Basil Lubbock.

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the easing away of the tacks and halliards when these
sails were taken in.

Another duty given to midshipmen was that of going
aloft ten minutes before sunrise on to the main royal
yard, to remain there until the sun had risen, on the


look-out for any sail, that being the time when the
horizon is clearest and objects more easily picked up.

Their one punishment seems to have been the huinane
and often enjoyable one of "mast-heading." Their
amusements were as varied as those of Marry at 's
mischief-loving shavers. Where the present day
apprentices' sole relaxation is a sing-song in the dog
watches, these privileged "hard bargains" were allowed
to take part in concerts and theatricals. And when
becalmed in the tropics they were allowed to put a
boat over the side and bathe ; then there were the usual
deep sea fishing, shark catching, dolphin spearing and
that exciting sport bonito fishing from the jibboom,
such sport indeed as the steamboat hand knows not.

In place of the usual shark hook towing astern,
such scientific seamen as Captain Toynbee instituted a
wonderful little bag which, when hauled up, generally
contained some minute wonder of the sea world. This
was duly examined under the microscope and catalogued
with perhaps the ultimate honour of being described in
one of Toynbee 's natural history papers on the lower
forms of ocean life. Collections from stamps to beetles
are always a large factor in a normal boy's life, so it
can well be imagined how popular was this dredge-bag
of Toynbee 's.

Then there were the usual deck sports such as slinging
the monkey and cock-fighting. Another favourite game
was a "follow my leader" chase aloft, which generally
led to such dangerous acrobatic feats as running along
the yards, standing on one's head at the main truck and
coming down from the royal yard to the deck by the
leeches of the sails.

From the results as seen by the success of these
midshipmen in their profession, there is no doubt that





the premiums asked by the Blackwall firms were well
worth the money. Perhaps I should give these

premiums in greater detail and compare them with those
of one or two of the best firms taking apprentices at
about the same date.

Dicky Green's "hard bargains" paid £60 first voyage;
£50 second voyage; £40 third voyage; no premium
fourth voyage and made their fifth voyage usually as
fifth mate at £1 a month.

T. & W. Smith asked £150 for three voyages plus
£10 mess money. Midshipmen signed no indentures
and could leave at the end of a voyage.

The caterer of the midshipmen's mess generally had
about £80 to expend per voyage, which was gathered in
subscriptions from the middies concerned. Then the
parents of each boy usually placed £10 to £15 in the
hands of the captain as shore money in India or Australia.

As an example of the best run cargo carriers of
that time, I will take the little City ships running to
Calcutta. They carried six apprentices as a rule as
against about ten midshipmen in the Blackwallers.
These apprentices were paid £2 first year, £4 second
year, £8 third year and £12 fourth year, for which
their parents had to put down a deposit of £26 as
a guarantee that they would serve their full time,
the deposit being returned with full interest at the
completion of their indentures.

In the Aberdeen White Star Line there was no
premium and no pay.

Both classes, midshipmen and apprentices, turned
out fine seamen, though the middies genera Uy made the
better uliicers and na\ iirutors.



The crews carried by the Blackwall frigates both
in numbers and quality far surpassed those of any
other British merchant ships, they were in fact almost
equal to those in the corvettes of the Royal Navy.
The petty officers and men before the mast were always
very carefully selected by the mate, aided as a rule by
the bosun, and then submitted to the captain for his
approval. Thus there was seldom a man aboard a Black-
waller who was not an expert rigger, a practical sail-
maker, a neat marlinspike workman, a burly sail-fister
and a good helmsman.

When we consider the numbers carried by these little
1000-ton ships we cannot but feel that sometimes the mate
must have had a difficulty in finding work for them all.

As late as 1875 the Newcastle carried 4 mates,
surgeon, 8 to 11 midshipmen, bosun, carpenter, sail-
maker, donkey man, 3 quartermasters, 4 fore topmen,
4 main topmen, 6 forecastle hands, 6 after-guard,
4 ordinary seamen, 4 boys, chief and second steward,
about 7 other stewards (the number of these varied with
the number of passengers), 2 cooks, butcher and butcher's
mate, baker and baker's mate.

The Trafalgar carried 5 mates, and besides the usual
petty officers a ship's fiddler and a cooper. The cooper
was a most necessary man in the days when all the
ship's water was carried in casks. The fiddler vanished
when patent windlasses and steam donkeys came in ;
before that date his was one of the most important duties
when heaving up the anchor. This, with the old-
fashioned endless messenger, was a long job, and the
fiddler on the capstan head kept the life in the men on
the capstan bars. He was also an invaluable aid to
dog-watch sing-songs and ship's concerts.


The old station lists in use aboard the Blackwall
frigates are of interest to show the semi-naval discipline.
I have placed a set in the Appendix.


The crack Blackwallers only made one voyage a
year between London and Calcutta, generally calling
at Madras on the passage out and at Cape Town when
homeward bound. There was ahvays a marked differ-
ence between these two passages with regard to
passengers. On the way out the ships were alive with
joyous young people such as the "griffms" (young
civilians going out to start a career in the Indian Civil),
the subalterns going into the Indian Army, and by no
means least the debutantes, on their way to the conquest
of social India.

On this passage concerts and theatricals filled the
hours of the tropic nights; amateur astronomers paired
off in secluded corners; active middies, swinging over
the ship's quarter at the end of a brace or leech-line
conducted whispered serenades before certain portholes.
The commander in his best uniform coat took his con-
stitutional with a girl on each arm; and the mates
conducted carefully selected parties of one to the
jibboom end for the sole object of showing off the ship
from a point where it could be seen to the best advantage.

And when the Blackwaller finally brought up off the
Esplanade moorings, what a number of wet eyes and
flushed cheeks ! and what passionate speeches ! No
one cared how long the outward passage took except the
captain. It was very different on the homeward.
Then the 'tween decks were filled with invalid troops;
too often the tolling bell and backed topsail drew
attention to a grating at the gangway, on which lay
something covered by the Union Jack.


Pale-faced women and tired, haggard men wandered
listlessly about the decks — women torn in two between
their husbands in India and their children at home,
men with broken health spent in their country's
service, some of them leaving the government of
millions for a dull little house at either Tunbridge
Wells or Southsea; others leaving the stir of frontier
campaigning for a smoking-room chair at the "Rag. "

Then instead of dances and theatricals, chessboards
and whist tables were the fashion, where peppery, red-
faced colonels contended with yellow-cheeked, imperious
nabobs, whisky pegs at their elbows and silent-footed
khitmagars hovering behind their backs. Then
lean, hard-bitten squadron leaders played shovel board
and told each other of wonderful games of polo, of
record days pig-sticking and of all the slaughter they
had made of tiger, sambur, bear and buck, of duck and
quail, partridge and snipe ; whilst the women discussed
hill stations or the merits of native servants. There
were generally some children also going home under
the care of the captain and their boisterous spirits
not only upset card tables and deck chairs but the
irritable tempers of brigadier-generals and judges and
native commissioners.

This was the passage when the commander had to
listen to the eternal criticism of "Things weren't done

like this on the , last time I came home. " Angry

fretful voices rang through the homc^vard -bound ship
complaining of lack of air in the cuddy or of too nmch
air in the cuddy; of the stamping overhead when the
watch freshened the nip or of water splashing through
portholes when decks were being washed down.

The homeward passage, however, was sometimes
enlivened by troops, and this was specially the case when


two ships left about the same time, each with a half of
the same regiment on board. Then, indeed, the little
Blackwallcrs resembled racing tea clippers, and the
interest and betting as to which half of the regiment
would arrive home first being at fever heat from the
Bay of Bengal right to the Channel.

Ship Races.

The late Captain Whall tells some good stories of
these races.

In 1867 the Winchester and the Si. Lawrence left
Calcutta homeward bound, the former with the right
wing and the latter with the left wing of the 98th on
board. The two ships did not meet until close to St.
Helena, when the .S'^ Lawrence sighted the Winchester
ahead and, sloAvly overhauling her, presently passed
close by her, both ships being extremely busy with their
signal halliards.

Here let me quote Captain Whall.

As we drew ahead we began to chaff, using the vocabulary we hoisted
bit by bit.

" How — do — you — like — the — look — of — our — stern ? "

Winchester immediately began her reply.

" Very — like — a — "

What on earth are they going to say?

Up went the flags.

•' L A U N D R Y."

For a moment we were nonplussed. Then the chief officer climbed
over the taffrail and looked down. The puzzle was solved : the stern-
cabiners had been having a private washing day, and their windows
were decorated with several indispensable articles of feminine attire 1
Our triumph was marred.

Both ships intended stopping at St. Helena, and
the St. Lawrence managed to make Jamestown anchorage
12 hours ahead of her rival. The Winchester, however,
hurried her stay and got away from St. Helena 15 hours
before the Si. Lawrence.


Ten days later the two ships met again and eventually
reached Spithead almost togetlier.

The entries in St. Lawrence's log are as follows.

Jan 18 1867.— Hauled out and dropped down to Garden Reach.
21 —Dropped pilot, made sail to a light breeze.

March 11.-24° 5' S.. 3° U' E. Distance 237 miles. Fresh breeze
and fine 1 p.m.. Winchester in sight on starboard bow.

March 12.— Distance 214 miles. Winchester spoken, reported losmg
nine children from measles. P.M.. Winchester astern.

March 13.— Distance 209 miles. Squally. Winchester half courses

down astern.

March 14.— Came to anchor off Jamestown. St. Helena.

15 __8 a.m., Winchester anchored. 10 p.m.. Winchester left.
16.— Shortened to 45 fathoms. 1 p.m., hove up and proceeded
to sea.' Made all plain sail and all stunsails. both sides at the main.

March 28. T 47'N., 22° 15'W. Distance 21 miles. Calm, constantly

trimming Li\ to catspaws. Three sail in sight, one of them Winchester.
Signalled British ship Talevera from Calcutta to London, 72 days out.
''March 29.— Distance 29 miles. Light variable airs, Talevera oa
starboard quarter. Winchester right astern.

Captain Whall gives another interesting account of
a race between the Hotspur, with troops on board, and
the Adelaide clipper Murray. The two ships mot in
Table Bay and fraternised, and, as naturally happened,
many bets were wagered as to which ship should get
home first. The two ships left Capetown together,
and amidst tremendous excitement made sail against
each other, stunsail for stunsail as they felt the trade.
For the next eleven days they remained in sight of each
other, and so nearly matched in sailing were they that
for hours their bearings never altered, the trade blowing
very steady.

But the Hotspur always gained during the night; no
one could say what was the reason for this, until at last it
was suggested that the difference in sailing at night was
due to the troops being in their hammocks. The
commanding officer was consulted and the troops offered


an extra pint of beer if they would go to bed for an hour
or two. The troops were only too willing, the ham-
mocks were piped down and the men turned in. At
once the Hotspur began to gain, surely but very slowly,
as shown by the azimuth compass. Directly this
experiment was proved a success the hammocks were
piped down every afternoon for an hour or two: and
Captain Whall remarks: —

I never heard of a similar method of winning a race; but there's
something in it when you come to think of it. Our 500 odd troops
would weigh, say, 35 tons, and it is possible that such a weight, swinging
steadily to the roll of the ship would make a difiference to her; more
especially as, otherwise, they would be distributed about the decks
and all on the move. If you are a boat sailor you will knew how
important it is, particularly in light winds, to sit still.

With the aid of the troops. Hots-pur at length dropped
the Murray behind the horizon a.stern. But in 26° N.
the two ships met again, in squally weather, the wind
easterly and the log slate showing 12 knots at times.

This time they were together for six days ; then once
more the Hotspur managed to get away from the Murray,
and she made the Channel about 24 hours ahead.

Sir William Butler records another exciting troop-
ship race in his autobiography.

In February, 1864, the Trafalgar and Lord Warden
embarked the 69th Regiment at Madras. Trafalgar,
with the right wing on board, sailed on the 10th, the
Lord Warden, with the left wing, ten days later. Both
ships were bound for Plymouth, calling at St. Helena.
General Butler was on board the Lord Warden. This
ship published the usual shipboard newspaper, which
was called the Homeward Bound. From this journal
we find that on the first fortnight at sea the Lord Warden
averaged 80 miles a day, on the second 124 miles and on
the third 184. miles. On the run down to St. Helena


she averaged 212 miles a day. The Lord Warden
arrived at Jamestown on 15th April, and found a
number of American whalers in the anchorage, hiding
from the Alabama.

Butler relates how he visited one of these South
seamen. She was three months out from Maine, her
captain and crew both in looks and clothes resembled so
many Robinson Crusoes, all wearing long beards. It
was early morning and her skipper insisted on Butler
having breakfast with him. This consisted of a "black
bottle of terrible spirit" and a plate of hard tack biscuits
on a table which had been " lubricated with blubber. "

The Lord Warden found that the Trafalgar had
gained a week on them, having left St. Helena seven-
teen days before. But the Lord Warden made a good
run home, and on the 21st May anchored at Plymouth,
90 days out from Madras. An hour later a full-rig ship
was sighted hull down beyond the Eddystone. The
captain of the Lord Warden, who had only one eye, but
that, like Nelson's, a good one, laid his glass upon the
distant vessel and pronounced her to be the Trafalgar.
And so it was. And on the 22nd May the two ships
sailed in company up the Channel to Portsmouth before
a delightful westerly breeze.

The times of the two ships to Plymouth were as
follows : —

Left. Trafalgar Lord Warden

Madras 10th February 20th February

St. Helena 29th March, 47 days out 15th April. 54 days out

Plymouth 21st May. 100 days out 21st May, 90 days out

The Lord Warden'' s best 24-hour run was 320 miles
between the Azores and the Lizard.

Amongst troops there were generally from 70 to 80
invalids, wrecks due to the Indian climate. For these
invalids the "chops of the Channel" held a sinister


meaning, for it was a well-known experience that many
of them died as soon as they reached soundings.

Calcutta and its Shipping.

At Calcutta the proud Blackwallers moored in
tiers, two ships abreast, on the Esplanade moorings
opposite the "Course," where, in the evening, many a
smart turnout was to be seen driving up and down or
pulled up listening to the band at the Eden Gardens.

This driving was much favoured by the old East
India captains. Many of them drove their own turn-
outs and there was plenty of chaff as they dashed by
each other, for a sailor always likes speed and mettle-
some horses. Indeed, on occasions the horses were
almost too much for the skippers — then you would hear
such comments as these, sung out in reef-topsail
voices : —

"Peppercorn's carrying sail to-night, time he clewed
up some of his kites;" or "Old Thompson's making
heavy weather of it."

And often the indifferent coachmen were greeted by
cheery shouts of "Port your helm, mate !" or "Heave
round in stays or you'll be into us. "

Toynbee and his popular wife drove in some state
with one of his mids seated on the front seat like a
diminutive aide-de-camp.

Meanwhile the ships were unloading. A strip of mud
separated them from the shore at low water. This was
sometimes bridged by planks, but often the only way of
getting ashore was on the back of one's dinghy wallah.
The ship's name and house-flag were painted on a board
and set up at the landing. This told the inquirer where

she lay.

The Blackwallers discharged to the tune of a fiddle,


their own crews working the tackle and slings which
hoisted the cargo into the lighters alongside. The
mids did the tallying. But when the time came for
loading, it was done by coolies, the ship's company
being busy painting and smartening up for the home-
ward passage.

And before their passengers came aboard these crack
Indiamen were spick and span as men-of-war from the
swallow-tail whip at the main truck to the well holy-
stoned troop deck, from the shark's tail on the jibboom
end to the gilt and gingerbread round the stern windows.
Awnings were stretched fore and aft, and a man
stood on duty at the gangway.

The P. & O. steamers lay at Garden Reach, and the
Liverpool ships, Brocklebanks and the Glasgow "Cities"
at Prinseps Ghaut.

The Calcutta River was also choked with other craft,
"country wallalis," most of them, in which service
many a proud Indiaman passed her declining years. Of
such was the Earl of Clare, built for the H.E.I.C. in
1768; and 96 years of age when the 1864 cyclone shrieked
the death song through her rigging. Then there were
a few tough Yankees, many of them with "Wenham
Lake ice" from Boston, the most inflammable cargo
there is. This sounds a strange statement to a lands-
man, but ice sets up gases below, the sawdust in which
it is packed catches fire as easily as cotton or jute, and
there is an end of the ice ship.

The old time Yankee mate was a tough individual, and
in Calcutta they took a pride in the swiftness with which
they got rid of their outward bound crews by the
system of hazing, known to seafarers as "running a
crew out of a ship."

Captain Whall, when a mid in the Hotspur, witnessed


[To face Page 128.



this operation carried out by a Yankee mate who was
an artist at the game, and he thus describes it: —

On one occasion a fine Boston packet lay outside us, ttie mate of
which was a genius : this fellow took most refined methods to drive his
crew away. They were Scandinavians, who are naturally a meek and
mild race. He hazed these poor devils around until they were almost
crazy but they hung on well. At last he hit on a grotesque refinement
of cruelty which had the effect he wanted.

One morning, at sunrise, whilst we were washing decks, we heard
this character howl out: —

" Naow ! Up thar ! Crow ! And crow lively or I'll let fly at ye."

There stood mister mate on the roof of the deckhouse, revolver in
hand, looking aloft. Following his gaze we beheld, perched on the
main royal yard, six of these unhappy beings ; and, as we looked, there
came down to us the faint strains of " cock-a-doodle." He had
actually made them chmb aloft and crow like roosters when they saw
the sun rise. This sufficed. The next day they were missing and
safe ashore in the hands of the crimps.

No story that I know of so perfectly illustrates the
power of ridicule, unless it is the Virginian's fooling
of his rebellious cowboys by his frog story in Owen
Wister's masterpiece.


Next to Calcutta, Madras was the chief port of
entry to India in the days of the Blackwall frigates, for
Bombay owes its importance as a port to the Suez

Madras Roads have been the scene of many stirring
events in our naval and mercantile history, the last
of which was the bombardment by the Emden. The
Black wallers lay about 3 miles out, and the connecting
links with the shore were the catamarans and the
massullah boats. The catamarans are simply rafts of
three logs lashed together, their bow ends being bent in
and slightly turned up. The massullah boats had
their planks sewn together with cocoanut fibre and were


pulled by oars with blades as circular as gramoplione
records. They are splendid surf boats as they need to
be, and their crews are past masters at surf work, the
only time when a capsize in the surf is at all likely being
when there is some difference over the fare.

A spring on the cable was very necessary in Madras
Roads, there being generally a swell tumbling in from
seaward. During the cyclone months — in fact, at the
first sign of bad weather — all sailing ships put hastily
to sea; and the bottom being stiff mud, anchors were
not always easy to get; indeed, there must be a great
number of anchors of all sorts, from the old wooden
stocked with their great rings for hemp cal)les to the
modern creepers, lying at the bottom in Madras Roads.

The Blackwall frigates in the Indian trade rarely used
any other ports besides Calcutta and Madras, calling
in generally at Cape Town and St. Helena on the way

The Australian Boom.

The discovery of gold in Australia had its effect
upon the Blackwall frigates just as it had on every otlier
class of ship. The demand for passenger ships for
Australia had by 1853 far outstripped the supply.

In London ships were specially wanted for first
and second class passengers rather than for emigrants,
and the only British ships which were fitted for such
passengers were the famous Blackwall frigates.

The Greens, with their large fleet, had no difficulty
in diverting some of their ships from the Calcutta run
to the Australian, but Money Wigram was not a large
shipowner when gold was discovered in Australia, and
he immediately set about building ships specially for
the Melbourne trade — the first of these, the famous


little Kent, being one of the fastest of all tKe Blackwall

Duncan Dunbar, also, turned his attention to the
gold rush, and the ill-fated Dunbar was the first of his
Australian passenger ships ; she was launched the year
after the Kent, and was one of Laing of Sunderland's
finest efforts.

With Green shortening his East Indian sailing list,
and Money Wigram turning entirely to Australia,
T. & W. Smith found themselves in the first place at
Calcutta and Madras, for they were never tempted to
leave their first love. This, in some respects, was
their misfortune, for when the Suez Canal opened they
found their beautiful little frigates cut out by the
steamers, and no longer fitted to contend against the
many new and up-to-date clippers which had been
built specially for the booming Australian trade. They
thereupon sold their sailing fleet and adventured into
the ranks of the early steamship companies.

The Design of the Blackwall Frigates.

In design the Blackwall frigates would appear
very bluff-bowed and apple-cheeked to our modern
eyes. Their shape, indeed, has been compared by
those who knew them well to that of a serving mallet.
But the tumble-home, which was so pronounced in the
earlier ships, gradually became modified, though even

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Online LibraryBasil LubbockThe Blackwall frigates → online text (page 10 of 26)