Chapter 3: May - South Atlantic
Tuesday, 1st of May. Nearly calm. This morning we were going three knots, but this afternoon only half a knot an hour. We were about fifty miles from the Equator at twelve today. For some time, they have been hammering the rust off the outside of the ship, after which they are going to paint it.
There was a row last night between the Steward and Purser, and the Captain got very angry and said such things to the Steward, that he was very near giving up the Stewardship. This morning also there has been a row, for a great many stores have been stolen; all the best saloon biscuits, twenty boxes of Figs, fifteen of potted Anchovy, four dozen of Port wine meant for medical comports, besides raisins, nuts, potted fish, etc. - all gone no one knows where.
We saw a ship yesterday afternoon, but too far off to signal.
Wednesday 2nd. Today, at twelve o'clock, we were twenty miles from the Equator, so we have only gone thirty miles in twenty four hours! We are now going at the rate a quarter of a knot an hour. The sea is calmer than ever, but it is a little cooler than yesterday, I think, though perhaps it's only because I'm more used to it. There's been a three-masted Schooner in sight since ten, but she'll soon be out of sight, I've heard.
Mr Basset says we crossed the Equator at about six o'clock this evening, so we are now in the North Atlantic Ocean for the rest of the way. Three knots.
Thursday 3rd. Fine, with little or no swell on, but we were going this morning three knots, but now seven or eight, which, though once we'd have been disgusted with it in the cold weather, we think a great deal of now.
The sailors have been scrubbing the vessel outside round the poop today, after that they hammer the rust off, and then paint it.
We saw two large shoals of blackfish today, one this morning some way off from the ship, and one this afternoon, which came about her bows.
Two of the men, Beeton and Freeman had a fight the day before yesterday, whilst Mr Basset lay in his hammock and looked on. "Why shouldn't they fight if they like" said he. Two knots at 8 p.m.
Friday 4th. Very hot, with not even a swell on. Rather less than one knot an hour.
We are going to have a concert someday next week, perhaps on my birthday, with a wax-work exhibition.
Mr Basset sang us some sailor songs last night, all of which I intend to write out here. Saw another shark today.
Saturday 5th. Sea same as yesterday, but the sky is cloudier and I don't think that it is quite so warm. Five miles from twelve yesterday to eight this morning.
We got hold of Mr Simms* yesterday and he told us stories 'till ten o'clock
"When I was a Midshipman on the (blank) at (blank), we Midshipmen had leave to go on shore. We employed ourselves in the evening by going all round the town and stealing all the Brass plates and Barber's poles, which we carried on board and decorated the gunroom with. On Christmas Eve a good many people from shore used to come on board to look over the ship and you should have seen their faces when they put their heads in the gun room and heard their exclamations of 'There's my plate,' etc. When our Captain heard of it he was in an awful rage, and ordered us to give them all back, which we did.
And once we youngsters had three weeks leave, but when we came back we found that the other middies had popped (pawned) our sextants. This came to the ears of our captain, so he ordered all the midshipmen to come on the forecastle with their sextant. Out of twenty sextants only three made their appearance.
'So Mr So & so,' said the Captain, 'how is it that you haven't your sextant?'
'Oh! please sir, I've sent it on shore to be repaired.'
'Humph, Mr So & so, where is your sextant?'
(middy) 'Oh Sir, I thought it would get spoiled knocking about here in the harbour, so I've sent it to my outfitters.
(Captain) 'Mr So & so, how is it that you haven't your sextant?'
(middy) 'Please sir, I'm going to get a new one, so I've given the old one away.'
'It's very curious how careful you all are of your sextants all of a sudden and I shall expect you all here at noon tomorrow, with your sextants.'
And then what a struggle it was it was "raising the wind," but we all had our sextants next morning.
I was middy in the same ship as Admiral Sir Henry Kepple* (sic) and he was the maddest old fellow I ever served under. He had lost four ships and while one of them, the Dido was sinking, the French Admiral came in sight. He ordered a royal salute to be fired, but before the twenty one guns were fired, the ship sank.
Sometime afterward, when I was with him, we were near the rocks she was wrecked on, and Sir Henry said 'Oh, I've not been near those rocks for twenty five years, let's go and have a look at them.' And blowed if he didn't run us on to them again.
Our Captain was in an awful way, but Sir Henry said 'Don't distress yourself, I'll take charge of her and we'll soon have her off.'
'But you don't mean to say you're going to take her to Hong Kong in this state?' asked the Captain aghast.
'Why not?' said Sir Henry.
In two days we had her off. Then the Admiral appointed everyone to his boat and away we steamed, a distance of fifteen hundred miles, to Hong Kong and put her in dock. She'd a hole in her bottom that a man could put his head through.
Lady Keppel heard of his doings, so she thought she'd better come out to look after him. The Admiral knew nothing of her coming 'till she arrived at Singapore, where he was then stationed. Directly he heard of it he steamed away in the Serapis, four or five hundred miles up the coast. But she followed him from place to place for five months, and then, at last she caught him - and didn't she keep him in hand then!
She was a very particular woman and became great friends with one of the captains (a fellow who used to wear white Kid gloves on deck) and these two laid their heads together and sent extraordinary orders all over the fleet, one of which was 'that officers were to wear no other than white Kid gloves and were always to go on shore in a frock coat.' And this in a climate as hot as this (two degrees North of the Equator).
It was a very good thing to be in her good graces, for those captains whom she liked were sent to all the best stations, and those who were not so fortunate as to please her, to the worst.
When I was in the Edgar under Admiral Dacre* (sic) we were invited to a Ball at Brest, so we began brushing up our French for the occasion.
* Between 1862 and 1865 HMS Edgar was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sidney Colpoys Dacres (1805-1884), second in command of the Mediterranean Squadron and subsequently Commander-in-chief of the Channel Squadron.
When there I wanted to dance, so I went up to a young lady and asked her in very bad French 'Voulez-vous me donne le plaisir pour danser?'
'Oh yes! Mr Simms, if you'll speak English, for I'm not French myself.
'I never felt so foolish in my life before.'
Admiral Dacre was a man of very curious temperament and whims. Among other things he had a great dislike to Baltic Shirts,* and made us midshipmen wear white shirts and small black ties. After we had been sometime at sea my white shirts ran out, so one morning I went to breakfast in a Baltic shirt and large black tie. But the old Admiral spotted it directly, 'Take off your coat, Sir.' Off it came and there I stood in my Baltic shirt sleeves. For a punishment he made me sit down and eat for half an hour, without stopping, while he stood by and looked on.
* A heavy Serge or woollen, waterproof shirt, with a scoop neck.
But I was rather a favourite of his from the beginning and it partly came about this way. It was with him that I first went to sea as his aide-de-camp. For I determined to sit up all night, so that I might be ready at his first call. We had sailed from Weymouth on our way towards Copenhagen as we were then expecting war. Now the only seafaring town I'd ever been to besides Weymouth was Brighton, and at sea there is no other town which you could for it anywhere near. It so happened that about 2 a.m. the Admiral sent for me and in I ran.
'Who's there,' said the Admiral.
'Oh! Simms, well where are we now Simms?'
'Just off Brighton, Sir.'
'Quite sure, Sir.'
'How do you know?'
'I can tell by the lights, I'm quite sure, Sir.'
'You're a very good and intelligent boy, if you go on as you've begun you'll come to some good.'
The Admiral mentioned my intelligence to a Captain, who was a friend of my father and he wrote and told my father about it, and the consequence was that my father wrote me a letter saying how very glad he was to hear such good account of me, etc. and enclosing a £10 note."
Sunday 6th. Northeast Trades, 4-8 knots an hour. Fine rain now and then. Church on deck. Mr Sheppard read the wrong collect; 4 for 5.
Ma and Rachael had a row yesterday, so Rachael has taken her things forward for Mamma'd have naught more to do with her.
But I've not finished Mr Simms' stories, so here goes -
"When I was in Japan, at Yokohama, our 2nd Lieutenant died (the first officer in four or five years) and it is the custom for the soldiers to attend such funerals. While at the funeral I recognised an old school-fellow amongst the officers of the '10th'. We lifted our eyebrows at each other and directly after it was over we joined each other and went up to the barracks.
Sitting in one of the rooms was an old Major writing, who looked up as we came in and said, 'By the by - do you know the Reverend Mr Simms of Kent?'
'I should think so,' said my friend, 'considering I'm talking to his youngest son.'
Up jumped the Major and overwhelmed me with protestations of delight and invited me to his house for as often as I wished to come. And whenever I went on shore there was always a horse ready for me, on which I used to ride all about the country, so that I saw a good deal more of the place and people than many other fellows did.'
Monday 7th. The sea is rough compared to what it has been these last few days and the ship is pitching and rolling, so that Mamma and Miss Maling are not very well. Thermometer 84 degrees.
Tuesday 8th. Wind Nor'east. Sun nearly overhead. Mr Simms spun us more yarns yesterday, one or two of which I shall write down.
"A Lieutenant of his acquaintance wanted a ship and was going to the Admiralty to ask for one. He was a very good, smart officer, but had no powerful friends to back him and therefore he was very doubtful of success. Whilst he was at the Railway Station waiting for the train to come up a Porter cane to him and told him that everyone must go off the platform as the Prince of Wales* was expected by that train.
'Oh, I wish to speak to His Highness,' said the Lieutenant.
'Oh, yes Sir, very well Sir,' said the Porter, touching his hat and bowing, thinking that he must be some very great person.
Presently the train arrived. The Lieutenant walked up to the carriage in which the Prince was and taking of his hat said, 'Good morning your Royal Highness, I hope to see you in good health.'
"Good morning,' said the Prince. 'But I'm afraid I've forgotten your name.'
'Lieutenant A of the Royal Yacht.'
'Look A, old fellow, I'm very glad to see you. What are you doing now?'
'Oh, I'm just up to the Admiralty, your Royal Highness, to ask for a ship.'
'Well, perhaps I can be of use to you. What ship would you like?'
'Well, I was going to ask for the Rodney, your Highness.'
'Oh! Very well, don't trouble yourself about it. I'll see about it for you.'
Now the Rodney, being the Admiral's flagship, was very much sought after and great influence had been brought to bear on the Admiralty in favour of several others.
Lieutenant A went back to town and two or three days after he received a letter appointing him to the Rodney. As a matter of course he gave a dinner and was telling this story, when another Lieutenant exclaimed, 'Oh! You're the man who cut me out then.'
He had been through great influence, nominated to the Rodney, but of course the Prince of Wales' influence was above all others, and he was superseded and appointed to another vessel instead. And the best of the story is that Lieutenant A had never seen the Prince in his life before.
Wednesday 9th. Weather the same as yesterday.
Thursday 10th. A Brig passed us this afternoon and we signalled her. She was The Two Brothers, 724 tons, of Greenock to Trinidad. But we were both going so fast that that was all we could find out.
Friday 11th. Three vessels have passed us today. The first, a Brig, passed only about sixty yards from our bows and we could almost read her name by the naked eye, whilst handkerchiefs and hats were waved vigorously. The name read on the stern, was the Lyra Blithe of London, but we got nothing more for she stopped signalling very soon. The other two were both Brigs, too far off to signal.
Friday 11th. My birthday, I'm 15. The Doctor gave me a box of scent - Jockey Club and Moss Rose. Early this morning we passed a homeward bound Barque.
Saturday 12th. A flying fish came on board this morning. It was fried and all had a little piece of it. They are painting the masts and booms today and the children will go near them and get covered with paint. Caught Gulf Weed.
Sunday 13th. We passed out of the Tropics sometime last night and the trade wind is already beginning to die away. Second Cabin and Steerage passengers are fishing for Gulf Weed.
Monday 14th. Mamma and Papa's sixteenth wedding day.*
The Tradewind has entirely died away and the wind is now aft. It is a perfect day, neither too cold nor too hot. We saw, this morning, a full-rigged ship, outward bound, with double top gallant sails, and Captain Scotland says she is American.
They are painting the boats and lifebuoys and other little odds and ends about the ship.
Tuesday 15th. Warmer than yesterday, with wind at the Sou'west.
A Barque passed this morning. Walter, one of the cabin boys has been dismissed for impudence to the Steward.
Wednesday 16th. A steamer passed us last night about (?) o'clock, but we could only see her lights. Dead calm, painting as usual.
Thursday 17th. Mamma has been in bed all day, with a bad headache.
This evening before mustering of the Watch Mr Bovey got up a Band consisting of passengers and sailors*, which with various instruments such as violin, clarionet, flute, bones, marlin spike for triangles, frying pan and one of the tanks for drum, came from the fo'csle, as far as the poop and then played different tunes, with very good effect. Nilson, one of the sailors, played the violin, Jeune the clarionet, Price the Bones and Lilliwall the frying pan. Calm.
Friday 18th. A breeze has sprung up this morning and we actually make about two knots. This morning a Barque passed us, but too far off to signal.
This afternoon the Gift Auction came off. Some of the sailors bought such curious things: Boyce got a kettle holder, a yard of embroidery, a bundle of red Cherries, a pair of girl's boots, two paper cuffs and some other things. Price a needle case, two woollen mats, a tobacco cutter, yard measure, flat iron, three pairs of paper cuffs and a braided brush and comb bag. Lilliwall an apron, a child's nightgown, a bundle of cigars, a hat and a pearl necklace.
Here follows the lyrics of Reuben Ranzo, a popular halyard shanty, particularly among whalers.
A Barque passed us in the afternoon and proved to be the Gembok (?) from New York to Tamatave in Madagascar.
This evening Mr Simms brought three people from the main deck, who played the flute, violin and clarionet, also Lilliwall and the bones, and we had a splendid dance. Quadrille, -, Polka, Schottisch, Lancer's and ending with Sir Roger de Coverley.
Saturday 19th. Same sort of day as yesterday, only the sea is rough and the ship rolls more. They have been holy stoning on deck this morning and this afternoon they are going to varnish.
Frank is not well today and is in bed This evening some of the sailors dressed up as niggers and with music and riddles it went off very well. Mr Bovey, as Conductor, was very fantastically dressed.
Sunday 20th. A dull day, with rain now and then. Service in the Saloon.
Monday 21st. Varnishing and painting going on. Calm with a swell on.
They are holy stoning the main deck and singing at the same time, which, though very nice to listen to, somewhat hinders their work.
Tuesday 22nd. We are going about one mile an hour, with a heavy swell on, so that we rolling a good deal.
Several things have gone overboard, among other things, Miss Maling's chair and a bucket went over in an extra roll. Price (one of the sailors) lost his hat over and though he had taken no notice of the bucket, he immediately slid down a rope into the water to get it, but a wave carried it out of his reach so he got his ducking for nothing.
In the afternoon we passed a Barque, so near that we could see the colours of the sailors clothes, She was the Sidlow of Dundee, of 499 tons burden, bound from Truxillo [Honduras] to Cork and 120 days out.
Wednesday 23rd. Dull and cloudy. We are about two hundred miles from the Azores and short of coals, so we may have to put in there, but I'm afraid it's not very likely.
William, one of the boys who serve at table, has a bad arm and is unable to work, so the Steward is left to do it himself, with the aid of Frank and the two Eddies.*
Thursday 24th. The Queen is fifty-eight today. There is to be a concert this evening in her honour, at which I'm going to sing "Juanita" because it is nice and short.
Friday 25th. Fog.
The concert went off very well last night, except that some of the singers seemed rather backward in coming forward and Mr Basset took no part in it. Carrie sang "Coming through the Rye" - was encored and sang "Tabby Skins," with immense applause.
Saturday 26th. We passed a Barque at twelve today, she was only twenty yards off, so of course a good deal of chaff between us.
"Throw us over a plug of tobaccy, our pouches are empty," and "How are you off for soap?" from them.
"Will you buy a cow?" "Do you want any mutton?" from us.
"Thanks, we've plenty of Pork," with a good deal more of the same sort.
She was the Abergeny of Dundee, 77 days out from Talcahuano, in the Bay of Concepción [Chile], bound to Cork. Some of the passengers here saw her in Auckland, from whence she went to Valparaiso and so to Concepción.
About six we passed an Italian Brig bound most likely to America for families. Thick fog and very little wind this afternoon.
Sunday 27th. The wind rose last night and the fog has entirely cleared away. We passed a steamer this morning and asked her to report us. She seemed about the same size as the Hawea, but higher in the bows.
Monday 28th. Same sort of weather as yesterday and so cold that some of us have out on our winter dresses.
We passed a large steamer, which the captain says is one of the London and New York line.
Tuesday 29th. Fine and cold. Passed two ships. Painting, varnishing, polishing and cleaning generally going on.
Wednesday 30th. We are about one hundred mile south of Ireland, but the wind is not favourable. I saw a diver, a sunfish and live Seagulls, so we must be pretty near land.
We passed a full-rigged ship this evening and we've seen several others today.
Thursday 31st. I don't admire the English summer at sea, for we've a headwind blowing very hard, it's bitterly cold and so thick that we can only just see a Barque, which is within a mile of us.
They've been getting up some of the cable this morning. A Swallow pursued us this morning.
9 p.m. There has been a day of misfortunes, for this morning; our jib blew into ribbons, then the cro'jack* split from top or rather the fastening of the lower-topsail yard broke away. A large nut narrowly missed Miss May and some others who were sitting near the mast and all hands were turned up for that. And lastly, twenty minutes ago, the rope of the mizzen staysail gave way and they are settling that now.
We've passed seven vessels today; two fishing Smacks, three Barques, one Brig and a large outward bound steamer.
A little while ago Miss Hirst, Miss Ward, Mr Sheppard and I were sitting between the Bits and the pump, when an enormous wave broke over the whole length of the poop, drenching us with spray and driving us below.