A string of bloody spots spattering on the white deck from aloft interrupted the mate's cursing of the hapless deck hands, and he swung about peering up into the yards overhead, where a knot of incompetent negro sailors were struggling to hoist the mainsail in preparation for the heavy weather making up.
"What the devil are you. doing up there, you d__ black bunglers?" he bellowed, and immediately caught sight of Francis, grimacing with anguish and gripping a mangled hand, caught in the buntline block as the sail went up.
The mate's temper, already at boiling pitch from a series of bungles by the inexperienced crew, now snapped all bounds. "Heaven pity me for the pack of useless numbskulls that call themselves a crew!" he shrieked. "Do you call yourself a sailor, yelling over a scratched finger, you malingering swine! Jump overboard and make mincemeat for the whales but get that mains'l up or by the Old Harry I'll have you on deck. Harry I'll have you on deck and flogged!" But Francis, though not too good a sailor, was a powerful truculent man and now he answered the mate in kind.
"Swine yourself!" he shouted, "come up here and we'll see who'll jump overboard."
Insubordination! The bucko mate went white, then red with fury. "All hands down from aloft! Get down on the deck you black swine and take your licking" he roared. An ominous mutter ran through the crew forward as not only Francis but all the hands aloft came tumbling down on deck. In a twinkling the mate was surrounded.
As the first sounds of the uproar came aft, Captain Wallace, suddenly made aware of trouble, acted with swift decision. Handing out arms to officers and apprentices, he faced the threatening crew and shouted, "The trouble stops right here, once for all. Francis, apologize to Mr. Smith." Francis' answer was to peel off his jacket and before anyone could move he was on the mate like a tiger.
"All right, let them have it out," the captain growled out, lifting his revolver, "I'll shoot the first man that interferes." His words were lost in the sickening thud of knuckles on bone as the mate's fist smashed down the negro's guard, handicapped as he was with the bloody mangled hand. But even with this disadvantage, the mate could not down him, and after a quarter hour of furious fighting in which the mate more than once took a savage mauling, the captain stopped them. "That's enough," he ordered. "Now get below and the next man I catch abusing his officers I'll clap in irons."
All this time I had stood behind the captain. As senior apprentice, my duty clearly lay with the ship's officers, but since we all had had reason already to fear and despise the bullying mate, my sympathies were undoubtedly with Francis. So it was, though I perhaps alone of the officers heard Francis mutter to his companion as they stumbled below, "I'll lay for him with a capstan bar," I said no word of this, How fervently I later wished I had told the captain, but how could I foresee then the ghastly tragedy that was to make the next two years aboard the Cutty Sark a memory to shudder
Little did I think, running down the channel aboard the Fantasie back from my first voyage, that scarcely a week would pass before I would be again on the high seas trimming sail and eating salt junk. With the other apprentices I had talked of all the great things I would do on shore. But a telegram from Willis and Son calling me to the office at once, took me straightway to London. I was to join the Cutty Sark, then lying at Cardiff. There was no special inducement to do otherwise, and it was good policy to keep in with the Company, though I was entitled to two weeks leave after being at sea.
"Good boy, Sankey." Old Jock Willis patted me on the shoulder. "I won't forget you, lad," he added significantly. Moreover, my parents who lived at Enniskillen in Ireland where my father had managed Sir Basil Brook's estates, had emigrated to Toronto, Canada, during the year I was on the Fantasie and I was on my own.
When I reached the float, the Cutty Sark was just pulling out of the dock gates into the river at Cardiff, Wales. With the ready assurance and impertinence of youth, I yelled for a boat and ordered them to pull alongside. Catching hold of a wooden fender, worked my way up the ship's side, then, swinging my box over the rail I clambered on board.
She was carrying a cargo of steamer coal consigned to the American Navy in the Pacific and was bound for Anjer in the East Indies to await orders. It was Friday, June 4, 1880, and I was 16 years old. My spirits were fresh and free as the breeze that bellied out our sails. How could I believe that unkind Fate had given me a boost over the rail that morning and that I was just embarking on the most disastrous and adventurous voyage of my life?
Yet there was not lacking a prophet of disaster. On deck old Vanderdecken was pacing endlessly back and forth,. "Leave port on a Friday!" he croaked, "We're cursed, we're for it - it's bad luck for this voyage." His old voice quavered. He shook a finger at our snowy white sails now filled with a leading wind giving us our course down the channel, "Bloody red, they'll be!"
We apprentices knew he was weak in the head and laughed uproariously at the spectacle of this queer old man of the sea and his half-crazy croaking. In time, however, we came to fear complete fulfilment of his uncanny prophesies. Though we didn't know it, the component parts were already there and the tragic events that followed live on in a sailor's memory as a hell ship voyage.
Very soon we found out why we had been railroaded off in such a hurry and why they talked so smooth in the office in London. The crew that had been shipped in London had taken the Cutty Sark trip to Cardiff and deserted her, after having cashed their advance notes, for they had had "some experiences" with the first mate on the passage round that they didn't want to repeat, but with which we were soon to become familiar. It was extremely hard to get men in Cardiff, as the crews are seldom paid off in that port, so we had to start off with about as mixed a crew as it was possible to pick up - five Englishmen, three Negroes, two Greeks, one Italian, three Danes and one Dutchman made up the forward gang; two Scotsmen, Captain James Wallace, and a first mate Sydney Smith - a hard fibered despotic character more common in the virile days of sail, a rather colourless Englishman as second mate, who was so short-sighted that Captain nearly always stood his watch with him, and the third mate, an apprentice who had failed to pass as second mate and had signed on as ordinary seaman, were in command.
Our berth had been assembled from many other ships and rushed in to fill the crew shortage: Stanton from the Carlisle Castle, Fullerton from the Whiteadder, McCausland from the Zenobia, two first voyagers, Bill Barton and Kirby, and myself from the Fantasie.
Our carpenter "Chips", had fallen in love with the ship and signed in her regularly from her first launching. He knew every timber and bolt in her and was a very privileged person. The sailmaker was a big German who answered to the name of Dutchy, We apprentices promptly named him Vanderdecken, The Flying Dutchman. Together with the cook and the steward they completed our crew of 28.
Captain Wallace was a splendid seaman, kindly and interested in the apprentices, with always a friendly word to any of our crowd that happened to go aft or at the wheel, never making any remark if we happened to get a bit off course. The first mate was a regular slave driver who apparently saw only the hard work side of life. I considered I was lucky not being in his watch. There was never any rest with him on deck.
Long before I joined the Cutty Sark she had a world wide reputation and was thought by a great many authorities to be the swiftest clipper afloat, being built especially for the tea racing trade (known in the shipping world as "The Race") which claimed the most wonderful ships, masters and crews that have ever sailed the ocean from China round the Cape to London, but which have been completely spoiled by the cutting of that infernal ditch known as the Suez Canal, which enables steamers to carry tea to Britain by the shorter route. With the loss of this trade the upkeep of these ships had to be reduced to keep expenses down, so it was cutting down sail and shortening crews.
To the annoyance of Captain Wallace, the Cutty Sark, just back from beating all her rivals in a run across the Atlantic, had all her spars shortened and sail area greatly curtailed. Now Jock Willis jumped at the offer to race the finest Welsh steam coal out to the Pacific at the attractive freight offered by the American Navy.
She was built of teak, with treble iron frame and copper bolting, and was unusually strong in structure and perfectly watertight even after many hard years of service and heavy driving. The iron bulwarks were a little higher than usual in such a model, wonderfully designed, combining a fineness in bow and stern with a buoyancy that allowed her to be driven into a head sea on a wind without diving heavily or being pooped when on a run before it. In form she was like a beautiful yacht of large dimensions. Jock Willis had given his prized clipper the whimsical name Cutty Sark, meaning short shirt, from Burns's witch Nannie in Tarn O'Shanter
"When'er to drink you are inclined,
Or Cutty Sarks run in your mind,
Think, you may buy the joys ower dear,
Remember Tarn O'Shanter's mare."
A most delicately carved stark-white figurehead of Nannie, with hand outstretched in pursuit of Tarn O'Shanter, her long black hair flying in the wind, graced the bow of the dainty clipper. It was a custom when we were in port for one of the apprentices to get a long grey horse's tail to put in Nannie's hand - the tail Nannie had pulled from Tarn's mare as he reached the bridge just in the nick of time.
We were barely to sea on that fateful Friday before a wild southwest gale tore up the Bristol Channel with raging seas and howling and we were compelled to anchor in the Severn for three days. Old Vanderdecken was triumphant. "It's foul weather all the way, it's doom and damnation for us all", he pronounced. The man never seemed to need sleep. Hour after hour during the night watches he would pad the deck in his bare feet muttering to himself.
However, we got a fair start with a leading wind down to Cape Finisterre where we picked up the northeast trades, then squaring away the yards we made a run for the Line. Studding sails and every rag of canvas that could be stuck on was ordered set, for we had a record to keep up and another old antagonist. The clipper Titania in company with us was bound also for Anjer. We were brought very close together and so we sailed for nearly four days when we drew apart with a challenge for a race to Sunda straits.
Sailing on before the trades we reached the Line where we exchanged our fair wind for squalls and calms, very trying to the temper when coupled with the vertical heat of the sun and further by the discordant elements that made up our crew.
It took only a few days to set the mate abusing and swearing at the negroes, of whom only one was of any use as a sailor. The others he worked up at all sorts of trivial and worrying jobs. This constant hazing and tormenting began to have its effect. Nerves were strained and tempers shortened day by day, until the fight between Francis and the mate brought the trouble to a head. The captain's firmness seemingly ended the incident, and no inkling of what was to come clouded our anticipation of better sailing weather as we stood out to the south Atlantic.
We headed down the south Atlantic close hauled, making a southwesterly course to latitude 40 degrees south, where we picked up the west wind that forever blows round the southern seas. There is a legend that these seas are inhabited by a race of small people who delight in taking free rides on ships and can raise a real blow for their special favourites. Certainly they must have known we were coming! It was a grand experience showing what a ship like the Cutty Sark could do when driven by a captain like ours. Yes, it was cracking on sail all the time!
As usual at such times, in spite of all the squabbles between officers and men everyone seemed keen to make the best of the run and enjoy the excitement. My old knowledge of yacht sailing came in handy and I was counted one of the lucky four Captain Wallace allowed to steer. The first mate demurred at my being at the wheel single-handed at such a time, but I was left on the job, much to my great delight and dong my prettiest. It was no small thing either, as one has to have lots of nerve when a great stern sea comes whizzing up with part of the top coming over the rail and lifting you waist high as the ship rose in grand style and stepped out at her best.
Now the wind began to come out of the southwest in heavier and heavier squalls and our top gallant sails and chain sheets got a heavy mauling. The men were sent aloft to bend a new lower fore topsail which they swayed aloft to "Blow! Boys! Blow!"
With a gallant ship and a bully crew:
Blow, boys, blow!
We're just the boys to pull her through,
Blow, boys, blow!
For up aloft this sail must go
Blow, boys, blow!
Up went the topsail in its stops, the men heartened by the chanty, but it was another thing to bend it. For two hours the men fought aloft, sweating and swearing, the foot rope swinging and dipping as they braced against the tilting yard. It seemed an impossible task but set it must be and eventually was as our gallant little ship cleared herself of a green sea which rushed over the stern and swept the length of the deck. During the whole of this strenuous time our little clipper steered beautifully and our entire crew played up most gallantly, wishing only to give the ship the best chance to break the record. It was stand by the whole time, and eat and snooze when we could.
Soon after this event I heard from the second mate that, there was some anxiety on account of a variation between our two chronometers and their rating. They had apparently got apart about five minutes of time or seventy miles in longitude. Unlike the Fantasie, we used to hear all about the navigation from Captain Wallace. He expected two of our berth to take sights for latitude and longitude on Sundays and then he would invite us down for dinner in his cabin with the officers.
Shortly after we passed the longitude of St. Paul's island, which we gave a wide berth, we hauled northeasterly for Sunda straits and in trimming sail a most serious row occurred.
The mate was trimming sail in the middle watch. So that the sheet could be hauled aloft on the starboard side, he roared out to Francis who was on the lookout at foc'sle head, "Let go-o tack." No movement. Again the mate roared out, "Let go-o tack!" Whether Francis heard him or not, again the order was not obeyed. This was too much for Bucko Smith, who saw red where Francis was concerned, and went for him on the jump, "You god-damed ___"
What occurred in the next few seconds, no one saw. We heard a sharp crack, a blood curdling yell, followed by a dull thud, as we rushed forward. Francis was down, out cold.
The mate's story was that Francis had met him with an upraised hand spike. In the struggle the mate managed to get hold of it and brought it down with such force that he knocked the darky senseless. He was taken down to he bosun's deck aft but it was evident that his skull was fractured. He never regained consciousness and died three days later. The ship was hove to and we lowered the body over the side, Captain Wallace reading the service.
After this the mate kept to his cabin. The ship suddenly became quiet, the men going about their work in sullen silence with bitterness in their hearts and never a chanty to buck them up at the most tedious task. Though Francis was far from being popular among us, the mate was openly despised. Old Vanderdecken's gloom enveloped the ship. Her run of bad luck lad now fairly started. Captain Wallace took over the mate's watch till we arrived at Anjer, from which we were about ten days sail.
Arriving off the islands of Sumatra and Java the error in chronometers succeeded in fooling us badly. For though it does not matter being a bit out of position when there is lots of sea room, it does not do to run chances of going on the rocks. So we kept well away from the entrance of the straits until we had attained the latitude, then went running due east for Java Head.
Through the portals of these straits the fleets of sailing ships to and from China have made their way for many years. Situated almost on the Line, the southeast trade winds are broken up at its entrance, and dependence has to be put in every favourable slant of breeze or squall. While no high seas are met, it takes the highest class of seamanship to navigate from this point to various destination in the China Seas and eastern Pacific ocean.
We were very unfortunate in making the landfall. The fresh wind that we were carrying and which should have lifted us up the Straits died away just as we made the entrance. Strange to say, our antagonist, Titania, just managed to take advantage of the same wind. The result was, that while we lay becalmed off Krakatoa Island, she was passing through. Had our chronometers been correct we would have either won the race or at least sailed up the Straits together.
At Anjer we came to anchor to enquire for orders. There were none waiting, Jock Willis scarcely expecting his cut-down clipper to make such a quick passage - 69 days from Lundy island. So we remained a week at anchor.
One night a number of bumboats came alongside to starboard to sell bananas, pineapples, bunches of small onions and packets of jaggery. Captain Wallace supplied the hands with money and soon we were carrying on a noisy brisk bargaining with the gesticulating natives.
But on the port quarter a different scene was being enacted. The mate had evidently persuaded the captain to help him escape. Arrangements had been made with the captain of an American ship, the Colorado, which had just arrived from Hamburg, to take the bucko mate on board. Under cover of the excitement to starboard, the mate sneaked up on deck, dropped into a boat sent from the Colorado and was off. The steward reported him missing when he went to fix up his berth at 9 p.m.
When the crew found out that the mate had slipped away, they were not long in putting two and two together. Led by Old Vanderdecken, they declared they would do no more work on the ship until he was found. The captain, to pacify them, took a number of men ashore to see the authorities. They sent out some native police to search the ships and made a big investigation, but really did nothing. They would not let one of our crew go with them to help in the hunt, knowing full well that it would be no trouble for sailors to rout him out of a ship.
At this critical moment our belated orders came, "Proceed to Yokohama". The captain called our berth, carpenter, cook and steward to work the ship out. Some of the men started to interfere but we were all armed, the captain ordered four of the ringleaders to be put in irons, and we were left alone. After a long dreary heave we got the anchor up and some sails set by using the capstan to hoist the top sails, and with a light fair wind stood up the Straits and out into the Java sea.
All might have gone well, but unfortunately we were becalmed, a clock calm which lasted for three days. Old Vanderdecken would parade the decks croaking about disaster, "She'll have no luck until that murdering mate is brought to book. I'll hunt him out. He'll hang for that bloody murder. I'll find him if I have to sail the seas till Doomsday!"
Captain Wallace had no sooner helped the mate to escape when he realized the position he had placed himself in. He knew there would be an official investigation when he got to Yokohama and with little doubt he would be held responsible for the mate's escape. The least he could expect would be to lose his certificate. He had an old mother and a young wife dependent on him in Scotland and the outlook was indeed very black.
I don't think the captain took any sleep from,the time we left Anjer, With bowed head he walked the poop night and day or stood gazing unseeing over the water. The ship had lost all life, nothing stirred but the everlasting flapping of the becalmed sails as she rolled to the swell, with scarce an odd puff of wind but fierce heat all day and all night and Vanderdecken's gloomy predictions forever ringing in our ears.
There seemed to be a foreboding of things to happen. The crew kept forward in a sullen angry mood, our berth doing the best we could to carry on, praying for a wind that did not come. This tension could not keep up much longer. Captain Wallace was becoming totally indifferent to all around him, his mind and body would soon crack under the strain, we knew but we were powerless to assist him.
On the fourth day from Anjer our berth had just been called at 4 a.m., when the captain was standing at break of the poop with the faithful Chips. "Is the mate up?" he asked. "Comin' up, sir" answered Chips.
Captain Wallace turned and went aft. "Check your course" he directed the helmsman, Then deliberately he stepped on to the taffrail and jumped overboard.
Far out abeam of the ship a black triangular fin, a shape ominous as doom, suddenly broke surface and came slicing through the water towards the ship. Another, another and yet another! Shaking with horror, the man at the wheel put down the helm, tore two lifebuoys from their place and hurled them overboard into the milling maelstrom below where tigerish shapes churned the waves to froth. The echoes of the wheelsman's shriek, "Sharks!" were still ringing over the deck when the crew, near to mutiny an hour before, flung themselves into the boat which had been used at Anjer and was still in the davits. With a great splash it struck the water. The ship had been sneaking along making about two knots before the gentle breeze, and the lifebuoys were clearly visible a short distance astern. But around and below them white water churned in the wake of the great grey shapes of death that milled and fought furiously over something in the sea beneath. What was it? The heartsick crew, shaken to their depths by the suddenness of the tragedy knew only too well.
Though they rowed tirelessly, back and forth in ever-widening circles, in their innermost hearts they knew, and in their blanched faces could be read the bitter knowledge of all. Captain Wallace was gone from them forever, and in the mind of each man this thought was uppermost: we drove him to it. The splendid seaman, the kind considerate friend to our berth we would see no more, and it was with heavy hearts we at last gave over the useless search and rowed back to the ship.
The crew took this greatly to heart and blamed themselves for being the indirect cause of his death, and we of the half deck knew that never again would we likely sail under such a man, who had sacrificed his position and life to assist an unworthy shipmate in trouble. Surely Old Vanderdecken's prophesies were coming true. The ship had sailed on a Friday and now we were in for it for the rest of the voyage.
As soon as all hope was given up for the captain and the boat was hoisted up, a consultation was held. The crew wanted the second mate to proceed to Yokohama, but he would not undertake the responsibility. His knowledge of navigation, was shaky and his weak eyesight prevented him from taking observations. "Sankey, you'll assist me taking sights. We'll put back to Anjer", he decided.
There was evidently nothing else to do but to put back to Anjer, and in this light wind area it took four days. And it was not without incident. A heavy current caught us just west of Thwart-the-Way Island and took us round stern first, on the northwest side. In this volcanic region the rocks and islands sheer out of the water from great depths and it was lucky for us that there were no outlying reefs. We had to brace up the yards to, keep from striking against towering cliffs. We were completely becalmed, the current carrying us along at about eight knots and we could not get soundings with the deep sea lead line. We sorely missed the direction of Captain Wallace! After getting clear away, a nice slant of wind allowed us to make the anchorage of Anjer, though the hook, dropping on a shelving rock, had to be taken up again and we had to warp in closer to shore.
I can imagine the consternation of Jock Willis in London when he received the cable announcing our disastrous condition, for he knew nothing of the killing of Francis, the escape of the mate or the death of Captain Wallace. Of course he didn't want to stand the loss of the consigned coal to Yokohama, but the second mate wisely would not take on the responsibility of command, so after many telegrams we were ordered, "Proceed to Singapore in charge of Dutch pilot."
This trip was a regular yachting experience, no deck work, and for the most part a light fair, wind prevailed. We worked the ship under "calashee" watch, which meant that we stood by at all times ready for a call. We had one close shave, being caught in a tide and the wind about all gone. The strong current rushed us past a line of reefs so close that a biscuit could have been thrown on to their ragged edges.
The port of Singapore was all agog at the cause of the famous Cutty Sark's first visit to the port and the news began to get abroad of her sailing prowess, notorious crew and bucko mate. Indeed, the stories became so embroidered from repeated telling in foc'sle yarning that Joseph Conrad the celebrated sea novelist, describes (in "Lord Jim") this incident of the mate's escape from the Cutty Sark, that the mate "swam" to the Colorado. This he could not have done. Wind and tide out of the Java Sea was running against him as the Colorado was up the Straits toward Thwart-The-Way Island. And there were sharks, plenty of them.
An enquiry into the recent disaster was now held on shore by the port authorities. The crew was given the option of taking their discharge, which a few did. It was with great relief to most of us that Old Vanderdecken went, for we began to think he vas uncanny, and we believed his evil influence was partly the cause of our trouble. Even as he bundled over the rail we heard him muttering, "I'll hunt him down. I'll have him swung at the yardarm. The ship will have no luck till that murderer is caught and the blood washed away." I never heard of him again.
About a week after this a new captain came on board to take charge. His name was Bruce, a rather singular one to follow Wallace, like a return to Scottish history. But there the similarity ended and the contrast began. A short stout man with an uneasy look, and a habit of sliding around the deck and wheel that suggested distrust of officers and men. He had been the first mate on the Hallowe'en, one of our line that was lying at Hong Kong, and had been sent down from there to take charge. Our second mate was promoted to first mate, and we shipped another second mate and enough crew to make up our number.
Now we hoped that having got rid of a bucko mate and old Vanderdecken we had closed that chapter in our records, but as events proved we were only at the beginning of our adventures.
Unloading coal had been going on steadily but when about half of it was out the S.S.Glencoe, one of the supplanters of the tea clippers, came alongside to take the balance. She was homeward bound with a cargo of tea and was racing the Sultan of India.
"Those miserable thieves," Barton exploded, "That tea belongs to us and the Titania and the Thermopylae and the rest of the fleet!" "Shades of Tam O'Shanter" growled Stanton. "Look what that dirty ditch of a canal has done for us, turning the Cutty Sark into a collier for these fair weather ships and sailors taking the overland passage."
However, we couldn't help but admire the efficient mechanical way the S.S.Glencoe operated. They put double gangs of coolies on the job and used their own steam hoists to take out the coal so quickly that we had to rush in ballast to keep the ship from toppling over, as we required about 400 tons to keep the centre of gravity down to maintain stability. Meanwhile we apprentices amused ourselves by throwing coins for the native boys who had paddled their canoes, hollowed out of a single log, round the ship. They could dive for the coins and often get them before they could reach the bottom. Or we spent our time catching boobies, a strange bird of this port which would light on our yards and which we could easily catch by hand.
After two weeks our orders came to proceed to Calcutta, so more ballast was procured and the royal yards sent down on deck, as they would not be used on this short trip. A nice slant of wind gave us a good day's run to clear the narrow waters of the Malacca straits.
Only one mishap occurred in making anchorage. By some blunder the leadsman called seven fathoms when it was seventeen (the marks are the same, red bunting) and fearing quickly, shoaling water the anchor was let go. Lord, what a roar the chain made and what a jolt the windlass got! What was worse was the job of hoisting the hook up from such a depth, with tackle and winch gripping the chain and all hands sweating on the capstan! We were glad we saw the flukes again on the rail!
Our new captain was a great contrast to Captain Wallace. At best he was a miserable coward as a sailor, though he was a particularly good hand at navigation. If all was fine he strutted the deck in style, expounding on how to carry sail, but in a blow or making land, or if the barometer took a quick tumble, he seemingly lost all nerve and became useless to direct. This was made worse by the hypocrisy he manifested in religious matters. In fact, he filled the role of a marine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a touch of Pecksniff thrown in for ballast.
For some reason he was reasonably kind to me, and gave me a chance to keep up my navigation of a higher order than that usually practised on a merchant ship. We made complete chronometer records, with lunar observations and deviation charts and later displacement tables to check ballast and cargo loading. This work went on in fits and starts most of the voyage.
After we cleared the Andaman Island, the captain began to hold prayer meetings on board. He would preach beautifully against intemperance and all sorts of vices particularly liable to befall sailors. Nearly everyone on board took a great deal of stock in him at this time, but there was another surprise when we got in the vicinity of the Sandheads at the mouth of the Hoogley River.
He seemed to be possessed with the fear of a stranding and the dread of a cyclone. We were laid to every night when beautiful weather and wind were ideal. It was three or four days of this until we ultimately drifted near the pilot brig. Later a powerful tug took us in tow up this celebrated river, and the first night found us at Diamond harbour, where the dense jungle comes down to the water's edge. We were entertained all night with the cries of jackals, hyenas and other big game, as well as hordes of mosquitoes.
The river is particularly dangerous for shipping on account of its shifting sand and banks, and quick sands in its channel. In some places the sand is so mixed up in the water that ships get stuck. With the aid of an experienced Hoogley pilot we crossed shifting sand bars with only a few inches of water under our keel. We got ready for any emergency, the anchor ready ranged, axe handy to cut the tow line, two men at the wheel, pilot and first mate on foc'sle head, captain and second mate aft, and all hands along the deck - an imposing array!
At last we dropped anchor at Garden Reach on November llth, then next day on to our moorings, which had been assigned to us at Princeps Ghat. Looking up stream, the river seemed just a forest of masts, as this port handles by far the largest amount of shipping for India. There are very few loading berths, and the ships are moored bow and stern in tiers of five abreast in the river. The moorings are all fixed and it is one of the sights to see the native boatmen diving under a mooring buoy to attach a ship's cable under water.
As we were likely to remain here for some time, the crew was paid off, both mates taking their departure. Of our berth Fullerton joined the Indian River service and McCausland was invalided home after he had gone down with fever. Of the ship's company that left England only four apprentices and Chips remained.
We lay here four and a half months, seeing a great number of ships come and go, for the regular lines had their cargoes secured while we of the China trade were out of our beat and were now rated a tramp, it is hard to say how we managed to kill time, but somehow it went by in the day's routine. Cleaning ship and repairing were our chief occupations. For awhile I helped the carpenter, making stops, caulking decks and running the pitch pot, which was preferable to painting and scraping the deck seams, which the others got in for. Later I took over the night watch.
Often a school chum from the Conway training ship would come to this port. When the Windermere pulled into the mooring next to us, I decided to pay a visit to one of its apprentices, Dixon. Our yards were very close together, so I climbed up and out on the main yard and swung across on to theirs and so down on deck. We had a great chat, but I had to go back the way I came, which was a risky road with a swift tide running underneath at 2 a.m.
Christmas came and went with its festivities. We decked the ship out in all the bunting we could find and the harbour looked wonderfully gay, with every ship's flag flying. The people of Singapore take a personal interest in the sailors who come to their port, and entertained us in true Christmas spirit, for these sailors as a rule can never repay, and may never come to this port again.
At New Year's a gun fired from Fort William gave the signal of the passing year and from all along the whole river front hundreds of ships rang their bells and fired off rockets. And so new year, 1881, began at 180° longitude.
But I shall never forget the spectacle that was presented to us during a total eclipse of the moon which occurred a few weeks later. To the natives this meant that an evil spirit was trying to eat up the moon, and they attempted to scare it away. All over the country came a weird moaning like lost souls in purgatory, and exhortations from the Koran were chanted to a moaning tone by thousands. Suddenly out of the shadows a native would jump to his feet and fire off a gun at the Black Devil. This kept up continually for hours. At 12 o'clock the brown shadow had given place to a solid black one, and their waves of anguish floated up to us with such force and so unnerved us that it was hard not to resist the impulse to rush off and join them in what was apparently their reception of the end of the world. As the shadow thinned, hope seemed to return to a soul-sick people, and they began shouting and firing off guns again. They kept up this monstrous demonstration until 4 a.m.
Passing constantly before us at the port, the natives presented an ever-changing colourful picture: coolies, river men, bumboat Gurkas, short men with knives, tall dark men dressed in White, cargo stowers chewing betel nuts or hookah smoking, and over all millions of pigeons flocking round the ships.
During all this time our Captain Bruce stayed on shore, busily working up a reputation for godliness, seeming to have no care for the welfare of his ship or his men. Before leaving Singapore the people at the Seamen's Mission presented him with a fine gold watch in appreciation of his services in holding religious meetings amongst sailors on shore and various ships in port. How grossly they were taken in!
Finally a cargo had been secured for Melbourne and Sydney of jade, castor oil and tea. The latter being the first tea ever shipped from India to Australia we took special care of the consignment, for it was the choicest kinds and grades. Tea became a very popular beverage in Australia, but ironically the Cutty Sark which had opened up that trade had no further share in carrying it on.
Towards March we were ready to make a start. A new crew was shipped, mostly shilling-a-month men working their passage. Having been stranded and short of funds, they thought to better themselves by taking this opportunity to get to a better port. A new first and second mate also came on board, the former a rank atheist, the latter a particularly quiet man who as time went on came to be a very good friend of our berth but scarcely aggressive enough to cope with the crisis he was about to encounter.
On March 5, 1881, we started off from our moorings, down to Garden Reach where we were nearly put on the river bank by a blow that came ripping things up in fine style, then out again to Sandheads where the pilot and his crowd once more spread out the ways of the Cutty Sark on the high seas. We headed south, crossed the Line, took on the southeast trade winds and went on close hauled on a SSW course. We had mail to carry, for the Cutty Sark had a reputation for speed - however, a very poor showing was made. The command wasn't there to push her along when the opportunity came. Our marine Jekyll and Hyde was surely in command, with Hyde the dominant personality.
When we got south far enough in the forties to take a good hold of the westerlies we should have made a splendid run, but our "brave" captain, who was no sail carrier, got cyclone fever and twice had us under goosewinged topsail instead of driving the good ship as of old. The men swore and raged at him in their berths for the humiliation he was dealing the ship and her crew. There we were for two days pitching into a head sea, no sign of cross seas or closed condition to warrant the scare, and all that sail furling and yard twisting for nothing, while letting a nice fair wind go by. There was more growling amongst the crew than if they had been worked day and night carrying on with split sails and decks awash!
Our captain got a real bad case of the funks when the ship would not lay to the wind and was obviously very much down at the stern. The "Old Man" went off his head as she lay in a trough of the sea, and he was useless until the cause of her behaviour was discovered. The after bulkhead had been pierced by a drill hole to let a light leak near the stermpost find its way to the pumps. This hole had got plugged up and the small compartment in the stern was filled with water.
After the compartment was pumped out she got good footing again. There was worse coming to him as we neared our destination, when between the fear of running ashore and being caught in a blow between Tasmania and Australia he became paralyzed with fear. His limit of safety, in his mind, seemed to be 100 miles off shore. We were dodging on and off for several days instead of making use of a fair wind, and then a really fine blow came that about finished our captain. Without sleep he became a pitiful specimen. Imagine our shame as the Cingalese, a ship that had left Calcutta a week later, came so close to us that they gave us a bronx cheer as they whooped by!
However, as the winds were the usual westerly we made sufficient leeway to bring us in sight of our point, and we cracked on sail and made such a grand run up to Port Philip Head that the pilot said all sorts of fine things about our coming in. We soon made the narrow entrance into this wonderful bay and dropped the hook at Queenscliff as a very heavy wind culminating in a gale raised a choppy sea which we were able to ride out. Then a few days later we sailed up to Williamstown to anchor off the pier.
One of those peculiar nasty incidents that sickens one at times was now enacted. It got to be known amongst the men forward that before being discharged (they had worked their passage) the rigging was to be tarred down. This they considered an imposition, as they had virtually fulfilled their agreement. At night all sorts of strong talk was indulged in, and the paint locker was broken into and the tar barrel emptied overboard.
Next morning, when it was discovered, the mate managed to gather remnants from the tar pots, which boiled together with salt water made a dirty, muddy substitute to black the rigging down. Of course the men had to obey orders or get into trouble, so they went aloft with the tarpots in a very ugly mood. Presently a tarpot would -come down, striking the mast and deck house. Lord, what a mess the ship was in! It was enough to make a saint swear to see her. And what a time we poor devils had afterwards, cleaning the mess off the bright work and decks, for it was in this disgraceful shape that we went alongside Sandridge Pier and the men promptly skipped ashore. One of the poor devils drowned. He had come back to get his clothes after indulging in too much whiskey and walked off the end of the wharf.
At this pier we had to put out an anchor as the sea is liable to break in and we must be ready to pull off should it get too rough.
Before we started off again we had a further change in our berth. Stanton left for home on the S.S.Potasie, having decided to leave the sea and its wild ways after his experience with two bucko mates and a fair-weather captain. We set off June 5, with a nice fair wind which gave us a straight course from the pier to the Heads, and then out through the Rip at the narrow entrance squaring away the yards close to Judgment Rock and signalling to the lighthouse, changing our course northerly as we sailed up the coast. Encountering head winds clear and fine it took us ten days before we were towed in between the cliffs forming the north and south Heads. Such was the seamanship of Captain Bruce!
In Sydney we found two of our line, the Tweed and the Thermopylae, and the three clippers all loaded coal for Shanghai with the prospect of a fine race up the Pacific, but with our knowledge of Captain Bruce and his lack of nerve, our crew had little spirit for it.
We took on some new hands here, a young Sydney lad who was overjoyed at the prospect of his first voyage on the famous Cutty Sark, and an apprentice out of his time who shipped as an ordinary seaman. We had also to ship a number of seamen, as the crew from Calcutta had left. These had to be paid high wages, and this of course caused a lot of trouble as they got twice as much pay as the others for the same work. Our cargo of coal was very dirty and made a frightful mess, with the leaked-out castor oil of the previous cargo getting mixed up with the coal dust, as we found out later when it came to clean ship in readiness for a more aristocratic cargo.
Starting out July 2 from the wharf, out through the narrow Heads, on northeasterly to clear the land, we got a steady wind which was first a westerly one, then later we caught the southeast trade winds and took advantage of them.
Had anyone gifted with the power to see into the future, told us that the past experiences were just child's play he would have been given little credence, or if we had believed him there would have been more high-priced sailors on the ship. We had scarcely cleared the land before a peculiar chuminess between mate and captain became apparent, contrasting with their previous antipathy. This got us wondering just what was coming next, for to our surprise here had been a drinking bout between them and they were both plainly drunk for all hands to see,. They were a pair of devils, the chief one being our "brave" captain who had now dropped his mask and showed himself as a ranting hypocrite.
The object was very simple. The men shipped in at Sydney getting such high pay would run up a large bill in a long voyage, and these precious chums had decided to make the ship so hot that they would be glad to quit at the first port, Shanghai, where they would fill up the berth with stranded sailors and thus keep expenses down to curry favour with the owners or, if the opportunity came, pocket the difference when paying off.
With this in view they instituted what sailors call a "hell afloat." The watch that was below at noon were only allowed dinner hour, then it was out again on deck where all sorts of work was planned, such as cleaning varnish off the woodwork (really doing a lot of harm, since as we had a coa1 cargo the dust ground into the unprotected grain and it never looked clean again).
Needless to say growlings and small shindies were common. The mate was a perfect fiend at working his watch at night, when it is customary to take an odd snooze if not actually on watch forward or at the wheel. Poor Barton came especially under his displeasure and he would keep him on the jump, doing up gaskets and other trifles aloft. All we could do was obey orders and not appear to notice, though it went against the grain.
In our berth it was arranged that we all should keep a good lookout for all these odd jobs and put things right, so the mate was kept worrying to find anything to keep going. Not one of us would please him by taking a snooze on deck, though we often pretended to be asleep to plague him.
We had a light weather passage as far as the Loochoo Islands where we encountered high cross seas, which jolted us about for a couple of days. We found out later it was caused by a typhoon that we happily missed getting too close to, A week later we reached the Saddle Islands, but not before the captain had his usual case of land fever. Finally we anchored below Shanghai and later pulled in to the wharf at American Town to discharge our coal and take on ballast, then dropped back to anchorage again.
And here we began the job of cleaning up the inside of the ship with sand and canvas and lots of water. It was a terrible job - we were soaking wet all day, and as a work-up job set to pumping out the slush in the hold for two or three hours after knockout time. Needless to say some of the crew were glad to take their discharge, though it was a desperate thing to do in these ports, for most have ultimately to work their passage to get away to another port.
Just before leaving the wharf the crew was given a liberty day, which is a regulation after a certain time at sea. We went in for a high old time and afterwards had some rare old shindies on board from drunken mem But that was not the worst. Some of the men had caught an infection in some of the low dives frequented on shore, and our berth became infected.
Our captain had stayed cozily on shore acting the role of the respected Dr. Jekyll while on board ship conditions became desperate. A number of the men suddenly were taken alarmingly ill. In agony they rolled on the deck, cursing and vomiting or struggling and roaring like madmen in their bunks, with unbearable intestinal cramps. The stench was appalling and their plight pitiful. "Go for the doctor, Sankey," the mate ordered. I left at once in a sampan. Fortunately I was able to locate the doctor with little difficulty and brought him back on board.
"This is cholera, an Asiatic fever" the doctor pronounced. "Get these men to the hospital immediately and carry out a complete and thorough fumigation throughout this ship!"
The only ones free of infection were the first and second mate, boatswain, sailmaker, Barton and myself. We were left on board and the rest sent to hospital. Two of the men died and three more were so badly pulled down that they could not come back. McCausland from our berth was one of them, and he was invalided home. Fumigation with sulphur in the berths and hold, with all clothing and bedding hung up, was carried out and the yellow flag of quarantine was run up to the foremast head to enforce complete quarantine.
Three weeks later the remainder of our men came back from the hospital looking like skeletons, so terrible is the effect of this disease even when caught in its primary stages. Later we secured a clean bill of health and our captain came on board again. Our unscrupulous Mr. Hyde was now on stage.
And now you will scarcely believe me when I tell you that the men only just recovering and barely able to walk about the deck were ordered by our good Christian captain and his infidel mate to go to work at the old job of cleaning the hold all day and pumping water in the evenings!
That was too much! They promptly refused. We were lying below Woosung at the time, ready for sea. The captain now thought he would surely get rid of those expensive hands. He could have the men jailed for mutiny and thus free of them. He hurried back to Shanghai in a sampan, but when he made his charge in court he found he had gone too far. The judge ordered an investigation, and on advice from the port doctor he censured the captain severely. "These men will not be required to work for two weeks", he ordered sternly. "And see that good provisions are handed out to them," he added. I believe that had any of our men been called to testify he would have lost his command. He came back on board like a whipped dog.
At the mate's suggestion they had put three of the men in irons down in the hold. To these our pious captain went whining and praying for forgiveness. "It's the mate's doing. He wanted you put in irons. I'll look after you boys, we'll work together. Now, let's not have any reports about this. My wife and family need me. I'll see you're treated right. You wouldn't do anything to hurt my family, men?" Mealy-mouthed, snivelling truckler!
Previous to this we were to have sailed in ballast to Portland, Oregon, to take a grain cargo home, but due to the delay of our sailing because of the cholera outbreak, the orders were cancelled and we were to proceed to Zebu for a jute cargo. So now we headed out across the China Sea and had scarcely got under way before I got taken down with an attack of cholera. I was rolling about on the deck with violent pain and cramp. Captain Bruce gave me morphine and brandy which somewhat relieved the agony of the attack. Fortunately it was a mild attack, being only acute for a few hours, but we were off the Island of Luzon before I was able to crawl about the deck.
Here we had a bad time trying to, work the ship through the narrow channels, with a high rocky coast, strong currents and foul wind, and Captain Bruce's land fever, to contend with. He finally got so sick with fright that the mate took charge and decided to give up the attempt to work through the Straits and take the longer way round the west and south of Mindanao. And here we saw the grandest of all sights: a volcano in full eruption lighting up the sky, a frightful thing at night!
A fine fresh wind carried us round and finally took us through the north entrance of the Zebu harbour, which is poor holding ground and wide open to the south and east. A variable current sets in and out, making it almost impossible to keep the chain of the anchor clear. No matter how much we tried with sail and wheel to make her swing straight, the anchors would be drawn together, and of course it was a case of hoisting one up and carrying it out again to keep our moorings safe.
When we arrived we found four other ships waiting for cargo, which came in very slowly. For some reason we were given a much better time on board, two hours off at noon and not much work. It looked as if Dr. Jekyll had taken over the ship. He made another attempt at holding prayer meetings but we had had enough of such hypocrisy. His prayer meetings did not succeed and we heard no more of them for the rest of the voyage.
At last we began to load cargo. I had charge of a gang of cargo stowers and Barton helped the mate tally the cargo as it came alongside. A nice clean lot of jute makes an ideal cargo to stow and it was great contrast to the former dirty one. I found these gangs appreciate a little jollying. The second mate had charge of the whole work, and we treated the men with a rest now and then, and sometimes a slug of tobacco was cut up to start them singing on the cargo screws which they would heave on fit to burst the decks! The results were highly satisfactory with a well stored cargo.
Nearly every evening after supper we would go in for a swim. Barton and I had a hard tussle one Sunday morning in swimming over to another ship. The tide had turned and set against us and we did not notice it until we got in the water. After trying vainly for some time we headed in shore and there in slacker water we got well ahead of the ship we were heading for, and slanting out managed to get straddle of her cable. Though the two ships were only a couple of hundred yards apart it took us over two hours to make the swim.
We got a great reception at the ship, a Norwegian. Her captain, hearing we were apprentices, said, "Come aft to my cabin for dinner, lads." When we were ready to return he asked, "Can you lads dive off the stern?" She was high being in ballast but we were not going to back down now with all hands looking on, so we took the dive. The current was running like a mill sluice and when we came to the surface we had just lime to grab our own anchor chain and gladly scramble on board again after having one of the most strenuous times in the water I have ever experienced.
But our good ship was not fo leave Zebu without a real good shaking up by the tail end of a typhoon working its way round the coast. We got a hasty call from the night watchman. A fierce wind was blowing and the ship tugging at her moorings as a choppy sea started to bounce things about. A Nova Scotian ship to windward was coming down on a ship ahead of us, who to save herself slacked off on her chains, and was down alongside us before we knew it. We tried to get away by the same method, but the day previous someone had been painting the compressors and had screwed them down on the chains. As soon as the chain was slackened on the windlass it jammed in the compressor under the foc'sle head.
It was a risky job to attempt to clear it. The forward crowd moved back to safety and would have none of it. The second mate called for a lantern, which I got, and the boatswain and Barton got under the deck and by dint of prying with a crowbar managed to let it go with a run. A good stopper had been put on the cable back of the windlass. What a sight to see that cable running out round our windlass and through the compressors, like a fiery serpent shooting sparks in all directions! We just flattened ourselves against the side and hoped for the best. At last we were brought up with an awful jolt, but the stopper held and we crawled out on deck.
Next morning the harbour was a sight. The Nova Scotian had managed to get an anchor out and was ranging on 120 fathoms of chain just outside a line of breakers on the shore. A heavy sea was running in through the southeast channel and crashing on the shore. We were protected by an island but the native boats were being smashed up on the beach. When it quieted down we had our hands full clearing our anchor chains. They were all twisted up and we had to get a native diver to go down. Eventually we had to get out a spare and hoist our two mooring ones up at the same time, as they had pulled together.
The end of the second week in December saw us ready to sail as far as cargo was concerned. We now heard that our destination was to be New York, and not London as we had supposed. "That means another year before we make home port." Barton grumbled, "even if we're lucky!" He was plainly homesick; his first voyage was becoming interminable. As for me I could probably arrange to visit my folks in Canada. "You can come up to Toronto with me," I cheered him up.
Because of the change, everyone got in a cranky state and so things were just right for more trouble. The mate and the boatswain got a supply of native spirits and with the connivance of our captain brought it on board. Very soon the crew had a celebration and became fighting drunk. The mate picked a quarrel with one of the Australian seamen and it came to a light. At once the captain had a signal put up for the Spanish police to come aft. These worthies were on their job, giving the men a good pounding about with their rifles, then they took the Australian ashore and had him locked up.
The next day the mate and boatswain appeared in court. "This man is a dangerous character," the mate testified. "In Shanghai he tried to rouse the men to mutiny, but we stopped him. It wouldn't be safe to take him out to sea, he'd just make more trouble." Not one of the crew was allowed to give testimony in his favour. The American vice-consul who acted for the British was completely deceived by their statement. "Two months imprisonment," he sentenced the man. One more of the expensive hands was cleared out and a native paid a cheap wage was shipped in his place. Our Mr. Hyde and his scheming partner were managing rather well!
We set sail December 6 and 1 have never seen such a desperate crew, not the slightest sound at the hoisting of the anchor or setting of the sail. Our captain of course would have liked to have made a good show off as we left the harbour under sail, but the men just took their time getting up the sails and we were well out from land before half of them were set. I know - I had a four hour trick at the wheel before relief!
A day or two out and we forgot old sores as we headed westerly for Caspar straits with a fair wind most of the time. A good lookout is necessary, for in the vicinity of these islands there are numerous reefs and rocks and an altering seabed which marine surveys cannot keep track of. Sometimes we sailed through masses of pumice stone floating on the surface, which had come from some volcano. At times the water is so clear and shallow it would be light green with a reflection of coral reefs. An ideal place for a yacht cruise!
On we threaded our way through the Caspar straits, passing once more into our cruising ground the Java sea, with its fateful association. Later Sunda straits were passed, then familiar Cap and Button Rock and old Thwart-The-Way island, then rounding it we dropped the hook at Anjer.
For why, the devil knows best! A nice fair wind was blowing to take us clear through, we had no orders to call for, no other reason than that the good ship was still under, some spell, perhaps like the Ancient Mariner a spirit followed "nine fathoms deep" and had come to the surface to work its woe. The good captain must needs go ashore. He was not very long in returning with a plentiful supply of native spirits: samshaw, a liquid hell!
Then he, the mate and the steward proceeded to have a glorious drunk, and orders came to "up anchor" and make sail though the wind had changed to right ahead and the tide set in from the ocean and against us! There was not the slightest chance of us making headway and it was late in the day. No one on board would have thought of doing such a crazy thing as those drunken fools undertook. Anchor up and sails set sharp up, the first tack saw us drift back on the anchorage at Anjer and each succeeding one was worse as we got back in narrower water and swifter current, going about every hour until near dark. Then through faulty management she missed going about and rushed stern first close past the Cap Rock. It was a near call for being smashed up. This brought things to a head. The mate long before had had a row with the captain and had retired to his berth with plenty of samshaw. "Take over command." the men demanded the second mate.
After a consultation with Barton and me, the mate decided we had better work out some scheme, for it's a serious thing to take over command while the Captain is "on his feet," though he was fast becoming utterly useless. So the second mate got hold of a bottle of samshaw and plied the Captain with it, pretending to have a friendly drink himself, and it wasn't long before the captain had to be escorted to his cabin to sleep it off. Then the steward gave us trouble. He got wild and went to smashing up the crockery, but we got him locked up in a spare cabin. Then we ransacked the place and all the bottles of samshaw went promptly overboard.
It took us only a few minutes in the chart room to locate an anchorage back about 20 miles, opposite Cape St. Nichols, where we headed and with great relief dropped the hook. After making sail fast and setting anchor watch we all turned in and didn't do a stroke of work for two days.
When our captain wandered up on deck he could not understand how his ship came to be anchored off the Sumatra coast, and he was not asking any questions either! A nice fair wind was blowing and orders came, "Up anchor and set sail". It was January 5, and while we were getting away one of our line, the Black Adder, bound from Shanghai to New York, came past under full sail. How mean we felt seeing her sail by and us crawling along with half our sails set as we followed her close through the straits.
Everyone was in the dumps, the captain suspicious, the mate with his share of samshaw in his berth did not come on deck for a week. We had scarcely got clear before our supply of sugar was cut off and the men set to growling. The next cut in allowance was lime juice to half ration, which was more serious from a health point of view since there were no vegetables on board. There was a rumour that provisions were short all round, but the steward stoutly denied it.
Sailing away to the Cape with the southeast trades on our quarter, we should have made good time but Captain Bruce didn't half crack on sail when the opportunity came, so the run was a poor one. He and the mate had patched up their quarrel and life went on a bit more pleasantly. They were certainly a most erratic pair. Both became exceedingly "fond" of Barton and myself and the Captain had us working on navigation every day. We became experts at lunar observations, chronometer ratings, rules of the road and lights of the channel and a lot of other useful work, and as we were both counting on going up for examination for second mate on arrival, we made the most of it.
We had no doubt that there was a purpose in their fraternizing, and soon we were questioned about the doings at Anjer. All we knew was that the order to sail to anchorage had come up, and of course nothing about the drinking bout. I know they were getting anxious that no complaints should be made when we arrived at port.
As we neared the Cape, Fate, that seems to pursue its that seems to pursue its destined course, came on board again and without warning gave us the worst jolt since Captain Bruce had taken charge. Of the Australian hands, some left in Shanghai, two died there, one was held in prison in Zebu, and now the last one was to meet his fate.
We were at work in the main rigging making some repairs on the shrouds and ratlines at 7:30 a.m. just after washing decks. Sailing with a quarter wind, the weather clew of the mainsail was hauled up to allow the foresail to draw better. The mate came along the deck and thought to have it down. Perhaps the wind was shifting or a change of course was ordered, but without the slightest word of warning the mate let go the clew garnet! The big heavy steel and tack and block came with a run and smashed right on top of us, knocking the Australian backwards into the sea.
Fortunately I had an arm round one of the shrouds and managed to hang on. The man at the wheel, seeing the accident put the helm down, not waiting for orders, and threw two life buoys over the stern. The watch below were at breakfast and came out in a hurry at the cry, "Man overboard!" I got out of the rigging and fortunately had the wit left to let go the weather forebraces, which probably saved our masts.
It was no small job getting a boat over the side without getting swamped. It was well done. The boatswain took charge of her and they pulled about for an hour or more, but no sight of him or the lifebuoys were had. I do not think the man could swim and did not come to the surface till too late to help himself. The last of the expensive Sydney hands was gone! As we all agreed it was hopeless, the boat had to be hoisted on board and sail made again.
I never trusted the mate after that. Though it appeared to be an accident, all his past hellery made me think he did it deliberately. I never mentioned this fear to anyone on board, but I argued that I knew too much for their good and it would suit their ends if I were to go on "that line cruise." Until I left the ship I never ceased to keep a sharp lookout for the accident that might "happen" to me.
Soon after this we got in the vicinity of the Cape and sighted the African coast near East London. After a small blow we rounded the southerly point and running in close to Capetown we signalled. We had a beautiful view of Table Mountain, with its fleecy clouds like a table cloth, then getting the southeast trades we squared away for the Line, heading northwest up the south Atlantic with stunsail rigged out and making good time. We sighted and signalled at St. Helena on the way, a lonely bit of an island.
Everything looked lovely for a good run to New York. Troubles had been smoothed over in anticipation of the end of the voyage, but the evil spirit Old Vanderdecken had predicted would follow the Cutty Sark on this voyage stayed with us. On February 27, the day after we had passed St. Helena, we were put on half rations and the row began. This, run is always taken as a good time to clean up the ship, for everyone likes to see the ship made bright and attractive before reaching port. But now the crew promptly refused to do any more than manage the ship. They knew now that the captain had deliberately left Zebu short of grub and took no action to get any more at Capetown or St. Helena.
Now the mate began his old stunt of hazing his watch and keeping them on the run. It was just wonderful to see what a lot of unnecessary work he found, such as tightening braces and hoists while his partner Mr. Hyde started in to interfere with the second mate's watch, and fell to abusing him before the men. But the second mate was too quick-witted for the captain and took little notice of his trouble-making, until one day the captain went too far. Then the second mate very quietly said to the captain, "Sir, do you wish to take over the watch and run it yourself the way you choose? The captain blustered, "Why you __ damn you __ carry on as I have ordered!" He was unsure of himself in the circumstances and backed down. No doubt he was getting anxious about what might be reported against him in New York, for he was often questioning the man at the wheel, trying to get a line on the Anjer occurrence.
One day he tackled Barton and myself, on the subject, trying to get us to make a statement which would put the second mate in a false position. "You know lads, a captain always has an ear at the Consul, besides having the shipping master on his side. They don't listen to rascally mates. Who gave the orders to put back? Was it the second mate?" "I don't know sir," I replied. "I don't 'know sir," Barton echoed. "Marine laws don't protect insubordination, lads," he continued in a coaxing fashion. "I give orders on this ship. Did I order you to put back?" "The orders came up, sir, and we obeyed them. That's all I know, sir." He soon found out we would not talk.
The small remnant of our provisions had got in bad shape. No care had been taken of the barrels of meat. The brine had been run off the pork and beef, and we had been out nearly two years in this hot climate. The biscuits had weevils all through them and were crumbly. To get the weevils out we split them edgewise and only ate them in daylight after cooking them in grease on the galley stove.
We were now close to the Line, a good place to meet other ships. We ran close to a German vessel and got a small stock of food, but the pork was solid smoked fat and not very inviting. But we got away with it and some biscuit. A few days later we hailed a French ship and by international code made our wants known. We received another supply, mostly of biscuit of a cornmeal variety, as hard as flint but when soaked in tea they took on a gluey condition. We were beginning to get very hungry and each man seemed to take on a faraway look of hopelessness and quiet patient waiting, anything but pleasant to see. We were weak, spiritless and seemingly indifferent. Barton and I talked often quietly together of our family. He told me his older sister had just married before he set off. He expected to visit her when he returned.
Crossing the Line with its usual doldrum weather, the captain ordered full allowance again in hopes that the men would get on with the job of painting the ship for port. The men, however, had made up their minds to do as little as possible in spite of the mate's hustling. Time was in favour and they simply ignored any extra job. I know our berth were all in the blues and didn't care what happened. Seemingly the voyage would never end!
Then we got the northeast trades and it looked as if the end were in sight. Ordinarily everyone is in high spirits at the prospect of making port, but again we were put back on half rations, then one-quarter allowances were served out, for things had got desperate. The men approached the second mate, "Take charge of the ship. Put into Bermuda for supplies before we all starve with these fools." "No, not yet, there's food. Wait and see. Things will be better," he managed to put them off.
We hoped that another ship would come in sight. But our chances were getting less, for we were getting well out of the track of the sailing ships. Our vigil became more tense, each man straining, taut, waiting, groping for something that lay beyond the horizon. For what? A ship that might never come or come too late! I wondered how much longer our crew would be able to work the ship in their weakened condition.
Now the captain, either being set on by the mate or his own nature, got it into his head that the second mate was planning a mutiny. He went for me on the matter, then Barton got a grilling. "Now, see here Sankey, what's this talk among the men of taking over? What about it?" he shouted, "You're friendly with the mate, you know what they're plotting. Is it mutiny? Speak up!" "Sir, I don't know anything about anyone taking over. The men are hungry, they're dissatisfied and grumbling," I said. "I'll teach them to grumble. I'll put you three in irons so you can get a little more friendly. Do you want to be locked up? Speak up!" "Sir, I don't know anything more. Lock us up if you want to, I have nothing to tell you." I had no spirit left. He thought better of it however, for he knew a day of reckoning was coming sure enough.
I wonder now how the crew could have had so much forbearance. and what might have occurred in a few days more. But mercifully our starving condition was relieved by the sight of a steamer, the HMS Thalia, bound for the West Indies running before the wind with good speed and sails also set.
Our signal was not observed until she was close abeam of us. It was a marvellous sight to see the effect on her of a few coloured flags hoisted at our peak (emergency signal, "short of provisions"). No time was lost. We heard the boatswain's whistle calling her crew out, as passing quite close she swung round, lowering and taking in sail in true man-of-war style. A joyous sight for us poor hungry devils!
We, of course, had only to lower a few sails and back the main-yard to bring up again, and our boat was lowered, the Captain himself going on it! God knows what explanation he gave as to our condition to her command of officers or what they thought of a captain who went off to beg for food and left his ship on the high seas. How old Jock Willis would have squirmed with humiliation! He always prided himself on having his ships well provisioned. The main thing was that our captain got a nice lot of grub, two boat loads of it! In the first came a fine cooked dinner and a lot of tobacco. We didn't wait for eight bells, we just fell to!
When our boat was hoisted and we turned on our respective courses we gave out with hearty cheers, a strange but heartening sound on our trouble-ridden ship! It was a glimpse of home-coming at just the right time, and put such spirit into the men that a chanty or two rose from our thankful hearts that night. The squabbling ceased. In the dog watch the officers were together on the poop and a pleasant word was spoken to the man at the wheel. The port of New York seemed close.
It took only a few days before we came close on to Sandy Hook, but our captain had to have his usual and final case of land fever, so we suffered for two days hanging off shore in dull and foggy weather which cut right through us after having been so long in the tropics. We didn't have too much beef on our bones or warm clothing to protect us. The Manila man we shipped in Zebu with his light clothing was pitiful, but we rigged him up in my cricket suit of white flannel. At length a pilot boat came off to us and later a tug, then "Furl fail" came as a welcome order.
But our "evil spirit" gave us one last flip before she departed. We were barely inside the Narrows when a howling northeasterly with snow came roaring down upon us, coating the rigging with ice, and for two days we lay at anchor in a gale. But what we would have suffered had we been off the coast! We had at least escaped from one more experience, about the worst the north Atlantic has to offer.
On April 10, 1882, we towed up to our wharf almost under the great Brooklyn bridge. That afternoon I took a train for Toronto to join my parents. My voyage on the Cutty Sark was ended. But my connection with the Cutty Sark was not yet over. To my surprise I received a letter from Captain Bruce, asking me to come to New York to appear on his behalf regarding charges laid against him by the second mate and crew, I wrote and told him just what I thought of him at last! His certificate and the mate's were suspended for some time, and all hands were given an allowance of one half the value of food from the time of passing Anjer.
But the Cutty Sark flung off her reputation of bucko mates and disaster and went on to gain fame as a racing clipper under that splendid seaman, Captain Richard Woodget, not in the tea trade for which she had been specifically designed, but in hard fought wool races round Cape Horn, beating out her rival the Thermopylae by some eight days. The fastest sailing ship that ever left the ways!
Preserved as a national monument to the days of sail, she joins the proud company of the Viking at Gothenburg, the Constitution in Boston and Lord Nelson's famous Victory. Present and future generations will gaze curiously at her intricate rigging, admire the delicate carving of her strange figurehead and marvel that men sailed forth on the high seas with the ocean wind her only "engine" power.
But through a mist of memory, "old salts" (the last of their breed, God bless them!) will see her storming the Atlantic, riding out a gale or fighting her way through the China seas, will hear a rousing chanty break forth as slowly, rhythmically, an anchor is heaved up, will taste again pea soup, boiled salt horse, weevil-flavored biscuit. And as salt spray wets their cheeks will softly utter that old sea truth, "Ships are all right: it's the men in 'em!"
This was written by my Aunt Ethel for the official dedication of the Cutty Sark in her dry dock 25 June 1957. Due to a weak heart, my grandfather was unable to attend. It was published in nine parts by the Winnipeg Free Press, 11-21 May 1957, with many photos and drawings.
The Ship Cutty Sark