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Produced by Norman M. Wolcott

The Blockade Runners by Jules Verne

[Redactor's Note: _The Blockade Runners_ (number V008 in the T&M
numerical listing of Verne's works) is a translation of _Les forceurs
de blocus_ (1871). _The Blockade Runners_, a novella, was included
along with _A Floating City_ in the first english and french editions
of this work. This translation, which follows that of Sampson and Low
(UK) and Scribners (US) is by "N. D'Anvers", pseudonymn for Mrs. Arthur
Bell (d. 1933) who also translated other Verne books. It is also
included in the fifteen volume Parke edition of the works of Jules
Verne (1911). There is another translation by Henry Frith which was
published by Routledge (1876).

Both of these stories are about ships; _Floating City_ about the
largest ship of the time, the _Great Eastern_, and _Blockade Runners_
about one of the fastest, the _Dolphin_.

This text version was prepared from public domain sources by Norman M.
Wolcott, 2003, [email protected]]

The Blockade Runners

Table of Contents



Chapter I


The Clyde was the first river whose waters were lashed into foam by a
steam-boat. It was in 1812 when the steamer called the _Comet_ ran
between Glasgow and Greenock, at the speed of six miles an hour. Since
that time more than a million of steamers or packet-boats have plied
this Scotch river, and the inhabitants of Glasgow must be as familiar
as any people with the wonders of steam navigation.

However, on the 3rd of December, 1862, an immense crowd, composed of
shipowners, merchants, manufacturers, workmen, sailors, women, and
children, thronged the muddy streets of Glasgow, all going in the
direction of Kelvin Dock, the large shipbuilding premises belonging to
Messrs. Tod & MacGregor. This last name especially proves that the
descendants of the famous Highlanders have become manufacturers, and
that they have made workmen of all the vassals of the old clan

Kelvin Dock is situated a few minutes' walk from the town, on the right
bank of the Clyde. Soon the immense timber-yards were thronged with
spectators; not a part of the quay, not a wall of the wharf, not a
factory roof showed an unoccupied place; the river itself was covered
with craft of all descriptions, and the heights of Govan, on the left
bank, swarmed with spectators.

There was, however, nothing extraordinary in the event about to take
place; it was nothing but the launching of a ship, and this was an
everyday affair with the people of Glasgow. Had the _Dolphin_,
then - for that was the name of the ship built by Messrs. Tod &
MacGregor - some special peculiarity? To tell the truth, it had none.

It was a large ship, about 1,500 tons, in which everything combined to
obtain superior speed. Her engines, of 500 horse-power, were from the
workshops of Lancefield Forge; they worked two screws, one on either
side the stern-post, completely independent of each other. As for the
depth of water the _Dolphin_ would draw, it must be very
inconsiderable; connoisseurs were not deceived, and they concluded
rightly that this ship was destined for shallow straits. But all these
particulars could not in any way justify the eagerness of the people:
taken altogether, the _Dolphin_ was nothing more or less than an
ordinary ship. Would her launching present some mechanical difficulty
to be overcome? Not any more than usual. The Clyde had received many a
ship of heavier tonnage, and the launching of the _Dolphin_ would take
place in the usual manner.

In fact, when the water was calm, the moment the ebb-tide set in, the
workmen began to operate. Their mallets kept perfect time falling on
the wedges meant to raise the ship's keel: soon a shudder ran through
the whole of her massive structure; although she had only been slightly
raised, one could see that she shook, and then gradually began to glide
down the well greased wedges, and in a few moments she plunged into the
Clyde. Her stern struck the muddy bed of the river, then she raised
herself on the top of a gigantic wave, and, carried forward by her
start, would have been dashed against the quay of the Govan
timber-yards, if her anchors had not restrained her.

The launch had been perfectly successful, the _Dolphin_ swayed quietly
on the waters of the Clyde, all the spectators clapped their hands when
she took possession of her natural element, and loud hurrahs arose from
either bank.

But wherefore these cries and this applause? Undoubtedly the most eager
of the spectators would have been at a loss to explain the reason of
his enthusiasm. What was the cause, then, of the lively interest
excited by this ship? Simply the mystery which shrouded her
destination; it was not known to what kind of commerce she was to be
appropriated, and in questioning different groups the diversity of
opinion on this important subject was indeed astonishing.

However, the best informed, at least those who pretended to be so,
agreed in saying that the steamer was going to take part in the
terrible war which was then ravaging the United States of America, but
more than this they did not know, and whether the _Dolphin_ was a
privateer, a transport ship, or an addition to the Federal marine was
what no one could tell.

"Hurrah!" cried one, affirming that the _Dolphin_ had been built for
the Southern States.

"Hip! hip! hip!" cried another, swearing that never had a faster boat
crossed to the American coasts.

Thus its destination was unknown, and in order to obtain any reliable
information one must be an intimate friend, or, at any rate, an
acquaintance of Vincent Playfair & Co., of Glasgow.

A rich, powerful, intelligent house of business was that of Vincent
Playfair & Co., in a social sense, an old and honourable family,
descended from those tobacco lords who built the finest quarters of the
town. These clever merchants, by an act of the Union, had founded the
first Glasgow warehouse for dealing in tobacco from Virginia and
Maryland. Immense fortunes were realised; mills and foundries sprang up
in all parts, and in a few years the prosperity of the city attained
its height.

The house of Playfair remained faithful to the enterprising spirit of
its ancestors, it entered into the most daring schemes, and maintained
the honour of English commerce. The principal, Vincent Playfair, a man
of fifty, with a temperament essentially practical and decided,
although somewhat daring, was a genuine shipowner. Nothing affected him
beyond commercial questions, not even the political side of the
transactions, otherwise he was a perfectly loyal and honest man.

However, he could not lay claim to the idea of building and fitting up
the _Dolphin_; she belonged to his nephew, James Playfair, a fine young
man of thirty, the boldest skipper of the British merchant marine.

It was one day at the Tontine coffee-room under the arcades of the town
hall, that James Playfair, after having impatiently scanned the
American journal, disclosed to his uncle an adventurous scheme.

"Uncle Vincent," said he, coming to the point at once, "there are two
millions of pounds to be gained in less than a month."

"And what to risk?" asked Uncle Vincent.

"A ship and a cargo."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing, except the crew and the captain, and that does not reckon for

"Let us see," said Uncle Vincent.

"It is all seen," replied James Playfair. "You have read the _Tribune_,
the _New York Herald, The Times_, the _Richmond Inquirer_, the
_American Review_?"

"Scores of times, nephew."

"You believe, like me, that the war of the United States will last a
long time still?"

"A very long time."

"You know how much this struggle will affect the interests of England,
and especially those of Glasgow?"

"And more especially still the house of Playfair & Co.," replied Uncle

"Theirs especially," added the young Captain.

"I worry myself about it every day, James, and I cannot think without
terror of the commercial disasters which this war may produce; not but
that the house of Playfair is firmly established, nephew; at the same
time it has correspondents which may fail. Ah! those Americans,
slave-holders or Abolitionists, I have no faith in them!"

If Vincent Playfair was wrong in thus speaking with respect to the
great principles of humanity, always and everywhere superior to
personal interests, he was, nevertheless, right from a commercial point
of view. The most important material was failing at Glasgow, the cotton
famine became every day more threatening, thousands of workmen were
reduced to living upon public charity. Glasgow possessed 25,000 looms,
by which 625,000 yards of cotton were spun daily; that is to say, fifty
millions of pounds yearly. From these numbers it may be guessed what
disturbances were caused in the commercial part of the town when the
raw material failed altogether. Failures were hourly taking place, the
manufactories were closed, and the workmen were dying of starvation.

It was the sight of this great misery which had put the idea of his
bold enterprise into James Playfair's head.

"I will go for cotton, and will get it, cost what it may."

But, as he also was a merchant as well as his uncle Vincent, he
resolved to carry out his plan by way of exchange, and to make his
proposition under the guise of a commercial enterprise.

"Uncle Vincent," said he, "this is my idea."

"Well, James?"

"It is simply this: we will have a ship built of superior sailing
qualities and great bulk."

"That is quite possible."

"We will load her with ammunition of war, provisions, and clothes."

"Just so."

"I will take the command of this steamer, I will defy all the ships of
the Federal marine for speed, and I will run the blockade of one of the
southern ports."

"You must make a good bargain for your cargo with the Confederates, who
will be in need of it," said his uncle.

"And I shall return laden with cotton."

"Which they will give you for nothing."

"As you say, Uncle. Will it answer?"

"It will; but shall you be able to get there?"

"I shall, if I have a good ship."

"One can be made on purpose. But the crew?"

"Oh, I will find them. I do not want many men; enough to work with,
that is all. It is not a question of fighting with the Federals, but
distancing them."

"They shall be distanced," said Uncle Vincent, in a peremptory tone;
"but now, tell me, James, to what port of the American coast do you
think of going?"

"Up to now, Uncle, ships have run the blockade of New Orleans,
Wilmington, and Savannah, but I think of going straight to Charleston;
no English boat has yet been able to penetrate into the harbour, except
the _Bermuda_. I will do like her, and, if my ship draws but very
little water, I shall be able to go where the Federalists will not be
able to follow."

"The fact is," said Uncle Vincent, "Charleston is overwhelmed with
cotton; they are even burning it to get rid of it."

"Yes," replied James; "besides, the town is almost invested; Beauregard
is running short of provisions, and he will pay me a golden price for
my cargo!"

"Well, nephew, and when will you start?"

"In six months; I must have the long winter nights to aid me."

"It shall be as you wish, nephew."

"It is settled, then, Uncle?"


"Shall it be kept quiet?"

"Yes; better so."

And this is how it was that five months later the steamer _Dolphin_ was
launched from the Kelvin Dock timber-yards, and no one knew her real

Chapter II


The _Dolphin_ was rapidly equipped, her rigging was ready, and there
was nothing to do but fit her up. She carried three schooner-masts, an
almost useless luxury; in fact, the _Dolphin_ did not rely on the wind
to escape the Federalists, but rather on her powerful engines.

Towards the end of December a trial of the steamer was made in the gulf
of the Clyde. Which was the more satisfied, builder or captain, it is
impossible to say. The new steamer shot along wonderfully, and the
patent log showed a speed of seventeen miles an hour, a speed which as
yet no English, French, or American boat had ever obtained. The
_Dolphin_ would certainly have gained by several lengths in a sailing
match with the fastest opponent.

The loading was begun on the 25th of December, the steamer having
ranged along the steamboat-quay a little below Glasgow Bridge, the last
which stretches across the Clyde before its mouth. Here the wharfs were
heaped with a heavy cargo of clothes, ammunition, and provisions which
were rapidly carried to the hold of the _Dolphin_. The nature of this
cargo betrayed the mysterious destination of the ship, and the house of
Playfair could no longer keep it secret; besides, the _Dolphin_ must
not be long before she started. No American cruiser had been signalled
in English waters; and, then, when the question of getting the crew
came, how was it possible to keep silent any longer? They could not
embark them, even, without informing the men whither they were bound,
for, after all, it was a matter of life and death, and when one risks
one's life, at least it is satisfactory to know how and wherefore.

However, this prospect hindered no one; the pay was good, and everyone
had a share in the speculation, so that a great number of the finest
sailors soon presented themselves. James Playfair was only embarrassed
which to choose, but he chose well, and in twenty-four hours his
muster-roll bore the names of thirty sailors who would have done honour
to her Majesty's yacht.

The departure was settled for the 3rd of January; on the 31st of
December the _Dolphin_ was ready, her hold full of ammunition and
provisions, and nothing was keeping her now.

The skipper went on board on the 2nd of January, and was giving a last
look round his ship with a captain's eye, when a man presented himself
at the fore part of the _Dolphin_, and asked to speak with the Captain.
One of the sailors led him on to the poop.

He was a strong, hearty-looking fellow, with broad shoulders and ruddy
face, the simple expression of which ill-concealed a depth of wit and
mirth. He did not seem to be accustomed to a seafaring life, and looked
about him with the air of a man little used to being on board a ship;
however, he assumed the manner of a Jack-tar, looking up at the rigging
of the _Dolphin_, and waddling in true sailor fashion.

When he had reached the Captain, he looked fixedly at him, and said,
"Captain James Playfair?"

"The same," replied the skipper. "What do you want with me?"

"To join your ship."

"There is no room; the crew is already complete."

"Oh, one man, more or less, will not be in the way; quite the contrary."

"You think so?" said James Playfair, giving a sidelong glance at his

"I am sure of it," replied the sailor.

"But who are you?" asked the Captain.

"A rough sailor, with two strong arms, which, I can tell you, are not
to be despised on board a ship, and which I now have the honour of
putting at your service."

"But there are other ships besides the _Dolphin_, and other captains
besides James Playfair. Why do you come here?"

"Because it is on board the _Dolphin_ that I wish to serve, and under
the orders of Captain James Playfair."

"I do not want you."

"There is always need of a strong man, and if to prove my strength you
will try me with three or four of the strongest fellows of your crew, I
am ready."

"That will do," replied James Playfair. "And what is your name?"

"Crockston, at your service."

The Captain made a few steps backwards in order to get a better view of
the giant who presented himself in this odd fashion. The height, the
build, and the look of the sailor did not deny his pretensions to

"Where have you sailed?" asked Playfair of him.

"A little everywhere."

"And do you know where the _Dolphin_ is bound for?"

"Yes; and that is what tempts me."

"Ah, well! I have no mind to let a fellow of your stamp escape me. Go
and find the first mate, and get him to enrol you."

Having said this, the Captain expected to see the man turn on his heels
and run to the bows, but he was mistaken. Crockston did not stir.

"Well! did you hear me?" asked the Captain.

"Yes, but it is not all," replied the sailor. "I have something else to
ask you."

"Ah! You are wasting my time," replied James, sharply; "I have not a
moment to lose in talking."

"I shall not keep you long," replied Crockston; "two words more and
that is all; I was going to tell you that I have a nephew."

"He has a fine uncle, then," interrupted James Playfair.

"Hah! Hah!" laughed Crockston.

"Have you finished?" asked the Captain, very impatiently.

"Well, this is what I have to say, when one takes the uncle, the nephew
comes into the bargain."

"Ah! indeed!"

"Yes, that is the custom, the one does not go without the other."

"And what is this nephew of yours?"

"A lad of fifteen whom I am going to train to the sea; he is willing to
learn, and will make a fine sailor some day."

"How now, Master Crockston," cried James Playfair; "do you think the
_Dolphin_ is a training-school for cabin-boys?"

"Don't let us speak ill of cabin-boys: there was one of them who became
Admiral Nelson, and another Admiral Franklin."

"Upon my honour, friend," replied James Playfair, "you have a way of
speaking which I like; bring your nephew, but if I don't find the uncle
the hearty fellow he pretends to be, he will have some business with
me. Go, and be back in an hour."

Crockston did not want to be told twice; he bowed awkwardly to the
Captain of the _Dolphin_, and went on to the quay. An hour afterwards
he came on board with his nephew, a boy of fourteen or fifteen, rather
delicate and weakly looking, with a timid and astonished air, which
showed that he did not possess his uncle's self-possession and vigorous
corporeal qualities. Crockston was even obliged to encourage him by
such words as these:

"Come," said he, "don't be frightened, they are not going to eat us,
besides, there is yet time to return."

"No, no," replied the young man, "and may God protect us!"

The same day the sailor Crockston and his nephew were inscribed in the
muster-roll of the _Dolphin_.

The next morning, at five o'clock, the fires of the steamer were well
fed, the deck trembled under the vibrations of the boiler, and the
steam rushed hissing through the escape-pipes. The hour of departure
had arrived.

A considerable crowd, in spite of the early hour, flocked on the quays
and on Glasgow Bridge; they had come to salute the bold steamer for the
last time. Vincent Playfair was there to say good-bye to Captain James,
but he conducted himself on this occasion like a Roman of the good old
times. His was a heroic countenance, and the two loud kisses with which
he gratified his nephew were the indication of a strong mind.

"Go, James," said he to the young Captain, "go quickly, and come back
quicker still; above all, don't abuse your position. Sell at a good
price, make a good bargain, and you will have your uncle's esteem."

On this recommendation, borrowed from the manual of the perfect
merchant, the uncle and nephew separated, and all the visitors left the

At this moment Crockston and John Stiggs stood together on the
forecastle, while the former remarked to his nephew, "This is well,
this is well; before two o'clock we shall be at sea, and I have a good
opinion of a voyage which begins like this."

For reply the novice pressed Crockston's hand.

James Playfair then gave the orders for departure.

"Have we pressure on?" he asked of his mate.

"Yes, Captain," replied Mr. Mathew.

"Well, then, weigh anchor."

This was immediately done, and the screws began to move. The _Dolphin_
trembled, passed between the ships in the port, and soon disappeared
from the sight of the people, who shouted their last hurrahs.

The descent of the Clyde was easily accomplished, one might almost say
that this river had been made by the hand of man, and even by the hand
of a master. For sixty years, thanks to the dredges and constant
dragging, it has gained fifteen feet in depth, and its breadth has been
tripled between the quays and the town. Soon the forests of masts and
chimneys were lost in the smoke and fog; the noise of the foundry
hammers and the hatchets of the timber-yards grew fainter in the
distance. After the village of Partick had been passed the factories
gave way to country houses and villas. The _Dolphin_, slackening her
speed, sailed between the dykes which carry the river above the shores,
and often through a very narrow channel, which, however, is only a
small inconvenience for a navigable river, for, after all, depth is of
more importance than width. The steamer, guided by one of those
excellent pilots from the Irish sea, passed without hesitation between
floating buoys, stone columns, and _biggings_, surmounted with
lighthouses, which mark the entrance to the channel. Beyond the town of
Renfrew, at the foot of Kilpatrick hills, the Clyde grew wider. Then
came Bouling Bay, at the end of which opens the mouth of the canal
which joints Edinburgh to Glasgow. Lastly, at the height of four
hundred feet from the ground, was seen the outline of Dumbarton Castle,
almost indiscernible through the mists, and soon the harbour-boats of
Glasgow were rocked on the waves which the _Dolphin_ caused. Some miles
farther on Greenock, the birthplace of James Watt, was passed: the
_Dolphin_ now found herself at the mouth of the Clyde, and at the
entrance of the gulf by which it empties its waters into the Northern
Ocean. Here the first undulations of the sea were felt, and the steamer
ranged along the picturesque coast of the Isle of Arran. At last the
promontory of Cantyre, which runs out into the channel, was doubled;
the Isle of Rattelin was hailed, the pilot returned by a shore-boat to
his cutter, which was cruising in the open sea; the _Dolphin_,
returning to her Captain's authority, took a less frequented route
round the north of Ireland, and soon, having lost sight of the last
European land, found herself in the open ocean.

Chapter III


The _Dolphin_ had a good crew, not fighting men, or boarding sailors,
but good working men, and that was all she wanted. These brave,
determined fellows were all, more or less, merchants; they sought a
fortune rather than glory; they had no flag to display, no colours to
defend with cannon; in fact, all the artillery on board consisted of
two small swivel signal-guns.

The _Dolphin_ shot bravely across the water, and fulfilled the utmost
expectations of both builder and captain. Soon she passed the limit of
British seas; there was not a ship in sight; the great ocean route was
free; besides, no ship of the Federal marine would have a right to
attack her beneath the English flag. Followed she might be, and
prevented from forcing the blockade, and precisely for this reason had
James Playfair sacrificed everything to the speed of his ship, in order
not to be pursued.

Howbeit a careful watch was kept on board, and, in spite of the extreme
cold, a man was always in the rigging ready to signal the smallest sail
that appeared on the horizon. When evening came, Captain James gave the
most precise orders to Mr. Mathew.

"Don't leave the man on watch too long in the rigging; the cold may
seize him, and in that case it is impossible to keep a good look-out;
change your men often."

"I understand, Captain," replied Mr. Mathew.

"Try Crockston for that work; the fellow pretends to have excellent
sight; it must be put to trial; put him on the morning watch, he will
have the morning mists to see through. If anything particular happens
call me."

This said, James Playfair went to his cabin. Mr. Mathew called
Crockston, and told him the Captain's orders.

"To-morrow, at six o'clock," said he, "you are to relieve watch of the
main masthead."

For reply, Crockston gave a decided grunt, but Mr. Mathew had hardly
turned his back when the sailor muttered some incomprehensible words,
and then cried:

"What on earth did he say about the mainmast?"

At this moment his nephew, John Stiggs, joined him on the forecastle.

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