Basil Lubbock.

The Blackwall frigates online

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in a state of collapse. Aft the compass had disappeared,
whilst, almost more serious still, not a bit of food or
drop of water remained.

The pumps were quickly manned and the leaks
plugged. Fortunately for the unhappy survivors a
ship hove in sight next day, and with her assistance the
Morning Star actually succeeded in getting home, where
her arrival in the Thames created a great sensation.

In the meantime Benito de Soto, on learning that the
crew and passengers of the Morning Star had not been
butchered in accordance with his orders, put back again
to look for her, but failing to find her concluded
that she had gone to the bottom and thereupon resumed
his cruising.

He is next reported as being thwarted in his attack
on an outward bound Indiaman by a sudden storm.
The story is well told by one of the Indiaman 's
passsengers and as it presents a good picture of the
times, I herewith give it in full: —

The gong had just sounded 8 bells, as Cap:ain M. entered the cuddy
" care on his brow and pensive thoughtfulness." So unusual was the


aspect he wore, that all remarked it; in general his was the face of

cheerfulness, not only seeming happy but imparting happiness to all


"What has chased the smiles from thy face?" said one of the

young writers, a youth much given to Byron and open neck cloths.

"Why looks our Casar with an angry frown? But poetry apart, what

is the matter?"

" Why! the fact is, we are chased!" replied the captain. " Chased !

Chased ! ! Chased ! ! I" was echoed from mouth to mouth in various tones

of doubt, alarm and admiration.

" Yes, however extraordinary it may seem to this good company,"
continued our commander, " I have no doubt that such is the fact ; for
the vessel which was seen this morning right astern and which has
maintained an equal distance during the day is coming up with us hand
over hand. I am quite sure therefore that she is after no good; she's
a wicket-looking craft — at 1 bell we shall beat to quarters."

We had left the Downs a few days after the arrival of the Morytins
Star, and with our heads and hearts full of that atrocious afiair rushed
on the poop. The melancholy catastrophe alluded to had been a
constant theme at the cuddy table and many a face shewed signs of
anxiety at the news just conveyed to us. On ascending the poop
assurance became doubly sure, for, certain enough, there was the beauti-
ful little craft overhauling us in most gallant style. She was a long,
dark-looking vessel, low in the water, but having very tall masts, with
sails white as the driven snow.

The drum had now beat to quarters, and all was for the time bustle
and preparation. Sailors clearing the guns, handing up ammunition
and distributing pistols and cutlasses. Soldiers mustering on the
quarterdeck prior to taking their station on the poop, we had 200 on
board. Women in the waist, with anxious faces and children staring
with wondering eyes. Writers, cadets and assistant surgeons in
heterogeneous medley. The latter, as soon as the news had been
confirmed, descended to their various cabins and reappeared in martial
attire. One young gentleman had his " toasting knife " stuck through
the pocket-hole of his inexpressibles — a second Monkbarns: another
came on exulting, his full-dress shako placed jauntingiy on his head as a
Bond Street beau wears his castor: a third, with pistols in his sash,
bis swallow -tailed coat boasting of sawdust, his sword dangling between
his legs in all the extricacies of novelty — he was truly a martial figure,
ready to seek for reputation even at the cannon's mouth.

Writers had their Joe Manton and assistant surgeons their mstru-
ments. It was a stirring sight and yet, withal, ridiculous.

But, now, the stranger quickly approached us, and quietness was
ordered. The moment was an interesting one. A deep silence
reigned throughout the vessel, save now and then the dash of the water


agamst the ship's side, and here and there the half suppressed ejaculation
of some impatient son of Neptune.

Our enemy, for so we had learned to designate the stranger, came
gradually up in our wake. No light, no sound issued from her ; and
when about a cable's length from us, she luffed to the wind, as if to pass
us to windward; but the voice of the captam, who hailed her with the
usual salute, " Ship ahoy!" made her apparently alter her purpose,
though she answered not, for, shifting her helm, she darted to leeward

of ns.

Agam the trumpet sent forth its summons: but still there was no
answer, and the vessel was now about a pistol shot from our larboard


" Once more, what ship s that ? Answer or I'll send a broadside
into you,- was uttered m a voice of thunder from the trumpet by our

Still all was silent; and many a heart beat with quicker pulsation.

On a sudden we observed her lower steering sails taken in by some

invisible agency; for all this time we had not seen a single human being,

nor did we hear the slightest noise, although we had listened with

painful attention.

Matters began to assume a very serious aspect. Delay was danger-
ous. It was a critical moment, for we had an advantage of position not
to be thrown away. Two maindeck guns were fired across her bow.
The next moment our enemy's starboard ports were hauled up and we
could plainly discern every gun, with a lantern over it, as they were run

Still we hesitated with our broadside, and about a minute afterwards
our enemy's guns disappeared as suddenly as they had been run out.
We heard the order given to her helmsman. She altered her course and
in a few seconds was astern of us.

We gazed at each other in silent astonishment, but presently all was
explained. Our attention had been so taken up by the stranger, that
we had not thought of the weather, which had been threatening some
time, and for which reason we were under snug sail. But, during our
short acquaintance, the wind had been gradually increasing, and two
minutes after the pirate had dropt astern, it blew a perfect hurricane
accompanied by heavy rain.

We had just time to observe our friend scudding before it under bare
poles, and we saw him no more.

After this audacious attempt Benito de Soto steered
north, with the intention of running into Corunna to
refit and dispose of his plunder. Off the Spanish coast
he captured a local brig, and after plundering her sank


OLLv Roger

9 9 <

X X ^



her with all on board except one man, whom he retained
to pilot the Black Joke into Corunna. As the pirate
neared the harbour, with this man at the helm, de Soto
said to him : —

"Is this the entrance?"

The reply was in the affirmative.

"Very well, my man," went on the pirate captain,
"you have done well, I am obliged to you," and
drawing a pistol from his belt he shot the wretched man

At Corunna the pirate managed to sell his plunder
without arousing suspicion, and obtaining ship's
papers under a false name shaped a course for Cadiz.
But the weather coming on, he missed stays one dark
night close inshore and took the ground. All hands,
however, managed to reach the shore safely in the boats,
and de Soto, nothing daunted by his misfortune, coolly
arranged that they should march overland to Cadiz,
represent themselves as shipwrecked mariners and sell
the wreck there for what it would fetch. At Cadiz,
however, the authorities were more on the alert than at
Corunna, and arrested six of the pirates on suspicion
that they M'cre not what they represented themselves to
be. They were not quite quick enough, however,
de Soto and the rest of the pirate crew getting clean
away. The pirate captain made his way to Gibraltar,
where some of the invalid soldiers out of the Morning
Star, on their way to Malta, happened to recognise
him in spite of the fact that he wore a white hat of the
best English quality, silk stockings, white trousers and
blue frock-coat. He was thereupon arrested and in
his possession were found clothes, charts, nautical
instruments and weapons taken from the Morning Star.
This was enough to convict him, but under his pillow


at the inn where he was staying, the maid-servant
discovered the pocket-book and diary of Captain Souley,
which settled matters.

He was tried before Sir George Don, Governor of
Gibraltar, and sentenced to death. The British
authorities sent him across to Cadiz to be executed along
with the pirates captured there. A gallows was
erected at the water's edge. He was conveyed there in
a cart, which held his coffin. He met his death with
iron fortitude. He actually arranged the noose round
his own neck, and finding the loop came a little too high,
calmly jumped on to the coffin, and settled it comfort-
ably round his neck as cool and unconcerned as if it had
only been a neckcloth. Then, after taking a final look
round, he gazed for a moment steadfastly out to sea.
As the wheels of the tumbril began to revolve, he cried
out "Adios todos !" (farewell all), and threw himself
forward in order to hasten the end.

Thus died Benito de Soto, the last of the more notable
pirates, and a true example of the old-time sea rover.

Curiously enough, in the autumn of the very year that
finished Benito de Soto's career, a man of the same name
was also taken for piracy. This man was the mate of
the pirate schooner Pinta, which brought to the brig
Mexican, of Salem, on 20th September, 1832. The
Mexican was on a passage from Salem to Rio Janeiro;
when in 33° N., 34° 30' W., the Pinta ranged up along-
side flying Brazilian colours, and launched a horde of
ruffians on to her decks. After robbing the American
of 20,000 dollars in specie, the pirates stripped her
officers and crew and, fastening them down below, set
fire to the brig.

Captain Batman and his men, however, succeeded in
forcing the scuttle and reached the deck in time to put


out the flames. The case was reported to the U.S.
Government, who sent out a cruiser after the pirate
without success. However, the Pinta was captured
shortly afterwards on the African coast by the British
gun brig Curlew, and the pirates were sent over to
America for trial. They were all duly hanged at
Boston with the exception of de Soto, who was pardoned
by President Jackson because some years before, when
in command of the Spanish brig Leon, he had saved 72
persons from the ship Minerva, of Salem, which was on
fire. This he accomplished at great risk to his own life.
The two cases form a peculiar paradox; after saving
one crew from fire, de Soto straightaway turns pirate
and at the first opportunity helps to set fire to another
crew ! A strange man I


Our Indiaman only makes one stop on the out-
ward passage, and that is at Funchal, Madeira, for the
purpose of taking up wine, which it was the regular
custom to ship out East and home for the sake of

This was a welcome halt for the passengers, who
enjoyed their run ashore as much as those on the Union-
Castle boats do at the present day. Sometimes the
captain of an Indiaman gave a ball, at which the griffins
and writers made great play with the beautiful signoritas
of the island. x\s a rule, however, the Indiaman only
waited long enough to ship some 50 or 60 pipes of
Madeira wine before heading away on her course south.

Tapping the Admiral.

The pipes of Madeira were supposed to benefit
by their long voyage, but it very often happened
that they also considerably diminished in quantity.


especially if there happened to be some cunning old fore-
bowline amongst her thirsty crew. Indeed "tapping
the admiral" was the constant endeavour of an India-
man's crew. It consisted of boring a hole in a pipe of
wine and sucking out the contents through a goose quill.
In this way many a pipe of Madeira disappeared on its
voyage of maturity.

Calcutta and the Hooghly River in the Days
of John Company.

The Thames, in heading south, sails rather a
different course to what Maury, the great American,
and other later navigators advise. She crosses the
line, where the usual rough and tumble ceremonies take
place, as far to the eastward as possible, and forces her
wav south well over on the African side of the South
Atlantic; hauls rather close round the Cape, receiving
a severe battering in the process ; then as soon as it is
practicable heads away north. In the light winds
and hot sun of the Bay of Bengal, the ship is prepared
for port. She is painted inside and out, the rigging
is set up, tarred and carefully rattled down, the decks
are oiled and the bright work varnished.

A day comes when the deep blue of the ocean changes
to a reddish tint; a cast of the deep sea lead finds
bottom and brings up black mud in the arming, and
old-timers swear they can smell the land.

Next a lone brig is sighted standing down to the
Indiaman under easy sail.

"Hurrah! there's the pilot brig! "sings out Jack, and in
a moment the ship is humm ing with excitement. Some of
the soldiers run up the shrouds in competition as to which
will see the land first, but though one or two of them
goes high as the royal yard, they come down defeated.


Presently the rail is lined as a large boat pulled by
natives puts off from the brig. The pilot gives the ship
its first whiff of the East, in the shape of Bengal cheroots,
which he hands round to the captain and the passengers.

He proves to be a tall, refined- looking man, neatly
dressed in whites. He brings with him his leadsman.
a smart young fellow sporting a silk jacket with anchor
buttons. The leadsman is the half-fledged pilot. His
function is a very important one in the shifting sands
of the Hooghly mouth and his lead line is not marked in
the usual way but at every 3 inches of its length.
The last of the lordly Calcutta pilot's appendages is his
silent Hindoo servant.

It is a beat in, which will make it heavy work tiding
up the river, but the crew are cheered up by the news
that they will get "pilot's grog" served out three times
a day.

As we near the Sandheads, the colour of the water
begins to be influenced by the bottom. Here it is
violet, there to leeward pale green, and where the
current seems swiftest a reddish brown.

The first land sighted is Saugor Point. We are soon
in the hard business of the Saugor Channel, and going
about every 10 minutes. In the intervals of 'bout ship,
the only sound aboard is the sing-song voice of the
leadsman as he gives the water under us.

And there is not much to see: low distant land, a
sandbank here with the ribs of some unfortunate ship
sticking out of it : there a solitary red or white buoy.

Presently we pass Tiger Island, and then anchor off
Kedgeree whilst the ebb runs. Night falls and the
noises of the waking jungle bring the Anglo-Indians, like
war horses scenting the battle, to the weather-rail.

At the same time the raw recruits in the waist are



soon fighting their first Indian battle as the skirmishers
of the tropics invade their ranks. Yes, the noise of
slapping and datnning gives evidence of the mosquito
feasting on the fresh-faced boys from England.

Natives from Saugor and Kedgeree were the next
arrivals, bearing vegetables, fruit and eggs, and the
bargaining for these dainties filled the ship with a shrill

Morning finds the T/iame* underweigh again, running
up with the stream, low muddy shores with a background
of jungle on each side of her. The river is now a turbid,
mud colour; upon its rapid waters an occasional native
dinghy is seen fishing, but to eyes accustomed to the
ceaseless traffic of modern Calcutta, the Hooghly would
have seemed strangely empty and deserted.

At Fort Diamond two large row-boats filled with
naked Hindoos pull off to the ship. They are to supply
the place of the n>odern tug-boat and their business is to
help the ship's head round in the ticklish navigation
before us. By their aid we successfully negotiate the
famous James and Mary Shoals and at length arrive off
Garden Reach, where several splendid Indiamen are
lying moored in tiers, the inner ships with wooden
gangways on to the muddy shore. We land at Mud
Ghaut in a dinghy wallah and are soon busy exploring
the city, ending up with a drive on the Esplanade at the
fashionable hour of the day.

In Calcutta the captain of a first class Indiaman is a
man of some dignity. He generally lives ashore in a
house of his own. He is rarely seen on board his ship,
though he occasionally pays it a visit of state in company
with some high official of the company. On these
occasions he is received with a salute of seven guns and
the ship is specially prepared for company.


Whilst ashore he entertains largely. Nor are the
palanquin or gharry fit for his high-mightiness when he
drives abroad. He must needs have a splendid carriage
drawn by four horses, at the heads of which gorgeous
native footmen can be seen, armed with long fly whisks,
whilst ahead runners sing a continual chant, beseech-
ing everyone to make way for the great sea captain.
Whilst the commander pursues his triumphant way
ashore, aboard the crew with the aid of a gang of coolies
work cargo and take in silk, spices, indigo, saltpetre
and hides.

We know of one Indiaman which took a whole
menagerie aboard at Calcutta, including a Bengal tiger,
a present to King William IV. Unfortunately she ran
into a cyclone off Mauritius, fell into the centre where
the sea was like a boiling pot, and all the wild beasts
with the exception of the tiger were drowned.

Whilst the ship is in port, a bumboat is allowed
alongside at certain times, and each A.B. is allowed so
many rupees credit — a dozen or so^ — to buy fruit and
curios, and silks and cottons, but no spirits.

There is one very unpleasant morning duty in the
Hooghly, that is the clearing away of dead Hindoos
which have been caught in the ship's moorings. In
those days the river was always full of bodies over which
the vultures flocked in endless numbers.

The middies were not allowed to run wild ashore, but
were only given liberty like the men; a first-voyager
generallv found himself heading for Tank Square on his
first trip ashore, in order to see the Black Hole of
Calcutta, a dungeon in wh ich 147 English men and
women were suffocated during the hot weather of 1756.

As soon as the cargo is aboard, the ship is got ready
for the passengers. We are to have sick troops in the


'tween decks, and the usual mixture of Anglo-Indians
in the cuddy, with one or two great personages such as
a judge and a brigadier.

The Thames has a more or less uneventful run home.
A welcome halt is made in Simon's Bay, where the
passengers are diverted by the exciting spectacle of a
whale hunt. This used to be quite a profitable business
in Simon's Bay at one time.

The usual kindly south-east trades were experienced,
and we went "rolling down to St. Helena" with every
kite set that could be hung out.

St. Helena Festivities.

At St. Helena we stayed a couple of days; and
the captain gave a grand ball to the inhabitants and the
officers and passengers of other Indiamen.

The Scaleby Castle returned our hospitality by a most
cleverly staged performance of "Black-eyed Susan. "

The play was introduced by some very fine sailors'
dancing of reels, jigs and hornpipes ; then, as the whole
crew were singing: —

All in the Downs the fleet lay moored
When Black-eyed Susan came aboard,

a very pretty Susan skipped lightly aboard from the
main chains, and after bowing deeply to the captain and
the big-wigs in the front of the audience, burst into:—

Sailor, sailor, tell me true.

Does my Sweet William sail among your crew?

This was the signal for the smart captain of the
maintop, on the Scaleby Castle, who immediately came
hurtling down from aloft by means of the first rope that
came handy and at a speed which must have burnt even
his calloused hands.

William is dressed up to kill from his black pumps to
his shiny tarpaulin hat. His luxuriant curls are over-


powered with bear's grease, his kerchief is all the
colours of the rainbow, and his short blue coat has
guinea buttons. His waistcoat is white with blue
spots, and his trousers of white duck are so drawn in
over the hips that he has a waist like a ballet-dancer.

Oh, Susan dear, how came you here?

thunders William, as if he were hailing the topgallant
yard. Then the pair dance a fandango with great
energy. The performance ends with a grand sing-song
in which both performers and audience join. Then as
the last verse of "Spanish Ladies" echoes through the
ship, the chorus is taken up by the crews of the neigh-
bouring vessels : —

We'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors.
We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas ;

Until we strike soundings

In the Channel of old England
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues.

The next morning with a thunder of guns, much
bunting and much cheering betw^een the ships and shore
boats, the homcAvard -bound Indiamen let fall their
topsails and set out on the home stretch.

A week later we hove to off Ascension and traded a
case or two of spirits for some turtle with a boatload of

The equator is crossed with the usual ceremonies,
and we are soon close-hauled in the north-east trades.
A spell of doldrums, a night or two made bright with
lightning, and out of a heavy squall bursts forth the
brave west wind which carries us foaming into soundings.

Finally the anchor is dropped in Plymouth Sound,
where, after a great deal of leave-taking, for life -long
friends are made on these leisurely passages, we bid a
last farewell to the gallant old Thames and take coach
to London town.


And th«i beauty and mystery of the ships
And the magic of the sea. — Longfellow,

The Divided Interests of Green and Wigram.

THE owners of the Blackwall Yard made one great
mistake, and this in the end brouglit about their
separation. Instead of buying and building ships for
the firm, the partners played their own hands. Ship
after ship was built in the yard: generally a pair of
sister ships being laid down together, one for the family
of Green and the other for the family of Wigram, but
rarely one for the combined firm, until in a very few
years the Greens had a considerable f\cet running to the
East in competition with an equal Wigram fleet, w^hilst
the ships of the firm had been allowed to drop away so
fast that in 1841 there were only two left, the old
Roxburgh Castle and the Pyramus.

In 1843, the term of partnership having expired, the
two families severed connections for good and divided
the famous old yard between them, Money Wigram and
Sons taking the western portion and R. & H. Green the
eastern portion.

The arrangement meant the breaking up of all the

old associations, and we are told of the distress of one

of the firm's old captains, when, on returning from a

voyage, he found "a brick wall running through the

yard and the red cross through the flag. "



Dicky Green.

The famous Dicky Green, the elder of the two
brothers, R. and H. Green, was an example of the very
best type of private shipowner. His name was known
and revered in shipping circles all over the world.

The bronze statue before the Public Baths in the East
India Dock Road stands as a proof of his popularity in
Blackwall. His charities indeed were wholesale. He
was a bit of an invalid from birth and thus left a great
deal of the practical side of the business to his brother
Henry, who had been trained both as a shipwright and
a seaman. Thus Dicky Green had more spare time,
and he delighted to wander about Poplar, his favourite
hound. Hector, at his heels and a crowd of ragged street
urchins in his wake. He always wore waistcoats with
very capacious pockets and from one of these pockets he
was wont to distribute sixpences to the old people at the
almshouses, whilst from the other he produced sweets for
the children. In his charities and philanthropic work
he worthily upheld the name of his father George, to
whom Poplar was indebted for Green's Sailors Home,
the Trinity Schools, the Trinity Chapel and the alms-
houses, to mention the chief only of his gifts to the East

With such a man as Dicky Green at the head of the
firm, it is not surprising that the comfort of the officers

Online LibraryBasil LubbockThe Blackwall frigates → online text (page 8 of 26)