Basil Lubbock.

The Blackwall frigates online

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masthead. For a while we stay on deck watching the
yellow after-glow darken into night and then, finding it
growing chilly, we retire to the cuddy to write letters,
which will be posted in Deal by our attendant galley
punt in the morning.

Down Channel.

We are awakened before daybreak by the steady
tramp of feet over our heads, they are washing down the
poop. This rouses us up, and we slip on deck in time to
enjoy a beautiful sea effect — a fleet of ships getting
underweigh at dawn.

In the East a flush of rosy light paints the sky along
a horizon of deep indigo. Nearer at hand the foaming
crests show like yellow soapsuds. Against the growing
light the spars of the ships to windward stand out like


clean-cut jet, while to leeward they gleam as if touched
with fire. It is cold and clear, with the wind almost
round to north: such a morning as makes one glow with
health and long for the breakfast hour.

Aboard our Indiaman the bustle of getting under-
weigh is in full swing. The capstan revolves to the
sound of squeaking catgut.

"Stamp and go ! Stamp and go ! Breast the bars and
run her round, boys !"

All around us we can hear the clink, clink of the pawls
as the outward bounders hasten to take advantage of the
slant. It is an inspiriting scene, and the idle passenger
longs to take a hand instead of having to blow on his
fingers and stamp his feet to keep himself warm. It is a
close race as to who will be first away. Our bosun trills
on his pipe, and away go the topmen aloft ; at the same
time black midgets can be seen clambering up the
shrouds of our neighbours. The gaskets are cast off;
and, as the anchor leaves the ground, our topsails drop
simultaneously and are sheeted home together. The
Thames makes a slow courtesy as she feels the wind in
her sails, crushes a sea into froth, and taking a long
white bone in het teeth sets off down Cliannel.

"Out studding sails !" is the next order; and before
the breakfast bugle goes, the kites have been set, the
anchors stowed and the decks cleared up.

Just before stepping below we take a look round at
our neighbours. The country ship is already far astern
and the sinister vessel for Botany Bay still further.
Even the frigate is doing no more than holding her own,
for the Thames has a clean pair of heels.

The Channel held more of the picturesque in the
thirties than it does at the present day. There were no
trails of smoke along the horizon, no ugly steam tramps,


no squat coasters with bridge and funnel on the poop,
no giant liners or grey destroyers, but the sparkling
waters were dotted with sails in every direction.

There, down to leeward, is a powerful cutter with a
large "P" in her mainsail below a number, a pilot boat
cruising back and forth across the traffic.

There goes a three-masted lugger, "ratching" along
the land. With her huge dipping lugs she needs a
number of men : the water boils under her forefoot and
she is making great way under the pull of those heavy
lugs, which are cut with a much greater bag than is ever
seen nowadays. She is only half -decked, and as one
watches her, tales of smugglers rise to the mind.

Coasters of all sorts are taking advantage of the
off-shore wind — brigs, brigantines, topsail schooners,
snows, galliots, ketches, yawls, spritsail barges and
heavy cutters with great square -headed topsails.

The Thames makes a quick run of it to the Mother
Bank, where she brings up for mails and despatches.

The Last Sailing Ships in the Royal Navy.

Whilst we are brought up a beautiful full-rig ship
sails majestically by us under all plain sail. She is the
celebrated yacht Falcon, flagship of Lord Yarborough,
Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron. In those
days the members of the R.Y.S. took the chief object
for the founding of their club very much to heart.
This object was the improvement of the armed sailing
ship. Lord Yarborough, the Commodore, was more
salt than his own shellbacks ; he fitted the Falcon as an
armed corvette and put his crew under strict naval
discipline. And when the experimental squadron was
fitted out, he gained the Admiralty's permission to join
them during their cruises in the Channel. His example



was followed by Lord Vernon, who built the Harlequin
to the designs of Captain Symonds, R.N., and fitted her
as a 10-gun brig.

In 1829 the Falcon and Harlequin joined the cruises
of the experimental squadron under the Trafalgar
veteran. Sir Edward Codrington, and the Harlequin
soon proved to be of superior speed to the other ships.
Whilst he was having the Harlequin built. Lord Vernon
persuaded the Admiralty to give Captain Symonds a
contract for a gun brig, the result of which was the
Columbine. Then the Duke of Portland gave Captain
Symonds an order for a still larger gun brig. This was
the Pantaloon. The Duke of Portland took her out with
the experimental squadron in 1831, and the Admiralty
were so impressed by her sailing that they bought her
and made her the model for future 10-gun brigs. At
the same time Captain Symonds succeeded Sir Robert

During the last years of sailing men-of-war Symonds
turned out the following vessels which were far and
away superior, both in strength, speed and sea-going
qualities, to the famous wooden walls of the war period.

The Symondites.







No. of


ft. in.

ft. in.

ft. in.




91 11

29 4

12 8



Vernon . .



52 8

26 5






48 11

14 7







23 4






33 6

14 10





204 2


23 9



Spartan . .



40 7

10 9






54 3

22 4



Flying Fish


103 1

32 5

14 4






29 4

13 6



Tlu-so mr'asijrrtn(tnls ,'ire interesting us a (iomparison
vvitli those of morchnntrnrn of the same period. The
stronKth of these sliips was wonderfully demonstrated
by the famous Pique fri^ute. On lier way Iiome froiri
Canada in 18.'i5, under Captain the Hon. Henry Johfi
Uous, s}ie stranchd near Point Forteau, Labrador, and
bumped heavily on a roek bottom for eleven Iiours witli
a nasty sea runnin^r, whieh (,/round away all her false
keel and a good deal of her outer skin. Yet she was
floated and brought home in twenty-one days in spite
of very bad weather and the faet that she leaked at the
rate of nearly 8 feet an hour the whole way aeross the
Western Oeean.

The Fique was known as a " laiiey frigate, " on board
of which a seaman's lot was by no means a soft one, to
whieh the well-known song, " Oh, 'tis aline frigate,"
gave testimony in an unending number of verses; one
of thfse showing the Pique's powers at sail drill I
cannot resist from cpioting: —

And now, my br,-i ve boyn, comes the b«st of the fun.
It's " Hands about ithip and n-ci topsails in one,"
So, it's lay aloft, topmen, aa the helium goes down.
And clew down your topsails as the mainyard goes round,

•Joseph White, of Cowes.

It would not \)(: fair to leave out the name of
Joseph White, of Cowes, in speaking of impn^vements
in design and build wliether in men-of-war, merehant
ships or yaehts. Besides building several experimental
brigs for the Navy, he and his successors John and
Ptobert White were responsible for many a speedy
yacht and slippery (jpium elifjfier.

In 18«2 Joseph White built the brig Wattrwilch for
Lord Belfast. Though a yacht, she was fitted as a
'0-gun brig with very hif^h bulwarks, heavy scantling


and a solid bottom, but she had a finer entrance,
greater beam, and in every way was more strongly
built than the celebrated Pantaloon.

In the summer of 1832 with five months' stores and
provisions, she joined the experimental squadron and
speedily showed herself able to out-point and out-sail
them all. Though she easily beat such crack ships as
the Vernon, Castor, Sta^, Prince of Wales, and Snake in
light breezes, she displayed an even greater superiority
in a strong breeze and head sea; at the same time she
made a practice of carrying less sail than they did.

These sailing trials raised a great deal of interest in
naval and yachting circles, and sides were taken for
and against the Waterwitch. ller detractors claimed
that her foremast was stepped so far forward that she
plunged like a collier; that her bows were without
sufficient flare and that she rode so heavily that she was
very hard on her ground tackle. Her supporters that the
apple cheeks of naval bows nuist be superseded by the
Waterwitch bow; that her stability, as proved by the
inclination or heel, was far superior to that of her chief
rival the gun brig Snake and that she could out-sail
anything allout.

In 1883 Lord Belfast amused himself by waiting for
King's ships coming out of Portsmouth harbour. He
would then sail ahead of them, take in his mainsail and
topgallant sails and still sail all round them; or he
would make tack for tack and show the superior quick-
ness of his vessel when in stays. He specially delighted
in catching the Pantaloon, which was tender to the Koyal
yacht, and giving her a dressing down. The Water-
witch only measured 330 tons, 100 less than the ordinary
gun brig, and this was brought forward in her favour;
at last, the Admiralty bought Waterwitch in September,


1834. She was the last vessel which was built by private
enterprise and afterwards taken into the Navy.

All these famous experimental brigs, Harlequin,
Columbine, Pantaloon, Waterwitch, Snake, and Flying
Fish played a most important part in the suppression
of the slave trade.

One of the best known was the Daring, built by White
Bros, in 1844. This was a very popular ship in the
Navy and never had any difficulty in getting manned.
Admiral Fitzgerald records how she hoisted her pennant
on one occasion at 9 a.m. in Portsmouth and was fully
manned by a picked crew at noon. Three times her
complement offered themselves, there being boatloads
of men laying off waiting for her pennant to go up, and
so great was the rush that petty officers gave up ratings
in order to enter as A.B. 's.

This Daring was the rival of the Flying Fish, and
measured 425 tons, 104 ft. length, 30 ft. breadth and
15 ft. 2 in. depth.

After this rather lengthy digression on the last of the
sailing men-of-war let us now return to our Indiaman.

Routine aboard an Indiaman.

The Thames, having picked up her mail, makes a
fine run down Channel and is soon out of soundings.
By this time things have begun to settle down in their
places. The commander and the nabob bring out a
wonderful chessboard of carved ivory pieces; the
planters smoke their cheroots, talk shop and spin
marvellous yarns for the edification of the griffins, the
cadets make love to the ladies, the troops sleep off their
seasickness, and the ship's routine goes its regular round.
As in a man-of-war, the crew are divided into two
watches and the officers into three.


The day's work begins at 5 a.m. when the third
officer serves out the fresh water. This was no small
labour before the days of water tanks. The water was
carried in casks, often old rum puncheons, which soon
turned the water, if, as was often the ease, they were
not properly charred inside. London River water would
foul and sweeten again several times on a voyage to the
East. It has been described as being as thick as treacle,
blue as indigo, with a smell that you could not stand up
against. The allowance on an Indiaman was 6 pints to
each person and it was served out by the slow method of
a hand-pump through the bung-hole of the cask.

At 6.30 a.m. the decks were washed down and swabbed.

At 7 bells the hammocks were piped up and stowed in
their nettings, being piped down again at 3 bells in the

At 8 bells 8 a.m. all hands went to breakfast, but those
who had had the morning watch had to come on deck
again for the forenoon, when all hands were kept at
rigging and ship's work.

At 5 p.m. the decks were cleared up, sail trimmed
for the night, and the hands were then allowed to knock
off and skylark till 8 bells.

Sail was handled as in a man-of-war, all three masts
being worked together. The log was hove every two
hours. On Fridays clothes were scrubbed and washed
in the ship's time.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays the 'tween decks
were cleaned and holystoned, after which they were
inspected by the commander, surgeon and O.C. of
troops, when troops were aboard.

On Sundays no work was allowed, except the necessary
sail trimming. In the morning the crew were mustered
and inspected before church, as on board a man-of-war.


Besides other duties, the crew of an Indiaman had to
devote some time to gun and small arms drill. Though
the Hon. John Company no longer had to fear the French
picaroon, the Seven Seas were still infested with the
adventurer who preyed on merchant shipping.

In Eastern waters the Chinese and Malay pirates were
a menace right through the nineteenth century, whilst
up to late in the thirties the picturesque European
pirate was still to be met with.


In the nineteenth century, the true pirate had
generally served an apprenticeship in a slaver, and his
ship was always a heeler, usually built in Baltimore or
Havannah for the slave trade. It was only the most
daring ruffian who dared show his colours, the black
flag with skull and crossbones ; and he almost invariably
sneaked down on his prey with some little known ensign
at his peak.

The following notices, taken from the shipping papers
of the year 1838, will give a good idea of his usual
methods : —

20th June, in 35° N., 7° W., the Thule was brought to by a brig
carrjring a red and white flag; deck covered with men, most of whom
were black; weather heavy; cargo not tempting enough.

25th June, in 34° N., 67° W., the William Miles was boarded by a
piratical schooner about 150 tons, under Brazilian and Portuguese
colours, with 50 or 60 men on board. Took two casks of provisions.

4th July, in 36° N., 47° W., the Ceylon (American brig) was boarded
by a piratical schooner under Portuguese colours; wine, water and
provisions taken.

5th July, in 38° N., 44° VV., the Catherine Elizabeth was boarded by
a schooner under Spanish colours; appeared to have 50 or 60 men.
Took a cask of beef and one of pork.

The Azores packet, five days from Tenerifie, was boarded by a
piratical brig full of men, which took from her a chain cable, hawsers, etc.

Eliza Locke, o Dublin, was chased ofi Madeira by a suspicious
schooner for two days in May.

The celebrated piratical slaver and other black craft lying in the
Bonnj^ River.

Fwm an old Lithograph.

[To face Page Si.


29th July, an American schooner was boarded off Cay West by a
piratical schooner and plundered of 400 dollars worth of articles.

5th July, in 39° N., 34° W., the Isabella was boarded by a Spanish
brig and robbed of spare sails, cordage, canvas and twine.

It is noticeable from these reports that the corsair only
left traces of his path where he had met with ships from
which there was nothing worth taking beyond provisions
and bosun's stores. Who knows how many "missing
ships" the above buccaneers could have accounted for.

The *' Black Joke" and Benito de Soto.

Perhaps the best known pirate of the thirties was
Benito de Soto, a villain whose history is worth noticing.
Benito de Soto was a Portuguese. In 1827 he shipped
before the mast in a large brigantine at Buenos Ay res.
This vessel, named the Defensor de Pedro, sailed for the
Coast of Africa to load slaves. Like all slavers she
carried a large crcAV of dagoes ; the mate, a notorious
ruffian, made friends with de Soto on the run across,
and between them they hatched a plot to seize the ship
on her arrival at the slave depot. The Defensor de
Pedro hove to about 10 miles from the African shore,
and as soon as the captain had left the ship to see the
slave agent, de Soto and the mate took possession of
her; 22 of the crew joined them, but the remaining
18 refused. These men were immediately driven into a
boat, which was capsized in an attempt to make a
landing through the surf and every one of the honest
18 drowned.

The ship was then headed out to sea ; the new pirates
lost no time in breaking into the spirit room, and by
sunset every man aboard had drunk himself into a
stupor except Benito. This superior ruffian immediately
took advantage of this to put a pistol to tlie head of his


helpless confederate, the mate, and daring the drunken
crew to interfere promptly shot him dead.

The whole thing was carried through in the true
piratical spirit. The drunken crew at once declared
that de Soto was just the sort of captain they wanted ;
and without any more ado he took command.

It appears that the ship had already got her cargo of
"black ivory" on board, for Benito de Soto is next
heard of in the West Indies, where he sold the slaves at
very good prices.

He remained cruising in West Indian waters for some
time and plundered a quantity of ships, most of which
he scuttled after battening theix* crews down below.

Having exhausted this cruising ground, he next took
up a position in the South Atlantic right in the route of
the traffic to the East.

In a very short while his raking brigantine, which
had been renamed the Black Joke, had become the
scourge of those seas.

Indeed, so great was the terror of Benito and his
Black Joke in those seas by 1832 that homeward bound
Indiamen began to make up convoys of themselves at
St. Helena before heading north.

Early in that year a whole fleet of ships was held up
there through fear of the pirate.

At last a convoy of eight ships was made up which
started off homewards with the Indiaman Susan, of
600 tons, as their flagship. Unfortunately one of these
vessels, a barque, the Morning Star, of Scarborough,
homeward bound from Ceylon with 25 invalid soldiers
and a few passengers, was an extraordinarily slow sailer.
By the third day all the ships had gone ahead except the
Susan, which in order to keep back to the Morning
Starts pace had to reduce sail to topsails and foresail.


This progress was at last too slow for the Susan, and
bidding good-bye to the barque she also went ahead.

At 11 a.m. on the second day after parting with the
Morning Star the Susan sighted a large brigantine,
crowded with men and showing a heavy long torn amid-
ships. The pirate immediately bore down upon the
Indiaman, and clearing his long gun for action hoisted
the skull and crossbones at the main.

The Susan was only a small Indiaman of 600 tons
and eight guns, nevertheless the sight of her four
starboard broadside guns run out made Benito de Soto
sheer off into her wake. Here he dodged about for over
two hours, hesitating whether to attack or not; finally
he sailed off in the direction he had appeared from.
It was a lucky escape, for by some oversight the Susan
had no powder on board though tons of shot.

Meanwhile the Morning Star was jogging along in
the wake of the Susan. On the 21st February, when
abreast of Ascension, a sail was sighted at daylight on
the western horizon. Her hull was fast disappearing
from sight, when suddenly she altered her course and
bore down upon the barque. The action was a sus-
picious one, especially when a pirate was known to be
in the vicinity, and Captain Soulej^ of the Morning
Star, immediately called all hands and crowded sail to
get away.

The stranger proved to be a long, low black brigantine
with raking masts. "The Black Joke" was whispered
round the decks with bated breath.

The pirate, as she rapidly overhauled the slow sailing
Morning Star, hoisted British colours and fired a gun
for the barque to back her topsail, but Captain Souley
held on, thereupon the Colombian colours replaced the
British on the pirate. He was now so close to the


barque that his decks could be seen crowded with men.
Benito de Soto himself could be made out standing by
the mainmast— a head and shoulders taller than his
crew. Suddenly he sprang to the long gun and fired it.
It was loaded with canister which cut up the rigging of
the Morning Star and wounded many of her crew.

Captain Souley held a hasty conference with his
officers and passengers. It was decided to surrender;
the colours were thereupon struck and the topsail


The Black Joke, with her long tom trained on to the
deck of the barque, now ranged up to within 40 yards,
and de Soto in stentorian tones ordered Captain Souley
aboard the brigantine with his papers. A courageous
passenger, however, volunteered to go to try and make
terms with the pirate. But he and his boat's crew
returned to the barque, bleeding and exhausted, having
been cruelly knocked about and beaten by the pirates.
He brought the following arrogant message: "Tell
your captain that Benito de Soto will deal with him
alone. If he does not come I'll blow him out of the
water." At this Captain Souley went aboard the
Black Joke, taking his second mate and three soldiers
with him besides the boat's crew.

Benito de Soto, cutlass in hand, silently motioned
the wretched merchant skipper to approach. Then as
he stood in front of him uncertain what to do, the pirate
suddenly raised his cutlass and roared out: "Thus does
Benito de Soto reward those who disobey him." The
blow fell in full sight of the terrified people on the deck
of the Morning Star. The poor skipper was cleft to the
chin bone and fell dead without a sound at the pirate's
feet. A shout of horror echoed across from the barque,
at which Souley 's second mate, who had been motioned


forward, turned quickly in his tracks, only to be struck
down and killed by Brabazon, de Soto's chief officer.

The pirates, like wild beasts, having tasted blood,
wanted more. The long gun was trained on the deck
of the Morning Star; and as the ladies ran screaming
below a charge of grape rattled about their ears. A
boat of armed cut-throats next boarded the barque, but
no resistance was offered, so Major Lobic and his sick
soldiers were first stripped of their clothes and then
thrown into the hold, a sick officer named Gibson dying
from the brutal treatment shown to him.

The ladies were fastened into the fo'c'sle, and looting
commenced. All this time de Soto stood calm and
composed at his vantage post by the mainmast of the
Black Joke, directing operations with the voice of a
tiger. Stores, instruments and cargo, including seven
packages of jewellery, were transferred to the pirate; and
the cabins were looted of every vestige of clothing.

Then the hatches were battened down, and, with the
steward to wait upon them, the pirates settled down to
a regular buccaneering carousal. The wretched women
were brought out of the fo'c'sle and their screams rang
out over the sea. It was a scene of awful savagery .

Fortunately the pirates became so drunk that they
forgot de Soto's blood-thirsty orders to butcher every
soul aboard. However, they first locked the women in
the fo'c'sle again and then cut the rigging to pieces,
sawed the masts in two, bored holes in the ship 's bottom,
and, satisfied that she would sink, tumbled into their
boats and returned to the Black Joke, which immediately
filled her topsail and went off after another victim.

Meanwhile on the Morning Star there was not a
sound to be heard. For long those below had been
shutting their ears to the screams of their women and


the drunken yells of the pirates, and now they suddenly
realised that the pirate had sheered off, but at the same
time they also realised their horrible fate if they failed
to break their way out of the hold, for in the semi -gloom
it was noticed that the ship was slowly filling with
water. The women, though they succeeded in forcing
their way out of the fo'c'sle, did not dare show them-
selves on deck for some hours, being half crazed with
fear. And it was only after some desperate struggles
that the men succeeded in bursting a hatch open.

Rushing on deck they found that it was nearing sunset.
The vessel lay rolling sluggishly, an utter wreck.
Forward the women were discovered huddled together

Online LibraryBasil LubbockThe Blackwall frigates → online text (page 7 of 26)