WINDJAMMERS AND SEA TRAMPS
WALTER RUNCIMAN, Sen.
Author of "The Shellback's Progress in the Nineteenth Century."_
LONDON AND NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE: THE WALTER SCOTT PUBLISHING CO., LTD. NEW YORK: 3 EAST 14TH STREET. 1905.
THESE EXPERIENCES AND OPINIONS OF THINGS NAVAL NEW AND OLD ARE DEDICATED WITH EVERY SENTIMENT OF ESTEEM TO JOHN DENT AND WILLIAM MILBURN AND TO THE MEMORY OF E.H. WATTS
PREFACE I. INTRODUCTORY II. PECULIAR AND UNEDUCATED III. A CABIN-BOY'S START AT SEA IV. THE SEAMAN'S SUPERSTITIONS V. THE SEAMAN'S RELIGION VI. SAFETY AND COMFORT AT SEA VII. WAGES AND WIVES VIII. LIFE AMONG THE PACKET RATS IX. BRUTALITY AT SEA X. BRAVERY XI. CHANTIES XII. JACK IN RATCLIFF HIGHWAY XIII. THE MATTER-OF-FACT SAILOR XIV. RESOURCEFULNESS AND SHIPWRECK XV. MANNING THE SERVICE
"I went in at the hawse-hole and came out at the cabin window." It was thus that a certain North Country shipowner once summarised his career while addressing his fellow-townsmen on some public occasion now long past, and the sentence, giving forth the exact truth with all a sailor's delight in hyperbole, may well be taken to describe the earlier life-stages gone through by the author of this book. The experiences acquired in a field of operations, that includes all the seas and continents where commerce may move, live, and have its being, have enhanced in value and completed what came to him in his forecastle and quarter-deck times. He learned in his youth, from the lips of a race now extinct, what the nature and traditions of seamanship were before he and his contemporaries lived. He has seen that nature and those traditions change and die, whilst he and his generation came gradually under a new order of things, whose practical working he and they have tested in actual practice both on sea and land.
It is on this ground of experience that the author ventures to ask attention to his views in respect of the likeliest means to raise a desirable set of seamen in the English merchant navy. But he also ventures to hope that the historic incidents and characteristics of a class to which he is proud to belong, as set forth in this book, may cause it to be read with interest and charitable criticism. He claims no literary merit for it: indeed, he feels there may be found many defects in style and description that could be improved by a more skilful penman. But then it must be remembered that a sailor is here writing of sailors, and hence he gives the book to the public as it is, and hopes he has succeeded in making it interesting.
It was a bad day for Spain when Philip allowed the "Holy Office" to throw Thomas Seeley, the Bristol merchant, into a dungeon for knocking down a Spaniard who had uttered foul slanders against the Virgin Monarch of England. Philip did not heed the petition of the patriot's wife, of which he must have been cognisant. Elizabeth refused the commission Dorothy Seeley petitioned for, but, like a sensible lady, she allowed her subjects to initiate their own methods of revenge. Subsequent events show that she had no small share in the introduction of a policy that was ultimately to sweep the Spaniards off the seas, and give Britain the supremacy over all those demesnes. This was the beginning of a distinguished partnership composed of Messieurs John Hawkins and his kinsman Francis Drake, and of Elizabeth their Queen. Elizabeth did not openly avow herself one of the partners; she would have indignantly denied it had it been hinted at; yet it is pretty certain that the cruises of her faithful Hawkins and Drake substantially increased her wealth, while they diminished that of Spanish Philip and that of his subjects too. Long before the Armada appeared resplendent in English waters, commanded by that hopeless, blithering landlubber, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who with other sons of Spain was sent forth to fight against Britain for "Christ and our Lady," there had been trained here a race of dare-devil seamen who knew no fear, and who broke and vanquished what was reckoned, till then, the finest body of sailors in the whole world. That our sailors have maintained the reputation achieved in the destruction of the great Spanish Armada is sometimes disputed. I am one of those who trust that British seamen would be worthy of British traditions were they even now put to the test by some powerful invader. To suppose that the men who smothered the Armada, or those who broke the fleets of Spain and France at Trafalgar, were more courageous than those of our day would be found in similar circumstances, is arrant folly. In smaller things we can see the same sterling qualities shown by members of our Navy now as their forebears exhibited of old. The impressive yet half comic character of the religion that guided the lives of seamen during Drake's time has been faithfully handed down like an heirloom to the genuine old salt of our own time.
The great Admiral had inconsistencies of character, and conduct that would seem to live on in more or less elevated examples up till now. He conducted himself in regal style on his long voyages, dressing in an imposing way for dinner, during which he commanded fine music to be played—for at that day England was the home par excellence of music—and no food was eaten at his table until the blessing of the Almighty had been asked upon it, and "thanks" was solemnly offered ere rising. The Holy Sacrament was partaken by him with Doughty the Spanish spy. The latter, after being kissed by Drake, was then made to lay his head on the block, and thereafter no more was heard of him. Afterwards the Admiral gave forth a few discourses on the importance of unity and obedience, on the sin of spying into other people's affairs; and then proceeded, with becoming solemnity and in the names of God and the Icy Queen, to plunder Spanish ports and Spanish shipping. Drake believed he was by God's blessing carrying out a divinely governed destiny, and so perhaps he was; but it is difficult somewhat to reconcile his covetousness with his piety. But what is to be said of his Royal mistress whose crown and realm were saved to her by free sacrifices of blood and life on the part of thousands of single-minded men, whom the Royal Lady calmly allowed, after they had secured her safety and that of England, to starve in peace on Margate Sands? Times have changed. Were such reward to be meted to the sailors of to-day after some great period of storm, stress and national peril had been passed through by virtue of their prowess, the wrath of the nation might break forth and go near to sweep away such high-placed callousness for good and all.
The modern austere critic of the condition of the seamen of the mercantile marine is somewhat of an infliction. He slays the present-day sailor with virulent denunciation, and implores divine interposition to take us back to the good old days of Hawkins, Drake, Howard, Blake and the intrepid Nelson. He craves a resurrection of the combined heroism and piety of the sixteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The seaman of those periods is, to his mind, a lost ideal. And without doubt the men trained and disciplined by Hawkins and Drake were the glory of Britain and the terror of other nationalities. Their seamanship and heroism were matchless. They had desperate work to do, and they did it with completeness and devotion. And the same credit may be given to the sailors of still later times under altered conditions. But Nelson's and Collingwood's men did great deeds in different ways from those of Hawkins and Drake. Both sets of seamen were brave and resourceful, but they were made use of differently, and were drafted from different sources. The latter were seamen and piratical rovers by choice, and warriors very often by necessity. They were willing, however, to combine piety, piracy, and sanguinary conflict in the effort to open out new avenues of commercial enterprise for the mutual benefit of themselves and the thrifty lady who sat upon the throne, and who showed no disinclination to receive her share of the booty valiantly acquired by her nautical partners.
The race of men which followed the Trans-Atlantic, Pacific, and Mexican buccaneers of Cadiz, San Juan and Armada fame has been different only in so far as transitional circumstances have made it so. Indeed, the period which elapsed from the time of the destruction of the Armada up to the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century had evolved innumerable changes in modes of commerce which changed our seamen's characteristics as well. But although the circumstances of the sailors' avocation had changed, and they had to adapt themselves to new customs, there is no justification for the belief that the men of the sixteenth were any more capable or well behaved than those of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Nor is it justifiable to assume that because of the rapid changes which have taken place during the last fifty years by the introduction of steamers, the seamen who man the steamers are inferior to those who, a generation before, manned sailing vessels, or who man what is left of sailing vessels now. The steamer seamen of to-day are mentally, physically and mechanically as competent to do the work they are engaged to do as were any previous race of seamen, and, taking them in the aggregate, they are better educated than their predecessors and quite as sober. Their discipline may not be all that could be desired, but that is not the fault of, nor need it even be considered a defect in, the seaman himself. It is a defect of the system they live under, the responsibility for which must rest with those whose duty it is to train them. It often happens that those who declaim so cynically against the shortcomings of the present-day sailor are incompetent to make a suitable selection of captains and officers who may be entrusted with the task of establishing proper discipline and training aboard their vessels. Very frequently the seamen are blamed when the captain and officers ought to be held responsible. If captains and officers are not trained properly in their graduating process themselves, and have not the natural ability to make up for that misfortune when given the opportunity of control, it is inevitable that disorder must follow. There are, however, exceptional cases where, for example, an officer may have been reared in a bad, disorderly school, and yet has become a capable disciplinarian. An instance of this kind seldom occurs; but the merchant service is all the richer for it when it does. It must not be supposed that I have any intention of defending the faults of our seamen. I merely desire that some of the responsibility for their faults and training should be laid on the shoulders of those critics who shriek unreasonably of their weaknesses, while they do nothing to improve matters. Many of these gentlemen complain of Jack's drunken, insubordinate habits, while they do not disapprove of putting temptation in his way. They complain of him not being proficient, and at the same time they refuse to undertake the task of efficient training. They cherish the memory of the good old times. They speak reverently of the period of flogging, of rotten and scanty food allowance, of perfidious press-gangs, and of corrupt bureaucratic tyranny that inflicted unspeakable torture on the seamen who manned our line of battleships at the beginning of the century—seamen who were, for the most part, pressed away from the merchant service.
In my boyhood days I often used to hear the old sailors who were fast closing their day of active service say that there were no sailors nowadays. They had all either been "drowned, killed, or had died at home and been decently buried." I was impressed in those days with the opinions of these vain old men, and thought how great in their profession they must have been. As a matter of fact, they were no better nor any worse than the men against whom a whimsical vanity caused them to inveigh. Many years have passed since I had the honour of sailing with them and many, if not all of them, may be long since dead; but I sometimes think of them as amongst the finest specimens of men that ever I was associated with. Their fine manhood towered over everything that was common or mean, in spite of their wayward talk.
PECULIAR AND UNEDUCATED
The average seaman of the middle of the nineteenth century, like his predecessor, was in many respects a cruel animal. To appearance he was void of every human feeling, and yet behind all the rugged savagery there was a big and generous heart. The fact is, this apparent or real callousness was the result of a system, pernicious in its influence, that caused the successive generations of seafaring men to swell with vanity if they could but acquire the reputation of being desperadoes; and this ambition was not an exclusive possession of those whose education had been deplorably neglected. It was proudly shared by some of the best educated men in the service. I do not wish it to be supposed, however, that many of them had more than a very ordinary elementary education; but be that as it may, they got along uncommonly well with the little they had. Mr. Forster's Educational Bill of 1870, together with Wesleyan Methodism, have done much to nullify that cultivation of ignorance, once the peculiar province of the squire and the parson. Amongst other influences, Board Schools have revolutionised (especially in the villages and seaport towns) a condition that was bordering on heathenism, and no class of workmen has benefited more than seamen by the propaganda which was established by that good Quaker who spent his best years in hard effort to make it possible that every English child, no matter how poor, should have an education.
At the time of the passing of the Education Act there were thousands of British lads who were absolutely illiterate (this does not apply so much to Scottish boys); and there were hundreds of master-mariners who could neither read nor write, and who had a genuine contempt for those who could. They held the notion that learning, as they called it, always carried with it nautical ignorance and general deterioration; and in some instances the old salts' opinions seemed amply borne out by palpable blunders in practical seamanship which were not uncommonly made when the theoretic seaman or navigator was at work. These shortcomings of the "learned" were never forgotten or forgiven by the practical though illiterate seamen.
Until well into the 'fifties the north-east coast collier brigs and schooners were usually commanded by this type of illiterates, and innumerable stories might be told of their strange methods and grotesque beliefs. The following is a fair example. The London trade once became congested with tonnage, and a demand sprang up for Holland, whereupon a well-known brig was chartered for Rotterdam. She had been so long employed running along the coast with the land aboard that the charts became entirely neglected. When the time came to say farewell there was more than ordinary affection displayed by the relatives of the crew whose destiny it was to penetrate what they conceived to be the mysteries of an unexplored East. There were not a few females who regarded the undertaking as eminently heroic. With characteristic carelessness the trim craft was rollicked along the Yorkshire coast until abreast of Flamborough Head, when it became necessary to take a departure and shape a course for Rotterdam. She scampered along at the rate of six to seven knots an hour amid much anxiety among the crew, for a growing terror had possessed the captain and his mate as they neared the unknown dangers that were ahead of them. The captain went below and had begun to unroll the chart which indicated the approaches to his destination, when he became horrorstruck, and rushing up the cabin stairs called out, "All hands on deck! Hard, a port!" The mate excitedly asked, "What's the matter?" "The matter?" said the infuriated and panic-stricken skipper, "Why the b——y rats have eaten Holland! There is nee Rotterdam for us, mister, this voyage." But in spite of a misfortune which seemed serious, the mate prevailed upon this distinguished person to allow him to have a share in the navigation, with the result that the vessel reached the haven to which she was bound without any mishap whatever.
It was not unusual for those old-time brigs, when bound to the North in ballast, to be blown off the land by strong westerly gales, and these occasions were dreaded by the coasting commander whose geographical knowledge was so limited that when he found himself drifting into the German Ocean beyond the sight of land, his resources became too heavily taxed, and perplexity prevailed. It was on one of those occasions that a skipper, after many days of boisterous drifting, remarked to his mate, "I wish our wives knew where we are this terrible night!"
"Yes," replied the shrewd officer, with comic candour; "and I wish to heaven we knew where we are ourselves!"
Such was the almost opaque ignorance, in spite of which a very large carrying trade was successfully kept going for generations.
The writing of the old-time skipper was so atrocious that it brought much bad language into the world. One gentleman used to say that his captain's letters used to go all over the country before they fell into his hands, and when they did, they were covered over with "try here" and "try there." Their manners, too, were aboriginal; and they spoke with an accent which was terrible. They rarely expressed themselves in a way that would indicate excessive purity of character. They thought it beneath the dignity of a man to be of any other profession than that of a sailor. They disdained showing soft emotion, and if they shook hands it was done in an apologetic way. The gospel of pity did not enter into their creed. Learning, as they called it, was a bewilderment to them; and yet some of those eccentric, half-savage beings could be entrusted with valuable property, and the negotiation of business involving most intricate handling. Sometimes in the settlement of knotty questions they used their own peculiar persuasiveness, and if that was not convincing, they indicated the possibility of physical force—which was usually effectual, especially with Levantines. Here is an instance: one of the latter plethoric gentlemen, with an air of aggrieved virtue, accused a captain of unreasonableness in asking him to pay up some cash which was "obviously an overcharge." The skipper in his rugged way demanded the money and the clearance of his vessel. The gentlemen who at this time inhabited the banks of the Danube could not be made to part with money without some strong reasons for doing so. The Titanic and renowned captain, having exhausted a vocabulary that was awful to listen to, proceeded to lock the office door on the inside. That having been satisfactorily done, he proceeded to unrobe himself of an article of apparel; which movement, under certain conditions, is always suggestive of coming trouble. The quick brain of the Levantine gentleman saw in the bellicose attitude assumed possibilities of great bodily harm and suffering to himself; on which he became effusively apologetic, and declaimed with vigorous gesticulation against the carelessness of his "account clerk who had committed a glaring error, such as justified his immediate dismissal!" That stalwart hero of many rights had not appealed in vain. He got his money and his clearance, and made a well-chosen and impressive little speech on the wisdom of honest dealing. His convert for the time being became much affected, declaring that he had never met with a gentleman whose words had made such a strange impression on him!
This then was the kind of creature who wrought into its present shapes and aspects England's Mercantile Marine. In carrying out his destiny he lashed about him with something of the elemental aimlessness of his mother the sea. The next chapter will show how the captain of to-day grew up and, literally, got licked into his present form at the rough and cruel hands of the old-time skipper.
A CABIN-BOY'S START AT SEA
During recent years I have had the opportunity of listening to many speeches on nautical subjects. Some of them have not only been instructive but interesting, inasmuch as they have often enabled me to get a glimpse into the layman's manner of thinking on these questions. It invariably happens, however, that gentlemen, in their zeal to display maritime knowledge, commit the error of dealing with a phase of it that carries them into deep water; their vocabulary becomes exhausted, and they speedily breathe their last in the oft-repeated tale that the "old-fashioned sailor is an extinct creature," and, judging from the earnest vehemence that is thrown into it, they convey the impression that their dictum is to be understood as emphatically original. Well, I will let that go, and will merely observe how distressingly superficial the knowledge is as to the rearing, training, and treatment which enabled those veterans to become envied heroes to us of the present day. Much entered into their lives that might be usefully emulated by the seamen of our own time. Their unquestionable skill and hardihood were acquired by a system of training that would have out-matched the severity of the Spartan, and they endured it with Spartan equanimity. A spasmodic growl was the only symptom of a rebellious spirit. The maritime historian who undertakes to write accurately the history of this strange society of men will find it a strain on the imagination to do them all the justice they deserve. Their lives were illuminated with all that is manly and heroic and skilful. They had no thought of cruelty, and yet they were very cruel—that is, if they are to be judged by the standard of the present age; but in this let us pass sentence on them with moderation, and even with indulgence. The magnitude of the deeds they were accustomed to perform can never be fully estimated now, and these should excuse to some extent many of their clumsy and misguided modes of operation. It must not be supposed that all these men were afflicted by a demoniac spirit. It was their training that blanketed the sympathetic side of them, until they unconsciously acquired all the peremptory disposition of Oriental tyrants. But the stories I am about to relate of childlife aboard ship will show how difficult it is entirely to pardon or excuse them. The blood runs chilly at the thought of it, and you feel your mind becoming impregnated with the spirit of murder.
No personage ever attracted so much attention and sympathy outside the precincts of his contracted though varied sphere of labour as the cabin-boy who served aboard the old sailing brigs, schooners, and barques, and I must plead guilty to having a sentimental regret that the romance was destroyed through this attractive personality being superseded by another, with the somewhat unattractive title of "cook and steward." The story of how poor boys of the beginning and middle of the century and right up to the latter part of the 'sixties started sea-life is always romantic, often sensational, and ever pathetic. They were usually the sons of poor parents living for the most part in obscure villages or small towns bordering on the sea, which sea blazed into their minds aspirations to get aboard some one of the numerous vessels that passed their homes one way or the other all day long. The notion of becoming anything but sailors never entered their heads, and the parents were usually proud of this ambition, and quite ready to allow their offspring to launch out into the world while they were yet little more than children. It very frequently happened, however, that boys left their homes unknown to their families, and tramped to the nearest seaport with the object of engaging themselves aboard ship, and they nearly always found some skipper or owner to take them. Swarms of Scotch and Norfolk boys were attracted to the Northumberland ports by the higher rate of wages. Many of them had to tramp it all the long way from home, and quite a large number of them became important factors in the shipping trade of the district. It was a frequent occurrence to see a poor child-boy passing through the village where I was brought up, on his way from Scotland to Blyth, or the Tyne, his feet covered with sores, and carrying a small bundle containing a shirt, a pair of stockings, and flannel pants. This was his entire outfit. My mother never knowingly allowed any of these poor little wanderers to pass without bringing them to our home. They were promptly supplied with bread and milk while the big tub was got ready so that they might be bathed. They were then provided with night clothing and put to bed while she had their own clothes washed, and mended if need be (they always required washing); they were then sent on their journey with many petitions to God for their safety and welfare. Some of the villagers were curious to know why this gratuitous hospitality was given to unknown passers-by, and my mother satisfied their curiosity by pointing to her own children, and remarking, "Don't we live within the sound of the sea? and I wish to do by these poor children that which I should like some one to do by mine if it ever should come to pass that they need it." Little did she suspect when these words were uttered that one of her own sons was so soon to be travelling in an opposite direction in quest of a cabin-boy's berth.
One of the most touching memories of sweetness comes to me now. It was a chill winter afternoon; a little boy stood out on the common fronting our house; the customary bundle was under his arm, and he was singing in a sweet treble these words, with a strong Scotch accent:—
"A beggar man came over the lea Wi' many a story to tell unto me. 'I'm asking for some charitie, Can ye lodge a beggar man?'"
The charm of his silken, childish voice quickly attracted attention. He was put through the usual catechism by my parents, and this being satisfactory, he fell into my mother's hands to undergo the customary feeding and bathing operations. One of the questions my father put to him was why he sang "The beggar man." He said they told him at home that he could sing well, and as he had learnt this song he thought it might serve the purpose of bringing him succour, as he was very tired and very hungry. He was the son of a peasant farmer on the outskirts of Kirkaldy in the Firth of Forth, and had walked the whole distance, his object being to apprentice himself to some shipowner. This he succeeded in doing; and many years after, when he had worked his way into a position, he made himself known to me by recalling the occasion when he sang his way into our home.
By the seaside on the coast of Northumberland, there stands one of the prettiest little villages in all England. Tacked on to the north and south end of it there are two stretches of sand unequalled in their clear glossy beauty. It was from this spot that a boy of twelve summers, smitten with a craze for the sea, secretly left his home one December morning at three o'clock with the object of becoming a sailor. He made his way to the beach, walked to a seaport, and after much persuasive eloquence in which he recklessly pledged himself to impossible undertakings, the negotiations were ratified by his being told by a burly skipper of the old school that though he was very small, yet seeing he exhibited such eagerness for the fray, he would look over that, to which the seaman in embryo promptly replied, "But, sir, I will grow bigger." And the weather-beaten old mariner responded, "I hope you will; but mind, you'll have to work."
The poor child, fearful lest any hitch should come in the way, assured him that he could work very hard, and that he could run up aloft, as he had tried it aboard a schooner which came once a year to his home with coals for the squire. He was anxious that his accomplishments should be tested without delay. His future commander interjected that he would sign his indentures the following week, which was done, after communication with the boy's family; and he proceeded aboard with his kit made up of the following articles. I give this, as it may be useful to parents who have boys going to sea:—
1 Box. 1 Go-ashore suit. 2 Suits of working clothes. 1 Suit of oilskins. 1 Pair of sea-boots. 1 Pair of shoes. 3 Changes of flannels. 6 Pairs of stockings. 2 Mufflers. 4 Towels. 3 Coloured flannel shirts. 1 Bar of soap. 6 Collars, 2 neckties. 2 Pillow-slips. 1 Bed and full set of bedding. 2 Caps. 1 Canvas bag. 1 Ditty bag well stored with needles, thread, buttons, thimble, worsted to darn stockings, and cloth to patch worn or torn clothes.
This outfit is quite ample, and is more than double what some poor boys had to start life with; indeed, scores of them had to depend on what their first quarter's wages would provide for them. In many country homes boys were taught, as this boy was, sewing, darning, and even washing. The knowledge of it cannot eat anything, and it is immensely useful to have it. This might be commended to present-day parents in town and country who have lads to send out into the world. There is no loss of dignity in being able to do something for yourself in the event of being too poor to pay for having it done for you. A more exhilarating sight could not be witnessed than that of sailors and sailor boys sitting sewing their clothes or doing their week's washing.
I have said the initial training and experiences of a cabin-boy were not only harsh but oft-times brutal. No allowance was made for his tender years. The gospel of pity did not enter into the lives of either the captains, officers, or men. He was expected to learn without being taught, and if he did not come up to their standard of intelligence, his poor little body was made to suffer for it. This happened more or less to every boy, and our new recruit was not made an exception. He was given to understand that certain duties devolved upon him. The language perplexed his little brain. He had heard nothing like it before, but he determined to avail himself of every opportunity of learning. His inquisitiveness was a trouble to the men; they rebuked him for bothering them; but by steady plodding he began to learn the names of the multiplicity of ropes, and the different things he would have to do when the vessel put to sea. He was ordered to have the side lights trimmed ready for lighting, the day before sailing (a very wise precaution which should always be adhered to). This was done, and although the wee laddie had only been four days amidst a whirl of things that were strange to him, he seemed to think that he had acquired sufficient knowledge to justify him in believing that he had mastered the situation. He wrote home a detailed account of his doings, and complicated matters by using phrases that were not commonly heard or understood in quiet villages far away from the hum of seaports. The family were sent into consternation by the description of his climbing experiences, and an extra petition for his safe-keeping was offered up when the time for family devotions came. No more was heard of him for many months. His experiences had become more real and fuller ere the next letter came. On the fifth day after he had embarked the tug came alongside, the tow-rope was handed aboard, and the vessel towed out of dock to sea. Night was coming on, and the boy was ordered to light the side lamps; he was in the act of doing this when the pitching of the vessel afflicted him with strange sensations, and in spite of a strong resistance he suddenly parted with his last meal into the lamps. The misfortune gave the captain more concern than the cabin-boy, who was in the condition that makes one feel that all earthly joys have passed away from you for evermore, and drowning would be a happy relief from the agony of it. Needless to say, he was soundly trounced for the misadventure; handy odds and ends were thrown at him; he was reminded of his daring promises on the eve of engagement, and an impassioned oration was delivered on the curse of engaging "useless rubbish who could not guide their stomachs when they got to sea." His troubles had begun. The flow of curses, which he now heard for the first time in his life, cut deeply into his little soul, and made him long to be landed, so that he might even wash doorsteps for a living rather than be subjected to such coarse abuse. Ah, but there was worse to come. This was merely a rude awakening. Could he have seen into the series of hardships and cruelties that lay in front of him, he might have deemed it better to close his desolating troubles by allowing the waves which swept over the vessel (as she was scudded along by the screaming wind) to bear him overboard into the dark.
Home-sickness or sentimental sensations were soon made to disappear by the busy life and rough, barbaric discipline enforced. First-voyage impressions live long in the memory. If they were not thrashed into permanent recollection, they were bullied or tortured into it by revolting methods of wrong which were recognised at that time in England to be legal. To their shame be it said, but how often have I heard men who had sprung from the masses and abject poverty, and who had succeeded in getting into position (so far as money would allow them to do so), deplore the introduction of a larger educational system and the enactment of more rigid laws to provide against a despotism that had become a national disgrace! And it was not until a few demoniacs had committed hideous murder, and were hung for it, that the legislature took the trouble to inquire into what was going on upon the high seas—nay, at times even before their very eyes.
One duty of a young sailor is to tar down the fore and aft stays. At any time and under any circumstances this was a precarious undertaking, and yet these fine young athletes would undertake it quite joyously, provided it was called for in the ordinary course of their duty, and there was no intimation or suspicion of it being intended as a "work-up" job, as they called it. The main and mizen stays stretched from mast to mast; the fore stays were more perpendicular, as they stretched from the masts to the jib-boom and bowsprit. It was usual to have a boatswain's chair to sit and be lowered down in while tarring these stays. Some mates disdained pampering youths with a luxury of this kind, so disallowed it, and caused them to sit in a bowlin' bight instead. But the most villainous thing of all was when a boy for a mere technical offence, perhaps, indeed, no offence at all, would be ordered to ride a stay down without either chair or bowlin'. The tar-pot was held in one hand, the tarring was done with the other, and the holding on was managed by a process of clinging with the legs and body as they slid along in a marvellously skilful way; and woe to the unhappy culprit who allowed any drops of tar to fall on the decks or paint-work! Sometimes these lads lost their balance and fell with their bodies under the stay, and failed to right themselves; in that case they had to slide down to where the stay was set up, get on top of it again, and climb up to where they had left off tarring. They were not allowed, even if they could have done so, to ride over the painted portion by sliding over it. Occasionally there occurred fatal falls, but this was a rare thing. I remember losing my balance while riding down a main top-gallant stay. The tar-pot fell to the deck, and I very nearly accompanied it. There was much commotion caused by this mishap, as part of the contents of the bucket had splashed on the covering board and white-painted bulwarks. The exhibition of grief was far-reaching. The captain and his devoted officers made a great noise at me; they asked with passionate emotion why I didn't let my body fall instead—"there would have been less mischief done," said they! Of course they did not mean that exactly, though to the uninitiated it would have seemed uncommonly like it. The indications of combined grief and fearful swearing might have meant anything of a violent nature. I could not be disrated, as I was only a cabin-boy, but a substitutionary penalty was invoked against me. The chief officer, who had a voice and an eye that indicated whiskey, was a real artist in profane language. He vowed that as sure as "Hell was in Moses" I would never become worthy the name of a British sailor. This outburst of alcoholic eloquence touched me keenly, and ever since that time I have wondered wherein this original gentleman saw connection between the great Hebrew law-giver and the nether regions.
The cabin-boy's duties were not only numerous, but arduous. Under serious physical penalties he had to keep the cabin, its lamps and brass-work clean, and wash the towels and table-cloths. (The latter were usually made of canvas.) The skipper's and mate's beds had to be made, and washing done for them; small stores such as coffee, tea, sugar, biscuits, &c., were under the combined care of him and the commander. In addition to this, he had to keep all the deck brass-work shining; keep his watch and look-out; and, when he had learned how to steer, take his trick at the helm. If any of the small sails, such as royals, top-gallant sails, main top-gallant stay-sail, or flying jib had to be taken in, he was expected to be the first to spring into the rigging or along the jib-boom to do it, provided it was his watch on deck. It was really a sensational sight to witness these mannikins spinning up aloft and handling the flapping sail. I wonder now that more of them did not come to grief because of the stupid aversion many of the skippers had to allowing them to pass through what is known as the lubber hole—that is, a hole in the main-and fore-tops leading to the top-mast rigging. Occasionally both men and boys would lose their hold and fall on the rail, and be smashed to pieces. Sometimes they struck the rail, were killed outright, and then fell into the sea. And this is not to be wondered at when it is considered that their bodies were at right angles to the mast while passing over the round top from the main to the top-mast rigging. The mortality from this cause was, however, very small; such accidents generally occurred on cold, icy days or nights, when the hands had become benumbed. Yet it was amazing how these mere children managed to hold on at any time. But that is not all. If the vessel had to be tacked, it was the cabin-boy's duty to let go the square mainsail sheet when "tacks and sheets" was called; and when the order was given to "mainsail haul," that is, swing the main yard round, he had to haul in the opposite main sheet; and if he did not get it in so that the foot of the mainsail came tight up against the foremain shroud before the sail filled, he got into grievous trouble. If the vessel was at anchor in a roadstead, he had to keep his two-hour anchor watch the same as the rest of the crew. In beating up narrow channels such as the Swin, he was put in the main-chains to heave the lead and sing the soundings, and the sweet child-voiced refrain mingled with the icy gusts, which oft-times roared through the rigging whilst the cold spray smote and froze on him. Never a kind word of encouragement was allowed to cheer the brave little fellow, and his days and nights were passed in isolation until he was old enough and courageous enough to assert himself. The only peace that ever solaced him was when his watch below came, and he laid his poor weary head and body in the hammock. If the vessel was in port, and the shore easy of access, it was he who had to scull the captain ashore, and wait for him in the cold, still, small hours in the morning, until the pleasures of grog and the relating of personal experiences had been exhausted. If the boy were asleep when the skipper came down, he got a knock on the head, and was entertained to a selection of oaths which poured forth until he got alongside the vessel. He was then told with strong manifestations of dignity to pass the painter aft; this done, he was rope-ended for having slept.
If the vessel were anchored in a roadstead, and the captain had to be rowed ashore, he had to be one of the crew of four, he pulling the bow oar, and, as soon as the rest landed, he was left in charge of the boat. The sequel to an incident of this kind is one of the most gruesome in the annals of maritime life. The captain of a vessel, anchored in Elsinore Roads, was rowed into the harbour. The crew of the boat were told that he would require them at 10.30 that night. The cabin-boy was left in charge, and the two A.B.'s and the oldest apprentice proceeded to a grog-shop, where they became more or less intoxicated. The captain had ordered a keg of gin to the boat, and at midnight he ordered the men to go off to the vessel with it, and come for him in the morning. They did not wish to go, as there was a strong south wind and current in the sound, but the captain insisted, and they went, with the result that the boat was picked up the following day covered with ice, and four dead bodies were the ghastly occupants of it.
Well nigh two years had passed away since our young friend planted his feet for the first time aboard ship. He had sailed far and learned much. The treatment he had been accustomed to made strong impressions on him; and he determined to emancipate himself from such tyranny the first opportunity he had; so that, when his vessel glided into a lovely landlocked harbour on the north-west coast of Ireland one bleak winter morning, his plan of escape having been secretly formed and kept, he determined to put it into force as soon as it was discreet to do so.
All hands having been paid off, excepting the mate and three apprentices, the task of cooking fell upon the cabin-boy. He always had to do this when in a home port; that was another of his many functions, and not the least of them, which caused him very frequently to come to grief, though this young man had been impressed with the importance of learning to cook, amongst other things, long before he left home, so that, as a rule, he got along fairly well whenever it became his duty to work up a plain meal, which usually consisted of soup and doboys, that is, small dumplings boiled in the soup with the beef. A double-decker sea-pie was not only a favourite mess, but was considered even a luxury at that time, and most sailor-boys could cook it. It was made in a large pan or in the galley coppers, and consisted of the following ingredients: A layer of potatoes, small pieces of beef and onions well seasoned with pepper and salt, and covered over with water; then a deck of paste with a hole in the middle to allow the water to have free access, then more potatoes, beef, onions, and kidney, and then the final deck of paste, and a suitable amount of water were added. It was quite a common thing whilst these exploits of cookery were going on, for the skinflint skipper to stand over the boy, and if he detected him taking too thick a skin from the potato, he was lucky if he got off with a severe reprimand. It was usually an open-handed blow, intended sternly to enforce economy. Well, the vessel had been in port four days, and many acquaintances had been made by the cabin-boy, who had given his confidences to a select few. He was invited to go to a wake one night by the son of a gentleman who kept a shoe shop. This was an uproarious evening, from which he gathered new experiences. As he was ashore at liberty he deemed it prudent to be punctual in going on board. On getting on deck the master, who was standing on the poop, called him to him, and desired to know where he had been, and why he was ashore so late. He replied that he was not late, but aboard at the time his liberty had expired, and that he had been at a wake. The poor man nearly expired on the spot! He gasped in a screeching sort of tone, "A wake? You damned young hemp! And your father a Protestant! I'll learn you to go to a wake! I'll teach you to disgrace your family and myself! No more shore for you, sir!"
And for the purpose of emphasising his displeasure the inevitable rope's-end was freely used, to the accompaniment of language that did not bear the impress of a saintly condition of mind, though he obviously derived comfort from the thought that he was upholding the dignity and traditions of the true Protestant faith. As soon as his conscience was appeased, he asked the Almighty's forgiveness for having used profane language, and ordered the boy to go to bed! He went to bed, but not to sleep; the result of his musings on these everlasting bullyings and thrashings was that at two o'clock in the morning he had packed all his bits of belongings into a bag, and woke an apprentice with whom he was on very cordial terms, to say goodbye before embarking on a new and unknown career. He had resolved to run away and conceal himself until the vessel had sailed, and then ship aboard an American barque which was in port. The other boy pleaded for him not to risk it, but his mind was made up. He would stand the insufferable tyranny no longer, and he went. He had anticipated what was going to happen by previously informing a well-to-do tradesman of his troubles and intentions, and so excited the sympathy of his wife and daughter as well as his own that they assured him of their hospitality and aid in carrying out the scheme of desertion. They admitted him into their home as soon as he presented himself, and he was treated with true Hibernian hospitality. The chief mate of the American barque was courting the daughter, a handsome young woman, whom he ultimately married. She was very solicitous in the poor lad's behalf, and it was decided that he should have a berth on the mate's ship, and in the presence of the youth she easily extracted a pledge from her lover that he would have him kindly treated. He felt in all probability the acme of joy in serving this amiable female, but soon there came one of those accidents that break the current of human affairs. The boy thought he was safe after dark in paying a visit to the vessel he had practically shipped to serve aboard of, and took every precaution to avoid attracting attention. He had nearly got alongside when a hand was laid on his shoulder, and a kindly voice proclaimed him a prisoner. He was at first startled, but soon recovered self-possession, and seeing the gentleman was in plain clothes he demanded his right to interfere.
"This is my right," said he, showing a piece of paper, "and I may as well tell you that I am a detective, and have shadowed the house you are living in for several days. You must come with me. Your vessel is on the point of sailing, and I have instructions to take you aboard."
The boy appealed to the officer not to take him, as he would only run away at the first port again. The officer protested that he must do his duty; but, as he desired to say goodbye to the kind people who had given him shelter, he would stretch his instructions by taking him to them. They were deeply moved at the sight of the little culprit, and bade him an affectionate adieu. He and his clothes were given up to the irate captain, who received him with cold acknowledgment, and he was soon sailing towards a port in Scotland. After a quick run the vessel was docked and moored ready to receive cargo. The captain had been sullenly reticent on the passage. He spoke occasionally of base ingratitude and the extinction of the race, and how the object of his displeasure would be remembered when he got him into deep water again, and that he would teach him a salutary lesson for having broken his indentures and seeking refuge under the roof of an Irish Jesuit! Apart from these incoherent mutterings nothing of serious moment transpired. By way of preliminary chastisement, the boy was ordered to scrape the main-royal and top-gallant mast down during his watch below in the daytime, and neither the masts, nor the yards attached to them, received any real benefit by this blockheaded notion of punishment. It is said, indeed, that they suffered materially. The fact of deriving pleasure by inflicting a cruel act on a mere child is hideous to think of, but in those days these uncultured, half-savage creatures were allowed all the powers of a monarch, and disdained the commonest rights of humanity. The captain was said to have expressed a sense of pride in what he termed the smart capture of his erring apprentice, and some talk was heard of the contemplated exploits of drilling after sailing again. Poor man! He was never to have the opportunity of gratifying an ignoble desire, for the night after the vessel's arrival the youthful incorrigible disembarked with a vow that he would never return to her again; and he kept his word. Could those fields and lanes in Scotland speak out the thoughts and the sufferings of the days that were spent there, what an ineffable record of woe they would lay bare!
Tramping by night, and concealed part of the way by day, this child of respectable parents was driven by cruel wrong to abandon himself to the privations of hunger, the rigour of a biting climate, and to the chance of his strength giving way before he had reached the destination that was to open out newer and brighter opportunities to him. Four weeks after deserting his vessel he landed at a large seaport on the north-east coast of England, and then began a new era. For many years he led a chequered and eventful life, which, however, did not prevent him from rising quickly to the head of his profession. Before he was twenty-two years of age he was given the command of a handsome sailing vessel, and at twenty-six he commanded a steamer. He had not seen his old captain for many years, though he often desired to do so. One day he came across him in London, and addressed him with the same regard to quarter-deck etiquette as he was accustomed to observe when a boy under his command. The old man liked it, and he observed with a quiver in his speech, "I am glad to notice that you have not forgotten what I took so much pains to learn you." His pupil assured him that he had not forgotten anything he had been taught, and especially the duty he owed to his old commander. The veteran was touched with the display of loyalty and the mark of respect shown him. There seemed to be an accumulation of recollections passing through his mind as he hesitatingly said, "I used to knock you about a good deal, but it was all for your good, and to teach you proper discipline." He was assured that everything of an unpleasant character had been shut out of the mind, so they parted with feelings of mutual cordiality. Some years had elapsed, when the young commander landed in a port in Denmark. A gentleman whom he knew told him a sad story of an English captain who had just died in the hospital under distressing circumstances. His illness had been brought on by his own excesses, complications set in, and after a few days' illness, he passed, through the valley of the shadow of death into Eternity. His bodily sufferings had been great, and his lonely desolation caused him unspeakable anguish. Death relieved him of both, and he was put to rest in a plain deal coffin. The vessels in port hoisted their flags half-mast, and a few seamen followed his remains to the tomb. The following day his old apprentice, whom he had driven from his presence thirteen years before, had two weeping willows planted at each end of the grave to mark the spot where his erring master rests; and he has visited it many times since.
THE SEAMAN'S SUPERSTITIONS
The seamen of the fifties and sixties were grievously superstitious. They viewed sailing on a Friday with undisguised displeasure; and attributed many of their disasters when on a voyage to this unholy act. I have known men leave their vessel rather than sail on a Friday. The owner of a vessel who did not regard this as a part of the orthodox faith was voted outside the pale of compassion. Then it was a great breach of nautical morals to whistle when the wind was howling, and singing in such circumstances was promptly prohibited. If perchance bad weather was encountered immediately after leaving port, and it was continuous, the forecastle became the centre of righteous discussion and intrigue, in order that the reason for this might be arrived at, and due punishment inflicted on the culprit who was found to be the cause of all their sorrows. They would look upon gales and mishaps, no matter how unimportant, as tokens of Divine wrath sent as a punishment for the sin of some one of them not having, for example, paid a debt of honour before sailing. The guilty person or persons were soon identified, even if they attempted to join in the secret investigation, and the penalty of being ostracised was rigidly enforced. It was a hard fate, which sometimes continued the whole voyage, especially if no redeeming features presented themselves. The sailor's calling makes superstition a part of his nature. The weird moaning of the wind suggests to him at times saintly messages from afar; and he is easily lost in reverie. He holds sweet converse with souls that have long since passed into another sphere, but the hallucinary charm causes him to fix his faith in the belief that they are hovering about him, so that he may convey to them some message to transmit to those friends or relatives who are the objects of his devout veneration. Yet he ceases to be a sentimentalist when duty calls him to face the realities of life. An order to shorten sail transforms him at once into another being. He usually swears with refined eloquence on unexpected occasions, when a sudden order draws him from visionary meditation. Dreams, which may be the creation of indigestible junk—that is, salt beef which may have been round the Horn a few times—are realities: privileged communications from a mystic source. There is great vying with each other in the relation of some grotesque nightmare fancy, which may have lasted the twentieth part of a second, but which takes perhaps a quarter of an hour to repeat; traverses vast space in a progression of hideous tragedy and calamitous shipwreck; and is served up with increased profusion of detail when the history of the passage is manuscripted to their homes and to their lovers. Here is an instance of this mania in an unusually exaggerated form. For obvious reasons it is undesirable that the name of the vessel, or the captain, should be mentioned here. The captain had a dream, or, as he stated, a vision, when off Cape Horn bound to Valparaiso in a barque belonging to a South Wales port. The vessel had been tossed about for days with nothing set but close reefed topsails, amid the angry storming and churning of liquid mountains. One midnight, when eight bells had been struck to call the middle watch, there suddenly appeared on the poop the commander, who was known to be a man of God. He gave the order to hard up the helm and make sail. When she came before the wind the crew were puzzled to know the cause of this strange proceeding, and their captain did not keep them long in doubt. He called all hands aft, and when they had mustered he began: "Men, you know I believe in God and His Christ. The latter has appeared to me in a vision, and told me that I must sail right back to where we came from; and if I hesitate or refuse to obey the command the ship and all the crew will perish." The crew were awestruck; the captain's statement gave rise to vivid stories of presentiments; while the luckless craft scampered back to the port where the unsuspecting owner dwelt. In due course the vessel arrived in the roads. A tug came alongside, and the captain was greeted in the orthodox nautical style. The supernatural tale was unfolded and the tug proceeded to convey the news of the arrival of the T——. The owner would have fallen on the neck of his captain had he been near. He wept with uncontrollable joy. His feelings swept him into ecstasies of generosity. Gifts of an unusual character for captains to receive were to be conferred upon him, and the owner longed for the flow of the tide so that his sentiments towards him might be conveyed in person. "Ah," said he, "how often have I said that Captain M—— was the smartest man that ever sailed from a British port! Just fancy, to make the voyage out and home in two and a half months! It is phenomenal!"
The master of the tug gaped at this local magnate in wonder, and thought that sudden lunacy had seized him. He blurted out, "Surely, Mr. J——, you have not lost your reason over this terrible misfortune?"
"Terrible misfortune?" repeated the impassioned owner. "Is it a terrible misfortune to make a West Coast voyage within three months?"
"No," said the burly tug master, "I now see you do not apprehend the position. I didn't care to say to you that the captain had a vision off Cape Horn which decided him to return to this port."
"What?" said the almost speechless potentate. "A vision? Back here, without being to Valparaiso? My God!—I will never get over it!"
And in truth he nearly collapsed, business, body, and soul, over the matter.
The vessel was brought into the harbour. The sanctified skipper did not receive the promised gifts! The vessel sailed in a few days without him for the same destination; and until a few years since he could be seen any day walking the quay, still holding to the belief that it was the Divine will he had carried out. This faith was strengthened by the vessel never having been heard of again after sailing the second time. I never heard of the owner showing any vindictiveness to the poor captain, who was, no doubt, the victim of a strange hallucination.
It would be unfair to impute a monopoly of superstition to the seafarer. Sailors have superstitions which are not now exclusively theirs, though they may have been the originators of them; for instance, placing a loaf of bread upside down, spilling the salt (and nullifying the mischief by throwing a few grains over the left shoulder); these, as well as the leaving of stray leaves and stalks in teacups are considered sure indications of past or coming events, even by the large and enlightened public who pass their lives on dry land. There are few things more comical than to see the nautical person studiously avoid passing under a shore ladder. The penalty of it has a terror for him; and yet his whole life is spent in passing to and fro under rope ladders aboard ship without any suspicion of evil consequences. But the landsman's belief in mystic tokens and flighty safeguards is faint indeed compared with that which permeates and saturates the mind of the typical sailor. A gentleman with whom I was long and closely associated held definite opinions on symbolic apparitions. His faith in black cats was immovable; but this only extended to those who actually crossed his path, and to him that was a sign indicative of good fortune. I have seen him go into ecstasies of joy over an incident of this kind; and woe unto the person who interrupted the current of his happiness. He would curse him with amazing fluency until resentment choked the power of expression. This same human phenomenon was, in early life, shipwrecked on one of the hidden shoals with which the north-east coast abounds, at the very moment when he was taking from the girdle in the galley a hot cake he had baked in celebration of his birthday, and as a precaution against future calamities he ever after wore the left foot stocking outside in; and although he has passed through many dangers which nearly ended in disaster, he has never again been shipwrecked. Hence his faith is unbroken in the protecting virtue of this mode of wearing that article of dress, and so is his reverent belief in black cats as charms against evil fortune. I have never known a person with a larger sense of genuine humour than this man possessed, and yet one could never appear to slight his peculiar superstitions without producing a paroxysm of fury in him. He would watch for the appearance of a new moon with touching anxiety, and although his finances were very frequently in a precarious condition, he never allowed himself to be without the proverbial penny to turn over under the new moon as a panacea against hidden pecuniary ills! If, in sailor parlance, a star "dogged the moon," that was to him a disturbing omen, and great caution had to be observed that no violation of nautical ethics took place during the transit. It was never regarded as a transit, but as a "sign" from which evil might be evolved.
Amidst all this singular piety in externals (for it was really a species of piety), this typical sailor never gave up his belief in the efficacy of strong language, which, among the worst of his class, was frequently indescribable; and the more eloquent he was in the utterance of oaths the larger became his conviction that he possessed a gift not to be acquired by mere tuition. Many years ago, when I was a very small apprentice boy aboard a brig we had a steward who was also a sailor of no common ability. His career had been a long one of varied villainy, he impersonating alternately a parson and a rich shipowner. In the latter role he succeeded in getting large advances of money from unsuspecting store, sail, and rope dealers—taking advantage of a trade-custom which prevails in every port, in return for which he gave orders, which caused the favoured firms to be looked upon with envy. They were requested to have these supplies put aboard four days after the order was given; and the penalty for not being able to do so was to be the loss of a very valuable connection. There was much condescension on the part of the bounteous customer, who "would call again in two days," and much thanking and bowing and shaking of hands on the part of the recipients when the time came to say "Good-day." The stores were duly sent to the docks where the vessels were lying, but the real owners did not recognise the person who had given the order as having any connection with them, whereupon an unhappy dawn broke over the minds of the unsuspecting victims. Many months elapsed before the gentleman in question was apprehended and confronted by the tradesmen to whom he owed a period of blissful dissipation. Needless to say the meeting was not so cordial as the parting, though a lack of cordiality could not be charged against the improvised shipowner. Indeed, to the great discomfort of his former friends, as soon as an opportunity was given him, from his position in the prisoners' dock, he saluted them with playful familiarity; but this did not prevent him being sent to penal servitude. He had played many other roles under many names, but it was as a parson he prided himself in having met with success by the startling number of conversions that attended his efforts. He belonged to a respectable and well-known family, and their anxiety to have him reclaimed from the vices that had produced for them so much sorrow induced them to prevail on his brother-in-law, who was master of a brig, to take him under his special care; so he was appointed as steward, and thereby given the opportunity of spoiling much valuable food, and causing grievous dissension among the crew.
This loathsome creature could only be appealed to through his superstitions, and even the young apprentice boys soon discovered his weakness, and terrorised him whenever they got the chance. One awful morning in November, 1864, the vessel was hove-to under close-reefed main topsail. All hands had been on deck during the whole night, which was one of raging storm and disaster. The decks had been swept, and the galley carried away in the general destruction, so that no food could be cooked on deck. The captain gave orders to the steward to light a fire in the cabin stove, and make coffee for all hands. He proceeded to do this. The matches, however, had suffered in the commotion of the night, and would not ignite. After many futile efforts the steward's patience gave way; but certain members of the crew had impressed him with the conviction that the hurricane that was being encountered and the disasters that had befallen us were sent as a judgment on him for the blasphemous language he was accustomed to use at all times, whenever the slightest thing crossed his devilish nature. He put his hands on the table, his eyes were upturned, and with a softness of speech he slowly uttered, "Jesus wept—and so He might!" Of course he would have preferred a string of oaths as a relief to his pent-up anger. On the following night the hurricane still raged, and it was thought that something was wrong with the maintop-gallant sail. It looked as though it were blowing adrift. A hand was sent aloft to secure it, but when half-way up the top-mast rigging, he got on to the top-mast back stay, and slid down on deck. He was speechless for some time after reaching the deck. At last he jerkingly articulated that there was nothing wrong with the sail, but that which was believed to be sail was really some ferocious living thing. Whereupon great consternation spread; and volunteers were asked for to go aloft, and ascertain precisely what it was. It turned out to be an eagle, and after considerable difficulty a rope was got round it, and it was safely landed on deck. It so happened that shortly after the capture was made a tremendous sea struck the vessel, causing her to leak badly, and taking the remaining two boats overboard. This was put down not merely as a coincidence, but a coincidence that was sent for a purpose, and every mind was fixed upon the steward. The wretched man was stricken with panic. His thoughts centred on his past, and he became an abject drivelling confessionist, emptying himself of deeds that were awful to listen to, and had been kept to himself for years. The voyage soon ended, and the last I heard of him was that he was drinking himself to death; he had never got over the conviction that the Divine wrath was upon him.
The sight of a shark is an everyday occurrence in some latitudes. Nothing is thought of it, and sometimes much sport is derived in attempting a capture. But should a vessel be dogged for a succession of days by a shark, or (as very frequently happens) by a shoal of them, gloom begins to spread, imaginations begin to widen; whisperings and close consultations for evil purposes take place; and soon there has developed an epidemic of melancholia. Conjecture is rife. The explanation of it all is that these sharks have designs on human flesh, or they would not follow with such tenacity. There is much speculation as to how the unfortunate men are to be delivered into the grip of their ferocity, and whether the feast will involve the sacrifice of one or all of them. The more dismal the weather, the more impressive the danger becomes. Perchance a man falls overboard, or an accident occurs, no matter which; it is at once attributed to the proximity of the sharks. "They would never follow a vessel if they did not know they were to be rewarded by some tasty recompense." Indeed they were believed to have supernatural instincts as well as gluttonous intentions, which filled the sailor with alarm, and caused him to ponder uneasily over the idea of his last moments. It did not occur to him that these "slim" followers kept in close proximity to their vessel so that they might partake of the food that was daily cast into the sea; they are not particular whether it is human or not. What they look for is food. But Jack loves tragedy. He likes to imagine he is in danger of being eaten or robbed or imposed upon. The non-fulfilment of his prognostications does not humiliate him: it seems to inspire more tenacious belief.
The sea serpent, whatever that might be, has caused mariners of every age much perturbation. Periodically there are sensational reports emanating from some sea captain, that the real bleary-eyed monster has at last been discovered. Illimitable dimensions are given, together with much detail of its many peculiarities. Three years ago, in the month of May, I was cruising with some friends in my schooner yacht. We had traversed many of the Scottish Lochs, amongst them Loch Fyne, where the finest herring in the world abound, and are much sought after by fishermen as well as by bottle-nosed whales. We were making our way from Inverary towards Campbeltown, and as the wind was shy, off the north side of Arran, we were hugging the land in order to lead to our destination. A good wind was carried as far as Loch Ryan, when it slowly died away and became flat calm. One of my friends and myself were walking the deck together, when he excitedly observed, "What is that on our starboard beam; is it a reef?" I assured him there were no shoals in the vicinity of the yacht; and I took up the field-glasses, and saw quite plainly that it was a bottle-nosed whale. It soon began to move and send masses of water into the air. The calm continued, and some anxiety was felt lest the leviathan should playfully come towards us and test its power of lifting. It passed close to where we lay, and then shaped a course towards the opposite shore. Naturally our interest was excited, and as a favourable breeze sprang up and gradually strengthened we were able to follow at a discreet distance from the tail of the sea disturber. It would have taken the vessel out of our way to have followed it far, so a course was set for Campbeltown, and the monster was soon lost to view. Navigation was made intricate by a large fleet of fishing boats beating up towards the playground of the fish they sought to catch. The day following our arrival at Campbeltown this fleet re-entered the port, their crews stricken with a conviction that they had encountered the much-spoken-of sea-monster. Their tales varied only in degree, but their convictions were similar, and as they unfolded with touching solemnity the story of peril, the little town became the centre of wild, fluttering pulses. It was a conflict between pride of race and sanctified horror, for had not their townsmen looked into the very jaws of death? One imaginative gentleman made a statement that was creepy in his version of a gallant fight against the demoniac foe. The monster is said to have raised itself high out of the water, and opened its jaws, which exposed to view a vast space, and suggested that the intention was to receive, if not a few of the boats, certainly a multitude of the people who manned them. One craft came gliding along, and the skipper promptly picked up an oar, and put it into the "serpent's" mouth, whereupon the oar was as promptly snapped asunder; and the skilful mariner sailed his craft gallantly out of harm's way while the cause of all the commotion went prancing about the ocean in defiance of the vast flotilla which is said at the same time to have occupied its attention. It would be impossible to give more than a summary of all the things that were said to have been done during this trying episode; and all that need be said now is that the men were stricken with awe. They remained in port for several days in the belief that their enemy was still on the rampage outside. Their deliverance had been miraculous; and no doubt much thanksgiving, and much petitioning for divine interposition, so that this visitor from a sinister world might be spirited away to some other locality, held their attention during the days that were spent under cover of a safe harbour. There can be little doubt that the cause of the fishers' frenzy was the quiet, inoffensive bottle-nosed whale, leisurely prowling about the Sound in search of a living, and, in fact, none other than the one that my friend had supposed to be a reef. These creatures rarely run amuck until the harpoon is thrust into them. They usually roll about the sea in the most harmless way. No doubt the sight of a huge creature in localities unaccustomed to it creates an impression of dull alarm, and, strange though it be, some minds are so constituted that their superstitions and imaginations are always thirsting after association with the nether regions.
A common belief among seamen is that if rats migrate from a vessel that vessel is doomed; and many hardships have been endured at times on account of this belief. I am inclined to favour the idea that these creatures are just as tenacious of life as human beings are; but to say they have keener intuitive capacity than we is arrant nonsense. It is true they do not like leaky ships any more than their crews do; and they leave them for the same particular reasons as would induce them to leave districts on shore. Scarcity of food or comfort, or danger of attack, create their itinerant moods. Of course if their pasture is good they are difficult to get rid of. They are prolific and cling to their young. That unquestionably is a reason for their willingness to be driven from a position where the food supply may be precarious. They have their channels of communication which are as difficult to cut off as to find out, so that when they do leave a vessel that is in port it is pretty certain they have heard of some more comfortable quarters and a better playground. This accounts for them clearing out of a ship just before she sails, thus throwing some poor superstitious creature into abject fear that their exodus is the forerunner of calamity. To carry the superstition out logically, instead of rats being exterminated throughout a place or a vessel, they should really be encouraged to remain and multiply. I saw an extract from an American paper some years ago, and it told a sensational tale of a steamer which had arrived at Baltimore from Cuba, laden with iron ore. During the passage the whole crew were attacked by swarms of rats, which had come aboard at the loading port. The crew, including the captain, his wife, and family, were driven to take refuge on deck. The rats became infuriated for want of food, and boldly clamoured for it, until it was decided to feed them discreetly from the ship's stores. Many of the crew were bitten. Under less startling circumstances it is quite a common occurrence for seamen to have their toenails eaten off while they are asleep. It rarely happens that the flesh is penetrated; and they nearly always go for the big toe. People who have not seen such things are sure to be sceptical about the truth of this statement. It can, however, be easily verified. On the Baltimore vessel's arrival in the stream, and after communications had been effected with the shore, it was found that men could not be induced to risk working in the holds until the rats were expelled. It was decisively arranged to have the vessel scuttled. This was done, and the situation became more perplexing than ever. As soon as the water began to flow into the vessel, the rats took to the rigging, and every available space of it became occupied. Never had such a sight been witnessed before. It was decided to shoot at them. The panic at once grew into pandemonium, both amongst the rats and the public. The fear of large numbers of the rats making their escape seized the imagination, and took some subduing. Methods were adopted, however, which soon put an end to mere contemplation, and the rats were speedily put out of harm's way. The story comes from America, and is an answer to those who cling to the silly notion that rats have the faculty of prevision and always leave a ship that is to be sunk or is sinking. These rats would not leave even after the vessel was sunk.
Many years ago, long before sailing vessels succumbed to steam, I was serving as cabin boy aboard a brig laden with salt, which had been taken on board at St. Ubes, Portugal. We were in the Bay of Biscay, and had encountered a succession of gales from the time of leaving St. Ubes. The vessel had a private leak, that is, a leak which was not occasioned by constructive weakness, but by some omission of caulking, bolting, trinnelling, &c. This alone only called for one pump to be set going every two hours, but the heavy buffeting made her strain and leak so badly that it ultimately necessitated the continuous use of both pumps. The sea was running cross and heavy, which caused the cargo to shift, and the water to come on the ceiling, that is, the inner planking of the hull. A portion of the crew that could be spared from the pumps was ordered to take some forecastle bulkhead planks down, and make their way into the hold for the purpose of trimming the cargo over. The work was carried on vigorously, amid a continuous flow of adjectives. The captain and owner, both of whom were much-respected men, were consigned by the sailors many times to perdition and other more or less sulphurous places. Indeed, the father of evil was freely invoked against them; but as both captain and owner are very much alive at the present time, the former controlling a vast business in conjunction with his sons, and the captain for many years having been living a peaceful life far away from the desolate storming of angry waters, whatever may be in store for those two well-cursed gentlemen, external appearances up to date favour the assumption that Jack's invocation has been unheeded. There was much desultory talk during the spells of shovelling, and one of the sailors, who, by the way, had at one time commanded his father's Scotch clipper, remarked, as though he were soliloquising, "I don't care a Scotch damn so long as the rats stick to us." Whereupon there arose a discussion upon the protective influence of rats, and it was decided that no leaky vessel should go to sea without them. One of the men thought he heard water coming in at the bow, and, as that part of the hold was not occupied with cargo, he made his way towards it, and asked me to bring him a light. He inquired if I heard anything. I replied in the affirmative. The carpenter was brought down into the hold, and the ceiling cut away; it was found that the rats had gnawed a hole through the outside planking, until they tasted tar and salt water. The sea pressure afterwards forced the skin in, and there became a free inlet of water. The hole was not large, but it had been sufficient to keep one pump going every two hours. There was now no doubt that this was the private leak. There was great rejoicing at the discovery, and after a few appropriate words, not necessary to reproduce here, against a Providence that could allow the perpetrators of such infinite mischief to prowl about attempting to scuttle ships, it was generally concluded that the occasion being one of peril, should be allowed to pass without any stronger demonstration of reproach—as it might excite retaliation.
THE SEAMAN'S RELIGION
Nothing is more comic than the sailor's aversion to the person nautically recognised as the "sky-pilot." I have known men risk imprisonment for desertion, on hearing that a parson was going the voyage, or that the vessel was to sail on a Friday. If any of them were asked their reason for holding such opinions, they would no doubt make a long, rambling statement of accidents that had happened, and the wild wrath that follows in the wake of a ship sailing on the forbidden day! These prejudices still survive in a modified form. The younger generation of seamen do not view the presence of the parson on board their ship with any strong objection. In many cases he is rather welcomed than otherwise. But the last generation had a strong tradition, which could not be subdued, that no clerical gentleman should be looked upon with favour as a passenger. The boycott was sometimes carried out against him during the voyage with unrelenting cruelty. Ever since the Lord commanded Jonah, the son of Amittai, to arise and go to Nineveh, and the Hebrew preacher took passage aboard the ship of Tarshish instead, there has been trouble. The senseless antipathy has been handed down the ages, and the legacy comes from a shameless gang who were cowardly assassins, from the skipper downward! Poor Jonah! The tempest did not unnerve him; for, while the other drivelling creatures were chucking their wares overboard, he slept peacefully, until the bully of the crowd, and no doubt the greatest funk, called out to him, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us that we perish not!" These creatures always want sacrifices made to save their own precious skins; and they found in the poor penitent Hebrew a willing sacrifice. He agreed that they should cast him into the sea! It is not recorded what methods of torture were used in order to extract his consent; but it is pretty safe to assume that the Tarshish crew made it so hot for the poor man that he was glad to say to them, "Take me up and cast me forth into the sea!" Thus it comes to pass that the race of seamen cling to a tradition which originated in craven ignorance.
Some years ago a large party was invited by me to a trial trip of a new steamer. Amongst the guests were a number of ministers, some of whom were my personal friends, and some the friends of others who had been invited. A gentleman who had been in my service for many years held strongly to the old tradition against clerics, and vowed that no good would ever come of such a reckless breach of nautical etiquette. He felt assured that much ill would come of it. His countenance the whole day betokened internal conflict! He refused to be ridiculed into consolation, and I think has felt chagrined ever since that nothing has happened to justify his prophecy. It must not be supposed, however, that men holding these views carried their resentment ashore. Many of them were on easy terms of friendship with sky-pilots, and listened to their devotional efforts and teaching with fervent submission. A story, which is known and reverently believed by the typical sailor, has done service many times. It is this: A parson had embarked aboard a sailing vessel as a passenger. They were crossing the Bay of Biscay when a tempest began to rage and the darkness became full of trouble. The sea lashed with remorseless effect on the hull of the vessel, until her timbers cracked and made strange noises. It was discovered that the vessel was leaking badly, and all hands were ordered to the pumps. The hurricane continued to roar, and the parson became alarmed at the tumult. He at last appealed to the captain to know whether the danger was of a serious character. The captain informed him the danger was great; but, if he desired to be assured of his safety or otherwise, he was to go towards the men that were pumping and listen whether they were swearing. If they were, there was no immediate danger. He came back and said to the captain, "Glory be to God, they are swearing!" A short time was allowed to elapse, and another visit was paid. He came back and informed the commander that they were still swearing, but not quite so hard; "Indeed," said he, "I thought I heard some of them praying." "Ah," said the captain, "I fear if hard swearing does not continue, and they begin to pray, there will be no hope!" Whereupon the man of Holy Orders dropped on his knees and offered up an eloquent supplication for Divine aid: "O God, in Thy boundless compassion do Thou cause these sailors to cease praying, and make them to swear with a vigour and force that will appease the anger of the waves, and bring Thy servants out of danger into safety!" The captain called out "Amen," and added a supplementary petition for their deliverance, which is said to have been granted.
Sailors of that day spoke of God with the profound belief that He was their exalted fellow-countryman, and they did not scruple to charge Him with indifference to their nautical interests, if a foreigner, or a foreign vessel, happened to gain a monetary or seafaring advantage over them. This is not a mere legend. North Blyth, in the county of Northumberland, was inhabited by personalities who held definite opinions on these matters. One old gentleman, whom I remember very well (his name was Readford, but he had the distinction of being better known as "Barley"—why he was given this name there is no need to relate), held very strong views as to the functions and obligations of the Almighty. He never doubted His existence or His power, and he always claimed a dispensation of benefit as the right of British patriots.
The following story, true in every essential, will show his reasons for doing so: Barley was in command of a collier, which traded between Blyth and London. On one of his voyages to London he encountered a strong head-wind, which caused him to have to beat "up Swin." A Dutch galliot—type of vessel which has never had the reputation of being a racer—was in company, to leeward of him. Barley managed by dexterous manipulation to keep her there until the flood tide was well-nigh spent; but, alas for human fallibility, and the eccentric fluctuations of the wind, the Dutchman stood towards the north shore, while our hero, who was priding himself on the superior qualities of himself and his brig, stood towards the south, whereupon the Dutchman got a "slant of wind" which came off the north shore. The result was the British vessel was badly weathered by the galliot. Barley's anger could not be appeased. It was an offence against national pride and justice! He forthwith called the attention of his chief officer to the indignity that had been thrust upon them. "Look," said he, in wrathful humiliation, "there's God Almighty given that adjective Dutchman a leading wind and allowed His own countryman to be jammed on a lee shore!" It was said that Barley never really forgave this unpatriotic act, though he still adhered to the belief that the God of British seamen was stedfastly on the side of conservatives of every kind!
There is no class of workmen that is so much thought of and cared for as the sailor class, and there is none who need and deserve such consideration more. It would be invidious to draw comparisons between classes, so that all I have to say on the point is that they have always compared favourably with those whose avocation is different from theirs. They are susceptible to good or evil influences. Perhaps not more susceptible to one than to the other; and considering the malevolent, thievish scoundrels by whom they are continually beset, their record does not compare badly with that of others. Vagrancy is almost unknown amongst them, and if their vices are large their temptations are great; but, take them as a whole, they seldom premeditate evil. Their intentions are mostly on the side of right and goodness. Some of them stand like a rock against being tempted by the gangs of harpies that are always hovering about them. Others allow their good intentions to vanish as soon as the predatory gentlemen with their seductive methods make their appearance. Agencies such as the Church of England Missions to Seamen and the Wesleyan Methodist Mission are to be thanked for the hard efforts made to keep the sailor out of harm, and to reclaim those who have fallen. They may be thanked also for having been the means of diminishing, if not altogether extirpating, a loathsome tribe of ruffians who were accustomed to feast on their blood. These Missions are a Godsend not only to the sailor, but to the nation. No other agency has done the work they are doing. The Church is apt, to gather its robes round a cantish respectability, and call out "Save the people," and the flutter falls flat on the seats. These missions owe any success they have had to going to the people.
A few wholesome women are worth scores of men in getting at sailors—or for that matter in getting at anybody else, and the importance of getting more of them attached to the work should not be overlooked. The sailor is a person of moods. Sometimes it is religion, and sometimes it is something very different, and it is only those women who have grace, comely looks and supreme tact, and who carry with them a halo of bright cheerfulness, who can deal successfully with cases of this kind. The long-faced, too much sanctified female, doling out fixed quantities of monotonous nothings, is an abomination, and is calculated to drive man into chronic debauchery. One look from this kind of awful female is a deadly agony, and much effort should be used to avoid her. But there are even men engaged in religious work, whose agonising look would give any person of refined senses the "jumps." What earthly use are such creatures to men who crave for brightness and hope to be put into their lives, and the passion of love to be beamed into their souls? If people would only bear in mind that it is always difficult to find a real soul behind a flinty face, a vast amount of mischief would be obviated by making more suitable selections for philanthropic and religious work. Of course there is more needed than a pleasant look. It is imperative that there should be combined with it knowledge, and the knack of communicating it. All denominations have wasters thrust upon them, sometimes by the ambition of parents that their sons should be ministers, and sometimes by the unbounded belief of the young men themselves in their fitness. But it often becomes apparent that good bricklayers or blacksmiths have been spoiled in the process of selection; whereas a little courage and frankness on the part of the selection people would have saved many souls and many reputations.
SAFETY AND COMFORT AT SEA
The present-day sailor has a princely life compared with that of his predecessors of the beginning and middle of the last century. Those men were ill-paid, ill-fed, and for the most part brutally treated. The whole system of dealing with seamen was a villainous wrong, which stamps the period with a dirty blot, at which the British people should be ashamed to look. What awful crimes were permitted by the old legislatures of agricultural plutocrats! Ships were allowed to be sent to sea in an unseaworthy condition. Men were forced to go in them for a living, and scores of these well-insured coffins were never seen or heard of again after leaving port. Their crews, composed sometimes of the cream of manhood, were the victims of a murderous indifference that consigned them to a watery grave; and the families who survived the wholesale assassination were left as legacies of shame to the British people, who by their callousness made such things possible. Whole families were cast on the charity of a merciless world, to starve or survive according to their fitness. Political exigencies had not then arisen. The people were content to live under the rule of a despotic aristocracy, and so a devastating game of shipowning was carried on with yearly recurring but unnoticed slaughter. In one bad night the billows would roll over hundreds of human souls, and no more would be heard of them, except, perhaps, in a short paragraph making the simple announcement that it was feared certain vessels and their crews had succumbed to the storms of such and such dates. "Subscription lists for sailors' wives, mothers, and orphans! Good heavens! What is it coming to? They have no votes! What, then, do they want with subscriptions?" "But you subscribe for colliery, factory, railroad, and other shore accidents. What difference does it make how the bereavement occurs?" "Votes make the difference—the importance of that should not be overlooked!"
In disdain of the commonest rights of humanity this nefarious business was allowed to flourish triumphant. The bitter wail of widows and orphans was silenced by the clamour for gold until all nature revolted against it. The earth and the waters under the earth seemed to call aloud for the infamy to be stayed. The rumbling noise of a vigorous agitation permeated the air. Strenuous efforts were made to block its progress. Charges of an attempt to ruin the staple industry of the country were vociferously proclaimed and contemptuously unheeded. Parliament was made the centre of intrigue, whereby it was expected to thwart the plans of the reformers, and throw legislation back a decade, but the torrent rushed along, with a spirit that broke through every barrier. Even the great Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, funked further evasion and opposition, after the memorable evening when Samuel Plimsoll electrified the House, and stirred up the nation, by charging the Prime Minister with the responsibility of proroguing Parliament in order that shipping legislation should be evaded, and further charged him with indifference to the loss of life at sea! The onslaught was so fierce and irresistible that it became a necessity not only to listen but to act. Thus it came to pass that a hitherto obscure gentleman, who had no connection whatever with the sea, was the means of carrying into law one of the most beneficent pieces of legislation that has ever been introduced to the House of Commons; and his name will go down to distant ages, with renown unsurpassed in the pages of Mercantile History. And shame to him who would detract from the great reformer his share in the act which has been the means of saving the lives of multitudes of seamen, and which has stamped upon it the immortal name of Samuel Plimsoll.
Drastic reforms cannot be brought about without causing inconvenience and even suffering to some one; and I am bound to say a vast amount of unnecessary hardship was caused in condemning unseaworthy vessels, many of which belonged to poor old captains who had saved a bit of money, and invested it in this way long before there was any hint of the coming legislation which was to interfere, and prevent them from being sailed unless large sums of money were expended on repairs. Scores of these poor fellows were ruined. Many of them died of a broken heart. Many became insane; not a few ended a miserable existence by taking their own lives; or died in almshouses, and under other dependent conditions. Of all classes of men, I do not know any who have such an abhorrence for the poorhouse as the sailor class. They will suffer the greatest privations in order to avoid it. It was a hard, cruel fate to have the earnings of a lifetime, and the means of livelihood, taken from them by a stroke of the pen, without compensation; and England again degraded herself by substituting one crime for another. These fine old fellows had been at one time a grand national asset; some of them had fought our battles at sea; but even apart from this some compensation should have been voted to all those who were to be affected by legislation that was sprung upon them, and passed into law for the public good. It may be said that any scheme of compensation must face heavy difficulties, but that is not a sufficient reason for not grappling with the question.