Journal on Board the King Lear and Afterwards by Hubert Cornish Whitlock
5th February – 30th August 1862
On Board Ship Journal Written to amuse a Lady, who was once a fellow passenger with the Author on a Voyage Home Overland from Madras to Southampton Anno Domini 1859
Note: This slim volume was originally purchased for sixpence in the early 1970s by David Sakula. When his father, Alex Sakula, published The Whitlock Journal in 1993, I provided a certain amount of family information. David Sakula has very kindly given his permission for Hubert Whitlock’s Journal to be published on this website.
Feb 10th 1862
In spite of the good resolutions I made previous to embarking, I find it somewhat difficult to carry them out with that degree of punctuality that I so much wished to characterise this my journal. I have now made up my mind that as I have not commenced a regular diary, that I shall keep a sort of journal, to which I shall add occasionally any little occurrences that may take place on board our ship, “Homeward Bound”, trusting that such may be received by those for whom it is intended, as a slight attempt on my part to convey to the reader’s imagination the kind of life that was led on board ship during our voyage Home.
Imprimis – We embarked from Vingorla on the morning of the 5th of February 1862, the usual bustle and confusion prevailed and about this I can say little or nothing more than at 7 o’clock the same evening, the ship weighed anchor and commenced the long voyage.[i]
The Good Ship Lear is certainly not provided with the amount of accommodation I have seen in other Ships, for example the Pera.[ii] However the Captain and Officers appear to study our comfort and we are now quite settled down and fallen into the regular routine of watch-keeping which seems to me the most arduous duty that I have had to perform for many a long day. Some of my friends, I daresay, would attribute this to laziness on my part, but such in a great measure is not the case. The mere fact of having to get up and remain on deck from 12 to 4 a.m. (which piece of luck very often falls to my lot) is, to say the least of it, frightfully monotonous and quite calculated to render one quite sick and tired of sea life. A charming prospect of such a state of affairs for three months is anything but cheering, at least, so say I. One of the great trials I have had to put up with, and one I have been least accustomed to, is that of the screams, and cries and romps of the “dear” little children we have on board, only 44, eight of these hopefuls belonging to ladies of the Regiment. They seldom indulge in any conversation with me, but merely confine themselves to disturbing me in that nap that I do so much enjoy after tiffin. From several hints of a threatening nature, that I have thrown out, I am looked upon with the utmost indignation, as a Herod among the small fry, by the mothers of these interesting creatures.
We were amused yesterday, for an hour or so, watching the movements of a shark, that was following us. Colonel Steele, entirely regardless of the Sabbath, was very anxious that a hook should be baited and thrown over, in the hopes of catching the brute, but a breeze sprung up, and before the gallant Colonel’s wishes could be carried out, we were sailing along at 5 or 6 knots.[iii] The King Lear is a fine ship, 1,900 tons, and I hope for a pleasant voyage. Her size will prevent that horrible rolling that does so upset me and, if all accounts be true, she is a fast sailor, but time will show and accomplish, I hope, all the miracles that we hear told of her. My cabin wretchedly small, and shared with me by an officer of my Regt. Now our baggage is put to right, we find we have about six feet by one of deck, to stand or to dress. This, I sometimes fancy, would almost puzzle Mons. Blondin, for with a rolling sea, and a pitching vessel, is something that requires the skill of an acrobat to perform a toilet, notwithstanding the very limited toilet that I have to attend to.
Still smooth water, and nothing exciting going on, with what dread do I look forward to the inevitable monotony that seems certain to attend us during our voyage home. I lost a pair of gloves to Mrs. Wakefield of my Regiment yesterday, owing to the treachery of my memory, which I am afraid has not improved at all since my last voyage home from India. ’Twas a Phillipine that we had and, in my seeming reverie, at the breakfast table, Mrs W. spoke the magic words “Bon jour”. I think however it served one right, for a more glaring piece of negligence on my part could scarcely be. But revenge is sweet to a weak mind, so I have heard said, weak or strong be my mind as it may. I took a sort of delight in stalking into the cuddy this morning off watch with the full determination of making up for yesterday’s ill luck.[iv] There I saw my friend looking in the opposite direction for my arrival, evidently indulging in the fond hope that poor Whitlock should lose a second pair of gloves. Her disappointment may be imagined when I say that I leant over, and wished her a very good morning. I have made up my mind now not to risk any more trials of memory.
12.30 Midnight – The moon is shining forth in all her glory and the sails are bending to the gentle breeze, and on the deck, seated on an easy chair, may be seen Whitlock. After such a commencement, one would naturally suppose that a fit of the romantic had come over the spirit of my dream, and that I was going to hold forth in touching strains but such are far from me, which is totally foreign to my mind.
Such an opportunity as the present, for writing in my journal ought not to be lost, for quietness is most desirable when one wishes to collect one’s ideas, especially for writing such an important effusion as this I hope will be. We were a little startled last night by the smell of fire, which we ultimately discovered to proceed from the cabin occupied by our Colonel. I did intend alluding to our Chieftain more frequently than I have since I made up my mind to do, and as I can say nothing particularly favourable, I shall say nothing, the best and safest plan to adopt. Well, to proceed, the Colonel himself went into his Cabin and there discovered that his counterpane was on fire. He immediately snatched it up and threw it overboard.
What makes this little incident more peculiar is that, the night before, the Colonel saw me come up on deck with my cheroot (which I took particular care to keep covered). He asked me the absurd question “Do you want to set the ship on fire?” I, of course, replied in the negative, at the same time saying that I should be as glad to reach England as he would, and that it was not likely I should adopt anything of this kind for the prevention of such. I suppose he was more timid as there is a lot of hay in the stern of the vessel; amusing incidents of this kind will occur and I only hope they may lead to no more serious results. I do declare this is the most preferable time for writing such an important thing as this journal.
My tour of duty commences at 12 o’clock and lasts till 4 a.m. I feel it very trying to keep awake, and the first turning out has to be by far the greatest trial. The kind way in which your predecessor calls you to relieve him surpasses anything I have heard of; his politeness in requesting you to get up, that it is past eight bells & so leads you to believe his motives to be purely of an unselfish nature and perhaps as a return you turn and sleep, this happy result seldom if ever follows. I myself speak from personal experience.
There is some talk of putting in at the Cape, the want of supplies being the cause, I believe. The fact of six sheep being found dead substantiates the idea.
I can no longer see for the clouds have come up and I am almost in darkness, and in addition to all this I am becoming painfully conscious that being asleep in my cabin would be far more pleasant than the monotonous business of trudging the decks or keeping oneself awake in the best way possible under such trying circumstances.
The report about our going to the Cape is corroborated by the Captain himself. A shower of rain has driven us all down into the cuddy and backgammon is all the vogue. I have played a good deal, but the whole of this day I have felt uninclined for anything. I did try to steal a nap this afternoon but those brats of children thought fit to amuse themselves on the deck outside my cabin; my threats of throwing half a dozen of them overboard were of no avail; so I got up and went on deck where I remained till dinner.
I rise very early in the morning. For my part I can’t see how to avoid it apart from remaining in bed wide awake, for the washing of decks is carried on most vigorously and at an awfully early hour. I was somewhat amused by hearing a man say this morning that if we kept drawing up so much water there would be none left to sail upon.
We have fewer ladies on board than I first thought we should. Mrs Browne, our Doctor’s wife, was very much disgusted with accommodation in the King Lear and I was as much amused as surprised to see her, when the Regiment was embarking, coming ashore with all her baggage and two children. She has gone home overland and is, I suppose, by this time near Home while we are but a thousand miles from Vingorla …
Last night and the night before, we had showers of rain and blowing a nice breeze. These two nights are the only ones I have spent in bed during the last week. My temper was considerably tried by sailors singing and hauling on the ropes just outside my window. They appear to me not to be able to set or take in any sail without making a noise over it, and their vocal powers, according to my taste, are not very strongly developed. We are all looking forward to reaching the Cape, the live stock are dying off, the ducks and fowls more especially. Such wretched specimens of inhumanity they are when they come to the table. I was amused this morning by hearing one of the men say there were killing a dead duck. They certainly have the appearance of being more dead than alive, and I am inclined to believe this a master stroke of policy on the part of the stewards, taking the lives of these wretched animals when they have arrived at such a stage that, according to the natural course of affairs, life would become extinct without the assistance of the cooks, but I am dwelling too much behind the scenes. ’Tis well that such incidents don’t come under one’s every-day notice.
There is less to write about, I think, than there is on other ships I have been in; the same daily routine, breakfast, parade, dinner, tea & grog, and then to bed to wake in anticipation of padding the day in a similar manner to the last.[v] A whale was seen this morning; not that there was much to see in such a sight; only the fact of seeing something foreign to ourselves was food for excitement. We expect to cross the Line today: one of our officers is in rather a state of mind as to whether Neptune with his suite will come on board and the usual ceremonies which take place on such an occasion, be performed, for he has never crossed the Equator. I don’t know whether any of these practical jokes, which so much delight sailors, will take place or not. I heard some hints thrown out, but I believe our friend has made up his mind to die rather than yield to such an apparent insult.
The sailors say this weather is uncommon for the part of the ocean in which we are. I believe they anticipated calms but I never believe what these amphibious animals say. Their opinions are always so conflicting, at least to my ideas. I therefore studiously avoid conversing with them on the subject of navigation. The Colonel was very nervous last night, and kept coming out of his bed, up on deck, and not at all particular as to the style of dress. Once I saw him clothed in his night dress, and with an umbrella to keep off the rain. He does at times take these nervous fits into his head and, at other times, one would be led to suppose that he was a cool and collected individual. Not so!! The Captain of the King Lear, Capt Crowdace, is a jolly fellow, his wife is on board too, she is a Scotch lady and from what I have seen of her I like.
We had the ship’s boat lowered last evening and all of us had a trial of our skill in plying the oar. I can’t say that any of us particularly distinguished ourselves in this way, but the change was pleasant after the time we have been shut up. I can’t say the individuals acting in the capacity of stewards on board this ship are as good as those on the P & O Service. I asked for a glass of brandy & water to be placed in my cabin for middle watch this evening. My disgust may be imagined, when, on tasting it, I found it the next thing to a glass of water. I however console myself by the thought that a day of retribution will come when we are leaving the vessel. I thought their civility on our first coming on board, was too good to last long, and the saying of the new broom etc. struck me as being most likely to be fulfilled before we parted company with the King Lear.
We shall pass the Seychelle islands today, at least on my chart, which I study very carefully with a view, if possible, of becoming independent of the ship’s people.
A very short effusion yesterday. I am almost ashamed to let such remain as a specimen of my journal writing. Had I more to write about, I might manage to contribute more largely, but as affairs stand now I am afraid I shall not be able to finish this journal as I should wish. There is a heavy swell on today, which seems to affect the ladies, but, I am sorry to say, not the children who seem to me to make more noise than ever. We had the church service read this morning by the Chaplain who is gradually curtailing the length of it. Perhaps the motion of the vessel, which is trying to the British soldier when he has to keep his legs, may be his motive for so doing. I was roused this afternoon from my gentle slumbers by the news that a ship was in sight. I went on deck where there was a vessel to be seen, but at a great distance. I got my glass, and amused myself by trying to make out what kind of vessel she was. We waited till about 3 o’clock, when she neared us sufficiently for us to signal. It was some time before she replied, but when she did we found she was what the sailors call a “Britisher”. She proved to be some vessel from Mauritius, and said they had very rough weather, a charming prospect for us. What a relief to this monotonous life, seeing a ship at sea, and that an English one too. I declare I think I made a better dinner after the sight, all the passengers too were in a bustle to find out what she was and glasses of various descriptions were produced on the occasion. I found one of mine the best that was among what I call “amateur glasses”. We did think of getting up a newspaper on board ship, and I was induced to join with Pennefather of my Regt. on condition that he would assist me in this undertaking by writing the leading article. This proved a stumbling block to our endeavours for Pennefather commenced writing a list of Passengers, ship’s crew, tonnage, etc., etc. I could not get him to write anything more interesting, so the project has failed. The grog has made its appearance and I look upon it as a signal for my closing.
I came on watch at 4 this morning, I was dreadfully tired and uninclined to get up. The rough sea has gone down and it looks as if a calm was going to set in. We are all on the qui vive for sharks and dolphins or anything that will give us a chance of exercising our abilities at harpooning. It seems a cruel way of catching the fish but the excitement drives all humane ideas out of one’s head. Not that I think that a fish would stand in any great danger, if we were left to manage for ourselves. I see that some are very awkward, and seem more likely to spear one another instead of the dolphin.
Imagine, oh ‘reader’, my being sea-sick after 20 days seafaring. I really was quite squeamish today. Some peculiar motion in the ship, which not only affected me but one or two others. Also, the ship is easy, as our skipper says, and although she rolls ’tis very easy. I feel quite ashamed of myself for having thus given way to my feelings. One point gained by such weather is that the babes are somewhat quieter than here-to-fore, although those of a stronger temperament, and unlike their fellows, appear to me to have made a sort of bund o’bust that the passengers should not benefit by the retirement from the scene of these young brats.
Muster parade took place this morning between decks. The sea rather rougher than usual, the men don’t seem to be more at their ease on their legs than at first starting. I think in weather like this, the word of command “Stand at ease” is quite unnecessary, and superfluous, for the British soldier under these peculiar circumstances will place himself naturally in that position which is most adapted for his ease and comfort, without the lucid description of standing at ease, given in the Field Evolutions in a paragraph on the subject, being strictly adhered to. One of the sails went into shreds this morning. I think this can be mainly attributed to the rottenness of the canvas. We have been rolling and knocking about the whole day, and except going between decks, I have done nothing. A dreadful state of affairs, but I feel I cannot settle down to anything, for two moments together. I was unwell yesterday, but that I don’t think a sufficient excuse for my apparent laziness. I cannot help it and I fancy this monotonous state of affairs, as far as I myself am concerned, will stick to me the whole of the voyage. Our newspaper, like many a predecessor, has died a natural death, and all other journals, excepting my attempt, have followed its example. I think I stand alone, the Chronicler of events on board this ship. I am sure, if nothing else would urge me to continue steadfast in this cause, the fact of standing alone in the editorial line would be sufficient an incentive. Besides, I feel myself bound in a certain measure to have something written, which I can say on arrival in England, occupied some of my idle time on board ship at sea.
The wind is gone down but there still remains a heavy swell. Our parade is over and I have a few hours leisure, which I wish I could wholly devote in a profitable manner to my journal, but I know not what to write about, the same life, the same goings on. I can say no more!
Sunday – we sighted a ship again today, it may seem an extraordinary thing but nevertheless ’tis a fact that if one is destined to fall in with a vessel, it happens to be on a Sunday. The last we saw was on a Sunday, the one we saw today was a whaler, laying to on the look out for whales, a sedentary sort of life which would by no means suit me. We have had more to divert our attention and thoughts this day than usual. We passed the South Coast of the Island of Madagascar, we were about 30 miles off, so the mountains must have been very high to be discernable at such a distance. I rather fell into the bad graces of some of the maternities on board. I tried to obtain that response, which doth so much delight me of an afternoon. But no! The fates willed that I should be disturbed by the crying babes outside my cabin window. Cooke displayed his usual sagacity on this occasion, and suggested that I should try the cold water cure, externally applied. This plan I did adopt, but with what ill luck was it attended. It appears that the tumbler of water I threw out fell on the head of that lovely screaming child, to wit one Swinburne, our Paymaster’s son. I thought I never should have been forgiven, but the abject apologies I made have I trust restored me to that position in Mrs Swinburne’s good opinion that I previously held. Certainly this mild mode of chastisement has had the desired effect of securing me the repose I so much feel in need of.
We passed the nearest point of land last evening at 7 o’clock. With what pleasure does one rush to the side of the vessel on that cry of land in sight. We could not see it plainly, being so far off but then there it was. The land, although inhabited by savages, was refreshing to our sight. On coming on deck this morning the water was quite green, shallower I suppose from being near to land. I was very reluctant to try the cold water this morning on deck. We find the difference in the temperature every day we go further south.
I took a dive into the hold today, to see after the arm chests of my company. I have been at pleasanter duties in my life, such confusion of ropes, anchors, corks, chains, etc., etc., and I find that if I want any particular box ’tis invariably at the bottom of about two tons of other baggage and a nice time ’tis I spent waiting for these to be cleared away. Today however I was particularly fortunate for my arm chest was discovered in a dark corner near the hatchway. Except the cover being smashed in, the box had sustained no injury. Thus, of course, an enquiry was never done on board ship. Oh! no! We know how careful sailors are with baggage. My personal baggage, too, has, I fear, met with some injury for, on my last seeing my chest of drawers, the sides of the covers were completely broken in, but my faithful domestic, who thinks I view these disasters in too trivial a light, has nailed them up again; the Captain and his officers are obliging enough, but if we could only instil into these stewards’ minds, the benefit they would confer on us by giving us a little brandy and water on middle watch, it would be a sort of inducement for me to turn and, especially when the cold weather sets in – I intend to remedy the grog defect by procuring some at the Cape when we arrive there. This will perhaps put me in a more amiable mood than I sometimes am. We are all down below now, for the dew has begun to fall.
This is attributed to us being near land. I am not on watch till 12 o’clock. It gives me ample time for reflection, were I so inclined. I wish they would supply the cuddy with a lamp after half past 9. I might then be able to write a good deal in my journal. I believe Somes the owner has some objection to it as he fears fire; probably his ship not being insured increases his fear. Several persons on board have asked me what I am writing, and to read it aloud pro bono publico. I satisfy them by saying that I propose becoming an author, and intend publishing the contents of this book. I wish I could write something more entertaining or more worth reading, but what can I do? The wretched slow life on board, which appears to me to hang more heavily every day, gives me no opportunity of exercising my editorial abilities even were I endowed with such. Nous verrons. We may have a subject before the voyage is over, we have some time before us.
A nice long time have I been silent, but the true reason is the one I have assigned all along. I have got almost disgusted with everything, and more than once made up my mind that I should discontinue my journal, but here am I at it again. I hope I shall keep more steadfastly to it.
Betting has been lively the last few days. The Colonel commenced by betting that we had been 200 miles during the last 24 hours. He won by 5 miles, for we had made the unusual run of 205 miles. I certainly was very much inclined to bet against our Chief, as we had been sailing very slowly from 6 a.m. but they say the current had a great effect on the vessel’s run. We find the evenings much cooler and are glad to get below. I wish the children belonging to the soldiers would follow our example, but as they appear to me to be totally regardless of cold or sleep, they seem to be blessed with extraordinary powerful lungs, bless their dear little hearts!!! The Colonel gave out that he was unwell yesterday, suffering as we all think from a surfeit of salt beef of which he is particularly fond. I saw him playing quoits this evening, so I suppose he has recovered; it certainly required more than an ordinary indisposition to keep him from the table, at which he is a most constant, and punctual attendant.
Another dive between decks today for my chest of drawers and I am happy to say attended with better result for I found them almost immediately and had them brought up on deck where they are to be mended by the first mate’s orders. He certainly has appeased my anger by his kind attention such as one is not generally accustomed to meet with on board ship. We have been becalmed half the day today but a breeze has sprung up this evening, although carrying us a point or two off our course, is fresh and may change to favourable. I feel the same difficulty in finding a subject to write upon that I have all along. Were in not for the break in the voyage by putting into the Cape, I almost feel that the time that we would otherwise be on board, and in each other’s society would be too much of a good thing, although I once spent a very pleasant voyage and rather regretted the time when it drew to a close and we were all compelled to separate.
It set in rough yesterday, commencing about 1 in the morning. The sea was higher than I have yet seen it, the ladies made their appearance at the dinner table, but all looked as if they wished themselves away from it; nothing do people dislike so much as to be considered seasick and nothing are they less able to disguise. “I can assure you Mr. W. I am perfectly well and I don’t feel the motion in the slightest.” A sudden departure from the table does not corroborate the fact. This occurred with us and not a little amused the stouthearted. The sea went down yesterday towards evening and almost a calm ensued. We saw a ship this morning but could not induce the first mate to take out his flags although we all volunteered our services, as the crew were going to make sail. I have the middle watch tonight, a duty I think so unpleasant, the more so as it appears to me that there is so little object in causing an officer to visit sentries every hour. Probably this is intended to keep us from sleeping as we should otherwise certainly do. We have made an excellent voyage so far; may our good fortune continue.
A nice time I had of it last night on watch. When I came on deck at 12, the crew were busy taking in sail and a jolly gale it blew till 4 when I went below. I was up again at 6 and on deck, the sea was awfully high. The strangest thing is that, yesterday afternoon, we were nearly becalmed, and behold the state of affairs at present.
We sighted a ship ahead of us, supposed by some to be the Windsor Castle or the Coxpatrick, which vessels have the remainder of our officers on board. The wind commenced blowing foul this evening, and I believe they intend making a tack; the vessel ahead of us made one just before dark. We shall probably meet at the Cape. I am on Regimental Duty today which secures me one comfort, that is a whole night in bed. We sighted the land today some distance off, this is supposed to be somewhere near Port Natal on the African Coast.
The tack was made last evening, and here we are steering straight in to the land which looks in the distance very much like the chalk cliffs of Dover. We have neared the land (mid-day) and I now see it is only sand. We have made another tack and are steering out to sea again, the wind blowing just in the direction we want to go, a lamentable state of affairs. I begin now to somewhat accustom myself to the monotony on board ship and to the Colonel’s jokes too, which at their best are not worth listening to. By way of exercise he slipped down the steps leading from the deck to his cabin. I first thought it was some of the children that had come to grief and looked down the sky-light and made the usual remark. He replied in his usual grumpy voice “No such luck”. He appears to entertain similar feelings of enmity towards the innocent babes, that I do, but is not so careful about keeping his opinion to himself, although I have often been caught, or heard, breathing out some threat against them. I ought to have known that the weight of our Chief (which is something equivalent to that of a dozen children) produced this noise instead of the dozen children. The lottery has just been drawn, down in the cuddy. Wakefield I am afraid, together with myself, have rather lessened the value of it, by withdrawing our names, just at the time of drawing. We understood that our tickets would be given to use but no! They proposed to seal them all up in an envelope and give us them when we arrived at the Cape. This neither suited my taste or Wakefield’s so we cut the affair altogether, much to the wrath and indignation of the Colonel, who evidently laboured under the delusion that in the present instance his will was paramount. I am sorry we could not be brought to view the matter in the light that he did. I was somewhat amused at Colonel Steele’s remark “that people whose minds were so very changeable, ought to be excluded from putting into a lottery”, intended as a cutting remark but unfortunately without effect.
We have just ’bout ship, this being the second time since 10 this morning. The weather is pleasant but very cold, and makes one feel inclined to have something warmer on than karkie. I experience a little more civility from the steward. The other evening, I was obliged to go to bed, I had such a sore throat and had the middle watch to keep that night. At grog time, he came to me and asked me if I would like some hot grog, I of course accepted his offer, he expressed a hope, on bringing it to me, that I would find it “agreeable”. I tasted it, and found it to suit my palate to a T, as I told him. I don’t know that can be the cause of this extraordinary civility except it be the effect of a harangue I made after the watery grog I had some time ago.
My watch again this morning from 4 to 8. It had been blowing a gale all night, and I felt anything but refreshed by the night’s rest, so knocked about was I in my bunk. We don’t appear to be moving except drifting to leeward, with a strong current. Land is quite close and makes one almost long to be ashore. The lottery was all knocked in the head yesterday; when they came to count the tickets, one was found deficient. I believe they are going to draw again.
We have had a rough night. We sighted the vessel that we saw ahead of us on Sunday, she is now three miles astern of us. On signalling her, she proved to be a Danish vessel & not the Windsor Castle as was at first thought. A fair breeze has set in and we are almost on our course. Yesterday’s run was twelve miles, and today there has been no change in the ship’s position.
We expect to reach the Cape in a few days now we have a fair breeze. This knocking about has spoilt the voyage, or at least the short passage that was first anticipated. I don’t think that I shall go ashore at the Cape after all. There is so little to attract one there, and having been three weeks there before, I fancy it would be but little pleasure. While we were tacking, we kept a house in view for three days. It looked like some settler’s house, rather out of the way. It was a very pretty little house built the same way as English houses. The children gave way to rather an unusually loud burst of merriment during our dinner hour. The Colonel breathed a wish that they were hung or otherwise disposed of, they were not hung but cleared away by the sentry. I don’t think it possible that our Chief could incur the displeasure of the several mamas on board more than he does, but he is quite callous to all the very severe looks that are cast towards him. He seems to me to be a host in himself, judging by the exclusive way in which he revels on deck, sitting at one end apparently wrapped in thought and looking to the uninitiated as an interesting creature but viewed by us, on board, as a man of a totally different stamp.
We were all awoke this morning at about 4 at hearing a conversation being carried on between our skipper and that of another ship, which was about 400 yards distant from us. They seemed disinclined for conversation, probably riled at the way in which we were passing them. We could not understand her name but found that she came from Rangoon.
We are now almost becalmed, having gone only about a knot an hour since 7 this morning. Our crew have just been hauling on the ropes. What I generally term trimming the sails to imaginary winds, for the sea is like glass. A good breeze now would carry us into the Cape tomorrow evening.
We had the Band playing on deck this evening. It is a change certainly but plays always in the cool of the evening when quoits would be more amusing. I always fancy that the music would sound better between decks: the drum goes through my head. We had lines over today trying to hook a shark that had been following us, but the wary brute was an old stager, I expect, for he refused the bait, treating us with contempt. I never saw so little to amuse one, as on board this ship. A good substantial quarrel between half a dozen of us would give us some excitement.
On coming on deck this morning, I saw two ships in sight (I fancy this must be considered a truism, for if they weren’t in sight how could I see them!!! However, in random writing such as this I shall not be so careful to avoid these errors). We were not moving this morning for several hours. I declare that if I had never been to the Cape, I should begin to imagine that there were no such place, so long have we been near it, and received the answer to our anxious questions “Oh! tomorrow evening certain”.
A man of ours died last night, a wretched creature who had given us trouble enough. He was supposed to be mad and was kept in surveillance. He managed to get hold of a bottle of vinegar, the whole of which he drank and caused his death within two days. He was sewn up in his hammock and committed to the deep. Swinburne read the service. I was drawn up on the other side of the deck and heard nothing but the splash as the body went into the water. The whole ceremony was rendered more melancholy by a wretched, painful fog horn that was being blown at the time. I at first thought that the deceased was an Irishman and the blower of the fog horn was ditto, endeavouring to wake the dead as is their wont in Erin’s Isle. This gloom was however transitory for after the parade was dismissed, every body seemed to forget what had occurred or at all events thought very little of it … We saw the most extraordinary sight imaginable this morning: hundreds, nay thousands of porpoises passing the vessel. The sea naturally was quite calm, but now was quite white with these creatures jumping out of the water in a most excited state. We tried to entice a couple of sharks to take the bait we had overboard, but our attempts as usual were quite useless. This is a great place for sharks, so I am told, and I should quite imagine it, judging by the numbers we have seen. We are now passing the spot where the Birkenhead was wrecked, the men from that vessel while swimming to shore were frightfully mangled, perhaps by some of these identical brutes.
Here we all are, waiting for the grog to be put on the table, a time I enjoy most, as one day has elapsed, which at the present time, I can’t say brings us nearer home. We are going along better now. One thing speaks in favour of the King Lear’s sailing powers, we have overtaken 5 vessels and been passed by none. One ship maintained the same silence as the one we saw on Sunday, and, by way of showing them the contempt in which we held them, we have given them the “go by”. I am going to revel in the midnight watch: were I of a meditative temperament I would have ample scope for exercising my faculty.
We were all awoke this morning by the popular air of “St Patrick’s day in the morning” being played by the drums and pipes at reveille. This was excessively delightful, I have no doubt, to the Irish portion of our community. I can’t say however I was at all seized with the patriotic feeling which was so energetically displayed by these sons of Erin. We are further from the Cape than we were twelve hours ago, the old story ’bout ship, and traversing every point of the compass. It certainly seems as if we are doomed never to reach it, we have had a peep at the Table Bay and that’s all. The melancholy fog horn was in practice again this morning.
This morning, a smooth and foggy one, saw the King Lear safely anchored in Table Bay, Cape Town. A naval officer, styling himself the Harbour Master, came on board, the first to point out the anchorage for the vessel. These preliminary arrangements were soon made and of course everybody was going ashore immediately. They could hardly be prevailed upon to go after breakfast. I was thinking how anxious they would be to get on board again, which ultimately proved to be the case. I was on duty for one of the fellows, and did not go ashore. I did not much mind as I have been there for three weeks on my outward voyage and felt tired of it in a couple of hours. I remained on board all day, and have made a sketch of the mountain & bay; I don’t know whether it will come to anything or not. The Captain came on board about 12 o’clock & said all the passengers were wandering about looking heartily tired of the place and were expressing their wish that mess time had arrived when they were to dine with the 11th Regt. stationed at Cape Town. When they came off at night to the ship, ’twas amusing to hear the various accounts of the day’s amusement, and the amount of money that had been spent ashore.
I remarked that they all looked tired and were disgusted with the place. I know I was the same when I was last here. For my part, I amused myself eating pears, apples and grapes which latter were splendid. I consider I shall be lucky if cholera doesn’t attack me after all the fruit. I don’t know when I ever enjoyed anything so much. Swinburne found that he had spent £14 with the greatest ease. ’Tis true he took the three children and the Indian complement of servants with him ashore, consequently his hotel bill must have been rather heavy. “Richard wants this,” says Mama, “baby wants this too & Henry wants this,” says the servant “By all means let it be bought,” says the indulgent Parent. See what a residence of 14 years in India renders a man, how easily his purse is picked, unless he has a private fortune. I tell him he will have to check the wants of his offspring in some measure.
I could hardly reconcile myself to the quiet that reigned throughout the cuddy all day while the babes were ashore. Ridiculous as it may appear, I really wished them back. So accustomed had I got to their noise, it seemed to me that there was a something wanting to complete our life on board that day. This state of affairs did not last long for, on the return of the sweet little darlings well primed with a conglomeration of apples, grapes, lollipops, etc., etc. they evinced their delight by screaming & crying, laughing & shouting immediately they were safely deposited on the deck, evidently making up for lost time.
The view from the ship, I think to be the best of Cape Town & the Bay, the Table Mountain looks very grand on a fine day like this. There are no serious results from the effects of yesterday’s going ashore, a wonder to me, for I fully anticipated almost a mortality amongst the younger branches of our community. I should hardly have imagined this Bay could be such a dangerous one as they say it is at times. It certainly is very open and, judging from the fact of there being 3 vessels lying ashore as wrecks, I should think it is an awkward to be in should it come on to blow. We took on board a number of sheep, pigs, etc., etc., rather different sheep to the Indian, three Indian being equal to about one Cape sheep. The fruits and vegetables remind one of England. There were two bullocks brought also, one of which was so active with his legs that he was obliged to be killed. I was rather amused by the way in which the sailors avoided having anything to do with the beast until it was knocked down, when they became tremendously courageous, and readily offered their services.
The officers of the 11th said they hated the Cape, there was nothing to amuse them there. On entrance to the harbour, the view is imposing & I should have thought it a jolly place to be stationed at. I hear horses are little use for they cannot be kept there. The houses are all detached excepting those which are regularly in the heart of the town. We weighed anchor at 5 this evening and here we are now, the old state of affairs. Our next anxiety is to look out for the Scilly Isles which I believe we shall sight just before reaching England. No tidings of either the Windsor Castle or Coxpatrick which two ships are conveying the remainder of our officers. They may not touch at the Cape but at St Helena. They both left before us. The Harbour Master seemed astonished at seeing such a large vessel, for he said he was not in the habit of seeing such a size as ours anchoring in Table Bay. We have news up to the 10th of February, I was glad to see an English paper, although there was not much news in it.
Our good luck seems to have returned to us, for we have had a splendid breeze ever since we have left the Cape. The weather is cold still but not so much as to prevent three of us bathing as usual on deck. I have made up my mind to continue this practice the whole of the voyage.
Backgammon is more in vogue now the evenings are so long and so cold as to prevent our sitting on deck. I don’t play so much as I used to on a former occasion; whether my opponent is too good for me, or has less attraction, I can’t say, but I don’t play with such interest somehow as I used to do on my voyage home before.
The Colonel is certainly, in some measure, a source of amusement, as well as ridicule to some. He told me last night, with the gravest face in the world, that he had distinctly felt the ship strike on a rock during the night; he repeated this at the breakfast table this morning, and was of course looked upon as monster by the fair sex for hinting at such a thing. He shocked the Swinburnes who were advocating, in very strong terms, the benefits that were derived from the missionaries that were sent to New Zealand to endeavour to convert the heathen there, by saying that he mainly attributed the disturbances that have taken place there, to their presence and that if they had been left to worship their idols there would have been no fighting. I can’t say that his line of argument was a very wise one or one that he would be able to sustain in a controversy with others more his equal in arguing than the Swinburnes. I have tried & tried to pass some of my idle time in reading but I can’t settle down quiet for a moment. They say I am very idle, and I begin to fancy there is some truth in the statement.
The Captain lent me Shakespeare to read about King Lear. I have had it a week without looking in to it, and I am afraid this is the way I shall return it. We saw a large ship ahead of us this morning, but we passed her during the day. She was some distance from us which prevented our signalling. This is the 5th or 6th we have treated this way.
A regular calm since 7 o’clock yesterday morning, the sea is literally like glass. Nothing at all have I had to write about since the 21st hence my silence.
We went out boating last evening. On coming back to the ship we saw that some excitement prevailed on board among the remainder of the passengers. It turned out to be a shark that was going round and round about the vessel. We got on board, and had the line and hook over board as quickly as possible, the brute kept swimming round about the bait, apparently not noticing the tempting piece of pork, obtaining not more than a casual whiff at it. We were dreadfully afraid we should lose him. He moved off again but returned almost immediately, evidently move by his ravenous inclination and made a dart at the meat when the hook fixed him in the jaw. Then there was the excitement: Col. Steele had caught him ipso manu, as if there were any particular skill in holding the bait overboard and letting a shark take it. He told everybody that he was an extraordinarily good hand at hooking a shark and everybody of course said “Oh yes!” and everybody felt “Oh no!” ’Twas pretty to see the little pilot fish that attend the shark always. They stuck to him, swimming close to him as it were for protection. As far as conducting their charge to the food they performed their duty well but, alas, how strictly had they accomplished this & with what painful results was it attended, when by a sudden switch, the object of our long cherished hopes became suddenly conscious of being a victim of misplaced confidence, and found himself in the unpleasant situation of hanging six feet out of the water with a great shark hook through his jaws. But how many a slip is there ’twixt the cup and the lip, and how well did the shark seem to know this. By the way in which he cast up his white eyes, speaking in silent language, “Don’t you wish you may get me”, or more emphatically enquiring if we saw any green in the white of his eye. I remarked to Mrs Swinburne, who was standing beside me, that I thought he contemplated making some vigorous effort to free himself by the complacent look that he gave his admiring spectators. Alas, this proved too true, for by the bungling way in which the running bowline was passed over him, it required constantly to be pulled up, and set to rights. In the meantime, the vessel gave a pitch, the shark gave an extra pull and off he went, leaving us a small portion of his jaw as a remembrance. Thus he was “off the hook”, as the vulgar say in England. I cannot help fancying the first mate rather tried to assist the shark in his escape, for we trusted to him and left the whole management of hauling it on board in his hands. However, we had an opportunity of seeing the size the brute was, which I should fancy was about 10 feet long. The indignation of the men was clearly displayed by the groans uttered on the occasion.
No more calms!! The trades are supposed to have set in, and we are going along through the water very briskly; those of our party betting on the 90 days voyage are beginning to look up, while those betting to the contrary seem to despond – for my part I am quite indifferent as to which party wins, only I don’t exactly wish for a long voyage, which is already beginning to feel tedious. I am trying to view things in a more philosophical light, and find myself getting more reconciled to the sedentary life we are compelled to lead on board ship, the greater part of which is passed in siestas. Broken & disturbed as they are, they sometimes end in downright sleeping.
We were very dissatisfied with the flavour of our coffee this morning, which very much resembled a decoction of ashes and water, which we found arose from the fact of the cook Benjamin (an Anglo-Seedy) being in a high state of inebriation. I believe he committed personal violence on the two stewards this morning who were remonstrating with him on the line of conduct he was pursuing. He remarked the other day that as far as religion was concerned (for he professes to embrace the Protestant Faith) he felt perfectly prepared to meet his end, come when it might. I am inclined to think he must have been tired of waiting for the day of his death from the language he made use of, which anything but characterised the appearance of religion he wished to sustain. This little contretemps is excellent food for the Colonel’s argumentative propensities, for he lays all this at the door of the Church Missionary Society, who perhaps would blush to see the effects of their labours to establish Christianity in the hearts of the heathen. I think a little solitary confinement would bring him to his senses, and at the same time give him an opportunity of reflecting on his conduct and save us from experiencing and tasting the kind of food we have lately done.
The breeze is still fresh but not so much as yesterday. I should certainly like to see St Helena, but our skipper has chosen another course, some four hundred miles to the westward of it, in the hopes of meeting with less calms than we should if we went the ordinary course that ships take going home. I have been playing backgammon a great deal lately; either my luck has failed me or my play is not equal to that of Browne, for I have managed to lose ten games in the last two days. We play sixpence a game, just to lend a little excitement to it, I am afraid I must bear the character of a gambler amongst the uninitiated, for I very often commence playing at 7 o’clock in the morning. ’Tis the two hours till breakfast time at 9 o’clock, which we all feel to hang so heavily; laying in bed till 8 is entirely out of the question and would seem to be impossible for the noise overhead is enough to drive one distracted, and generally has the effect of rendering me cross and peeved.
We are all down below amusing ourselves in the usual way. I have got my journal book but know not what to write in it, so badly am I off for a subject. The heat is becoming oppressive again. In our small saloon too we feel it very much, a sign of our approaching the line again. I certainly begin to fancy we have passed the half way house of our voyage.
The old ship does push along in a wonderful way, we are going 10 knots. Hurrah for the Trades! How conflicting were the reports we heard of the sailing powers of the King Lear, before we left, some said she was terribly slow, another said she was awfully fast and one even went so far as to say she couldn’t go at all. This last I individual happened to come to India on this ship. If what he says is at all true or to be relied on, I am inclined to think there must be something radically wrong in the construction of the vessel, or she must have found her way to the East by some superior agency unknown to weak mortals like ourselves. Perhaps, however it was a slight attempt at facetiousness on his part.
Poor Benjamin the Cook!! He is vegetating in solitary confinement in one of the cells between decks, we have placed a sentry over him. This sentry’s indignation is great as one remarked that he thought that, with the end of the mutinies, the end of sentry duty over black mortals was accomplished.
I have given up backgammon, or at least as far as my present intentions go, for I lost most shamefully last night. Luck or fortune, or whatever it may be called, did not smile on me, so I have almost determined to give the game up altogether. There is nothing I can write about today. Even Col. Steele seems seized with a fit of the doleful.
I have been very busy all the morning marking off the ship’s course. In fact, I keep the runs & the ship’s bearing every day at 12. It serves to amuse me, and will be a source of amusement one day to look over it again. I wish I could find substance for my journal so easily. I revelled in the midnight watch again last night. ’Twas a calm night and not a bit or breath of wind and such a state of affairs has lasted ever since 10 o’clock last night.
We sighted a ship this morning. She was supposed to be a whaler. ’Tis an extraordinary thing but nevertheless a fact that every ship we have sighted as yet it has been on a Sunday. I believe I have made this remark in some page going before, but I refer not back. I think the real pleasure in perusing a journal is to find that it is written just as the thoughts of the writer may suggest at the time of writing. I hope, however, should there be any disconnected sentences, that they may be passed over & be attributed to the desire on my part, to carry out my ideas on this subject too rigidly.
We are knocking about all over our course. A barrel that was thrown overboard was at one time astern & at another ahead, fully showing the various positions of the ship’s head. We tacked three times yesterday and something of the same sort appears inevitable today and, to crown the whole, they persist in saying this is the right quarter for the N.E. Trades. It is not at all calculated to enliven us when we come to think, and know, that according to the present course we shall probably be at Rio Janeiro [sic] in a few days, or some place equally at variance with our proper destination. We had the church service, or at least a portion of it, read by the Captain. I am afraid that a padre would be rather shocked at the brevity of the ceremony, but as we have no such passenger on board to excite our religious feelings (should any exist, query?) I don’t think it troubles us as much (be it said to our shame) as the wretched course the ship is going. The heat between decks is much greater & is increasing more and more each day. I wished we had crossed the Equator, it would be something to know the weather was getting cooler. We certainly are fortunate in having such a time as the present for arriving in England. I rather imagine our light costume would not be suitable to the cold easterly winds which, even at the Cape, used to trouble some of the old Indians.
Our friend of yesterday is four or five miles astern of us today, and will probably be getting “small by degrees & beautifully less”. We passed the vessel at 2 o’clock this morning, we sighted another whaler this morning. It looks so odd to see the men seated at the top of a mast, in what is technically called the crow’s nest, on the look out for whales. Being so high up enables them to see at a greater distance, an airy position I should be by no means anxious to occupy. I should never have thought that this was a good place for whales, for we have not seen anything like one, but I believe these ships are homeward bound. This weather must surely be unfavourable for the betters on the ninety days voyage, fully showing, as I tell them, the mutability of human affairs. The period now thought of is a hundred days.
The worst feature in the tacks that take place at night, almost invariably with an apparent view to render the dormant occupant of the berth uncomfortable, by placing him in the awkward and unpleasant situation of finding his heels considerably higher than his head, he, the weak mortal, having, before sleeping arranged his pillows in such a way that in the change of tack, he runs a narrow chance of having his head filled with blood or something equally horrible occurs. I myself I know have been once or twice situated in this dilemma; these little unpleasantries don’t tend to render the unhappy individual, whoever he may be, to turn out for middle watch, with any degree of grace about his manner. While I am writing about the middle watch it reminds me that this duty falls to my lot tonight. Well, I am sure I can’t grumble, I have had my three nights in bed. This ought to make me less bitter towards he whom I relieve, but no! I cannot help wishing that any disturber of my repose was in Bath, Jericho, or any place equally remote, when I might perhaps be left to my peaceful slumbers.
We are regularly becalmed again today. I was taxing Mr Little, the chief officer, today with the desire to effect the escape of the shark we hooked some time since. He said, on his honour, he did not mean to let him go, and he seemed rather indignant at my (for a moment) supposing such a thing. The way I came to mention it at all to him was that he was asking me very often to read a bit of journal. I opened my book & read the shark affair, quite ignorant of his being so closely concerned. However, he denied it very warmly and insisted on my writing his denial in my journal. He is a good fellow, and many is the joke we have between us. The Captain imagines that by keeping far to the westward we shall keep the Trades (when we get them) longer than by going the usual route. Perhaps, if we were to put into Rio Janeiro, we shouldn’t so much mind it after all; rather a novel way of seeing the world. According to the present state of affairs, we stand a poor chance of seeing England for many a long day, but I feel resigned. It can’t be helped and the more enraged one is the more irksome it seems.
Calm still. Oh! when will this wretched monotony cease? We went out boating last evening or at least with a view to harpooning some dolphins that were following us. They most pertinaciously refused the most tempting description of bait, so we thought perhaps we would have a better chance in a boat. We made one or two ineffectual efforts to spear one, but our usual luck attended us. We were coming back to the ship, when somebody called out “a shark close to you”. I turned round and there I saw the sluggish brute lying on top of the water within two feet, contemplating the nice morsel I should be for his rapacious maw. I started up and dashed a harpoon at him but, in the flurry of the moment, missed him and, not the least disconcerted, he vanished. The dolphins made their appearance again this morning, when guns were introduced as a novel way of obtaining them, some excellent shots were made, especially one which struck the fish on the side. He seemed to be unsettled as to whether it would be better to turn up at once, or to hold. With a little hesitation, he adopted the latter course, but we have caught sight of the unfortunate brute several times today. It seems very cruel, but what will we not do for excitement, such as it is.
The joke of the season is being carried on & judging from the shouts of laughter amongst the men, I should imagine some fell easy victims to the jocular soldiers. I myself was very nearly victimised. Only a kind friend warned me in time, and gave me an opportunity of practising the same on others. I don’t think I ever saw such a calm at sea, as there is today and as there was last night, the stars were actually reflected on the water, just as on a mill pond. I could easily imagine the ship lying at anchor in harbour, so still was everything. It was dreadfully hot last night in our cabins, and just as I got into a jolly sleep, I found myself roused from my watch on deck. Really, I feel more bad tempered every time I am disturbed in this way.
An attack was made on the Commissariat last night; some joints of meat were cleverly extracted from the steward’s pantry, probably from a playful idea of making an April Fool of the steward, whose astonishment was unbounded when, instead of finding his pantry full of meat, he found it empty. I fancy the Colonel feels it very much, for there was a cold round of beef which, judging from his frequent supplies of it, I should think he rather enjoyed. Indeed, he remarked that it was delicious and said he should breakfast off it in the morning. I need hardly say how he was mistaken. The sentry near the hatchway has particular orders to keep his eye on this tempting corner to prevent any recurrence of such a disaster. Whoever committed such a robbery must have had a surfeit of cold beef for it was an enormous piece of meat.
The Colonel is sitting in the stern of the ship with a gun, thinking to get a shot at a dolphin, a little variety in our food if he gets one. We went out in the boat again today, myself and another only went this time; we had a crew composed of the non-commissioned officers. Such pulling I never saw. Truly may it be said that a soldier is out of his element on the water and how forcibly did this occur to my mental facilities. We nevertheless had an amusing hour, and one which afforded me some laughter. I enjoyed it more than any we have had. The dialogues were ludicrous – “Now then Corporal, you pull”, “no it ain’t my turn” “don’t look round at me, mind your oar” etc., etc., another world would say, with I think some just indignation rendered more emphatic by an adjective commencing the speech and now & then interlining it “Oh my back now I say Leigh” – “Look ’e ’ere”, “I won’t sit here to be ’ammered & knocked about by that ’ere Corporal, he ain’t got no more notion of pulling than a jackass”. I am not aware that the animal he alluded to was ever considered to have tried. These and many other remarks totally regardless, in the excitement of the moment, of our presence these hopefuls indulged in their free and easy conversation & style of addressing each other. We returned to the ship about 12 o’clock & then the Colonel gave leave to the Band to try their skill in aquatics.
I was rather opportuned by one man, a Corporal, who wished me to take him in the boat on our first trip. He assured me that he was perfectly well able to row, and in fact had been accustomed to the exercise from his “youth upward”. I was by no means inclined to doubt the man’s veracity so I took him. He did not sustain his part at all well, I must say. Perhaps a long residence in India had put him out of practice. The most amusing part of the whole proceeding was that, after having tried & tried & failed & failed to get on with his oar, he was quietly reminded that there were others in the boat who would be happy to take his place. He became highly indignant and refused to give us his place, remarking “’Tis capital exercise though – just”. The latter word often I have noticed follows an assertion. He also felt sure that he would get on “stunnin’” in a short time. I last of all lost all patience and compelled him to resign his office in favour of a more accomplished individual, which he ultimately did and we shortly after returned to the ship.
The Band distinguished themselves by the elegant confusion in which they conducted themselves out boating. I made a small sketch at the time. We have been quite unsuccessful in all our attempts to get a dolphin. They avoid the most tempting baits and seem to rush carelessly into a position for us to harpoon them but still they escape. We caught a most extraordinary kind of eel; its head was sharp and long, with very large sharp teeth. This capture was mainly attributed to the enticing bait that I made of the most extraordinary concatenation of a candle, a white feather, and a bit of red cloth – a man who could have invented such a thing I think deserves the greatest kudos. This line has been towing overboard for some time and when it was hauled it, this extraordinary fish was found on the hook, quite dead and literally drowned in his own element.
A slight breeze sprung up this afternoon about 3 or 4 o’clock. ’Tis high time we were moving, I think. The dolphin is one of the most beautiful fish I ever saw, such a variety of colours they appear in, & it strikes me that they change colour like a chameleon or perhaps the depth or shallowness of the water may have an effect on their appearance.
I have been trying to make a sketch of King Lear in Shakespeare, I still have the Captain’s book, and have read as little of it as I had done the first day. I shall be really ashamed to return it & say I have not read it. I am not much of a reader at the best of times and such a work as Shakespeare is too severe an undertaking for me. I find the ship too unsteady to draw, I am very badly off for materials, my sketch of the Cape I intend copying afresh when I reach England and am fairly settled. Whether I shall ever have the patience to complete it I know not, I am now obliged to sit in my cabin with my knees for a table. As for going into the cuddy, it is out of the question for the babes amuse themselves and disturb others by their little antics, peculiarities in the juvenile branches.
I don’t know what has kept me quiet and without writing anything these three days. I was on Regimental duty yesterday, which perhaps in some measure occupied that portion of the day which I should otherwise have devoted to writing my journal.
A novel amusement has been introduced, that of boxing. We had great fun last evening: Wakefield and myself set to, at each other. I must say it more resembled downright fighting than what it was intended for. I got very much knocked about, but escaped without having any peculiar marks or my features injured in any way. There is as remote a chance as ever of our seeing England before the next two months are over. We are certainly moving, and that’s all can be said. I hate this sort of work, I would like either a rattling good breeze or a calm, but this half & half sort of thing wearies one to death.
A regular calm again since 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. I was the first to sight a shark while I was on parade this morning, it was a great way off, & some time before it came near the ship, the Colonel seemed to doubt that I could never have seen such a thing. However, I was positive I was right. After about half an hour watching, we saw the brute close astern. The same scene was enacted as before but in the present instance we were successful and managed to get the running noose over his fin. It seemed as if he had reserved all his strength for the last struggle. We found lots of candidates to assist in hauling him on board. He lashed about with his tail in the most wonderfully powerful manner. However, we slaughtered him and the most extraordinary part of the whole proceeding was that when he was cut open a piece of spun yarn & the eight of hearts was found inside him. This piece of luck has brought us what the sailors call a breeze. Their powers of discernment are much stronger than mine, for I see nothing but the glassy appearance still on the water. However, we know not what a day may bring forth and it is only 10 o’clock now.
Well, the sailors were not so far out in their calculations after all, for with the morning came the breeze and I am somewhat amused at either the feigned or real superstition of our Colonel who has been continually asserting it his firm belief that our present good luck is a natural consequence of the capture we made yesterday. We have just returned from church; it was frightfully hot enough to melt all religion out of one. I can’t say I was sorry at the conclusion of the service, although it was very short. I find this weather renders languid & drowsy and standing on deck tires me awfully and leads to heavy demands for bottled beer, at tiffin. We have entirely abandoned the idea of reaching home by the 1st of May when the Expedition is to be opened. I should much like to be present on such an occasion, the delightful confusion of foreigners affords amusement and the scenes that must take place will give rise to many a laugh at their expense.
I am afraid we shan’t be able to get leave, many of us, unless we are stationed at a good station. For my part, I should rather like to go to Plymouth, a place I know so well and with which I associate the many happy days I have spent there. It is the general opinion, I believe, that promotion in our service will be greatly at a standstill unless a war breaks out again. I almost wish it would. A run of luck would take place but where are we to look for this? The Yankees don’t seem to mean fighting. In spite of all their bragging, for my part, I can’t think how they can bear the rebuff they seem to have received in the Southampton waters. I allude to the affair with the Nashville & Tuscarora. According to all accounts, the conduct of our frigate was in accordance with the established custom of our nation.[vi]
The Shannon too must awaken in the Yankee’s breast, the never to be forgotten affair with the Chesapeake which occurred some years past. There was a good song composed on the occasion; I believe it is out of print now, but I have heard it sung once or twice, and I remember one verse in which it concludes by some spirited naval officer exclaiming “He drew his sword, saying come my lads, we’ll board & stop their playing Yankee doodle dandy oh!” The song does not enter so far into detail as to say whether they were successful or not, but history does, and mentions the affair as a most impressive one, and I should think so too, especially for those actively employed on the occasion. I begin to fancy this book will bear the appearance of chronological events and as I don’t aspire to be a historian more than a chronicler of the more modern events of the King Lear I shall drop the subject.
Still benefiting from the capture as far as a breeze in concerned; I took up my notebook with the full intention of scribbling away for an hour yesterday but alas, the old story. What was I to write about, but I feel that if I get into the habit of not writing or attempting to write even a few lines, my log will fall irretrievably behind. This methodical system accounts for the short effusions of some days, containing little or nothing more than a casual remark on the state of the weather, and the speed of the boat, etc. I hear now and then a faint attempt at sportiveness; some individual ventures to bet on the run of the ship and on the day of our arrival in England. This may or may not be accepted. However, it is but transitory excitement and the old routine follows, sometimes feebly enlivened by a game of sea quoits in which money is staked to lend an interest to it. I can’t think what the attraction can be except it be that betting is the chief feature about it.
The Colonel plays quoits almost every evening excepting when we are treated to a little music, such as it is, by the Band. He seems to think it improper not to attentively listen to it, and so we sit wishing the treat was over. The Chief used to be a constant player at quoits in Belgaum, but since we have been on board ship, something seems to have come over the spirit of his dreams, for he is restless at times. I cannot imagine that he has left anything in Belgaum in such a state as to render him so disquieted. He was all anxiety to get on board ship & now he seems more unsettled than ever. We used to be amused at Belgaum to see him when he lost a game or two. Four or five rupees would have an extraordinary effect on him and he would put on his coat & leave without a word, but looking inexpressible things. But, on the contrary, if fortune favoured him, he would be inclined almost to combat with the whole of us. At the same time, he attributed the fact of the game being won to his own good play which at the best of times was very bad. The Captain said this morning that we should in all probability be in the track of the vessels homeward in a day or two. I can’t say being in a solitary position at sea with nearly 500 people is at all pleasant when one thinks of a shipwreck. I shall be glad too to see a sail again. I should, of all things, like to meet with a vessel outward bound, provided we had an opportunity of going on board to get a paper.
The way we are going now has raised the hopes of the sporting gents as well as depressed some of their anticipation. Technically speaking, hedging appears to be very much the order of the day. They seem to be getting afraid of each other. I calculate the passage from here to Plymouth to be about thirty five days, this being our sixty eighth day on board, although the time has been very monotonous, still it has passed very quickly, and I can hardly imagine our having been at sea for more than two months. Habit is second nature, so ’tis said & I fancy this has had a great deal to do with the time passing so quickly. We are all settled down and accustomed to all the little vicissitudes of aboard ship life, which in my opinion mainly contributes to the comfort of every one, provided there exists that harmony amongst all, that should, seeing that we are so much in each other’s society.
The juveniles have, if possible, increased the height of their spirits, and the worst of it is that they don’t choose the best time, according to my taste, of evincing their joy, for they always seem to give way more lustily at our meal times and of an afternoon when one is trying to steal a nap. The Bandmaster’s child is totally regardless of the gentle chidings which it is often getting from its mother. I was much amused by the Colonel after breathing out some threats against these youthfuls, directing our attention to the Bandmaster’s wife who was sitting with the obstreperous child in her lap, who was indulging most lustily in a good scream. “Look at that woman,” said the noble Commander of the 83rd, “there she sits with that brat in her arms enjoying those yells more than the most beautiful solo her husband ever played.” Judging by the worn out look of the poor woman, I should not be inclined to think there was much to lead us to suppose that she enjoyed the baby’s noise. The little remark was addressed to Mrs Swinburne, who having babies of her own & noisy ones too, I should think was not ready to fall into the Chief’s views. I have been playing backgammon: I won three games, & lost four. When I see such a turn of ill luck, I make up my mind to give up playing. I see little use in striving against the decrees of fortune.
There was a very heavy shower of rain today which was pleasant for it cooled the air immensely. They say it is usual, this kind of weather, in these latitudes, it is very dull & sultry. We have been unable to take a sight today owing to a squall of rain coming on at 12 o’clock. Nothing whatever to write about today.
I had the middle watch again last night – more time for reflection!! It was a splendid night and the moon was shining brightly, but all was lost upon me, for I was so sleepy and wretched. I would far rather have been below in bed than being on deck striving to keep awake and now & then signally failing. I know of no sensation so painful as that of trying to keep awake. A regular calm again last night and I am inclined to think the old ship did little more stand still. I was somewhat amused yesterday at a little altercation betwixt a gentleman (married) and a lady, the happy mother of a brace of squalling babes. This gentleman had been for some time annoyed by the playful antics carried on outside his window or port I should say, to use a nautical phrase. Speaking to the children only called down abuse from these hopeful beauties. So the gentleman (I say very properly) tried the cold water system, as practised by me. Instead of the water reaching those for whom it was intended, it fell on the luckless head of one of the would-be innocent babes who immediately rushed to its mother, and there in child-like strains told her of the treatment it had received. Of course, the lady and gentleman met, and I believe with no satisfactory results, for I heard the Colonel had been appealed to. His decision was rather an ambiguous one, but I believe it was abided by and perhaps ’twas as well that it was: the first little contretemps I have had to record.
We have not fallen in with any outward bound ships yet. A foul wind is blowing us again in the direction of Rio Janeiro. I am afraid my bet of gloves in favour of the “hundred days” voyage is rather a hopeless affair and I seriously think of hedging but I find ladies are as cute as myself in the betting line. That is not saying much, for I never could make a book. I really think that the time is passing more slowly and stupidly than ever. I really feel so annoyed that I can scarcely collect two ideas together, much less write them. The deeper I get into the journal the more disposed do I feel that it should never pass from my possession. Time perhaps will work its changes and I may have a chance of having something to write about before our voyage draws to a close.
Well today certainly has had its excitement – and were our days passed in a similar way, I should have plenty wherewith to fill my book. I came on deck this morning and sighted a vessel, which again has happened on a Sunday. She was some distance off, but a light breeze sprung up and brought us closer to each other. Again were the amateur glasses brought into play, the ship changed her course & came toward us within two miles, evidently with the wish of speaking to us. She stopped, & so did we. I am afraid all our religion, faint as it may be at the best of times, forsook us for church was entirely forgotten amid the excitement. We signalled the vessel and then ascertained that she was the Avalanche from Liverpool bound for Australia. After the usual preliminaries, we asked for newspapers which they promised to give us provided we sent for them. With all the pleasure in life, a boat was manned in which Swinburne, myself, Gore and Browne got with our first mate and away we pulled. The sun burning hot, we found the distance further than we at first thought but we pulled away and in about three quarters of an hour came along side the stranger. Various were our conjectures as to the kind of reception we should meet with. Our Indian dress was calculated to surprise them, and it eventually did. We reached the ship after a tedious pull, and with the hands of the uninitiated rather tender (I speak feelingly on this subject) we were surprised a little at first at not seeing anyone at the gangway to receive us, but this was quickly dispelled by the idea that all were occupied writing letters.
The first mate went first and we followed, I happened to come on the deck the last and was introduced to the skipper, a very dirty looking man, who looked as if he hadn’t washed for a month, minus his coat, and totally regardless of stockings. There was also a peculiar twist in the eye of this extraordinary being, giving one the idea of his powers of looking round the corner. I humbly beg his pardon, but I at first took him for the carpenter or someone holding a position equally remote from that of captain. He seemed inclined to keep us standing in the passage leading to the poop, evidently labouring under the delusion that we were a species of banditti that he had treasured up, in his imagination, infested the seas. Swinburne remarked that he should like to see the ladies, who were drawn up in a detachment of four, under the protection of a similar number of gentlemen. This wish he at last acceded to, and we passed on. Swinburne introduced myself and us, and we commenced a conversation, which I must say was not very ably sustained on either side. I encountered a Jesuitical looking parson, all smiles and shirt collar, with a long coat six inches from his heels, with a book under his arm very much resembling a family bible. Their ideas seemed to be entirely centred on the topic of Melbourne, for we were asked if we had come from there. The parson didn’t seem to understand me when I said we hailed from Bombay; at this particular juncture, the skipper made his appearance, and invited us down into the cuddy to take some refreshments which I must say we needed after all our exertions.
We accepted his kind hospitality and had some beer and biscuits, and then returned on deck. I resumed my conversation with the divine in the midst of which my eye wandered till they rested on a very pretty little girl, who, unfortunately for me, was barricaded in a corner, by a lady probably her mother, and a gentleman probably her brother, and by a large coil of ropes. She cast a glance over towards me which I endeavoured to return as gracefully as a burning face after a scorching row in the sun would admit of. Alas! I regret having no other opportunity of making the acquaintance with this young lassie, who looked so blooming and fresh to my eyes, after the pale faced ladies I had been accustomed to see in India. Our chief officer seemed anxious that we should be off and I am inclined to think the Skipper shared the same feeling, so we thanked him for his hospitality and hinted that if he bore down with his ship a little closer to ours we would give him a tune. His reply was, “Tune, tune, I don’t want any of your tunes, I want to tune on my voyage.” So we left the old bear to his own devices and went down the side of the vessel and rowed back – it was a hard pull back for we had increased the distance since we had been away.
There was an elderly lady with ringlets and a huge Sarah Gamp style of parasol.[vii] She caused us some merriment on our journey back to our ship, for we taxed Swinburne with having been very assiduous in his attentions to the lady in question. There were also an apparently newly married couple, very loving, etc., etc., but still they seemed to wish, as did all the others, that they were going to return with us. Another dirty, unwashed looking character was sitting at the cuddy table busy printing a letter to, perhaps, some fond object of his affections who no doubt was longing for the day when her betrothed would return to his native land, abounding in nuggets and ’tis to be hoped a cleaner individual than when I had the honour of seeing him on board the Avalanche.
What a contrast, to be sure, has the ship we have today fallen in with, and the one we saw yesterday. Our friend of today was sighted at six o’clock this morning and bore down for us. We signalled, and they replied: French ship Canton from Havre bound for Valparaiso. We asked for papers & they asked us to take their letters, and volunteered to send a boat. Such civility as we afterwards experienced was quite overwhelming. Their first mate came on board us, and brought their letters, and papers for our amusement and also bearing a polite note from the Captain, that he would be too happy to give us anything his ship afforded. Our skipper modestly declined accepting anything, but was at last compelled to accept some brandy & French wines, and the boat returned to the ship. Presently they came back, loaded with French novels, and with the brandy and wine. We had got our Band on deck by the time they reached our vessel and greeted them with “Partant pour la Syrie” & the “Marseillaise”. This last had a most powerful effect on one of the sailors, who jumped about in a most excited state, refusing to be quieted even by the offer of some liquor. The mate was a very gentlemanly young man and everybody pressed forward to have a little conversation with him, in his vernacular. I did not attempt much from my ignorance of the French language, but stood & looked on at what was passing. I heard him say that the English nation were a wonderful race, and expressed his utter surprise at so many being able to converse with him. After many thanks being offered on both sides, the French boat returned, when we played “God save the Queen”, at the sound of which the Canton dipped her ensign over and over again. I believe a Masonic voice was hoisted, but unfortunately we masons were all below, or would have returned the salute.
We are off again on our course, the breeze is very light, but after our slight excitement we are good tempered enough to bear anything. We had some comic song singing last evening, two of our men being the principal performers. One sailor made a wretched attempt at a very romantic song which perhaps, but for the bad grammar, and the total disregard for the crunch pronunciation of some words, and the absence of all pronunciation of the letter H would have pleased us. But we did not pay much attention to the singing nor did the audience generally, so he abruptly concluded amidst roars of laughter, if ever he was guilty of such.
Almost a calm again this morning. I wish we could catch a shark again. I begin to feel superstitious enough to imagine we should have a good breeze if such took place. I am sure our not getting one is not for the want of looking out, for the Colonel’s time is mostly spent in the stern of the vessel, near the shark hook. I was rather amused at his asking to be called at half past four, as he felt sure the morning was the best time to catch a shark.
Probably his ideas were acted upon by the adage “the early bird” etc., etc. Whether he was called or not I don’t know, but this I know, that he did not make his appearance till 7 o’clock, in his usual light and airy costume. Perhaps sleep had a greater attraction than fishing for sharks without a vestige of a chance of catching one.
A very slight breeze sprung up this morning whilst I was on watch. We shall probably cross the line for the last time tomorrow. I declare that I have never felt heat such as it is here, and more especially in my cabin, and I think last night was the only instance of my turning out with a good grace for watch, for I was nearly suffocated, and was glad to get on deck. Our comic singer was again to the front last evening; one of his comic songs was entitled “Billy Nutts his vidder”. This was sung in character, and I must say amused us much. How he managed to dress himself so inimitably I can’t think.
We saw a vessel again this morning but she was too far for us to signal her. ’Twould be rather pleasant to fall in with another French vessel, and experience the same treatment at their hands, as we did at those of the Canton. A dead calm has just set in again this evening and we have a prospect of another hot night. The line appears to be as far in the perspective as the Cape used to be; we were only seventy miles off at 12 o’clock today and now the skipper thinks we should be there at 12 tomorrow.
We have had heavy showers of rain all day today and only crossed the equator this morning. We were beaten most shamefully this morning by a little vessel that overtook us about six o’clock this morning and has left us far behind. There were no less than five ships in sight today, two homeward bound: the King Lear crew are very much disgusted and naturally so at this go-by. However, in a stiff breeze we are sure to overtake the ship that has dared to pass us. I never felt the heat as I have done these last two days. This may in some measure be the reason for my not having written in my journal for the last two days.
Now we have a pleasant breeze again. I have taken to backgammon again, I have lost terribly, so I intend giving up playing. I won eight shillings from Swinburne at quoits last evening. So confident is he that he is able to beat the Capt and myself, that he is going to play them again tomorrow. Today is Good Friday. We have celebrated the day by having some indigestible hot cross buns. The only way in which I saw or tasted that they resembled the good old English hot cross buns, was that they were hot, and had a cross on them. In every other respect they were unlike what I have been accustomed to see and eat on this day in England. I happened to struggle through one this morning at breakfast, and have felt uncomfortable ever since.
We still have heavy showers of rain. Most shamefully have we been beaten but the two ships that were in sight yesterday. I think a wet day at sea is about as dismal a position one could be placed in. It throws you a good deal more into the society of those good for nothing (except screaming) babes who seem to me to wait for these opportunities of giving vent to their feelings. I am sure the anathemas I have breathed upon their heads must call down the indignation of their maternities. I am so unfortunate that when I happen to be abusing one of the children, the mother invariably is near, and then do I look out for squalls. Should this wind last, we may expect to be in England in 28 days, a fact hardly to be credited. I played quoits again today and won three rupees from Swinburne. The rain coming on stopped us playing. The Colonel was in great spirits, having won one rupee. On the high road to fortune!!
So wet has it been today we have been unable to have our usual church parade. We overtook the two ships that passed us, today. They don’t seem to rally under a stiff breeze. The Captain is in a good temper, clearly showing the good effect a fair breeze has on his temperament. The rain we had yesterday made the cuddy, which at the best of times is not over attractive, wretchedly uncomfortable and, to make matters much worse, they introduced the sweet children who relieved the monotony by screams and yells. I preferred going on deck and getting wet through to remaining below, being subjected to the fancies of these tormentors of my existence.
I don’t think I ever saw such rain as we had; the ducks were all let out and put into the tubs. So zealous were the sailors in their endeavours to give these animals quantum suff. of their element, they regularly drowned two. We had ducks for dinner yesterday, rather an unpleasant conviction too that they were the drowned creatures, but where ignorance is bliss, with regard to ducks, how foolish it is to be wise as to the actual manner in which they met their deaths. I thought as little as I could of these little incidents and even went so far as to try duck, in spite of the qualms I felt as to the modus operandi of their death. The champagne perhaps helped me to relish my dinner, which I did.
A splendid breeze, rather too much of a good thing though for, after all the smooth weather, we find it difficult to keep our equilibrium, in our daily strolls on deck, a kind of exercise I seldom if ever indulge in. I was very afraid our voyage would be a longer one than we at first anticipated, but this breeze alters the state of affairs altogether. I was on watch last night and not the pleasantest four hours was it, for the ship was rolling awfully. I got a cold pig this morning, not administered as an incentive to get up, but after I had come on deck and was going round my sentries, the vessel gave a heavy lurch which brought me in a close & unpleasant contact with a dead pig, which was hanging up in the small passage leading to the quarter deck. I did not see it as it was so dark. I can’t help confessing that a horrible shudder came over me, for at first I did not know the exact cause of my alarm. My last encounter was with the mortal remains of a sheep that was hanging in the same place. I know it produced a similar effect upon my weak nerves which I managed to get over by breakfast time and succeeded in relishing a couple of chops from the lifeless cause of my fright.
A rattling breeze has been blowing for the last two days and may it continue to do so. We overtook a fine vessel yesterday but we were too far off to signal her. We were in hopes it was the Windsor Castle and were anxious to find out, but we could not go out of our course. We are able to sit on deck now during the day without the awning being up, there is a great glare and the sun is warm but not at all like a tropical sun.
Another vessel was ahead of us this day. We have overtaken her and she proves to be a barque from Valparaiso, bound for the Netherlands. The Captain of her was not well skilled in signalling, for we could not make out her name at all and after ours had been up for a quarter of an hour, they quietly enquired what ship we were. One of the chains holding up one of the yards on the mizen mast came down with a crack this morning, I was smoking down on the quarter deck at the time when an elderly female, one of the soldier’s wives, started up and rushed wildly about. After the shock was over, she gently subsided into a chair. I asked her what was the matter. She replied “Nothing, sir, only I didn’t know where the children was”. In her fright, I conclude she had entirely forgotten her knowledge, if she ever possessed one, of Lindley Murray.[viii] Another old woman, in the panic that prevailed, declared that the ship was about to be lost and, totally regardless of the steps leading down between decks, threw herself down, probably with an eccentric view of putting a speedier end to her suffering than remaining in the ship whilst it foundered. She was not much hurt, but rather shaken. One unfortunate sailor who was on the yard at the time, received a heavy shock, and one which I would have thought would have shaken the life out of an ordinary man. Our doctor says he is not hurt.
Nothing could I possibly find to write about yesterday so I thought I would rest from my literary pursuits, not that I think I have gained much by doing so. Twenty days more and “Home, sweet home!” I shall be on middle watch tonight; habit becomes second nature and now I turn out at this unnatural hour with the best grace in the world. I believe I shall grow so thoroughly habituated to this kind of life, and I shall be waking up for middle watch when I get home. I think though, one of these mistakes would be sufficient to prevent a recurrence.
No church service again today. It is rough but very pleasant although we are near the tropics. The seaweed passing the ship this morning reminded me of land being near, but none shall we see yet-a-while. One of our men fell down through the hatchway last night, strange to say he was not seriously hurt although he fell about 20 feet. This is our eighty second day out. Notwithstanding the monotony that has prevailed, the time has passed very quickly. I see nothing to be done here except eating, drinking & sleeping which is sometimes varied by a little abuse toward a noisy child, and this, with me, always happens when the authoress of his being is near, and then I may look out for squalls – unless I retire, the best policy under the circumstances. I know I am looked upon as an unfeeling monster.
As our voyage approaches its end, so does monotony increase. The over anxiety, I suppose, to reach home makes it more intolerable. We got some of the seaweed on board this morning. ’Tis very curious, little shells grow all over it, very much resembling coral. They say it is the gulf stream – how far this is correct I know not. ’Tis only on the word of a sailor and on these grounds I am rather sceptical.
A dead calm set in last night, or rather this morning at half past two. I could hardly imagine the ship could be so still as it was. It has set in very suddenly, for yesterday the vessel was rolling very much. A Corporal of my company couldn’t believe she was so steady when he got up this morning and on going down the companion ladder, he evidently missed his balance and fell headlong down. I saw him fall and thought he was much hurt, and gave him my cup of coffee. He was cut a good deal about the face & sprained his wrist. This seems to be rather a fashionable accident for my Colour Sergt fell down too and has disfigured his face terribly. He is naturally a very handsome young man, and now his face is one mass of sticking plaster. Whether it was facetiousness or an attempt to joke on the part of the apothecary I can’t say, but he has a cross, cut in sticking plaster & pasted on his nose. The most serious results are that he is engaged to one of the girls on board & is ashamed to show himself to the object of his affections. I heard she gave way to violent hysterics when she heard of the accident, but I believe they were not of a very lasting nature, nor should I be inclined to imagine so from the fact of her appearing on deck shortly afterwards apparently none the worse for wear for the shock she had sustained.
A calm still. The Captain told us the pleasing fact of his having been once becalmed here for three weeks. What a lively lookout for us, if such takes place. I shall begin to fancy we have a Jonah on board. The twilights are long now & the day breaks very early, and as for the water on deck, when we bathe, ’tis icy cold but three of us have made a resolution to continue to bathe on deck till the end of the voyage. I think this really keeps me in such good health. The grog is on the table and with it punctually do I and our quartermaster make our appearances. He seems to look forward to this part of the day as much as myself. We are sometimes a little early but never by any chance late. I fancy too, we are not the only ones that have a weakness this way for I notice others take very kindly to this mode of passing a half hour.
The breeze sprung up again last night whilst I was on the first watch, and we are now sailing along capitally. Nothing to write about today.
A ship passed us today in the most shameful manner. ’Tis true she was larger vessel than ours, and managed to carry royals while we were under reefed top gallant sails. We did not lose much distance till dinner time, when she left us altogether, and is now barely to be seen. The weather is excessively cold but I find it does me good. There is a very heavy sea running, and the breeze is rather strong. I have the first watch tonight, and it promises to be cold so I have got my great coat out in readiness. I find some comfort when I think we have arrived at that stage of our voyage when we are able to count the days before we shall sight old England’s shores. We had no church service today, the weather was so rough.
I was entertained during part of the first watch last night by the society of our Chief. He remarked that my troubles as far as watch keeping were concerned were nearly at an end, and that I should have guard mounting as a change. “For the worse,” I told him. “’Twould be out of the frying pan & into the fire.” This is the only thing that would make me wish not to go to Plymouth. The Garrison duty is very heavy there. I cannot make out the weather being so cold. ’Tis an amusing sight to see our old Indians trying to look as if they liked it, but clearly showing by their countenances, that they would rather be in the land of sun than shivering in their shoes, on the King Lear decks. As for the babes, may their shadows never be less, they are quieter than they have been the whole voyage. For why? The cold does pierce their tender breasts and renders them easy victims to coughs and colds, and produces the jolly result for us, that of keeping them down between decks. We are now preparing for the eventful landing day, which has been long in anticipation. A gleam of light in the oasis of our monotony seems to predict that our nautical troubles are beginning to draw to our close. May such be the case, for I am heartily tired of our present mode of passing our lives. Such inspections are going on and such cautions appear in orders for all to be particular with their accoutrements, etc., etc. The Colonel is evidently imagining that the 83rd Regiment will create a sensation on its return. Oh! 83rd, the flower of thy day is over! What havoc did volunteering create in thy ranks, and where now are those fine soldiers that used to swell the number of the Old Regiment to 900 strong? Gone! Gone!
Methinks a little policy on the part of thy Commanding Officer would have prevented such a disaster … The volunteering ruined the Regt, took away our best men and left us a handful of men (300) to land in England. Of course, we now shall have to recruit, and receive volunteers from other regiments. Easy to get but hard to be rid of them. I was somewhat amused at the conduct of my servant, who is an old soldier, and rather an oddity in his way: he felt himself very nearly compelled by force of example to remain in India, and, to preclude such, he got himself placed on guard to be out of temptation.
I was rather amused at my Colour Sergt, whom I went to see the day before yesterday. I asked him how he felt after the accident & said he was getting all right again. I remarked that I thought he was rather disfigured, and that he ought to be more careful in future or his beauty would be spoilt. He seemed very indignant that I should imagine that his personal appearance was at all out of the way, for he said that he thought that, minus all the sticking plaster, he was just as usual. I was obliged to differ with him, seeing his nose is purely aquiline, and formerly it was rather the other way. I have since heard that he has sternly refused to see the object of his amours, so spoilt was his physiognomy. But love is blind and has kindled a flame in his breast which has enabled him to overcome these obstacles, for I saw him at dusk this evening making love as ardently as ever, with a piece of sticking plaster on the bridge of his nose and one on his eye. I fancy the young lady looks more sweetly on him than ever, generally the case, I believe, after a separation. He reminds of a prize fighter after a severe contest. The old story – grog – I think it one of the best institutions on ship, it gives one time to reflect. This is, I often fancy, more easily done over a smoking glass of punch, than under any other circumstances. We expect to sight the Northern Island of the Azores tomorrow. It will be refreshing to my eyes after seeing nothing but sea all round for such a time.
We have had a great game of quoits today, and I have been more successful than hitherto for I won eight shillings. This will make up for my bad luck at backgammon. The Colonel was very proud, an extraordinary thing considering he made hardly any of the score.
We are now sailing before the wind with all sails set. This I think is the pleasantest position a ship can be in at sea; there is a very little rolling, and scarcely any pitching which generally upsets me, when perhaps I am able to stand the rolling. The weather is cloudy but a cold breeze is blowing which I find braces me up wonderfully. We overtook a brig that had been in sight of us since daylight this morning. This is the last of four which we have seen and passed today. An amusing incident occurred today in connection with the brig. She gloried in the name of the Thomas Snooke of London. The most ridiculous part of the circumstance was that a lady of our Regt, previous to her marriage, bore a similar family name. I looked through my glass & there I saw Thomas Snooke in large letters, I communicated the fact to several others, and a jocular laugh was got up, at which juncture the lady retired from the scene, her feelings overcome entirely. What is in a name?!! Little, I should think, but if choice were left to a person, I don’t think the name of Snooke would be selected as a name at all attractive or aristocratic. We have left the brig far behind. (This brig was lost off Deal in a collision with another vessel about 3 weeks after our arrival in England. All drowned except the Captain.)
The rain is wretchedly unpleasant, obliging us to remain between decks. For the hundredth time, I may say, have we been subjected to the intolerable disturbance made by the screams of the children who seem to me to give way more vociferously than at other times. Probably their tender feelings are acted upon more easily by this kind of weather. I begin to imagine them some peculiar class of children for I never yet saw children give way so and cry so much without a cause as these fiendish creatures we have on board. I am sure that, were the maledictions I have so often breathed upon them in the moment of their tumult, carried out according to my wishes, we should have been minus these hopefuls long ago. But I bear with these troubles – ’twill probably be only a week, or less days, more.
A very dirty morning. I was on the early watch this morning. Such weather was not at all cheering: gloomy and raining like mad. I heard yesterday that the Band Master had composed a piece of music and called it The King Lear Gallop. It has been dedicated to Capt. Crowdace & officers of the ship. It was to have been played for the first time last evening but the weather prevented the Band coming on deck. I am going to get a copy of it, that is if I think it worth anything. I have a general idea that gallops and polkas all resemble each other in some way. Now a good march would be worth hearing. The Band played the gallop this evening since I wrote the above. I think it pretty fair, but reminds me in one part very much of a polka composed by Amy Roberts and one I remember well in England. So long is it since I danced to it, I have forgotten its name. Treacherous memory, perhaps not improved by a return to the East. We made a capital run today and at such a rate of speed we could be in Plymouth Harbour in five days. I can hardly realise the fact now I have become accustomed to board ship life.
We were obliged to shorten sail at 8 o’clock this evening. Today at 12 o’clock we were 690 miles from Plymouth. Can it be true? I fear not. I have the middle watch tonight and feel somewhat cheered that it is likely to be my last, but the wind is shifting to an unfavourable point and it makes me fancy that the same scene is to be enacted as was previous to reaching the Cape. I nevertheless am sanguine, that having got so far we shall not be likely to fall in with an easterly wind, which would prolong our troubles to an indefinite period. We had no church service again today; it was so bitterly cold, the Colonel thought it not well to take the men up on deck. I think his feelings with regard to the subject of religion are extremely limited and that his peace of mind is not often troubled by any qualms on this head.
Last night was one of the roughest we have had the whole voyage and, to crown it all, I had the first watch to keep. What with the cold, and the unsteadiness of the vessel, I passed about as wretched a four hours as I well could have done. When I came off watch I could not sleep, my attention was so much required to keep myself in my cot, a trying thing I found it to accomplish. So at 6 o’clock I got up, and went on deck, thoroughly tired out. We made the extraordinary run of 304 miles in the last 24 hours. This makes us certain almost of reaching Plymouth in four or five days at the outside. How near does my journal approach its end, and with what feelings do I regard it! Sometimes I make up my mind to destroy it, and that no eye should see it but my own. At other times, I fancy it will serve as an imperfect attempt on my part to amuse the person for whom it is written. I have done my best and should it ever leave me I hope the recipient will appreciate my efforts.
We are all on the qui vive for the time when the Lizard Point will be sighted. Although two days running have been rather unfavourable, yet we hope to sight it tomorrow evening. The Colonel expressed a wish for us to meet him in the cuddy after parade today, which we did. He proposed that the letter of thanks should be drawn up & addressed to the Captain of the King Lear. I need hardly say how we concurred in this proposal, a very nice letter written by the Colonel was read, and with one or two alterations it was considered fit and accordingly it was written. I forget the letter now but the purpose of it was thanking him for his courtesy to us during our long voyage, and congratulating him on having brought his ship safely home. There were flattering encomiums also passed on to Mrs Crowdace, our Captain’s wife. On it being presented to him at dinner today, he seemed quite astonished & seemed to be quite overcome. I have heard it said that out of the fullness of the heart the tongue speaketh. His heart must have been overfull for he broke down several times and he at last managed to make a nice little speech, evidently feeling greatly complimented by the mark of our attention. We have passed a number of ships outward bound today. I can’t say I envied the people on board them, a return to the East I don’t care so much about.
We sighted the Scilly Isles at 6 o’clock this evening and became thoroughly becalmed off the light house. Our prospects of reaching Plymouth today or tomorrow were quickly dispelled. On coming on deck this morning, the ship was going a bad course and a tack seemed inevitable. This wretched state of suspense in no way suits me, it renders me cross & unsettled altogether. I was foolish enough to commence packing up yesterday, under the delusion we were to arrive this evening. With what pleasure did I anticipate the going ashore today. I had fixed in my own mind which Hotel I was going to dine at in Plymouth. The Scilly Isles are very low and there does not appear to be much cultivation on them. There are two Light Houses, at least three, but only two are visible. For my part, I don’t care how soon we lose sight of them again. A Pilot boat came off from the Islands; someone facetiously termed the man a “Silly Pilot”. I am inclined to think he must have taken some of our people to be silly, judging by the exorbitant price he set on some eggs, butter and bread that he had. He had some mackerel which he asked 6d a piece for. His rate of exchange was very high. We politely declined purchasing anything from him and requested to have his room instead of his company. He went below & there disposed of everything he had. I should imagine this class of people derive great profit from the sale of provisions. They are not over scrupulous about smuggling and are very happy to purchase tobacco, etc., when they have the chance.
A fair breeze has sprung up this evening, and the skipper has come down to tell us of it, with his face beaming with pleasure. Our hopes now are on the ascendant again. The Lizard Light was seen at day-break this morning. A Pilot boat from Falmouth came off but his services were not accepted. The vessel was thoroughly becalmed till 2 p.m. when a slight breeze sprung up. A Pilot boat, the long cherished one, came off at 7 this evening from Plymouth. We took him on board & had a long conversation with him. The American War amongst other topics was freely discussed, and everybody seemed in the best of spirits.
I know no pleasure equal to that of the Pilot boat coming off to us. Our troubles seem to have ended. All ideas centred on the time we are to arrive. A Pilot, in my opinion, must be a man of an extraordinary good temper; the number of questions that are put to him by passengers, some really difficult to answer: some one asked if he knew which was the favourite for the Derby & what the odds were on the Field, etc., etc. These were of course to be answered, and a random shot sometimes told with wonderful precision.
This the 100th day is one of the most eventful of all, for it has seen us into Plymouth Harbour. We arrived at 5 a.m. Today has been one of unusual excitement. From the idea that it would terminate our voyage, our hopes have been blasted. We are under orders for Gravesend, there to disembark. We weighed our anchor at 7 p.m. this evening and were towed out to the Eddystone Light House. The same routine again, a dead calm, etc. Thus did we pass two days until the 21st.
A steam tug hove in sight off the point of Dungeness, and took us in tow; another tug soon joined us, and away we are now going at 6 knots. We have a fresh Pilot on board, not such a talkative individual as the last. I have the watch from 8 to 12 tonight, positively the last. We are now passing Folkestone and about 2 tomorrow we shall be at Gravesend.
Scarcely two moments can I gather, midst hustle and confusion, to conclude my journal as far as Board Ship is concerned. We anchored at 2 p.m. this day of all days. Our depot came to see us, and a merry dinner we had. The Colonel of our Regt. came down expressly to see us, General Stavin. Three cheers were given, and one cheer more, etc. ’Twas wonderful certainly to see an old man of 80 walk down the companion ladder as he did. We all retired from the festive scene at 11 o’clock, and I went to bed. My cabin being in the most delightful confusion, ’tis a wonder I survive to tell the tale.
Regiment will disembark at Gravesend and proceed to Dover by rail, so said Horse Guards order. We were some time before our baggage was got out of the ship. When this was accomplished we disembarked into a separate tug, the Band playing some lively air. The Skipper & his crew stood on the decks, cheering us & we returned the same, and off we went. The usual confusion took place, and we marched to the Railway Station.
Our journey to Dover was like other journeys with troops by rail. We were met at the terminus by the 59th Band which played us in. we received invitations to dine at their mess too, which we accepted and altogether I think the 23rd of May 1862 the happiest day I ever spent.
There remains little more for me to write about: my promise has been conscientiously performed. I have, to the best of my abilities, chronicled the events such as they were, that came under my notice and I leave myself at the mercy of the friend for whom it is intended, and I trust it will be perused with some degree of pleasure, if not for its intrinsic value, for the sake of the writer, a portion of whose time on board ship was devoted to this effusion.
So here now closes this my journal Which, approbation, I trust may earn well, I have done my best, I can say no more; (in rhyme) For I never wrote in rhyme in my life before.
Aug 10th 1862
I could not resist the impulse of the moment, to close this veracious effusion with a verse, a style entirely foreign to me, but in random writing, I am not so over particular. Since the completion of the above, a principal character on the edge of my journal has suddenly breathed his last. I allude to our late Commanding Officer, Colonel Steele. I can hardly express how shocked I was to hear the news.
I think it was rendered more appalling by the fact of my seeing him at the Club the night before he died: he appeared in good health, but as I remarked at the time, most dejected and miserable. I cannot help fancying that his leaving the Regiment preyed a good deal on his mind, although I am totally at a loss to know what his motives were in taking such a step. He is gone! and I forgive any wrong I may have received at his hands. Little did I think, in my frequent allusions to his character, that his end was so near. I always thought he was his own enemy; a better educated and more well informed man one could seldom meet with, but alas, how wretched and disagreeable he made himself to every one, in spite of his abilities. I have seen him in society when he has been most bearish. I never could account for it.
I feel somewhat reluctant that this manuscript book should leave me before it has been filled, but I think that if I fill it, my former intention of devoting it to an on board Ship Journal, will be completely done away with. Nevertheless, should I be able to accomplish this object, I shall rest more satisfied & perhaps I may be able to commit something to these pages which will make up in amusement for the patience my kind reader may perhaps exhibit, whilst I lead her to the end of the book.
Chatham, one of the worst garrison towns I was ever in, affords little or no interesting topic, for one situated like myself, of writing anything of a sufficiently amusing nature. Of military matters, or what is generally conveyed in the expressive term, “Shop”, I intend to say nothing, for I hate the subject and at the same time I extend my dislike to Chatham itself. But, kind reader, accompany me, in thought, per East Kent Railway, and let us get out at Gravesend. I remember when we landed here fresh from India, I can’t say I was at all prepossessed (for shame Whitlock!) with the appearance of the town. Perhaps, I saw it to disadvantage, for we landed in pouring rain and I had the honour, if it may so be called, of staggering up through Gravesend streets to the Railway station, with our Colour. I little knew then the attractions that were in store for me. I now find that, for the sum of sixpence, I can obtain admittance to Rosherville Gardens, and when there, for a further advance of three pence, I can see mirabile dictu, “The Colleen Bawn”.[ix] Let us then take our seats in the theatre, the performance commences with a ballet. In most theatres, I believe, this treat generally closes the entertainment, but for threepence we forgo the fashion of the day. Really it is surprising to me that such an amusement can be had for such a small sum. The Burlesque is excellent, frequently coming out with the popular airs of the day, “Oh, ain’t I a perfect cure” and “I wish I was with Nancy”, etc., etc. We all patronise this theatre, and the play seems taking, from the number of people that always attend. After this entertainment, I was impressed with the saying, that being at Rome, Romish habits must be indulged in. So we followed the multitude, to take tea and shrimps. These latter, however, did not deserve the name of shrimps, for according to my notion they were rather small, perhaps taken in their youth. I thought fit to remonstrate with the waiter, who told me these were all that were left in the establishment, and kindly offered to supply the defect by producing a salad, which, as I told him, resembled a moderate sized cabbage. I declined his offer, and rose and paid eighteen pence for feeling more hungry than we were when we sat down. Romish habits again, I suppose, but I shall introduce a new fashion in the Commissariat line, when I go there again.
Amongst other modes of amusing ourselves, we went to a photographers there and were taken in a group. I can’t say the likenesses were at all striking, but then the feeling of “Romish habits” kept me silent. One of our party ventured to suggest to the man that he might be less exorbitant in his charge (two shillings). He playfully replied that “three such swells as you gentlemen would crack an ordinary glass so I am obliged to use Leika superfine”. We of course smiled, tried to look sweet, failed, and finally paid. I have my copy which I keep as a curiosity, it being the most extraordinary production in a photographic point of view that I ever saw. One of our trio could not help himself from a broad grin, consequently he has come out more like a Gorilla than anything else. We expect to be here a week longer. ’Tis a charming little place, this Milton, only the walk down to the Rifle Range is rather far (a mile and a half is the distance).
It is such wretched weather, pouring with rain. We just managed to finish our firing and return before it set in. I did intend venturing on the Burlesque “Colleen Bawn”, but I cannot make up my mind to get wet through. We have fixed on Tuesday as the day for our yachting expedition. I am, afraid we shall find ourselves short of gentlemen, for there is a large party of young ladies; I think I could manage two or perhaps three. The worst of it is, my companion is singular in his attentions to one of the young damsels and I look out for a pleasant time having to entertain the remainder of the party while he is making love. I have been wiling an hour or two at a rubber of whist; I came off a winner of something small. The Terrace Pier is a gay scene of an evening. Up till 11 o’clock it is boarded in, and sheltered, and a string band treat the Company to a waltz or a gallop, as the case may be. I have been there once but did not trip the light fantastic.
The people have a peculiar way of waltzing and I am afraid I should be rather amusing if I attempted to dance. There is the Gravesend Grisi, as we call her: I can’t say I admire her at all. What amuses Pigott (of my Regt) and myself is the apoplectic appearance of the musicians’ faces when they are playing a fast gallop. I don’t know when I ever laughed so much. Leach, I am sure, would be invaluable to sketch these characters during their performance. There was a concert here on Wednesday evening. I had a ticket offered me but I was obliged to refuse, as I was pre-engaged. I don’t know, after all, whether it was worth hearing or not – I should think not. Miss Louisa Pyne, I hear, was one of the principal vocalists. There was a bazar (some are inclined to doubt the correctness of the spelling of the word, I adhere to what is written above, guided by the Oriental style) held at Chatham just before we left. I was invited to go; not feeling inclined to arm myself with a £5 note, I kept at a respectful distance. I knew by experience how fond ladies are of selling all their stalls consist of. I remember going to one some years ago when I was stationed at Plymouth.
I saw a young lady I knew there who insisted on my purchasing a bouquet of flowers, price only 1 5 shillings, that’s all, a mere nothing for an ensign to pay. I remonstrated, saying that if the young lady would lower her price I would become a purchaser. This she did & I took the bouquet. It had not been long in my possession when another young lady told me that she had sold everything & would I kindly give her my bunch of flowers to sell. In a weak moment I yielded to her importunities and gave it to her; to my utter indignation, she pressed me to buy it again and I, being a youth, most unassuming, and unpretending, did purchase it again. Is it to be wondered at, then, that I so studiously avoid bazaars? For my part, I would far rather contribute a donation than be asked everywhere I go to buy something, no matter how useless it may be to me.
Our reign at Milton, I am afraid, approaches its end, for tomorrow, I believe, is to be our last day. I don’t know whether the actual going through the annual course of musketry has had an effect on my military ardour, or whether I have had distant visions of a musketry instructorship at a charming little place like this, but I have sent my name in as a candidate for Hythe. I almost fear I am too late for the course that is to commence on the 22nd. This therefore will involve a delay of two or three months, at the expiration of which I may have altered my mind. I have never been remarkable for any decision of character but think, on the contrary, I am more frequently acted upon by the impulse of the moment as in the present instance, for I only made up my mind yesterday. Should I then be of the same mind three months hence, I shall endeavour to obtain a first class certificate. I believe one of the most trying parts of the final whole examination is the lecturing before higher authorities. I may not be particularly gifted with any eloquent abilities, but I think, if I were well up in my subject, I might be able to explain to my audience the laws and nature of a travelling bullet. I have often noticed in many cases that men fresh from Hythe appear to be regularly deranged on the subject of Musketry, fully bearing out what a judge said to a prisoner once: “Much learning doth make thee mad.” Seeing these little weaknesses in others, I must check them in myself if ever I am fortunate enough to become a first class Musketry Man.
Times flies quicker than writing towards the end of my journal and September will soon be upon me. “My little partridge”, a simile I have drawn between this manuscript and the animal of the feathered tribe above alluded to, will on the first of next month leave my shelter and depart to other climes, there to encounter the sharp shots of the critic. Oh! gentle reader, shut your eyes to the literary deficiencies of this my first attempt at writing. I feel some little idea that allowances will be made for me. I have not the patience or the desire to read over what I have written. I wonder if I am at all singular in my aversion but I hate perusing my own writing, in fact I think the true art of good writing is committing one’s ideas to paper as they flow, and this I maintain cannot be done if you have to read over again and correct what you have written in one solitary instance. Romish habits again, for the hundredth time. There are times when I feel I could write till further orders, and there are times when I sit with a pen in my hand, racking my brains for a subject, but to no purpose. I say to myself: “My dear fellow, your ideas are muddled, take a smoke, it may enliven your faculties”. Fancy in every day life, not finding something to write about. I blush to confess it.
I regret to say we have finished our course and leave this place tomorrow morning. How shall I be able to live in Chatham after Gravesend? No Rosherville Gardens there, or any “Colleen Bawn” either to enliven us, but methinks I shall pay sundry visits to this place, as the distance is short. I am beginning to fall into what I term the vortex of society, and remaining here would perhaps extend my acquaintance. The day has been unusually hot and as for my complexion, ’tis entirely ruined. I look just as I did when I first landed from India, and am afraid I shall have to resort to Rowlands’ Odonto or Kalidor which I hear has a wonderful effect.[x] I went for a walk just before mess this evening, and strolled up on Windmill Hill, where there is a splendid view of Gravesend. ’Tis unfortunate my finding this out at the eleventh hour, as it were, for if I had known it before I might have made an attempt at a sketch. I should have had a good subject too for the ladies (pseudo) riding up the hill on donkeys. One however met with an awkward but ludicrous accident. The saddle, as I believe is frequently the case with hired donkeys, on there being such a limited supply of girth, gave way to the pressure of weight (for the female was a stout party) and the natural consequence was that the saddle took a peculiar turn, which threw the lady romantically into the arms of the “donkey man”. I was sorry but could not help bursting out with laughter. Pigott and I also discovered some very pretty little gardens, other than Rosherville, they are more limited but still very romantic.
This day proved fatal to all my fond hopes of yachting, at least for the present. We have left Gravesend and all its charms. I know not how I shall survive it. I feel wretched again in Chatham: no Rosherville with its “Colleen Bawn” and then again, the tea minus the shrimps, of course. I have however made up my mind to spend Saturday there. On marching in today, I was required at the Orderly Room by the Colonel. Visions of a wigging for what, I knew not. Perhaps a guilty conscience influenced my thoughts. I was relieved however by a polite reception on the part of the Colonel, who after conversing on other subjects asked me if I would mind being Adjutant during the absence of Captain Coxon. I of course could not refuse, although I felt I should be in some measure shut up in the Orderly Room nearly the whole day. This will materially affect my peregrinations to Gravesend. I have accepted, & it’s done, so can’t be helped. The worst of it is it will last for two months and then will come my time for going to Hythe. I hope it won’t affect my leave for I shall look out for two months. I fancy the only way to make this place at all bearable is to be employed. I hardly know what I shall do when my Journal is completed. I think of keeping a regular every day manuscript, of course meant for no eyes but mine. I fancy it would be amusing to look over by-gone day occurrences, for on looking occasionally back to the beginning of this book, I can hardly believe circumstances to have actually occurred under my notice. ’Tis certainly a long time to remember the minutiae of any circumstance. I remember writing once an affair that occurred in Belgaum, an after mess amusement. I was only looking at it today & in spite of myself could not help smiling as I perused it. I then formed a resolution of continuing this writing, but never carried out my intention.
Another day brings the month of August to a nearer close. I now entertain fears that I must close this without completing my object in filling the book. I used to think Aboard Ship Life monotonous, but I feel this much more so. Nothing comes under my notice worth recording. I was induced to subscribe a half a crown to an entertainment that is to be given to the children here. I don’t intend to go to see them eating. I have not got over my aversion to the society of children, for I had my quantum suff. on board the King Lear. I intend going up to the Expedition again before it closes: an old friend of mine at Dover is coming to stay with me here, and we are going regularly through everything, even to the Parsee Monument, which I know is looked upon as a myth by a certain friend of mine. I believe there is to be some particular notice taken of the closing day. If possible, I shall be there. I never was introduced to the Misses Wood at Gravesend, and saw them but once. I thought them pretty girls to an idea of the society there. I was at the Railway Station yesterday and saw an officer of our Battalion talking to a nice looking young lady, who was under the protection of an eccentric individual, with a lady’s white straw hat trimmed in the most fantastic way with some peculiar medal ribbon, evidently trying to impose on the credulous that he was an officer. I thought him the most consummate snob I ever saw and on enquiry discovered that he was a Haberdasher, etc., in the town of Gravesend. I can’t say I was at all eager for an introduction. I hear the Misses Wood don’t spring from an over aristocratic family: old Wood being sole proprietor of a Brewery. I hope he knows the value of Hops. This is the kind of society one is compelled to mix in, if there is a taste for ladies’ society. I don’t think I should, however, be proud to see the Haberdasher, or the Brewer calling upon me at our Mess.
There is the Regatta at Dover today. I was thinking of going, and had made up my mind but found a parade fixed upon as a spoke in my wheel. I may go down in a day or two, as I believe there is some amusement going on. ’Tis a convenience my Regiment being stationed there. My quarters here are the best as Chatham can afford. The only drawback is that the Ensign of the present day is very musical.
On my right, an individual practises on the cornet, the melancholy tune of “Home sweet home”, rendered doubly so by the dead march style in which it is played; on my left, I am treated by two Ensigns to instrumental as well as vocal music, a piano being the principal instrument. In the silent hours of the night may be also heard the distant notes of a concertina combined with a discordant voice singing most elegantly, out of tune. These little amusements frequently occur after mess. There was a miniature siege carried on in my passage yesterday afternoon: one young gentleman barricaded himself in his room and was attacked by several others, and this lasted for an hour and a half. I tried to view it in a boyish light, but could not be brought to coincide with them in using my camp bed which was outside as one of their defences. I believe they are going to introduce a novel mode of amusement. I heard one say he had a capital rat pit upstairs in his servant’s kitchen, and that it was his fixed intention to invest in a number of rats. He has a regular kennel of dogs, one, his sole companion, is a bulldog. I look at the animal with a certain amount of distrust, and feel little twinges about my legs as I know their penchant for laying hold of this portion of a person. However with a little chiding and a whistle now & then I pass unscathed. I believe General Eyre, Commanding, has an utter abhorrence of dogs in barracks and this I think the reason there are so many here.
I spent my afternoon at Gravesend and a jolly time we passed. A party of us went down, dined there, and went to see “The Colleen Bawn”. The play seems as taking as ever. I begin now to feel tired of it, having seen it three times; the great attraction however was the Female Blondin, who was to perform amid fireworks and all kinds of illuminations. A rope was stretched across from one cliff to another, some fifty or sixty feet in height. I was disappointed rather, as I thought her performance was not sufficiently hazardous; she merely walked on the rope across and back. I nevertheless think she must be a woman of some nerve, for crossing on a rope at night surrounded by smoke and blazing rockets I should imagine most trying to a person walking on terra firma even, set aside the light and airy position she was in. For our dinner we had fish of all sorts, eels in all sorts of contortions, and in every variety of cooking. I could not fancy them, visions of the well known modus operandi of their death came vividly before my imagination. So I made an onslaught on ducks and green peas, a little out of season the peas were, and were rather large too. I saw a couple of visitors in the same saloon, making a hearty meal of tea and shrimps. A momentary shudder came over me, as I thought of my last and only adventure with the shrimps at the Rosherville Gardens. If I could only have a few quiet moments to myself I should be able to finish this manuscript right off, but as matters now stand I keep having periodical visits from the occupants of the rooms adjacent to mine. I feel heartily thankful that the supply of rats has failed, and the pit has not been in requisition. I don’t know how the deficiency is to be remedied, but I hear a very popular dog-fancying man, who rejoices in a wooden leg and a diabolical countenance, says he will be able to procure lots of rats from a neighbouring chum of his, at the exorbitant charge of three pence each. I don’t know whether the bargain has been made or not. I once had the luck to encounter this individual, and was not at all prepossessed in his favour at first sight; his views seemed to be entirely centred on dogs, the time a dog would take to kill so many rats, and how many he would kill, etc., etc., occupied the uppermost places in his thoughts. His free and easy style of address was revolting to my feelings, so I did not push our acquaintance any further.
Five days more. Can I imagine to scribble two pages a day? I fear not. Then where will the object of my delaying this stupid, doubly stupid (since, my second edition) effusion? To write two pages without a subject would indeed be clever. I once shall be almost inclined to adopt a plan a brother of mine once was recommended, in case of being at a loss what to say: “If you have nothing to say”, remarked mon frère, “say what you have had for dinner”. I think I have been influenced unmindfully (Is there such a word!! Query??) by this, for, at the commencement of today’s writing, I think, without referring back, a thing I have never done in this book, I mentioned the subject of a dinner on eels, etc., as having formed part of our amusement yesterday. You see, reader, how these little facts, recommended to us in our youth, become so impressed in our minds. To think that I should have so unwittingly introduced, as a subject, our dinner, and then mentioned my brother’s advice. It seems as if I urged this circumstance in extenuation. But, no! There is my excuse: random writing. And, kind reader, now you have reached so far into this maze of unconnected sentences, (I am sure) of needless words and expressions, I am certain; of nonsense, I am positive. Think of this, as the most serious occupation I have ever undertaken & one that has occupied my time, be it precious or otherwise, ever since the 10th of February (I can hardly believe it) and forgive the errors that must have been ere [sic] this visible to your eye. I have but one favour to ask of you and ’tis this, oblige me by never letting this book out of your hands never let it be seen by any eye save your own, for I can throw myself on your mercy, grant me this, I feel sure you will: of course I don’t mind your reading aloud any casual passage. I don’t know that I have written anything particularly sacred, I have written this for one and one only I wish to see it. As a safeguard this passage shall be copied and placed in the front part of the book, so that at the first opening you can be on your guard. [The ‘safeguard’ has deliberately been cut out of the front of the boo.] I fancy I can hear you saying: “When will Mr Whitlock’s journal be ready? He promised it on the first, I wonder if he will keep his promise or not?” Could I break such a promise? No! It shall go off, finished or unfinished. The attempt at a sketch of feeling for the wind (from Shakespeare) I have destined to grace the first page as a sort of Frontispiece. I give it just as I made it, for it was done on board with very rough materials; my sketch of the Cape, I somehow or other, am not over pleased with, but a promise is a promise so I send it.
I have been busy trying to gum my Frontispiece in neatly, but I am afraid that it is anything but nicely done. The Cape sketch I find is too large, so this will have to go by itself. Five days more, I shudder almost to think of the parting between me and my book. I have been out the whole of this day, from half past 6 till 4. This Adjutant’s work occupies my time; so arduous are the duties, that it requires two officers to conduct them. I have the outdoor work and Pigott of my Regt, the orderly room. We are now busy recruiting for the broken ranks of the 83rd. When I see the insignificant recruit, I picture, to my imagination, the old days in Belgaum when there was a pride in drilling such men.
The weather seems settled now. How charming must the Rosherville Gardens look such an evening as this. In faith, I have wished myself back several times. Since I returned, even my faithful dog Neptune appears to share my feelings on the subject. Gravesend Pier, with ducks in the water, seems written in his eyes as he looks up at me. He used to be the admiration of the populace there, when he jumped off the Pier into the water. I fancy he misses the freedom he used to indulge in there, for I am obliged to keep him indoors, owing to the inveterate dislike the General entertains towards quadrupeds of this description. I am afraid our Colonel will be seized with a similar aversion, for I hear a dog was seen running across the square today with a ham in his mouth, which was extracted very cleverly from the Colonel’s kitchen. I am glad to say my dog was not the thief. I don’t for one moment hold him up as a pattern dog, nor do I think he would resist a temptation of this sort, if it fell in his way.
The bugle sounds, and mess closes the day for me. I go now, to sit in the society of Colonel Servis, an oddity in his way. I sit and muse sometimes, and watch this extraordinary character. I believe Charles Dickens is to be a guest at our festive board this evening. I wonder whether he will treat us to Little Dorrit or reading of his own writings. For my part, I should like it above of all things. I am afraid I shall not be able to sit up and write tonight. I feel so tired, and visions of parade at half past 6 tomorrow morning make me inclined to seek an early repose.
I have been busy as usual the whole of the day. I begin now to fancy that getting up early is a good thing for one’s health. ’Twas a lovely morning, and one only, on which I ever looked on Chatham as being at all worthy of notice. I have a very pretty little peep from my window, a bend in the River Medway gives me a pretty view, of a fine morning. The old Cathedral at Rochester too comes out very boldly, with the morning sun shining on it, and with the hills for a background. The river itself much resembles the Thames as far as the colour of the water goes & how this can be looked upon as one of the best sites for a dockyard I can’t imagine. Penny steamers traverse the river, convenient for the traveller to Gravesend via Rochester. There is to be a ship launch here in the course of a few days, one of the iron-plated ships, I believe. I am anxious to see this style they have of building ships of war. It costs the country fabulous sums of money, this new kind of armament.
Well, Mr Dickens did dine at Mess. I think him an ordinary looking person with a long beard and moustachios. He does not give one the idea of his being such a literary character and I must say I was somewhat disappointed at his appearance which to my eyes is rather insignificant, I had no opportunity of conversing with him, as I left Mess rather early. Colonel Servis was all smiles, and made himself most affable. The old Colonel is a well read man and, like our late Chief, likes to be thought so. His feeble attempts at wit amuse one, and cause a laugh in spite of myself. I spoke rather sharply to the head mess waiter, on the subject of my being so badly attended to as I remarked that the waiters were very partial in their attentions. The old Colonel was opposite me, and for ten minutes did nothing but grumble and growl. Why doesn’t he bring his own servant? “Bad waiting! … at Regiment ’spose, etc, etc.” and like broken sentences. The fact of the matter is that the fashion of attaching a man to a potato dish, or any other, and telling him not to desert it under any circumstances, produces a reply to your request of roast beef, that he can’t leave the potatoes. This has occurred to me several times & I begin now to take it as a matter of course.
I have a slight inkling that I am going down to Gravesend again, I applied to take command of a detachment that is going there. It would be a jolly treat for me, especially after my duties as Adjutant. ’Twill be later in the season and perhaps not so attractive as it was when I was there last, but anything or place, in my opinion, is better than Chatham.
I have thought that an idle page could not better be devoted than by writing a little extract from my rough book in which I have written a description of the actual distance we traversed, and the number of miles we were from England, when at Vingorla. I know keeping this log, of latitude and longitude, amused me much and occupied my time more profitably perhaps than if I had done as the rest of my companions did, with the exception of our late Colonel, who once or twice let me have glances at his book. His journal, if I may so call it, was not a very extensive one, but merely little remarks here and there. I used to think of asking him to let me peruse it, but feared he might be disinclined to do so. I wonder what has become of it!! He had a book which had been an order book, and a note book, and account book also. He used to say it amused him to look over it. I have a similar book containing the most extraordinary concatenation of notes and remarks, a list of kit on first going to India, and I see another remark, “I rode my horse, which is 14.1, a measured mile in two minutes & twenty seconds, By Jove, I enter him.” ’Tis fate, you know, gentle reader, but here comes the blank page for the log of lat. & long.
|From Vingorla which is in Lat. 16º N Long. 74º E
to the Equator which is in Long. 58º E
|From the Equator which we crossed in Long. 58º E
to Lat. 27º S Long. 48º E South end of Madagascar
|From South end of Madagascar to Lat. 35º S
& Long. 20º E which is Cape Agullas
|Ergo – From Vingorla to Cape Agullas||4,586|
|From Cape Agullas to crossing the line (oh how hot ’twas) Long. 28º W||3,416|
|From the burning Equator
to the cool climate of old England, Portsmouth
|From Vingorla’s rocky shores & dangerous waters
to Plymouth Sound
Here then is the distance that occupied the good old Ship King Lear just one hundred days; may her voyages be successful, may her noble Skipper, who navigated us so well and who showed us so much civility, may his shadow never be less: I am sure every one of our party agree with me, in voting all thanks to the good all sailor that has once more brought us Home to Home Sweet Home.
Note: This Cape Agullas I imagine to be about 70 miles from Table Bay, Cape Town.
H. C. W.
Here I am at 119 and have but to scribble to 123 page. How shall I part from this book which has been, I may say, one of my greatest cares since the 10th of February? I wish much I had a copy of it, and feel very much inclined to keep it back for such a purpose. Could I extract a promise from you, kind friend, the recipient of all this nonsense, could I, I say, extract a promise from you, that after reading it, you will send it to me to copy? I have had it such a time, I begin now really to become interested in it. I could not expect or even ask you to copy it, & would be only disgusting you with the whole scrawl, and besides, it would give you the idea that I attached a good deal of importance to it, not more than its being the greatest amount of my own writing I have ever collected in a book. So please let me have it, that is, of course, when you have read it. I suppose it will be twelve months before it has all been perused.
I have had a letter from my friend at Dover, who says he can’t get leave so cannot come to me yet awhile. I must then visit the Exhibition again alone.[xi] I almost wish my former friends (I mention no names) were to be there on any day, perhaps I might be cut for having been so long silent. I wonder if the losing the road in the wood is as deeply impressed on my fair friends’ memory as it is on mine, perhaps not. I met a sort of rival of mine in London the other day who tried to sound me as to what sort of footing I had in a certain quarter. I kept my own counsel and gave him the idea that I knew more than I liked to say. He asked, as a final trial, if I would come or go with him and call. I, of course, said, “Oh! yes, that was my fixed intention every since I came home.” His astonishment increased and I wished him goodbye, promising however that I would write and arrange as to time, etc. Perhaps this journal has occupied my time so much but I have not yet written on the subject. The Engineer Band plays here almost alternately with the Marines, of a morning, from 10 to 11 o’clock. My room faces to the front and is near the General’s house, in front of which the Band always plays. I sit at my window, smoking my pipe and enjoying the music, which is certainly the best of a military kind I have ever heard.
Here is the day, at last, that it to terminate my literary labours. I intend to finish off today, so that it may be in readiness to send off tomorrow. I almost wish I could keep it longer to look over, for the latter part I feel sure has been so hurried that I must have made several mistakes. As a sort of recreation after all this writing, I am going to Gravesend today after I have finished my duties as Adjutant. I always have a couple of spare hours at this time (between 12 and 2 o’clock). I was mounted on parade yesterday. The Colonel offered me a horse, he is a grand horseman, and I am inclined to think he would far rather be rattling after the hounds than marching a battalion about on parade. I have been all along intending to visit the Dock-yard to see the Iron Ship but I have been so occupied with one thing and another that I have scarcely had time. My correspondence too has fallen far behind and I get frequent letters: “Why don’t you write?”, “Why are you silent?” I think ’tis high time then that my journal should be terminated. I feel glad I have been limited or I never should have had the energy to close. I must now make my final bow; all I can say is that I hope all this rubbish and nonsense will meet with some satisfaction. If the reader will only kindly think of the time it has occupied me, I am sure some excuse will be made for all the short-comings which I feel must be so abundant in this my first attempt at a Journal.
Aug 30th 1862
My dear Mrs Barker
As I so faithfully promised to have my Journal ready, and sent to you by the 1st September, I have hastened to have it ready and have now resolved on despatching it this day. I really hope it will be some amusement; it will, at all events, give you an idea of how our time was passed on board the old King Lear. I have asked you to let me have this again to copy. I can hardly expect you to comply with my request but, if you will do so, I should be glad to have something of this sort to look over in after days. Your last letter as well as many others I have really had no time to answer, and this accounts for my closing my Journal with a letter to you. I have often wished the Journal you promised me had been forthcoming. You can see by this the amount of writing that can be done, if one only tries. I hope to hear from you soon, telling me what you think of this production. Remember, don’t be too hard upon me and spare my blushes!!
With my kindest regards
Yours very Sincerely
Hubert C Whitlock
[i] Vingorla is a small port on the west coast of India, between Bombay and Goa.
[ii] The King Lear was a three-masted sailing ship built in 1854 by Robert E. Jackson of Boston, Massachusetts. Her tonnage was 1,836 tons and her dimensions were 231ft x 42ft x 29ft. Her owner was Frederic Somes of Blackheath, Kent , who employed her on voyages to India, Australia and the Far East.
[iii] Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Steele, C.B., distinguished himself at the siege and capture of Kotah during the Indian Mutiny, for which he was awarded the C.B. After 28 years’ service with the 83rd Regiment of Foot, he sold his commission and, on 4th August 1862, just eight days after this was gazetted, he died in London.
[iv] The cuddy was a cabin used for dining by both ship’s officers and passengers.
[v] Grog is a drink of spirit and water.
[vi] The Confederate commerce raider CSS Nashville had sought sanctuary and repairs in Southampton Water, where it was tracked down by the far superior Federal screw corvette, USS Tuscarora. The two Captains were informed by the Admiralty Superintendent at Southampton that ,under the terms of the Foreign Enlistment Act, if warships from two warring countries were in a neutral port at the same time, their respective departures must be at least twenty-four hours apart. To ensure this was observed, HMS Shannon was sent to join HMS Dauntless at the entrance to Southampton Water. CSS Nashville duly escaped, with Captain Craven of USS Tuscarora alleging collusion by the British authorities.
[vii] Sarah Gamp is a character in Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit: a monthly nurse, who is famous for her bulky umbrella.
[viii] Lindley Murray (1745-1826) was a Quaker, born in Pennsylvania, who left America after the Revolution. Back in England, he started writing school textbooks in 1798. In the first half of the nineteenth century he was the largest-selling author in the world, selling 16 million copies in the United States and 4 million in Britain. His biggest sellers were English Grammar and English Reader.
[ix] Rosherville Gardens was the site of the Kent Zoological and Botanical Institute from 1837 to 1939, when it finally closed. The Colleen Bawn was a successful play by Dion Boucicault (1820-90), based on Gerald Griffin’s novel, The Comedians. It made its author a fortune, which he then lost in the management of a number of London theatres.
[x] Rowlands was a London pharmaceuticals firm: Odonto was toothpaste and Kalidor was face cream.
[xi] The Expedition of 1862 took place on a site now occupied by the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.