the last of them could never have been called wall-sided.
Midship sections were full with little deadrise. In
the mid-Victorian era only the most extreme of the
American and Scottish tea clippers had any deadrise,
and these extreme ships were not always the fastest,
I have the actual rough pencil draft of the lines of
the epoch-making American tea clipper Oriental, as
132 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
they were taken off when she was in the dry dock at
As is known to a few, Greens built the Challenger
with the help of these lines— and the first point to be
noticed in both the lines of the Oriental and the Chal-
lenger, which I also possess, are the fullness of their
midship sections. I may say that in other ways the
resemblance between the two ships is unmistakable.
The early Blackwallers had the heavy stern frames,
massive quarter galleries, much carved balconies and
stern windows of the old East Indiamen. The first
design to depart from the double stern and galleries was
that of the old Seringapatam. She was always
considered the first of a new class, and a great advance
both in size and design on all her predecessors.
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None of the Blackwallers had any sheer, but they were
too bluff in the bows above water to dish up much
heavy water over the fo'c'sle-head. The poops were
long, the main decks, to our ideas, very short and much
encumbered with the longboat, pig-pens, cow-stalls,
hen-coops, first and second class galleys, etc., etc.
The large modern midship house, which ousted the long-
boat from its traditional place, was originally intended
and used for the second class cabin.
The wheel of these little frigates was forward of the
mizen mast, and the tiller was on the lower deck, as it
had been since the days of the Tudors. They were
beautifully built of the finest hard woods in the world,
English oak and Malabar teak. You could not wear
them out and you could hardly strain them, however
much you drove them into a head sea; whilst all deck
and cabin fittings showed the same fine workmanship
as the old furniture which we rush after so eagerly ni j
these days of shocidy and gimcrack, J
BLACKWALL SAIL PLANS 133
Sail and Rigging Plans.
A glance at one of the illustrations shows the
Blackwall sail plan with its high steeved bowsprit,
long willowy jibbooms, huge man-killing jib, large
spanker, single topsails and bare crossjack yard.
The Blackwallers were very short in length, and con-
sequently their masts especially, the main and mizen,
were very close together, so that a crossjack could
never be got to stand. The rigging was hemp, though
the country-built ships were recognisable by the
amount of coir used aloft. A good deal of real sea-
manship disappeared when wire replaced hemp for
standing rigging. In the days of the Indiaman and
the Blackwall frigate never a watch passed without
some shroud or stay requiring setting up, and the handy
billy was never idle for long. The tops were large, and
the topmen spent their watches aloft. The spar plans
were still narrow, and so stunsails were of the greatest
importance and were always carried to the last moment ;
fore topmast and square lower stunsails being hung on
to when the first reef was in the topsails, and the fore
and mizen topgallant sails handed.
In the earlier ships the main topmast stay set up
through the foretop, but as the staysail increased in size
so did the stay come down the foremast, until at last
the main topmast staysail rivalled the jib in the number
of its cloths.
Flying kites such as skysails and moonsails were
never popular in the Blackwallers; Green's Windsor
Castle, however, crossed three standing skysail yards,
but this was after the advent of double topsails.
Dunbar Castle is said to have been the last ship to carry
a single topsail at sea ; but most of the frigates continued
the single mizen topsail when they adopted the double
134 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
topsails at fore and main. The later ships split the
gigantic jib in two, and so spread four head sails.
Before the advent of wire, the most important of the
stays were double, and preventer backstays and pre-
venter braces were the usual thing. Shrouds on the
fore and main were usually six a side, with four back-
stays. Channels to spread the rigging came just above
the line of square ports, and they w^ere so massive
that they seriously interfered with a ship's speed
when she was heavily pressed with a beam wind.
Quarter-boats swung outside the mizen rigging, and
a small boat generally hung over the stern from wooden
They were always conservative ships, and new fangled
notions whether in design or sail plan were very thor-
oughly tested before they were adopted. Double
topsails, which most of the ships exchanged for Cunning-
ham's patent single topsails in 1865, were looked upon
with great disfavour at first, for they were considered by
these most critical and particular Blackwall seamen to
spoil the look of their ships aloft. Thus it was the
custom for some years for sliips, when making a harbour
stow, to hoist the upper yards halfway between the lower
and the topgallant. These little frigates had their
foremasts stepped so far foreward that, when on a wind,
the foretack came down to a projecting bumkin out of
the head, and the foresail had to be cut with a very
much shorter foot than is usual nowadays.
The Blackwallers prided themselves on their weather-
liness, and in this resembled the American Atlantic
packet ships. The fact was that they could brace their
lower yards up well. The Hotspur and an old Black X
packet once left the Downs with a large wind-bound
fleet, and by nightfall they had worked so far to wind-
ward that the rest of the ships were under the horizon
to leeward of them.
Carrying away spars and even sails was considered
bad seamanship on a Blackwaller, where everything
was of the best, and their singular freedom from
accidents was no doubt due to this cause.
The Blackwall frigates belonged to an era when
seaworthiness was a sme qua non in a first class passenger
ship. Beautifully kept, regularly overhauled, and
with every beam and plank of picked wood, every rope-
yarn strong enough to hang a man, and every sail
without a patch, it is not to be wondered that accidents
were few and far between.
Built of imperishable teak, and ribbed with Sussex
oak, leaks were so negligible that one hears little of that
man-killing work at the pumps, the nightmare of soft
No Blackwaller ever had to shorten sail to prevent
straining in a heavy sea. And with their swelling bows
and rounded quarters they were as lively, buoyant and
dry as so many corks. Their crews had no such
experiences as were the common lot of seamen in the
later iron ships. A flooded main deck would have
filled them with alarm. Such a sight as a whole watch
being hurled to and fro as the ship rolled and each
following wave poured back and forth over the top-
gallant rails, would have sent the officer of the watcli
flying to the captain with a request that the ship might
be hove to.
As for the idea of a Blackwall frigate broaching to
and sweeping her lower yardarms through the boiling
surge to leeward, it would have been unthinkable.
136 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Yet these little ships were heavy steerers. Captain
Whall recounts seeing Captain Toynbee, his chief
officer and two quartermasters steering the old Hotspur
for a whole four hours, when she was running before the
westerlies with double reefed topsails on the caps.
The early Blackwallers modelled their ways on the
old John Company, preferred comfort to speed, and
snugged down for the night, but this was very far from
the custom of the later commanders, who with their
strong crews liked carrying on on occasions and thought
nothing of stunsail booms.
Whall tells how in the Hotspur they carried away the
topmast stunsail tack three times on one watch, a new
one being instantly rove on each occasion. And he
remembered beating into Table Bay against a south-
easter under double-reefed topsails, reefed foresail, fore
topmast staysail and balance -reefed spanker.
It was wonderful the runs that were got out of these
little bluff-bowed frigates.
Here is a week's work of the Hotspur running easting
down in 42° S. in September, 1864 :— 204, 238, 328,
252, 280, 257, 174. And she was a long way from
being the fastest of them.
Speeds of the Blackwallers compared.
Green's ships were not considered to be so sharp -
ended as Smiths or Wigrams, and the earlier ships of
Joseph Somes and Duncan Dunbar were real old stylers,
wbich pushed a heavy wave in front of them.
But each firm had one or two extra fast ships. Willis's
wonder, The Tweed, was, of course, in a class by
herself. She was the equal of any clipper, and would
have given Cully Sark or Thcnnoptjlac all they could do.
BLACKWALLERS' SPEED 137
Green's fastest ships were probably the Alnwick Castle ^
Clarence, Windsor Castle and Anglesey.
The little Kent was the pick of Money Wigram's,
though the Suffolk once went out to Australia in 68 ^
The La Hague was the crack of Dunbar's fleet, though
she was not as fast as her great rival, Devitt & Moore's
Dunbar's Northfleet, also, from her records must
have had an unusual turn of speed.
Joseph Somes possessed two or three very fast ships,
such as the Northampton, which went from the start to
the Ridge Lightship in 72 days, and the famous Leandcr;
but they were not Blackwallers but composite clippers.
Smith's last ship, the St. Lawrence, was also their
fastest. But in 1853, in the height of the Australian
gold rush, they sent out the famous old Marlborough
to Melbourne. She went out in 78 days and came
home in 83i, and what was the most astonishing
part of this performance was the fact that she had
an entire crew of Lascars. Sir Allen Young was her
There is no doubt that, taken on an average, the
Blackwall frigates were a great deal faster than people
supposed. They never made any huge 24 -hour runs,
it is true, but they were all-round ships, and, being
perfectly sailed, they frequently beat ships which had
the reputation of being far their superiors.
If 1 had to place the first three in an ocean race for
true Blackwallers I should give them as follows:—
First — The Tweed.
Second — Parramatta
Third— La Hogue.
13b THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
There is one great enemy of all Indian traders, and
that is the dreaded cyclone. Yet the number of Black-
wall frigates which came to grief in cyclones was
extraordinarily small, though scarcely one of them
escaped this fearful experience.
Commanders of East India ships were great experts in
cyclone seamanship; and they were greatly helped by
the mass of data collected by Piddington in his Sailor's
Horn-book, not the least of this data being the various
atmospheric warnings and curious phenomena which
A cyclonic storm, variously called cyclone, hurricane
and typhoon, is the greatest example of Nature's forces
in action that is known to us. And the results on our
atmosphere are exhibited in many ways, which are both
terrifying, awe-inspiring, of vast interest to the meteor-
ologist and of wonder to the ordinary spectator.
A cyclone seems to upset all Nature's laws — the
lightning often darts straight upwards as well as down-
wards; the wind comes in squalls which are bitter with
ice at one moment, hot and stiffling as a sirocco at the
next. Besides the scream of the ordinary gale there
occurs at certain periods, generally just before a sudden
shift of the wind, a fearful booming sound, which once
heard is never forgotten. Then too, at the very worst
period when the centre is close aboard, though the sky
may be as black as night and as thick as a London fog, a
curious patch of light, the colour of brick dust, will
suddenly appear and linger above the horizon. There
are many other wonderful sight and sound effects. But
they are not the only senses affected. A curious strong
smell of the sea, of seaweed and fish, is a very usual
characteristic ; and there are instances of the well-known
smells of certain chemicals — such as sulphur, brimstone
and carbonic oxide.
Even the fishes of the sea and the birds of the air
are affected by cyclones. Turtle have been found
stupefied just before a cyclone; birds in a dazed con-
dition have settled in the rigging of ships and refused
to fly away, even spiders and flies, rats and mice have
behaved in curious fashion just before and during
Let us now turn to our little frigates and see how they
behaved during these tremendous convulsions of Nature.
I will take them in order of date, and quote actual logs
or the personal accounts of those aboard.
**Vernon" in a Cyclone, 1843.
The Vernon, Captain Voss, was bound for
Madras from England, and the following is her
commander's account: —
Ship Vernon 26th November, 1843. — It began to get gloomy and the
clouds were whirling about above in a remarkable manner, wind variable
from the eastward below and in puffs. Barometer not much under 30.00
57th November. — Barometer had fallen to 29.85, dark and gloomy
weather, still variable from N.E. to east with squalls, confused swell all
round, clouds very low and lowering, with appearance of bad weather.
Lat. 9' 6' N., long. 85^0' E. Barometer 30.0, thermometer 83". Clouds
still moving in all directions; kept snug at night; very squallv with rain
from east to N.E., sea getting up.
28th November. — At dayhght, barometer at 29.70, every appearance
of bad weather, wind increasing, variable and threatening from E.S.E. to
N.E., double reefed, etc., and sent down royal yards towards noon.
Lat. by acct. 10° 46' N., long. 84° 7' E. Barometer 29.80, thermometer
78°. We appeared to have got between three clouds, wind then came in
hard squalls (ship with topgallant sails furled and courses up, topsails on
Ihe cap and reef tackles close out). Forked lightning but not much
thunder, squalls from N.E., then north and N.W., and right round, and
thus the ship went round six turns iyi about 150 minutes fjll'^nving the
140 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
wind, with after yards square and head yards braced up. The rain
falling literally in heavy sheets, so that it was hardly possible to stand:
the men obliged to hold on, decks half full of water. The wind not
moderating with the rain but blowing in severe gusts. After this the
wind steadier, but still about N.E. to E.S.E., with sharp squalls obliging
us to lower the double-reefed topsails, very dark and gloomy.
29th November. — More moderate, still blowing hard with gloomy
weather till sunset, when it became finer.
"Monarch" in the Calm Centre, 1845.
The Monarch, Captain Walker, when homeward
bound on her maiden voyage and midway between the
Western Isles and the Lizard, encountered a North
Atlantic cyclone, and the following is the commander's
22nd April, 1845. — At 10 a.m. under double reefs. Barometer 29.70.
2 p.m., breeze freshened from S.W., every appearance of bad weather,
Barometer 29.50. Ship steering E.N. E., all preparations made. 7 p.m.,
barometer 29.30. Blowing very hard, high sea and atmosphere very
threatening. 8 p.m., barometer 28.95. Furled everything but storm
mizen trysail. 8.30 p.m., wind suddenly lulled to a dead calm, which
lasted a quarter of an hour, ship not steering, and sea striking the
counter in an awful way, shaking her fore and aft, the appearance of
the weather stormy in the extreme, with rain and lightning. 9 p.m.,
instantaneously from dead calm it blew a most terrilic gale from the
north with rain and hail. 10 p.m. to daylight, wind settled to a strong
gale and gradually veered to N.W., barometer rising steadily.
Captain Walker declared that when the wind came
out of the north the ship would have been dismasted
if every sail had not been firmly secured.
Many a strong ship has been overwhelmed by the
calm centre of a cyclone. In November, 1846, Captain
Lay, of the Tudor, ran into a severe cyclone in 13° S.,
83° E., when bound to Calcutta. He hove to in order
to allow the centre to pass north of him, but got so near
the centre that he drifted 56 miles in 16 hours, being
carried along by the storm wave.
Fourteen Persons suffocated aboard the
The Maria Somes, with troops on board, ran
headlong into the centre of a cyclone in March, 1846.
She was dismasted and nearly foundered, and being
battened down ''fourteen persons were suffocated for
want of air during the tempest.''^
** Earl of Hardwicke's " Cyclone Log.
The Earl of Hardwicke, Captain Weller, was
bound to Calcutta, and the following are Captain
Weller 's notes: —
26th December.— Lat. 28° 42' S., long. 80° 46' E. Barometer 29 95.
Strong breezes from S.E. and north. Squally, thick, heavy, wild
looking weather, upper clouds coming from N.W., the next stratum N.E.,
and the lower scud and wind fast from S.E. Midnight, from 10 knots
ran into a dead calm.
27th December.— Lat. 26° 14' S.. long. 81° 5' E. Barometer 30.00,
Confused sea, heaviest from S.W. Wind east to E.S.E. and strong trade
28th December.— Lat. 22° 37' S.. long 81° 0' E. Barometer 29.95.
29th December.— Lat. 19° S., long. 81° CO' E., barometer 29.71.
Strong trade still but squally and confused sea, barometer falhng,
prepared for bad weather; upper clouds from N.E.
30th December.— Lat. 17° 6' S., long. 81° 41' E., barometer 29.75.
To 8 a.m., running at 6 and 8 knots to the northward, but appearances
threatening, hove to. Dense lurid atmosphere, very peculiar appearance
at sunset the last two evenings. P.M., continued dark appearance to
the north-westward, ran twice to the north and found the wind increasing
and drawing to the eastward with thick weather, but always fine when
going south. Kept her south till it should clear off a little ; a thick
lurid appearance over the heavens, the sun only showing as through a
dense veil with heavy leaden-looking clouds to the north and N.W.
31st December. — 4 a.m., barometer not falling any more, made more
sail to the nort\ward, weather became more squally with thick weather
and heavy rain. 8 a.m., a heavy squall from the N.E., shortened sail to
close-reefed main topsail, light easterly air with a heavy arch to the
northward, which kept nearly in the same position till noon, ship
drawing to the southward 3 knots. Noon, lat. 16° 26' S., long. 85° 39'
E., barometer 29.80. 1 p m., made sail again tg north and east. A3
142 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
we advanced weather became thick and squally. 4 p.m., smart squall with
rainy weather, not able to see 50 yards from the ship, wore to the south
and shortened sail to close-reefed fore and main topsails: weather
clearing a little, but an immense mass of heavy leaden lookmg clouds,
and over the whole of the heavens a very murky threatening appearance.
Sun at setting gave the whole a red lurid appearance, and everythmg
on board had a red tint. 8 p.m.. a fresh gale S.E. Although the sun
and moon were visible during the day, yet they were only seen as through
a thick veil. After midnight the stars began to show, and the thick
lurid haze went off. Blue sky was visible at daylight, but still a heavy
leaden appearance to the northward, with a heavy confused swell,
heaviest from the east.
This account is a splendid instance of a commander
seeing the cyclone ahead of him, turning tail and
avoiding it. The red lurid .nppearance was a sure sign ;
this is constantly reported by ships on the edge of or m
The Dark Blood-red Cyclone Sky.
This terrible sky, the blood red cyclone sky, is
one of the most awe-inspiring sights that sailors can see,
and many an observer has described it with the graphic
pen of deep emotion.
Here is the account of Captain Norman McLeod, of
the ship John McViccar, 5th October, in 14° 50' N.,
89|° E., the moon being ten days old. I take it
At sunset the sea and sky became all on a sudden of a bright scarlet
colour (I do not remember ever seeing it so red before) even to the very
zenith, and all round the horizon was of this colour. The sea appeared
an ocean of cochineal, and the ship and everything on board looked as
if it were dyed with that colour : the sky kept this appearance till
nearly midnight, and it only diminished as it came on to rain. No
sooner was this phenomenon over than the sea became as it were all oa
tire with phosphoric matter. We took up several buckets of water,
but even with the microscope few or no animalcules were detected.
In October, 1848, the Barham, Captain Vaile,
encountered a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, and
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describes how the red cyclone sky was visible from 2 to 4
a.m., the moon, the day before full, shining at an
altitude of about 45° through a veil of clouds. He
states that the whole sky from horizon to horizon was
a mass of dense, heavy clouds. The red was everywhere
apparent, but in patches deeper in some parts than in
others, and some of the clouds opposite the moon were of
a very deep orange red.
The lightning burst forth from these clouds like
flashes from a gun and sparks from a flint and steel.
At the same time several stars were visible along
the horizon, both rising and setting, and these were
unusually bright and twinkling.
Dampier's Hurricane Cloud.
Dampier's unexampled gift for recording detail is
well shown in that buccaneer's picturesque account of a
hurricane cloud in his Discourse of Winds. He whites:
The Hurricane clouds tower up their heads, pressing forwards as
if they all strove for precedency ; yet so linked one within another, that
all move alike. Besides the edges of these clouds are gilded with
various and affrighting colours, the very edge of all seems to be of a pale
fire-colour, next that of a dull yellow, and nearer the body of the cloud
of a copper-colour, and the body of the cloud, which is very thick appears
extraordinary black : and altogether it looks very terrible and amazmg
even beyond expression.
Calcutta Cyclone of 1864.
The terrible force of a cyclone is seen best when it
strikes inland or upon a harbour, then indeed its blast
lays everything flat, piling up ships and houses into
rubbish heaps in the twinkling of an eye.
In the Calcutta cyclone of 5th October, 1864, a
fearful destruction was wrought upon the port and its
shipping. Luckily it was a small area, fast-moving
storm oj Calcutta would have been no more.
144 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
The opium steamer Riever, one of the few vessels
which survived, kept the best meteorological log of the
storm : —
4th October.— 8 p.m.. heavy rain. Midnight, strong N.E. gale, heavy
5th October. — 6 a.m., strong N.E. gale, heavy rain. 9 a.m., strong N.E.
gale, heavy rain. Barometer 29.70. 10 a.m., wind increasing, east.
2 p.m., hurricane E.S.E. Barometer 28.27. 2.45 p.m., hurricane at its
height. Aneroid 27.97. 3 p.m., hurricane S.E. Barometer 28.10.-
3.30 p.m., tremendous gusts, wind veering to south. 4 p.m., occasional
lulls S.W. Barometer 28.50. o p.m., gale decreasing S.VV. by VV.
Barometer 29.20. G p.m., hurricane over.
The wind was not perhaps as strong as in the 1842
cyclone, but the storm wave helped by the flood tide
turned the river into a roaring torrent and did the most
Ships began to break adrift soon after noon, the first
being the old Mauritius* of the General Screw Steamship
Company. Only two ships held on in the stream, the
Blackwaller Alumbagh and the Sir Robert Lees; the rest
drove helplessly up the river or piled one on top of
another upon the shore. All the Esplanade moorings
were torn away except those of the opium steamers
Riever and Renown, Harry Warren and War Eagle,
which saved themselves through the use of coir springs.
Altogether about 200 sea-going ships went adrift, and
all but a dozen of these piled up on the shore. The
Lady Franklin, Ville de St. Denis and Azemia founaered
in mid stream. A country ship, the Ally, capsized