In the afternoon we gave a long, lingering look at the fleet, and parted company with two other seventy-fours who were in the same scrape. Our noble captain did not get rid of his angry looks for some days, and actually wept at what he termed the treacherous conduct of the Admiralty. We understood afterwards that he was under an engagement of marriage to the sister of a nobleman, which was to have taken place in three months. Nothing worth notice occurred during the passage, except the visit from Neptune and his wife, and the shaving and ducking all his new acquaintances, who were rather numerous. We saw several tropical birds, which the sailors call boatswains, in consequence of their having one long feather for a tail, which they term a marlin-spike—an iron instrument sharp at one end and knobbed at the other, used in splicing ropes, etc.
The captain of marines also shot an albatross or man-of-war bird, so called from its manner of skimming through the air after other birds, which the seamen compare to sailing. It measured seven feet from pinion to pinion. On the fifth week of our separation from the fleet we made the Island of San Domingo, and on the day after anchored with the squadron in Cape St. Nicholas mole. We found here the Sampson, of sixty-four guns, the Magicienne and the Thorn, and some transports. This mole, or harbour, is formed by the high land of the island on the right hand going in, and on the left by a peninsula, joined by a narrow sandy isthmus to the island at the head of the mole. It is strongly fortified. The harbour is a fine one, and would contain the whole British fleet. The town has a common appearance and has nothing remarkable in it. We remained here three weeks, at the end of which period we ran down to Jamaica, and anchored off Port Royal. This town is built on a small peninsula, joined to the island by a long, narrow neck of sand called the Palisades. Here all unfortunate whites who depart this life become feasts for crabs of all descriptions, as it is the place of burial for the town and men-of-war. This isthmus is the dam which secures the harbour of Kingston from the inroads of the sea. The houses of this town are generally not more than a single storey high, constructed of wood with overhanging shingled roofs, and verandahs in front, which prevent the sun entering the rooms.
One evening, being on shore at Port Royal, seated on a bench, I overheard a grey, woolly-headed black man relate the following story. I will give it in good English. In the year 1788, said he, the harbour of Port Royal was much troubled by a very large shark, which drove all the fish out to sea and distressed a number of fishermen. Every attempt had been made to catch him, but without success. He at length became so constant a visitor that they named him "Port Royal Tom." At last, continued old Sambo, for that was the narrator's name, a young friend of mine, who was a very strong, courageous fisherman, said if the magistrates of the town would give him a doubloon, he would engage the shark and try to kill him in single combat. The magistrates consented, and two mornings after, before the sea-breeze set in, the dorsal fin of "Port Royal Tom" was discovered. The black fisherman, nothing dismayed, paddled out to the middle of the harbour where the shark was playing about; he plunged into the water armed with a pointed carving knife. The monster immediately made towards him, and when he turned on his side (which providentially sharks are obliged to do to seize their prey, their mouths being placed so much underneath) the fisherman, with great quickness and presence of mind, dived, and stabbed him in the bowels. The shark, in agony, gave a horrid splash with his tail, and disappeared for a short time. He then rose again and attempted to seize the man a second time, but the latter once more dived and gave him his death-blow; he then regained his canoe almost exhausted. The shark soon after turned on his side, discolouring the water with his blood. Four men in a canoe threw a rope over his tail and towed him on shore, where all the town came to meet the courageous fisherman, with the magistrates at their head, who presented him with his well-merited reward and his liberty. The shark was dissected and the skeleton sent to Spanish Town, where a few years afterwards it fell to pieces for want of care. This unfortunate town has been twice destroyed by an earthquake; the ruins on a clear day may be seen in three-fathom water.
We had been refitting and amusing ourselves on shore by dancing at dignity balls given by the upper-class copper-coloured washerwomen, who are the quintessence of perfection in affectation, when we were obliged to bid adieu to these interesting copper and coal-skinned ladies, as the ship was reported ready for sea, and the following morning we weighed and stood out of the harbour. As we passed the point we saw handkerchiefs without number waved by our dear, motley-coloured damsels as a farewell. We beat up to St. Domingo and anchored in Cape St. Nicholas mole, where we found the Leviathan, Raisonable, Sampson, and several frigates. We remained a week, and sailed with the above-named ships on a cruise round the island. On the third night after sailing, which was very dark with a fiery sea-breeze, the Sampson (sixty-four) ran on board of us. She came with such force that she, by the shock, carried away her fore-mast, bowsprit, main-top mast and figure-head. She fortunately struck us abaft the main channels; had she done so amidships, it would have meant the destruction of both ships and of about a thousand lives. Her larboard bumpkin dismounted the eighteen-pounder in the foremost lieutenant's cabin in the wardroom, and in falling clear she swept away both quarter galleries from the side, one of which was fitted up as a library for the first lieutenant, who lost all his books. Some of the mids who loved him were wicked enough to say that it was a punishment inflicted on him for mastheading them so often. I say nothing!
The Sampson was towed to Jamaica by the Success frigate to repair her damages, and a fortnight afterwards we followed. The heroes of the cockpit declared the commodore was ashamed of our appearance. As we had only galleries on one side, we looked like a pig with one ear.
We anchored at Port Royal in the afternoon, and before the sails were furled we were surrounded by a number of boats and canoes filled with dignity and first and second-class dingy damsels, some of them squalling songs of their own composition in compliment to the ship and officers, accompanied by several banjos. When the ropes were coiled down they were admitted on board, when they began dancing round the quarter-deck and making love to the officers for their washing. Having accomplished the purpose of their visit, they departed, promising that we should "hab ebery ting berry clean by Saturday ebening, and dat he lib in hope for see massa at him house berry soon."
The carpenters from the dockyard soon repaired the quarter galleries, and made good all other defects, when that fatal scourge, the yellow fever, made its appearance among the ship's company. The schoolmaster, a clever, intelligent young man, who had been educated at Christ's Hospital, was the first victim. This was quite sufficient to alarm the nerves of our gallant captain, who never joined the ship afterwards; he, having obtained permission from the admiral to return to England by a lugger going with despatches, took French leave of the whole of us—that is, no leave at all. In a few days afterwards Captain B. joined us as acting-captain. He was a young, active, and smart officer. The yellow fever was now making lamentable havoc among the crew. Six were either carried to the hospital or buried daily. After losing fifty-two men, one of the lieutenants, the captain's clerk, and four mids, the captain requested the admiral's permission to go to sea, for, although we had more than thirty cases of the fever on board, the surgeon thought the pure sea-breeze might be the means of preserving their lives. Alas! he was fatally mistaken, for nearly the whole of them were thrown over the standing part of the fore-sheet before we returned from our cruise. We were one hundred and sixty short of our complement of men, besides having about fifty more in their hammocks, but the captain wished to persevere in keeping the sea. We had been from Jamaica three weeks, cruising on the south side of St. Domingo, when we captured a French brig of war of fourteen guns and one hundred and twenty-five men, and two days afterwards a large schooner privateer of one long eighteen-pounder on a traverse, and six eighteen-pounder carronades, with seventy-eight men. We now had nearly two hundred prisoners on board, and thought it prudent to retrace our steps to Port Royal, when on the following morning we fell in with two more schooner-rigged privateers. The first we captured mounted a long brass twelve-pounder and two six-pounders, with sixty-eight men. The other during the time we were exchanging prisoners had got considerably to windward of us. Fortunately towards the evening it fell calm, when we manned and armed three of the boats. I had command of the six-oared cutter with eight seamen and three marines. In the launch were the lieutenant, a mid, and eighteen men, and in the other cutter as many as my boat held. We were two hours on our oars before we got within musket-shot of her. She had several times fired at us from her long gun charged with grape-shot, but without effect. We cheered and gave way, when her last charge knocked down the coxswain of the cutter I was in, who died a few hours afterwards, being shot in the head. The lieutenant and one man were slightly wounded in the launch. We were soon under the depression of her gun and alongside, when, on boarding her, one half of her motley crew ran below. The captain and the remainder made a show of resistance, when we ordered the marines to present. As soon as they saw we had possession of her decks and were advancing with our pistols cocked and our cutlasses upraised, they threw down their arms and surrendered. She proved a French privateer with a long six-pounder on a traverse and eight one-pound swivels, with fifty-two men. We took her in tow and soon regained the ship. We made all sail for Port Royal with our four prizes, and on our arrival next morning astonished our black and yellow-faced acquaintances, who, as before, came off with boats and banjos to welcome our return, not a little by our success. The following morning we sent fifty men to the hospital. We had buried during the cruise forty-three seamen, besides two mids and another of the lieutenants. The most healthy were the first attacked, and generally died on the third day. Out of the five hundred and sixty men we brought from England, we had only now two hundred to do the duty of the ship.
WEST INDIES AGAIN.
Owing to ravages of yellow fever go to Jamaica to obtain more seamen—Difficulties and humours of impressment—Author attacked by yellow fever—Proceed to Cape St. Nicholas mole—Great mortality among the officers.
On the fourth evening after our arrival it was thought necessary to despatch two armed boats to Kingston to procure seamen either by entering or impressing them. Finding there was no chance of the first, we entered on the unpleasant duty of the last. We boarded several of the vessels in the harbour, but found only the mates and young boys, the seamen having on seeing our boats gone on shore. We had information of three houses notorious for harbouring seamen. To the first of these we repaired, where, after strictly searching the premises, we were unsuccessful. A sailor we had recently impressed, and who the day after entered, informed us that it was the fashion for the men of the West Indian and Guinea ships, when on shore, to disguise themselves, sometimes as American women, at other times as tradesmen, such as coopers, shoemakers, etc.
On entering the second house, the scene was laughably ridiculous. At a table sat three slovenly-dressed females with old, coarse stockings in their hands, which they appeared to have been mending, and on the table near them were some children's shirts, with needles, thread and a small basket. Not far distant from them was a cradle of a large size, half-covered by a thick mosquito net. The bed in the room had also a net, and in it was lying a person in the last stage of illness. Another female, who appeared to be a nurse, was near the head of the bed, persuading the invalid to take the contents of a bottle of some red mixture. At the foot of the bed stood a man dressed in the uniform of the town militia, who acquainted us that the woman in bed was his wife in the last stage of consumption; that in consequence he had sent for all her friends to take leave of her before she died, and to attend her funeral; and that the person dressed in black standing near him was the doctor. This last, with a countenance full of gravity, assured the lieutenant that he did not think his patient could live more than an hour, and begged him to examine the house as quietly as possible, as he had another sick patient in the next room who had arrived from the other side of the island, and from fatigue and distress had been seized with a fever. The lieutenant, who really was a humane man, listened to his mournful story with much attention, and replied he was sorry to disturb a dying person. Then turning to the women, he assured them it was with much reluctance he entered on the duty he had to perform, but as he had information of seamen frequenting the house he must be under the necessity of searching it. One of the persons sitting at the table, who was most like a female in appearance, rose and said they had only the room they sat in and the next, which was occupied at present by the other sick female. "But I guess," said she, "your notion of there being British seamen in the house must be false, as we are not acquainted with any." During this speech, uttered with as much grace as a Yankee lady of the seventh magnitude is capable, the coxswain of one of our cutters, who had been searching the features of one of those dressed as a female sitting at the table mending a shirt, exclaimed, "If I ever saw my old shipmate, Jack Mitford, that's he." Another of our men had been cruising round the cradle, and whispered to me that the baby in it was the largest he had ever seen. After the coxswain's ejaculation, all the party appeared taken aback and began to shift their berths. Perceiving this, we immediately locked the door and insisted on knowing who they were; but when they spoke we were convinced that they were all men except the American, who began to scream and abuse us. I approached the bed, and on looking closely at the sick person I discovered a close-shaved chin. The lieutenant, who had followed me to the bed, desired two of our men to move the clothes a little, when we found the dying person to be a fine young seaman about twenty-six years of age, and who, on finding he was detected, sprang out of bed, and joining the doctor and nurse, who had armed themselves with hangers, attempted to resist us. As we were sixteen in number, and well armed, we told them it was useless, and the constable who was with us desired them to be peaceable and put their weapons down. As they saw they were on the wrong tack, they surrendered. The dear little sleeping infant in the cradle proved a fine lad sixteen years old. The over-fatigued female in the next room turned out a young seaman, whom we secured with the pretended sergeant, the nurse, and the doctor, making in the whole eight good seamen. This was a good haul. We got them without accident to the boats. The delicate American female followed us screaming and abusing us the whole way. We could hear her voice for some time after leaving the wharf. The men a few days after being onboard, finding the boatswain's mates did not carry canes, entered. The nurse, sergeant, doctor and his dying patient were rated quartermaster's and gunner's mates, and the remainder topmen. We had been a month refitting when we made another attempt to procure seamen at Kingston, but only sent one boat with a lieutenant, myself, and twelve seamen. On landing, we made for the house we had not entered on our last visit, where we knocked at the door, and had to wait some short time before it was opened, when a mulatto man appeared and asked "What Massa Buckra want? He hab nutting for sell; he no hab any grog." "Why, that copper-skinned rascal," called out one of our men, "is the fellow who deserted from the Thorn sloop of war when I was captain of the mizzen top." "Take hold of him!" said the lieutenant; but before this could be done he slammed the door against us; this was the work of a moment. Three of our seamen instantly set their backs against it, and with a "Yo-heave-ho," they forced it in. We now entered the house. After passing through two small rooms, which, as an Irishman might say, had no room at all, for they were very small, dirty and barely furnished, we came to a door which was fastened. We attempted to open it, when an elderly, dingy white woman made her appearance and informed us the house belonged to herself and sons, who were coopers, and at work in the cooperage. "That door," said she, "leads to it, but I have the key upstairs; wait, and I will fetch it." The old woman, on going out, turned the key of the room we were in. I remarked this to the lieutenant, who, apprehending some treachery, ordered the men to force the door we had endeavoured to open. It soon gave way, when we suddenly came on four men dressed as coopers. Two of them were knocking a cask to pieces, the other two drawing off a liquid which had the appearance of rum. They did not desist from their occupation, nor were they surprised at our visit, but told us very coolly we had mistaken the house. So should we have thought had we not seen our copper-faced acquaintance who had in such unmannerly fashion shut the door in our faces. "Come, my lads," said the lieutenant, "there's no mistake here; you must leave off drawing rum for your old mother, who wished to take great care of us by locking us in, and go with us, as we want coopers." "Rum," said one of the boat's crew, who had tasted it, "it's only rum of the fore-hold. A fellow can't get the worse for wear with such liquor as that, sir. It's only Adam's ale."
"Oh, oh!" cried out some of our men, "is this the way you work to windward, my knowing ones? Come, come, you must be more on a bowline before you can cross our hawse; so pack up your duds, trip your anchors, and make sail with us."
The old woman again made her appearance, and asked us if we were going to take her sons. "If you dare do it," said she, "I will prosecute the whole of you for breaking through my premises, and have you all put into gaol." "Hold your tongue, mother," said one of the men we had taken, "what's the good of your kicking up such a bobbery about it? You only make it worse. If you don't see us to-morrow, send our clothes to Port Royal." They then quietly submitted. We returned through the rooms entered, and on turning into the passage leading to the street, we encountered Master Copperskin. Two of our men immediately seized him; he struggled violently, and attempted to draw a clasped knife, which on the coxswain perceiving he gave him a stroke on his calabash with his hanger, which quieted him. He was then pinioned with one of the seamen's neck-handkerchiefs. On getting into our boats a party of about twenty men and women of all colours came down to the wharf in the hope of rescuing the mulatto man, but they were too late. When we put off from the shore we found it no joke, as they fired into our boat and seriously wounded the man who pulled the stroke oar. Luckily the awning was canted towards them, or they would have shot several of us, as it had seven shots through it. We were obliged to fire in self-defence, killing one man and wounding several others. I remarked the man we killed jumped a considerable height from the ground and then fell prostrate. Finding they had had enough fighting, they marched off with their killed and wounded. The day after we were summoned to Kingston to explain our adventure before the magistrates, who, finding we were first attacked, acquitted us of wilful murder as we had been compelled to act in self-defence, but informed us it was necessary to appear before a jury next day for the satisfaction of the townspeople. This was vexatious.
The day following, after rowing about three hours in a hot sun, we were examined by twelve very wise and common-looking bipeds, who, after questioning us in a most stupid and tiresome manner, found a verdict of justifiable homicide. On returning to the boat we were followed by a number of women and boys, who made a most horrible squalling, and some stones were thrown at us on our pushing off. The yellow fever was still making havoc amongst the officers and crew. We had lost five lieutenants, the surgeon's mate, captain's clerk, and eight midshipmen, one of whom died singing "Dulce Domum." It was at length my turn. I was seized with a dreadful swimming in my head; it appeared so large that it was painful to carry it. I was much distressed by a bitter nausea in my mouth and sudden prostration of strength. The doctor gave me an emetic, and soon after I ejected a quantity of bitter bile. It tried me exceedingly, and when I put my head down I thought I was not far from "Kingdom come." The second morning I knew no one, and was in a high fever. The third was much the same until about noon, when I slept for about two hours. On awaking I found the pain in my head less, and was perfectly sensible. I requested something to drink, when the sentinel gave me some orange-juice and water, which refreshed me. About dusk, one of the mids who had just come on board from Port Royal, came to me with a cup filled with some sort of herb tea mixed with rum. He requested me to drink it off. This I refused to do. He assured me he had been on shore on purpose to procure it for me, that old Dinah, who was a grey-headed washerwoman, had made it, and I must drink it. I was so weak that I could scarcely answer him, when he put it to my mouth and forced more than half of it down my throat. With the exertion I fainted. He told me the following day he thought he had killed me, and had called the doctor, who gave me a draught. On the morning of the fourth day I was considerably better and in a gentle perspiration, and had passed a quiet night. My three messmates, who alone survived out of eleven, came to cheer me. He who had given me the tea and rum told me he was certain they had cured me, and I really believe it caused the pores to open and in a great measure drove the fever from the system. I was removed to the gun-room, and in a few days was able to sit up and eat oranges.
A week had now elapsed since the doctor had reported me convalescent, when I was painfully distressed by seeing my open-hearted, generous messmate brought in his hammock to the gun-room, attacked by the fatal malady. As he was placed near me, I watched him with intense anxiety. On the fourth morning he died. He was a very florid and robust youth of sixteen. He struggled violently, and was quite delirious. When the sail-maker was sewing him up in his hammock he gave a convulsive sigh. I immediately ordered the stitches to be cut, but it availed nothing. He was gone. Poor fellow! I felt his loss.
In the fifth week I began to crawl about. The boatswain's wife was very kind to me and brought me fresh fruit every day. The doctor, who although a little hasty, was a clever and excellent character, paid me great attention. The kindness and care I experienced, and the affectionate letters I received from my mother, informing me of the happy marriage of my only sister and of the appointment of my youngest brother in India, all these possibly contributed to my recovery and cheered my spirits. Our acting-captain, who was a good and active officer, was appointed to a frigate. He was superseded by an elderly, farmer-looking man, who, we understood, was what a black man considers a curiosity—a Welshman. When in harbour we never saw him, and at sea very seldom. He left everything to the first lieutenant. He appeared to have too much pride to ask an humble mid to dine at his table, so that when he departed this life, which he did four months after he joined us, of yellow fever, he died unregretted. Having received a draft of men from the flagship, we were ordered to our old station, Cape St. Nicholas mole, it being considered more healthy than Jamaica, although the yellow fever was carried from thence to the other islands in 1794 by the vessels captured at Port-au-Prince.
We arrived there three weeks afterwards, having captured on our passage a French brig laden with coffee. We completed our water, and took on board a Capuchin friar and two mulatto officers, for what purpose we never could find except to give them a cruise. The friar, who was a quiet, fat, rather good-looking man, messed in the cabin. The wicked mids said to "confess" the captain.
One afternoon we anchored in a bay to the westward of Cape Francois. The carpenter was directed to go on shore and cut some bamboos for boats' yards. The pinnace was despatched with himself, a master's mate and nine men. They landed and had cut about nine poles when they were fired on from the bushes. They, not being armed—for the mulatto officers assured us there was no danger—attempted to reach the boat, but before they could do so the carpenter was killed and two men seriously wounded and taken prisoners. The rest jumped into the boat and came on board. The captain appeared to feel he had done wrong in placing confidence in people who were strangers to him. After cruising on the north side of St. Domingo without capturing anything, we returned to the mole. Our worthy, hasty-tempered skipper was taken unwell about a month after our arrival, and took apartments on shore, where he in a fortnight afterwards died.
The captain who stepped into his shoes was a dark, tolerably well-built, good-looking man, who had a very good opinion of himself, and by his frequently looking at his legs, imagined there was not such another pair in the West Indies. This gallant officer proved the quintessence of gallantry. He loved the ladies, loved a good table, loved the games of crabs and rouge-et-noir, was a judge of hock and champagne. He had seen much of high and low life, had experienced reverses, he said, through the imprudence of others, and had been detained in a large house in London much longer than he wished. He had run through two handsome fortunes, and was willing to run through two more. He had the misfortune, he told us, of being a slave to the pleasures of the world, although he knew it was filled with rogues. Whilst I was with him his memory was rather impaired, for he forgot to repay several sums of money he borrowed, although he was frequently written to on the subject. In short, he was a libertine, liked but by no means respected. He brought with him six mids and his clerk. The first were complete scamps, picked up from the scrapings of London; the last was a fine young man. Our martinet mastheading first lieutenant, who had outlived all the others save one, was promoted as commander into a sloop of war, in which he died a few months after of apoplexy in consequence of repletion. The only one remaining of those who sailed from England with me was a few months afterwards also promoted as commander into a brig sloop, and he, poor fellow! was drowned on his second cruise. The six lieutenants who came from England were now no longer living, and out of eighteen midshipmen only another and myself were in existence. The lieutenants who had superseded those who died were rather commonplace characters. The discipline of the ship was totally changed. The first lieutenant was a disappointed officer and a complete old woman, and the ship was something of a privateer.
Tough yarns—The sea-serpent—The fair-wind sellers of Bremen—Mermen and mermaidens—Capture of Spanish schooner with mulatto laundresses on board—Boat attack on, and capture of the French privateer Salamandre—Outbreak of malignant scurvy—Novel method of treatment—French women dressed as men—A voyage of discovery.
We generally had about seventy men in the sick list, and were at anchor nearly four months—half the crew doing nothing and the other half helping them. They generally amused themselves by dancing, singing, or telling tough yarns. I was much entertained by hearing some of them relate the following stories, which they declared were true.
"My brother," said one of these galley-benchmen, "belonged to the Unicorn, of Shields, which traded to Archangel in the White Sea. I suppose," said he, "it is called the White Sea because there is much snow on the shore, which throws a kind of white reflection on the water. Well, the ship had anchored about a mile from the town, when my brother, who had the middle watch, saw something like the ship's buoy close to the vessel. At first he took little notice of it until it raised itself about three feet out of the water and opened a mouth wide enough to swallow a Yankee flour-barrel. He was very much afeared, for he was only a young chap without much experience. He immediately jumped down to the chief mate's cabin and told him what he had seen. They both went on deck, the mate armed with a loaded pistol and my brother with a cutlass. By this time the serpent—for it was a sea-serpent—had twisted itself round the bowsprit of the vessel, and was about twenty feet long. Its eyes were about the size of the scuppers and shined like the morning star." "Why, Bill," said one of the listeners, "clap a stopper on that yarn; those sarpents are only seen on the coast of Ameriky, and nobody but Yankees ever seed them." "Avast, Bob," replied the narrator, "don't be too hasty; it is as true as the mainstay is moused, for I never knew Jack tell a lie (meaning his brother), and now I'll fill and stand on. The boatswain, hearing the noise, came on deck. The mate pointed to the monster, and told him to get an axe. The beast had bristled up like an American porcupine and was ready to dart at them when the mate got abaft the foremast and fired at its head, which he missed, but struck it in the neck. The animal, finding itself wounded, darted with its jaws wider than a large shark's at the boatswain, who was the nearest. Luckily for him, the mate was ready to fire his pistol again. The ball struck its lower jaw and broke it. It then made a stern-board, but before it could reach the bows the boatswain gave it a stroke with the axe which nearly gullyteened it; you know, shipmates, what that is. Why, mayhap you don't; so I'll tell you. It's a kind of gallows that cuts off Frenchmen's heads. But I must heave-to a bit and overhaul my reckoning, for I almost forget. Did ever any of you see a port-go-chaire?" "We never heard of such a port," said some of his auditors; "you're humbugging us." "I have been to America, the West and East Ingees, but I never heard of such a port," said another. "Why, you lubbers," said the story-teller, "if you go to France, you'll see thousands of them. It's what they drive the coaches under into their yards." I was inclined to correct the word, but I thought it better not to interrupt them. "Where did I leave off?" "Come, Bill, heave ahead and save tide; your yarn is as long as the stream cable; they'll be piping to grog presently," said one of his impatient listeners. "Well," said Bill, "to make short a long story, I left off where the boatswain cut off the head of the sea-serpent. By this time all hands were on deck; they threw a rope over the beast and secured it to the cable-bits, but not before they had got several raps over their shins, as it kept twisting about for almost an hour afterwards. Next morning, said my brother, the magistrates having heard of it, came on board to know all about it, as no one in the town had ever seen such a serpent. A man with a cocked scraper offered to buy it, but the mate wanted to stuff it and carry it to England. The captain who had come off with the magistrates said it could not remain on board, as it would bring on an infection. At last it was agreed that if four dollars were given to the ship's crew, he might have it. The money was paid to the mate, and the serpent towed on shore, and before they sailed Jack saw it in a large room, stuffed and the head spliced on, among a great many more comical-looking animals. And if any of you go there," added he, "you may see all for nothing." The boatswain's mates now piped for supper, and the party left the galley-bench.
The following evening I found another set on the bench. Their tales were rather marvellous. The captain of the waist of the starboard watch was the teller. He began by asking the others if they had ever been in the Baltic, to which they answered in the negative. "It is now," said he, "five years since I sailed in the Mary, of Newcastle, to Bremen. We had been lying there a fortnight, taking in hemp and iron, when two old, ugly women came on board in a small boat paddled by themselves. They had with them two small leather bags full of wind. They went to the chief mate, for the captain was on shore, and asked him if he would buy a fair wind, and pointed to their bags. 'How long will it last?' asked the mate. 'Two days,' said the hags; 'but if you want it for four, we will to-morrow bring you off a larger sack.' 'And what do you ask for it?' said he. 'Oh, only eight dollars,' replied they."
I must inform my reader that the greater number of the sons of the sea, although fearless of the enemy and of the weather, however stormy, are superstitious and have implicit faith in ghost-stories, mermaids, witches and sea-monsters, as well as in the flying Dutch ship off the Cape of Good Hope. This rough son of the north was a hardy sailor, but he had his share of credulity. He told them the captain was on shore, but if they would come off in the morning, as they were to sail the following afternoon, it might be settled. The weather at this time was anything but fair, which made him the readier to enter into the witches' bargain. Here I must first inform my reader that these women are exceedingly cunning, and can not only scan the mind of the person they deal with, but can also, from keen observation, calculate on the wind and weather for the next twenty-four hours, and, as what they prognosticate generally proves true, they frequently meet with ready customers. Next morning the captain came on board, and shortly afterwards was followed by the hoary fair-wind sellers. After some consultation with the mate, the captain gave four dollars for a bag of fair wind for three days from the time he was to sail.
"The wind," continued the captain of the waist, "remained foul until four o'clock next day, when it veered round and became favourable. The believing captain and mate thought they had made a good bargain. The bag was to be untied after three hours." I reflected on this narrative, and was astonished to find that people who are Englishmen, and who, generally speaking, imagine themselves the most free from superstition and the most intellectual of any nation, should be so easily deceived and cheated by a set of old women.
It was now the turn of another to spin his yarn. He began by entreating his shipmates not to disbelieve what he was going to say, for it was about mermen and mermaids. He did not see it himself, but it had been told him two years before by his uncle, who was mate of a ship that traded to the North Sea. "The ship," said he, "was the John and Thomas, named after the owner's two brothers, and bound to Stockholm for flax and iron. One day they were becalmed near the Island of Oland, and let go the anchor in twelve-fathoms water, when soon afterwards they saw, as they supposed, two men swimming towards the ship. They soon after came alongside, and made signs for a rope to be thrown to them. On their getting on deck the crew found they were mermen. One of them, who appeared to be about twenty-six years old, told the captain he had let go his anchor through his kitchen chimney, and begged him to weigh it again, as it had knocked down the kitchen-grate and spoilt his dinner. 'It has happened very unfortunately,' said he, 'for we have some friends from the coast of Jutland, who have come to attend the christening of our infant.' Whilst he was speaking four young mermaidens appeared close to the ship's side, making signs for the mermen on board to join them. The sailors wished them to come on board, and threw them ropes for that purpose; but they were too shy. The mermen requested the captain to give them some matches to light their fire, and a few candles. This being complied with, they shook hands with him and the mate, and jumping overboard, rejoined the females, swam round the ship three times, singing some kind of song, and disappeared. The wind becoming favourable, the crew got the anchor up, on which, when catheaded, they found part of the chimney and the fire-tongs astride on one of the flukes!"
When this improbable tale was told, I asked them if they believed it to be true. "Yes," said two of them, "we do, because we have had shipmates who lived with some of the mermaidens for several years and had children; but as for their having combs and glasses, that's all nonsense. One of the children was sent to London to be educated, but not liking so many double-tailed monsters, as he called the men, nor their manner of living, he crept down to the Thames, and in a few hours rejoined his parents."
During the time we were at anchor at this place I was ordered, with four seamen and two marines, to take the command of a block-house on the Presqu' Isle to watch the movements of the enemy, whose advanced post was about four miles on the other side the isthmus, as well as to make signals to the commodore whenever strange ships appeared near the land. I remained a month, shooting guanas and gulls and other birds, catching groupers, snappers and sometimes rock-fish, living principally on salt junk, midshipman's coffee (burnt biscuit ground to a powder), picking calelu (a kind of wild spinach), when we could find it, snuffing up a large portion of pure sea-breeze, and sleeping like the sheet anchor. Oh, reader, I blush to inform you that I was envied by the greater part of the mids of the squadron who loved doing nothing. The life I now led was too independent to last much longer; my month expired, when I gave up my Robinson Crusoe government to a master's mate belonging to a ship which had come in to refit. We at length up-anchored, as the mids declared if we remained longer the captain feared we should ground on the beef-bones we threw overboard daily! Three days after sailing we captured a Spanish schooner from Cuba, bound to Port-au-Paix, with nine French washerwomen on board with a quantity of clothes. We presumed, with some reason, these copper-faced damsels—for they were all mulattos, and some of them handsome—had taken French leave of their customers, or possibly they were going on a voyage of discovery to find out whether the water of St. Domingo was softer for washing linen than that of Cuba. We did not ask them many questions on the subject, and as the vessel was nearly new, and about seventy tons, we put a mid and five men on board her and sent the ladies for a change of air to Jamaica.
We had been cruising between Cuba and Cape Francois a fortnight, when we saw a roguish-looking black schooner about nine miles to the westward of the cape, close to a small inlet. We tacked and stood to sea, to make her imagine we had not discovered her. At dusk we stood in again, and at ten we armed the barge and large cutter. The fifth lieutenant, who was a great promoter of radical moisture (i.e., grog), was in the barge. I had, with another mid, the command of the cutter. We muffled our oars and pulled quietly in shore. About midnight we found the vessel near the inlet, where she had anchored. We then gave way for our quarter. She soon discovered us, and hailed in French. Not receiving an answer, she fired a volley of musketry at us. The strokesman of my boat fell shot in the brain, and two others were seriously wounded in the arm and leg. We had three marines, two additional seamen and my volunteer messmate in our boat. This last had smuggled himself in without the first lieutenant's leave. We cheered and stretched out. The killed and wounded were placed in the bottom of the boat, and the extra men took their oars. The barge was nearly alongside of her, and we boarded at the same time, she on the starboard quarter and we on the larboard side. The marines kept up a constant discharge of their muskets, and fired with much effect on the foremost of the enemy. We soon gained her deck, and found about twenty-five of her crew ready to oppose us abaft her mainmast. The man who appeared to be the captain waved his cutlass and encouraged his men to attack us; at the same time he sprang forward, and about twelve followed him, when the conflict became general. I was knocked down on my knees. I fired one of my pistols, which took effect in my opponent's left leg, and before he could raise his arm to cut me down with a tomahawk, the coxswain of my boat, who had kept close to me, shot him in the head, and he fell partly on me. I soon recovered and regained my legs. I had received a severe contusion on the left shoulder. The lieutenant had shot the captain, and the marines had knocked down nine men. The rest now called for quarter and threw down their arms. She proved to be the French privateer Salamandre, of twelve long brass six-pounders and forty-eight men. She had also on board nine English seamen, the crew of a Liverpool brig, who informed us they had been captured in the Turk's Island passage three days before. The privateer's loss was eleven killed and seven severely wounded, ours three men killed and five wounded. On our drawing off from the shore, a small battery opened its fire on us and wounded the boat-keeper of the barge. We discharged the guns of the privateer at it, and as it did not annoy us a second time, we supposed our shot had rather alarmed their faculties and probably subdued their courage. By 3 A.M. we rejoined the ship. Our mates gave us three hearty cheers, which we returned. We soon got the wounded of our men on deck and the prisoners out. I was ordered to go as prize-master, taking fourteen men with me, and carry her to Cape St. Nicholas mole, where I arrived the same evening. I found myself stiff for some days afterwards and my shoulder painful, but in a short time I was quite myself again. After remaining idle and half-dead with ennui for three weeks, the ship arrived, bringing in with her an American brig laden with flour. False papers were found on board her, and she was shortly afterwards condemned as a lawful prize. The captain of her, who was a regular-built Bostonian, declared we were nothing "but a parcel of British sarpents and robbers, and it was a tarnation shame that the United States suffered it. But," said he, "I calculate that in two years we shall have some three-deckers, and then I have a notion you will not dare to stop American vessels without being called to account for it."
The yellow fever had now taken its departure, but in consequence of the scanty supply of fresh provisions and vegetables, it was succeeded by a malignant scurvy, and one hundred and forty of the seamen were obliged to keep their beds. Their legs, hands, feet and gums became almost black, and swollen to twice their natural size. Some we sent to the hospital, which was miserably fitted up, for it was only a temporary one, and several died on being removed. As the cases were increasing, the commodore ordered us to Donna Maria Bay, near the west end of St. Domingo, where the natives were friendly disposed towards us. The day after we arrived there, having taken on board all our sick that could be removed from the hospital with safety. Immediately, on anchoring, by the advice of the surgeon, we sent a party on shore with spades to dig holes in the softest soil they could find for the purpose of putting the worst scurvy subjects into them. The officer on shore made the concerted signal that the pits were dug. Twenty men, who looked like bloated monsters, were removed on shore, and buried in them up to their chins. Some of the boys were sent with the sufferers to keep flies and insects from their faces. It was ridiculous enough to see twenty men's heads stuck out of the ground. The patients were kept in fresh earth for two hours, and then put into their hammocks under a large tent. On the fourth day they were so much benefited by that treatment and living on oranges, shaddocks, and other anti-scorbutic fruits, that they were able to go on board again. At this place I rambled with some of my messmates through orange and lime groves of some leagues in extent, as well as through several cocoa plantations. We were at liberty to take as much fruit as we chose, and sent off several boats filled with oranges and limes, as well as a vast quantity of yams, sweet potatoes, cocoanuts and cocoas, besides fresh calelu (wild spinach), which is considered a fine anti-scorbutic. We found some arrowroot, which was also of great service. In one of our rambles we met a party on mules going to the town of Donna Maria, which was not far distant. It consisted of two young mustiphena-coloured men, an elderly mulatto woman, with an infant on her lap, and a black manservant. They saluted us in passing, when we remarked that the men had delicate European features, and that the infant was white.
A short time afterwards we stumbled on a burying-ground, and seated on one of the graves we found the two persons we had taken for men, the eldest of whom was suckling the infant. They proved to be the wife of the Governor of Donna Maria, who was a native of France, and her sister. The old woman was the nurse, and the black man their factotum. They spoke French, which some of our party understood, and we spent a very agreeable half-hour in their company. After having given us an invitation to their house, they bade us adieu and proceeded on their journey. I afterwards found it was a common custom for the better class of females in this island to ride and dress like men when they made any distant journey, as the greater part of the island is too mountainous to admit of travelling in carriages.
One of the lieutenants, who was fond of voyages of discovery, had permission to take one of the cutters to survey a deep inlet about three miles from where we anchored. He asked me if I should like to be one of the party. I thankfully said yes. "Well," said he, "to-morrow morning at daylight I intend going round the Cape Donna Maria (which has the shape of the mysterious helmet of Otranto), and exploring a river which runs into a large lagoon, and we shall be away most likely two days. I shall find prog, but don't forget your great coat and drawing apparatus."
At four o'clock the following morning we left the ship, and after pulling for two hours we entered the river, which was narrow and enclosed between two thickly-wooded hills. The noise of our oars startled a vast number of large and small birds, which made a horrible screaming. I fired at one of the large ones and broke its wing; it fell ahead of the boat, and we picked it up. It was twice the size of a gull, a dark brown colour on the back, a dirty white underneath, long, reddish legs, and rather a long, pointed bill; it was shaped like a heron. We had been rowing about an hour when we entered the lagoon, which was about a mile long and three-quarters of a mile wide. The country to some extent was low, and covered with mangrove trees, whose branches take root when they touch the ground, and one tree forms a number of irregular arches. Those nearest the water are covered with a profusion of small oysters, which are taken by the natives and pickled with spice and vinegar, and sold in small jars. They are considered good eating. We observed several large ants' nests formed on the branches of these trees; they were about the size of a bushel measure. The insect is half an inch in length; its bite is severe, but not very venomous. We could only make good our landing at one spot, covered with long, coarse grass, which the natives twist into ropes for the rigging of their canoes, and the finest of it they clean, stain with different colours, and fabricate into hammocks, which are made like a net with large meshes.
I had strolled from the boat with one of the men, when he called out, "There goes a large water-snake! Take care, sir!" It came close to me, when I made a stroke at it with my hanger. I struck it on the body, but not sufficiently, for before I had time to give it another blow, it had wound into a kind of jungle, and I lost sight of it. It was about five feet long, speckled yellow and black; its tongue, which it kept in continual motion, was forked; its eyes were small, and not projecting. Finding myself in company with gentry of this description, I retraced my steps to the boat, where I found the whole party with their hands and mouths in full activity. I soon was as well employed as themselves. The lieutenant told me whilst we were at dinner that one of the men had found some alligators' eggs; two of them were broken and the young ones alive. They were about half-a-foot long, of a dirty brown. The eggs were oblong, and larger than a swan's, of a brownish-white colour.
The evening was now drawing on, when we pulled the boat to the middle of the lagoon and let go the grapnel for the night. One of the boat's crew, who sung in the style of Incledon, entertained us with several sea songs until we fell asleep, which was not, however, very refreshing, in consequence of the multitudes of mosquitoes. I positively believe some of us lost two ounces of our best blood. About three o'clock in the morning, the man who had the watch pulled me by the arm and pointed to something dark floating near the boat. I awoke the lieutenant, who, after yawning and rubbing his eyes, for he had taken an extra strong north-wester the evening before to make himself sleep sound, took up his fowling-piece; but he might as well have fired at the best bower anchor—the swan-shot with which it was loaded glanced from the object at an angle of twenty-five degrees. We weighed the grapnel, and were soon in pursuit, when we saw two other black-looking objects. We steadily gave chase to the first, the lieutenant, myself and the coxswain firing at and frequently striking it, but without any visible effect. At length it landed, when we found it was an alligator about fifteen feet long. It soon ploughed up the mud in which it buried itself; our musket-balls were unavailing. The other two had also landed. On turning the boat round, we saw another, and as he was with his head towards us, we had a better chance. We stretched out, and when within a few yards of him, let fly our muskets at his head. One of the balls struck him in the left eye, which stunned him, and he lay insensible on the water until we reached him. We threw a rope round him and towed him astern, after having given him another ball in the throat, which despatched him. He was a young one, nine feet four inches long. After rowing round the lake in search of fresh adventures, and finding none, we amused ourselves by cutting off several branches of the mangrove trees strung with oysters, and being tired of rowing where there was so little novelty, we turned the boat's nose towards the river, on reaching which we again startled numerous flocks of screaming birds, five of which we shot; but as they were only noddies and boobies, we did not take the trouble to pick them up. At 4 P.M. we joined the ship, with our prizes, the alligators, their eggs, the heron, and the oysters. The doctor, who was something of a naturalist, asked for the alligator we had shot, one of the young ones, and the bird, and shortly afterwards he had them stuffed. We had now but five slight scurvy cases, and had only buried three seamen and one marine, who died two days after our anchoring. The boats were employed nearly two days in bringing up oranges, limes and yams, besides other fruit.
CRUISING OFF PORTO RICO.
A ball on board—Fishing with a seine—Ordered to cruise off Porto Rico—News of the battle of Camperdown—The boasts of Napoleon—Views on matrimony—A sailor's courtship—Futile boat attack on a Spanish war vessel at St. Domingo—Author loses hearing of his left ear from effect of a wound.
The officers gave a dance to the inhabitants of the town of Donna Maria, which was attended by the Governor, who was a well-bred, gentlemanly old Frenchman, his wife and sister-in-law (whom I had seen dressed as men when we first arrived). The quarter-deck was filled with mustiphenas, mustees, mulattos, Sambos, and delicate, flat-nosed, large-mouthed and thick-lipped black ladies. Had Vestris been present, she might have taken some new hints in dancing. The waltzing was kept up with so much spirit that four couples were hurled to the deck one over the other, and it was truly laughable to see the melange of blacks and whites struggling to be the first on their legs. At one o'clock in the morning they took their departure, highly pleased with their entertainment.
The following day I was sent with another midshipman with two boats to haul the seine in a bay about a mile to the westward. On the first haul we caught about four bucketsful of rays, parrot-fish, snappers, groupers, red and white mullet, John-dories, some crabs and two electric eels. One of the boat's crew hooked one of the latter by the gills with the boat-hook, when his arm was immediately paralysed, and he let it fall, calling out that someone had struck him. The man near him laid hold of the fish again as it was making for the shore, and the shock he received threw him on his knees. I ran up to him, for he appeared in great pain. However, he soon recovered, and before the ill-fated eel could reach its element, he caught up a large stone and made it dearly atone for the pain it had inflicted. We made another haul, but were not so successful, as we only caught some ray, crabs, and an alligator three feet long, which had torn the net. We stunned him by a blow with one of the boat's stretchers, threw him into the boat, and after taking in the net, repaired to the ship.
In one of my excursions at this place I found a large manchineel tree. The fruit is nearly the size of a pippin, of a light yellow colour blushed with red; it looked very tempting. This tree expands its deadly influence and poisons the atmosphere to some distance. We in consequence gave it a wide berth. I also found a number of sponges, and some beautiful shells and sea-eggs. We had been enjoying ourselves for nearly three weeks at this agreeable place, when a sloop of war arrived with orders from the commodore to join him off the east end of Porto Rico, as he had information that a French squadron had been seen by an American schooner off the Caicos Islands steering for St. Domingo, which report in the sequel proved a tarnation Yankee lie. When near the Platform we experienced a heavy squall, which carried away the foretop-mast and jib-boom, and, most singular to relate, although some miles from the shore after the squall had passed, we found some scores of very small crabs on the decks. I leave this phenomenon to longer heads than mine—although mine is not the shortest—to explain. We had seen two waterspouts in the morning between us and the land. It might possibly have happened that the suction which forms them drew up these unfortunate crabs and crabesses, and discharged them with unrelenting fury, through the medium of a dark, lowering cloud upon our decks. They being too small to eat, were given to the Muscovy ducks, who found them a great treat, and soon made mincemeat of them. We soon got up another top-mast and jib-boom out, and the following morning signalled the ships lying in the mole.
Five days after we joined the squadron near the Mona passage, when the commodore acquainted the captain that the intelligence he had received respecting the French squadron was all an American humbug. The next morning we spoke three ships bound to Jamaica, from whom we took seven good seamen, and procured a newspaper, which informed us of the gallant action off Camperdown, and that Bonaparte had frightened men, women and children by his threatening to invade England, take up his residence in Portland Place, turn the royal palaces into stables, make a riding-school of St. Paul's and a dancing academy of Westminster Abbey! The cockpitonians said he might whisper that to the marines, for the sailors would not believe him. Here, reader, I beg you will pause and reflect that you must die; and may your departure be like that of our worthy captain of marines, who died as he lived, in charity with all his frail fellow men. His loss was much regretted by nearly all on board. His messmates declared they could have spared another man, looking hard at the purser whilst they uttered it; but "Nip-cheese" would not take the hint, and lived to return to England, where he took unto himself a better half, and I hope he is happy, for who is not so when they take a fair lady for better—I dislike adding anything further, so, reader, finish it yourself. I hope to get spliced myself one of these fine days, and I sincerely trust it will be a long splice. But we must keep a good look-out that in veering the cable does not part in the hawse, for if it unfortunately does, ah, me! the separation, most likely will be a permanent one.
Whilst I am on the tender subject of connubial felicity, I will relate a short dialogue which passed between two of my messmates. The eldest was a Benedict, the other about twenty, who wished to be initiated, as he thought he had a kind of side-wind regard for the innkeeper's sister at Port Royal. "Why," said the first, "I met my wife at a hop in the country among a parcel of grass-combers. I asked her to dance, which she at first refused, giving for a reason that, as I was a sailor, I could not know how to lead down the middle and cast off at top. 'If that's all,' said I, 'my dear, I know how to do that as well as anybody in the room.' I was now pushed aside by a lubberly, haymaking chap, who led her out, but who as much knew how to dance as the captain's cow. After they all sat down, I asked the catgut scraper if he could play the fisher's hornpipe. He said yes. I told him to play away, and I would dance it. After veering and hauling on his instrument for a short time, he brought it out. I then struck out, with my hat on one side, my arms a-kimbo, and a short stick under one of them. The bumpkins all stared, and Nancy began to awake and find out that a sailor knew how to cut a caper. After I had finished, I ran up to her to pick up her handkerchief, which I thought she had dropped, but found it was only the tail of her gown. She smiled and gave me her hand. I thought this a good beginning, and was determined to follow it up. I observed her plough-tail admirer did not half like seeing me on such a good footing with her. I had not forgotten his push, and if he had interfered I should have knocked him down, for I began to feel that I was already over head and heels in love. About midnight all the clodhoppers took their departure. As the dance, or merry-making as they called it, was given at her father's house, I remained as long as I could, and as the old governor was fond of sea songs and tough yarns, I served them out freely until the clock struck 2 A.M., when, after taking a good swig out of a large tankard of strong ale, which had frequently been replenished, I took Nancy's hand and kissed it, and wished her good-night. The father, who was a hearty old farmer, asked me to call in again before I sailed, for at this time I was master's mate of the Savage sloop of war. She was just commissioned at Chatham, and as we did not expect to sail for three weeks, I had plenty of time to make love." "But did you think it prudent to marry, knowing that you could scarcely support yourself, much less a wife?" demanded the younger. "That's all true," replied he; "but don't put me in mind of my misfortunes. I was in love, you know, and when a man is in love, why, he's two-thirds a woman. I only thought of the present—the future I sent packing to the devil." "Well," asked the other, "how long were you backing and filling?" "About a fortnight," replied he. "Her mother said it was too short a time, and the marriage had better be put off until I returned from a cruise. 'That will never do,' replied I; 'I may be popped off the hooks. There is nothing like the present moment, is there?' said I, appealing to Nancy and her father. 'Why,' said she, 'dear mother, I think William'—for that, you know, is my Christian name—'is right; is he not, father?' 'Do as you like, girl,' said he. 'I only wish to see you happy.' It was now settled that in two days we were to be spliced. All the clodhoppers and grass-combers I had met before, who were mostly her relations, were asked to the wedding, and among the rest her clownish admirer, who, I understood, was her cousin. He was rather sulky at first, but seeing everyone around him in good humour, he came up to me and offered his hand, which I took and shook heartily. The farmhouse not being more than three miles from Chatham, we hired two coaches from that place, and with the addition of two chay-carts belonging to the farmers, we made a numerous (for there were twenty-six of us), if not a respectable, appearance. After pairing off and pairing in, we weighed and started with a pleasant breeze. The church soon hove in sight, and the bells struck up merrily. We hove to, all standing before the altar. The parson read the articles of marriage, and I was hooked. Nancy piped her eye, and I looked nohow. We made a man-of-war's cruise there and back again, and took in our moorings at the farm, where I had leave to remain four days. I had asked two of my messmates to the wedding, who were obliged to be off next morning by daylight. The same day my good old father-in-law took me aside and told me he would allow Nancy forty pounds a year as long as he lived and did well, and that she might remain with her mother, who did not like parting with her, as she was their only child, as long as I liked. I thanked the old governor most sincerely, and informed him that the Secretary of the Admiralty was a relation of my mother's, a ninety-ninth cousin far removed—but that's nothing—and that I was certain of a lieutenant's commission in two years, when my time would be served. Here I counted my chickens before they were hatched, for I have now served three years over my time, and here I am, with not much a day, except the good farmer's forty pounds, to keep myself, my wife and a child. You see," said he, "how I am obliged to keep close hauled, and can't afford to sport my figure on shore as some of you do. No," added he, "don't be after splicing yourself until you have a commission, and if you do then, you will have as much business with a wife as a cow has with a side pocket, and be, as a noble First Lord of the Admiralty used civilly to tell married lieutenants, not worth a d——n."
My messmate's narrative brought me up with a round turn, and I felt my heart working like the tiller-ropes in a gale of wind. "Well," said I, after a pause, "how did you back out when you parted with your wife?" "You may well say 'back out,'" said he. "I was taken slap aback—it came over me like a clap of thunder. I was half inclined to play the shy cock and desert, and had it not been for the advice of the good old man, I should have been mad enough to have destroyed my prospects in the Service for ever. Now," said he, "how do you feel?" "A little qualmish," said I, "and I'll take a good stiff glass of grog to wash it down. But you have not finished. How did she behave when you were ordered to join your ship?" "Nobly," said he; "just as I thought she would. After a good fit of crying, she threw herself on her mother's shoulder, and after fondly embracing, me, 'Go,' said she. 'William, may that God who has a particular providence over our sailors always be with you! If your duty will not prevent you, come again to-morrow, and get leave to remain until the ship sails.'
"I joined the sloop, and the first lieutenant and my messmates told me I looked more like a person who had been doing something he was ashamed of than a happy Benedict.
"When I got below, my mates informed me the sloop was to fit foreign and going to the West Indies. My mind was like a coal-barge in a waterspout when I heard this, and I was determined to cut and run; but when I reflected next morning on the probability of my gaining my commission shortly after our arrival, as I should go out on Admiralty promotion, I clapped a stopper on my determination, and held on. We were to sail in two days, and I contrived to get leave to go every evening to the farm, and return by 8 o'clock next morning. I told my wife our destination, and the probability of my promotion. 'Never mind me, William,' said she, with her sweet voice; 'go where duty calls you. When in that path you cannot be wrong. The hope of your promotion cheers me. Let us do all we can to merit the blessings of a gracious Creator, and the good-fellowship of our fellow-creatures, and we shall not be very unhappy, although far distant from each other.' The last morning I spent with my wife was a mixture of cheerfulness and grief. At last I tore myself away. I have now given you the whole history, from the main-royal truck down to the kelson."
"Come," said I, "let's have another glass of grog, and I'll drink your wife's good health and speedy promotion to yourself." "That's a good fellow," said he, giving me his hand, and brushing away a tear. "Should you ever be spliced, which I hope for your own sake will not be for some years, may you anchor alongside just such another saucy frigate as mine." I am truly happy to inform my reader that my good-hearted messmate was shortly afterwards promoted into a frigate going to England.
After cruising with the squadron for some days, we had permission to go in search of adventures, and next morning, as we were running down along the coast of Porto Rico, we discovered five sail of vessels in a small bay. The water not being sufficiently deep to admit the ship, we manned and armed three boats and sent them in. I had the six-oared cutter, with nine men; we were soon alongside of them. They proved Spanish vessels, four small schooners and a sloop laden with fruit, principally oranges and shaddocks, and a quantity of yams and plantains. We sent them all down to Jamaica—why, you must ask the captain, as by the time they reached their destination almost the whole of the fruit was rotten, and the vessels did not pay the expenses of their condemnation. Shortly after this affair, two of the boats, with a lieutenant, a master's mate, and myself, were sent in shore near Cape Francois, St. Domingo, on a cruise of speculation. No object being in sight when we left the ship, about 10 P.M. we came suddenly on three dark-looking schooners, who on seeing us gave us a warm reception. The night, fortunately for us, was very dark, and we were nearly alongside of them without our perceiving them, as they were anchored so near the land. I was mid of the lieutenant's boat, and he determined on boarding the largest of them. I knew, or rather I could foresee, the result; but as he had taken in the course of the last two hours three north-westers, and was half-seas over, my advice availed little. The other boat was at some distance from us. On we went, when three of our men were seriously wounded and I received a musket-ball through the left side of my hat, which slightly wounded my ear, taking part of the hair, and I felt a distressing whirling noise inside my head, and was so giddy I was obliged to sit down, not before, however, I had shot a man in the main-channels who I thought had fired the shot at me. We had kept up a brisk firing, and must have killed several of their men, when they got long spars with a spike at the end over the side, and endeavoured to drive them through the bottom of our boat. The lieutenant, who was now more himself, found boarding her impracticable, as she had her boarding netting up, her decks filled with men, and nine ports in her side. We reluctantly pulled off. We had unfortunately taken the bull by the horns—that is, pulled for her broadside. The lieutenant and myself, for I recovered sufficiently to load my musket, kept firing at her decks as we retired. She paid us the same compliment, and slightly wounded another of the boat's crew. Had the night not been so cloudy, and without a moon, we should have paid dearly for our temerity. We rowed in a straight line for her stern. The two other vessels were well armed, and they saluted us with a few shot as we pulled off, which, however, went far over us. We soon after joined the other boat, which had lost sight of us when we attempted boarding the enemy's vessel. We learnt a few days afterwards, from a New Providence privateer, that they were three guardacostas, as the captain of her called them—in other words, Spanish government vessels, commanded by lieutenants, well armed, manned and equipped. We joined the ship next morning, and gave a Flemish account of our cruise. One of the wounded men, through loss of blood, died soon after coming on board. The other three having received flesh wounds, soon returned to their duty. The surgeon examined my ear, and found the tympanum ruptured. It destroyed my hearing on that side for ever, and for years after I was distressed with a loud roaring noise on the left side of my head. A fortnight later we fell in with a Spanish eighty-gun ship, a large frigate and a heavy-armed store ship. We were soon alongside the former, having beat to quarters previously. We asked her where she came from. Her answer was, "From sea." We then asked her where she was bound to. Her answer was, "To sea." Our skipper then jumped upon one of the quarter-deck carronades, with his eyes glistening like a Cornish diamond. The muzzles of our guns were at this time almost touching her side. One of our crew spoke Spanish. He was desired to hail her, and say that if she did not answer the questions which had been put she should be fired into. "From Cadiz" was the prompt answer, and "Bound to the Havannah." "You might have answered that before," said the skipper; "if I had given you a good dressing, you richly deserved it." "I do not understand what you say," was the reply. "You be d——d," said our man of war, and we turned off on our heel. The same evening a court of inquiry was held by the mids, who were unanimous in declaring that the captain of the line of battle ship ought to be superseded and made swab-wringer, and that their own captain had acted with that spirit which became a British commander of a man-of-war, and that he deserved to have his health drunk in a bumper of grog, which was accordingly done. Here the court broke up, hoping the mate of the hold would bring with him, after serving the grog, an extra pint of rum to make up the deficiency. The captain, having heard of our proceedings, sent his steward to us with a bottle of the true sort as a proof of his satisfaction.
MUTINY ON H.M.S. HERMIONE.
Tea with the boatswain's wife—News of the mutiny at the Nore causes trouble among the sailors—Sent to cruise in consequence—A white squall and waterspout—Capture of a Spanish cruiser—Return to Port Royal—H.M.S. Hermione seized by mutineers and carried to Porto Bello—Recaptured by Captain Hamilton—An alarm caused by fireflies.
On the evening of the next day the boatswain's wife invited me to take tea. I could not refuse so kind an offer, and at the vulgar hour of six, behold us sipping our Bohea out of porringers, with good Jamaica stuff in it in lieu of milk. "Do you like it?" said the boatswain to me. "Have you enough rum in it? Take another dash." "No, thank you," said I; "no more splicing, or I shall get hazy, and not be able to keep the first watch." "That rum," said he, "is old pineapple, and like mother's milk, and will not hurt a child. Now," said he, "we are talking of rum, I'll tell you an odd story that happened to me in the last ship I belonged to. I had a capital case of the right sort given to me by a brother Pipes. One evening I had asked some of the upper class dockyard maties, for we were lying at Antigua, to take a glass of grog. When I went to the case, I found two of the bottles at low-water mark, and another a marine. 'Ho! ho!' said I to myself; 'this is the way you make a southerly wind in my case-bottles, and turn to windward in my cabin when I am carrying on the war on the forecastle, is it? I'll cross your hawse and cut your cable the next time, as sure as my name is Tricing.' After the last dog-watch, I threw myself into my cot all standing, with my rattan alongside of me. About three bells of the first watch, I heard someone go very cunningly, as he thought, into my cabin. I immediately sprung out and seized a man in the act of kissing one of my dear little ones, for it was a case with nine quart bottles. 'Who are you?' said I. 'Nobody,' replied he. 'You are the fellow I have been cruising after since I entered the service five-and-twenty years ago, and now I have got you, by G——d! I'll sheet you home most handsomely for all past favours.' I then gave it to him thick and thin. 'Now, my lad,' said I, 'chalk this down in your log, that when you have the thievish inclination to take what does not belong to you, remember my cane, if you do not your God.' This rum gentleman belonged to the after-guard, and I did not forget him."
After cruising round Porto Rico and Hispaniola for two months, we bore up for the mole, where we found two sail of the line, a sixty-four and two sloops of war. In the course of our cruise we had sent in an American brig and a schooner laden with flour. The latter was condemned, half-barrels of gunpowder being found in the under flour casks. The former was let go, although we thought she ought to have been condemned, as her register was defective. We understood that the judge's wife, of the Vice-Admiralty Court, who was notorious for accepting presents, had received a purse from some of the masters of the American vessels detained by the cruisers to let them escape trial. How true this may be must be left to time and the curious to decide.
On overhauling the fore-shrouds and mainstay, we found them too much worn to be trustworthy. As we could not be refitted with lower rigging from the naval stores at this place, the senior officer gave us an order to proceed to Jamaica. We took leave of all the "Ballaker ladies," as the mids chose to call them. Know, reader, that the fish called by that name is a most destructive and voracious one, and as I presume they thought the ladies were of that character, some of them had too much reason to call them so. We reached Port Royal on the afternoon of the following day, but remarked we were not received with that welcome as before; no boats filled with yellow-legged females came off with banjos. Why? Because we brought in no prize with us. And when we went on shore some of these delicate dames exclaimed when we accosted them: "Eh, massa, you hab know me before? I no recollect you. What ship you belong to?" And we were seldom asked to the dignity balls. We were all now in tolerable health, when the packet from England arrived, bringing letters for the squadron, one of which I received, acquainting me that my sister's husband was appointed to command the A. frigate fitting for the Mediterranean, and that my youngest brother, in the India marine, had died in Bengal. He was a fine, spirited youth, nineteen years of age; we had not met since we were at school. Some of our seamen also received letters by the same opportunity, acquainting them with the mutiny at the Nore, and a few days afterwards a disaffected spirit broke out in the squadron, which we had some trouble in subduing. However, by reasoning with the petty officers and the best seamen, it terminated without open mutiny or bloodshed, although the crews of some of the ships had been mistaken enough to have delegates for their proceedings. To finally root out the trouble the admiral ordered the five line of battle ships fitting out at Port Royal to complete their stores and sail without delay for the Gulf of Mexico. Two days afterwards we stood out to sea. The squadron consisted of a ship of ninety-eight guns, four seventy-fours, and a frigate. The commander-in-chief had his flag on board the former. After touching at the Grand Caymans for turtle, we reached the Bay of Mexico, where, and off the Havannah, we cruised for some weeks without taking anything. One night, having the middle watch and looking over the lee gangway, I observed some black spots on the water. The moon, which was in her third quarter, was sometimes hidden by the dark scud, for it was blowing fresh, and when she shone in full splendour the spots appeared stationary. I lost no time in pointing this out to the lieutenant of the watch, who agreed with me that they must be the negro heads of some coral reef. We were with the squadron running directly on them. We immediately fired a gun and hauled our wind, and then fired a second to warn the ships astern of us of the danger. When we hauled off we could not clear them, and it was more than an hour before we got an offing. They were the "Double-headed shot" keys. Our signal was made for the captain and master to repair on board the admiral. The latter, we understood, was well hauled over the coals, and he came on board looking like a boy who had been whipped. He thought it was "moral impossible" (for that was always his favourite way of speaking when he thought he had anything of importance to relate) that the admiral should find fault with him as a navigator; he could not account for counter currents and undertows, and he knew how to navigate a ship as well as any man in the fleet.
The inhabitants of the cockpit, as usual, held a court of inquiry on his conduct, when they declared on summing up what they had remarked of his character, that he was too conceited to be clever, that he was a very indifferent navigator, and they wondered who the devil gave him his warrant as master, for they would not trust him to navigate a barge in the New River. After cruising till the mids declared they were ennuied of seeing the Havannah, the dry Tortugas, Cape Antonio, and the low land near Mississippi so often, and that they had worn their chemises twice over and had only soiled sheets for table-cloths; that they were obliged to get one of the marines to pipe-clay their stockings and the collar of their shirts when they were asked to dine in the cabin; that it was a horrible, hard case to eat biscuits filled with bargemen and purser's lice; that the water was full of jenny jumps—all these miseries, concluded they, ought to be made known to the admiral, and that if he did not order the squadron in again he ought to be tried by a court of mids and reduced to the humble rank of a cockpitsman and feed off bargemen for a month.
We had now been out for two months when we bore up for the Gulf of Florida. In making the Havannah for a departure, we fell in with four Spanish brigs laden with quicksilver, which we captured. When near Cape Florida we experienced a white squall which carried away the foretop-gallant mast and split the foresail. The ninety-eight gun-ship, which led the squadron, heeled so much over before she could shorten sail that she appeared to be turning the turtle. At last her foreyard went in the slings, and her main-topsail in ribbons, and she righted.
When off New Providence the wind was light and the clouds heavy and low, and in less than half an hour seven waterspouts had formed, two not far from us on our weather beam, the largest of which was nearing us rather fast. We got two of the main-deck guns ready, and waited until we could see its suction. The cloud which drew up and contained the water was in the shape of a reversed cone with a long point at the bottom of it: this was something like a corkscrew. We now thought it high time to fire, when down it came, discharging a sheet of water which must have contained many tons. The shock it gave the water drove it in breakers to some distance, and we partook of the motion, as we rolled for at least ten minutes before the swell subsided. The other waterspout passed some distance astern. In this gulf some years ago a dreadful catastrophe occurred to a West Indiaman homeward bound, caused by one of the sucking clouds or waterspouts. Several had formed very near her, one of them so near that the master of her was afraid to fire as it might endanger the vessel. It appeared to be passing when a flaw of wind came, and being heavily surcharged with water, broke it. Fortunately the hatches were on, and only the master, mate and four men on deck. The immense body of water it contained fell with such violence that it carried away all her masts, boats, spars and hen-coops, with all the live stock, as well as washing the master and three of the men overboard. The mate and the other man were saved by jumping into the caboose which held on, although they were half-dead with fright and half-drowned with water. After we had cleared the islands forming the Bahama group, we fell in with a low, rakish-looking schooner, which gave us a chase of seven hours, although our shot went over her. At length two of her men were killed, and the spyglass knocked out of the skipper's hand, when he, finding it was useless holding out any longer, hove to. She proved a Spanish privateer of six guns and forty men, with a number of sheep on board, but the mids declared they were more like purser's lanterns. When killed, one of them weighed only fifteen pounds. Nothing further occurred during the remainder of our passage to Jamaica, where we anchored two days after with our prizes. Before the sails were furled, half the inhabitants of Port Royal were round the ships making a most hideous noise with their squalling and banjos. Our five prizes made their eyes shine like a dollar in a bucket of water, and their mouths water like a sick monkey's eyes with a violent influenza. The last time we had anchored we returned prizeless, and no boat came off but an old washerwoman's; we now paid them off in their own coin, and desired all the canoes with the exception of two to paddle to some other ship, as we should not admit them on board. After lingering for about half an hour in the hope that we should change our minds, they paddled away looking blacker than their skins. Soon after our arrival we heard that the Hermione frigate had been taken and carried into Porto Bello on the Spanish Main by her crew, after having killed their captain and all the officers. This dreadful news gave me real concern, as one of my late messmates was third lieutenant of her. Captain Hamilton, of the Surprise of twenty-eight guns, offered to bring her out from where her rebellious crew had anchored her, and a few days after he sailed for that purpose. We were refitting very leisurely, and had been in harbour nearly five weeks, when one afternoon we saw the Surprise towing in the Hermione. Captain Hamilton had kept his word to the letter. He was three days before the port where she lay before he attempted his purpose. She was at anchor very close in shore, protected by a heavy half-moon and triangular battery. On the evening of the third day Captain Hamilton made his will, and after consulting with the officers he armed and manned the boats, and took with him the lieutenants, surgeon, a proportion of mids, and the lieutenant of marines, besides sailors and marines, making in the whole a hundred. He left the master and the remainder of the crew in charge of the ship, and ordered him when the boats shoved off to stand out by way of feint. The night was very dark. After a short pull they were alongside of the Hermione, which was evidently taken by surprise. On seeing the crew of the Surprise board them, they seized their boarding-pikes and cutlasses, and made a resistance which would have done them credit in a better cause. The conflict was severe and fatal to many of them; several jumped overboard. The struggle had continued about half an hour when her cables were cut and her topsails loosed. The remainder of the mutineers finding their numbers considerably decreased threw down their arms and surrendered, and at daylight the ship was in company with the Surprise.(4) Captain Hamilton received a severe contusion on the head, and had it not been for his surgeon, who was a powerful son of the Emerald Isle, he must have been killed. The loss on board the Hermione was considerable, that of the Surprise comparatively speaking trifling. Soon after they anchored I was sent on board the latter to learn the particulars which I have given above. The mutineers taken in the Hermione were but few, as the greater part were either on shore or had jumped overboard from her when they saw they should be overpowered. Before we sailed they were tried, and, with the exception of two who turned King's evidence, were hanged in everlasting jackets on the small islands without Port Royal harbour. I also learnt that my former messmate was lieutenant of the watch when the mutiny broke out, and one of the King's evidence mutineers gave me the following account:—