Basil Lubbock.

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and men was of more consideration than the balance
sheet. Indeed no ships were ever more staunciily
built or more generously kept up than those of the
lilackwall Line.

Dicky Green died 1863. Whilst he lived iron ships
were not even hinted at in the Blackwall Yard, and it is
probable that the Superb, Carlisle Castle and Melbourne
would never have been countenanced by the staunch


old Conservative. Iron shipbuilding has never
flourished on the Thames and I think one may say that
it was partly the introduction of iron that ended
Green's famous Black wall Line.

Money Wigram & Sons.

The family of Wigram rivalled the family of
Green in its influence upon London shipping.

It is always difficult for two strong personalities to
run in double harness, and this was probably the chief
reason why the old firm of Green & Wigram broke up.

Yet the yard continued for rome years to build sister
ships in pairs, one for Green and one for Wigram, and
Money Wigram was no wit behind Green in the way in
which he ran and maintained his ships. The rivalry
must have been very keen, yet I can find no traces of

Money Wigram was one of the first of London owners
to transfer ships from the Indian trade to the Australian
trade. And as far back as 1837 we find him launching
a little barque of 293 tons called the Emu, which he
had specially designed for the Australian trade.

Wigram 's fleet was never quite as large a one as
Green's; and like many other enterprising shipowners,
the firm were enticed into trying to run auxiliary
steamers; this led to the rather early demise of their
sailing ships.

Joseph Somes.

In writing of the old-time shipowners, one can-
not help being struck by the way in which personalities
rather than companies swayed the destinies of British

I\u doubt this is always the case, but in those days the



[To face Page 104.


personality was not so hidden from the public eye —
hidden amongst the names of a full board of directors.

These old shipowners ruled their firms like autocrats,
and built up the great British Mercantile Marine of the
present day just as the great Empire builders built up
the British P^mpire. Amongst such owners we find
the names of Green, Smith, Wigram, Joseph Somes,
Duncan Dunbar, James Baines, Wilson, Willis,
Thompson and Anderson looming up head and shoulders
above their fellows just as amongst the Empire builders
we find those of Clive, Raffles and Rhodes.

With the demise of the old John Company, these men
found their opportunity and amongst the first to seize
this opportunity was Joseph Somes. Joseph Somes
began his career as an India husband. But with his
enterprise it was not long before he had ships trading
to every part of the world. Some of his earliest ships,
such as the Perseverance, 423 tons, built at Quebec in
1801, were South Sea whalers; others were West
Indiamen; and he was also well known for the number
of his ships taken up for various purposes by the Govern-
ment. Many of his ships were hired for the transport
of convicts, and Lieut. Coates gives a list o£ rates
paid to him for the years 1840 and 1841 in this f ruesome
traffic, viz. : —


648 tons £5

per ton per \ jyage


636 .. £5 9


522 ,, £5 13

9 ,

Lord Lyndoch
Mary Ann

638 „ £5 14
394 ,, £6 4
376 ,. £6 6


His house-flag, which only differed from the White
Ensign in having an anchor instead of the Union Jack
in the canton, is supposed to have been granted to him
as a reward for his many services to the Government


in time of need. When the H.E.I.C. sold their fleet,
Joseph Somes bought some of their finest ships such as
the Earl of Balcarres, Thomas Coutts, Abercromhie
Robinson, Lowther Castle, George the Fourth and Java.
This latter had a particularly interesting history.

The Old "Java."

She was built at Calcutta in 1813, and presented,
fully equipped, to a British officer by a grateful father,
for saving his daughter who had been carried off by
savages. The British officer, apparently, landed a
party in pursuit and eventually found the girl, lying
stripped of all her clothes but unhurt, in the jungle. As
a confirmation of this story the Java's figurehead
represented a naked woman with her hands clasped as if
praying for deliverance.

The Java was built of teak and mounted 30 guns. In
1856 or 1857 she was sold to John Hall, of Loudon, and
in 1865 she sailed to Gibraltar to end her days as a coal
hulk. On her passage out she struck on the Pearl Rock,
but got off and reached Gibraltar safely. The under-
writers, however, insisted on her returning to London
to be examined, when it was found that a large piece of
rock lay embedded in her teak bottom. She then
returned to Gibraltar and was turned into a coal hulk.
Lieut. Coates saw her there in the nineties, she was then
83 years of age and her only leak was where she had been
repaired after the piece of rock had been removed.
Lieut. Coates' description of her is full of interest.
After remarking on her shortness, her low bluff bow,
tumblehome sides, and double row of gunports, he goes
on to say : —

The waist from the break of the poop to that of the forecastle was
80 short aa to seem almost a square. On the up^er deck were 12 gun-


ports, and in the stanchions on either side of them were still to be seen
the heavy iron eye-bolts for securing the breeching of the guns.

One mast still stood, which, being of teak, might be reasonably
assumed to have been the original stick.

On her forecastle were still showing her knight-heads; a stump of a
bowsprit protruded from the bow, and one of the original cat-heads
still remained; the other, I was told, had been shorn off by a passing
steamer. Her windlass, though antiquated, seemed massive enough
to have held the Great Eastern.

We descended then on to her main deck. On this deck she had
apparently carried 12 guns, and here, as on the upper deck, the breeching
bolts for securing her guns to the side still remained, a silent testimony
to the stirring times in which she had been afloat.

We found during our wanderings the old pair of double steering
wheels, which formerly had their place, as was a custom in those days
under the break of the poop. Now, in the closing days of this grand
old ship, they had been removed from their place and been utilised as the
wheels of the hand winch. The upper and main deck beams were
supported by massive teak stanchions handsomely turned.

Joseph Somes was one of the promoters of Lloyd's
Register. In his old age he was partnered by his sons,
and the firm at his death disguised itself under the name
of the Merchant Shipping Company.

T. & VV. Smith.

In the history of the Calcutta and Madras
passenger trade, T. & W. Smith, of Newcastle, rank on
an equality with Green aud Wigram.

The firm was founded as far back as the beginning
of the nineteenth century by Thomas Smith, one of
the Smiths, of Togstone, in Northumberland, who,
having served an apprenticeship with a Newcastle
ropemaker, eventually, like George Green at Blackwall,
married his master's daughter and succeeded to his
business. This example of the good apprentice had
two sons, Thomas, born in 1783, and William, born in
1787. The elder joined his father as a ropemaker,
whilst the youngest was apprenticed to AVilliam Rowe,
at that time the largest shipbuilder on the Tyue.


In 1808, the year William Smith completed his
apprenticeship, Rowe launched the largest ship ever
built on the Tyne— H.M.S. Bucephalus, a 32 -gun
frigate, measuring 970 tons.

Two years later old Thomas Smith bought Rowe's
business and, taking his two sons into partnership,
founded the shipbuilding firm of Smith & Sons, though
he still continued the ropemaking business with his
eldest son.

The Smiths had not been long in the business before
they turned their attention to the bu'.lding of Indiamen,
at that time almost the monopoly of the Blackwall
Yard. Curiously enough, their first Indiaman was the
Duke of Roxburgh, of 417 tons burthen, built to the
order of their rivals, Green & VVigram.

She was followed by the George Green, also to the
order of the famous Blackwall firm and launched on
Boxing Day, 26th December, 1829. This ship, accord-
ing to a contemporary account, was considered the finest
passenger-carrying merchantman ever built on the Tyne
at that date and the equal of any London-built ship.
She measured 568 tons burthen on a length of 135 feet,
was "frigate -built" and "fitted up with much elegance
for the carrying of passengers." Her life, however,
was a short one, as she was lost on her way to
London from the Tyne. Smith's next Indiamen
was the Duke of Northumberland, of 600 tons burthen,
launched 28th February, 1831. It was soon after this,
however, that the Newcastle firm commenced running
ships of their own to Madras and Calcutta in competition
with Green and Wigram.

In 1830 old Thomas Smith died, and the firm then
became Thomas & William Smith, and began to develop
in every direction.

T. & W. SMITH 109

They soon owned the largest shipbuilding business
on the Tyne, and besides running their own ships in the
East Indian trade had a fleet of colliers jogging between
the Tyne and London. At Gravesend they owned coal
hulks; at Blackwall a sailmaking loft, and in the East
India Dock a warehouse.

Smith's Indiamen were always pierced for guns so that
they could readily be converted into war vessels, and
they always carried a couple of 32-pounders.

Their two largest and finest ships, the Marlborough
and Blenheim, were specially surveyed for the Govern-
ment and reported as frigates fit for carrying armaments,
and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 they were presented
with silk ensigns and house-flags as being the finest ships
in the British Mercantile Marine.

About this date the designation "Line" came into
fashion amongst shipping firms, and eventually Smith's
became known as the Blue Cross Line, the name being
due to their house-flag.

When the Suez Canal was opened, the Smiths joined
another Newcastle firm and started sending steamers
through the Canal, their Blue Cross being the first
steamer through that ditch, which did so much to kill the
sailing ship. Indeed, it was owing to the Suez Canal
that T. & W. Smith decided to give up sailing ships
and sell their fleet.

Duncan Dunbar.

The only other owner of frigate-built passenger
ships of any note was the famous Duncan Dunbar, who
died in 1862 leaving a fortune of a million and a half.

His ships, however, were not built in London. A
number of them were built at his own yard in Moulmein,
and except for two or three of the later ones, the rest


came from Sunderland. Duncan Dunbar was a great
believer in India-built ships, and the vessels he built at
Brema, Moulmcin, were noted for their stoutness.
They were all built of teak, cut from tlie forests that
lined the banks of the river and surrounded the yard,
which is now owned by a timber exporter though the
old dock gates are still in existence. As a proof of the
staunchness of his Moulmein built ships, I find that his
Marion, 684 tons, launched in 1834, was wrecked off
Newfoundland, in 1877, after many years in the North
Atlantic trade. And the Lady Macdonald, 678 tons,
launched in 1847, was still afloat in the nineties.

Duncan Dunbar succeeded his father, who came to
England before the end of the eighteenth century and
started shipowning in a small way, Duncan Dunbar,
the elder, died in 1825, and his famous son, on taking
over the business, very soon made his name familiar
both in the Indian and Australian trades, and many
of his ships remained in these trades until long after
his death though they had been dispersed under other

The Captains of the Blackwall Frigates.

A man who had gained the command of a Black-
wall frigate was considered to have reached the topmost
pinnacle of his profession, and a very comfortable
pinnacle it was, being worth to its lucky possessor often
as much as £5000 a year. It allowed a man to put
"Esquire" after his name and to add to it " Commander, "
as is well seen in the dedications on the numerous
lithographs and paintings of these stately ships.

One has but to mention such names as Sir Allen
Young, Henry Toynbee, John Sydney Webb, Methven,



[To face Page 110.


Parish, Wilcox, C. Johnson, and Studdert to recognise
that these Blackwall captains were past masters of the

In the science of navigation they were far in advance
of the ordinary shipmaster of their day. Lunars with
them were a recreation, and they regularly used the
stars at a date when most navigators were quite content
with a meridian altitude. At the same time they were
noted for the good tracks which they made both out and
home. Many of them seemed to have a quite uncanny
talent for finding fair winds and for avoiding calm
patches, and though the painstaking Maury showed the
navigator the longitude to cross the line, the parallel
to run the easting down on, etc., etc., these experienced
Blackwallers did not need him — they were true ocean
pilots v/hether in the Channel, to the southard of the
Cape or in the Bay of Bengal.

But they were far more than mere scientific navigators,
they were many of them sea naturalists and oceano-
graphers of no mean calibre.

With the passing of the sailing ship, the sea naturalist
has lost his opportunity. The sailor of to-day knows
very little of the teaming life under his keel and on all
sides of him — no dolphin, albacore, bonita, or porpoise
can keep up with a modern steamship for more than a
few moments, and even an albatross is soon tired out by
a steady 15-knotter. Still less is there opportunity to
examine the smaller inhabitants of the ocean, but such
a man as Toynbee took dredge and trawl nets to sea
with him and preserved and classified his specimens
aboard his ship like a scientist in his laboratory.

The wonders of the deep ! Such men as these Black-
wall captains had every opportunity of studying these
wonders, and they did so to some advantage. In fact


they knew the sea; and there are not many men who
earn their living on the great waters who can say the
same to-day. How many seamen are there alive to-day
who have seen a whale harpooned from a boat, who have
watched a fight between whales, swordfish and killers,
or who have seen porpoises migrating in lines which
stretch from horizon to horizon? How many seamen
have seen the ice blink, or the white water or the
ripples or the red patches or the fiery sea?

Not only were all these wonders experienced but they
were studied scientifically by these Blackwall com-
manders. As for weather, they were professors of the
weather. Not only were they wise to every doldrum
squall, every sudden shift of wind and changing current,
but they were expert cyclone dodgers.


Smart discipline is the first sign of all round
efficiency, and this fact was thoroughly recognised by
the old Blackwall captains, who not only upheld their
own dignity but insisted on such strict discipline
throughout their ships as was worthy of the Kuyal

The side was always manned when the commander
of a Blackwaller came aboard. The midshipman on
the bell was never permitted to leave the lee side of the
poop. All orders were carried out to the tune of the
bosun's whistle and even chanties were not allowed by
certain martinets. The crew had their regular stations
and regular sail drill so that whether the flying jib or
the spanker, a royal or a staysail had to be handed,
there was no confusion. Every man knew his job and
jumped to it.

The India ships kept up this semi-naval discipline



[To face Page 112.


to the end, but the Australian ships were rarely as
strict, this of course depending a great deal upon
their commanders. These autocrats were also quickly
down upon the slightest lapse from "genteel" behaviour
on the part of their passengers. Here again Australian
ships were generally more easy-going than Indian ships.
In one of my old Australian ship newspapers there is
a very indignant letter complaining of the indecent
behaviour of some of the passengers, who, in the hut
weather of the line, had dared to take off their coats, and,
horror of horrors ! had even removed their stocks.
The writer declared that "such gross indecorum"
would never have been permitted on an India ship.
Needless to say that the captain of a Blackwaller was
never seen off his poop, and even in the Bay of Ben*,ral
wore his starched stock and tight buttoned uniform


The Blackwall frigates differed from other
British sailing ships in tliat they carried midshipmen
and not apprentices.

It may be argued that this is only a difference in
terms, but as a matter of fact, as we shall see later, the
two were quite distinct; indeed certain ships were
known to carry both midshipmen and apprentices.

The midshipmen were drawn from the same class as
those in the Royal Navy and paid a premium of £60 a
voyage, whereas, where apprentices were required to pay
a premium, it was never anything like so much. To
enter sea life as a midshipman in a Blackwaller was
considered a very fine opening for a boy in the mid-
Victorian era. Guardians of orphans, especially, were
fond of disposing of their wards in this way, for they


were well satisfied with the prospects before a boy who
learnt his trade in such well run ships and knew at the
back of their minds as well that he would prove less
troublesome than if they had to educate him at a Public
School and then find a land profession or business for him.
These midshipmen were called "the young gentlemen"
and they were treated as such, and knew very little of the
drudgery, the hardship and the want of food and sleep
undergone by the apprentice in other sailing ships. In
fact, they had quite as good and happy a time as their
contemporaries in the Royal Navy ; and when it came
to skylarking, monkey-like mischief and practical
joking they were quite the equals of Marryat's Peter
Simple or Midshipman Easy. That it was the happiest
time in their sea life many of them have freely acknow-
ledged in their later days; and what would not the
modern apprentice give to be able to start his sea-going
under such conditions.

Besides the premium the parents and guardians of
these Blackwall midshipmen had to provide a few pounds
of pocket and mess money and of course the usual sea
outfit with its badge cap and brass-bound uniform,
which has caused so many a boy to fancy himself
beyond all reason.

In the early days Green & Wigram's officers were
allowed to wear the lion and crown of the old E.I. Co.,
but this gave place eventually to the house-flags of the
companies themselves.

Boys, like women, are the slaves of fashion. And not
only did they have a strict etiquette regarding dress,
which it was criminal to offend, but each ship had its
own particular customs. Thus a "mid" on some
strictly disciplined ships had to wear his cap straight
and so it grew to be the proper thing to do; whilst in


other ships the young gentleman like our friend the
apprentice would wear his cap on its beam ends if he
did not wish to be accused of putting on side.

His buttons on some ships had to shine like stars,
but on others it was the thing to have them green with
verdigris. Again on some ships he must be barefooted,
whether the pitch in the seams was bubbling or a cold
nor'easter blowing, whilst on others such a sight as
barefeet was an offence against mid -Victorian

But whether "mid" or apprentice, the base of the
nature of every sea boy has always been the same.
He had an imp's passion for mischief: of practical
joking he was never tired; and if he could escape an
unpleasant duty by any possible ingenuity he never
failed to try to do so. He had a peculiar code of
honour which made stealing from a shipmate a deadly
offence but stealing from the ship a merit.

He took a pride in doing his work well yet looked
down upon any companion who openly took pains to
learn it. The boy who had been a voyage or two and
yet was a poor seaman was held in contempt by his
mates, yet he had to pick up his knoAvledge by round-
about methods, by any way rather than the straight-
forward one of working at it.

And the boy who was slow aloft was the object of
ridicule and abuse, though the boy who could be quick
enough if he chose and yet malingered in order to
exasperate his officers was considered a stout fellow.

Yet withal every midshipman possessed such a keen
pride in his own ship that he would rather suffer death
than tliat she should be disgraced.

And now let us look at the duties required by these
high-spirited Blackwall midshipmen. Firstly, all the


working of the mizen mast was considered theirs.
That mast, next to the ship itself, was their chief pride,
and greatly did they feel the disgrace if during a storm
or sudden squall they could not reef or furl without the
aid of anv foremast hands. However "the young
gentlemen'' were excused from greasing and tarring
down, which was done by ordinary seamen.

A boy in the Hotspur under Toynbee had little excuse
for not turning out a scientific and clever navigator.
Every morning at 10 some of his "mids" had to attend in
the cuddy for navigation lessons, whilst at the same time
his bosun on the main deck held classes in knotting,
splicing, using a palm and needle, etc. And the boy
who learnt his marlinspike seamanship under a Black-
wall rigger was lucky indeed.

"We were put in three watches," writes the late
Captain Whall, "like the officers; thus we had four
hours on deck, then eight below, which gave us sufficient
sleep. We kept our watch on the poop in uniform,
being treated as junior officers." Every day one of
Toynbee's midshipmen had the honour of dining at his
captain's table; and here one can see how more nearly
allied they were to Marryat's creations than to the
present day apprentice.

In their sleeping quarters they also were more akin
to the Navy "mid," for they berthed on the lower
deck in semi-darkness. They slept in hammocks and
each "mid" had his hammockman, whose only pay
very often was an occasional glass of grog, for these
lucky young gentlemen were even allowed their wine.
When the spirits were issued at dinner time for the
officers' mess, a wineglassful was the share of each
midshipman. There was also a midshipmen 's steward,
commonly called "the midshipmen's devil."


These lads soon found themselves in places of respon-
sibility. Each of the boats was placed in charge of a
"mid, "who was responsible for its condition and for
its readiness in case of emergency. Then, too, the
midshipman of the watch always called over the names,
and reported to the officer of the watch. "Watch all
on deck, sir: so-and-so sick: so and so first look-out:
wheel relieved." The senior midshipmen did duty as
foc's'le officer, the remainder, as I have said, being
responsible for the mizen mast except for greasing,
scraping and blacking down.

They had to see that the dead-eyes of the topmast
rigging were turned in square: and the topmast and
topgallant rigging kept well pulled up; gaskets made
up snug and seized in at equal distances along the yards
and in fine weather cheesed up all to the same length :
bunt-lines overhauled and stopped with a split rope-
yarn; "Scotchmen" seized on between the futtock
shrouds and the mizen rigging, on topmost backstay
in the way of the cross jack yard, and wherever else a
chafe might occur. They had to make paunch and
quarter mats for the yards, and make sure that they
were laced well on so as not to shift, breeches mat on
the collar of mizen stay, and point all new ropes.

Then they had to do all the rattling down, cover and
graft block strops; keep services and roundings in
repair; make spare gaskets, etc., etc. When top-
gallant stunsails were cleared away or topmast stunsails
set the midshipmen took charge of the tacks, and had

Online LibraryBasil LubbockThe Blackwall frigates → online text (page 9 of 26)