Rupert, of 229 tons.
In 1829 George Green's eldest son, Richard, was
taken into partnership. In this year the firm, now
styled Green, Wigram & Green, began to take an
interest in the whaling trade to the South Seas, and
bought the whaler Matilda, and also laid down the
Harpooner, of 374 tons.
In 1830 a great shipwrights' strike began on the
Thames. This lasted so long that grass grew on the
building slips at Blackwall, and the foreman and
apprentices worked together at any odd jobs that came
in. The shipwrights eventually gained the day, and
their union dates from that year.
By this time the building of large Indiamen for the
service of the H.E.I.C. had practically ceased, in view
of the approaching expiration of their charter. But
several private firms were preparing to enter the lists in
competition for the Eastern trade, and not least of these
were Green & Wigram.
• * A VOYAGE OUT EAST IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS ' !
A hundrtd years is a very long time,
Oh-ho! Yes ! oh-ho !
A hundred years is a very long time,
A hundred years ago.
They hung a man for making steam,
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
Oh-ho ! Yes ! oh-ho !
They cast his body in the stream,
A hundred years ago. — (Old Chanty.)
The Merchant Service.
TDEFORE we bid goodbye to the stately ships of the
■'""^ Hon. East India Company, let us take a voyage
out East in the "Merchant Service, " as the company's
employ was called. Up to the eighteen thirties, if you
said you were in the Merchant Service you were con-
sidered an exceedingly lucky person, with a smooth path
through life in front of you and an eventual fortune.
Socially you were considered the equal of your confreres
of the naval service; and you looked down with the
most disdainful eye upon anyone in any other kind of
We will, however, ship as passengers, and take cuddy-
berths for Calcutta in a first-class ship along with the
"nabobs" and the "griffins." The first thing to do is
to look down the shipping columns, to find out what
ships have been taken up for the ensuing season. Ah I
here is an East India shipping notice of 1830.
50 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
East India Shipping Notice.
"On the 15th of May a Court of Directors was
held at the East India House, when the following ships
were taken up, viz. : —
Duke of York, Scalehy Castle, Warren Hastings, Kellie Castle,
Buckinghamshire, Castle Huntley, and Vansittart, for Bengal and China.
The Marquis of Huntley, Duke of Sussex, Herefordshire, Farquharson,
and Lady Melville for Bombay and China.
The Waterloo, Thomas Grenville, Minerva and Prince Regent, for
Captain Bryan Broughton o^ the ship Earl of Balcarres
took leave of the Court previous to departing for China
An India Husband.
The first point to remark on is the fact that the
ships were not as a rule owned by the East India
Company. They were "taken up" for one voyage or
more — that is to say, they were chartered from private
A private owner was called a "ship's husband," and
an "India husband" was the term applied to a man who
chartered ships to the H.E.I.C, which ships were
specially built for the East India trade and conformed
in every particular of design and building material to
the rules and regulations laid down by the company.
An India husband was usually a very rich man and a
large shareholder in the East India Company itself.
The East India Company was a monopoly in the hands
of a few men, and an outsider had little chance of getting
inside the ring.
To return to our shipping notice, all the above ships
were well known Indiamen. It will be noticed that
they were mostly called after historic castles and titled
EARL OF BALCARRES 51
men, but there was never any uniform method of naming
Indiamen, as is the fashion with every shipping line
The "Earl of Balcarres."
The Earl of Balcarres, mentioned above, was one
of the best known ships of her day, and no finer specimen
of an old type Indiaman was ever built. She was
constructed entirely of teak in the company's dockyard
at Bombay in 1815 and measured 1417 tons. In her
early days she carried two tiers of guns, and in most ways
was hardly at all inferior to a two -decked man-of-war.
Her ship's company consisted of commander, 6 mates,
surgeon and assistant surgeon, 6 midshipmen, purser,
bosun, gunner, carpenter, master-at-arms, armourer,
butcher, baker, poulterer, caulker, cooper, 2 stewards,
2 cooks, 2 bosun's mates, 2 gunner's mates, 2 carpenter's
mates, 1 cooper's mate, 1 caulker's mate, 6 quarter-
masters, 1 sailmaker, 7 officers' servants and 78 seamen
—130 in all.
In 1831, owing to the coming expiration of their
charter in 1833, the H.E.I.C. and the India husbands
began gradually to sell their ships, but it was not until
17th September, 1834, that this old favourite was sold.
Though nineteen years of age, the Earl of Balcarres was
by no means past her prime, and she realised £10,700,
an amount only equalled by the Thames, which had
been sold two years earlier, and exceeded in the case of
the Lowther Castle, which fetched £13,950. Both the
Earl of Balcarres and the Lowther Castle were bought by
Joseph Somes. The Earl of Balcarres, after over fifty
years of active service, eventually ended her career as a
hulk on the West Coast of Africa.
62 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
Fast Passages of East Indiamen.
Though speed was far from being the first
desideratum in the building of these old timers, and sail
was always reduced at night, they were often very fast
before the wind with stunsails set. That the Earl of
Balcarres was unusually fast for her type may be proved
by a passage of 79 days which she made to Bombay in
the year 1836.
The Thomas Coutts, also, was a fast ship. She
arrived in Bombay, 82 days out from England, on 2nd
June, 1826. She went on to China, and sailing for home
via St. Helena arrived in the Downs on 2nd March,
1827, having made the quickest voyage to the East on
The Lord Wellington as far back as 1820 went from
London to Calcutta in 82 days, without ever doing more
than 200 miles a day.
The Castle Huntley left Torbay, 1st April, passed the
Lizard 6th April and arrived Bombay 22nd June, 77
days from the Lizard.
The Thames left China on the 18th November, 1831,
passed Java Head on 5th December, St. Helena on 28th
January, 1832, and arrived off Portland 13th March
115 days from China.
This Thames was built in London in 1819, measured
1425 tons, and was one of the finest ships in the service.
Cook, R.A., made a beautiful etching of this ship
getting underweigh from the Isle of Wight, which has
often been reproduced as an illustration.
Smuggling on an East Indiaman.
At one time in her career the Thames became the
cause of a rather unusual case in the Law Courts. Her
chief officer was prosecuted and heavily fined for
THE LONDON RIVER 53
smuggling. It appears that on her arrival off the
Scillies from the East a pilot boat brought off six or
seven men who immediately repaired to the mate's
cabin. Here they found a rich display of silks, which
they proceeded to wind round their bodies under their
clothes. But, not content with this, the mate lowered
a further supply, neatly packed in cases, into the boat
alongside, which thereupon returned to the islands
with its crew of living mummies. Unluckily for this
enterprising mate, these proceedings were spied upon
by an unsportsmanlike passenger, who informed against
him on the ship's arrival at Gravesend.
Passage Money and Cabin Furniture.
Our passage money of something over £100
having been paid, we next have to buy furniture for our
cabin, for though the ship provides table wines in the
most liberal fashion, it does not supply linen or furniture
for the tiny cabin, and the traveller to the East was
accustomed to move about with a small house on his
back. We send our mountain of luggage and cabin
furniture aboard while the ship is in dock, but wait
before going aboard to arrange our home for so many
months, until the ship has left the docks and is anchored
off Blackwall Stairs.
The London River in 1830.
One fine spring afternoon we decide to take a
waterman at Temple Stairs, drop down on the ebb and
take a look at our ship. It is one of those days which
shrouds London in wreaths of blue mist and turns the
smoky metropolis into a very city of mystery, where
sudden shafts of gold from a hidden sun pierce the haze
and reveal towers and steeples of a fairy -like beauty, in
the midst of which St. Paul 's gleams like a globe of silver.
64 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
There was no Embankment with its trim rows of
electric lamps in those days, only a muddy foreshore
littered with barges. Some of these are in tiers, made
fast to piles in the river; others have their noses on the
ground, and their lofty spritsail yards with the rich
brown sails rise above the squalid slums which lie at
the back of the Strand.
Around the well-worn steps of the Temple Stairs
cluster a crowd of wherries, all rich in yellow varnish
and each with its name gaily painted across the stern
sheets. As we approach, the nodding watermen
suddenly spring into eager rivalry and speedily deafen
us with the hoarsely shouted merits of their boats.
Which shall we choose— "the Will of the Wise," the
"Rose in June" or the "Victory" — wisdom, beauty or
The last of these has a boatman with the real old
tarpaulin cut about him. His face is rugged and tanned
to leather by the winds. His grizzled hair is tied in a
pigtail — a mode long since gone out of fashion. Silver
hoops adorn his ears. And the straight white scar of a
boarding cutlass stretches across his cheek to the very
edge of his mouth, which is ceaselessly at movement
upon the "chaw of tobaccy," which was almost more
than meat and drink to the sailor of his day.
He wears a well-oiled sou'wester hat, a blue coat,
brass -buttoned and very wide in the skirts, and white
bell-mouthed breeches. Below the lapel of his coat a
couple of faded ribbons can be seen roughly pinned to
the cloth by a seaming needle, whilst on his left arm is
buckled the badge of his calling.
Without hesitation we beckon this old shellback
alongside and step aboard. And we are scarcely under-
weigh before our glance at a hairy tattooed fist which
THE LONDON RIVER 55
lacks two fingers brings out the glorious story of
Then, as we listen to his yarn, the wherry swings out
through the swirling tide beneath London bridge, and
we find ourselves hemmed in by shipping on every side.
Forests of spars block out the sky, and well-tarred hulls,
bluff -bowed and barrel-sided, hide the yellow waters of
the busy river. With a stroke here and a backwater
there, our waterman cleverly dodges through the
confusion of the Upper Pool.
Here he slips under the well-steeved jibboom of a
Geordie brig, taking care to keep well to windward of
the cloud of black dust which fills the air around her, for
she is unloading her coal into a dumb-barge alongside —
coal-whipping, as this process was called. Here he
swings under the stern of a free-trade barque ; then has
to pull across the tide to avoid a veritable battle of the
coals, in which something like a hundred of these grim
weather-beaten North -Countrymen are taking part.
These same rough-looking colliers have for long
been one of the finest nurseries for British seamen.
As far back as the Stuarts, in the Dutch wars, the
Admiralty always relied on the arrival of the North-
Country coal fleet in the Thames to complete the
manning of the Red, Blue, and White squadrons, which
lay off the buoy of the Nore, in readiness to put out after
de Renter or Van Tromp.
Many a famous merchant seaman served his time
in an East Coast brig. It was always the custom to
carry seamen apprentices in the Geordies, indeed it was
impossible for a greenhorn who had not signed appren-
ticeship articles — a " half -marrow, " as he was called —
66 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
to get shipped in a Tyne collier. When these appren-
tices had served their time— a matter usually of seven
years — they had to pass an examination in seamanship
before a committee of foremast hands before being
considered able seamen. It was a real marlinspike
examination, in which the candidate had to prove his
skill in putting a clew or reef cringle into a sail, turn up
a shroud, graft a bucket rope, fit a mast cover, fish a
spar, gammon a bowsprit, and make all the many
kinds of fancy, stopper and ornamental knots. The
most famous of all Geordie apprentices was Captain
Cook, who was not only brought up in a collier, but
deliberately chose a collier in which to make his voyages
The Discovery was built by Langborne, of Whitby, in
1774, measured 229 tons burthen, and, at Cook's desire,
was purchased into the Navy at a cost of £2450. In
1830, the date of our voj^age, she lay moored at Deptford,
ignobly used by an ungrateful country as that horror of
horrors, a prison ship. Yet she was by no means as old
as some of those vessels whipping coal to leeward or
tiding down the river with our wherry. Many of these
Geordie brigs with "stem and stern sawed off square
like a sugar-box" were close on 100 years old.
The ♦* Betsy Cains.'*
The most historic of colliers was the Betsy Cains,
which went to pieces in a gale of wind off Tynemouth in
February, 1827. At the time of her wreck, the Jslew-
castle Courant published the following statement: —
In 1688 the Betsy Cains brought over to England William, Prince
of Orange, and was then called the Princess Mary; for a number of years
she was one of Queen Anne's Royal yachts; and at that time was
considered a remarkably fast sailing vessel.
BETSY CAINS 57
The Betsy Cains was certainly a very old vessel, and
the amount of carving and gilding about her stem and
stern proved that she had not always been a collier.
For years it was believed that she had been the vessel
that brought the Prince of Orange over, and there was
even an old prophecy which said that the Papists would
never get the upper hand whilst the Betsy Cains
But it has since been proved from old shipping lists
and Admiralty Court reports that she could not have
been the vessel which brought over the Prince, yet may
possibly have been the Royal yacht Mary, which brought
Queen Mary over. At her wreck so many legends were
current about her that she was practically pulled to
pieces by relic hunters.
The Betsy Cains measured 83 ft. 3 in. long by 23 ft.
beam. She was brig-rigged, but carried the old mizen
yard, setting a lateen sail. Before she was turned
into a collier she is supposed to have run for many
years as a West India sugar ship.
The "Brotherly Love.*'
Another North-Country centenarian was the
collier brig Brotherly Love, which was run down and
sunk off the Yorkshire coast in 1878. This vessel
was built at Ipswich in 1764, and measured 214 tons;
86.5 ft. length, 24 ft. beam, 17 ft. depth. She is
thus described in Fairplay of 27th June, 1890:—
One of the most remarkable of the wooden ships I have known was
the Brotherly Love, of South Shields. This ship was built in the early
part of the last century and was owned by the late Mr. James Young of
South Shields, who inherited her from his father, to whom the brig
descended, I believe, from his father.
The amount of care which Mr. Young bestowed on this venerable
brig was the talk of the Tyne, and her goings and comings were retailed
THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
from hand to hand as items of personal news, in which the whole
community was interested.
She made her voyages between the Tyne and Thames as faithfully
and regularly as any of her younger sisters, and quaint as was her build,
there was a business-like air about her, which shewed that the old
builders knew what they were after.
Never was private yacht more carefully overhauled, repaired and
painted than was the Brotherly Love. Mr. Young made a perfect pet
of her, and "Old Jimmy," ais he was called, must have expended her
value over and over again on her upkeep. Still she was the pride of
his fleet and the wonder of the port.
One is tempted to linger amongst these fascin-
ating old ships, but space forbids ; the following however,
deserve a place alongside the Betsy Cains and Brotherly
Love, as belonging to the ancient order of "Geordies."
The Kitty foundered in 1884, when crossing from
Dieppe to Runcorn with a cargo of flints, at which time
both the others were still afloat. The Cognac Packet
was built for the French brandy trade, as her name
indicates; she was still in the coasting trade in her
hundredth year, and ended her days in Harwich harbour.
It would be a mistake to think that these ancient
Geordie brigs and snows were specially slow, though
their bows were as round as an apple and stem piece
often a square baulk of timber.
Mr. Joseph Conrad, who saw one of the above cele-
brities on the mud having her bottom scraped and also
encountered her at sea, whilst in a Geordie himself,
bears the following testimony to her speed. " That
NORTH-COUNTRY COLLIERS 59
old ghost used to beat all the coasting fleet fairly out of
sight with the wind free, simply because of the amazing
fineness of her run. "
Those who were brought up in these old North-
Country colliers learnt their trade in a rough school,
yet it was a very fine one. The decks of some of these
old timers were so full of ups and downs that one was
obliged to wash them down in several places at once to
avoid leaving "holidays," yet they were solid as so
much rock. There was no chance of growing soft
aboard such vessels. The ordinary method of boarding
a ship by a gangway ladder was considered effeminate
in a Geordie, and even their captains used the chain
cable as their entry port.
These old skippers were a race to themselves. One
of the best known made a practice of going ashore in
his out port, barefooted, his excuse being that he was
not known in the place; yet he traded there regularly
voyage after voyage. Their one failing was drink, and
it is to be feared that under its influence they were often
most brutally cruel to the wretched ship's boy, who
was also a feature of the times.
Heavy Horsemen, Light Horsemen and
But to return to our wherry. We pass Billings-
gate, round whose wharves a cluster of smacks are
hustling to land their catches. On the other side we
notice a row of gaily painted Dutch eel -boats. These
were granted their privileged moorings abreast of the
Fishmarket by no less a person than Queen Bess. She
made one condition, however, namely that the mooring
was never to be left vacant, and that is why the Dutch
eel-boat became one of the best known sights in the
60 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
. All around us river craft, large and small, ply their
oars or urge their sweeps. A boat passes, half -covered
by a tarpaulin, and we catch the words "heavy horse-
men" grumbled beneath our waterman's breath, and
we realise that, in spite of the newly opened docks, the
river thieves still carry on a roaring trade. These
"heavy horsemen" are ship burglars. They ply their
trade boldly in broad daylight; and with the "light
horsemen," the nightriders of the river, are the "top
sawyers" of its large criminal population.
They looked down upon the "scuffle-hunters," who
pilfered pettily by means of large aprons; upon the
bumboat-men and the rat-catchers, who used their
trade as an excuse to rob; and, above all, upon the
"mudlarks," who swarmed round a "game ship" at
low water and grubbed for plunder in the mud. These
river pirates feed hundreds of receivers, whose dens line
the river banks ; and they load hundreds of "jew carts, "
which drive off inland to dispose of their spoils.
Under the tarpaulin of those heavy horsemen we
should no doubt have discovered several bulging black
bags, known in the trade as "black strap." These
bags contained the day's loot.
Shipping in the River.
And now as we progress down stream, the river
begins to grow slightly less crowded, and the ships
Here are the timber droghers from the Baltic; there
the wine ships from the Portugals : whilst, snuggling
close to a high-sided, lofty-rigged sou-Spainer nestles
a rakish-looking coast-of-Guinea-man, a low black
Baltimore clipper with a murderous long torn between
her masts. She looks for all the world like a pirate
THE LONDON RIVER 61
hooked on to a scared West Indiaman, and Yankee
slaver is writ large all over her from her clean-scraped
topmasts to her well-scrubbed copper. A little further
on one of the bright -green Gravesend packets passes us
with a tremendous clatter of paddle wheels and a noisy
*' chunk -chunk " of engines. She is crowded with
people, for she shares the passenger traffic of London
with the " growler " and the ridge-roofed omnibus, and
of the three provides by far the most interestmg ride.
Her predecessor, the old hoy, is still, however, in
evidence, for there are many in these early days of
steam who refuse to trust themselves to the throbbing
steam monster. One of the most regular passengers
in these Diamond and Star paddle boats was Turner,
the artist. From them he watched London sunset
effects and took notes of the shipping. From one of
them he is said to have watched the fighting Temeraire
being towed to her last berth and thereby gained inspir-
ation for the historic painting.
We swing past the Tower, past Wapping Old Stairs,
past Limehouse with its quaint old bow windows and
flowered balconies; and now we are in Limehouse
Reach with the Isle of Dogs, so called because a King
once kept his kennels there, on our port hand, bristling
with the masts of tall ships, which tower above the
warehouse roofs of the West India Docks.
Passing Greenwich, we soon find ourselves in Black-
wall Reach. Here there is a big bend in the river.
Right ahead of us several large ships lie anchored in
the stream off the old Brunswick Dock, whose famous
masthouse towers 120 feet in the air, a well-known
mark for miles around and one eagerly looked for by the
Still beyond, our eyes are caught by another landmark
62 THE BLACKWALL FRIGATES
jutting upwards from Blackwall Point. It is a cross-
headed gibbet, from which the bodies of four pirates
hang creaking in their chains, a gruesome warning which
cannot fail to be noted by the crew of every passing ship.
The vessels anchored ahead of us are the season's
China and India ships, the very pick of the Mercantile
Marine, and amongst these aristocrats of the sea floats
the object of our journey.
A Typical East Indiaman.
We will suppose that we have chosen the Thames
for our voyage. She was a typical first-class Indiaman
of the last years of the Hon. John Company, and the
non-nautical eye would have had some difficulty in
distinguishing her from a crack frigate. Yet the
difference was plain enough to a seaman.
Our boatman has no difficulty in picking her out from
the rest of the ships at anchor, each one of which he is
able to name by small differences of sparring or rigging
long before we can distinguish their hulls. In a few
minutes we are alongside the gangway ladder, but as
there are several boats crowding round the bottom step we
have ample time to examine her before going on board.
The first thing to strike modern eyes is her shortness —
the great proportion which her beam bears to her length ;
this with the tumble-home of her sides, the swelling
cheeks of her bows, and the heaviness of her stern make
us wonder how she is able to make such good passages.
Then her channels are tremendous platforms, which
would take 2 or 3 knots off her speed, if dipped when
heavily pressed, with their huge dead-eyes trailing in
There are nine shrouds to her lower rigging, her fore
and main topmast and lower stays are double. Her
maintop would give space enough to dance in; but her
A TYPICAL EAST INDIA MAN 63
yards appear very light spars to eyes accustomed to the
great steel tubes of a modern sailing ship, and but for
her long stunsail booms she would show a very narrow
We count no less than 18 windows in her stern, in
two stories. The upper tier look on to a narrow stern