Basil Lubbock.

The Blackwall frigates online

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walk, surrounded by the white painted stanchions of a
balcony. She lacks, indeed, a great deal of that
lavish gingerbread work which was such a feature in
her ancestors, and the gilded carving of her quarter
galleries and stern is quite simple in design.

There was a transition stage, to which the Thames
belongs, when floridly elaborate carving and gilding
were considered bad style, whilst the inlaying and
capping of all deck fittings with brass had not yet come
into fashion. She is painted a la Nelson in severe
black and white, with a double row of ports. Her figure-
head is a full length figure of Father Thames, holding
his trident as if to spear a porpoise under the bows.
She is riding to one anchor, the other with its ponderous
stock and immense ring hangs from the fourfold purchase
of the cathead. Two spare anchors are lashed in her fore
rigging. Her upper row of ports are open, and we can
see the red tompions of her guns.

At the moment of our arrival her decks are crowded
with people, amongst whom we can easily pick out
the officers of the ship by the company's uniform.
The Commander of an East Indiaman and
his Emoluments.

We are lucky enough to find the commander of
the ship on the poop, as he rarely comes aboard before
the ship reaches Gravesend; and those who want to see
him must needs search him out at the Jerusalem Coffee
House, where the East India merchants and captains


meet to transact business. However, he has evidently
come aboard to show a distinguished passenger round
the ship and is in full rig. His uniform coat is of blue,
with bright gold embroidery, black velvet lapels,
cuffs and collar; his waistcoat and breeches are of deep
buff. He wears a black stock round his neck, a cocked
hat on his head and side arms. The buttons of his
coat and waistcoat were stamped with the lion and
crown of the Hon. East India Company. Such was
the dress of a commander in the Merchant Service, a
man who ranked on an equality with a post captain in
the Royal Navy.

When a company's ship arrived in Calcutta, she
was received with a salute of 13 guns, and the guard
of the fort turned out and presented arms to her captain.
His post was sought after by the best-born in the land,
and was often bought for a large sum owing to its
rich perquisites; and those who possessed H.E.I.C.
nominations were men of power in the City.

When the East India Company lost its monopoly.
Captain Innes of the Ahercrombie Robinson memorialised
the company for compensation. He estimated the
income and emoluments accruing from his appointment
as commander upon an average of his last three voyages,
exclusive of profits or investments, as £6100 per voyage.
This was made up as follows : —

Eighteen months' pay at £10 per month . . . . . . £180

56 tons privilege outward at £4 per ton . , . . . . 224

From port to port at 30 rupees per candy . . . . 336

Homeward at £33 per ton 1848

Two-fifths tonnage from port to port, 478 tons at 30 rupees

per candy, less charged by the Hon. Coy. £2 per ton 1612

Primage . . . . . . . , . . . . . . 100

Passage money after allowing for the provisions and stores

provided for the passengers .. .. ., .. £1500

Total per voyage £6100





I have taken this out of Lindsey. I fear it will make
the modern shipmaster sigh for the good old days.
Captain Innes undoubtedly put his figures a good deal
lower than he need have, for Lindsey gives an instance
of a commander making no less than £30,000 out of the
"double voyage," meaning from London to India,
thence to China and home. Indeed to make from £8000
to £10,000 a voyage was quite usual with those com-
manders of East Indiamen who were clever businessmen.

It is certain that no commercial concern ever treated
its employees so handsomely as the Hon. East India
Company did its commanders and officers.

Officers' Allowances in the H.E.LG.

The extra allowances to officers, besides their
proportions of freight and provisions, are almost

Take the liquor allowance for instance. The com-
mander was allowed 11 tons of wine, beer and other
liquors, reckoning 36 dozen quart bottles to the ton.
He also had permission to import two pipes of Madeira

The chief officer was allowed 24 dozen of wine or beer,
and a puncheon of rum for the wardroom, where he
messed with the second mate, surgeon and purser.

The second mate was allowed 20 dozen of wine or beer.

The third , ,
The fourth , ,
The fifth
The surgeon , ,
The purser , ,
The surgeon's mate


The gunroom mess, headed by the third mate, was
also allowed a Duncheoc of rum.


The chief officer was allowed 2 firkins of butter, 1 cwt.
of cheese, 1 cwt. of grocery, and 4 quarter cases of
pickles as extra provisions ; the proportions of the other
officers being on the same scale as the wine.

The captain was given two personal servants; the
chief officer, second officer, surgeon, bosun, gunner and
carpenter were each given a servant. No wonder that
the Merchant Service was sought after by the highest
in the land.

The Foremast Hands of an Indiaman.

The crew of the Thames are not yet on board,
though they had been chosen before she hauled out of
dock. The business of signing on had been carried out
on board, for the day of shipping offices had not arrived.

The time — 11 a.m. — had been posted up in the main
rigging, and when the hour arrived there were perhaps
two or three hundred men on the docks ide. Most of
these men owed their advance notes to Hart, the Jew,
a noted Ratcliffe Highway slopshop keeper and cashier
of advance notes at high rates. His runners usually
contrived to get their men in the front rank so as to
catch the eyes of the first and second officers and boat-
swain, who, in picking the crew, soon showed themselves
to be expert judges of sailormen.

The pay for foremast hands was 35s. a month; the
advance, which was two months' pay, was at once
pounced upon by the Jews, but Jack boasted that on a
sou-Spainer bound to a warm climate he only needed a
stockingful of clothes. However, it was noticeable
that even if a man came aboard without a sea chest, he
always had his ditty bag, which contained his marlin-
spike, fid, palm and needles, bullock's horn of grease
and serving board.


In those days there was no mistaking a seaman for
a landsman. He may perhaps be best described as
a full-grown man with the heart of a child. His
simplicity was on a par with his strength of limb, and
his endurance was as extraordinary as his coolness and
resource in moments of emergency or stress.

In appearance he was recognisable anywhere, not only
for the peculiar marks of the sea and the characteristics
of his kind, but for his length and breadth of limb.

In height he towered over the landsman of his age,
whilst his shoulders occupied the space of two landsmen
in a crowd, and his handshake was something to be
avoided by people with weak bones.

His dress was distinctive of his calling, the nearest
approach to it being the rig of the present day man-of-
war's man. He had, however, a fondness for striped
cotton in shirt and trouser, and when he did consent to
cover his feet sported pumps with big brass buckles
instead of clumsy boots. The black neckerchief came
in of course at Nelson's funeral, being a sign of mourning
for the little Admiral.

As to headgear, his shiny black tarpaulin hat seems
to have become entirely extinct, and the gaily coloured
handkerchief, which was usually wound round the head
in action, would cause one to suspect its wearer of aping
the pirate in these sober-bued days.

Having had a prowl round the ship, seen our furniture
placed in our cabin, and drunk a glass of wine with the
purser, we finally leave the Indiaman and pull back
through the shipping on the first of the flood.
An Indiaman leaving Gravesend.

A fortnight later we find the Thames lying at
Gravesend with the Blue Peter flying. We get aboard
and then spend our time watching the busy scene.



Boat loads of passengers and luggage come alongside,
one by one; the decks grow more and more crowded;
raw young cadets jostle irate indigo planters; high-
spirited youth bumps against testy old age; yellow
skinned bearers and khitmagars, passengers' servants,
glide hither and thither, chasing the elusive cabm
baggace; whilst forward the bosun's pipe trills con-
tinuaUy in answer to the sharply called orders of the

chief officer.

Upon the poop a fiery faced old nabob struts pompously
to and fro, stopping at every turn to shout fluent
Hindoostanee over the poop rail at his unfortunate
bearer, who is vainly trying to disentangle his sahib s
voluminous kit from a pile of hold baggage, which,
under the superintendence of an energetic third mate,
is disappearing bit by bit down the main hatch.

Down on the quarterdeck a line of red coats are being
mustered and numbered, with much shuffling and stamp-
ing of heavily shod feet, rattling of accoutrements, and
the roared out commands of a red -faced ramrod of a

sergeant .

From bumboats, which hang off the bows and
quarters but are not allowed up to the gangway, East-
End Jews attempt to smuggle liquor aboard under
cover of much apparent confusion and noise, but the
sharp eyes of the mates are upon them and they have
no success.

Above the pipes of the bosun's whistle and those of his
mates, above the "tenshun" and "stand -at -hease" of
the sergeant, above the nabob's Hindoostanee and cries
of boatmen and crew, rise the well-known sounds of an
English farmyard, which plainly denote that the ship
has got its live stock on board.


A Farmyard at Sea.

Here is Captain Marryat's description of live
stock on an Indiaman: —

The Indiaman was a 1200-ton ship, as large as one of the small class
seventy-fours in the King's service, strongly built with lofty bulwarks,
and pierced on the upper deck for 18 guns, which were mounted on the
quarterdeck and fo'c'sle. Abaft, a poop, higher than the bulwarks,
extended forward 30 or 40 feet, under which was the cuddy or dining-
room and state cabins appropriated to passengers.

The poop, upon which you ascended by ladders on each side, was
crowded with long ranges of coops, tenanted by every variety of domestic
fowl awaiting, in happy unconsciousness, the daj' when they should be
required to supply the luxurious table provided by the captain.

In some, turkeys stretched forth their long necks, and tapped the
deck as they picked up some ant who crossed it, in his industry. In
others, the crowing of cocks and calling of the hens were incessant; or
the geese, ranged up rank and file, waited but the signal from one of the
party to raise up a simultaneous clamour, which as suddenly was

Coop answered coop, in variety of discord, while the poulterer
walked round and round to supply the wants of so many hundreds
committed to his charge.

The booms before the mainmast were occupied by the large boats,
which had been hoisted in preparatory' to the voyage. They also com-
posed a portion of the farmyard. The launch contained about fifty
sheep, wedged together so closely that it was with difficulty they could
find room to twist their jaws round, as they chewed the cud.

The sternsheets of the barge and yawl were filled with goats and two
calves, who were the first destined victims to the butcher's knife; whilst
the remainder of their space was occupied by hay and other provender,
pressed down by powerful machinery into the smalli^st compass.

The occasional baaing and bleating on the booms was answered by
the lowing of the three milch cows between the hatchways of the deck
below; where also were to be descried a few more coops, containing fowls
and rabbits. The manger forward had been dedicated to the pigs; but,
as the cables were not yet unbent or bucklers shipped, they at present
were confined by gratings between the main deck guns, where they
grunted at each passer-by, as if to ask for food.

The boats, hoisted up on the quarters, and the guys of the davits,
to which they were suspended, formed the kitchen gardens, from which
the passengers were to be supphed, and were loaded with bags containing
onions, potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets and cabbages, the latter, in
their full round proportions, hanging in a row upon the guys, like strings


of heads, which had been demanded in the wrath or the caprice of some
despot of Mahomet's creed.

Though the Thames was a larger ship than Marryat's
Indiaman, I much doubt if she carried goats and rabbits
or even cabbages on the guys of her quarter-boats ; but
Marryat was a man-of-war's man and no doubt seized
the opportunity to poke a bit of fun at the farmyard
appearance of an outward bound Indiaman.

Presently the Downs pilot comes aboard and reports
himself to the chief officer, and informs him that the
tide will serve at 8 bells on the morrow. Slowly the
afternoon draws in, the confusion aboard sorts itself out
and the clamour dies down.

Then at 8 bells, 8 p.m., we passengers and the
officers of the troops retire to the cuddy for that most
important hour called "grog time."

Getting underweigh.

At an early hour in the morning the order to man
the capstan goes forth. The Thames has no windlass,
the anchor being hove up by the capstan on the quarter-
deck. A stout messenger is passed round the capstan
and taken forward on each side of the deck. The ends
of the messenger are lashed together, the cable being
secured by short lengths of rope called "nippers."
With the aid of the troops every bar on the capstan is
double banked. At a nod from the captain, the pilot
gives the order to "Heave round. " The fiddler mounts
the capstan-head and strikes up: "The girl I left
behind me." All hands "stamp and go." The
mate in the head begins to watch the cable grow. The
bosun pipes "topmen aloft. " The anchor is hove short.
Another moment and the anchor is off the ground.
"Sheet home" rings down from every mast. Slowly


the Indiaman gathers way and begins to roll up the
yellow river in front of her fore foot.

Cries of farewell pass between the ship and the boats,
which are now rowing hard to keep alongside. The
usual late comer is hooked in over the mizen chains.
The ship lists gently as she feels the wind. There is a
sudden gust of cheering from the black heads along the
rail and the red coats in the rigging. A carronade on
the poop bangs off a last farewell. The flag is dipped
and we are off.

Barking Creek soon heaves in sight; the Nore is
passed; we run through the Queen's Channel with a
nice breeze ; and presently we prepare to anchor in the
Downs for the night.

As soon as the North Sandhead Lightship is passed,
the royals are clewed up, then down comes the jib and
up go the courses. The pilot rounds the ship to and lets
go off Deal.

All in the Dow^ns.

On all sides of us ships of every degree are brought
up, from the Guardship, a three-decker, down to a
billy -boy. Close to us on our weather bow rolls a
country-built trader — so close aboard indeed that the
old Anglo-Indians swear that they can catch a whiff of
the Jaun Bazaar, and the griffins spend much time
peering at her in turn through the ship's telescope.
Indeed there is no mistaking her— with all her yellow
varnish, her gilt mouldings, bamboo stunsail poles and
coir rigging, not to mention her lascar crew and golden-
hued country canvas.

Astern of her lay a very different ship. There was no
gilt work about her, no weird carvings round her ugly
sawed-off stern, no scroll work to relieve her clumsy


white figurehead. A flush -decked ship, her decks are
overcrowded with unsightly white-leaded box-like
erections, and as she rolls we can see iron gratings over
her open hatchways. On her main deck a line of
slouching human cattle parade slowly in Indian file,
watched over by red -coated despots, with muskets at
the shoulder. A growl, as of wild beasts, and the
clanking of chains is born to us on the wind. We gaze
fascinated and then turn our eyes away with a shudder.
The poorest imagination can picture the tragedy of that
ugly black hull with its white deck houses, barred
hatchways and red -coated sentries. It is that horror,
a convict ship, bound for Botany Bay. Further off
again lay a clinker-built Revenue cutter, the foam
flashing up against the muzzles of her pop guns as she
rolled. A powerful looking boat of some 150 tons, she
evidently carries a rare press of sail. Her jibbooms
equal her hull in length whilst her mainboom is so far
over the taffrail as to make a footrope a necessity when
reefing. She carries her lower yard cock-bilIcf\ instead
of lowered down on the rail, on account of the sea running.
Stunsail booms show on her topsail yard, and her
topgallant yard is aloft with sail bent. She is ready,
without doubt, to slip off at a moment's notice: the
vessel that flew Revenue stripes had an arduous task in
the thirties and very little rest if her commander knew
his job.

We turn our eyes away from the sprightly cutter in
order to watch a beautiful frigate bring up astern of us.
As she comes to the wind, her cloud of canvas seems to
melt into nothing, as if by magic, for these are the
days of extraordinary smartness in sail drill, when such
evolutions as reefing topsails in stays, sending mainyard
alongside the flagship, downing topgallant masts and


then making all plain sail, stripping to a gantline,
etc. , etc. , were carried out in an incredibly short space of
Sail DriU.

The rivalry between smart ships was tremendous
and cost many a promising bluejacket his life. The
men were like monkeys aloft. The order to lay aloft
was the signal for a wild stampede up the ratlins in
which the midshipmen, who were supposed to show the
way, had to race for their lives ; for, if they were caught
by the avalanche of topmen behind them, their backs
were used as stepping stones by hundreds of eager feet.
This smartness is sail drill reached its zenith just as
masts and yards were giving way to the smoke stack.

Many an old sailor in writing his reminiscences gives
examples of evolutions which are little short of mar-
vellous. Here is a specimen from Martello Tower's
School and Sea Days : —

In the Cuba we took great pride in displaying our smartness to the
good people of Sydney; our favourite being to let them see the frigate
approaching Farm Cove under canvas, when suddenly shooting forth
from the side with vivid flash and cloud of white smoke, the loud bang
of the first gun of a Governor's 19-gun salute would startle them.
Simultaneously the lofty tower of sail began to disintegrate; and very
slowly, but at timed and regular intervals as Mr. Fuzecap, the gunner,
called out to his mates, "Starboard, port, starboard, port," successive
shoots of flame darted out from alternate sides, the corresponding loud
reports penetrating every corner of the city and into country districts
for miles around, announcing to the Governor in Government House,
to the magistrate on the bench, to children at school, to men hoisting
bales of wool at the quays, to squatters on their periodical visit to the
capital, to unfortunate noblemen languishing in Wooloomooloo jail that
H.M.S. Cuba had returned.

Meantime if there was but a light wind, the ship was considerabl>
obscured, but when the smoke cleared what saw the observers then ?
The surprising spectacle of a frigate quietly at anchor in the Cove, with
sails furled, yards squared, no men aloft, lower booms out with boats
attached to them, with the general appearance in short of having lain
there qviietly for weeks.



The late Lord Charles Beresford records another
example of sail drill before the eyes of wondering
landsmen. Rewrites: —

When we were sailing into the Bay of Naples under all possible sail,
order was given:—" Shift topsails and courses, make all possible sail
again," which really means that the masts were stripped of all sails and
again all sails were hoisted.

The time taken for this evolution by Beresford 's ship,
the Marlborough, was 9 minutes 30 seconds. All went
without a hitch within 400 yards of the anchorage.
Lord Charles Beresford gives a very interesting table of
times made by the Marlborough in 1861, and adds: —

When Sir William Martin was captain of the Prince Regent she was
considered the smartest ship in the Navy, he brought the times of all her
drills to the Marlborough; he allowed the Marlborough six months to get
into trim before drilling with the Fleet, but she started to drill alongside
the Fleet in three months and beat them all-

Her times were as follows : —

Time allowed

Time of


by Admiral


Cross topgallant and royal yards

7m Os

6m 30s

Down topgallant yards with royal yards

across . .


1 13

Up topgallant mast, cross upper yards

and loose sails . .

2 30

1 27

Shift topgallant masts from royal yards

across . .


5 40

Up topgallant masts and make all plain



2 40

Up topgallant masts and make all

possible sail



Shift topsails from plain sail


4 50

In all boom boats from away aloft



Out all boom boats


.> 40

Away lifeboats' crew



Lord Charles Beresford mentions one or two of the
smartest topmen he had known, and gives the palm to
George Lewis. His best time from the order "Away
aloft, " from his station in the maintop to the topgallant


yardarm, a distance of 64 feet, was 13 seconds ; this was
never beaten but it was equalled by another famous
topman, Ninepin Jones.

At one time the upper yard men had to go double that
distance, for at the order "Way aloft" they had to
start from the deck, and on the Marlborough the distance
from the deck to the maintop was 67 feet. But starting
from the deck was done away with when it was realised
how many men injured their hearts and lungs by racing
aloft to such a distance at their utmost speed.

Gymnastics of the most dangerous description were
indulged in by these agile topmen, and the following
was one of the most common : —

When a ship was paid off out of Malta harbour, it was the custom
that there should be a man standing erect on each of the trucks, main,
mizen and fore. Many a time have I seen these men, balanced more
than 200 feet in the air, strip off their shirts and wave them. And once
I saw a man holding to the vane spindle set in the truck, and I saw the
spindle break in his hand and the man fall.

We have a different type of bluejacket in these days;
Beresford's topmen were lean, greyhound-waisted
athletes, all gristle and bone, and as hard as nails. I
wonder what they would think of the well-fed, bull-
necked Hercules of the twentieth century.

After this long digression, we must return to our
Indiaman, as she rolls majestically in the short Channel
sea which is making through the Downs. To the right
of the frigate a Prussian snow rides buoyantly at the
end of an old hemp cable; and, all around, vessels
sweep their spars across the sky as they plunge and roll :
almost every rig is represented, and the Red Ensign,
the famous old "Red Duster, " is by no means the only
national emblem present, though the ships flying it are
by far the most numerous ; but a few, like the Prussian
snow, are flying flags which have long since left the seas.


Amongst the ships, the well-known Deal galley punt
flies hither and thither, reaping a harvest which I fear
has long since failed; a harvest which has followed
sails and without sailing ships has become extmct.
But in 1830 the galley punt was a comfortable livmg
for a number of boatmen and brought a fortune t6 not
a few. All weathers came alike to the Deal boatmen
in these sturdy open boats. They took anchors and
cables out to vessels in distress; they saved uncounted
lives from wrecks on the Goodwins; they brought
provisions alongside famished ships; they landed the
important King's Messenger and took off the belated
passenger. And in slack times they dragged their
creepers for many a lost anchor and chain left behind
by ships which had liad to cut and run to avoid dragging
on to the Sands.

At sunset the line -of -battle ship fires a gun, and
instantly the colours flutter down from every gaff and

Online LibraryBasil LubbockThe Blackwall frigates → online text (page 6 of 26)