studding-sails out on either side exposed no less than
  forty-two sails. The present century has added little to sails. I can
  only think of the skysail. But there have been great changes in shape.
  Formerly the mizzen was set on a lateen yard. Stay-sails were shaped
  like trysails, the stay on which they were hoisted shaping them as a
  gaff does a spanker. Sprit-sails long ago disappeared, and the
  tendency of late years has been to diminish canvas, insomuch that
  studding-sails are no longer common.

One needs a good memory to bear even a few distinctions in mind. I
remember once standing on the banks of the Tyne and hearing a man,
pointing to a vessel like a lighter, call her a wherry. To my
South-country notions, of course, a wherry was a small open boat in
which people are rowed by a waterman, or which they hire for excursions.
Close alongside this gigantic Tyne wherry, which, by the way, if my
memory serves me rightly, was half full of coal, lay a similar-looking
craft that the same man spoke of as a keel. I asked him why one should
be called a keel and the other a wherry, when they were both very much
alike, and I am under the impression, though I cannot be sure at this
distance of time, that he said the difference lay in one being carvel
built, that is, with the outer planks coming together and forming a
perfectly smooth side, and the other being clincher-built, a term
applied to planks when they overlay one another. Be this as it may, it
is at least certain that a wherry in the north is different from a
wherry in the south, and really when one comes to consider the infinite
variety of rigs and builds, and the almost imperceptible subtleties
amongst them which make the same name utterly inapplicable to what looks
exactly like the same thing, nautical gentlemen, individuals who are not
exactly sailors, but who nevertheless know a very great deal indeed
about the sea, insomuch that they are prepared to instruct, at a
moment’s notice, the most ancient mariner they can come across in his
business—such people ought to be a little more compassionate than they
are usually found in dealing with those errors or oversights in marine
technicality which landsmen are repeatedly guilty of, and which writers
and others who ought to know better are occasionally chargeable with.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                   _HOW THE OLD NAVIGATORS MANAGED._


It is extremely difficult to understand how the old navigators contrived
to convey their ships from port to port. I do not mean the ancients, who
are supposed to have kept the land aboard and to have steered by the
stars, though it is certain that they must again and again have been
blown out to sea and yet made shift to get home again; but those early
voyagers who travelled to the Indies by way of the Cape and to the
American seaboard. They had no conception of longitude; they had no
means to determine it; and their latitude was extremely vague. An old
chart or map is often a strange sight. The figuration of continents and
islands is as little like the reality as a child’s fanciful drawing of
such things would be. The longitude is mere guesswork, and the “heights”
or parallels are leagues out. Yet these old people managed to reach the
places they started for. Sometimes, to be sure, if the trip were a long
one, they found themselves off the land at a distance of a hundred miles
or so north or south, as it might be, of their port; but, when you
consider that even their knowledge of the variation of the compass was
extremely imperfect—that the compass with them was a sluggish primitive
appliance—that they could be sure of nothing but their dead-reckoning
and the North Star—it should be amazing to us, who live in the age of
the exquisite sextant, the superb chronometer, Sir William Thompson’s
compass, the patent revolving log and Admiralty charts, that mariners
from the days of Diaz, Columbus, and Magellan, down to the period of Dr.
Maskelyne, the “Nautical Almanac,” and the establishment of the Board of
Longitude in the last century, should have been able, without hesitation
or difficulty, to push on their hundred different ways through the
ocean, and duly arrive at the parts they weighed for.

A list of the instruments in use at sea two centuries ago is published
as a supplement to Captain James’s “Strange and Dangerous Voyage in his
intended Discovery of the North-West Passage into the South Sea, in the
years 1631 and 1632,” contained in “Churchill’s Collection,” vol. ii.,
1704. The captain took with him a quadrant, “of old season’d pear-tree
wood, artificially made, and with all care possible divided into
diagonals, even to minutes.” It was four-foot semi-diameter, adds the
captain. In addition to this he had an equilateral triangle of the same
wood, “whose radius was five foot at least;” a second quadrant with a
semi-diameter of two feet; a staff for taking altitudes and distances
seven feet long, “whose transome was four foot, divided into equal parts
by way of diagonals, that all the figures in a radius of ten thousand
might be taken out actually;” another staff six feet long, a
cross-staff, three Jacob’s staves, and two of “Mr. Davis’s back staves.”
These huge unwieldy instruments seem entirely appropriate to the age of
folios. James took with him other appliances which he called horizontal
instruments. Among these were two semi-circles “two foot semi-diameter,
of seasoned pear-tree wood,” six “meridian compasses,” four needles in
square boxes, “moreover, four special needles (which my good friends Mr.
Allen and Mr. Marre gave me) of six inches diameter, and toucht
curiously with the best loadstone in England;” a loadstone with the
poles marked for fear of a mistake, a watch-clock, “a table every day
calculated, correspondent to the latitude, according to Mr. Gunter’s
directions in his book, the better to keep our time and our compass and
judge of our course,” log-lines and glasses, “two pair of curious
globes, made purposely,” and finally “I made a meridian line of 120
yards long, with six plumb lines hanging in it, some of them being above
30ft. high, and the weights hung in a hole in the ground, to avoid wind.
And this to take the sun’s or moon’s coming to the meridian. This line
we verified, by setting it by the pole itself, and by many other ways.”
Such was the scientific equipment of a man bound on a Polar expedition
in the year 1631.

There is an interesting appendix to this voyage “touching longitude,”
written by the astronomer Gellibrand. “The longitude of a meridian,” he
says, “is that which hath, and still wearieth, the greatest masters of
geography.” He ridicules the notion that longitude may be ascertained by
watching the variation of the needle, though it is worth noting that
this belief continued strong for many years later, as may be gathered
from a passage in the introductory essay to “Churchill’s Navigantium
atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca:” “One thing more we shall observe before
we quit this subject, and it is this, that the several methods for
finding the longitude before mentioned depend upon astronomical
observations, and those too very nice and exact, which at sea it is very
difficult at any time, and very often impracticable, to make; whence
arises the necessity of finding out some other way of discovering the
longitude, for which hitherto nothing has bid so fair as a perfect
finding out the variation of the magnetic needle, which being adjusted
to a table of longitudes, they would then reciprocally show each other.”
Gellibrand regards eclipses, more especially of the moon—“whose leisure,
however,” he adds, “we must often wait, and perhaps go without, if the
heavens be not propitious to us”—as the most satisfactory means of
determining the longitude. But at sea people want something more prompt
than an eclipse to find out where they are.

For generations, then, the mariner was left to depend upon his
dead-reckoning, which, as one method of navigating a ship, is still in
force, and I do not know that we have in any way altered this old
practice of computing, save by the introduction of the patent log, whose
indications are still in some directions checked by the log-reel of our
forefathers. Dead-reckoning simply consists of ascertaining how fast the
ship sails by heaving the log, by entering the courses sailed, by
allowing for leeway. The ship, let us say, steered north-east for one
hour, north-east by north during the following hour, north-north-east
for the third hour, and then during the fourth hour came up to
north-east again. In those four hours her rate varied: at one o’clock
the log showed her sailing at seven knots; at two, five-and-a-half
knots; at three, four-and-three-quarter knots; at four, six knots; and
her leeway was sometimes three-quarters of a point, sometimes one point,
sometimes more. Her place, then, on the chart may be easily set down or
“pricked” out of these entries in the log-slate. In thick weather there
is no other way of computing a ship’s progress and position. The sky may
be obscured for days, and all that a man can do is to heave his log,
watch how the ship heads, and observe her leeway. It was in this fashion
that the ancient mariner contrived to crawl about the ocean, and it is
worth observing that the log he measured his way with we still possess
and use. No ship, I should think, goes to sea without the reel, the
line, and the glass. The rotating logs tell you how far you have gone in
a given time with tolerable accuracy; but the reel-log is the only
appliance that I am acquainted with which will tell you how fast you are
going at the moment.

Seamen have told me that with their eye they can tell the speed of their
ship more accurately than with the log-line. I do not believe this, and
on testing these cocksure men I have never once found them right within
half a knot. Of course this refers to sailing ships. A steamer goes
along steadily, and it is quite conceivable that a person accustomed to
steamships could tell correctly the speed of one by looking over the
side. But a sailing vessel varies her rate with every puff. Under
certain conditions the increased sail that seems to be thrashing her
through it with greater velocity has diminished her speed. I
particularly recollect an instance. A dynamometer was attached to the
taffrail of a large full-rigged ship; to it was affixed a line which it
dragged through the water. The pull of the line was equivalent to a
weight of sixty pounds. The vessel was then sailing with the wind a
point before the beam, under all plain sail, the breeze fresh. The
foretopmast studding-sail was set, and the hand of the dynamometer went
back, showing that the speed had been decreased to the extent
illustrated by this diminution of weight in the pull of the line by the
setting of the studding-sail. The chief officer, however, was so certain
that the ship had improved her speed, despite the unmistakable
indications of the dynamometer, that to prove his judgment he ordered
the log to be hove, with the result that the speed was less by a knot (I
think) than it had been before the studding-sail was set. The fact is,
the ship had sail enough; the additional canvas simply buried, and so
retarded her. Yet this same mate was one of many seamen who had assured
me that they could tell the speed of a vessel better with the eye than
with the log.

It is true, nevertheless, that the mariners of certain nations in former
times chose the eye in preference to the knotted line. The Dutch, in
particular, though they always took the reel and glass to sea with them,
seldom used them. There looks to have been something of laziness in
their habit. An account of the Hollander’s slatternly trick of
navigation may be found in a note to “Voyages to the East Indies by the
late John Splinter Stavorinus,” in 1768–71–74 and ’75. This author tells
us that the Dutchmen of his own and of earlier times steered by the true
compass, or rather endeavoured to do so, “by means of a small central
movable card, which they set to the meridian; and whenever they discover
the variation has altered twenty-two degrees since the last adjustment,
they again correct the central card. This is steering within a quarter
of a point without aiming at greater exactness.” There was the same
guesswork in their dead-reckoning. They hove no log, says Stavorinus.
The officer of the watch corrected the course for leeway by his own
judgment before marking it down on the logboard. They computed their
speed by measuring a distance of forty feet along the ship’s side. “They
take notice of any remarkable patch of froth when it is abreast of the
foremost end of the measured distance, and count half-seconds till the
mark of froth is abreast of the after end. With the number of
half-seconds thus obtained they divide the number forty-eight, taking
the product for the rate of sailing in geographical miles in one hour,
or the number of Dutch miles in four hours.” One finds the same
phlegmatic indifference in their manner of taking sights. “It is not
usual to make any allowance in the sun’s declination on account of being
on a different meridian from that for which the tables are calculated.
They in general compute the numbers just as they are found in the
tables. From all this,” drily adds Stavorinus, “it is not difficult to
conceive the reason why the Dutch are frequently above ten degrees out
in their reckoning.”

The Spaniards and the Portuguese were more wary, if not more knowing,
than the Dutch. Extreme vigilance in conning ship was apparently a
feature of the navigation of those old and famous races of mariners. Sir
Richard Hawkins (Purchas, vol. iv.) is express in this. I will let him
deliver himself in his own quaint inimitable tongue. “In this point of
steeridge (steering) the Spaniards and Portugalls do exceede all that I
have seene, I meane for their care, which is chiefest in navigation. And
I wish in this, and in all their workes of discipline and reformation,
we should follow their examples, as also those of any other nation. In
every shippe of moment, upon the halfe-decke or quarter-decke, they have
a chaire or seate, out of which, whilst they navigate, the pilot, or his
adjutants (which are the same officers which in our shippes we term the
master and his mates) never depart day nor night from the sight of the
compasse, and have another before them, whereby they see what they doe,
and are ever witnesses of the good or bad steeridge of all men that take
the helme.” A later generation of sailors, “Portugalls” as well as
others, knew better than to suffer men on the look-out, whether officers
of the watch or quarter-masters, to be seated.

The common contrivance for taking the height of the sun at sea in order
to obtain the latitude was the cross-staff or fore-staff. It was
composed of a wooden staff, upon which was marked a scale of degrees and
parts of degrees; it was also fitted with crosspieces for sliding along
it at their middle parts. The smallest crosspieces were used for
observing the least altitudes. The observation of the sun’s height was
taken by means of the shadow which the extremity of the crosspiece cast
on the staff when the instrument was adjusted. Contrast this humble,
uncouth engine with the sextant of to-day! The back-staff was another
implement, the invention of Davis, the Arctic explorer, by the help of
which the ancient mariner made his way about the ocean. He had also the
astrolabe. Clarke, in his “Progress of Maritime Discovery,” speaks of
the sea-astrolabe as deriving its name from the “Armillary sphere
invented by Hipparchus at Alexandria.” He finds it first in use among
the Portuguese, perhaps because they claim its introduction into
Portugal by Martin de Boerina in 1485. The introduction of the
cross-staff, on the other hand, is attributed to Warner, who published
an account of it at Nuremberg in 1514. As regards the astrolabe, there
is certainly a mistake in the date, for we find Chaucer writing a
treatise on this instrument in 1391. The method indicated by the old
poet for ascertaining the latitude may be accepted as the one employed
by the mariners of his own and of much later periods. One special
article in his Treatise is entitled by the poet, “Another conclusion to
prove the latitude of a region that ye ben in,” and the whole passage is
so quaint and interesting withal that every nautical reader of this
volume will, I am sure, thank me for transcribing it. I quote from the
edition of the Treatise published by Mr. A. E. Brae in 1870.

“If,” writes Chaucer, “thou desire to know this latitude of the region,
take the altitude of the sonne in the myddle of the daye, when the sonne
is in the hed of Aries or of Libra, for than movethe the sonne in the
lyne equinoctial, and abate the nombre of that same sonne’s altitude out
of 90 degrees, and than is the remnaunt of the nombre that leveth the
altitude of the region; as thus—I suppose that the sonne is thilke daye
at noon 38 degrees of heyght; abate, than, 38 degrees out of 90, so
leveth ther 52, than is 52 degrees the latitude. I saye not this but for
ensample, for wel I wot the latitude of Oxenforde is certain minutes
lesse. Nowe, if it so be that thou thinketh too long a tarrying to abyde
til that the sonne be in the hed of Aries or Libra, than waite when that
the sonne is in any other degree of the zodiake, and consider if the
degree of his declinacion be Northward from the equinoctial; abate than
from the sonne’s altytude at none the nombre of his declinacion, and
than hast thou the height of the hedes of Aries and Libra; as thus—my
sonne, peraventure, is in the 10 degree of Leo, almost 56 degrees of
height at none, and his declinacion is almost 18 degrees Northward from
the equinoctial; abate than thilke 18 degrees of declinacion out of the
altitude at none, than leveth 38 degrees—lo there the height of the hed
of Aries or Libra and thyn equinoctial in that region.”

So, then, all the ancient mariner had to do was to take the height of
the sun, subtract or add the declination, and accept the remainder as
his latitude. An easy process, that gives us Cape Horn on the
fifty-second parallel and Valdivia on the forty-third![76] And yet they
managed excellently well, hove their log, turned their hour-glasses, and
arrived in due course, their ships covered with barnacles and themselves
with glory. In one sense it was the marine age of gold. There were no
Board of Trade examinations, no certificates of competency, no
obligation to find the time by equal altitudes, or the longitude by
chronometer or by lunar observations. The whole art of the navigation of
our ancestors is summed up in the account of a voyage sent by Thomas
Steevens to his father in 1579, in which he tells him that it is hard to
sail from east to west, or contrary, because there is no fixed point in
all the sky whereby to direct a course. “I shall tell you,” says he,
“what helps God provideth for these men.” And he informs his father that
not a “fowle” appears, nor a sign in the air or in the sea which has not
been written about by those who make the voyage—that is, to the East
Indies. “Wherefore, partly by their own experience, and pondering withal
what space the ship was able to make with such a winde, and such
direction, and partly by the experience of others whose books and
navigations they have, they gesse whereabouts they be.”[77]

Footnote 76:

  That is, according to one or two old maps I have seen.

Footnote 77:

  I have elsewhere quoted this and other passages. Many of these papers
  were written at long intervals, and I could not charge my memory with
  references already made use of.

And accurately enough they “gessed,” too. But then there was no
dispatch; every owner of a bottom took his own risks, and a few months
sooner or later (chiefly later) was nothing to people who could find a
dry dock on every beach, and a market for trucking wherever there was a
coloured man. Many generations were born and died before real help came
to the mariner, and he was able to sail as securely east or west as
north or south. There was no “Nautical Almanac” till the year 1769. This
invaluable compilation was originally proposed and then calculated by
Dr. Maskelyne, and published by order of the Commissioners of Longitude.
So conservative, however, is the character of the seaman that he
candidly owned himself but very little obliged to Dr. Maskelyne and the
Admiralty. So long afterwards as 1794 I find William Hutchinson,
mariner, in a very admirable and voluminous treatise on Naval
Architecture, writing in defiant terms touching the “Nautical Almanac.”
“The Board of Longitude,” he says, “in order to facilitate the discovery
that is expected to be made by this last-mentioned method,” namely, the
“Nautical Almanac,” “has ordered that the masters for the Royal Navy
must qualify themselves by learning to pass an examination to show that
they understand the ‘Nautical Almanac,’ which is a task, in my opinion,
that cannot be expected from many of our most hardy and expert
navigators, whose education has been mostly from early youth through the
hard, laborious, busy scenes of life at sea, and who have never had the
opportunity to get the learning that is necessary to understand the true
principles of this Almanac.”

Possibly even in this day it might not be hard to find sea veterans who
would secretly agree with Mr. Hutchinson’s protest, and lament the
extinction of an epoch when the quadrant and the log-line were thought
“larning” enough. At any rate, I have a lively recollection of reading
something closely corresponding to such views in the _British Merchant
Service Journal_, the organ of the London Shipmasters’ Society, for
1879–80.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        _PLATES AND RIVETS._[78]

Footnote 78:

  Written in 1882.

The great shipping question of the day is the loadline. Who is to be
responsible for Plimsoll’s mark? Is the shipowner to go on fixing it at
his own risk, or will the Government fix it for him? and if so, where?
Is the carrying power of a vessel to be calculated by her surplus
buoyancy, or is her clear side to be taken in relation to her depth of
hold?—and is it possible to fix one loading point for all vessels,
whether they be well-decked ships, or flush-decked ships, or
hurricane-decked ships? All these are scientific conundrums, which will
have to be solved sooner or later. They are certainly of the gravest
possible moment to the shipping interests. As the law now stands, a
shipowner is permitted to determine at what height on the vessel’s side
a loadline shall be fixed; but, if, in the opinion of the officials, the
loadmark does not furnish sufficient freeboard, the ship can be stopped,
and forced to discharge as much of her cargo as shall raise her to the
height the officials may consider she requires. The injustice of this is
tolerably obvious. Practically, the Board of Trade have their
preconceived theory of the proper freeboard of every vessel. They or
their representatives say, “Yonder is a vessel of three thousand tons.
She needs so many feet of clear side. Her owners, in our opinion, are
overloading her. But let them proceed. When she is full, her stores,
crew, and passengers aboard, and everything ready for the voyage, we
will stop her and force her to disgorge.” Now, if the Board of Trade can
decide after, why can they not decide before? Why should shipowners be
obliged to guess at the theories of freeboard which the Board have in
their mind, and be visited with the penalty of a costly delay if their
conjectures should be wrong? The Government authorities say, We will not
fix the loadline: you must do that at your own risk. But practically
they _do_ fix the loadline by empowering their representatives to stop
ships which look to be overloaded. Surely it would be more consistent
with common sense and common justice to determine a loadline for the
shipowner before he fills up his ship than to keep the determination
carefully concealed from him until his vessel is about to start or
actually has commenced her voyage.

This, then, as I have said, is the great shipping question of the times,
and it is the outcome of the wise and humane consideration how to
diminish the perils of the deep for those who have to seek a living upon
it. It is to be hoped that the numerous scientific controversies which
have grown out of the subject of the loadline may not overcloud and
conceal the object the Plimsoll disc was intended to effect. That object
was to prevent owners from sending human lives to sea aboard ships so
deeply freighted that the first heavy gale of wind was bound to sink
them. Unhappily departmental timidity has gone very near to neutralizing
a great and beneficent measure without satisfying the class who were to
be appeased and quieted. Many overladen ships contrive somehow to sneak
off to sea unnoticed by those functionaries whose duty it is to stop
such vessels. If they founder with all hands the law considers itself
sufficiently avenged by mulcting the owners and imprisoning them.
Unfortunately, this does not save the sailor’s life. It is another
illustration of the truth that every special interest is bound to suffer
from the lack of thoroughness in the measures of those to whom it looks
for protection. One seems to find the same perfunctoriness in most of
the legislation that deals with sailors. It was a good thing to
extinguish the old floating coffins. And yet it was but a half-measure,
too. It was merely the lopping of a few twigs from a great rotten
branch. A much larger evil than the despatching of unseaworthy ships was
left untouched—I mean the construction of unseaworthy ships. It was
monstrous, indeed, that men should be allowed to send on a dangerous
voyage vessels which had been afloat for years and years, cobbled-up old
fabrics which leaked like sieves, but whose safety was a matter of
profound indifference to their owners, because of the insurance that
must make whatever happened good luck to them. But it seems to me much
more monstrous that men should be allowed to build ships—every one of
which carries as large a company of souls as would equip a whole fleet
of the old condemned coasters—whose iron frames and whose iron plates
are fit for nothing but to be branded with the word “Murder,” so that
when the metal fragments come ashore the beholder may know for what
purpose they were designed.

Legislation has protected the sailor; but read the reports of the marine
inquiries held. Take the trouble to count for yourself the number of
missing ships—missing nobody knows how or why—which are catalogued in a
short twelvemonth. Glance at the depositions of the men brought ashore
from vessels which have foundered under their feet. Here are facts
speaking with a trumpet-tongue, sounding a deep and bitter reproach upon
our British ears, and converting our legislative efforts into mere
irony. Will any seaman pretend that Plimsoll’s mark, as we now have it,
has abridged, by so much as one sixty-fourth part of the whole, the
perils he had to face before the question of freeboard was ever made a
subject of discussion? Will he assert that the extinction of the
“floating coffin” has increased the chances of his safety, in the face
of the innumerable iron ships which are, month after month, slipped
along the ways into that ocean whose bottom they are bound to sound in
due course? I am not speaking of the great ocean passenger steamship;
she, no doubt, in point of construction and strength, may be as perfect
as she looks, with the exterior gilt and paint, and the interior
sumptuousness of velvet, and silk, and polished panelling. I am
referring to the class of vessels which are doing the work of the old
condemned coasters, and more than the work, since we find them pushing
into seas into which the “coffin” never ventured. “The vessel did not
arrive at her destination,” runs the report of a recent inquiry held by
Mr. H. C. Rothery; “it may, therefore, fairly be concluded that she has
gone to the bottom, and the object of the present inquiry is to
ascertain, if possible, how she has been lost.” If possible!

To show the character of that possibility the _Annex_ prints it thus
“...”

Could anything be more eloquent? Will the builder interpret those points
to signify his rivet-holes?

Or take from a late deposition the narrative of a shipmaster, who
relates that “he proceeded;” the wind was so and so; such and such a
light bore N.W., the land was three miles distant, the sea smooth, and
the vessel steaming full speed. On a sudden it was noticed that the ship
was down by the head. The engineer sounded the forehold, and found
nearly four feet of water in it. Then all hands were called on deck and
the steam pumps set to work. But the water gained on the pumps, and
meanwhile the vessel steadily continued to settle down by the head. The
fore hatches were removed, and nearly six feet of water found. The pumps
continued working, and the crew baled with might and main with buckets.
But all was of no good, so deponent got the boats ready for use. He
tried to drive his ship shorewards, but she would not answer her helm,
on which he stopped the engines and lowered the boats. They were picked
up by another vessel, and shortly after they were aboard the ship they
had quitted went down head foremost.

This occurred close to the land, where there was plenty of help, and so
we get the poor shipmaster’s deposition. But it might have occurred
leagues out at sea, where there was no succour, and then the ship would
have been missing, “nothing heard of the crew,” and the formal marine
inquiry would have wound up with another handful of dots. And what
caused that steamer to go down head foremost on a fine clear day, and in
smooth water? There was no collision; there were no shoals. Had a butt
started? Had a head-plate worked loose? One is inclined to say _ex pede
Herculem_ of such disasters as this. They should save marine courts a
deal of brain-cudgelling over incidents which, in the days of teak, and
oak, and treenails, would truly take very solemn rank among the
“unaccountables.”

This deposition worked very strongly in my head the other day when I
happened to find myself standing under the bends of the towering iron
skeleton of a ship that, when completed, would be 100 A 1, and qualified
to carry three thousand tons of merchandize. The hammering all about me
was sharp and furious, the sparks flew wildly, and as the white-hot
rivets popped out of the holes they were cut and hammered by the men as
though they were carrots. There were other ships on a line with this,
one completely plated and painted, another half-finished, a third a mere
outline of frames and keelson and stern-post and stem-pieces. The scene
was an imposing one, and especially imposing was the appearance of the
completed ship with the polish of her clean metal run and the gilt
tracings about her figurehead and quarters. And yet when I turned my
eyes from her to the skeleton under which I was standing I felt a good
deal of my admiration leaking away from me. I called to a man who was
hammering close beside me. “Do you know what clagging is, my friend?”

“Ay,” said he, looking at me with a broad grin, “ye dorn’t need to go
very fur to find out the meanin’ o’ that word.”

“These things,” said I, striking a long curve of metal, “which in a
wooden ship would be spoken of as ribs, are called frames, aren’t they?”

“Ay, those are the frames,” he answered.

“I suppose they have a good deal of weight to bear, a good deal of
pressure to resist?” said I.

“Why,” he replied, “they’re pretty nigh the ship, man!”

“Then what do you make of that flaw there, and that crack there, and
there, and there?” said I, pointing to the places as I spoke.

“Pooh!” said he, “when the plates are on that’s all covered up.”

“Yes,” said I, “so I suppose; but do you know I don’t see a frame that
hasn’t three or four—and yonder is one with six—of those cracks and
flaws plain to be viewed upon it. Considering the dimensions of this
vessel, do you think it wise—I’m speaking in the interest of human
lives, my man—to put in such defective iron as this?”

He made no answer, and was about to resume his work.

“Here,” said I, “there is no thirstier work than hammering,” and I gave
him a shilling. “How do you get the iron plates which cover these ribs
to fit?”

“They’re rolled,” he replied, pocketing the shilling with a look around.

“The part of the plate that overhangs another,” said I, “is, I think,
called the landing?”

“Ay,” said he, “the lannin’, that’s right.”

“Do you see this landing, here?” I asked. “I’m not sure that I couldn’t
put my little finger between.”

“Oh, the rivets ’ll draw that into its place,” said the man.

“True,” I exclaimed; “but you wouldn’t call it a fit?”

“No,” he answered; “I wouldn’t call it a fit, but the rivets ’ll make it
one.”

“But, don’t you see,” said I, “that by prizing these plates together
with the rivets you are putting work on the rivets for which they are
not designed? If the blow of a sea springs the rivets, the plates must
yawn. At this rate it seems to me that the rivets not only keep the
plates together, but actually give the hull its shape.”

“What are ye, sir?” said he to me; “a surveyor?”

“No, my man,” I replied; “if I were, I should be talking to your master,
not to you. Here’s another point that strikes me as worth noticing. Look
at these rivet-holes. They’re all punched, I observe.”

“Certainly they’re punched,” he answered.

“But don’t you think they ought to be drilled?” I asked. “Punching is
bound to weaken the rivet-holes, by cracking and dislocating the fibres
of the metal around them, and rendering them the less fit as a hold for
the rivets.”

“Drilling ’ud be much better, of course,” said the man; “but it ’ud
pretty nigh double the expense, and that ’ud be going the wrong way to
what the shipowners want.”

“But here again I see another curious feature,” said I. “Look through
these rivet-holes, one after another, as many as you choose. There’s not
a single hole in the front plates that corresponds with the holes in the
plates at the back. How on earth are you going to drive a rivet through
such a hole as that, for instance?” said I, pointing to a hole so much
lower than the hole behind it that the apertures where the two plates
met resembled a half-moon.

“Oh, we’ll rivet ’em somehow,” he answered, laughing, and without even
glancing at the holes to which I sought to direct his attention.

At this juncture somebody who might have been the manager came sniffing
curiously about me; the man went on with his work, and I moved off.
Before quitting the yard, however, I walked over to the other
vessels—the incomplete ones, I mean—and had a look at them. Here I found
precisely the same kind of workmanship and material—the frames full of
cracks and flaws, the rivet-holes roughly punched, and not a single hole
corresponding with the holes behind; the “landings” yawning and waiting
to be prized and warped and severely strained into their places by the
rivets. I am not writing learnedly; I am avoiding all technicalities, as
I wish the land-going public who know nothing about marine terms to
understand me. Neither do I assert that this shipbuilding yard which I
inspected is a typical one. But this much I will say, and as a man who
has some small knowledge of the power and fury of the sea in a time of
tempest—that were I a forecastle-hand and had to choose between one of
these brand-new, A 1 iron steamships of from two thousand to three
thousand tons gross and one of the old coasters which have long since
been condemned and rendered impossible, I should be perfectly content to
let the toss of a coin decide for me, satisfied that, so far as security
at sea goes, there would be just as much promise of my speedy
dissolution aboard such a brand-new steamer as aboard the sieve-like old
coffin. It is not hard to understand what a reproach this kind of vessel
is to us as a maritime nation and how it has come about. The same fierce
competition that covers our tables with butter made of fat, and coffee
made out of old beans, is covering the ocean with the sort of ships I am
writing of. The problem is now how to build the cheapest steamer to
carry a maximum cargo on a minimum draught of water, and to pass the
surveyors as fit to go to sea. The shipbuilders are not to blame. They
will do good work for good money; but if good money be not forthcoming,
though some kind of work be expected, then they will give you frames
which are only fit to sell for old iron; the workmanship will be mere
“clagging,” the plates will be wrenched and warped into any kind of
abominable fit by the rivets; the whole structure and the lives of the
people who commit themselves to it will be made to depend upon points
which no honest shipwright would dream of reckoning as factors in the
binding and holding powers of the fabric; and the false and frail
contrivance, doctored up and smothered over with paint, will be launched
with all haste, and the next order proceeded with at once.

Therefore, in so far as the loadline is designed for the protection of
the sailor against the rapacity of those owners who would load their
vessels down to their waterways, if they could only manage to make them
float at that, there must always be a most unpleasant quality of
insufficiency in the controversies the subject has excited, so long as
they exclude consideration of the kind of vessels which are launched
month after month and year after year from many shipbuilding yards. The
absurdity of painting or nailing a loading disc upon the side of a
vessel which is to a strong well-constructed ship what a cheap suburban
villa built with nine-inch walls is to a house in Grosvenor or
Berkeley-square, struck me forcibly, as I stood the other day looking at
the flimsy metal skeletons which, when plated with thin sheets of iron
and loaded with the dead weight of coal and freight and engines, are to
confront and give battle to the terrible sea. I shall be asked if no
protection is afforded the sailor against the deadly risks such
shipbuilding as this involves by those marine surveyors, whose duties as
inspectors are very clearly and precisely laid down for them by the
authorities they represent? I answer, let those interested in the
subject make a tour of inspection for themselves—slip in quietly, as I
did, into those shipbuilding yards where cheap steamers are
manufactured, and judge with their own eyes to what extent I am
inaccurate in affirming that a proportion of the ships which are built
in this country are renewing with tenfold disgrace those maritime crimes
which were supposed to have been ground out of our civilization, and
reviving with tenfold horror those peculiar forms of marine disasters
which were hopefully assumed to have been shelved along with the old
wooden craft.

And now let me say here a few words on the subject of marine surveying.

If there be one class of responsible men more than another who should be
wholly above suspicion, who should be possessed of a moral courage
equal, under all circumstances, to the unbending and unfaltering
discharge of the duties accepted by them, they should consist, one would
think, of the men employed by Lloyd’s and the Board of Trade to inspect
the construction of ships, and to pronounce upon their fitness as
sea-going fabrics. You have only to consider what is involved in the
duties of marine surveyors to appreciate the high and extraordinary
character of their obligations. Upon their capacity to distinguish
between good and bad work, and upon their courage as judges to whom
their employers entrust the exercise of the widest possible discretion,
practically depends the life of every human being who goes to sea as a
sailor or as a passenger. Of course, the difficulties of the vocation,
humanly speaking, are not hard to understand. We may appreciate the
embarrassment a surveyor labours under in having to condemn the work of
a shipbuilder with whom he is on very friendly terms, to say no more.
The temptation to inspect any other part of the fabric than that which
imperatively calls for condemnation must, under certain circumstances,
be very great. But let all this be freely admitted. Life is more
precious than class sensibilities, and if an evil is to flourish only on
the condition that nothing is said about it, most of us will agree that
it is high time to cultivate candour, in that direction at least.

I have no hesitation in saying that a large proportion of the marine
surveying of the day is one of the most glaring, as it certainly is the
cruellest, of the shams of the period. Samples of work are passed which,
were there the least sincerity and conscience in the minds of those who
decide upon them, could under no possibility have left the yards in
which they were produced. Men, women, and children are sent to sea in
structures which never would have been permitted to quit the only place
they are safe on—I mean the dry land—had the surveyors put any shadow of
honesty into the duties they are appointed to discharge.

“Look,” said a gentleman to me the other day in a shipbuilding yard,
“Look at that faulty work there! is it possible that Mr. —— (naming the
surveyor) means to pass it?”

The surveyor stood at a distance; the gentleman called him and pointed
out the defective work. The surveyor seemed surprised, and shook his
head. “Ah,” said he, “that is too bad. I shan’t be able to pass that.”
But he _did_ pass it, for the gentleman some days after wrote to tell me
that the faulty points had not been remedied, and that the ship was to
be launched just as she was.

“What,” cries an American writer, in a Yankee shipping journal, “What of
the _Ismailia_, _Bernina_, _Bayard_, _Homer_, _Stamfordham_, _Telford_,
_Zanzibar_, _Toxford_, _Sylvia_, _Surbiton_, _Joseph Pease_, and the
forty British steamers which foundered last year, and scores of others
which have gone to Davy Jones’s Locker?” We are constantly boasting of
the vastness and sovereignty of our mercantile marine; but we shall have
to acquire a new theory of bragging if we are to reconcile our
self-complacency with such plain-speaking as this, which comes to us in
our own tongue from across the seas.

           “Far less need of hospitals, did they use us well,
            Were this forecastle of ours fit wherein to dwell.
            Ships are coffins nowadays, life is but a toy,
            ‘Jerry’ murders millions, Board of Trade ahoy!”

sings the contemporary sailor; but there is very little use in his
shouting “Ahoy,” if the only response he gets is the appointment of men
who, filling offices designed for his protection, deliberately ignore
their most grave and great responsibilities and lure him, by what are
absolutely false representations, into committing his life to
unseaworthy ships. Unhappily in marine topics public interest is only to
be awaked by reiteration. But let it be remembered that it is not only
Jack’s life that is jeopardized by our new shipbuilding departures. The
subject is one that concerns every living being that crosses the ocean
or who has friends at sea. The sailor, we know, is an abstraction.
Nautical as we are as a people, we barely take count of him unless as a
stage show, or as the pig-tailed Jack Pudding of a romance. But when we
think of passengers we think of our friends and of ourselves. Is the
loss of the _Clan Macduff_ still within living memory? Everybody was
much shocked at the time by that dreadful wreck. But shore-going people
would have been more shocked had they taken the trouble to master the
meaning of the Wreck Commissioner’s finding, when, by absolving the
owner from all responsibility on the grounds that the vessel had been
passed by a Board of Trade surveyor, he practically decided that the
Board of Trade, through the official who certificated the _Clan
Macduff_, was answerable for the dreadful disaster that befel her. At
this rate what assurance have the travelling public, leaving sailors out
of the question, that their lives are in any degree cared for?
Apparently the Board of Trade are not to be reached if one of their
servants passes a ship which goes to pieces as an ill-built, crazy
machine in the first gale of wind she encounters; whilst the owner of
the sea-coffin becomes an irresponsible being on the merits of a
certificate cunningly courted and fraudulently given. If the Wreck
Commissioner’s law be sound, then the criminality of certificating
unseaworthy ships is intensified by the fact that it secures the owners
against all penalties. Of course, both the Board of Trade and Lloyd’s
act with perfect sincerity. They appoint the best men they can get for
the trifling wages they give to do certain work, and it is not their
fault that some of these men should prove unfaithful. But since nothing
can be more certain than that the whole system of marine surveyorship,
as we have it, is deceptive, blundering, and in a high degree obnoxious
to human life and property, is it not about time that we set to work to
invent some better method for guaranteeing, so far as shipbuilding
workmanship and material go, the lives and property of the hundreds and
thousands of people who go to sea as sailors and passengers? No society
nor Government department has a right to subject men invested with
powers made solemn by their involvement of precious life to the
temptations to faithlessness which surround the marine surveyor.

“How on earth did the builders manage to get that cruelly ill-built
vessel passed?” was asked not long since.

“Why, sir,” was the answer, “by taking care that the surveyor saw her
through no other medium than a bottle of champagne.”

A glass of liquor may cost a hundred lives; but the surveyor still keeps
his place, and draws his little salary, and goes on passing bad work,
with every shipwright in his district sniggering over the man’s
complaisance. Is it a system proper to denounce? I think it is; and no
disinterested person who is in the secret but must deplore it as deeply
dishonouring to the highest and most opulent and fertile branch of
British industry, and as a species of legalized and truly rank
conspiracy against the lives of passengers and sailors.

I have briefly referred to the case of the _Clan Macduff_; it will serve
my purpose to give a more particular instance of marine surveying as I
found it reported at length in one of the shipping journals. The brig
_Scio_ was a wooden vessel built in 1839, and she was still afloat in
1881. She was the property of a Mr. Blumer Bushell, of South Shields,
who had purchased her for £110, probably quite as much as she was worth.
She was docked and repaired at a cost of £336. Her first start, after
leaving the doctor’s hands, was unfortunate, for she went ashore at
Kunda and damaged her keel. This was repaired, £84 being spent upon her.
Next voyage she went to sea with a crew of eight hands, and a load of
four hundred and twenty-nine tons of coal, her registered tonnage being
a trifle over two hundred and sixty-five. Scarcely was she at sea when
she was found to be making water. The master’s attention was engrossed
by the job of pumping, in the midst of which the wind breezed up hard,
the vessel fell off, the mainboom jibed and broke in halves, one piece
of which, falling upon a boy, struck him down dead. The leak increased,
and the crew compelled the master to run for Leith Roads. Here the
vessel was placed on the mud, and caulked as high as nine feet of water
around her would let the irons go. Thus soldered, she started once more,
and plumped on to Inchkeith. She was towed off after discharging fifteen
tons of cargo, and was docked with four hundred and fourteen tons of
coal in her bottom. A portion of her crew now refused to share any more
of her fortunes, so they were discharged and others shipped in their
room. Once more this noble brig proceeded, but had not put fifteen miles
betwixt her and the land when the crew came aft in a body, swore that
the water was coming in fast and must presently drown the ship, and
begged the master to put back. This he did, in the face of a strong head
wind, which obliged him to beat up the Firth of Forth in short tacks.
By-and-by a squall came along and blew the lower fore-top-sail out of
the bolt-ropes. Soon afterwards the _Scio_ struck on some sands off
Buckhaven, but managed to beat over them. The master said he now wanted
to haul his brig off the land, but that the men refused to turn to. The
crew denied this, but, let the truth be what it would, not long after
the vessel had beaten over the sands she went ashore somewhere north of
Kirkcaldy, on which the crew very sensibly got out. Such is the
picturesque history of a brig which no man will believe could by any
possibility have been found afloat in these days of the stringent
Merchant Shipping Act, and of surveyors appointed by the Board of Trade
to stop rotten vessels from proceeding to sea. It was declared at the
re-hearing—for a good deal of litigation was generated by this dismal
old brig—that two shipwright surveyors, who were officers of the Board
of Trade, inspected the vessel whilst under repairs, visiting her
several times and pointing out what should be done. Yet you will have
observed that the _Scio_ never quitted the dock without all hands going
to the pumps, only to knock off in order to come aft and request the
skipper to put back to save their lives. And, as if this most
unimpeachable testimony to the value of Board of Trade surveying was not
of sufficient weight, there comes a Mr. Turner into court with samples
of the timbers and planks of the wreck which he had inspected on the
beach, and this gentleman deliberately declares—pointing to the samples
as he speaks—that, from the survey he made of the wretched old hooker’s
remains, she was unseaworthy.

There is no arrogance in pretending to wisdom after the event has
happened. The surveyors might affirm what they chose, but we, having the
end of the story under our eyes, are at full liberty to say that no
declarations that the brig was seaworthy can make her seaworthy in the
face of the water that ran into her bottom, and that kept the crew
pumping and hurrying back to land to save their lives. Theories are
excellent things in the absence of facts; but when a fact comes in the
road the biggest theory must make way. The pumping and the putting back
are the most satirical commentaries which can be imagined on the
declarations of the Board of Trade surveyors. What is their notion of
seaworthiness? Is it pumping morning, noon, and night, and all hands
imploring the skipper to put his helm up and try back? If it be not
that, if, on the contrary, they define seaworthiness to consist of a
tight, well-found craft, how are they going to reconcile the results of
their survey of the brig _Scio_ with the results of her attempted
voyages?

I quote this example of surveying because it is illustrative of the
worthlessness of the supervision practised by the Board of Trade under
the present system of protecting life and property, and because it is
typical of much of the work that is done in that way by the men who are
paid to look after the interests they represent. The land-going justices
who sat at a re-hearing of the first investigation absolved the owner on
the grounds that he did all that he could to render his brig
seaworthy—that is to say, “taking into consideration the precautions
taken by the owner, under the surveillance of the Board of Trade
surveyors at Shields and at Leith, and having all the work executed by
practical men of long standing, the Court could come to no other
conclusion than that set forth in the judgment.”

But what said the assessors, the nautical element in this investigation?
“We do not concur in this judgment ... and will furnish our own report.”
That report is the only endurable supplement to the justices’ annex that
could be devised. The writers declare that the brig was not properly and
efficiently repaired, and that she was not in a good and seaworthy
condition when she left Leith; “that, in their opinion, the _Scio_ was
in all probability in a worse state when she left Leith on November 26th
than when she left the Tyne on the 2nd.” They deny that the owner used
all those reasonable means in opening the _Scio_ out and ascertaining
her exact condition which, as a practical man, he should have known a
vessel of her age required, “and which he had such ample and available
means of doing in his own dock, thereby neglecting to ensure her being
sent to sea in a seaworthy condition.”

The whole story bears out this decision; and, the assessors’ judgment
being unquestionably correct, what are we to think of the surveyors who
could allow the brig to go to sea leaking like a sieve and then come
into court and speak well of the vessel on the grounds that they had
superintended the repairing of her and had even pointed out what should
be done? In this case, happily, no lives were lost; the brig went ashore
and her people left her. But, suppose she had gone down and drowned her
crew out of hand, would not the Board of Trade, in the person of their
representative, have been morally guilty of the death of the men?
Assuredly they accepted the responsibility of that brig being in a fit
condition to go to sea, as they accept the responsibility of every
vessel which their representatives pass being seaworthy. This
consideration ought surely to give significance to the system of
supervision they now practise; and to make them ask themselves whether,
having regard to the weight and solemnity of their self-imposed
obligations, they have any right, as servants of the public, to persist
in multiplying the perils of the deep by a sham and hollow method of
inspection. There is not a shipmaster in the country who is not sensible
of the necessity of a speedy reform in this matter; and there is not a
passenger who would not eagerly join in the cry for reformation were
even but a very little bit of the truth published in language which
should be intelligible to the landsman.[79]

Footnote 79:

  This was written five years ago. In five years, at the present rate of
  living, many changes happen; yet I do not find a single statement made
  in this paper that I can expunge or modify as a fact of to-day, as it
  was a fact five years since.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          _FRENCH SMACKSMEN._


I will not say that the Chinese junk is a handsomer and handier ship
than the three-masted top-sail lug-rigged French smack that hails from
Boulogne or Gravelines or Calais; but, viewed from a distance, they are
not at all unlike. In truth, the horizon of these seas really offers
nothing more gaunt, primitive, and cumbersome than the French
lugger-rigged smack with her immensely round bows, great spring forward,
raking pole-masts crowned with fantastic vanes, brown sails almost as
square at the head as at the foot, and cut with an inclination towards
the bows like those of a junk, showing more freeboard than many a seven
hundred ton steam collier goes to sea with, her decks full of men
dressed in a queer kind of blouses, huge sprawling boots and immense
earrings, six sweeps or long oars perhaps over either side, an old man
steering, and half a dozen women in red or blue petticoats and
handkerchiefs tied over their heads, bustling about—the whole of them,
from the ancient chap at the tiller to the small boy gutting fish on the
forecastle, talking at once, and dropping their various jobs of
sweeping, repairing nets, stringing fish, and the like, to gesticulate.

Where do all these people sleep? How do they manage to stow themselves
away? I once counted twenty-three men, women, and boys aboard a French
smack that certainly did not exceed five and twenty tons. Three or four
men—two of whom probably might be youngsters—would have been thought as
many hands as that smack wanted had she been an English vessel. And yet,
numerous as those French men and women were—and the ladies lent a hand,
pulling and hauling with the rest—they worked their ship so slowly and
laboriously, and made so much noise, that any one would have supposed
she was under-manned and all hands abusing the skipper for putting to
sea without a proper complement. The wind was an inshore breeze, and
they had to beat out of harbour. It was enough to make one split one’s
sides to see the fellows tumbling and floundering over one another
whenever the helm was put down. Every man seemed skipper, bawled out
orders in a lingo compared to which the accents of a Newcastle pitman
excited by whisky would be considered chaste music, and I looked to see
half of them in their frantic hurry topple overboard. It so happened
that at the particular moment when the Frenchman had rounded on the
starboard tack for the purpose of making another board so as to fetch
the open water, a large passenger steamer was entering the harbour at
the rate of eight or nine miles an hour. The men on the pier roared to
the French smack to get out of the road. “Yash, yash!” answered the old
fellow at the tiller, waving his hand, but he never shifted his helm,
either not understanding what was said, or else supposing that the
steamer would go clear of him. What followed happened in a breath. The
steamer could not stop her way, though her engines were by this time
reversed and the wheels sending a whole surface of foam sluicing towards
her bows; her sharp stem took the Frenchman right amidships, there was a
crash of splintered wood, and, the vessels immediately going clear, I
saw that the unfortunate smack was cut down to the water’s edge.

And her people? As I live to write it, all hands were overboard! They
had jumped—men, women, and boys—over the rail when they saw that the
steamer was bound to come, and the foaming eddies thrown along by the
racing reversed wheels of the steamboat were full of revolving red caps,
and earrings, and white handkerchiefs. It was wonderful to see them all
in the water, supporting themselves with the utmost ease, half of them
breast high, waiting until they should cease to rotate that they might
“fix” their vessel and observe whether she meant to float or sink.
Before any boat could put off to them they had made up their minds, and
were swimming towards the smack, over whose sides they clambered, until
her decks were once more filled with them, and there they stood, with
the water streaming from their clothes, anathematizing the steamer in
one voice, and with every contortion of figure it was possible for their
ungovernable rage to fling them into. However, nobody was hurt, and the
smack, throwing her sweeps out, was got alongside one of the wharves,
where all hands promptly fell to drying themselves.

These vessels are very common objects in some of our English harbours;
but, familiar as they are, there is a deal of amusement to be obtained
by standing and looking down on their decks. If they hailed from a
country ten thousand miles distant the manners, appearance, customs of
the crews could not be more totally different from those of our own
smacksmen. It makes one think of the Spaniards at Trafalgar hanging big
wooden crosses on their spanker-boom ends before going into action, to
see these poor fellows when they leave Boulogne—and may be the other
ports they belong to for all I know—kneel down in their immense boots
upon the deck and offer up a prayer to the cross on the church on the
summit of the rocks. I have watched the English smacksman leave a good
many harbours, but never observed him in a devotional posture. Perhaps
on these occasions he withdraws into his little cabin, taking care to
assemble the apprentices first. Be this as it may, the French smack’s
deck in harbour is a real study, and one I never tire of watching. The
craft is so crowded that she seems full of business. If it is summer
time five or six brawny yellow-skinned lads are taking the diversion of
a bath over the side, while the ladies of the extensive company go
quietly on with their mending of nets or stockings. The men smoke,
argue, grease their boots, peel potatoes, clean fish, and the gruff
murmur of a wild _patois_ floats up, amid which the most accomplished
French scholar can only now and again hear a word that reminds him of
the French language. They and their ship make somehow—ugly as their
vessel is—a prettier picture than an English smack to fit a summer day.
It is no doubt the numerous crew, the oddness and wildness of their
appearance, the dress of the women. Some of the boats are
extraordinarily massive, perfect beds of timber with immensely round
bows and enormously thick scantling. The vanes at their mastheads are
often real marine curiosities; even the west country fishermen cannot
beat them. You can always tell a Frenchman by his vane though he should
lie in the middle of a whole forest of Dartmouth, Penzance, Brixham,
Shoreham, and other spars. You may also know him by the smell of the
smoke from his galley chimney—the little funnel that rises out of his
deck, and discharges a fish-like vapour, made even worse than ancient to
the British nostril by—what shall I say? what mystery of vegetable,
seasoning, stirring, and peppering?

I suppose the _chasse-marée_ is the lineal descendant of those
formidable French privateers, which in the old wars used to sneak about
the Channel in search of our sugar-boxes and tea-waggons. But there is
something in the sight of the French lug-rigged smack, with her two or
three masts and decks crowded with men, that always recalls the old St.
Malo, Ste. Brieux, Havre, Dieppe, and Boulogne picaroons—those pests of
the sturdy old British merchantmen of other days. To see her pulling
away out of harbour on a moonlit night, her long sweeps rising and
falling like the fibrine limbs of some gigantic marine insect, is to
bring up recollections of many a furious conflict under the very shadow
of the white heights of this perfidious island. There is the stout
high-pooped merchantman at rest, after a voyage of five months from the
East Indies, under the lee of the towering North Foreland. At regular
intervals the sound of her bell floats down upon the light air, blowing
so softly that the shadows of the clouds upon the hazy stretch of
moonlit water seem to be at rest. And now creeping round the huge point
of land, urged by her sweeps and her dark sails goose-winged or boomed
out on either side, comes a fac-simile of that French smack we have
watched leaving the harbour. She is alongside the slumbering ship in a
trice, lights flash, pistols explode, and in a few minutes behold! the
cable is cut, and the ship, with her sails loosed, is standing
south-by-west for Boulogne or the forts that way, the sneaking lugger
ahead of her, black as ink against the silver splendour of the water in
the south, and all hands keeping a breathless look-out for British
cruisers.

But though there may be a deal of the poetry, or at least the romance,
of history in the suggestions to be got from the form and rig of the
French smack, there goes to the making of her every-day life as many
hard, stern facts as ever a Gradgrind could desire. She sees as much
weather of all kinds as our own fishermen experience; and suffers,
having regard to proportion of numbers, as many disasters. The shipping
reports are constantly mentioning her. One day she is stranded, and her
crew burning flares and owing their lives to the lifeboat. Another day
she is found abandoned, and towed into harbour with nothing standing
save three or four feet of her mainmast. Or else a steamer plumps into
her and drowns the whole of her company but two. As bad a wreck as ever
I heard was that of _La Reine des Agnes_. The story was told by Adolphe
Derevières, one of the crew, and it is worth repeating as a sample of
the various misfortunes which follow in the wake of the French
smacksman. Adolphe’s English was exceedingly good. He had learnt it, he
told me, from intercourse with the English at Boulogne, and by constant
visits and long detentions in harbour in this country.

“I sall hope,” he began, “to make you comprehend. I most speak slow, for
dere is no language more difficult nor de Angleesh. De boat vas vhat you
call a dandy—not a loggaire: you know vhat dandy means, hein? her name
vas _La Reine des Agnes_; she vas forty-five torns; and ven ve left ze
Nort Sea ve had vhat de Angleesh fishermen call twenty-tree last of
herring in barrels, and loose in de bottaum. De veddaire had been very
bad in de Nort Sea—mosh rain, heavee wind, and roff vaves. Ve had von
boat only, and von day we lose her. She vas dragging behind ven soddenly
a vave make de rope go and she go too. Dere vas too mosh vind to stop,
so ve continue sailing for Boulogne. Eighteen men did form our companee.
It vas four o’clock on de morning of de tirteenth of Septembre. Ve vas
in a nasty part of de sea, off Yarmout, vid de Crosby and de Cross sands
as we tink vell to de nor’, and ve to de souse, so as to bring de
Newvarp light on our righthand. I say, dis vas as ve suppose. It vas
veree dark, still mosh vind, and heavee vaves. Ve vas sailing fast, ven
soddenly de vessel stop. Many of us tumble and cry out. Dere vas noting
to be seen. Dem as tumble got up, and ve all ran about. De confusion was
terrib. Eighteen men, you see, sare, de ship small, and her deck full of
de herring barrels. Ve first take de barrels and trow dem overboard; ve
had to feel, ve could not see, and all de time de vessel keep bomp,
bomp, making us fall. Dere vas no telling de place vere ve vas
wrecked—one say dis, anoder say dat, and everybody keep crying out. Dat
is de worst of us Franchmen, sare. You Angleesh in dangaire are quiet;
ve are as brave as you, but ve make too mosh noise, dere is not de
ordaire, each man tink he know best, and, besides, de sea is not our
province like it is yours. Some got pieces of vhat you call oakum and
dipped dem in oil and made fires, and de rest, knowing dere vas no
boats, made a raft composed of two spar and a lot of barrels. It vas a
fearful sight—de red flame, de vataire vashing over, de sea all black
around. Vell, juste vhen de raft vas ready, de vessel left de sand and
began to sink. Mon Dieu! dat vas a horrib moment. Ve got pieces of rope,
and tied ourselves to de raft, and put it into de sea, and den de vessel
sank. It vas fearfullee cold. Ve vent op and down, op and down, and I
feel de sea trying to tear me avay. It vas like an animal vid its claws
dragging. Ve vere all on de raft ven de daylight came. Oh sare, tink of
dat sight! eighteen men clinging to de barrels. Few could speak; ve vas
all full of salt vataire, and I could not open my teeth—dey vas hard set
vid de cold. De capitaine say it vas de Meedle Cross Sand de vessel
strike. But it did not mattaire; she vas sunk: von sand vas as bad as
anoder; and dere vas ve going op and down, op and down, noting in sight,
no help coming—and all of us so seek, so veak, so miserable!

“Soon after it vas light a large vave came and covered us all; I did
tink it had tore de raft to pieces; dere vas several dreadful cries, and
vhen de vataire vas passed I look and see dat five of my comrades vas
vashed avay. Sare, I envied dem. Oh, better to be drown, to know noting,
to feel noting, dan to be on dat terrib raft vaiting each von his turn,
and looking at von’s grave. Presentlee von of de men let go vid his
hands, and de sea break his rope and vash him avay. Den anoder give op
vid a fearful groan, and de sea take him too. Dis go on until five men
vas perished, making ten, so dat dare vas only eight left. Ah, vhat a
frightful time did follow! All day long ve did drift here and dere, here
and dere upon dat raft. De land vas near—ve knew dat; dere vas Yarmout
and dere vas Lowestoff vidin six mile, but had dey been Boulogne, had
dey been Finisterre, dey could not have been farder off for us.

“Vell, sare, I do not know enough of your language to tell you all dat
vas in my torts, de appearance of my companions, de cries and groans dat
break from dem, de roff vaves, de cold, all de horrib pain and misery of
dat incredib time. Vhen de evening came ve see a large steamboat. Ve all
cry and cry to her vid our hands to our mouts, and she heard us, and
came to vere ve vas. Oh, sare, vhat is dare in Angleesh, vhat is dare in
Fransh, in any language dat is spoke by human creature, to express our
joy ven de steamer lowered a boat, and ve did see it coming to us? I
could have cried like a leetel girl, sare, but I vas too veak—all de
tears vas vashed avay. Some of us tried to embrace de brave Angleeshmen
dat saved us, but our legs at de joints gave vay—ve could not stan’.
Vell, after ve had been in de steamboat a letell vile, a lifeboat come
near, and dey told us dey had seen de flames ve made in de morning and
gone to us, but dat ve had disappear, and dat dey had been looking and
looking for us op to dis time! Ah, vhat a noble service—how estimable,
how brave is de Angleesh lifeboat! Your countree, sare, has von a
hundred battles on de ocean; but not von of dem for glory comes op to de
solitary victoire of a lifeboat dat fights vid de terrib vaves and saves
de poor sailor, no matter vedder he is Fransh, or Italian, or German. De
steamer put us into de lifeboat, and ve vas taken to Yarmout, vere seven
of us did go to de Sailors’ Home. But one—poor François Libert—vas so
ill dat he vas carried to de hospital.”

Having arrived at this point poor Adolphe burst into French, and,
regardless of my assurance that my knowledge of that useful tongue was
growing every month more and more imperfect, he rattled himself into a
violent fit of emotion, praising the English, lamenting his comrades,
grieving over his past sufferings in the dialect any man may hear who
will take a turn through the fish market at Boulogne, or linger on the
quay there when a fleet of smacks is coming into the harbour. I was
truly sorry not to get his story in his own tongue. How could he do
justice to his terrible shipwreck in any other language than his? All
his gesticulations went for little alongside his “dats” and “deys,”
otherwise not a posture but would have helped the wild hoarse flow of
recollection poured forth in French—the panic of the men rushing and
stumbling upon the barrel-crowded deck; the horrible illumination of the
oakum torches with the fires of the flaming paraffin oil streaming from
them; the unspeakable anguish of the long twelve hours spent upon that
raft, the land in sight, and the rough seas for ever trampling upon
them. Is it because they go so heavily manned that disasters to French
smacks rise to a height of tragedy that needs the loss of an English
vessel of seven or eight hundred tons to parallel? Here was a vessel of
forty-five tons furnished with a crew of eighteen souls. Why, a
Blackwall liner would hardly need more seamen to work her, if, in
calling over the muster-roll, you omit the “idlers.” And another feature
that often makes disasters to French smacks peculiarly dreadful is their
fashion of taking a number of women to sea with them. I cannot say
whether or not they carry the ladies with them into the North Sea, but
seldom a French fishing boat puts into an English harbour but half a
dozen women and girls may be seen among the crowd of red and blue
nightcap-shaped headgear worn by the men. One really cannot be surprised
at the old British notion that one Englishman is equal to six Frenchmen
when one compares a large Ramsgate, Grimsby, or Yarmouth dandy of fifty
or sixty tons going for a six weeks’ cruise in the North Sea in winter
manned by four or five men, with the lubbersome, apple-bowed,
black-sided, heavily-timbered French three-masted lugger of forty tons,
with her decks so crowded with fishermen and women that it seems
impossible they can move without getting into one another’s road.
Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the long conference held at the Hague,
the correspondence relative to which makes a volume of alarming
dimensions, may be accepted as a preliminary to something like a good
understanding subsisting among the smacks of various nationalities which
drag their nets in the North Sea. Unquestionably the English fisherman
has had a very great deal to complain of in the rough and cowardly
treatment he has experienced at the hands of French, Dutch, and Belgian
smacksmen. It is not only that his costly fishing gear has been
irreparably ruined again and again by that mean and treacherous
contrivance known as “the devil;” he has even been fired into, and his
temper taxed so repeatedly by the basest professional treatment and the
most studied insults, that the time was when those interested in the
English fishermen expected day after day to hear of desperate battles at
sea—small Trafalgars, Niles, and Copenhagens—between the fleets of
Yarmouth, Grimsby, and the North and the allied squadrons of Belgium,
France, and Holland.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           _OLD SEA CUSTOMS._


The changes which have taken place in the sea-life cannot be wholly
restricted to the transformations of the shipbuilding yard. There is a
mighty difference indeed between the line-of-battle ship of fifty years
ago and the armour-clad of to-day—between the Atlantic passenger
clippers of which Fenimore Cooper wrote and the iron mail steamers which
have succeeded them; but there are changes in other maritime directions
fully as remarkable, though perhaps not so deeply accentuated to the
shore gaze. Where are the old customs of the ocean? Whither has fled the
traditionary character of the sailor? His canvas remains. He still has
his topsails (albeit halved) to hoist, his topgallant sails to sheet
home, his royals to set; spite of steam, there are still scores of the
old-fashioned windlasses for him to bawl his hurricane songs over; still
scores of the old-fashioned capstans for him to wind round, “drunk,
monotonous, and melodious,” davits at which he may cat his anchor, as
did his forefathers, forecastles as clammy as the most reeking of the
holes in which the Jacks of other days lay snoring, with purple faces,
in clouds of cockroaches.

But, for all that, it will not do to pretend that the sailor is what he
was. I do not speak of the caricatures of the fictionist; the monstrous
pig-tailed figures with lanthorn jaws, broken teeth, wooden legs, and
bloodshot eyes, the race of Hatchways, Trunnions, and Pipses, who
stagger, full of drink and oaths, in clamorous procession through the
pages of the sea novelists, losing, to be sure, something of their
inexpressible garnishings as they enter the truer oceanic atmosphere of
the Coopers and the Marryats of the present century. I refer simply to
the old sailor, to the plain man-o’-warsman and merchantman of bygone
years, not to the Frankenstein in flowing breeches and hat on nine hairs
who trod the stage and procured his circulation in one, two, and three
volumes, in the respectable name of Jack, prior even to the days when
Sir Launcelot Greaves found the irresponsible anatomy willing to ship

                            “The broad habergeon,
                  Vant brace and greves and gauntlet.”

Let me be understood. The British or American mariner of to-day is as
hearty, nimble, dexterous, determined a fellow as ever he was at any
time during the choicest and most glorious period of his nation’s
history. He needs but opportunity to test him. It is in his
traditions, habits, superstitions, that he differs from his
predecessors. I do not think it is the iron of his latter-day calling
that has entered his soul and changed him. The very distinguishable
difference is owing to a natural decay of marine sentiment. He is no
longer superstitious—possibly because he is not without a tincture of
education. Hard wear has attenuated his prejudices, and custom has
lost its hold upon him. It would be difficult now, I should think, to
find in any forecastle such a superstitious sea-dog as the old salt
who, in Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast,” agreed with the black cook
as to the malignant and wizard qualities of the Finns. Familiarity
with the grand liquid amphitheatre into which he descends and toils
for his bread may have helped to rob the modern sailor of what I must
call the romantic features of the seaman’s nature. In olden times the
voyage was long, the art of navigation crude and halting; the wonders
of the deep were many, at least they were found so; a man passed so
long a while at sea that he was saturated with the spirit of it.
Superstitions salt as the billow from which they were wrought begot
peculiar forms of thought; customs grew out of the strange fancies and
interpretations, and that they should now be dead means simply that
they flourished for centuries, and that they died very hard at last.

How wide the difference is between the shipboard life of the mariners of
the past and that of the present race of seamen may be collected by
looking into a few of the customs which are now as extinct as the
timbers of Noah’s ark. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it
was a practice on board Italian and Spanish, and possibly Portuguese
ships, for the sailors on crossing the equator to erect a canopy on the
forecastle, under which three seamen, absurdly dressed, seated
themselves. One was called the president, the others judges. They
started first with trying the captain, then the officers, finally the
passengers. A sailor, dressed up as a clerk, read the indictments, after
which the judges pronounced sentence of death. Careri, in his “Voyage
Round the World,” explains the purpose of this tomfoolery. “The sentence
of death,” says he, “was immediately bought off with money, chocolate,
sugar, biscuit, flesh, sweetmeats, wine, and the like. The best of it
was that he who did not pay immediately, or give good security, was laid
on with a rope’s end, at the least sign given by the President
Tarpaulin.” Apparently heavier punishments than rope’s-ending attended
the poverty or contumacy of the convicted, for the same author tells of
a passenger who was drowned on board a galleon through being keel-hauled
for refusing to conform to this singular marine custom. The sport—if
sport it can be called—lasted all day, and then at sundown the fines or
forfeits were divided among the sailors.

It is possible that out of this old sea-joke rose the stupid and
irritating practice of ducking men on their crossing the equator for the
first time. This imbecile piece of horse-play was wonderfully popular
among seamen down to quite recent days. I don’t think Jack ever saw much
humour himself in the mere dressing up as Neptune and acting Jack
Pudding in the waist; what he relished was the privilege, by
prescription, of lording it over the captain and officers for a few
hours, and tarring and soaking people to whom at other times he would
have to pull his forelock, with the whole length of the ship between him
and their nobility.

Another curious custom was to be found on board Dutch vessels. When a
ship entered the 39th parallel “every one,” writes John Nieuhoff (1640),
“of what quality or degree soever, that has not passed there before, is
obliged to be baptized or redeem himself from it. He that is to be
baptized has a rope tied round his middle, wherewith he is drawn up to
the very top of the bowsprit, and from thence three times successively
tumbled into the water.” A man was at liberty to get another to take his
place by paying him. Plenty of money and other good things must have
been earned by sailors out of this custom, for one may conceive that a
nervous passenger would pay handsomely to escape so formidable a ducking
as the tall bowsprits of those days promised, whilst, on the other hand,
a seasoned mariner would look upon such sousings as mere child’s
play—think no more of it than a man in a regatta now thinks of walking
out upon a greasy boom to loose the pig in the sack at the end of it.
The practice, however, eventually led to such riots, broils, and
bloodshed, that it was forbidden by the Dutch Government.

It was long continued, however, in the British navy as a punishment. In
the “Annual Register” for 1797 there is an account of four naval
officers who were soused by a mutinous crew on board his Britannic
Majesty’s ship _Sandwich_. The writer calls it a “curious ceremony.” The
unhappy naval officers must have thought it so! “They tie the
unfortunate victim’s feet together, and their hands together, and put
their bed at their back, making it fast round them, at the same time
adding an eighteen-pounder bar-shot to bring them down. They afterwards
made them fast to a tackle suspended from the yard-arm, and hoisting
them nearly up to the block all at once let go, and drop them souse into
the sea, where they remain a minute, and then are again hoisted and let
down alternately, till there are scarce any signs of life remaining.”
When the miserable victims are ducked enough—according to the fancy of
their judges—they are triced up by the heels that the water may run out
of them, and then stowed away in their hammocks. This kindness was
denied to the four naval officers, who, after having hung head down for
some time, were tumbled into a boat and sent ashore.

The Portuguese had a custom of their own on crossing the Line. It was
curiously tinctured with the superstitions of that age. Those on board
who had never “cut the Equator,” were compelled to give the sailors
money, or provisions, or wine. No one was excused, “not even the
Capuchins,” says the missionary Angelo of Gattina, writing in 1666, “of
whom they take beads, _agnus Deis_, or such-like things; which being
exposed to sale, what they yield is given to say masses for the souls in
Purgatory.” If any one declined to give he was carried before a
forecastle tribunal by sailors habited as officers. A seaman dressed as
a judge, in a long gown, passed sentence, and the victim was straightway
hoisted to the yard-arm and ducked. This custom was not confined to the
Equator. “The same,” says Angelo, “is practised in passing the Straits
of Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope.”

The Italian fashion was somewhat similar. Sailors apparelled as judges
sat at a table, and those who had never before crossed the Line were
brought before them. The judges reproached them contemptuously for
daring to live so long in the world without passing the Equator, and
fined them according to their condition. Ducking followed refusal to
pay. Merolla, in his “Voyage to Congo” (1682), says: “From this
punishment or a fine none are exempt, and it is said that with the
latter they maintain a church.” A livelier, and certainly a less cruel
custom, I find in Spanish ships, in the form of a bull-fight. This was
contrived by a man dressing himself up so as to resemble a bull. He took
care to equip himself with an ugly pair of horns. Another fellow,
mounted upon two men, attacked the bull with a spear. The humour lay in
the two men who formed the horse being tied back to back with a saddle
between them, on which sat the rider. The bull, it may be supposed,
usually had the best of it. I am reminded here of a stroke of original
humour on the part of some midshipmen. It is illustrative of the
reefer’s theory of wit. They got some hencoops and formed them into a
cockpit, and, making a circle by coiling ropes, they pitted a couple of
cocks. The cocks did their best to fight, but they staggered so oddly
that they could scarce strike each other. It was at last admitted that
they had been fed with barley soaked in rum. The midshipmen supposed
that the spirit would fortify the hearts of the birds, but they had
over-dosed them, and the creatures were too drunk to fight.

Drinking is a sea custom not yet dead—at least, if it is dead the fault
is not Jack’s. But, even though the economical principles of owners had
suffered perpetuation of the practice on shipboard, I question whether
the most bibulous of the present race of sailors could carry it to the
height to which it was formerly raised. I suppose the very biggest drink
on record is that related by Dampier. He says that there came on board
his ship one Captain Rawlins, the commander of a small New England
vessel, along with a Mr. John Hooker. They were asked into the cabin to
drink, and a bowl was made containing six quarts, “Mr. Hooker being
drunk to by Captain Rawlins, who pledged Captain Hudswell, and, having
the bowl in his hand, said that he was under an oath to drink but three
draughts of strong liquor a day, and putting the bowl to his head turned
it off at one draught, and so making himself drunk, disappointed us of
our expectations till we made another bowl.” Six quarts at a draught!
Twelve pints at a swallow, without a sigh between! But then hard
drinking was the custom, not of the privateers only, but of the whole
seafaring races of early times. They were educated to it by liberal
doses of grog. The allowance sometimes rose to a pint of rum per man a
day. In the French, Spanish, and Portuguese ships, and very often in the
Dutch, the sailors’ courage before an action was nearly invariably
helped with jacks of brandy, and the doses were repeated whilst the
fight proceeded, a bumper being handed between the guns. The men,
frenzied by drink, would mix gunpowder with the spirits, supposing that,
thus prepared, there was no better liquor for heroes. I think it need
not be doubted that more actions were lost than gained by this custom.
How should a drunken gunner aim his piece? and what mischief—save to one
another—could a mob of inebriated small-arms men do in the tops or along
the quarter-deck?

But if privateersmen could be found able to swallow six quarts at a
draught, they had customs besides that of drinking which must have
tended to render them desperately hard and seasoned men. It was their
practice to keep their ships clear, so that the deck was the only bed
they had to lie upon. No hammocks were allowed, no chairs or tables;
they took their meals upon the deck and lay upon it; preserving, in this
direction, the old tradition of the buccaneers, who denied themselves
every imaginable comfort and convenience that they might never be
mistaken for anything else than the savage beasts they were.

It is in the superstitions of the sea that we must search for the
beginning and history of many of the customs which, in modified forms,
lingered down to the period of a late generation of seafarers. They
veined the life with elements both of humour and romance, and I do not
scruple to say that much of the poetry of the profession of the sea has
perished with the extinction of the simple forecastle credulities of
other ages. In the beginning of European navigation, in the times of
Diaz, Cabot, Columbus,[80] De Gama, and earlier yet, the mariner was a
Roman Catholic, devout, profoundly superstitious, perpetually invoking
the protection of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints of Heaven, finding
miracles in the common operations of Nature, peopling the deep with
wondrous monsters, glorifying its blue breast with the gleam and colour
of the enchanted island, gazing awe-struck about him as he sailed along,
and willing to believe anything he was told. I could give you no better
illustration of this than the remark of the Jesuit Anthony Sepp, in his
account of a voyage from Spain to Paraguaná: “Towards the evening,” says
he, “we saw an entire rainbow quite across the sky, resembling our
rainbows.” _Resembling our rainbows!_ As though the worthy father
supposed that rainbows in those unfamiliar seas were very different from
the same radiant arches which span the showers of Italy, Spain, and
Germany! They were prepared for all sorts of wonders, and their
imaginations created what their eyes could not see. The lightning was
not that of Europe; the thunder was the reverberation of some hellish
conflict between armies formed of fiends of Satanic stature; the very
rain was unnatural, being coloured. Religion, or superstition if you
will, interposed to mitigate the horrors of a perfervid fancy, wrought
familiar appearances into celestial expressions, and instructed poor
Jack to calm his perturbed soul, to quell the tempest, to exorcise the
mermaid, to smooth the waters, to disperse the horrid shadows of the
electric storm with litanies, effigies of saints, and spells of many
different sorts. Thus Pirard de Laval (in “Churchill’s Collection of
Voyages,” Vol. i. p. 702) says, “We frequently saw great whirlwinds
rising at a distance, called by the seamen _dragons_, which shatter and
overturn any ship that falls in their way. When these appear the sailors
have a superstitious custom of repairing to the prow, or the side that
lies next the storm, and beating naked swords against one another
crosswise.” This custom long prevailed. Scores of similar practices may
be traced to the primitive superstitions of sailors. They unquestionably
colour the old marine life, and their extinction leaves the calling
uncomfortably bald, I think. The stars in those aged stories seem to
glow the richer for the incense floating up to them from the little
altar on the forecastle, and for the tender strains of a hundred voices
rising in some solemn, melodious canticle. The glory of the setting sun
makes cloth of gold of the sails of those castellated fabrics, and they
look to float over faery seas of purple as we view them through that
atmosphere of superstition, in the midst of which those young and
awe-struck imaginations made their miraculous voyages to the Indies and
to the mighty shores of Columbia.

Footnote 80:

  Washington Irving gives several instances of Columbus’ superstitious
  nature. As an example: “Seeing all human skill baffled and confounded,
  Columbus endeavoured to propitiate heaven by solemn vows and acts of
  penance. By his orders, a number of beans, equal to the number of
  persons on board, were put into a cap, on one of which was the sign of
  the cross. Each of the crew made a vow that, should he draw forth the
  marked bean, he would make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santa Maria
  de Guadalupe, bearing a wax taper of five pounds’ weight. The admiral
  was the first to put in his hand, and the lot fell upon him. From that
  moment he considered himself a pilgrim bound to perform the vow.”
  Other vows were made and solemn promises fervently addressed to
  heaven; but the storm continued to rage, and eventually the saints
  were quitted for seamanship and the ship saved.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         _WHO IS VANDERDECKEN?_


A scientific American gentleman has been endeavouring to determine the
paternity of the grisly and spectral commander of the _Flying Dutchman_.
I wish he had been successful, for ever since I read the “Cruise of the
_Bacchante_” I have been bewildering my brains with the same problem.
The princely word of the Royal midshipmen must be taken, and it is
plainly stated that at four o’clock a.m. on July 11, 1881, “the _Flying
Dutchman_ crossed our bows.” Nothing can be clearer than that; and,
besides, there is the additional testimony of the reverend gentleman who
accompanied the Princes and edited their interesting observations. “A
strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which
light the masts, spars, and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant
stood out in strong relief as she came up.” This appearance is in strict
correspondence with the tradition, but I wish the vessel had not been a
brig. I should not like to put my hand to it that such a rig as that of
the brig was known in Vanderdecken’s days.[81] You had four-masted craft
in plenty, the fourth mast being called the bonaventure; also abundance
of three-masted vessels, the third mast rigged with a lateen sail; but
no fabric answering to what we term a brig.

Footnote 81:

  There was a kind of vessel called _brigandines_, but they carried the
  rig of neither the brig nor the brigantine as we understand the term.

That Vanderdecken ever shifts his flag is not to be supposed. Yet there
could be no mistake, for mark what follows: “Thirteen persons altogether
saw her, but whether it was _Van Dieman_ or the _Flying Dutchman_, or
who else, must remain unknown.” The ships in company flashed to know if
the people of the _Bacchante_ had seen the strange red light, so that
probably no “shadowy being” was ever testified to by a greater number of
eyewitnesses. But the thing is placed beyond dispute by what followed.
“At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the
_Flying Dutchman_ fell from the fore-topmast-crosstrees, and was smashed
to atoms.” And then, “at the next port we came to the admiral was also
smitten down.” There was nothing less to expect, but indeed a very great
deal more. An old sailor to whom I related this story said that
certainly the appearance looked uncommonly like the _Flying Dutchman_,
and for his part he was willing enough to believe it was; if he had a
misgiving, it lay in the smallness of the trouble that followed. “The
fallin’ of a young seaman from the masthead and the sarcumstance of a
hadmiral being took wuss wasn’t consequences sufficient if that there
wessel wur the genuine Phantom. The _Baykant_ (so he called her) herself
oughter ha’ got lost. That’s what would have happened when I was fust
goin’ to sea; but there’s bin a good many changes since then, and who’s
agoin’ to say that that there curse ain’t growed weak like physic wot’s
kept too long?”

But, be this as it may, there can be no doubt that Vanderdecken is still
afloat, cruising about in a ship that glows at night, and whose rotten
timbers are charged with the villainous quality of causing disaster and
misery to vessels within the sphere of the horizon the ancient Batavian
floats in.

This is a scientific age, and it is really time that we found out who
this Dutchman is or was. Is there no man clever enough to devise a
specific for the neutralization of the evil influence of an endevilled
structure? Let such a medicine be discovered, and I’ll warrant no lack
of able-bodied Jacks willing to embark in quest of the spectral pest. It
would be a venture worth starting a company to undertake. “This company
is intended to supply a want that has long been felt.” The object would
be twofold: first, to render Britannia’s dominion of the sea more
comfortable than it can be whilst Vanderdecken is suffered to sail
aimlessly about with a freight of curses in his hold, and Death keeping
a look-out at the masthead; and, secondly, to supply the public with an
attraction. Well, it will be admitted that the _Flying Dutchman_ would
prove a lucrative “draw.” Think of her moored just below London Bridge,
and the charge a shilling a-head to view her, small boys half-price! We
may take it that Vanderdecken is heartily sick of his hard-up and
hard-down life off Agulhas, and would gladly settle down to an
immortality of still water (and Hollands), without expecting an apology
for the quality of the air of the Pool and the Isle of Dogs.

I think I see the ship in my mind’s eye; a true portrait of a craft of
the seventeenth century—great round barricadoed tops, pink-sterned and
crowned there with a poop-royal, of a faded yellow, a green-coated
swivel or two aft, and a few rusty cannon lodged in wooden beds on her
main deck. And what would a chat with Vanderdecken be worth, over a
steaming bowl of punch, in his darksome cabin? Rip Van Winkle would be a
mere youth—equal to a hornpipe or a waltz—alongside this Dutch skipper;
and what yarns could he spin of the Amsterdam of his day, of old
Schouten over at Hoorn, of Van this and Van that, of the Dutch Admirals,
of the fights in the narrow seas, of their High Mightinesses’ opinion of
Cromwell, and of the hydropathic treatment of the English at Amboyna!

Who is he? Marryat tells us that he was a sea captain, whose wife lived
with her son Philip on the outskirts of the small but fortified town of
Terneuse, situated on the right bank of the Scheldt. But he starts as a
spectre, and remains undeterminable down to the last chapter, when he,
along with his ship and his son, falls to pieces weeping tears of joy. I
love the yarn, but doubt the man. If Marryat is right Vanderdecken is
dead and gone. His curse endured long enough only to enable his son to
become an old man—call it fifty years—for Philip was twenty or
thereabouts when his father’s ghost flew through the window. Now, we
know only too well that Vanderdecken is still alive. Besides taking a
strictly nautical view of the question, I am disposed to question the
accuracy of the novelist on such grounds for example, as these: he
represents the _Flying Dutchman_ sailing along with royals and flying
jib, when this canvas, as Marryat paints it, was not in use until the
close of the last century;[82] also he depicts her as at one time being
so extremely ethereal as to be able to sail through a ship, as though
the phantom was formed of mist and snow, and at another time as being
substantial enough to support the highly material form of Philip when he
stands upon her deck with his father.

Footnote 82:

  I do not find the “royal” in use much before Howe’s and Jervis’s time.
  The “flying gyb” of the beginning of the eighteenth century (at which
  date it first appears), was not the sail it now is.

Literature abounds in spectral ships; but there is only one
Vanderdecken. And how consistently the old Dutchman fits in with the
roughness and wildness of typical sea-fancies, one quickly sees when he
is matched in his unearthly integrity with the refined but entirely
faithless interpretations or reconstructions of the legend by the poet
or the romancer. Take, for instance, Thomas Campbell’s “Spectre Boat,”
where a certain “false Ferdinand,” having broken a maiden’s heart, is
visited by her ghost at sea.

 “’Twas now the dead watch of the night, the helm was lashed a lee,
  And the ship rode where Mount Etna lights the deep Levantine sea;
  When beneath its glare a boat came, row’d by a woman in her shroud,
  Who, with eyes that made our blood run cold, stood up and spoke
     aloud.”

What the wraith said was to this effect: That Ferdinand was a false
traitor, for whom his sweetheart’s ghost wanders unforgiven, and that he
was to come down—in other words jump overboard—to appease her
indignation for his having forced her to break her peace with heaven. As
in the case of Coleridge’s Mariner, the spectre has her will; and the
last we hear of her and Ferdinand and the boat is—

 “And round they went, and down they went, as the cock crew from the
    land.”

How poor is all this superfine business of broken vows and revengeful
spectres, side by side with the rugged, schnapps’-smelling figure of old
Vanderdecken viewing the horny moon with a curse in his eye, or stumping
the weather side of his castellated poop with a speaking-trumpet under
his arm! Campbell has also put into swinging, melodious verse an old
Scandinavian legend, which he calls the “Death-boat of Heligoland.” In
this poem he represents a boat furiously rowed by ghosts, whose shrouds
were like plaids flying loose to the storm. The watchman sings out to
know who they are; and is answered—

        “‘We are dead; we are bound from our graves in the West,
          First to Hecla and then to’——unmeet was the rest
          For man’s ear,”

says Campbell.

All this is not Vanderdecken, but the poet finely refers to the old
Dutchman when he sings of those curses which make horror more deep by
the semblance of mirth, and which at “mid-sea appal the chill’d
mariner’s glance.” Coleridge also sends a spectral ship to his Ancient
Mariner in the vessel that approaches him without a breeze or without a
tide, and whose sails glance in the sun, “like restless gossamers.” But,
instead of Vanderdecken, we have Death playing at dice with a woman. How
heartily the Ancient Mariner must have prayed that the woman would win!
Certainly he could be no true sailor who would not so pray.

This gambling fancy may be found in old German legends relating to the
death-ship. There is no lack of stories referring to miscreants of all
shades who sail about in phantom-ships in company with Satan, who plays
day and night with them for their souls. But, as though the artless yarn
of Vanderdecken—simple in its elements as a tale by Defoe, and
exquisitely in keeping with the stormy seas of that part of the world to
which Jack has strictly confined it—were not strong and good enough, a
number of monstrous perversions have been launched, and the tradition
buried under a hill of absurdities. For example, there is the German
notion of a ship whose portholes grin with skulls instead of cannons;
she is commanded by a skeleton who holds an hour-glass, and she is
manned by the ghosts of sinners. But even here the inventor is unable to
manage without our old friend Vanderdecken, and so he affirms that any
ship that encounters this horrid craft is doomed. Another version
represents the _Flying Dutchman_ as being very nearly as big as the
world. The masts are so lofty that when a boy goes up to furl a sail
years elapse before he is again seen, and he then comes down an old,
white-bearded man. The germ of this may perhaps be found in that
wondrous fabric of which Sir Thomas Browne writes: “It had been a sight
only second unto the Ark to have beheld the great _Syracusia_, or mighty
ship of Hiero, described in Athenæus; and some have thought it a very
large one, wherein were to be found ten stables for horses, eight
towers, besides fish-ponds, gardens, tricliniums, and many fair rooms
paved with agath and precious stones.” The enormous phantom ship takes
seven years in tacking, whales tumble aboard of her when she rolls just
as flying-fish dart into the portholes or channels of earthly vessels;
her smallest sail is as big as Europe, and there is a public house, a
“free-and-easy,” in every block.

One has to search elsewhere for Vanderdecken. That he was a Dutchman and
that the story is Dutch ought to be presumed from the round, plain,
bald, and salt character of the yarn. It is a thorough Dutch-cheese of a
story. Spain may supply versions charged with spiritual elements and
suggesting the Inquisition with the embellishments of silver flames and
death’s heads; the French may make a purgatorial job of the fancy and
ruin it by an importation of priestly conceptions widely remote from the
sea inspirations; German imaginations may garnish it with unnecessary
horrors; but it is in the Holland version that we find the true ocean
tincture, and the only narrative likely to be accepted by such complete
sea-dogs as fill the Dutch, the English, and the American forecastles.

Yet, who was Vanderdecken? An American writer, founding his presumption
on a German publication, says that the master of the Phantom Ship was
one Bernard Fokke, who lived in the seventeenth century. He was noted
for his recklessness and daring, and cased his masts with iron to enable
him to carry canvas. Having contrived to sail to the East Indies in
ninety days, he was looked upon as a sorcerer. At last he and his ship
disappeared, and everybody said he had been carried off by the Devil and
forced to confine his navigation to the ocean between the two Southern
Capes. Of his crew none remain but the boatswain, cook, and pilot. “He
is still to be seen, and always hails ships and asks questions; but they
should not be answered—and then his ship will disappear. Sometimes a
boat is seen to approach his bark, but when it reaches her all vanish
suddenly.” Others say he was a nobleman named Falkenberg, who murdered
his brother and his wife and was condemned eternally to sail about the
North Sea. On his arrival at the sea-shore he found a boat with a man in
it awaiting him. The man said in Latin, “I have been expecting thee.” On
which, accompanied by the ghosts of his murdered brother and wife,
Falkenberg embarked, and was rowed over to a Phantom Ship that lay off
the coast. This vessel is described as painted grey, with coloured
sails, and a pale flag. She has no crew, and may be known at night by
flames which issue from her masthead.

But all this will not do. Vanderdecken is no nobleman. There was a time
when I was disposed to regard him as the Wandering Jew, who, having
grown sick of marching about the world, had taken ship for a cruise
that, though it lasted several centuries, would be short in comparison
with the time his grand tour would occupy. The idea possessed me on
hearing of a book entitled “News from Holland,” in High Dutch, printed
at Amsterdam in 1647, in which is unfolded the story of two
contemporaries of Pontius Pilate, one a Jew, the other a Gentile, both
then alive. But it is not to be supposed that the Wandering Jew, whose
name was Cartaphilus, and who was keeper of the Judgment Hall in
Jerusalem, would voluntarily accept an obligation so naturally obnoxious
to the hydrophobic soul of the Asiatic as must be involved in many
centuries of trying to get to windward of the Cape. Yet if he be not the
Wandering Jew, or Falkenberg, or Fokke, or Klaboteeman, whose ship,
according to Longfellow, is called the _Carmilhan_, or Captain Requiem,
of the _Libera Nos_, or Washington Irving’s Ramhout van Dam, who _is_
Vanderdecken?


                                THE END.



              -------------------------------------------

              PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                          LONDON AND BECCLES.

[Illustration]

------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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