"The captain," said he, "was very severe with the men, who were all good seamen, and they were determined to either run the ship on shore and desert, or else take her by force. This had been in their minds for months before it happened. At last," said he, "on a dark night, when the young lieutenant had the watch, our minds were made up. A party went to the cabin-door, knocked down the sentry, and entered it. The captain was in his cot, and he was soon overpowered. We threw him out of the cabin-window. Another party threw the officer of the watch over the larboard quarter, but he, being young and active, caught hold of the hammock-stanchion, when one of the men cut his hands off, and he soon dropped astern. The first lieutenant had been ill and keeping his cot, but on hearing the noise, he came up the hatchway in his shirt, when one of the carpenter's crew cut him down with an axe, and he was sent overboard with several others." Captain Pigot, who commanded her, was no doubt a severe disciplinarian, but this was a most unheard-of, cruel and bloodthirsty mutiny; all the officers, both guilty—if there were any guilty—and innocent shared the same untimely fate, and surely if the crew found themselves oppressed and ill-used, they ought to have represented their complaints to the senior officer or the admiral, and they, in justice, would have been listened to; at least I hope so. I am sorry to state here that I have seen men sometimes flogged for trifles where a minor punishment would have been more appropriate. Caprice and partiality should never govern an officer's conduct; young lieutenants are too prone to make complaints to their captain without reflecting on the character of the offender. A thorough-bred seaman is very seldom in fault, and should he unfortunately trespass a little on the discipline of the ship, his offence should be visited as lightly as possible. Well-timed admonition will make a surer impression than half-a-dozen cats. I speak from experience. Before we sailed I had occasion to purchase some stockings, as I found on inquiry that my dingy-faced washerwoman had supplied her "lubing bruder" with several pair belonging to me, to dance with her at a banjo hop, and took care I should not have them until the day before we sailed, which was Saturday. On examining them I found they were so worn into large holes that I could not put them on. Having obtained permission to go on shore, I repaired to the magazine. All shops in the West Indies are called magazines or stores, although some of them are so small that you are not able to turn round without hurting your elbows. The said shop, magazine or store was kept by a worthy, said to be honest, Israelite. I acquainted him with my wants. "I can't sell you nothing to-day," he said; "it is my Sabbath; but I will tell you what I can do. I will lend you six pair, and you can pay me to-morrow." "Thank you," said I; "where's your conscience? To-morrow will be my Sabbath." "Ah," said he "I forgot that. Then you can pay me on Monday." "No," said I; "I'll pay you off with the foretop-sail." He laughed. "Here, take the stockings, and pay me when you please." This I did not do until I had given him a little note promising to pay him when we returned from our cruise.
We sailed the following morning, to cruise off the windward passages, where we fell in with two American sloops of war, cruising for an appetite. We were now tolerably well manned. Yellow fever and scurvy had taken their departure, and the only evil which remained with us was the blue devils, in consequence of the monotony so prevalent in a long cruise. We boarded several American vessels, and from one of them we procured some long, lanky turkeys. They stood so high that they appeared on stilts; they were all feather and bone, and Jonathan asked four dollars apiece for them, but we got him down to two by taking nine, which was all he had. I asked him if he had any dollar biscuits. "No," said he; "but some of the men have a pretty considerable quantity of notions." Here he called to one of them, and said, "Nathan, I guess you bought some notions at Baltimore; bring them up, and let the officer see them." Nathan was soon down the hatchway, and as quickly up again with his venture, or notions. They consisted of two pounds of infamous Yankee tea, three pounds of tobacco made into a roll, a jar of salt butter, a six-pound ham, and a bag of hickory nuts. The tea and ham I bought, and one of the boat's crew had the tobacco. The first proved too bad for even a midshipman's palate; and the ham, when the cover and sawdust were taken away, was animated by nondescripts, and only half of it eatable. I was tried by a court of inquiry by my messmates for want of discernment, and found guilty; and the Yankee who had cheated us was sentenced to be hanged, but as he was out of sight, the penalty was not carried into execution. We once more anchored at the mole, after having reconnoitred Porto Rico and part of Cuba, without any addition to our riches.
On the fifth evening of our arrival we heard the drums at the town beating to arms. We manned and armed three of our boats, and sent them on shore to inquire the cause of the alarm. The soldiers were forming to march, when one of our mids exclaimed: "Look what a vast number of large fire-flies there are in the bushes over the town!" "Are you sure those lights are fire-flies?" said a captain of one of the companies. "Yes," said the mid; "I'll convince you in a jiffy." Away he flew into the bushes, and in about five minutes returned, with his hat swarming with them, which produced a pale, bright light equal to several candles. The adventure produced much laughter at the expense of the piquet who had given the alarm, and the retreat was beat.
At particular periods of the year these little insects meet in the same manner that birds do on St. Valentine's Day. The soldiers who formed the piquet had never seen anything of the kind before, and as the sentinel at a small fort at the entrance of the harbour had been shot by the enemy a few nights previously, they were determined not to be taken by surprise.
A MOCK COURT-MARTIAL.
Transhipped to H.M.S. Queen (98)—Sailors' appreciation of books—The ship runs aground and sinks: with difficulty raised—A mock court-martial on the master—Author made lieutenant with a commission on a twenty-four-gun ship.
After completing our water and stores, we sailed, and made the circuit of St. Domingo, and a month afterwards returned to Port Royal, where we found the dignity ladies looking as blooming as black roses, and as it was understood that we were to be paid prize money, a general invitation was given to all the wardroom officers to a grand ball two days after our arrival; for be it known to you, gentle reader, that humble mids are never invited to dignity balls of the first class, which are given by the mustees and quadroons. Some of these ladies are beautifully formed, with handsome features. The second class generally consist of mulattos and blacks; these last are the most numerous; the mids at their balls are quite at home, and call for sangaree and porter-cup in first style.
At this period I had served my six years within a few months, when the captain sent for me, and told me he intended sending me on board the flag-ship on promotion. "I send you there," added he, "beforehand, that you may have the opportunity of becoming known to the commander-in-chief, that at the expiration of your time you may be more immediately under his notice and be sure of your promotion." I thanked him sincerely for his kind intention, and the following morning behold me, bed and traps, ensconced in the starboard midshipman's berth—one of the darkest holes of a cockpit I ever was yet in—on board the Queen, a ninety-eight gun ship. My messmates, ten in number, were the poorest of all poor mids. I was welcomed to the mess by the master's mate, who held in his hand a dirty, empty bottle, with a farthing candle lighted in the neck of it. "Take care," said he, "you don't break your shins over the youngsters' chests." "Thank you," said I; "but I always thought a flag-ship's cockpit too well regulated to have chests athwartships." "Why, to tell you the truth," replied he, "those d——d youngsters are so often changing ships, being here to-day and promoted to-morrow, that it is impossible to keep either chests, mess or them in anything like order. I wish they were all at the devil." "Amen," responded a person in the berth, whose nose was looming out of a hazy darkness, "for, d——n them," he continued, "they have eaten all the cheese and have had a good swig at my rum-bottle, but I'll lay a point to windward of them yet." These two hard officers were both old standards. The last who spoke was the mate of the hold, and the other of the lower deck. One had seen thirty-five and the other thirty-nine summers. The hope of a lieutenant's commission they had given up in despair, and were now looking out for a master's warrant. They were both brought up in the merchant service, and had entered the Navy at the beginning of the war as quarter-masters, and by their steady conduct were made master's mates, a situation which requires some considerable tact. The greater portion of my hopeful brother officers were from eighteen to twenty years of age. Their toast in a full bumper of grog of an evening was usually, "A bloody war and a sickly season." Some few were gentlemanly, but the majority were every-day characters—when on deck doing little, and when below doing less. Books they had very few or none; as an instance of it, we had only one, except the Hamilton Moore's and the Nautical Almanack, among ten of us, and that was "Extracts from the Poets." One of the mates above mentioned, seeing me moping with the blue devils, brought it me. "Here," said he, "is a book nobody reads. I have looked into it myself, but there is so much dry stuff in it, that it makes my grog go too fast; but," added he, "'Dry' is put under that part, so you can skip over it." Now, reader, the most beautiful passages of this neglected book were from Dryden. The mate, happy, ignorant man, imagined, in his wisdom, that where the abridgment of this poet's name was placed, it was to indicate to the reader that the poetry was dry and not worth reading. Oh, Ignorance, thou art sometimes bliss, but in the present instance it were not folly to be wise! I attempted to take the Irish half-crown out of his mind by comparing some of Dryden's passages with the others, and he was as much convinced as a cable-tier coiling and stowing-hold officer is generally capable of being, that the "Dry" poetry was the best.
The captain of this ship was from the north, I believe, strictly moral and as strict in discipline, admirably economical, and as regular in his habits as any old-clothes man in Monmouth Street. He kept all the cockpitonians on the qui vive, and as every recommendation went through him to the admiral it was but good policy for the mids to be on the alert. As all the lieutenants were constantly changing, those promoted making room for others, I shall not describe their characters, except noticing that the generality of them were good officers and gentlemen. A month after I joined we were ordered to sail, and on going out of Port Royal Roads we struck with great force on a sand bank called the Turtle Head. The master, who was as ignorant as he was conceited, had taken charge of the ship before she was out of pilot water, and in less than half an hour after the pilot left us she struck. As we were still in sight of the vessels at Port Royal, we made the signal for assistance, and soon afterwards saw a frigate and a store ship coming out towards us. The sea breeze began to set in, which drove us more on the shoal, notwithstanding that we had carried out two anchors ahead. At length she thumped so violently that we jumped at least a foot high from the deck. I could not refrain from smiling to see the captain and officers with serious, long, anxious faces, cutting capers against their will. The rudder and false keel soon parted company, and we all expected to see the masts jerked out of their steps. On sounding the well we found the ship making water rapidly. The pumps were set to work, but in vain. She soon sank in three fathoms and a half water, and we had eighteen feet of water in the hold. The frigate and store ship, with some smaller vessels, had anchored as near us as they could with safety. The small craft came alongside and took out our guns and stores, and one hundred additional men were sent on board us to work the pumps. Pumps were also sent from the dockyard, and were introduced into the hold through the decks, which had been scuttled for that purpose. On the morning of the third day we had got everything, except the lower masts and bowsprit, on board the lighters, and by the exertions of the men at the pumps, which had been incessant for three days and nights, we had lightened her, and she floated off the shoal. The frigate took us in tow, and in three hours afterwards we were lashed alongside the dockyard. The fatigue and want of rest, for not a single hammock had been piped down during the time the ship was on shore, threw about fifty men into the sick list, and several of them died at the hospital afterwards. The seamen of the fleet in general had a great aversion to go to the hospital, and when ill used to entreat the doctor not to send them there. It was said of the matrons, which did not redound to their credit if true, that when a seaman died, and was reported to them, they exclaimed: "Poor fellow! bring me his bag, and mind everything belonging to him is put into it." This they considered their perquisite. Surely this is wrong and robbery! Ah, Mr. Hume! why were you a puling, helpless babe at that time? Had you been a man and known it, you would have called for reformation and been the seaman's friend.
We had now a difficult and arduous duty to perform, which was to heave the ship down keel out. I was stationed on the lower deck with a party of thirty seamen to keep the chain pumps going as long as they would work—that is, until the ship was nearly on her side. In about twenty minutes she was nearly on her beam ends, when all the temporary stanchions which had been fixed to keep the deck from yielding gave way like a regiment of black militia in chase of Obie, or Three-fingered Jack in the Whee Mountains, when they are in full retreat. I was standing at this time in no enviable position, my feet rested on the combings of the main hatchway with my back against the deck. I expected every moment to have my brains knocked out, but this apprehension was soon superseded by a cry from the shore of, "Make for the stern ports and jump overboard; the hawsers are stranded; there will be a boat ready to pick you up." "Sooner said than done," thinks I to myself; "I wish with all my heart that the first lieutenant who ordered me here was in my place, and he would find the order practically impossible." Another cry was then heard: "Hold all fast on board!" "You are a wise man," thinks I again for that order; "it is the very thing we are determined to do." "All's safe," was the next squall through the trumpet, "the mastheads are secured to the beams." "Thank you for nothing," said I to myself, "it's more good luck than good management." When the ship was hove down, we got some of the pumps to work on the side next the water, as it had gone from the well, and in a few hours kept her clear. On the fourth day we righted her, as the dockyard maties had botched her up.
We had now to wait about six weeks for the rudder; in the meanwhile we got on board the water, provisions and stores, and fresh powder, the last having had a ducking. From the time the ship came to the yard we had slept and messed in the capstan house, consequently we had not an opportunity of holding a cockpit inquiry on the master's conduct for running the vessel on shore. The second day after getting on board we put on our scrapers and toasting-forks, and assembled in the larboard berth, which was illuminated for the occasion by four farthing candles. The court consisted of fourteen members. I was chosen president; a black man who waited on our berth was to personate the master. After taking our seats according to seniority, we declared we would show neither favour nor partiality to the prisoner, but try him fairly by the rules of the cockpit. I began, as president, by asking him the reason he let the pilot quit the ship before she was clear of the shoals.
Prisoner: "'Cause, massa, I had berry good opinion of myself, and I tink I sabby de ground better den dat black scorpion who call himself pilot."
President: "If you knew the channels better than the pilot, how came you to let the ship get on shore on the Turtle Head shoal?"
Prisoner: "Ah, Massa President, me no tink Turtle Head lib dere; me tink him lib tree legs more west. De chart say him moral impossible he lib so near Port Royal."
Here the chart was examined, and the shoal was in reality laid down in a wrong place. This saved the master, or he must have been smashed. Here the court adjourned to consider the sentence. After laughing and joking some short time in the larboard wing, we again assembled looking as solemn as a Lord Chancellor, when I, as the noble president, addressed the prisoner as follows:—
"Prisoner, this honourable Court having duly considered the unseamanlike and stupid blunder you have committed, do adjudge you to be suspended from your duty as master of this ship for six calendar months, in order to give you time to reflect on the mischief you have done and the great expense you have occasioned by running His Majesty's ship on a shoal called the Turtle Head; and they advise you not to be so self-sufficient in future, and, if it be not morally impossible, to clothe yourself with the robe of humility, and to put all your conceit into the N.W. corner of your chest, and never let it see daylight. And the Court further adjudges you, in consequence of your letting the pilot quit the ship before she was in sea-way, to be severely reprimanded and also admonished as to your future conduct, and you are hereby suspended, reprimanded, and admonished accordingly. I dissolve this Court. Master Blacky, get dinner ready as fast as you can, as we are very sharp set."
"Yes, massa," was the answer; "to-day you hab for dinner salt junk and bargeman biscuit, and to-morrow you hab change." "What do you say, you black woolly-headed rascal?" said one of the mids. "Why, I say, massa, you hab change to-morrow—you hab bargeman biscuit and salt junk." "Why," said another horrified mid, "I heard the caterer order you to get some fish from the canoe alongside." "Yes, massa, dat berry true, but de d——d black scorpion would not sell 'um to massa midshipman, cause he no hab pay for fish last time." "If you mention that again," said one of my messmates, "I'll crack your black cocoa-nut, and if you do not get some to-morrow, I'll take care your grog shall be stopped." Here the caterer of the mess interfered by promising the mess should have some fish for their dinner next day, and the contest ended. Master Blacky started up the ladder to stand the wrangle in the galley for our dinner, and shortly after we attacked a tolerably good-looking piece of King's own, with the addition of some roasted plantains, which our black factotum had forgotten to mention in his bill of fare.
Having procured our rudder we sailed to prove, the middies said, "Whether promotion should be stopped or not by the ship's sinking or floating?" Fortunately for us, by the aid of the chain pumps twice a day, she did the latter. We continued on a man-of-war's cruise there and back again for five weeks, and then returned to our former anchorage. During this short cruise I had prepared myself for passing, and soon after our arrival, my time being served, I requested the first lieutenant to speak to the captain that I might pass for a lieutenant. "Go yourself," said he, "and tell him. He is in his room at the capstan house. I'll give you the jolly boat."
I was soon on shore and at the door of his room. I knocked. "Enter," said a voice not at all encouraging. "What do you want, any orders?" "No, sir," said I, with one of my best quarter-deck bows, which appeared to soften him. "I hope I am not intruding; I have taken the liberty of waiting on you, sir, to acquaint you that I have served my time." He was half-shaved, and my visit appeared unfortunately ill-timed, and I began to apprehend by the expression of his countenance, and the flourishes he made with his razor, he intended making me a head shorter. "Who sent you to me at this inconvenient time?" asked he. "The first lieutenant, sir," said I; "he thought it was better for me to inform you before you went to the Admiral's pen." "Oh, very well; you may go; shut the door, and let the barge come for me at seven o'clock." On board I repaired, and delivered the message. I kept pondering whether my hardy, half-shaven captain's manner was favourable to the information I had given him or not. My messmates were anxious to know how I was received. "Not very graciously," was my reply. Next morning, to my agreeable surprise, I was ordered to take the barge, and go on board the Alarm frigate, where I met my old captain, who shook hands with me, and two others. "Well," said the former, "are you prepared to prove you are an able seaman and an officer?" "I hope so, sir," said I. He introduced me to his two brother officers, and informed them I had sailed with him some time, and that I had frequently charge of a watch. We all descended to the cabin, where Hamilton Moore's "Epitome," a slate and pencil were placed before me. I was first asked several questions respecting coming to an anchor, mooring, tacking, veering, and taking in sail. I was then desired to find the time of high water at different places, and the variation of the compass.
They appeared satisfied with my answers and solutions, and before I left the ship they presented me with my passing certificate. On the following day I took the oath of allegiance, abused the Pope—poor, innocent man—and all his doctrines, and received my commission for a twenty-four gun ship which I joined the day after. I left some of my messmates with regret, as they were made of the very stuff our Navy required.
Requested to act as first lieutenant, but refuses—Description of officers—A fruitless search for a Spanish treasure ship—Run on a coral reef, but float off again—A tropical thunderstorm—A futile attempt to cut out three schooners off Matanzas—Author becomes first lieutenant—Return to Port Royal—The incriminating papers of an American sloop found in a shark—Seize a French ship in ballast off St. Domingo.
On introducing myself to my new captain, who was a short, corpulent, open-countenanced man, he informed me he had conversed with my former captain respecting me. "We lost both the lieutenants by the yellow fever the latter part of last cruise," said he, "and if you like to be first lieutenant, I will request the Admiralty to give me an acting officer." I thanked him for his good opinion, but begged leave to decline being first. About a fortnight afterwards, during which time no other lieutenant had joined, the captain again asked me if I had altered my mind. "And," added he, "the time you have been on board has given you some insight respecting a first lieutenant's duty. Your early rising I much approve, and your regularity with the duty pleases me. Let me write for an acting lieutenant." I made him due acknowledgments but still declined, pleading the want of experience. "Well," said he, "if you will not, I must ask for a senior officer," and soon afterwards he was appointed. Another fortnight expired, when we sailed for the Gulf of Mexico. I will now rest on my oars a little, and as I have the watch below, I will amuse myself by sketching the outline of the gun-room inmates.
The first lieutenant knew his duty, but was too fond of the contents of his case-bottles of rum, which made him at times very irritable and hasty; in other respects he was a sociable messmate. The second was a kind of nondescript; he was certainly sober, and I hope honest, fond of adventure, and always volunteered when the boats were sent on any expedition. He was sociable, and frequently rational, although too often sanguine where hope was almost hopeless. Three-and-twenty summers had passed over his head, but still there was much to correct. He was generous and open-hearted, and never could keep a secret, which often got him into a scrape with ladies of all colours. The value of money never entered his head, and when he received a cool hundred, he spent it coolly, but not without heartfelt enjoyment. The master comes next. He was a little, natty man; we presumed he had been rolled down Deal beach in his infancy, where pebbles without number must have come in rude contact with his face, for it was cruelly marred. He had made some trips in the East India Service, which had given him an air of consequence. He was not more than twenty-four years of age, and certainly clever in his profession. I will now bring forward the doctor, who appeared to doctor everybody but himself. He was every inch a son of Erin, could be agreeable or the reverse as the fit seized him, fond of argument, fond of rum, and sometimes fond of fighting. To see him put his hand to his mouth was painful; it was so tremulous that half the contents of what he eat or drank fell from it, yet he was never tipsy, although the contents of three bottles of port wine found their way very glibly down his throat at a sitting.
Now I will have a dead-set at the purser, who was generally purseless. He was the gayest of the gay, very tall, very expensive, and always in love. The first fiddle of the mess and caterer, fond of going on a boat expedition, very fond of prize-money, and as fond of getting rid of it. He used to say, "It was a terrible mistake making me a purser. I shall never be able to clear my accounts," and this was literally the case. Some years afterwards he was appointed to a large frigate, but by the irregularity of his conduct, although his captain was his friend, he was by a court-martial dismissed the Service. When I heard this I was much concerned, as there were some good points about him. I have now handed up all the gun-room officers. Other characters in the ship I shall not describe; some were good, some bad, and some indifferent, but I am happy to remark the first-named preponderated. We made the Grand Cayman, and sent a cutter to the shore to purchase turtle and fruit. In about an hour and a half she came off with three turtle, some yams, plantains, cocoa-nuts, and a few half-starved fowls. I had cautioned the purser not to buy any grunters, as those poor animals blown out with water we had purchased from these honest islanders in days of yore, were still fresh in my memory.
The same evening we made Cape Antonio, and cruised between that cape and the Loggerhead Keys for some days without seeing anything but two American vessels from New Orleans. One of them gave us notice of a Mexican armed zebec ready to sail with treasure from Mexico for the Havannah. This news elated us. We were all lynx-eyed and on the alert. The youngsters were constantly at the masthead with glasses, in the sanguine hope of being the first to announce such good fortune. Alas! we cruised from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Bay of Campechy for five long weeks, at the period of which we saw a vessel we made certain was that which was to make our fortunes, and our heads were filled with keeping our kittereens and having famous champagne dinners at Spanish Town. After a chase of seven hours, we came up with her, but judge of our chagrin! She was the same rig as the American captain described. I was sent on board her, and expected to have returned with the boat laden with ingots, bars of gold and silver cobs. Oh, mortification! not easily to be effaced! On examining her, she proved, with the exception of four barrels of quicksilver, to have no cargo of any value. I really was so disappointed that I was ashamed to return on board, and when I did, and made my report, there was a complete metamorphosis of faces. Those that were naturally short became a fathom in length, and those that were long frightful to behold. The order was given to burn her and take out the seven Spaniards who composed her crew. On interrogating the patroon, or master, of her, he informed us that the vessel with the precious metal had sailed from Mexico two months before, and had arrived at the Havannah. The Yankee captain who had given us this false information, and made us for five weeks poissons d'Avril, was remembered in our prayers; whether they ascended or descended is a problem unsolved. We remained in the Gulf of Mexico jogging backwards and forwards, like an armadillo in an enclosure, for ten days longer, and then shaped our course for the coast of Cuba, looked into the Havannah, saw nothing which appeared ready for sailing, and made all sail for the Florida shore. The following morning it was very foggy, when about noon we had the felicity of finding that the ship had, without notice, placed herself very comfortably on a coral reef, where she rested as composedly as grandmamma in her large armchair. We lost no time in getting the boats and an anchor out in the direction from whence we came. Fortunately it was nearly calm, otherwise the ship must have been wrecked. The process of getting her off was much longer than that of getting her on. The mids, I understood, declared she was tired of the cruise and wished to rest. In the afternoon it became clear, when we saw an armed schooner close to us, which hoisted English colours and sent a boat to us. The captain of her came on board and informed us that his vessel was a Nassau privateer, and he tendered all the assistance in his power to get us afloat. As the ship appeared disinclined to detach herself from her resting-place, we sent most of the shot and some of the stores on board this vessel, when we began to lift, and in a short time she was again afloat, and as she did not make water we presumed her bottom was not injured. On examining the chart, we found it was the Carisford reef that had so abruptly checked the progress of His Majesty's ship. Nothing dismayed, we cruised for a week between Capes Sable and Florida, until we were one night overtaken by a most tremendous thunderstorm, which split the fore and maintop-sails, carried away the jib-boom and maintop-sail yard, struck two of the men blind, and shook the ship fore and aft. It continued with unabated rage until daylight. We soon replaced the torn sails and got another yard across and jib-boom out.
The following day we were joined by a frigate, and proceeded off the Bay of Matanzas. Towards evening we perceived three dark-looking schooners enter the bay. As it was nearly calm, we manned and armed four boats, two from the frigate, under the direction of her first lieutenant and my senior officer, and two from our ship, under my orders. We muffled our oars and pulled quietly in. The night was very dark and the navigation difficult, owing to the numerous coral reefs and small mangrove islands. At length we discovered them anchored in a triangle to support each other. We gave way for the largest, and when within about half pistol-shot they opened their fire on us. Two of the boats were struck and my commanding officer knocked overboard, but he was soon afterwards picked up, and, except a slight wound in the knee, unhurt. We persevered and got alongside the one we had singled out. She received us as warmly as if she had known us for years. I took the liberty of shooting a man in her main rigging who was inclined to do me the same kind office, had I not saved him the trouble. We attempted cutting away her boarding netting, and in so doing three men were severely wounded. Her decks appeared well filled with men: some of their voices were, I am certain, English. After a struggle of some minutes, in which one of the boats had not joined, my senior officer, who had five of his men wounded, ordered the boats to pull off. Shall I say I was disappointed? I most assuredly was, and my boat's crew murmured. I desired them to be silent. The boat which had lost her way now came up, and received a broadside from the vessel we were retreating from, which almost sank her, and killed and wounded four of her crew. The order was again given to pull off as fast as possible. As the senior officer neared me in his boat, I asked him, as we had found the large schooner so strong, if it were not desirable to attempt the others. His answer was yes, were they not so well armed and so close to each other. "But," said he, "it is my orders that the boats repair on board their own ships, as my wounded men are dying, and I am suffering the devil's own torments." "So much for a broken-down expedition," thinks I to myself. "If the bull had not been taken by the horns, something might have been effected."
On joining my ship I reported the wounded men, who were sent to their hammocks, after having been dressed by the doctor, who declared their wounds, though severe, not to be serious. "Well," said the captain, "what have you done?" "Worse than nothing," replied I. "I never was on so sorry or so badly planned an expedition. The enemy's armed vessels were on the alert, whilst we were half asleep, and they were anchored so close under the land that we were nearly on the broadside of the largest before we perceived her, and she gave it us most handsomely, and I give her credit for her spirited conduct." "You are a generous enemy," said my skipper. "Not at all," returned I; "it is my opinion that the man who commands that vessel, who has given us such a good trimming, deserves well of his country." I then made him acquainted with all the particulars. "My opinion of the officer who had the management of this boat affair has been hitherto favourable," said the captain. "He is certainly a young man, but his captain is perfectly satisfied with his method of carrying on the duty in the ship." "Yes," said I; "but ship duty and boat duty are different." Here the conversation, which was irksome to my feelings, terminated. A few days floated away, when the first lieutenant had a dispute with the captain, and he was suspended from his duty. I was sent for into the cabin, when the captain told me he was happy in the opportunity of again offering me the situation of first lieutenant. "For," added he, "Mr. G. and I shall never accord after what has happened, and if he does not effect an exchange with a junior officer to yourself, I will try him by a court-martial."
Two weeks more finished our unsuccessful cruise. We bore up for the Florida Stream, ran through the Turks' Island passage, made St. Domingo and Cuba, passed over the Pismire shoal of the N.E. end of Jamaica, and anchored at Port Royal. The morning following we received letters from England. I must here relate an incident which was most feelingly trying to one of the youngsters. He had, among others, received a letter from his mother, and to be more retired had gone abaft the mizzen-mast to read it. The sea-breeze was blowing fresh, when, just as he had opened it and read the first words, it blew from his hands overboard. Poor little fellow! The agonised look he gave as it fell into the water is far beyond description. He was inclined to spring after it. Had he known how to swim he would not have hesitated a moment. Unfortunately all the boats were on duty, or it might have been recovered. Mr. G., the first lieutenant, effected his exchange, and a fine young man joined as second. I was now positively fixed as first. I was invited to dignity balls without number, and had partners as blooming as Munster potatoes.
My servant was of a shining jet colour, and a fiddler. I took lodgings on shore, and after the duty of the day was performed, about half after six o'clock in the evening, I went to my chateau, taking with me Black George and his fiddle, where my shipmates and a few friends of all colours amused themselves with an innocent hop and sangaree, for I had now grown too fine to admit the introduction of vulgar grog. Even the smell of it would have occasioned the ladies to blush like a blue tulip. After amusing ourselves on shore and performing our duty on board, we were ready for sea the fifth week after our arrival, and on the sixth we sailed for the south side of St. Domingo. We had been cruising a few days off the port of Jacmel, when the Nimrod cutter and the Abergavenny's tender joined us. The lieutenants of both vessels came on board, and related the following fact in my hearing:—The former vessel had detained an honest trading Yankee brig on suspicion, and had sent her to Jamaica to be examined. The latter vessel caught a large shark the morning after, and found in its maw the false papers of this said American brig, which she had thrown overboard when the Nimrod chased her.
"Will you oblige me by a relation of the circumstance?" said our skipper to Whiley, who commanded the cutter. "It happened in the following manner: I had information of this Charlestown vessel before I left Port Royal, and I was determined to look keenly after her. I had been off the Mosquito shore, where I understood she was bound with gunpowder and small arms. At length I fell in with her, but could not find any other papers than those which were regular, nor any powder or firearms; but as I had good information respecting her, I was determined to detain her, even if I burnt my fingers by so doing. The morning after I sent her for Jamaica I fell in with Lieutenant Fitton, who hailed me, and begged me to go on board him. When I got on the quarter-deck of the tender I saw several large sheets of paper spread out on the companion.
"'Hulloa!' said I; 'Fitton, what have you here?' 'Why,' said he, 'I have a very curious story to relate; for that reason I wished you to come on board me. This morning we caught a shark, and, singular to tell you, on cutting him up we found those papers (which you see drying) in his maw. He must have been preciously hard set, poor fellow. I have examined them, and find they belong to the Nancy, of Charlestown.' 'The Nancy, of Charlestown,' said I. 'That is the very brig I have sent to Jamaica.' 'Well, then,' said Fitton, 'they are yours, and I congratulate you on the discovery and your good fortune.'" "This is singularly remarkable," said our captain; "I hope you have taken care of the jaw of the shark. It must be sent to the Vice-Court of Admiralty at Jamaica as a memento of the fact, and a remembrancer to all Yankee captains who are inclined to be dishonest." "A good hint," said Fitton; "it shall be done, sir." And it was done, as I well recollect its being suspended over where the American masters of detained vessels stood when they desired to make oath.
In the evening these gentlemen, after having dined on board us, repaired to their respective vessels, and we soon after parted company. The following day we anchored off the Isle de Vache, near Port au Paix, St. Domingo, and sent the two cutters in shore on a cruise of speculation, under my orders. On quitting the ship we all blacked our faces with burnt cork and tied coloured handkerchiefs round our heads, in order to deceive the fishing canoes. On nearing the shore we discovered a schooner sailing along close to the beach. In a short time afterwards we boarded her, and found she was a French vessel in ballast from Port au Paix, bound to Jacmel. She was quite new, and not more than fifty tons burden. We took possession of her, but unfortunately, when we were in the act of securing the prisoners, the enemy fired at us from the shore. We had three men severely wounded and the schooner's crew one. We lost no time in getting the boats ahead to tow her off, and although the enemy's fire was frequent, it did no further mischief. On nearing the Isle de Vache we found the ship gone, and, notwithstanding we were without a compass, I was determined to bear up before the sea-breeze for Jamaica. Fortunately we fell in with the A. frigate, who took out the wounded men, and wished me to burn the prize. This proposal I rejected. The following evening we reached Port Royal, and I sold her for L140. In a fortnight afterwards the ship arrived. On joining her the captain informed me that three hours after we had quitted her two vessels hove in sight, and as they looked suspicious he got under weigh and chased, with the intention of again returning to his anchorage after having made them out. This he was not able to effect, as in point of sailing they were far superior to the Volage, and after a useless chase of a night and a day, they got into the port of St. Domingo. The ship regained the anchorage the day afterwards, and fired guns, hoping we were on the island; but after an interval of some hours, without seeing the boats, the captain despatched an officer with a flag of truce to Port au Paix, thinking it likely we had been in want of provisions, or overpowered by gunboats. The officer returned with the information of our having been on the coast, but that we had not been seen for two days. The ship again put to sea, and after a short cruise came to Port Royal, where happily they found us.
A JAMAICA PLANTATION.
Visit to a Jamaican plantation—Condition of the slaves—A growl against the House of Commons and the Admiralty—Author attempting to cut out a Spanish zebec, is taken prisoner—His pleasant experiences while in captivity—At last released.
Soon after we arrived I was invited to spend a few days in the mountains. We were mounted on mules, and started from Kingston at four o'clock in the morning. Some part of the road was very narrow and wound round the mountain we were going to. At one of the angles, or turns, the purser, who was one of the party, had got his mule too near the precipice, and in a few seconds was rolling down the declivity, the mule first and he afterwards. Fortunately for both animals, there were several dwarf cotton-trees about half-way down, which brought them up with a severe round turn. The planter, who, I presumed, had seen exploits of this kind before, lost no time in procuring from the nearest estate some negroes with cords, and in a few minutes they were extricated from their perilous situation. The purser was much cut about the head, and both his arms severely contused. The poor animal had one of his legs broken, and it was a charity to shoot him on the spot.
As we were not far from the estate we were going to, the black men, who manifested much willingness and humanity, procured a hammock, which they suspended to a pole, and carried with much ease my poor unfortunate messmate, who, notwithstanding his bruises, kept joking on his misadventure. Another hour brought us to a delightful pavilion-built house surrounded by verandahs. It was like a Paradise; the grounds were highly cultivated and produced sugar-canes, coffee, cotton and pimento. The air was quite embalmed, and the prospect from the house was enchanting. I could see the ships at Port Royal, which appeared like small dark dots. The estate belonged to a young lady, a minor, residing in London, and it was managed by her uncle. The number of slaves it contained was three hundred. They appeared to me, the four days I remained among them, as one happy family. I visited, with the surgeon of the estate, several of the cabins or huts; each had a piece of ground to grow plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, cocoas, etc. Some grew a few melons, nearly all had fowls, and several had two or three pigs. The whole of Sunday and the Saturday afternoon were their own, on which days they repaired to Spanish Town or Kingston markets to sell their vegetables, fruit and poultry. The pigs, the doctor informed me, were generally bought at the market price by the overseers. "This estate," resumed the doctor, "is very well conducted, and during the five years I have been here we have only lost three slaves, and two of those were aged. I need not say that the manager is a man of humanity—you know him as a gentleman. The whip is seldom used, and only for theft, which scarcely ever occurs. And I do not think that, were they free to-morrow, they would leave Mr. W., who is an Englishman."
On the second morning of my residence here I rose at four o'clock, and the view from a kind of field called the Park was most remarkable and picturesque in the extreme. Below me in all the valleys was a dense fog, resembling a white woolly-looking cloud, stretched out like an immense lake. The lower mountains appeared like so many islands. At first I stared in astonishment at so novel a sight, and it reminded me of the picture of the Deluge, when all the lower world was under water.
At breakfast I mentioned to Mr. W. the extraordinary scene I had witnessed. "To you," said he, "it may appear strange, but for at least four months in the year we have those settling clouds or fogs. They first form on the higher mountains, and then descend into the valleys. About seven o'clock, as the sun gains force, they disperse. But," added he, "they are very necessary to the young plantations, which they moisten profusely."
The purser was now sufficiently recovered to join us in our rambles of an evening, in one of which we came near a large tamarind-tree, where a number of humming-birds were flying around. "I would not hurt any of those little creatures for a trifle," said Mr. W. "Were I to do it in the presence of any of the negroes, they would immediately conclude I was wicked. They consider them sacred, and, although they might fetch a good price, I have never known one to be sold."
On the fifth morning the mules were ordered at an early hour, and we bid adieu to our kind and hospitable friend, who promised to spend a day with us on board on our return from our cruise. We arrived at Kingston at eleven o'clock without accident, and were on board by dinner-time. On the following Sunday we put to sea, and a week afterwards were on our old cruising grounds in the Mona passage and off Porto Rico.
We again sent two boats away on a speculative cruise with the second lieutenant, who a few hours after returned with a very handsome Spanish schooner, about forty tons, in ballast. We now put all our wise heads together, whether to send her to Jamaica or make a tender of her. As I was the first consulted, I voted for the last, "As were she to be sent to Jamaica," said I, "the expenses of her condemnation will most likely exceed what she may be sold for. In this case, we should not only lose our prize, but have to pay for capturing her." "That is very true," said the captain, "and I have experienced the fact, which I will relate in a few words:—
"I took a French ship from Antwerp bound to Caen, laden with salt. I took her into Portsmouth. A few months afterwards I received a letter from my agent to inform me that the vessel and cargo had been sold; but in consequence of the duty paid to Government on the salt, she had not covered the expenses of her trial by eight pounds, which my agents were obliged to pay for me to the Proctors."
"It is a hard case," said we all. "After risking our lives and distressing the ships by sending officers and men away in captured vessels, we are sometimes informed, as a reward for the risk, anxiety and trouble, that instead of receiving we have to pay money." This most certainly cries aloud for reform, and it appears monstrous that sailors find so little support either in the House of Commons or at the Admiralty. Soldiers have many advocates in the former, but sailors few, and those few not worth having. The first Secretary of the Admiralty is generally a member of Parliament, but he only concerns himself with the affairs of the Admiralty; but ask him respecting the habits of sailors, he may tell it to the marines, for the captain of the main-top will never believe him. It is true the Admiralty have now given orders for captains to make a quarterly return of all punishments inflicted on seamen. This I think quite right, as it must in a great measure strike down the hand of tyranny. Nor do I find fault with the encouragement and respectability which has lately been given to the petty officers. I am only astonished it was not given years ago, but we are still in our infancy.
Before I quit this subject, I am compelled in justice to ask both Admiralty and Lower House the reason why old and meritorious officers are so shamefully neglected. The commanders above the year 1814 may, I hope, expect promotion in heaven, as I fear they never will meet with it on earth. One would suppose the Admiralty were ashamed of having such old officers, and wish to forget them altogether, or probably they think they are too well paid and deserve, after spending the best part of their lives in toil and service, nothing more. As for the old lieutenants, God help them!—they must contrive to hang on by the eyelids until they slip their cables in this, and make sail into another world. Is the hand of interest so grasping that the Lords of the Admiralty cannot administer justice to old officers and promote four or six from the head of the list on a general promotion as well as those very young officers, who most likely were not in being when their seniors entered the Service, nor have many of them seen a shot fired except in a preserve? It has been said that the patronage for the promotion of officers in the Navy is entirely in the hands of the First Lord, who is a civilian. If this be true, interest and not service must be his order of the day. He cannot know the merits or demerits of officers but from others. Possessing this ignorance, it is but a natural conclusion, though no consolation, to those who suffer from it, that he should only promote those who are recommended to him, and this accounts for so many officers who entered the Navy at the conclusion or since the termination of the war being made post-captains or commanders. We read that promotion comes neither from the east nor the west. In a recent instance it came from the north. It may be advisable for some old officers to make a trip to the coast of Nova Zembla, get frozen in for two or three years among the Nova Zemblians and Yakee Yaws, come home, present themselves to the Admiralty, who would undoubtedly promote them, then they would have an audience and receive knighthood from a higher personage. This, as we all know, has occurred, and may occur again, more particularly so if they should be able to add to the important information the last persevering and gallant adventures brought to England. The French beg a thousand pardons when they have committed any little indiscretion; an Englishman says simply, "I beg your pardon." As such, gentle reader, I sincerely beg yours, for having led you such a Tom Coxe's traverse.
To resume my narrative. We came to a conclusion that the schooner should be fitted up as our tender, and as we had all taken a fancy to her she should be called the Fancy. We put on board her a twelve-pounder carronade and mounted four half-pound swivels on her gunwales. The second lieutenant, as he captured her, was to command her; he took with him one of the senior midshipmen and sixteen good seamen. After receiving his orders and provisions he parted company for the north side of Cuba, and was desired to rendezvous every Sunday afternoon off Cape Maize. This was Tuesday. In the meanwhile we sent a boat into a small bay to the westward of the Cape to fill some small casks with water from a fall we saw from the ship. Three hours afterwards she returned, not only with water but also with three large pigs, which the master, who had direction of the boat, had shot. At last Sunday arrived; we were off the Cape, but no Fancy. The weather had been very squally, and we thought it probable she might have got to leeward. The following morning we spoke an American brig from St. Jago, who informed us that she had passed a Spanish schooner laden with tobacco at anchor at the mouth of the river. We stood in, and discovered the ship with the glass. In the evening I volunteered to cut her out, and at dusk we started in a six-oared cutter. By eleven at night I was within the mouth of the river and under the Moro Castle and another large fort. Our oars being muffled prevented any noise. We pulled round the entrance twice, but to no purpose, as the vessel had removed and we could not discover her. Daylight was breaking as we cleared the shore, when we saw a vessel which appeared like our ship standing towards us, but were with reason alarmed at seeing three more. I immediately concluded they were enemy's privateers. My fears were soon confirmed by their hoisting Spanish colours, and the nearest began firing at us. I had eight men and a midshipman with me, and we all did our utmost to escape. Unfortunately our ship was not in sight, and after a fatiguing and anxious pull for three hours and having two of the boat's crew wounded, I was, in consequence of the nearest privateer being within pistol shot, obliged to surrender. We were taken possession of by the Gros Souris, a Spanish zebec with a long eighteen-pounder and seventy-five men. The other vessels were a three-masted zebec with an English sloop which she had captured and a schooner. Two hours afterwards we were all at anchor in the river, and the next day proceeded to St. Jago, where I had, with the crew, the felicity of being put into the gaol. In the afternoon I received my parole, as also did the youngster who was with me. The American Consul, Mr. B., very handsomely sent a person to conduct me to the American hotel. This said tavern was kept by a Boston widow, who was really a good sort of person. The table d'hote was very tolerable, and I had the honour of being acquainted with some of the American skippers. Some were very outre, coarse and vulgar, but two of them were agreeable and very civil. The morning after my arrival the Governor sent for me. On being introduced he requested me to take a seat, a cup of coffee and a cigar. The two former I accepted, the latter I refused, at which he expressed some surprise, as he imagined all Englishmen smoked. He then requested me to relate through an American interpreter the manner in which I had been made prisoner, if I had been treated well on board the privateer, or if any of my clothes had been taken. I answered him very promptly to the last question by informing him that I had nothing to lose, as I left the ship only in the clothes I stood in. After a pause he sent for his secretary, and desired him to write a note to the American Consul, who in a short time after made his appearance. "Here," said he, "is a British officer who has been unfortunately taken by one of our vessels; as you speak his language, tell him from me that I am very sorry for his accident, and that I have requested you to let him have any money he may require, for which I will be responsible."
I made suitable acknowledgment for so noble and disinterested an offer. I told him in my own language, for he understood it, and spoke it imperfectly, that it was out of my power to thank him sufficiently for his generosity to an enemy and a stranger. "The first, I am sure," replied he, "you are no longer; the last you are, and call forth my sympathy and protection," offering me his hand, which I took respectfully. "Now," continued he, "we understand each other, and I shall be happy to see you without ceremony whenever you like to come." Here he turned to the Consul, and after some complimentary conversation, he said, "Take this officer with you and treat him as a friend, for he has found one in me."
We made our bows and withdrew. In our walk to his house I could not forbear speaking of the great kindness the Governor had evinced towards me. "I am not astonished at it," said the Consul; "I do not think since he has had the government of this place he has ever seen a lieutenant of your Navy, and as he considers you an officer of rank, he is determined as an act of policy to make the most of you. His character is that of the high Spanish, and I may add Irish, school, for his grandfather was an Irishman, and died ennobled and a general officer in their service. His name is O'B."
This conversation brought us to the Consul's residence. "Walk in," said he, "and rest yourself." After having conversed on the unprofitable service and risk of boating, he asked me if my purse wanted replenishing. I answered in the affirmative. He gave me what I required, for which I gave him an order on my agent at Kingston. Before we parted, he invited me to ride out and spend the evening, which I accepted. At three in the afternoon we were on horseback. "Sailors," remarked he to me, "are not generally considered Nimrods. They ride too fast and sit too much over the horse's shoulders; but probably," continued he, "you British sailors ride much better than the Americans, for they certainly do not make much figure on horseback." "I frankly acknowledge," said I, "that I am no horseman, for the last time I was mounted was with a party of landsmen who had asked me to dine at Rock Fort, but I blush to relate that when we had reached the Parade at Kingston, my horse took fright at the black soldiers who were exercising. I, finding I could not manage him, gave him the bridle, when he ran into the ranks, knocked down one of the sergeants, and would have knocked my brains out against the upper part of the stable door, if fortunately a man had not been there, who threw up both his arms, which stopped him from entering."
"How did you proceed afterwards?" inquired he; "Did you lose your dinner?" "No," said I, laughing, "that would have been very hard on the rest of the party, whose mouths were anxious to devour the fish ordered at the tavern. I procured a more quiet horse, and we proceeded at a parson's trot, and did ample honour to our feast, for we were very hungry on our arrival." In our ride I found the country in this part of Cuba highly cultivated. Large patches of sugar-canes, cocoa, orange and lime groves met my eye in every direction, and in some places near lagoons or pieces of water rice was cultivated. I also observed some plantations of tobacco. Three and four times a week I rode out with the Consul, and found him and our excursions very agreeable. He informed me he had been several times in England, and was much pleased with his visits. "I found," said he, "the men prompt and regular in business, as well as hospitable; but," added he, "the greater part of your women have the minds of angels, and make the best wives in the world. In saying this I only allude to the society I moved in—the merchants of the higher classes. I much regret," continued he, "that the better sort of my countrymen have not the polish of yours. As long as they give up all their time to dollar-making they cannot be anything more than what they are."
One morning at an early hour I was called to attend the Governor. On my seeing him, he appeared agitated; he had a kind of despatch in his hand.
"I am sorry to say," said he, "I have bad news for you. I have received accounts from the coast that another of your boats has been taken. The officer and three men have been shot, and five taken prisoners. I have reprimanded my people severely for firing on them, as they were much superior to yours in numbers. The officer who commanded our party assures me he could not prevent it, as the natives near where your boat landed had been plundered of most part of their live stock, and several of their pigs were found shot near their huts." By the description given I knew it to be the master, who had before brought off pigs which he had shot. I told him then he would, I feared, try once too often, at which he only laughed. I made as many lame excuses for the conduct of those who ought to have known better, as I thought prudent, and assured the Governor that the officer must have exceeded his orders, as I was convinced the captain would be very much grieved to hear that he had lost his life and the lives of others on so worthless an occasion.
"No," said he, "by what I can learn, his purpose was to procure water; had he quietly restricted himself to that employment he would not have been interrupted." Here the interview ended; I withdrew, and went with my mind disquieted to the tavern, where I met some of the Yankee captains, who would have drawn me into a conversation on what had happened, but I was determined to be silent, and retired to prose in my chamber.
On the second day after this sad event I received an invitation for myself and Mr. S., the mid who was with me, to a ball given by the Governor. About eight o'clock in the evening Mr. B., the American Consul, called for us, and we repaired to the Government House, a large, square building in a spacious yard. We entered an ante-room, where the guard were stationed, and afterwards a lofty kind of hall, the walls of which were whitewashed, and at the farthest end was an orchestra raised on a platform. About eighty well-dressed people were assembled, the greater part of whom were females; some of them were very pretty, and made my heart go pit-a-pat. I saluted the Governor, who shook hands with me, and introduced me to a lady, who, as he was a bachelor, presided for him, and whose fine auburn hair was so long that she had it fastened with a graceful bow to her side, otherwise it would have trailed on the ground. She was a native of Guadeloupe, and married to a relation of the Governor's. The ball was opened by four sets of minuets, which were danced with much grace. I figured off in one, but I fear, not gracefully. Country dances then began, which were kept up for about two hours. Waltzes were then the order of the ball, which continued until nearly daylight. I was heartily glad to reach my room, and did not breakfast until a late hour. I was spending my time very pleasantly, but not profitably. I was a prisoner, and that was sufficient to embitter a mind naturally active. I began to get tired of doing nothing, and longed to be free. I was shortly afterwards invited to two more balls, but as they were much the same as the one I have described, it is not worth while speaking of them, except that I lost my heart to three young females, who, alas! were perfectly ignorant of the fact.
On the day of the American Independence, Mr. B. invited me to his dinner-party, where I met the Lord knows who. A number of toasts were given replete with freedom and Republicanism, and guns were fired, and we were all very merry, until a person near me, in hip-hip-hipping, hipped a bumper of wine in his next neighbour's face. This disturbed the harmony for some minutes, when, on the friendly interference of the Consul, the offended and the offender shook hands, and all went on prosperously until midnight, at which hour we took leave of our kind host, some with their eyes twinkling and others seeing double. A few mornings afterwards the Governor asked me to breakfast at six o'clock. I found him taking his coffee on the terrace of the house, where he had one of Dollond's large telescopes, the view from which was magnificent and rich; but before I had been half an hour with him I found my eyes suffering from the great glare of light owing to the terrace being white. This he remarked. "We will descend," said he, "and if you are fond of horses and mules, you shall see my stud." On the landing-place of the stairs we met a servant. "Go," said he to him, "and tell the grooms to bring all the mules into the yard. In the meanwhile you and I will enter this room," pointing to a door on the right. "This," said he, "is my retreat, and where I take my nap after dinner." I remarked it contained no bed, but a Spanish silk-grass hammock hung low from the ceiling, over which was a mosquito net and a light punkah within it. "Here," said he, "I lose sight of the world and all its absurdities for at least two hours every day by going quietly to rest, and as it is the custom of the country, there is little fear of my being disturbed." The head groom came to announce that the mules were in the yard. "Come," said he, "let us go and look at them; they are considered fine animals." We were soon in their company, and I beheld eight beautiful cream-coloured mules of considerable height. "These are my state mules, and are seldom used. I have eight others for common work. Horses," continued he, "are seldom in request, but I have three, which you shall see in the stable." They were large-boned, with ugly heads and short necks. "You do not admire them," said he; "they are not very handsome. They came from the Island of Curacoa, and perhaps are rather of Dutch build. I use them for the family carriage." After expressing my gratification which the sight of the beautiful mules had excited, and thanking him for his condescension, I took my leave. A week after this visit I was again sent for. "I have now good news for you," said the kind-hearted Governor. "Your ship is close in to the Moro, and has sent in a flag of truce to request me to release you, and you are free from this moment, and," added he, "I will send every English prisoner with you, if you will say that an equal number of Spaniards shall be returned on your arrival at Jamaica." This I did not hesitate to promise, as I was certain the commander-in-chief would do it on a proper representation. I took leave of this excellent man and the Consul with the warmest feelings of respect and gratitude.
Returns to his ship—Capture of a French schooner—An episode with two American sloops of war—Return to Port Royal—Attacked a second time by yellow fever—Seize and burn a Spanish gunboat—Return to Port Royal—Wetting a midshipman's commission—Ordered home with a convoy—Pathetic farewells with mulatto washerwomen.
On going on board a boat provided for the purpose, I found with much joy the five men who had been taken when the unfortunate master lost his life, my own boat's crew, and seven other seamen. This addition was cheering. Five hours later we were shaking hands with some of our mess and shipmates, who appeared delighted to see us. The ship being close in with the shore, we soon reached her, and received a hearty welcome from all on board. I acquainted the captain with every circumstance respecting our capture, and with the great kindness and liberality of the Governor and American Consul, and that I had pledged my word of honour as an officer that an equal number of officers and men should be exchanged for us. "For your satisfaction, and I hope for his," replied the captain, "a cartel is on her passage with a superior Spanish officer and twenty men, for immediately our liberal-minded commander-in-chief, Lord H. Seymour, heard, by an American vessel, of our misfortunes, he ordered the cartel to be got ready, and desired me to proceed, before we had half refitted, to St. Jago to reclaim you, having written a handsome letter to acknowledge the humane manner in which the Governor treated the English prisoners"—which letter was given to the Spanish officer to present to him on his arrival. "Now," continued the captain, "have you heard anything of the Fancy? I am afraid she is lost, with all on board her. The morning after you went away," resumed he, "we saw a vessel in the offing much resembling her. I stood towards her, and found she was an American. The sea-breeze became so strong that I could not fetch sufficiently to windward, and that accounts for your not seeing us. I was truly unfortunate, and the cruise was disastrous beyond credibility. You a prisoner, with a midshipman and nine seamen, the master and three men killed, and five others taken, and the second lieutenant, a midshipman and sixteen of the best seamen most likely drowned—for I think beyond a doubt she has upset." This conjecture was a few days after unhappily confirmed by a Bermudian sloop, which informed us that she had passed a small vessel, as we described her, bottom up near the Island of Inagua. This intelligence threw a gloom over the whole of us. "This is too tender a subject," said I, "to have any more tenders." "No," replied the captain; "all these unhappy circumstances combined are most deplorable. I do not think I will ever send the boats away again." "Not till the next time," thinks I to myself. We repaired to one of our old cruising grounds, the Isle de Vache, and although our noble captain had some days before come to a kind of secondhand determination of not sending boats away from the ship, on a large schooner heaving in sight towards the evening, I volunteered with the purser, if he would allow us the two cutters, as the wind had died away, to go after her. He, after a brown study of about half an hour, granted our request. "But," said he, "be cautious, and if you find her heavily armed, try to decoy her off shore, but by no means attempt boarding her. We have suffered too much already." Having prepared the boats, away we started, and after a most fatiguing pull, came up with her as she was making for Jacmel. Fortunately for us, the land-breeze was blowing rather fresh, which obliged her to make several tacks, and we boarded her whilst in stays. The people on board appeared astonished to see so many armed men so suddenly on her deck, as she had in the obscure light taken us for fishing canoes. She proved a French schooner, laden with bags of coffee. We soon rejoined the ship, quite elated with our prize, and sent her to Jamaica in charge of the purser. In the course of this cruise we fell in with two American sloops of war, which we chased, and as they did not shorten sail nor answer the private signal, we fired at the nearest; the shot passed through her cutwater. This event roused the minds and, I presume, the Yankee blood of both Jonathans, for they bore up, and we could hear their drums beating to quarters. We shortened sail, and they soon bowled alongside of us, with their sails spread like the tail of a turkey-cock. "You have fired into me," said the nearest. "Have I?" said our skipper, very coolly; "I intended the shot to go ahead of you. You must blame your superior sailing for the accident. You fore-reached so rapidly that the shot had not time to go ahead of you." "I don't know anything about that," was the reply. "We are American cruisers, and no one has a right, I guess, to fire into the United States men-of-war." "Then the United States men-of-war should have answered the private signal and hoisted their colours," returned our captain, "as we did ours." Here they hailed each other, and soon afterwards hoisted their colours. Another boat adventure and the capture of a beautiful small schooner without any accident was the wind up of this cruise.
We anchored at Port Royal once more. About a week after our arrival I was again attacked with the yellow fever and removed to my lodgings, where I was nursed with unremitting attention by a quadroon female, who did not leave my bedside day or night. She was a most tender and attentive nurse. It was a month before I was sufficiently strong to go on board, and nearly another before I could resume my duty. I was so reduced that I was literally a walking skeleton, or, if my reader pleases, the shadow of a ghost, and, had a purser's candle been placed within me, I might have made a tolerably good substitute for the flag-ship's top light. We were, in consequence of several of the crew being seized with yellow fever, ordered by the recommendation of the surgeon to Bluefields for change of air, and I am happy to state that from this judicious arrangement we did not lose a man. During the three weeks we remained here we amused ourselves by fishing. The water in eight fathoms was as pellucid as glass, and we could see the large conger eels twisting about between the stones at the bottom, as well as other fish, of which we caught several. I was regaining my strength rapidly, and was frequently invited to spend the day at several of the estates.
I enjoyed walking of an evening about an hour before sunset in the pimento groves, of which there were several, and when the land-breeze set in we were often regaled on board the ship by their balmy fragrance. Mr. S., at whose house I frequently dined, was particularly kind, and his hospitality will not easily be effaced from my recollection. He had an amiable daughter, and had my heart not been lost in six different places, I think I should have sent it to cruise in her snug little boudoir. The captain, as the people who were ill had nearly recovered, thought His Majesty's ship should no longer lie idle. We bade adieu to our kind friends, and once more made the water fly before us. Three days more brought us off the Havannah, where we joined the Trent and Alarm frigates. Nothing worth noticing occurred until the Trent, which was in chase of a vessel, ran on a coral reef off Matanzas. The wind was light and the sea smooth, and we soon got her afloat again. The vessel she had chased ran on a sand beach under the protection of a martello tower. Two boats armed were soon in motion from each ship, to get her off if possible. I had the direction of our boats. The enemy's gun-boat, for such she was, under Spanish colours, hoisted her ensign and the red flag of defiance, and kept up a smart fire on our boats. Fortunately we escaped, but those from the Alarm had the lieutenant and three men wounded. Our boats were the first alongside of her, when I hauled down the red flag and her colours, and threw them into one of our boats, but the senior lieutenant claimed the former. This I refused, because as I was first on board and hauled it down I considered myself entitled to keep it. He said he should refer it to his captain, who was the chief officer. "So be it," I replied. On our boarding the enemy's vessel we found the crew had abandoned her, and were firing at us with muskets from the bushes. They had scuttled her, and she was full of water. We turned her guns on them, which soon dislodged them, and they scampered off as fast as their legs would carry them. More than half of our boat's crews had landed and were under my orders. We soon perceived about thirty horse soldiers in a full trot towards us. We formed in a body two deep, and when we were near enough gave them a sailor's salute with our muskets and three cheers. We knocked one off his horse, and set the others on a full gallop back from whence they came. They discharged their carbines at us, but they were too much alarmed to take good aim, and we escaped unharmed.
As it was impossible to get the gun-boat afloat, we tarred her sails and set fire to her. We should have blown her up had not her powder been under water. She mounted a long eighteen-pounder on a traverse, and six long six-pounders on her quarter-deck. She was of great length and a formidable vessel, and we much regretted our not being able to get her afloat, as she would have answered for the Service. She had also four brass swivels mounted on her gunwales, which we took in the boats. After waiting until she had nearly burnt down to the water's edge, we returned to our ships, taking with us the wounded Spanish dragoon. Soon after we were on our oars the martello tower began blazing away at us. It had hitherto been silent, but we supposed that when the run-away dragoons perceived we were withdrawing, they returned and mounted the tower to give us a parting salute. They might have spared themselves the trouble, as it had only one gun, and that badly served. We were on board our own ships before they fired the fourth shot. "Well," said the captain, on my reaching the quarter-deck, "you were not able to get the vessel off." "No," I replied; "she was scuttled, and sank before we boarded her." "Were her guns brass or iron?" "Iron," said I, "and not worth bringing on board; there were four brass one-pound swivels, but those were taken by the lieutenant of the commodore's boat, and he ungenerously claimed the red flag I had hauled down, but I refused to give it up." Whilst this conversation was going on, a boat from the Alarm came alongside with a midshipman and a written order from the commodore for me to give up, no longer the flag of defiance but that of dispute. "I think," said the captain, "you had better comply with the order." On seeing my disinclination to do so, he said, "It is not worth contending about." "I believe, sir," I replied, "you are right. It is of too childish a nature to contend about, although I cannot help considering it arbitrary, and I am surprised that a man like Captain D. could ever give such an unjust order." "There are many men of various minds," said he. There the disagreeable conversation ended. The mid received the piece of red bunting, and I walked the deck as surly as a bear with the Caledonian rash. The captain, who was going to dine with Captain A., told me he would explain to him anything I wished respecting what had occurred. This I declined, but I mentioned the swivels, and told him that they were very handy to mount in the boats when going on service. "I will ask him for two of them," said he; "by doing this I probably may get one. You know," continued he, laughing, "he is from the Land of Cakes and bannocks, where the device is 'To hold fast and not let go.'"
In the evening the captain returned on board, bringing in the boat one of the swivels. "I have laid a point to windward of the Highlander," said he to me; "but I was obliged to make use of all my best logic, for he chose to be distressingly deaf on the subject of giving. But when I mentioned that I had a canister of real Scotch which was of no use to me, as I had left off taking snuff, his ears became instantly opened. 'You said something about two swivels, I think,' said he; 'I cannot spare you two, but I will give you one. Will you take it in your boat with you, or I will send it in our jolly boat, and as I am nearly out of snuff, you can spare me the canister you mentioned that you do not need.'" "This puts me in mind," said I, "of an Irish pilot who asked the purser of a ship I formerly belonged to, to spare him an empty barrel to make his pig a hencoop, and he would give him a sack of praters for nothing at all, at all." "The case is nearly in point," replied the captain; "I am afraid I have not gained so much on his weather-beam as I first imagined." The signal was now made to weigh, and we were soon under sail. Next morning we parted company with the frigates, swept the Bay of Mexico, ran through the Turks' Island passage, and cruised between Capes Maize and Francois for three weeks; took a small French schooner with tobacco, and burnt a small sloop in ballast. Again our anchor found the bottom of Port Royal, and the crew their copper and jet-coloured ladies.
One afternoon, taking a glass of sangaree at the tavern, I was accosted by one of our late mids who had come on shore with some others to what he called wet his commission. "Will you do me the favour to join us for a quarter of an hour. We have a room upstairs," said he to me. I told him I would in about five minutes. On entering, I found a gallon bowl filled with strong punch, with his commission soaking in it, and eight jolly mids sitting at the table in full glee. They all rose as I approached, and one of them offered me a chair. "Come, sir," said the donor of the entertainment, offering me a bumper from the contents of the bowl, "tell me if it will suit your taste." "Not quite," replied I, "you have spoilt it by putting your commission into it instead of your pocket, and it smacks too much of ink and parchment." "I told you how it would be," said he, addressing a sly, roguish-looking youngster, who had persuaded him to put it in. "I vote that he shall drink it himself, and we will have another." "Not on any account," said I, "without you will allow me to pay for it." "That will never do," cried all of them. Another of a smaller size was ordered, out of which I drank his success. I remained nearly half an hour, during which time the large bowl was drained to the last dregs in spite of its parchment flavour, and the parchment was, what the mids called, returned high and dry to the owner of it, with the writing on it nearly effaced. I remarked they ought certainly to have a patent for wetting commissions, and wished them a pleasant evening.
On returning on board I found a note for me from the captain, to acquaint me that we were to sail in a few days for Black River, in order to collect a homeward-bound convoy, as we were ordered to England. I withdrew my heart from the different little snug rooms I had left it in, and placed it on the right hook. I was so much elated that my dinner went from table untouched. I kept conjuring up Paradises, Elysian fields, and a number of other places never heard of, inhabited by women more beautiful than Eastern imagery can possibly describe—so fair, so chaste, so lovely, and so domestic. "Oh!" said I aloud, to the astonishment of my messmates, who were much occupied with their knives and forks, "give me but one of those fair ones, and I will not eat my dinner for a month." "Hulloa!" said the surgeon, "what's the matter with you?" "Nothing," replied I; "the illusion is vanished, and I will take a glass of wine with you. I cannot eat, my mind is too full of England, and my heart crowded with its delightful fair ones. What unfeeling sea monsters you are all of you," continued I, "to be eating with such voracious appetites when you know we are going to glorious England—the land of freedom and genuine hospitality." "Not so fast," said he, interrupting me; "how long is it since you were there?" "Nearly eight years," said I. "I fear," resumed he, "you will not have your dreams—for dreams they are—verified. I was there eighteen months ago, and found freedom in the mouths of the lower classes, who evidently did not understand the meaning of it, and when they did they only used it as a cloak to do mischief, for demagoguing—if you will allow the term—was the order of the day at that time, and as for hospitality that has, as you may express yourself, made sail and gone to cruise into some other climate. I had letters to two families from their relations in India; they asked me to dinner in a stiff, formal manner, and thought, I suppose, they had performed wonders. There our acquaintance ended. I am an Irishman," continued he, "and I assert without partiality that there is more real hospitality in my land of praters than in all Europe. Freedom we will not talk about; but as for the women, dear creatures, they are a mixture of roses and lilies, and such busts, like dairy maids, sure," said he; "don't say anything more about them, or I shall be what has never happened to an Irishman yet—out of spirits." "Now," said I, "doctor, we have found you out. You lost your heart when in England, and were not requited by the cruel fair one." "Fair or foul," answered he, "I would not give one Munster girl for a dozen English. To be sure," added he to a young Irish midshipman, whose turn it was to dine in the gun-room, "they are rather thick about the trotters, and their heels are to be compared to their red potatoes, but the upper part of their figures—say no more. Come, messmate, let's drink a speedy passage and soon, as a worthy alderman did at a Guildhall dinner." "You mistake, doctor," said the second lieutenant, "he gave for a toast, a speedy peace and soon." "Never mind," said the doctor, "it will be all the same a hundred years hence; an Irishman is always allowed to speak twice." Our parting with our washerwomen and other friends was pathetic in the extreme; their precious tears were sufficient to fill several (but as I did not measure them I cannot say how many) monkeys.
"Oh, Gramercy, my lob!" said my lady to me, "I neber shall see you no more; but I hope dat you member dat Julia lob you more den he can tell. No," said she, turning aside, "nobody can lob like poor me one, Julia." She appeared overwhelmed with grief, and I felt my situation awkward and pathetically silly, as she had followed me down to the boat, and the eyes of several boats' crews with their young, laughing wicked mids, were on us. I shook hands for the last time and jumped into the boat with a tear rolling down my cheek from my starboard eye. Reader, I beg you will not pity me, for I was not in love. I was what an old maiden cousin would have called imprudent.
Ordered to the Black River—Meet the magistrate there, and "bow to his bishop"—Sail with a convoy of thirty ships—Arrive at Deal—A cruise on horseback on a baker's nag, which conscientiously goes the bread round—The Author's brother comes on board, but he fails to recognise him—Paid off at Deptford.
At daylight next morning we catted the anchors, made all sail, and were the next day reposing like a swan in a lake at Black River. As notices from the merchants at Kingston had been sent to the different ports round the island that two men-of-war were going to take convoy to England, we were soon joined by several West Indiamen. This place can scarcely be called even a village, there being so few houses, and those straggling. The first time I went on shore I was called to by a stout man wearing a linen jacket and trousers, with an immense broad-brimmed straw hat on his head, and his address was abrupt and by no means polished. "What ship," said he, "officer?" "The Volage," replied I, not in love with the person's face, which was bluish-red, with a large nose. "Then," said he, "you bloody dog, come and bow to my bishop," pointing to the best house there. I stared with astonishment, and was turning away presuming he was a cloth in the wind or some madman escaped from his keeper. "Ho, ho! but you can't go before you have bowed to my bishop," he again called out; "come with me to my house, and we shall be better acquainted." He took my arm; I thought him a character, which I afterwards found he was, and gave in to his whim. On entering the verandah of the house, which was shaded by close Venetian blinds and very cool, he stopped before an immense large jug in the shape of a bishop. It was placed on a bracket slab, so that to drink out of the corner of its hat, which was its beak or spout, you were obliged to stoop. This I found he called bowing to his bishop. It contained delicious sangaree, and I bowed to it without being entreated to do so a second time. "Now," said he, "you bloody dog, you have complied like a good fellow with my first request. Your captain dines with me to-morrow; I must insist on your doing so too, and then I shall consider you an obedient officer and worthy to bow to my bishop whenever you are thirsty. My dinner-hour is five o'clock, and as I am the magistrate of this overgrown metropolis I admit of no excuse." I could not help smiling at this rough urbanity. I accepted the invitation, and at the appointed hour repaired to his house with the captain and surgeon. He received us with great good humour, and insisted, as we were bloody dogs—I understood afterwards he was very partial to naval officers and always called them by that pet name—that we should bow to his bishop before dinner. We met at his table our kind acquaintance Mr. S., his daughter, another gentleman, his wife and two nieces, who were going to England in one of the ships of the convoy. The dining-room was entirely of cedar, and the floor like a mirror, very spacious, and it partly projected over the river. Above the dining-table was a large punkah, which was kept in constant motion during dinner by two young grinning black girls. The table groaned with good things, and we did ample justice to our host's entertainment. He was evidently a great humourist, and amused us at dinner by relating anecdotes of Lord Rodney and Admiral Benbow's time. "There are," said he, "twelve tough old fellows, of which I am the chairman, who keep up the twelfth of April by an annual dinner, and as he never flinched from the enemy, we never flinch from the bottle, and keep it up till daylight, when we are so gloriously sober that we are carried home by our slaves." "Is it true," said he, addressing the captain, "that Sir Eyre Coote is to supersede the Earl of B. as Governor of our Islands? Do you know anything of him?" "Only from report," was the reply; "I think he distinguished himself by a brilliant victory over Hyder Ali in the East Indies." "Why, the devil," said he, "I beg your pardon, ladies, for swearing, do they send us soldiers as governors? We want something in the shape of a statesman with a lawyer's head, with his wig and litigation. I have no fault to find with the earl; he has governed us very fairly, and I hope his successor will do the same, although we prefer a civilian to a soldier."
After dinner we were amused by the feats of one of his household slaves named Paddy Whack, who threw somersaults round the drawing-room, walked on his hands, and afterwards threw himself several times from the highest part of the bridge, about twenty-four feet, into the river. After coffee we took leave of our eccentric but warm-hearted host, who, on shaking hands, insisted on our bloody dogships dining with him once more before we sailed. We promised to do so conditionally. Eighteen sail of merchant vessels had assembled, and we expected seven more. The surf had been high on the bar, and we had not had communication with the shore for the last two days. A canoe came off from Mr. C. with Paddy Whack, who delivered a note to the captain. "What is it about, boy?" said he. "Paper peak, massa," was the reply; "Paddy only wait answer from Massa Captain." The note was a pressing invitation to dine on shore the following day, and included the captain and officers. As I had dined with the worthy planter I persuaded the second lieutenant to go. The rest of the convoy having joined us, our sails were again swelling to a strong sea-breeze. The convoy of thirty sail of sugar-laden ships were hovering round us like chickens round the mother hen. Four others joined us at Bluefields, and off Negril Point we fell in with the S. frigate, with the former Governor of Jamaica on board and three other West Indiamen. The captain went on board the S. to pay his respects and to receive his orders.
After his return on board the signal was made to make all sail, and away we bowled for the Gulf of Florida. We touched at the Caymans for turtle, and were cheated as usual. Nothing particular occurred during our passage but our nearly being run down by one of the ships of the convoy, and my having my left shoulder unshipped by being washed off one of the weather guns by a heavy sea, which obliged me to keep my cot for more than a fortnight. The eighth week brought us in sight of the Land's End, when we repeated the signal for the convoy to separate for their respective ports. Those bound to London kept company with us as far as the Downs. I longed to be once more on my native shore, but I was doomed to be mortified for two days, as the surf on the beach was too high to admit a boat to land. On the third day I jumped on shore with a light heart and a thin pair of trousers, and repaired to the "Hoop and Griffin." I had a desperate desire to have a cruise on horseback. I rang the bell, which was answered by one of the finest formed young women I ever beheld. I was taken aback, and my heart, which I had brought from the West Indies, went like the handle of the chain pumps up and down. "What do you please to want, sir," said she, with a most musically toned voice. I blushed and modestly requested to have a horse as soon as he could be got ready. "I am really sorry, sir," answered she, "that all our horses are post-horses, but" continued she, with the gentlest accent in this world and probably many more, "we will procure you one." "Many thanks," said I; "and will you oblige me by sending up some bread and butter with some oysters, but not those which are gathered from the mangrove trees," for I had the West Indies in my mind. "Gathered from trees!—oysters from trees! I never heard of such a thing before," said she, and she went laughing out of the room. The waiter soon appeared with what I had ordered, and a foaming tankard of ale which I had forgotten to order. During my repast I envied no one. I was as happy as a city alderman at a Lord Mayor's feast; I could not contain myself or believe I was in England; I could not sit quietly in my chair; I paced the room, jumped, rubbed my hands and head, and in one of my ecstatic fits I rang the bell. My beautiful maid (not Braham's) entered as I was cutting a caper extraordinary. "Did you ring, sir?" said she with a smile becoming an angel. "I believe I did," I replied, "but I am not certain. I scarcely know what I am about. I have eaten my oysters, and now I wish for my horse." "He is not quite ready yet, sir. You said something about oysters growing on trees, didn't you, sir. I told it to my mother, and she thinks I did not understand what you said. Will you be good enough to tell me if they grow in orchards like our apples?" "I have seen thousands, and have eaten thousands that have grown on trees," said I, "but not in orchards. The tree that bears them grows close to the water side; its lower branches dip into it, and are clustered by the shell-fish, which are very small, and you may swallow a dozen at a mouthful." "Thank you, sir; my mother I am sure will believe me now. I will desire John to take away. Did you like our country oysters as well as those in foreign parts?" "They are," said I, "like you, excellent." "I will see if the horse is ready," said she, as she dropped a curtsey and quitted the room.