Captain Frederick Marryat
Part 5 out of 8
sucking fish after a shark. I had two or three offers for volunteers
to serve with me as I went along; but they were not of the right sex,
so I did not take them.
"Boat to Spithead, your honour?" said a tough old waterman.
"Ay, you'll do," said I; so I jumped into his wherry, and we shoved
"What ship is your honour going to?" said the man.
"To the D---- brig."
"Oh, you are a-going to she, are you? To belong to her, mayhap?"
"Yes," I replied.
The waterman gave a sigh, feathered his oar, and never spoke another
word till we came alongside. I did not regret his taciturnity, for I
was always more amused with my own thoughts, than in conversing with
The brig was a most beautiful vessel. She mounted eighteen guns, and
sat on the water like a duck. I perceived that the pendant was up for
punishment, and this I thought rather an unusual sight at Spithead: I
took it for granted that some aggravated offence, such as theft, or
mutiny, had been committed. Seeing I was an officer, I was admitted
alongside; so I paid the waterman, and sent him away. As I went up the
side, I saw a poor fellow spread-eagled up to the grating, "according
to the manners and customs of the natives," while the captain,
officers, and ship's company stood round witnessing the athletic
dexterity of a boatswain's mate, who, by the even, deep, and parallel
marks of the cat on the white back and shoulders of the patient,
seemed to be perfectly master of his business. All this did not
surprise me: I was used to it; but after the address of my captain
on the preceding day, I was very much surprised to hear language in
direct violation of the second article of war.
Cursings and execrations poured out of his mouth with a volubility
equal to any the most accomplished lady on the back of the Point.
"Boatswain's mate," roared the captain, "do your duty, or by G---- I
will have _you_ up, and give you four dozen yourself. One would think,
d----n your b----d, that you were brushing flies off a sleeping Venus,
instead of punishing a scoundrel, with a hide as thick as a buffalo's,
and be d----d to him--do your duty, Sir, d----n your soul."
During this elegant address, the unhappy wretch had received four
severe dozen, which the master-at-arms had counted aloud, and reported
to the captain. "Another boatswain's mate," said he. The poor creature
turned his head over his shoulders with an imploring look, but it was
in vain. I watched the countenance of the captain, and the peculiar
expression, which I could not decipher at my first interview, I now
read most plainly: it was malignant cruelty, and delight in torturing
his own species; he seemed to take a diabolical pleasure in the
hateful operation which we were compelled to witness. The second
boatswain's mate commenced, with a fresh cat, and gave a lash across
the back of the prisoner, that made _me_ start.
"One," said the master-at-arms, beginning to count.
"One!" roared the captain; "do you call that one? not a quarter of
a one. That fellow is only fit for fly-flapper at a pork shop! I'll
disrate you, by G----d, you d----d Molly Mop; is that the way you
handle a cat; that's only wiping the dirt off his back. Where's the
"Here," said a stout, gigantic, left-handed fellow, stepping forward,
with a huge blue uniform coat and a plain anchor button, holding his
hat in his left hand, and stroking his hair down his forehead with his
right. I surveyed this man, as he turned himself about, and concluded,
that the tailor who worked for him had been threatened with a specimen
of his art, if he stinted him in cloth; for the skirts of his coat
were ample, terminating in an inclined plane, the corners in front
being much lower than the middle of the robe behind; the buttons on
the hips were nearly pistol shot asunder.
"Give this man a dozen, Sir," said Captain G.; "and if you favour him,
I'll put you under arrest, and stop your liquor."
This last part of the threat had more effect with Mr Pipe than the
first. He began to peel, as the boxers call it; off came his capacious
coat; a red waistcoat--full-sized for a Smithfield ox--was next
deposited; then he untied a black silk handkerchief, and showed a
throat, covered like that of a goat, with long brown hairs, thick as
pack-thread. He next rolled up his shirt-sleeves above his elbow, and
showed an arm and a back very like the Farnese Hercules, which, no
doubt, all my readers have seen at the foot of the staircase at
Somerset-house, when they have been to the exhibition.
This hopeful commentator on articles of war, seized his cat: the
handle was two feet long, one inch and three quarters thick, and
covered with red baize. The tails of this terrific weapon were three
feet long, nine in number, and each of them about the size of that
line which covers the springs of a travelling carriage. Mr Pipes,
whose scientific display in this part of his art, had no doubt
procured for him the warrant of a boatswain, in virtue of which he now
stood as the vindicator of the laws of his country, handled his cat
like an adept, looked at it from top to bottom, cleared all the tails,
by the insertion of his delicate fingers, and combing them out,
stretched out his left leg--for he was left-legged as well as
left-handed--and measuring his distance with the accurate eye of an
engineer, raised his cat high in air with his left hand, his right
still holding the tips of the tails, as if to restrain their
impatience; when, giving his arm and body a full swing, embracing
three-fourths of the circle, he inflicted a tremendous stroke on the
back of the unfortunate culprit. This specimen seemed to satisfy the
amateur captain, who nodded approbation to the inquiring look of the
amateur boatswain. The poor man lost his respiration from the force of
the blow; and the tails of the cat coming from an opposite direction
to the first four dozen, cut the flesh diamond-wise, bringing the
blood at every blow.
I will not wound the feelings of my readers with a description of the
poor wretch's situation. Even at this distance of time, I am shocked
at it, and bitterly lament the painful necessity I have often been
under of inflicting similar punishment; but I hope and trust I never
did it without a cause, or in the wanton display of arbitrary power.
The last dozen being finished, the sum total was reported by the
master-at-arms, "five dozen."
"Five dozen!" repeated Captain G; "that will do--cast him off. And
now, sir," said he, to the fainting wretch, "I hope this will be a
warning to you, that the next time you wish to empty your beastly
mouth, you will not spit on my quarter-deck."
"Heavens!" thought I, "is all this for spitting on the quarter-deck?
and this, from the moralist of yesterday, who allowed neither oaths
nor execrations, and has uttered more blasphemy in the last ten
minutes, than I have heard for the last ten weeks?"
I had not yet caught the captain's eye--he was too intent on his
amusement. As soon as the prisoner was cast loose, he commanded to
pipe down, or in other words, to dismiss the people to their usual
occupations, when I went up to him, and touched my hat.
"Oh! you are come, are you? Pipe, belay there--send every body aft on
My commission was then read: all hats off in respect to the sovereign,
from whom the authority was derived. After this, I, being duly
inaugurated, became the second lieutenant of the sloop; and the
captain, without condescending to give me another word or look,
ordered his gig to be manned, and was going on shore. I was not
presented by him to any of the officers, which, in common courtesy, he
ought to have done. This omission, however, was supplied by the first
lieutenant, who invited me down into the gun-room, to introduce me
to my new messmates. We left the tiger pacing up and down on his
The first lieutenant was of the medium stature, a suitable height for
a sloop of war, a spare figure of about forty years of age; he had but
one eye, and that eye was as odd a one as the captain's. There was in
it, however, unlike the captain's, an infinite deal of humour, and
when he cocked it, as he constantly did, it almost spoke. I never saw
three such eyes in two such heads. There was a lurking smile in the
lieutenant's face, when I told him that the captain had desired me to
come on board and read my commission, after which I might have two or
three days to myself to prepare for sea.
"Well," said he, "you had better go and ask him now; but you will find
him a rum one."
Accordingly, up I went to him. "Have you any objection to my going on
"Shore, Sir!" bellowed he "and who the devil is to carry on the duty,
if you go on shore? Shore, eh! I wish there was no shore, and then
d----n the dog that couldn't swim! No, Sir; you have had shore
enough. The service is going to h----l, Sir! A parcel of brats, with
lieutenants' commissions before they should have been clear of the
nursery! No, Sir: stay on board, or, d----n me, I'll break you, like
an egg-shell, before you have taken the shine out of that fine new
epaulette! No, no, by G----; no more cats here than catch mice. You
stay on board, and do your duty: every man does his duty here; and let
me see the ---- that don't do it!"
I was in some measure prepared for this sublime harangue; but still
there was sufficient room in my mind to admit of great astonishment at
this sudden change of wind. I replied that he had promised me leave
yesterday, and that, upon the strength of that promise, I had left all
my things on shore, and that I was not in any way prepared to go to
"I promised you leave, did I? Perhaps I did; but that was only to get
you on board. I am up to your tricks, you d----d young chaps: when you
get on shore, there is no getting you off again. No, no; no-catchee
no-habee! You would not have made your appearance these three days, if
I hadn't sugared the trap! Now I have got you, I'll keep you, d----n my
I repeated my request to go on shore; but, without condescending to
offer any farther reasons, he answered--
"I'd see you d----d first, Sir! And observe, I never admit of
expostulation. Nothing affords me more pleasure than to oblige my
officers in every thing reasonable; but I never permit reply."
Thought I to myself, "You certainly have escaped from hell, and I do
not see how the infernal regions can do without you. You would have
been one of the most ingenious tormentors of the damned. Domitian
would have made you admiral, and your boatswain captain of the fleet!"
Having made this reflection, as I took a turn or two on deck, thinking
what was best to be done, and knowing that "the king could do no
wrong," the officer whom I had just superseded came up the hatchway,
and, touching his hat very respectfully to the captain, asked whether
he might go on shore.
"You may go to hell, and be d----d, Sir!" said the captain (who hated
bad language); "you are not fit to carry guts to a bear!--you are not
worth your salt; and the sooner you are off, the cleaner the ship will
be! Don't stand staring at me, like a bull over a gate! Down, and pack
up your traps, or I'll freshen your way!" raising his foot at the same
time, as if he was going to kick him.
The young officer, who was a mild, gentlemanly, and courageous
youth, did as he was bidden. I was perfectly astonished: I had been
accustomed to sail with gentlemen. I had heard of martinets, and
disciplinarians, and foul-mouthed captains; but this outdid all I ever
could have conceived, and much more than I thought ever could have
been submitted to by any correct officer. Roused to indignation, and
determined not to be treated in this manner, I again walked up to him,
and requested leave to go on shore.
"You have had your answer, Sir."
"Yes, I have, Sir," said I, "and in language that I never before heard
on his Majesty's quarter-deck. I joined this ship as an officer and a
gentleman, and as such I will be treated."
"Mutiny, by G----!" roared the captain. "Cock-a-hoop with your new
commission, before the ink is dry!"
"As you please, Sir," I replied; "but I shall write a letter to the
port-admiral, stating the circumstances and requesting leave of
absence; and that letter I shall trouble you to forward."
"I'll be d----d if I do!" said he.
"Then, Sir," said I, "as you have refused to forward it, and in the
presence of all the officers and ship's company, I shall forward it
without troubling you."
This last shot of mine seemed to produce the same effect upon him that
the last round does upon a beaten boxer; he did not come to time,
but, muttering something, dived down the companion, and went into his
The first lieutenant now came up, and congratulated me on my victory.
"You have puzzled and muzzled the bear completely," said he; "I have
long wanted a coadjutor like yourself. Wilson, who is going to leave
us, is the best creature that ever lived: but though brave as a lion
before an enemy, he is cowed by this incarnate devil."
Our conversation was interrupted by a message from the captain, who
desired to speak with me in his cabin. I went down; he received me
with the benignant smile of our first acquaintance.
"Mr Mildmay," said he, "I always assume a little tartness with my
officers when they first join" ("and when they quit you too," thought
I), "not only to prove to them that I am, and will be the captain of
my own ship, but also as an example to the men, who, when they see
what the officers are forced to put up with, feel themselves more
contented with their lot, and obey more readily; but, as I told you
before, the comfort of my officers is my constant study--you are
welcome to go ashore, and have twenty-four hours' leave to collect
To this harangue I made no reply; but, touching my hat, quitted the
cabin. I felt so much contempt for the man that I was afraid to speak,
lest I should commit myself.
The captain shortly after quitted the ship, telling the first
lieutenant that I had permission to go on shore. I was now left at
liberty to make acquaintance with my companions in misery--and nothing
conduces to intimacy so much as community of suffering. My resistance
to the brutality of our common taskmaster had pleased them; they told
me what a tyrant and what a disgrace to the service he was, and how
shameful it was that he should be entrusted with the command of so
fine a vessel, or of any vessel at all, except it were a convict ship.
The stories they told me of him were almost incredible, and nothing
but the too well founded idea, that an officer trying his captain by
a court-martial, had a black mark against him for ever after, and was
never known to rise, could have saved this man from the punishment he
so richly deserved: no officer, they said, had been more than three
weeks in the ship, and they were all making interest to leave her.
In my report of what occurred in this vessel during the time I
belonged to her, I must, in justice to the captains and commanders of
his Majesty's navy observe, that the case was unique of its kind--such
a character as Captain G---- was rarely met with in the navy then,
and, for reasons which I shall give, will be still more rare in
future. The first lieutenant told me that I had acted very judiciously
in resisting at first his undue exertion of authority; that he was
at once a tyrant, a bully, and a coward, and would be careful how he
attacked me again. "But be on your guard," said he, "he will never
forgive you; and, when he is most agreeable, there is the most
mischief to be dreaded. He will lull you into security, and, whenever
he can catch you tripping, he will try you by a court-martial. You had
better go on shore, and settle all your business, and, if possible, be
on board before your leave is out. It was only your threat of writing
to the port-admiral that procured you leave of absence. You have
nothing to thank him for: he would have kept you on board if he dared.
I have never quitted the ship since I joined her; and never has a
day passed without a scene similar to what you have this morning
witnessed. And yet," continued he, "if it were not for his cruelty to
the men, he is the most amusing liar I ever heard. I am often more
inclined to laugh than to be angry at him; he has a vein of wit and
rich humour that runs through his composition, and never quits him.
There is drollery even in his malice, and, if we cannot get clear of
him, we must make the best of him."
I went on shore, collected all my clothes and the other articles of
which I stood in need, and was on board my ship again the next morning
before eight o'clock.
He will lie, Sir, with such volubility, that you would think
truth were a fool: drunkenness is his best virtue; for he will be
swine-drunk; and in his sleep he does little harm.--SHAKSPEARE.
When Captain G---- made his appearance, he seemed to be in the most
amiable humour possible. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Ah, this is
what I like; never break your leave even for five minutes. Now that I
see I can trust you, you may go on shore again as soon as you please."
This speech might have done very well to any person before the mast;
but as applied to an officer, I thought it rude and ungentlemanly.
The caterer had prepared lunch in the gun-room: it consisted of
beef-steaks and broiled bullocks' kidneys, with fried onions; and
their savoury smell rose in grateful steams up the skylight, and
assailed the nostrils of the skipper. His facetious small-talk knew
no bounds; he leaned over the frame, and, looking down, said--"I say,
something devilish good going on there below!"
The hint was taken, and the first lieutenant invited him down.
"I don't care if I do; I am rather peckish."
So saying, he was down the hatchway in the twinkling of one of his own
funny eyes, as he feared the choice bits would be gone before he could
get into action. We all followed him; and as he seated himself, he
"I trust, gentlemen, this is not the last time I shall sit in the
gun-room, and that you will all consider my cabin as your own. I
love to make my officers comfortable: nothing more delightful than a
harmonious ship, where every man and boy is ready to go to h----l for
his officers. That's what I call good fellowship--give and take--make
proper allowances for one another's failings, and we shall be sorry
when the time comes for us to part. I am afraid, however, that I shall
not be long with you; for, though I doat upon the brig, the Duke
of N---- and Lord George ----, have given the first Lord a d----d
_whigging_ for not promoting me sooner; and, between ourselves, I
don't wish to go farther. My post commission goes out with me to
The first lieutenant cocked his eye; and quick as were the motions
of that eye, the captain, with a twist of one of his own, caught a
glimpse of it, before it could be returned to its bearing on the
central object, the beef-steaks, kidneys, and onions. But it passed
off without remark.
"A very capital steak this! I'll trouble you for some fat and a little
gravy. We'll have some jollification when we get to sea; but we must
get into blue water first: then we shall have less to do. Talking of
broiling steaks, when I was in Egypt, we used to broil our beef-steaks
on the rocks--no occasion for fire--thermometer at 200--hot as h----l!
I have seen four thousand men at a time cooking for the whole army
as much as twenty or thirty thousand pounds of steaks at a time,
all hissing and frying at a time--just about noon, of course, you
know--not a spark of fire! Some of the soldiers, who had been brought
up as glass-blowers, at Leith, swore they never saw such heat. I used
to go to leeward of them for a whiff, and think of old England! Ah,
that's the country, after all, where a man may think and say what he
pleases! But that sort of work did not last long, as you may suppose;
their eyes were all fried out, d----n me, in three or four weeks! I had
been ill in my bed, for I was attached to the 72nd regiment, seventeen
hundred strong. I had a party of seamen with me; but the ophthalmia
made such ravages, that the whole regiment, colonel and all, went
stone blind--all, except one corporal! You may stare, gentlemen, but
it's very true. Well, this corporal had a precious time of it: he was
obliged to lead out the whole regiment to water--he led the way, and
two or three took hold of the skirts of his jacket, on each side; the
skirts of these were seized again by as many more; and double the
number to the last, and so all held on by one another, till they had
all had a drink at the well; and, as the devil would have it, there
was but one well among us all--so this corporal used to water the
regiment just as a groom waters his horses; and all spreading out, you
know, just like the tail of a peacock."
"Of which the corporal was the rump," interrupted the doctor.
The captain looked grave.
"You found it warm in that country?" inquired the surgeon.
"Warm!" exclaimed the captain; "I'll tell you what, doctor, when
you go where you have sent many a patient, and where, for that very
reason, you certainly will go, I only hope, for your sake, and for
that of your profession in general, that you will not find it quite so
hot as we found it in Egypt. What do you think of nineteen of my men
being killed by the concentrated rays of light falling on the barrels
of the sentinels' bright muskets, and setting fire to the powder? I
commanded a mortar battery at Acre, and I did the French infernal
mischief with the shells. I used to pitch in among them when they had
sat down to dinner: but how do you think the scoundrels weathered on
me at last? D----n me, they trained a parcel of poodle dogs to watch
the shells when they fell, and then to run and pull the fuses out with
their teeth. Did you ever hear of such d----d villains? By this means,
they saved hundreds of men, and only lost half a dozen dogs--fact,
by G----; only ask Sir Sydney Smith; he'll tell you the same, and a
d----d sight more."
The volubility of his tongue was only equalled by the rapidity of his
invention and the powers of mastication; for, during the whole of this
entertaining monodrame, his teeth were in constant motion, like the
traversing beam of a steam boat; and as he was our captain as well as
our guest, he certainly took the lion's share of the repast.
"But, I say, Soundings," said he, addressing himself familiarly to the
master, who had not been long in the vessel, "let us see what sort
of stuff you have stowed the fore-hold with. You know I am a water
drinker; give me only the pure limpid stream, and a child may lead me.
I seldom touch liquor when the water is good." So saying, he poured
out a tumbler, and held it to his nose. "Stinks like h----! I say,
master, are you sure the bungs are in your casks? The cats have been
contributing to the fluid. We must qualify this;" and having poured
one-half of the water, which by the by was very good, he supplied the
vacancy with rum. Then tasting it, he said, "Come, Miss Puss; this
will rouse you out, at any rate."
A moment's pause, while he held the bumper before his eye, and then,
down it went, producing no other emotion than a deep sigh. "By the by,
that's well thought of--we'll have no cats in the ship (except those
which the depravity of human nature unhappily compels the boatswain to
use). Mr Skysail, you'll look to that. Throw them all overboard."
Taking his hat, he rose from the table, and mounting the ladder, "On
second thought," said he, addressing Skysail again, "I won't throw the
cats overboard; the sailors have a foolish superstition about that
animal--its d----d unlucky. No; put them alive in a bread-bag, and
send them on shore in the bum-boat."
Recollecting that my dinner party at the George was to take place this
day, and remembering the captain's promise that I should go on shore
whenever I pleased, I thought it only necessary to say I was going,
merely passing the usual compliment to my superior. I therefore went
to him, with a modest assurance, and told him of my engagement and my
"Upon my honour, Sir," cried he, putting his arms akimbo, and staring
me full in the face; "you have a tolerable sea-stock of modest
assurance; no sooner come on board than you ask leave to go on shore
again, and at the same time you have the impudence to tell me, knowing
how much I abhor the vice, that you mean to wet your commission, and
of course to get beastly drunk, and to make others as bad as yourself.
No, Sir; I'd have you to know, that as captain of this ship, and as
long as I have the honour to command her, I am _magister morum_."
"That is precisely what I was coming to, Sir," said I, "when you
interrupted me. Knowing how difficult it is to keep young men in
order, without the presence of some one whom they respect, and can
look up to as an example, I was going to request the honour of your
company as my guest. Nothing, in my opinion, could so effectually
repress any tendency to improper indulgence."
"There you speak like a child of my own bringing up," replied Captain
G----: "I did not give you credit for so much good sense. I am far
from throwing a wet blanket over any innocent mirth. Man is man after
all--give him but the bare necessaries of life, and he is no more than
a dog. A little mirth on such an occasion, is not only justifiable,
but praiseworthy. The health of a good king, like ours, God bless him,
should always be drank in good wine; and as you say the party is to be
select, and the occasion the wetting of your commission, I shall have
no objection to come and give away the bride; but, remember, no hard
drinking--no indecorum--and I'll do my best, not only to keep the
young bloods in order, but to add my humble powers to the hilarity of
I thanked him for his kind condescension. He then gave a few
directions to Skysail, the first lieutenant, and, ordering his gig to
be manned, offered me a passage on shore.
This was, indeed, a mark of favour never before conferred on any
officer in the ship, and all hands spontaneously turned out to see
the sight. The first lieutenant cocked his eye, which was more than
saying, "This is too good to last long." However, into the boat we
went, and pulled away for old Sally-port. The harbour-tide rolling
out, we passed close to the buoy of the _Boyne_.
"Ah! well I remember that old ship; I was midshipman of her when she
blew up. I was signal midshipman. I was in the act of making the
signal of distress, when up I went. Damnation! I thought I never
should have come down any more."
"Indeed, Sir," said I, "I thought there had been no one on board at
"No one on board!" repeated the captain, with scorn on his upper lip,
"who did you get that from?"
"I heard it from a captain I served with in America."
"Then you may tell your captain, with my compliments, that he knew
nothing at all about it. No one on board! Why, d---- me, Sir, the poop
was crowded like a sheepfold, and all bellowing to me for help. I told
them all to go to h----, and just at that moment away we all went,
sure enough. I was picked up senseless. I was told somewhere in
Stokes-bay, and carried to Haslar hospital, where I was given over for
three months--never spoke. At last I got well; and the first thing I
did, was to take a boat and go and dive down the fore-hold of my old
ship, and swam aft to the bread-room."
"And what did you see, Sir?" said I.
"Oh, nothing, except lots of human skeletons, and whitings in
abundance, swimming between their ribs. I brought up my old quadrant
out of the starboard wing, where I was adjusting it when the alarm was
given. I found it lying on the table just where I left it. I never
shall forget what a d----d rap we hit the old Queen Charlotte, with
our larboard broadside; every gun went slap into her, double-shotted.
D----n my eyes, I suppose we diddled at least a hundred men."
"Why, Sir," said I, "I always understood she only lost two men on that
"Who told you that?" said Captain G----, "your old captain?"
"Yes, Sir," said I, "he was a midshipman in her."
"He be d----," said my skipper; "to my certain knowledge, three
launch loads of dead bodies were taken out of her, and carried to the
hospital for interment."
As the boat touched the landing-place, this accomplished liar had time
to take breath, and, in fact, I was afraid he would have exhausted his
stock of lies before dinner, and kept nothing for the dessert. When we
landed, he went to his old quarters, at the Star and Garter, and I to
the George. I reminded him, at parting, that six o'clock was my hour.
"Never fear me," said he.
I collected my company previous to his arrival, and told my friends
that it was my determination to make him drunk, and that they must
assist me, which they promised to do. Having once placed him in that
predicament, I was quite sure I should stop his future discourses in
favour of temperance. My companions, perfectly aware of the sort of
man they had to deal with, treated him on his entrance with the most
flattering marks of respect. I introduced them all to him in the
most formal manner, taking them to him, one by one, just as we
are presented at court--to compare great things with small. His
good-humour was at its highest spring-tide; the honour of drinking
wine with him was separately and respectfully asked, and most
condescendingly granted to every person at the table.
"Capital salmon this," said the captain; "where does Billett get it
from? By the by, talking of that, did you ever hear of the pickled
salmon in Scotland?"
We all replied in the affirmative.
"Oh, you don't take. D----it, I don't mean dead pickled salmon; I mean
live pickled salmon, swimming about in tanks, as merry as grigs, and
as hungry as rats."
We all expressed our astonishment at this, and declared we never heard
of it before.
"I thought not," said he, "for it has only lately been introduced into
this country, by a particular friend of mine, Dr Mac----. I cannot
just now remember his d----d jaw-breaking Scotch name; he was a great
chemist and geologist, and all that sort of thing--a clever fellow
I can tell you, though you may laugh. Well--this fellow, Sir, took
nature by the heels and capsized her, as we say. I have a strong idea
that he had sold himself to the devil. Well--what does he do, but he
catches salmon and puts them into tanks, and every day added more and
more salt, till the water was as thick as gruel, and the fish could
hardly wag their tails in it. Then he threw in whole pepper corns,
half-a-dozen pounds at a time, till there was enough. Then he began to
dilute with vinegar, until his pickle was complete. The fish did not
half like it at first; but habit is every thing, and when he shewed me
his tank, they were swimming about as merry as a shoal of dace; he
fed them with fennel chopped small, and black-pepper corns. 'Come,
doctor,' says I, 'I trust no man upon tick; if I don't taste, I won't
believe my own eyes, though I _can_ believe my _tongue_.'" (We looked
at each other.) "'That you shall do in a minute,' says he; so he
whipped one of them out with a landing net; and when I stuck my knife
into him, the pickle ran out of his body, like wine out of a claret
bottle, and I ate at least two pounds of the rascal, while he flapped
his tail in my face. I never tasted such salmon as that. Worth your
while to go to Scotland, if it's only for the sake of eating live
pickled salmon. I'll give you a letter, any of you, to my friend.
He'll be d----d glad to see you; and then you may convince yourselves.
Take my word for it, if once you eat salmon that way, you will never
eat it any other."
We all said we thought that very likely.
The champagne corks flew as fast and as loud as his shells at Acre;
but we were particularly reserved, depending entirely on his tongue
for our amusement; and, finding the breeze of conversation beginning
to freshen, I artfully turned the subject to Egypt, by asking one of
my friends to demolish a pyramid of jelly, which stood before him, and
to send some of it to the captain.
This was enough: he began with Egypt, and went on increasing in the
number and magnitude of his lies, in proportion as we applauded them.
A short-hand writer ought to have been there, for no human memory
could do justice to this modern Munchausen. "Talking of the water of
the Nile," said he, "I remember, when I was first lieutenant of the
_Bellerophon_ I went into Minorca with only six tons of water, and in
four hours we had three hundred and fifty tons on board, all stowed
away. I made all hands work. The admiral himself was up to the neck
in water, with the rest of them. 'D----n it, admiral,' says I, 'no
skulking.' Well--we sailed the next day; and such a gale of wind I
never saw in all my life--away went all our masts, and we had nearly
been swamped with the weather-roll. One of the boats was blown off the
booms, and went clean out of sight before it touched the water. You
may laugh at that, but that was nothing to the _Swallow_ sloop of
war. She was in company with us; she wanted to scud for it, but, by
Jupiter, she was blown two miles up the country--guns, men, and all;
and the next morning they found her flying jib-boom had gone through
the church-window, and slap into the cheek of the picture of the
Virgin Mary. The natives all swore it was done on purpose by d----d
heretics. The captain was forced to arm his men, and march them all
down to the beach, giving the ship up to the people, who were so
exasperated that they set her on fire, and never thought of the powder
which was on board. All the priests were in their robes, singing some
stuff or another, to purify the church; but that was so much time
thrown away, for in one moment away went church, priests, pictures,
and people, all to the devil together."
Here he indulged himself in some vile language and scurrilous abuse of
religion and its ministers. All priests were hypocritical scoundrels.
If he was to be of any religion at all, he said, he should prefer
being a Roman Catholic, "because, then, you know," added he, "a
man may sin as much as he likes, and rub off as he goes, for a few
shillings. I got my commission by religion, d----n me. I found my old
admiral was a psalm-singer; so says I, 'my old boy, I'll give you
enough of that,' so I made the boatswain stuff me a hassock, and this
I carried with me every where, that I might save my trowsers, and not
hurt my knees; so then I turned to and prayed all day long, and kept
the people awake, singing psalms all night. I knelt down and prayed on
the quarter-deck, main-deck, and lower deck. I preached to the men in
the tiers, when they coiled the cables, and groaned loud and deep when
I heard an oath. The thing took--the admiral said I was the right
sort, and he made a commander out of the greatest atheist in the ship.
No sooner did I get hold of the sheepskin, than to the devil I pitched
hassock and bible."
How long he might have gone on with this farrago, it is difficult to
say; but we were getting tired of him, so we passed the bottle till he
left off narrative, and took to friendship.
"Now I say (hiccup), you Frank, you are a devilish good fellow; but
that one-eyed son of a gun, I'll try him by a court-martial, the first
time I catch him drunk; I'll hang him at the yard-arm, and you shall
be my first lieutenant and _custos-rot-torum_, d----n me. Only you come
and tell me the first time he is disguised in liquor, and I'll settle
him, d----n his cock eye--a saucy, Polyphemus-looking _son of a--_
(hiccup) a Whitechapel bird-catcher."
Here his recollection failed him; he began to talk to himself, and to
confound me with the first lieutenant.
"I'll teach him to write to port-admirals for leave--son of a sea
He was now drawing to the finale, and began to sing,
"The cook of the huffy got drank,
Fell down the fore-scuttle, and
Broke his gin bottle."
Here his head fell back, he tumbled off his chair, and lay motionless
on the carpet.
Having previously determined not to let him be exposed in the streets
in that state, I had provided a bed for him at the inn; and, ringing
the bell, I ordered the waiter to carry him to it. Having seen him
safely deposited, untied his neckcloth, took off his boots, and raised
his head a little, we left him, and returned to the table, where we
finished our evening in great comfort, but without any other instance
The next morning, I waited on him. He seemed much annoyed at seeing
me, supposing I meant, by my presence, to rebuke him for his
intemperance; but this was not my intention. I asked him how he felt;
and I regretted that the hilarity of the evening had been interrupted
in so unfortunate a manner.
"How do you mean, sir? Do you mean to insinuate that I was not sober?"
"By no means, Sir," said I; "but are you aware, that in the midst of
your delightful and entertaining conversation, you tumbled off your
chair in an epileptic fit?--are you subject to these?"
"Oh, yes, my dear fellow, indeed I am; but it is so long since I last
had one, that I was in hopes they had left me. I have invalided for
them four times, and just at the very periods when, if I could have
remained out, my promotion was certain."
He then told me I might remain on shore that day, if I pleased. I gave
him credit for his happy instinct in taking the hint of the fit; and
as soon as I left him, he arose, went on board, and flogged two men
for being drunk the night before.
I did not fail to report all that had passed to my messmates, and we
sailed a few days afterwards for Barbadoes.
On the first Sunday of our being at sea, the captain dined in the
gun-room with the officers. He soon launched out into his usual strain
of lying and boasting, which always irritated our doctor, who was a
sensible young Welshman. On these occasions, he never failed to raise
a laugh at the captain's expense, by throwing in one or two words at
the end of each anecdote; and this he did in so grave and modest a
manner, that without a previous knowledge of him, anyone might have
supposed he was serious. The captain renewed his story of the corps of
poodles to extract the fuses from the shells. "I hoped," he said, "to
see the institution of such a corps among ourselves; and if I were to
be the colonel of it, I should soon have a star on my breast."
"That would be the Dog Star," said the doctor, with extreme gaiety.
"Thank you, Doctor," said the captain; "not bad; I owe you one."
We laughed; the doctor kept his countenance; and the captain looked
very grave; but he continued his lies, and dragged in as usual the
name of Sir Sydney Smith to support his assertions. "If you doubt me,
only ask Sir Sydney Smith; he'll talk to you about Acre for thirty-six
hours on a stretch, without taking breath; his cockswain at last got
so tired of it, that he nick-named him 'Long Acre.'"
The poor doctor did not come off scot free; the next day, he
discovered that the deck leaked over his cabin, and the water ran into
his bed. He began, with a hammer and some nails, to fasten up a piece
of painted canvas, by way of shelter. The captain heard the noise of
the hammer, and finding it was the doctor, desired him to desist. The
doctor replied, that he was only endeavouring to stop some leaks over
his bed: the captain said they should not be stopped; for that a bed
of leeks was a very good bed for a Welshman.
"There, Doctor; now we are quits: that's for your Dog Star. I suppose
you think nobody can make a pun or a pill, in the ship, but yourself?"
"If my pills were no better than your puns," muttered the doctor, "we
should all be in a bad way."
The captain then directed the carpenter not to allow any nails to the
doctor, or the use of any of his tools; he even told the poor surgeon
that he did not know how to make a pill, and that "he was as useless
as the Navy Board." He accused him of ignorance in other parts of his
profession; and, ordering all the sick men on deck, rope-ended them to
increase their circulation, and put a little life into them.
Many a poor sick creature have I seen receive a most unmerciful
beating. My wonder was that the men did not throw him overboard; and I
do really believe that if it had not been for respect and love to the
officers, they would have done so. No sooner had we got into blue
water, as he called it--that is, out of soundings--than he began his
pranks, which never ceased till we reached Carlisle Bay. Officers and
men were all treated alike, and there was no redress, for no one
among us dared to bring him to a court-martial. His constant maxim
was--"Keep sailors at work, and you keep the devil out of their
minds--all hands all day-watch, and watch all night."
"No man," said Jacky (the name we gave him) "eats the bread of
idleness on board of my ship: work keeps the scurvy out of their
bones, the lazy rascals."
The officers and men, for the first three weeks, never had a watch
below during the day. They were harassed and worn to death, and the
most mutinous and discontented spirit prevailed throughout the ship.
One of the best seamen said, in the captain's hearing, that, "since
the ship had been at sea, he had only had three watches below."
"And if I had known it," said the captain, "you should not have had
that;" and turning the hands up, he gave him four dozen.
Whenever he flogged the men, which he was constantly doing, he never
failed to upbraid them with ingratitude, and the indulgences which
they received from him.
"By G----d, there is no man-of-war in the service that has so much
indulgence. All you have to do, is to keep the ship clean, square the
yards; hoist in your provisions, eat them; hoist your grog in, drink
it, and strike the empty casks over the side; but Heaven itself would
not please such a set of d----d fat, lazy, discontented rascals."
His language to the officers was beyond any thing I ever could have
supposed would have proceeded from the mouth of a human being. The
master, one day, incurred his displeasure, and he very flippantly told
the poor man to go to h----.
"I hope, Sir," said the master, "I have as good a chance of going to
Heaven as yourself."
"You go to Heaven!" said the captain, "you go to Heaven! Let me catch
you there, and I will come and kick you out."
This was, indeed, shewing how far he would have carried his tyranny if
he could. But our feelings are relieved from any violent shock at
this apparent blasphemy, when we recollect that the poor man was an
atheist; and that his idea of Heaven was that of a little parlour at
the Star and Garter, with a good fire, plenty of grog, and pipes of
He kept no table, nor did he ever drink any wine, except when he
dined with us; but got drunk every night, more or less, on the ship's
spirits, in his own cabin. He was always most violent in the evening.
Our only revenge was laughing at his monstrous lies on Sunday, when he
dined with us. One night, his servant came and told the midshipman of
the watch, that the captain was lying dead drunk on the deck, in his
cabin. This was communicated to me, and I determined to make the best
use of it. I ran down to the cabin taking with me the midshipman of
the watch, the quarter-master, and two other steady men; and having
laid the water-drinker in his bed, I noted down the date, with all the
particulars, together with the names of the witnesses, to be used as
soon as we fell in with the admiral.
The next day, I think he had some suspicion of what I had done, and it
had nearly been fatal to me. It was blowing a fresh trade wind, and
the vessel rolling very deep, when he ordered the booms to be cast
loose and re-stowed. This was nothing short of murder and madness: but
in spite of every remonstrance, he persisted, and the consequences
were terrible. The lashings were no sooner cast off, than a spare
top-mast fell and killed one of the men. This was enough to have
completed our mischief for the day; but the devil had not done with us
yet. The booms were secured, and the men were ordered to rattle the
rigging down, which, as the vessel continued to roll heavily, was
still more dangerous, and, if possible, more useless than the former
operation. He was warned of it, but in vain; and the men had not been
aloft more than ten minutes, when one of them fell overboard. Why I
should again have put my life in jeopardy, particularly after the
warning of the last voyage, I know not. I was perhaps vain of what I
could do in the water. I knew my powers; and with the hope of saving
this unfortunate victim to the folly and cruelty of the captain, I
plunged after him into the sea, feeling at the same time, that I was
almost committing an act of suicide. I caught hold of him, and for a
time supported him; and, had the commonest diligence and seamanship
been shewn, I should have saved him. But the captain, it appeared,
when he found I was overboard, was resolved to get rid of me, in order
to save himself: he made use of every difficulty to prevent the boat
coming to me. The poor man was exhausted: I kept myself disengaged
from him, when swimming round him; supported him occasionally whenever
he was sinking; but, finding at last that he was irrecoverably
gone--for though I had a firm hold of him, he was going lower and
lower--and, looking up, perceiving I was so deep that the water was
dark over my head, I clapped my knees on his shoulders, and, giving
myself a little impetus from the resistance, rose to the surface. So
much was I exhausted, that I could not have floated half a minute
more, when the boat came and picked me up.
The delay in heaving the ship to, I attributed to the scene I had
witnessed the night before; and in this, I was confirmed by the
testimony of the officers. Having lost two men by his unseamanlike
conduct, he would have added deliberate murder of a third, to save
himself from the punishment which he knew awaited him. He continued
the same tyrannical conduct, and I had resolved that the moment we
fell in with the admiral to write for a court-martial on this man,
let the consequences be what they might: I thought I should serve my
country and the navy by ridding it of such a monster.
Several of the officers were under arrest, and notwithstanding the
heat of their cabins in that warm climate, were kept constantly
confined to them with a sentinel at the door. In consequence of
this cruel treatment, one of the officers became deranged. We made
Barbadoes, and running round Needham's Point into Carlisle Bay, we saw
to our mortification, that neither the admiral nor any ship of war was
there, consequently our captain was commanding officer in the port.
Upon this, he became remarkably amiable, supposing if the evil day was
put off, it would be dispensed with altogether; he treated me with
particular attention, hoped we should have some fun ashore; as the
admiral was not come in, we should wait for him; tired of kicking
about at sea, he should take all his _duds_, with him, and bring
himself to an anchor on shore, and not come afloat again till we
saluted his flag.
Neither the first lieutenant nor myself believed one word of this;
indeed, we always acted upon the exact reverse of what he said; and it
was well we did so in this instance. After we had anchored, he went
ashore, and in about an hour returned, and stated that the admiral was
not expected till next month; that he should, therefore, go and take
up his quarters at Jemmy Cavan's, and not trouble the ship any more
until the admiral arrived; he then left us, taking his trunk and all
his dirty linen, dirty enough it was.
Some of the officers unfortunately believed that we were to remain,
and followed the captain's example by sending their linen on shore to
be washed. Skysail was firm, and so was I; the lieutenant cocked his
eye, and said, "Messmate, depend on it there is something in the wind.
I have sent one shirt on shore to be washed; and when that comes off,
I will send another; if I lose that it is no great matter."
That night, at ten o'clock, Captain Jacky came on board, bringing his
trunk and dirty linen, turned the hands up, up anchor, and ran out of
Carlisle Bay and went to sea, leaving most of the officers' linen on
shore. This was one of his tricks. He had received his orders when he
landed in the morning; they were waiting for him, and his coming on
board for his things, was only a run to throw us off our guard, and
I suppose compel us, by the loss of our clothes, to be as dirty
in appearance as he was himself, "but he always liked to make his
We arrived at Nassau, in New Providence, without any remarkable
incident, although the service continued to be carried on in the same
disagreeable manner as ever. I continued, however, to get leave to go
on shore; and finding no prospect of bringing the captain to justice,
determined to quit the ship, if possible. This was effected by
accident, otherwise I should have been much puzzled to have got clear
of her. I fell between the boat and the wharf as I landed, and by the
sudden jerk ruptured a small bloodvessel in my chest; it was of no
great importance in itself, but in that climate required care, and I
made the most of it. They would have carried me on board again, but
I begged to be taken to the hotel. The surgeon of the regiment doing
duty there attended me, and I requested him to make my case as bad
as possible. The captain came to see me--I appeared very ill--his
compassion was like that of the Inquisitor of the Holy Office,
who cures his victim in order to enable him to go through further
torments. His time of sailing arrived, and I was reported to be too
ill to be removed. Determined to have me, he prolonged his stay. I
got better; the surgeon's report was more favourable; but I was still
unwilling to go on board. The captain sent me an affectionate message,
to say that if I did not come, he would send a file of marines to
bring me: he even came himself and threatened me; when, finding there
were no witnesses in the room, I plainly told him that if he persisted
in having me on board, it would be to his own destruction, for that I
was fully determined to bring him to a court-martial for drunkenness
and unofficerlike conduct, the moment we joined the admiral. I told
him of the state in which I had found him. I recapitulated his
blasphemies, and his lubberly conduct in losing the two men; he stared
and endeavoured to explain; I was peremptory, and he whined and gave
in, seeing he was in my power.
"Well then, my dear fellow," said Jacky, "since you are so very
ill--sorry as I shall be to lose you--I must consent to your staying
behind. I shall find it difficult to replace you; but as the comfort
and happiness of my officers is my first object on all occasions, I
will prefer annoying myself to annoying you." So saying, he held out
his hand to me, which I shook with a hearty good-will, sincerely
hoping that we might never meet again, either in this world or the
He was afterwards brought to a court-martial, for repeated acts of
drunkenness and cruelty, and was finally dismissed the service.
In giving this detail of Captain G----'s peculiarities, let it not be
imagined, that even at that period such characters were common in the
service. I have already said, that he was an unique. Impressment
and the want of officers at the early part of the war, gave him an
opportunity of becoming a lieutenant; he took the weak side of the
admiral to obtain his next step, and obtained the command of a sloop,
from repeated solicitation at the Admiralty, and by urging his
claims of long servitude. The service had received serious injury by
admitting men on the quarter-deck from before the mast; it occasioned
there being two classes of officers in the navy--namely, those who had
rank and connections, and those who had entered by the "hawse-holes,"
as they were described. The first were favoured when young, and did
not acquire a competent knowledge of their duty; the second, with few
exceptions, as they advanced in their grades, proved, from want of
education, more and more unfit for their stations. These defects have
now been remedied; and as all young men who enter the service must
have a regular education, and consequently be the sons of gentlemen,
a level has been produced, which to a certain degree precludes
favouritism, and perfectly bars the entrance to such men as Captain
After the battle of Trafalgar, when England and Europe were indebted
for their safety to the British fleet, the navy became popular,
and the aristocracy crowded into it. This forwarded still more
the melioration of the service, and under the succeeding naval
administration, silent, certain, and gradual improvements, both in
men, officers, and ships, took place. Subsequently, the navy has been
still more fortunate, in having an officer called to its councils,
whose active and constant employment at sea, previous to the peace of
Paris, had given him a thorough insight into its wants and abuses.
Unconnected with party, and unawed by power, he has dared to do his
duty; and it is highly to the credit of the first lord, who has so
long presided at the board, that the suggestions of this officer have
met with due consideration; I can therefore assure my reader, that as
long as his advice is attended to, he need be afraid of meeting with
no more Captain G----'s.
There she goes, brimful of anger and jealousy. Mercy on the poor man!
The dreadful fish that hath deserved the name
As the brig moved out of the harbour of Nassau, I moved out of bed;
and as she set her royals and made sail, I put on my hat and walked
out. The officers of the regiment quartered there, kindly invited me
to join their mess; and the colonel enhanced the value of the offer
by assigning for me good apartments in the barracks. I was instantly
removed to cleanly and comfortable lodgings. I soon regained my
strength, and was able to sit at the table, where I found thirty-five
young officers, living for the day, careless of the morrow; and,
beyond that never bestowing a thought. It is a singular fact, that
where life is most precarious, men are most indifferent about its
preservation; and, where death is constantly before our eyes, as in
this country, eternity is seldom in our thoughts: but so it is; and
the rule extends still further in despotic countries. Where the union
between the head and shoulders may be dissolved in a moment by the
sword of a tyrant, life is not so valued, and death loses its
terrors; hence the apathy and indifference with which men view their
executioners in that state of society. It seems as if existence, like
estates, was valuable in proportion to the validity of the title-deeds
by which they are held.
To digress no more. Although I was far from being even commonly
virtuous, which is about tantamount to absolute wickedness, I was no
longer the thoughtless mortal I had ever been since I left school.
The society of Emily, and her image graven on my heart; the close
confinement to the brig, and the narrow escape from death in the
second attempt to save the poor sailor's life, had altogether
contributed their share to a kind of temporary reformation, if not
to a disgust to the coarser descriptions of vice. The lecture I had
received from Emily on deceit, and the detestable conduct of my last
captain, had, as I thought, almost completed my reformation. Hitherto
I felt I had acted wrong, without having the power to act right.
I forgot that I had never made the experiment. The declaration of
Captain G.'s atheism was so far from converting me, that from that
moment I thought more seriously than ever of religion. So great was
my contempt for his character, that I knew whatever he said must be
wrong, and, like the Spartan drunken slave, he gave me the greatest
horror of vice.
Such was my reasoning, and such my sentiments, previous to any
relapse into sin or folly. I knew its heinousness. I transgressed and
repented; habit was all-powerful in me; and the only firm support
I could have looked to for assistance was, unfortunately, very
superficially attended to. Religion, for any good purposes, was
scarcely in my thoughts. My system was a sort of Socratic heathen
philosophy--a moral code, calculated to take a man tolerably safe
through a quiet world, but not to extricate him from a labyrinth of
The thoughtless and vicious conduct of my companions became to me a
source of serious reflection. Far from following their example, I felt
myself some degrees better than they were; and in the pride of my
heart thanked God that I was not like these publicans. My pharisaical
arrogance concealed from me the mortifying fact that I was much worse,
and with very slight hopes of amendment. Humility had not yet entered
my mind; but it was the only basis on which any religious improvement
could be created--the only chance of being saved. I rather became
refined in vice, without quitting it. Gross and sensual gratification,
so easily obtained in the West Indies, was disgusting to me; yet
I scrupled not to attempt the seduction of innocence, rather more
gratified in the pursuit than in the enjoyment, which soon palled, and
drove me after other objects.
I had, however, little occasion to exert my tact in this art in the
Bahama Islands, where, as in all the other islands of the West Indies,
there is a class of women, born of white fathers and mustee or mulatto
women, nearly approaching in complexion to the European; many of them
are brunettes, with long black hair, very pretty, good eyes, and often
elegant figures. These ladies are too proud of the European blood in
their veins to form an alliance with any male who has a suspicion of
black in his genealogical table; consequently they seldom are married
unless from interested motives, when, having acquired large property
by will, they are sought in wedlock by the white settlers.
So circumstanced, these girls prefer an intercourse with the object of
their choice to a legal marriage with a person of inferior birth; and,
having once made their selection, an act of infidelity is of rare
occurrence among them. Their affection and constancy will stand the
test of time and of long separation; generous to prodigality, but
jealous, and irritable in their jealousy, even to the use of the
dagger and poison.
One of these young ladies found sufficient allurement in my personal
charms to surrender at discretion, and we lived in that sort of
familiar intercourse which, in the West Indies, is looked upon as a
matter of necessity between the parties, and of indifference by every
one else. I lived on in this Epicurean style for some months; until,
most unfortunately, my _chere amie_ found a rival in the daughter of
an officer, high in rank, on the island. Smitten with my person, this
fair one had not the prudence to conceal her partiality: my vanity
was too much flattered not to take advantage of her sentiments in my
favour; and, as usual, flirtation and philandering occupied most of
my mornings, and sometimes my evenings, in the company of this fair
Scandal is a goddess who reigns paramount, not only in Great Britain,
but also in all his Majesty's plantations; and her votaries very soon
selected me as the target of their archery. My pretty Carlotta became
jealous; she taxed me with inconstancy. I denied the charge; and as a
proof of my innocence, she obtained from me a promise that I should go
no more to the house of her rival; but this promise I took very good
care to evade, and to break. For a whole fortnight, my domestic peace
was interrupted either by tears, or by the most voluble and outrageous
solos, for I never replied after the first day.
A little female slave, one morning, made me a signal to follow her to
a retired part of the garden. I had shewn this poor little creature
some acts of kindness, for which she amply repaid me. Sometimes I had
obtained for her a holiday--sometimes saved her a whipping, and
at others had given her a trifle of money; she therefore became
exceedingly attached to me, and as she saw her mistress's anger daily
increase, she knew what it would probably end in, and watched my
safety like a little guardian sylph.
"No drinkee coffee, Massa," said she, "Missy putty obeah stuff in."
As soon as she had said this, she disappeared, and I went into the
house, where I found Carlotta preparing the breakfast; she had an old
woman with her, who seemed to be doing something which she was not
very willing I should see. I sat down carelessly, humming a tune, with
my face to a mirror, and my back to Carlotta, so that I was able to
watch her motions without her perceiving it. She was standing near
the fireplace, the coffee was by her, on the table, and the old woman
crouched in the chimney corner, with her bleared eyes fixed on the
embers. Carlotta seemed in doubt; she pressed her hands forcibly on
her forehead; took up the coffee-pot to pour me out a cup, then sat
it down again; the old woman muttered something in their language;
Carlotta stamped with her little foot, and poured out the coffee.
She brought it to me--trembled as she placed it before me--seemed
unwilling to let go her hold, and her hand still grasped the cup, as
if she would take it away again. The old woman growled and muttered
something, in which I could only hear the name of her rival mentioned.
This was enough: the eyes of Carlotta lighted up like a flame; she
quitted her hold of the salver, retreated to the fireplace, sat
herself down, covered her face, and left me, as she supposed, to make
my last earthly repast.
"Carlotta," said I, with a sudden and vehement exclamation. She
started up, and the blood rushed to her face and neck, in a profusion
of blushes, which are perfectly visible through the skins of these
mulattos. "Carlotta," I repeated, "I had a dream last night, and who
do you think came to me? It was Obeah!" (She started at the name.) "He
told me not to drink coffee this morning, but to make the old woman
drink it." At these words the beldam sprang up. "Come here, you old
hag," said I. She approached trembling, for she saw that escape from
me was impossible, and that her guilt was detected. I seized a sharp
knife, and taking her by her few remaining grey and woolly hairs,
said, "Obeah's work must be done: I do not order it, but he commands
it; drink that coffee instantly."
So powerful was the name of Obeah on the ear of the hag, that she
dreaded it more than my brandished knife. She never thought of
imploring mercy, for she supposed it was useless after the discovery,
and that her hour was come; she therefore lifted the cup to her
withered lip, and was just going to fulfil her destiny and to drink,
when I dashed it out of her hand, and broke it in a thousand pieces on
the floor, darting, at the same time, a fierce look at Carlotta, who
threw herself at my feet, which she fervently kissed in an agony of
"Kill me! kill me!" ejaculated she; "it was I that did it! Obeah is
great--he has saved you. Kill me, and I shall die happy, now you are
safe--do kill me!"
I listened to these frantic exclamations with perfect calmness. When
she was a little more composed, I desired her to rise. She obeyed, and
looked the image of despair, for she thought I should immediately quit
her for the arms of her more fortunate rival, and she considered my
innocence as fully established by the appearance of the deity.
"Carlotta," said I, "what would you have done if you had succeeded in
"I will shew you," said she; when, going to a closet, the took out
another basin of coffee; and before I could dash it from her lips, as
I had the former one from the black woman, the infatuated girl had
swallowed a small portion of it.
"What else can I do?" said she; "my happiness is gone for ever."
"No, Carlotta," said I; "I do not wish for your death, though you have
plotted mine. I have been faithful to you, and loved you, until you
made this attempt."
"Will you forgive me before I die?" said she; "for die I must, now
that I know you will quit me!" Uttering these words, she threw herself
on the floor with violence, and her head coming in contact with the
broken fragments of the basin, she cut herself, and bled so copiously
that she fainted. The old woman had fled, and I was left alone with
her, for poor little Sophy was frightened, and had hidden herself.
I lifted Carlotta from the floor, and, placing her in a chair, I
washed her face with cold water; and having staunched the blood,
I laid her on her bed, when she began to breathe and to sob
convulsively. I sat myself by her side; and as I contemplated her
pale face and witnessed her grief, I fell into a train of melancholy
retrospection on my numerous acts of vice and folly.
"How many warnings," said I, "how many lessons am I to receive before
I shall reform? How narrowly have I escaped being sent to my account
'unanealed' and unprepared! What must have been my situation if I had
at this moment been called into the presence of my offended Creator?
This poor girl is pure and innocent, compared with me, taking into
consideration the advantages of education on my side, and the want
of it on hers. What has produced all this misery and the dreadful
consequences which might have ensued, but my folly in trifling with
the feelings of an innocent girl, and winning her affections merely
to gratify my own vanity; at the same time that I have formed a
connection with this unhappy creature, the breaking of which will
never cause me one hour's regret, while it will leave her in misery,
and will, in all probability, embitter all her future existence? What
shall I do? Forgive, as I hope to be forgiven: the fault was more mine
I then knelt down and most fervently repeated the Lord's Prayer,
adding some words of thanksgiving, for my undeserved escape from
death. I rose up and kissed her cold, damp forehead; she was sensible
of my kindness, and her poor head found relief in a flood of tears.
Her eyes again gazed on me, sparkling with gratitude and love, after
all she had gone through. I endeavoured to compose her; the loss of
blood had produced the best effects; and, having succeeded in calming
her conflicting passions, she fell into a sound sleep.
The reader who knows the West Indies, or knows human nature, will not
be surprised that I should have continued this connection as long as I
remained on the island. From the artless manner in which Carlotta had
conducted her plot; from her gestures and her agitation, I was quite
sure that she was a novice in this sort of crime, and that should she
ever relapse into her paroxysm of jealousy, I should be able to detect
any farther attempt on my life. Of this, however, I had no fears,
having by degrees discontinued my visits to the young lady who had
been the cause of our fracas; and I never afterwards, while on the
island, gave Carlotta the slightest reason to suspect my constancy. I
was much censured for my conduct to the young lady, as the attentions
I had shewn her, and her marked preference for me, had driven away
suitors who really were in earnest, and they never returned to her
In these islands, the naturalist would find a vast store to reward
investigation; they abound with a variety of plants, birds, fish,
shells, and minerals. It was here that Columbus made his first
landing, but in which of the islands I am not exactly certain; though
I am very sure he did not find them quite so agreeable as I did, for
he very soon quitted them, and steered away for St Domingo.
It is not, perhaps, generally known, that New Providence was the
island selected for his residence by Blackbeard, the famous pirate;
the citadel that stands on the hill above the town of Nassau, is built
on the site of the fortress which contained the treasure of that
famous freebooter. A curious circumstance occurred during my stay
on this island, and which, beyond all doubt, was connected with the
adventures of those extraordinary people, known by the appellation of
Buccaneers. Some workmen were digging near the foot of the hill under
the fort, when they discovered some quicksilver, and on inspection, a
very considerable quantity was found; it had evidently been a part of
the plunder of the pirates, buried in casks or skins, and these having
decayed, the liquid ore naturally escaped down the hill.
Though not indifferent to the pleasures of the table, I was far from
resigning myself to the Circean life led by the generality of young
military men in the Bahamas.
The education which I had received, and which placed me far above
the common run of society in the colonies, induced me to seek for a
companion whose mind had received equal cultivation; and such a one
I found in Charles ----, a young lieutenant in the ---- regiment,
quartered at Nassau. Our intimacy became the closer, in proportion as
we discovered the sottish habits and ignorance of those around us. We
usually spent our mornings in reading the classic authors with which
we were both familiar; we spouted our Latin verses; we fenced; and we
amused ourselves, occasionally, with a game of billiards, but never
ventured our friendship on a stake for money. When the heat of the day
had passed off, we strolled out, paid a few visits, or rambled over
the island; keeping as much aloof from the barracks as possible, where
the manner of living was so very uncongenial to our notions. The
officers began their day about noon, when they sat down to breakfast;
after that, they separated to their different quarters, to read the
novels, with which the presses of England and France inundated these
islands, to the great deterioration of morals. These books, which they
read lounging on their backs, or laid beside them and fell asleep
over, occupied the hottest part of the day; the remainder, till the
hour of dinner arrived, was consumed in visiting and gossiping, or in
riding to procure an appetite for dinner. Till four in the morning,
their time was wholly devoted to smoking and drinking; their beds
received them in a state of intoxication more or less; parade, at nine
o'clock, forced them out with a burning brain and parched tongue; they
rushed into the sea, and found some refreshment in the cool water,
which enabled them to stand upright in front of their men; the formal
duty over, they retired again to their beds, where they lay till noon,
and then to breakfast.
Such were their days; can it be wondered at that our islands are fatal
to the constitution of Europeans, when this is their manner of life in
a climate always disposed to take advantage of any excess? The men too
readily followed the example of their officers, and died off in the
same rapid manner; one of the most regular employments of the morning
was to dig graves for the victims of the night. Four or five of these
receptacles was thought a moderate number. Such was the fatal apathy
in which these officers existed, that the approach, nay; even
the certainty of death, gave them no apparent concern, caused no
preparation, excited no serious reflection. They followed the corpse
of a brother-officer to the grave in military procession. These
ceremonies were always conducted in the evening, and often have I seen
these thoughtless young men throwing stones at the lanthorns which
were carried before them to light them to the burying-ground.
I was always an early riser, and believe I owe much of my good health
to this custom. I used to delight in a lovely tropical morning, when,
with a cigar in my mouth, I walked into the market. What would Sir
William Curtis, or Sir Charles Flower have said, could they have seen,
as I did, the numbers of luxurious turtle lying on their backs, and
displaying their rich calapee to the epicurean purchaser? Well, indeed
might the shade of Apicius[A] lament that America and turtle were not
discovered in his days. There were the guanas, too, in abundance, with
their mouths sewed up to prevent their biting; these are excellent
food, although bearing so near a resemblance to the alligator, and
its diminutive European representative, the harmless lizard. Muscovy
ducks, parrots, monkeys, pigeons, and fish. Pine apples abounded,
oranges, pomegranates, limes, Bavarias, plantains, love apples,
Abbogada pears (better known by the name of subaltern's butter), and
many other fruits, all piled in heaps, were to be had at a low price.
Such was the stock of a New Providence market.
[Footnote A: Lyttleton's "Dialogues of the Dead."]
Of the human species, buyers and vendors, there were black, brown and
fair; from the fairest skin, with light blue eyes, and flaxen hair, to
the jet-black "Day and Martin" of Ethiopia; from the loveliest form
of Nature's mould, to the disgusting squaw, whose flaccid mammae hung
like inverted bottles to her girdle, or are extended over her shoulder
to give nourishment to the little imp perched on her back; and here
the urchin sits the live long day, while the mother performs all the
drudgery of the field, the house, or the market.
The confusion of Babel did not surpass the present gabble of a West
India market. The loud and everlasting chatter of the black women, old
and young (for black ladies _can_ talk as well as white ones); the
screams of children, parrots, and monkeys; black boys and girls, clad
_a la Venus_, white teeth, red lips, black skins, and elephant legs,
formed altogether a scene well worth looking at; and now, since the
steamers have acquired so much velocity, I should think would not be
an unpleasant lounge for the fastidious _ennuye_ of France or England.
The beauty and coolness of the morning, the lovely sky, and the
cheerfulness of the slaves, whom our morbid philanthropists wish to
render happy, by making discontented, would altogether amply repay the
trouble and expense of a voyage, to those who have leisure or money
enough to enable them to visit the tropical islands.
The delightful, and, indeed, indispensable amusement of bathing, is
particularly dangerous in these countries. In the shallows you are
liable to be struck by the stingray, a species of skate, with a sharp
barb about the middle of its tail; and the effect of the wound is so
serious, that I have known a person to be in a state of frenzy from it
for nearly forty-eight hours. In deeper water, the sharks are not only
numerous but ravenous; and I sometimes gratified their appetites, and
my own love of excitement, by purchasing the carcass of a dead cow, or
horse. This I towed off, and anchored with a thick rope and a large
stone; then, from my boat, with a harpoon, I amused myself in striking
these devils as they crowded round for their meal. My readers will,
I fear, think I am much too fond of relating adventures among these
marine undertakers; but the following incident will not be found
In company with Charles, one beautiful afternoon, rambling over the
rocky cliffs at the back of the island, we came to a spot where the
stillness, and the clear transparency of the water invited us to
bathe. It was not deep. As we stood above, on the promontory, we could
see the bottom in every part. Under the little headland, which formed
the opposite side of the cove, there was a cavern, to which, as the
shore was steep, there was no access but by swimming, and we resolved
to explore it. We soon reached its mouth, and were enchanted with its
romantic grandeur and wild beauty. It extended, we found, a long way
back, and had several natural baths, into all of which we successively
threw ourselves, each, as they receded farther from the mouth of the
cavern, being colder than the last. The tide, it was evident, had
free ingress, and renewed the water every twelve hours. Here we
thoughtlessly amused ourselves for some time, quoting Acis and
Galatea, Diana, and her nymphs, and every classic story applicable to
At length, the declining sun warned us that it was time to take our
departure from the cave, when, at no great distance from us, we saw
the back, or dorsal fin of a monstrous shark above the surface of the
water, and his whole length visible beneath it. We looked at him
and at each other with dismay, hoping that he would soon take his
departure, and go in search of other prey; but the rogue swam to and
fro, just like a frigate blockading an enemy's port, and we felt, I
suppose, very much as we used to make the French and Dutch feel last
war, at Brest and the Texel.
The sentinel paraded before us, about ten or fifteen yards in front of
the cave, tack and tack, waiting only to serve one, if not both of us,
as we should have served a shrimp or an oyster. We had no intention,
however, in this, as in other instances, of "throwing ourselves on
the mercy of the court." In vain did we look for relief from other
quarters; the promontory above us was inaccessible; the tide was
rising, and the sun touching the clear blue edge of the horizon.
I, being the leader, pretended to a little knowledge in ichthyology,
and told my companion that fish could hear as well as see, and that
therefore the less we said the better; and the sooner we retreated out
of his sight, the sooner he would take himself off. This was our only
chance, and that a poor one; for the flow of the water would soon have
enabled him to enter the cave and help himself, as he seemed perfectly
acquainted with the _locale_, and knew that we had no mode of retreat
but by the way we came. We drew back, out of sight; and I don't know
when I ever passed a more unpleasant quarter of an hour. A suit in
Chancery, or even a spring lounge in Newgate, would have been almost
luxury to what I felt when the shades of night began to darken the
mouth of our cave, and this infernal monster continued to parade, like
a water-bailiff, before its door. At last, not seeing the shark's fin
above water, I made a sign to Charles that, _coute qui coute_, we must
swim for it; for we had notice to quit, by the tide; and if we did
not depart, should soon have an execution in the house. We had been
careful not to utter a word; and, silently pressing each other by
the hand, we slipped into the water; when, recommending ourselves to
Providence, which, for my part, I seldom forgot when I was in imminent
danger, we struck out manfully. I must own I never felt more assured
of destruction, not even when I swam through the blood of the poor
sailor; for then the sharks had something to occupy them, but here
they had nothing else to do but to look after us. We had the benefit
of their undivided attention.
My sensations were indescribably horrible. I may occasionally write
or talk of the circumstance with levity, but whenever I recall it to
mind, I tremble at the bare recollection of the dreadful fate that
seemed inevitable. My companion was not so expert a swimmer as I was,
so that I distanced him many feet, when I heard him utter a faint cry.
I turned round, convinced that the shark had seized him, but it was
not so; my having left him so far behind had increased his terror, and
induced him to draw my attention. I returned to him, held him up, and
encouraged him. Without this, he would certainly have sunk; he revived
with my help, and we reached the sandy beach in safety, having eluded
our enemy; who, when he neither saw or heard us, had, as I concluded
he would, quitted the spot.
Once more on terra firma, we lay gasping for some minutes before we
spoke. What my companion's thoughts were, I do not know; mine were
replete with gratitude to God, and renewed vows of amendment; and I
have every reason to think, that although Charles had not so much room
for reform as myself, his feelings were perfectly in unison with my
own. We never afterwards repeated this amusement, though we frequently
talked of our escape, and laughed at our terrors; yet on these
occasions our conversation always took a serious turn: and, upon the
whole, I am convinced that this adventure did us both a vast deal of
I had now been six months in these islands, had perfectly recovered
my health, and became anxious for active employment. The brilliant
successes of our rear-admiral at Washington made me wish for a share
of the honour and glory which my brethren in arms were acquiring on
the coast of North America; but my wayward fate sent me in a very
_Mira_. How came we ashore?
_Pro_. By Providence divine.
* * * * *
Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
Here in this island we arrived.
A frigate called at the island for turtle; and, having represented my
case to the captain, he offered to take me on board, telling me at the
same time that he was going much farther to the southward, to relieve
another cruiser, who would then return to England, and the captain of
her would, no doubt, give me a passage home. I accordingly made hasty
preparations for my departure; took leave of all my kind friends at
the barracks, for kind indeed they were to _me_, although thoughtless
and foolish towards themselves. I bade adieu to the families on the
island, in whose houses and at whose tables I had experienced the most
liberal hospitality; and last, though not least, I took leave of poor
This was a difficult task to perform, but it was imperative. I told
her that I was ordered on board by my captain, who, being a very
different person from the last, I dare not disobey. I promised to
return to her soon. I offered her money and presents, but she would
accept of nothing but a small locket, to wear for my sake. I purchased
the freedom of poor Sophy, the black girl, who had saved my life. The
little creature wept bitterly at my coming away; but I could do no
more for her. As for Carlotta, I learned afterwards that she went on
board every ship that arrived, to gain intelligence of me, who seldom
or ever gave her a thought.
We sailed; and, steering away to the south-east with moderate winds
and fine weather, captured, at the end of that time, a large American
ship, which had made a devious course from the French coast, in hopes
of avoiding our cruisers; she was about four hundred tons, deeply
laden, and bound to Laguira, with a valuable cargo. The captain sent
for me, and told me that if I chose to take charge of her, as prize
master, I might proceed to England direct. This plan exactly suited
me, and I consented, only begging to have a boatswain's mate, named
Thompson, to go along with me; he was an old shipmate, and had been
one of my gig's crew when we had the affair in Basque Roads; he was a
steady, resolute, quiet, sober, raw-boned Caledonian, from Aberdeen,
and a man that I knew would stand by me in the hour of need. He was
ordered to go with me, and the necessary supply of provisions and
spirits were put on board. I received my orders, and took my leave of
my new captain, who was both a good seaman and an excellent officer.
When I got on board the prize, I found all the prisoners busy packing
up their things, and they became exceedingly alert in placing them in
the boat which was to convey them on board the frigate. Indeed they
all crowded into her with an unusual degree of activity; but this did
not particularly strike my attention at the time. My directions were
to retain the captain and one man with me, in order to condemn the
vessel in the Court of Admiralty.
Occupied with many objects at once, all important to me, as I was so
soon to part company with the frigate, I did not recollect this part
of my orders, and that I was detaining the boat, until the young
midshipman who had charge of her asked me if he might return on board
and take the prisoners. I then went on deck, and seeing the whole of
them, with their chests and bags, seated very quietly in the boat,
and ready to shove off, I desired the captain and one of the American
seamen to come on board again, and to bring their clothes with them.
I did not remark the unwillingness of the captain to obey this
order, until told of it by the midshipman; his chest and goods were
immediately handed in upon deck, and the signal from the frigate being
repeated, with a light for the boat to return (for it was now dark),
she shoved off hastily, and was soon out of sight.
"Stop the boat! for God's sake stop the boat!" cried the captain.
"Why should I stop the boat?" said I; "my orders are positive, and you
must remain with me."
I then went below for a minute or two, and the captain followed me.
"As you value your life, sir," said he, "stop the boat."
"Why?" asked I, eagerly.
"Because, sir," said he, "the ship has been scuttled by the men, and
will sink in a few hours: you cannot save her, for you cannot get at
I now did indeed see the necessity of stopping the boat; but it was
too late: she was out of sight. The lanthorn, the signal for her
return, had been hauled down, a proof that she had got on board. I
hoisted two lights at the mizen peak, and ordered a musket to be
fired; but, unfortunately, the cartridges had either not been put in
the boat which brought me, or they had been taken back in her. One of
my lights went out; the other was not seen by the frigate. We hoisted
another light, but it gained no notice: the ship had evidently made
sail. I stood after her as fast as I could, in hopes of her seeing us
that night, or taking us out the next morning, should we be afloat.
But my vessel, deeply laden, was already getting waterlogged, and
would not sail on a wind more than four miles an hour. All hope in
that quarter vanished. I then endeavoured to discover from the captain
where the leaks were, that we might stop them; but he had been
drinking so freely, that I could get nothing from him but Dutch
courage and braggadocia. The poor black man, who had been left with
the captain, was next consulted. All he knew was, that, when at
Bordeaux, the captain had caused holes to be bored in the ship's
bottom, that he might pull the plugs out whenever he liked, swearing,
at the same time, that she never should enter a British port. He did
not know where the leaks were situated, though it was evident to me
that they were in the after and also in the fore parts of the ship,
low down, and now deep under water, both inside as well as out. The
black man added, that the captain had let the water in, and that was
all he knew.
I again spoke to the captain, but he was too far gone to reason with:
he had got drunk to die, because he was afraid to die sober--no
unusual case with sailors.
"Don't tell me; d----n me, who is a-feard to die? I arn't. I swore she
should never enter a British port, and I have kept my word."
He then began to use curses and execrations; and, at last, fell on the
deck in a fit of drunken frenzy.
I now called my people all together, and having stated to them the
peril of our situation, we agreed that a large boat, which lay on the
booms, should be instantly hoisted out, and stowed with every thing
necessary for a voyage. Our clothes, bread, salt meat, and water, were
put into her, with my sextant and spy-glass. The liquor, which was in
the cabin, I gave in charge to the midshipman who was sent with me;
and, having completely stowed our boat, and prepared her with a good
lug-sail, we made her fast with a couple of stout tow-ropes, and
veered her astern, with four men in her, keeping on our course in the
supposed track of the frigate till daylight.
That wished-for hour arrived, but no frigate was to be seen, even from
the mast-head. The ship was getting deeper and deeper, and we prepared
to take to the boat. I calculated the nearest part of South America to
be seven hundred miles from us, and that we were more than twice that
distance from Rio Janeiro. I did not, however, despond, for, under all
circumstances, we were extremely well off: and I inspired the men with
so much confidence, that they obeyed in everything, with the utmost
alacrity and cheerfulness, except in one single point.
Finding the ship could not in all probability float more than an hour
or two, I determined to quit her, and ordered the boat alongside. The
men got into her, stepped the mast, hooked on the lug-sail, ready to
hoist at my orders; and, without my bidding, had spread my boat cloak
in the stern-sheets, and made a comfortable place for me to repose in.
The master proceeded to get into the boat, but the men repulsed him
with kicks, blows, and hisses, swearing most dreadfully that if he
attempted to come in, they would throw him overboard. Although in
some measure I participated in their angry feeling, yet I could not
reconcile myself to leave a fellow-creature thus to perish, even in
the pit which he had dug for others, and this too at a time when we
needed every indulgence from the Almighty for ourselves, and every
assistance from his hand to conduct us into a port.
"He deserves to die; it is all his own doings," said they; "come into
the boat yourself, Sir, or we must shove off without you."
The poor captain--who, after sleeping four hours, had recovered his
senses, and felt all the horror of his situation--wept, screamed, tore
his hair, laid hold of my coat, from which only the strength of my men
could disengage him. He clung to life with a passion of feeling which
I never saw in a criminal condemned by the law; he fell on his knees
before me, as he appealed to us all, collectively and separately; he
reminded us of his wife and starving children at Baltimore, and he
implored us to think of them and of our own.
I was melted to tears, I confess; but my men heard him with the most
stoical unconcern. Two of them threw him over to the opposite side of
the deck; and before he could recover from the violence of the fall,
pushed me into the boat, and shoved off. The wretched man had by this
time crawled over to the side we had just left; and throwing himself
on his knees, again screamed out, "Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy!--For God's
sake, have mercy, if you expect any!--Oh, God! my wife and babes!"
His prayers, I lament to say, had no effect on the exasperated seamen.
He then fell into a fit of cursing and blasphemy, evidently bereft of
his senses; and in this state he continued for some minutes, while we
lay alongside, the bowman holding on with the boat-hook only. I was
secretly determined not to leave him, although I foresaw a mutiny in
the boat in consequence. At length, I gave the order to shove off. The
unhappy captain, who, till that moment, might have entertained some
faint hope from the lurking compassion which he perceived I felt for
him, now resigned himself to despair of a more sullen and horrible
aspect. He sat himself down on one of the hen-coops, and gazed on us
with a ghastly eye. I cannot remember ever seeing a more shocking
picture of human misery.
While I looked at him, the black man, Mungo, who belonged to the ship,
sprang overboard from the boat, and swam back to the wreck. Seizing a
rope which hung from the gangway, he ascended the side, and joined his
master. We called to him to come back, or we should leave him behind.
"No, massa," replied the faithful creature; "me no want to lib: no
takee Massa Green, no takee me! Mungo lib good many years wi massa
cappen. Mungo die wi massa, and go back to Guinea!"
I now thought we had given the captain a sufficient lesson for his
treachery and murderous intentions. Had I, indeed, ever seriously
intended to leave him, the conduct of poor Mungo would have awakened
me to a sense of my duty. I ordered Thompson, who was steering the
boat, to put the helm a-starboard, and lay her alongside again. No
sooner was this command given, than three or four of the men jumped up
in a menacing attitude, and swore that they would not go back for him;
that he was the cause of all their sufferings; and that if I chose to
share his fate, I might, but into the boat he should not come. One of
them, more daring than the rest, attempted to take the tiller out of
Thompson's hand; but the trusty seaman seized him by the collar, and
in an instant threw him overboard. The other men were coming aft
to avenge this treatment of their leader; but I drew my sword, and
pointing it at the breast of the nearest mutineer, desired him,
on pain of instant death, to return to his seat. He had heard my
character, and knew that I was not to be trifled with.
A mutineer is easily subdued with common firmness. He obeyed, but was
very sullen, and I heard many mutinous expressions among the men. One
of them said that I was not their officer--that I did not belong to
"That," I replied, "is a case of which I shall not allow you to be the
judges. I hold in my pocket a commission from the King's Lord High
Admiral, or the commissioners for executing that duty. Your captain,
and mine also, holds a similar commission. Under this authority I
act. Let me see the man that dares dispute it--I will hang him at the
yard-arm of the wreck before she goes down;" and, looking at the man
whom Thompson had thrown overboard, and who still held by the gunwale
of the boat, without daring to get in, I asked him if he would obey
me or not? He replied that he would, and hoped I would forgive him.
I said that my forgiveness would depend entirely on the conduct of
himself and the others; that he must recollect that if our own ship,
or any other man-of-war, picked us up, he was liable, with three or
four more, to be hanged for mutiny; and that nothing but his and their
future obedience could save them from that punishment, whenever we
reached a port.
This harangue had a very tranquillising effect. The offenders all
begged pardon, and assured me they would deserve my forgiveness by
their future submission.
All this passed at some little distance from the wreck, but within
hearing; and while it was going on, the wind, which had been fair when
we put off, gradually died away, and blew faintly from the south-west,
directly towards the sinking wreck. I took advantage of this
circumstance to read them a lecture. When I had subdued them, and
worked a little on their feelings, I said I never knew any good come
of cruelty: whenever a ship or a boat had left a man behind who might
have been saved, that disaster or destruction had invariably attended
those who had so cruelly acted; that I was quite sure we never
should escape from this danger, if we did not show mercy to our
fellow-creatures. "God," said I, "has shown mercy to us, in giving us
this excellent boat, to save us in our imminent danger; and He
seems to say to us now, 'Go back to the wreck, and rescue your
fellow-sufferer.' The wind blows directly towards her, and is foul for
the point in which we intend to steer; hasten, then," pursued I, "obey
the Divine will; do your duty, and trust in God. I shall then be proud
to command you, and have no doubt of bringing you safe into port."
This was the "pliant hour;" they sprang upon their oars, and pulled
back to the wreck with alacrity. The poor captain, who had witnessed
all that passed, watched the progress of his cause with deep anxiety.
No sooner did the boat touch the ship, than he leaped into her, fell
down on his knees, and thanked God aloud for his deliverance. He then
fell on my neck, embraced me, kissed my cheek, and wept like a girl.
The sailors, meanwhile, who never bear malice long, good-naturedly
jumped up, and assisted him in getting his little articles into the
boat; and as Mungo followed his master, shook hands with him all
round, and swore he should be a black prince when he went back to
Guinea. We also took in one or two more little articles of general
use, which had been forgotten in our former hurry.
We now shoved off for the last time; and had not proceeded more than
two hundred yards from the ship, when she gave a heavy lurch on one
side, recovered it, and rolled as deep on the other; then, as if
endued with life and instinct, gave, a pitch, and went down, head
foremost, into the fathomless deep. We had scarcely time to behold
this awful scene, when the wind again sprang up fair, from its old
quarter, the east.
"There," said I, "Heaven has declared itself in your favour already.
You have got your fair wind again."
We thanked God for this; and having set our sail, I shaped my course
for Cape St Thomas, and we went to our frugal dinner with cheerful and
The weather was fine--the sea tolerably smooth--and as we had plenty
of provisions and water, we did not suffer much, except from an
apprehension of a change of wind, and the knowledge of our precarious
situation. On the fifth day after leaving the wreck we discovered land
at a great distance. I knew it to be the island of Trinidad and the
rocks of Martin Vas. This island, which lies in latitude twenty
degrees south, and longitude thirty degrees west, is not to be
confounded with the island of the same name on the coast of Terra
Firma, in the West Indies, and now a British colony.
On consulting Horseberg, which I had in the boat, I found that the
island which we were now approaching was formerly inhabited by the
Portuguese, but long since abandoned. I continued steering towards
it during the night, until we heard the breakers roaring against the
rocks, when I hove-to, to windward of the land, till daylight.
The morning presented to our view a precipitous and rugged iron-bound
coast, with high and pointed rocks, frowning defiance over the
unappeaseable and furious waves which broke incessantly at their feet,
and recoiled to repeat the blow. Thus for ages had they been employed,
and thus for ages will they continue, without making any impression
visible to the eye of man. To land was impossible on the part of the
coast now under our inspection, and we coasted along, in hopes of
finding some haven into which we might haul our boat, and secure her.
The island appeared to be about nine miles long, evidently of volcanic
formation, an assemblage of rocky mountains towering several hundred
feet above the level of the sea. It was barren, except at the summit
of the hills, where some trees formed a coronet, at once beautiful
and refreshing, but tantalising to look at, as they appeared
utterly inaccessible; and even supposing I could have discovered a
landing-place, I was in great doubt whether I should have availed
myself of it, as the island appeared to produce nothing which could
have added to our comfort, while delay would only have uselessly
consumed our provisions. There did not appear to be a living creature
on the island, and the danger of approaching to find a landing-place
was most imminent.
This unpromising appearance induced me to propose that we should
continue our course to Rio Janeiro. The men were of another opinion.
They said they had been too long afloat, cooped up, and that they
should prefer remaining on the island to risking their lives any
longer, in so frail a boat, on the wide ocean. We were still debating,
when we came to a small spot of sand, on which we discovered two wild
hogs, which we conjectured had come down to feed on the shell fish;
this decided them, and I consented to run to leeward of the island,
and seek for a landing-place. We sounded the west end, following the
remarks of Horseberg, and ran for the cove of the Nine-Pin Rock. As we
opened it, a scene of grandeur presented itself, which we had never
met with before, and which in its kind is probably unrivalled in
nature. An enormous rock rose, nearly perpendicularly, out of the sea,
to the height of nine hundred or one thousand feet. It was as narrow
at the base as it was at the top, and was formed exactly in the shape
of the nine-pin, from which, it derives its name. The sides appeared
smooth and even to the top, which was covered with verdure, and was so
far above us that the sea birds, which in myriads screamed around it,
were scarcely visible two-thirds of the way up. The sea beat violently
against its base--the feathered tribe, in endless variety, had been
for ages the undisturbed tenants of this natural monument; all its
jutting points and little projections were covered with their white
dung, and it seemed to me a wonderful effort of Nature, which had
placed this mass in the position which it held, in spite of the utmost
efforts of the winds and waves of the wide ocean.
Another curious phenomenon appeared at the other end of the cove. The
lava had poured down into the sea, and formed a stratum; a second
river of fused rock had poured again over the first, and had cooled so
rapidly as to hang suspended, not having joined the former strata,
but leaving a vacuum between for the water to fill up. The sea dashed
violently between the two beds, and spouted magnificently through
holes in the upper bed of lava to the height of sixty feet, resembling
much the spouting of a whale, but with a noise and force infinitely
greater. The sound indeed was tremendous, hollow, and awful. I could
not help mentally adoring the works of the Creator, and my heart sunk
within me at my own insignificance, folly, and wickedness.
As we were now running along the shore, looking for our landing-place,
and just going to take in the sail, the American captain, who sat
close to the man at the helm, seemed attentively watching something on
the larboard bow of the boat. In an instant he exclaimed, "Put your
helm, my good fellow, port-hard." These words he accompanied with a
push of the helm so violent, as almost to throw the man overboard who
sat on the larboard quarter. At the same moment, a heavy sea lifted
the boat, and sent her many yards beyond, and to the right of a
pointed rock, just flush or even with the water, which had escaped our
notice, and which none suspected but the American captain (for these
rocks do not show breakers every minute, if they did they would be
easily avoided). On this we should most certainly have been dashed to
pieces, had not the danger been seen and avoided by the sudden and
skilful motion of the helm; one moment more, and one foot nearer, and
we were gone.
"Merciful God!" said I, "to what fate am I reserved at last? How can I
be sufficiently thankful for so much goodness?"
I thanked the American for his attention--told my men how much we were
indebted to him, and how amply he had repaid our kindness in taking
him off the wreck.
"Ah, lieutenant," said the poor man, "it is a small turn I've done you
for the kindness you have shown to me."
The water was very deep, the rocks being steep; so, we lowered our
sail, and getting our oars out, pulled in to look for a landing. At
the farther end of the cove, we discovered the wreck of a vessel
lying on the beach. She was broken in two, and appeared to be
copper-bottomed. This increased the eagerness of the men to land; we
rowed close to the shore, but found that the boat would be dashed to
pieces if we attempted it. The midshipman proposed that one of us
should swim on shore, and, by ascending a hill, discover a place to
lay the boat in. This I agreed to; and the quarter-master immediately
threw off his clothes. I made a lead-line fast to him under his arms,
that we might pull him in if we found him exhausted. He went over the
surf with great ease, until he came to the breakers on the beach,
through which he could not force his way; for the moment he touched
the ground with his foot, the recoil of the sea, and what is called by
sailors the undertow, carried him back again, and left him in the rear
of the last wave.
Three times the brave fellow made the attempt, and with the same
result. At last he sunk, and we pulled him in very nearly dead. We,
however, restored him by care and attention, and he went again to his
usual duty. The midshipman now proposed that he should try to swim
through the surf without the line, for that alone had impeded the
progress of the quarter-master; this was true, but I would not allow
him to run the risk, and we pulled along shore, until we came to
a rock on which the surf beat very high, and which we avoided in
consequence. This rock we discovered to be detached from the main; and
within it, to our great joy, we saw smooth water; we pulled in, and
succeeded in landing without much difficulty, and having secured
our boat to a grapnel, and left two trusty men in charge of her,
I proceeded with the rest to explore the cove; our attention was
naturally first directed to the wreck which we had passed in the boat,
and, after a quarter of an hour's scrambling over huge fragments of
broken rocks, which had been detached from the sides of the hill, and
encumbered the beach, we arrived at the spot.
The wreck proved to be a beautiful copper-bottomed schooner, of about
a hundred and eighty tons burthen. She had been dashed on shore with
great violence, and thrown many yards above the high-water mark. Her
masts and spars were lying in all directions on the beach, which
was strewed with her cargo. This consisted of a variety of toys
and hardware, musical instruments, violins, flutes, fifes, and
bird-organs. Some few remains of books, which I picked up, were French
romances, with indelicate plates, and still worse text. These proved
the vessel to be French. At a short distance from the wreck, on a
rising knoll, we found three or four huts, rudely constructed out of
the fragments; and, a little farther off, a succession of graves, each
surmounted with a cross. I examined the huts, which contained some
rude and simple relics of human tenancy: a few benches and tables,
composed of boards roughly hewn out and nailed together; bones of
goats, and of the wild hog, with the remains of burnt wood. But we
could not discover any traces of the name of the vessel or owner; nor
were there any names marked or cut on the boards, as might have been
expected, to show to whom the vessel belonged, and what had become of
This studied concealment of all information led us to the most
accurate knowledge of her port of departure, her destination, and her
object of trade. Being on the south-west side of the island, with her
head lying to the north-east, she had, beyond all doubt, been running
from Rio Janeiro towards the coast of Africa, and got on shore in
the night. That she was going to fetch a cargo of slaves was equally
clear, not only from the baubles with which she was freighted but also
from the interior fitting of the vessel, and from a number of hand and
leg shackles which we found among the wreck, and which we knew were
only used for the purposes of confining and securing the unhappy
victims of this traffic.
We took up our quarters in the huts for the night, and the next
morning divided ourselves into three parties, to explore the island. I
have before observed that we had muskets, but no powder, and therefore
stood little chance of killing any of the goats or wild hogs, with
which we found the island abounded. One party sought the means of
attaining the highest summit of the island; another went along the
shore to the westward; while myself and two others went to the
eastward. We crossed several ravines, with much difficulty, until we
reached a long valley, which seemed to intersect the island.
Here a wonderful and most melancholy phenomenon arrested our
attention. Thousands and thousands of trees covered the valley, each
of them about thirty feet high; but every tree was dead, and extended
its leafless boughs to another--a forest of desolation, as if nature
had at some particular moment ceased to vegetate! There was no
underwood or grass. On the lowest of the dead boughs, the gannets, and
other sea birds, had built their nests in numbers unaccountable. Their
tameness, as Cooper says, "was shocking to me." So unaccustomed did
they seem to man, that the mothers, brooding over their young, only
opened their beaks, in a menacing attitude at us, as we passed by
How to account satisfactorily for the simultaneous destruction of this
vast forest of trees, was very difficult; there was no want of rich
earth for nourishment of the roots. The most probable cause appeared
to me, a sudden and continued eruption of sulphuric effluvia from the
volcano; or else, by some unusually heavy gale of wind or hurricane,
the trees had been drenched with salt water to their roots. One or the
other of these causes must have produced the effect. The philosopher,
or the geologist, must decide.
We had the consolation to know that we should at least experience no
want of food--the nests of the birds affording us a plentiful supply
of eggs, and young ones of every age; with these we returned loaded
to the cove. The party that had gone to the westward, reported having
seen some wild hogs, but were unable to secure any of them; and those
who had attempted to ascend the mountain, returned much fatigued, and
one of their number missing. They reported that they had gained the
summit of the mountain, where they had discovered a large plain,
skirted by a species of fern tree, from twelve to eighteen feet
high--that on this plain they had seen a herd of goats; and among
them, could distinguish one of enormous size, which appeared to be
their leader. He was as large as a pony; but all attempts to take one
of them were utterly fruitless. The man who was missing had followed
them farther than they had. They waited some time for his return; but
as he did not come to them, they concluded he had taken some other
route to the cove. I did not quite like this story, fearing some
dreadful accident had befallen the poor fellow, for whom we kept a
watch, and had a fire burning the whole night, which, like the former
one, we passed in the huts. We had an abundant supply of fire-wood
from the wreck, and a stream of clear water ran close by our little
The next morning, a party was sent in search of the man, and some were
sent to fetch a supply of young gannets for our dinner. The latter
brought back with them as many young birds as would suffice for two
or three days; but of the three who went in quest of the missing man,
only two returned. They reported that they could gain no tidings of
him: that they had missed one of their own number, who had, no doubt,
gone in pursuit of his shipmate.
This intelligence occasioned a great deal of anxiety, and many
surmises. The most prevalent opinion seemed to be that there were wild
beasts on the island, and that our poor friends had become a prey to
them. I determined, the next morning, to go in search of them myself,
taking one or two chosen men with me. I should have mentioned, that
when we left the sinking vessel, we had taken out a poodle dog, that
was on board--first, because I would not allow the poor animal to
perish; and, secondly, because we might, if we had no better food,
make a dinner of him. This was quite fair, as charity begins at home.
This faithful animal became much attached to me, from whom he
invariably received his portion of food. He never quitted me, nor
followed any one else; and he was my companion when I went on this
We reached the summit of the first mountain, whence we saw the goats
browsing on the second, and meant to go there in pursuit of the
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