Basil Hall.

The Lieutenant and Commander Being Autobigraphical Sketches of His Own Career, from Fragments of Voyages and Travels online

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The present volume is rather a condensation than an abridgment of the
later volumes of Captain Hall's "Fragments of Voyages and Travels,"
inasmuch as it comprises all the chapters of the second and third
series, only slightly abbreviated, in which the author describes the
various duties of the naval lieutenant and commander, the personal
narrative being the framework, and his own experience in both
capacities providing the details.

The editor has no hesitation in stating, after the careful perusal and
analysis he has necessarily made of this work, and that, with a
tolerably extensive knowledge of books, he knows of none which may,
with more propriety, be placed in the hands of young men, whatever
may be their destination in life; but more especially are they adapted
for the use of young officers and all aspirants to a seaman's life.
The personal narrative, slight though it is, renders it very amusing,
and every point the author makes inculcates a rigorous attention to
"duty" duly tempered with discretion and humanity in commanding



Taking a line in the service - Duty of officers - The dashing
boys - Dashing boys ashore - Philosophers afloat - Naval
statesmen - Scientific officers - Hard-working officers - Poetical
aspirants - Taking a line


A sailor on shore - Irish hospitality - A sailor ashore - Irish
factions - Irish scenery - Land-locked bay - Reflections and
plans - An awkward dilemma - A retreat - A country party - A medical
experiment - My reception


Tricks upon travellers - Irish refinement - A wise resolve - After
dinner - The second bottle - One bottle more - Second thoughts
best - The game of humbug - The climax - You're off, are you? - A
practical bull - Irish hospitality


The Admiralty List - Chances of promotion - The Admiral's list - My
own disappointment - A good start - Homeward bound - A spell of bad


The tropical regions at sea - Sir Nathaniel Dance - The old Indian
ships - Social life at sea - Details of the voyage - The Canary
Islands - The Trade-winds - Changes of climate - The variable
winds - North-east Trades - Our limited knowledge - The great


The Trade-winds - The monsoons - Theory of the
Trade-winds - Explanations - Tropical winds - Motion of cold
air - Direction of clouds - Equatorial Trades - Calms and
variables - South-east Trades - Application of theories - Atlantic
winds - Monsoons of India - Trade-winds of the pacific - Monsoons
of Indian seas - Velocity of equatorial air - Obstructions of the
land - Horsburg's remarks - Dampier's essay


Progress of the voyage - Cape of Good Hope - Ships' decks in the
tropics - Sweeping the decks - Marine shower-bath - Flying-fish - A
calm - Ships in a calm - A tropical shower - Washing-day - Comforts
of fresh water


Aquatic sports - Weather wisdom - An equatorial
squall - Flying-fish - A chase - The
dolphin - Capture - Porpoises - Harpooning - The bonito - Dolphin
steaks - Porpoise steaks - The albatross - Shark-fishing - A
shark-hook - Habits of sharks - Seizing its prey - Flying at the
bait - The shark captured - Killing the shark - The buffalo skin - A
narrow escape


A man overboard - Crossing the line - Duty of officers - Rival
Neptunes - A boy overboard - Affecting incident - A true-hearted
sailor - Bathing at sea - A well-timed action - Swimming - A
necessary acquisition - A man overboard - What should be done, and
how to do it - Effects of precipitancy - Life-buoy - Regulations
for emergencies - Managing the ship with a man
overboard - Stationing the crew - Directing the boats


Sunday on board a man-of-war - Mustering by divisions - The fourth
commandment - Short services recommended - Order for
rigging - Scrubbing and sweeping - Sunday muster - Jack's
dandyism - Jack brought up with a round turn - Mustering at
divisions - Inspection - The marines - Round the decks - The
sick-bay - Lower deck - Below - Cockpit - The gun-room - Quarter deck


The ship church - Rigging the church - Short services
recommended - Short sermons recommended - Religious duties
necessary to discipline - Church service interrupted - The day of


Naval ratings and sea pay - Mustering clothes - Between decks on
Sunday - Piping to supper - Mustering by lists - A seaman disrated
and rerated - Ratings of seamen - Tendency to do right - Examining
stores - Captain's duties - Clothes' muster - Responsibility - A
sailor's kit - A sailor's habits - Mizen-top
dandies - Hammocks - Piping the bags down - Pressing emigrants - A
Scotchman's kit - Improved clothes' muster


Sailors' pets - Purchasing a monkey - Jacko's attractions - Gets
monkey's allowance - Jacko and the marines - Jacko's
revenge - Jacko turns on his friend - Spills the grog - Is
pursued, but is pardoned - Condemned to die - Commuted to
teeth-drawing - Surgeon's assistant appealed to - He can't
bite - The travelled monkey - Trick on the marines - Its
consequences - A potent dose - Its operations - Jack's
superstitions - The grunter pet - Jean's advocate - Her good
qualities - Jean's obesity, and its attractions - Her death and
burial - Well ballasted


Doubling the Cape - Southern constellations - Intelligent chief
officer - Sailors and their friends - Parting company - The
cape - Simon's town - A fresh breeze - Rising to a gale - All hands
shorten sail - Value of experience to an officer - Taking in
reefs - Taking in mainsail - Heaving the log - Before the
gale - Effects of a gale - Value of a chronometer proved by the
want of one - Awful catastrophe


Suggestions towards diminishing the number and severity of Naval
punishments - Corporal punishment - The author's own case - An old
shipmate - Admiralty regulations - Appeal to officers to avoid
precipitation - Dangers of precipitation - Instance of its
dangers - A considerate captain - A case for pardon - An obdurate
officer - Pardon granted - Retrieving of character


Bombay - First glimpse of India - Bombay and its scenery


Sir Samuel Hood - Naval promotion - Hopes and their
disappointment - An ant-hunt - The Admiral's triumph over the


Excursion to Candelay lake in Ceylon - Starting of the
expedition - Pearl-divers - A strange tunnel - Hindoo bathing - An
amusing exhibition - A tropical forest - A night scene - An
alarm - A supper - A midnight burial - Cingalese game - Lake
Candelay and its embankment


Griffins in India - Sinbad's valley of diamonds - A
mosquito-hunt - Deep anchorage - Local names - Valley of
diamonds - Ceylon gems


Ceylonese canoes - Peruvian balsas - The floating windlass of the
Coromandel fishermen - American pilot-boats - Balsas of
Peru - Man-of-war boats - Ceylonese canoes - Canoe mast and
sails - Local contrivances - Construction of the balsa - Management
of the sail - Indian method of weighing anchor - A floating
windlass - Failure of the attempt - The Admiral's remarks - An
interesting feat of mechanical ingenuity


The surf at Madras - Sound of the waves - Masullah
boats - Construction of the boats - Crossing the surf - Steering
the boat - How a capsize in the surf occurs - Catamarans of the
surf - Perseverance of the messenger


Visit to the Sultan of Pontiana, in Borneo - Sir Samuel
Hood - Borneo - A floating grove - Pontiana - Chinese in Borneo - The
sultan and his audience room - Interior of the palace - The
autograph - Anecdote of Sir S. Hood - Getting out of the trap - Sir
S. Hood at the Nile - The Zealous and Goliath - Captain Walcott's
disinterestedness - Sir S. Hood's kindness


Commissioning a ship - Receiving-hulk - Marines and
gunners - Choice of sailors - The ship's company - Choice of
officers - Stowing the ballast - Importance of
obedience - Complement of men in ships of war - Shipping the
crews - A Christmas feast afloat - A Christmas feast in Canton
River - Self-devotion


Fitting out - Progress of rigging - The figure-head - Progressive
rigging - The boats - Fitting out - Stowage of ships'
stores - System requisite - Painting the ship - Policy of a good
chief - Anecdote of Lord Nelson - Scrubbing the hulk - Leaving the
harbour - Sailing



That there is a tide in the affairs of men, has very naturally become
a figure of frequent and almost hackneyed use in the cockpits,
gun-rooms, and even the captains' cabins of our ships and vessels of
war. Like its numerous brethren of common-places, it will be found,
perhaps, but of small application to the real business of life; though
it answers capitally to wind up a regular grumble at the unexpected
success of some junior messmate possessed of higher interest or
abilities, and helps to contrast the growler's own hard fate with the
good luck of those about him. Still, the metaphor may have its
grateful use; for certainly in the Navy, and I suppose elsewhere,
there is a period in the early stages of every man's professional life
at which it is necessary that he should, more or less decidedly, "take
his line," in order best to profit by the tide when the flood begins
to make. It is difficult to say exactly at what stage of a young
officer's career the determination to adopt any one of the numerous
lines before him should be taken: but there can be little doubt as to
the utility of that determination being made early in life. In most
cases, it is clearly beyond the reach of artificial systems of
discipline, to place, on a pair of young shoulders, the reflecting
head-piece of age and experience; neither, perhaps, would such an
incongruity be desirable. But it seems quite within the compass of a
conscientious and diligent commanding officer's power by every means
to cultivate the taste, and strengthen the principles and the
understanding of the persons committed to his charge. His endeavour
should be, to train their thoughts in such a manner that, when the
time for independent reflection and action arrives, their judgment and
feelings may be ready to carry them forward in the right path; to
teach them the habit, for instance, of discovering that, in practice,
there is a positive, and generally a speedy pleasure and reward
attendant on almost every exercise of self-denial. When that point is
once firmly established in the minds of young men, it becomes less
difficult to persuade them to relinquish whatever is merely agreeable
at the moment, if it stand in the way of the sterner claims of duty.

Although the period must vary a good deal, I should be disposed to
say, that, in general, a year or two after an officer is promoted to
the rank of lieutenant, may be about the time when he ought fairly and
finally to brace himself up to follow a particular line, and resolve,
ever afterwards, manfully to persevere in it. His abilities being
concentrated on some definite set of objects; his friends, both on
shore and afloat, will be furnished with some tangible means of
judging of his capacity. Without such knowledge, their patronage is
likely to do themselves no credit, and their _protégé_ very little, if
any, real service.

Some young fellows set out in their professional life by making
themselves thorough-bred sailors; their hands are familiar with the
tar-bucket; their fingers are cut across with the marks of the ropes
they have been pulling and hauling; and their whole soul is wrapped up
in the intricate science of cutting out sails, and of rigging masts
and yards. Their dreams are of cringles and reef-tackles, of knots,
splices, grummets, and dead-eyes. They can tell the length, to a
fathom, of every rope in the boatswain's warrant, from the flying jib
down-haul to the spanker-sheet; and the height of every spar, from the
main-top-gallant truck to the heel of the lower mast. Their delight
is in stowing the hold; dragging about kentlage is their joy; they are
the very souls of the ship's company. In harbour they are eternally
paddling in the boats, rowing, or sculling, or sailing about; they are
always the first in fishing or bathing parties; in short, they are for
ever at some sailor-kind of work. At sea, their darling music is the
loud whistle of the hardest storm-stay-sail breeze, with an occasional
accompaniment of a split main-topsail. "The harder it blows, and the
faster she goes," the merrier are they; "strong gales and squally" is
the item they love best to chalk on the log-board; and even when the
oldest top-men begin to hesitate about lying out on the yard to gather
in the flapping remnants of the torn canvas, these gallant youngsters
glory in the opportunity of setting an example of what a gentleman
sailor can perform. So at it they go, utterly reckless of
consequences; and by sliding down the lift, or scrambling out, monkey
fashion, to the yard-arm, where they sit laughing, though the spar be
more than half sprung through, they accomplish their purpose of
shaming the others into greater exertions. It is well known that one
of the ablest, if not the very ablest, of the distinguished men whom
the penetrating sagacity of Nelson discovered and brought forward,
owed his first introduction to the notice of that wonderful commander
by an exploit of this very description.

These are the dashing boys who cut out privateers, jump overboard
after men who cannot swim, and who, when the ship is on fire, care not
a farthing for the smoke and heat, but dive below with the engine-pipe
in their hands, and either do good service, or perish in the flames
with a jolly huzza on their lips. Such may fairly be called the
muscular parts of our body nautical, for there is no gummy flesh about
them; and when handled with skill, they form the stout instruments
which help essentially to win such battles as the Nile and Trafalgar.

The young persons I have just been describing are, however, by no
means servile imitators of the sailors; they possess much useful
technical knowledge, as well as mere energy of character; and often
both think and act with originality; yet they are docile to the last
degree, and delight in nothing more than fulfilling, to the very
letter, the orders of their superiors. They may amuse themselves, as
youngsters, by affecting the gait, the dress, and the lingo of the
man before the mast; and are at times supposed to be a little too
familiar with these models, on whom they pretend to shape their
manners; but still they never carry the joke so far as to become what
is called "Jack and Tom," even with the leading men in the ship. They
can sing, upon occasion, snatches of forecastle ditties, or fling off
a hornpipe worthy of the merriest cracked fiddle that ever sounded
under the bow of a drunken musician amongst a company, half-seas over,
at the back of Point Beach. Not content with

"Their long-quartered shoes, check shirt, and blue jacket,"

they will even thrust a quid into their cheek, merely to gain the
credit, such as it is, of "chewing backy like a sailor."

But there must be a limit to the indulgence of these fancies; and if
even an elder midshipman or mate of the decks were permanently to
distinguish himself after this masquerade fashion, he would speedily
lose caste even with the crew. When a mid, for example, is promoted to
lieutenant, he must speedily decide whether he shall follow up in
earnest a course of strictly seaman-like objects, of which the mere
outward show had previously captivated his young fancy; or he must
enter into some compromise with himself, and relinquish a part of his
exclusive regard for these pursuits, in consideration of others less
fascinating, to be sure, but more likely to bear on his advancement;
for, without some knowledge of many other things, his chance must be
very small in the race of professional life.

In tolerably wide opposition of habits to these tarpaulin men follow
the less dashing and showy race sometimes called "star-gazers,"
sometimes "dictionary-men," who are also occasionally taunted or
dignified by their messmates with the title of "philosophers." The
object of most of these young philosophisers is to get at the reason
of all things, and to be able not only to work by the rules laid down
for them in printed books, or in the written orders of their
superiors; but to investigate the foundation of these rules and
regulations so thoroughly, that when new cases occur, they may have it
in their power to meet them by fresh resources of their own: according
in spirit, with those which experience has shown to be conducive to
the happiness of the crew and the efficiency of the service. Out of
the class of officers now alluded to, the growth of which it has been
the wise policy of late years to encourage, there have sprung up the
numberless voyagers, surveyors, and other strictly nautical men, who
are always to be found when the public service requires a practical
question to be settled, or a professional office of responsibility and
trust to be filled up. If the arctic circle is to be investigated by
sea or by land, or the deserts of Africa traversed, or the world
circumnavigated afresh, under the guidance of the modern improvements
in navigation, the government at once calls upon such men as Parry,
Franklin, Clapperton, Beechey,[1] to whom they can safely entrust the

From the same class, also, a valuable race of naval statesmen have
been drawn. For a considerable number of years, the whole of the
diplomatic duties of South America, as far as concerned the interests
of England, were carried on by the naval commanders-in-chief. Who can
forget how important a share of Lord Nelson's command, or, after him,
of Lord Collingwood's in the Mediterranean, consisted of duties of a
purely civil description? And it may be questioned if diplomatic
history offers a more masterly specimen of address and statesman-like
decision, as well as forethought, than was displayed by Captain
Maitland, in securing the person of Buonaparte, not only without
committing himself or his government, but without wounding the
feelings of the fallen emperor. The case was, and ever must remain,
unique; and yet the most deliberate reflection, even after the event,
has not suggested anything to wish changed. Fortunate, indeed, was it
for the reputation of this country that the delicate task fell to the
lot of an officer possessed of such inherent vigour of character, and
one so familiar with the practical exercise of his own resources, that
difficulties which might have staggered ordinary minds vanished before

In so extensive a service as the Navy, accident might perhaps
occasionally produce such men as have been named above; but it is very
material to observe, that unless there existed, as a permanent body, a
large class in the Navy, who follow the pursuits alluded to from taste
as well as from motives of public spirit, and from whose ranks
selections can be made with confidence at moments of need, such
opportunities as those above alluded to might often be allowed to pass
unprofitably. It is, moreover, important to recollect, that it is in
these matters as in everything else where there is a great demand, and
consequently a great supply, there will from time to time start up a
master spirit, such as that of my lamented friend, the late Captain
Henry Foster, to claim, even in the very outset of his career, the
cheerful homage of all the rest. So far from the profession envying
his early success, or being disturbed at his pre-eminent renown, they
felt that his well-earned honours only shed lustre on themselves.

It is also very pleasing to observe the reciprocal feeling which
belongs on such occasions to all rightly constituted minds. When
Captain Foster, in 1828, then only lieutenant, received the Copley
medal, the highest scientific honour in the gift of the Royal Society,
it never occurred to him merely to hang it at his breast in solitary
dignity, or to chuckle presumptuously at his own particular good
fortune. So far from this, he thought only of the service; and
proceeding straight to the Admiralty, he showed the medal, and
declared modestly, but firmly, to their lordships, that he considered
the honour only nominally bestowed upon himself, but essentially
conferred upon the naval profession at large. This generous and manly
appeal could not fail to make its due impression; and within the same
hour, his commission, as commander, was signed, his appointment to a
ship ordered, and a voyage of scientific research carved out for him.
But I need not add how bitter a grief it is to those who were
personally acquainted with this rising young officer, to think that so
much knowledge - such useful talents - such unmatched zeal and
industry - and such true love for science - all so fertile in promises
of future service and renown - should have been lamentably quenched in
a moment.

Besides the regular-built sailors, and the saltwater statesmen and
philosophers, there is yet another set which greatly outnumbers both,
and which, if comparisons must be made, equals, if it does not far
exceed them in utility. I allude to that large and very important body
of strictly professional persons who are not remarkable for anything
in particular, unless it be for a hearty and uncompromising devotion
to the service. Captains, it is to be feared, are generally too apt to
consider these meritorious persons as less entitled to attention than
their more showy companions; just as schoolmasters are, not
unnaturally, disposed to devote most of their time to the cleverest
boys, to the comparative neglect of those who cluster round the point
of mediocrity. It may, however, be easily conceived that the persons
least attended to, afloat as well as on shore, often stand more in
need of notice and assistance than their gifted brethren, who are
better able to make their own consequence felt and acknowledged; for
it must not be forgotten that these honest, hard-working men actually
perform the greater part of all the routine drudgery of the service,
and perhaps execute it better than men of higher talents could do in
their place.

The class amongst us who devote themselves to sober literary pursuits
is necessarily very small; but that of the happy youths, who dream the
gods have made them poetical, has many members, who "rave, recite, and
madden round the ship," to their own (exclusive) satisfaction. Others
there are who deal desperately in the fine arts of painting and
music, - that is, who draw out of perspective, and play out of tune:
not that the ability to sketch the scenes and phenomena continually
passing before them is objectionable; I allude here to the pretenders
to art. Their poor messmates can have little respect for these
pretending Rembrandts and Paganinis; and the happiness of the mess
would be considerably improved if authority were given to pitch every
such sketch-book and every flute out at the stern-port.

Finally come the raking, good-looking, shore-going, company-hunting,
gallivanting, riff-raff set of reckless youths, who, having got rid of
the entanglement of parents and guardians, and having no great
restraint of principle or anything else to check them, seem to hold
that his Majesty's service is merely a convenience for their especial
use, and his Majesty's ships a sort of packet-boats to carry their
elegant persons from port to port, in search of fresh conquests, and,
as they suppose, fresh laurels to their country.

Few men do anything well which they do not like; for the same reason,
if an officer be capable of performing services really valuable, his
success must arise from turning his chief attention to those branches
of the profession which he feels are the most congenial to his
peculiar tastes, and which experience has shown lie within the range

Online LibraryBasil HallThe Lieutenant and Commander Being Autobigraphical Sketches of His Own Career, from Fragments of Voyages and Travels → online text (page 1 of 26)