Notes by the Way in A Sailor's Life
Arthur E. Knights
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Notes by the Way in A Sailor's Life
Captain Arthur E. Knights
In 1898 I was in Hongkong on a business affair which gave me much
leisure, when Murray Bain, editor of the China Mail, whom I had long
known, asked why I did not send him a letter occasionally. This led to
my venturing to give him "Some Notes by the Way in A Sailor's Life."
These Notes, I considered, could only be of interest locally. But some
of my friends have urged me to overcome my diffidence and put them in
pamphlet form, which I now do for distribution among my friends,
trusting that they will treat leniently the literary efforts of one who
is a sailor and not a cleric.
A Quick Passage
A Record Long Passage
A Voyage of Misfortune
Beginning of the German Navy
An Incident in Hongkong Harbour
A Singular Meeting
A Little Railway Experience
A Good Record in Life-Saving
Presentation of a Telescope by the British Government
The Ship "Bombay"
Is There a Fatality Attaching to Men or Inanimate Things?
A Brazilian Slaver
Memory For Voices
An Incident of the Great Taiping Rebellion
A Quick Passage.
To the editor of the "China Mail."
Dear Sir: - I have just read with much pleasure the report of the quick
passage made by the sailing-ship "Muskoka" from Cardiff to this port in
ninety-two days. This is really a good trip and the captain and his
officers may be complimented on having done so well, for, as you know,
the ship is of large tonnage and the complement of men is small. I
congratulate the captain and his officers, and wish they may be as
successful in all their future voyages.
Mr. Editor, no doubt you remember the ship "Northfleet." I was second
officer of her, as you know, in the year 1857. In the spring of that
year, we loaded government stores, guns, mortars, and general war
materials, with two companies of Royal Artillery, for the war at Canton,
in which the French and the British were allies. We sailed from Woolwich
on the river Thames, and stopped at Gravesend twelve hours, then made
our final start for Hongkong, in which port we anchored in the
wonderfully short time of eighty-eight days from Woolwich, which is at
least three days' sail farther than Cardiff.
On the following voyage we did the same in eighty-eight days and a half.
These two were record voyages made in the glorious days of
A. E. Knights.
Hong Kong, June, 1898.
A Record Long Passage.
First Cotton From China to America.
During the palmy days after the opening of the River Yangtse - when
freights were taels 22 per ton from Hankow to Shanghai, a distance of
six hundred miles - I was in command of the "Neimen," an auxiliary
ship-rigged vessel, engaged in this trade until near the end of 1863,
and saw some of the exciting times of the Taiping Rebellion in that part
of China. By the end of 1862 the steamers "Huquang" and "Firecracker"
had come from New York round the Cape of Good Hope, and later the
"Chekiang," "Kiu-kiang," and other paddle steamers were put on the
river, and the freights were reduced to taels 4 1/2 per ton. Then we had
to clear out.
My employers ordered me to Hongkong to meet new boilers for the
"Neimen." Later I received instructions to sell the "Jedda," belonging
to the same owners, which was done. Then I had an offer from Mr. Paul
Forbes to buy the "Neimen." This arrangement was completed, and I agreed
with the new owners (Russell & Co.) to take the engines out of the
vessel, and to change the rig from ship to barque, with the object of
loading cotton for New York - the first from China to America. After
completing our alterations, and after painting the ship in Whampoa, we
came to Hongkong to load at the beginning of May, 1864. The weather and
water being warm and the paint new gave a favorable opportunity for the
barnacles to attach themselves to the vessel, and by the time we started
the barnacles were like coarse gravel on her sides.
On the 24th of May, 1864, we sailed from Hongkong, and when we got out
into the China Sea we had no monsoon, but met with a continuance of
calms and squalls. The ship was unable to stand up under her canvas,
having no ballast, and being, as it were, stuffed with cotton. Well, at
last we reached Anjer, eighty-four days from Hongkong. The ship was one
mass of barnacles as large as "egg-cups." I sent overland to Batavia to
buy some garden spades, to be fitted on to long poles, so as to try to
chop off some of the shells, which we did, and after five days' delay we
sailed again. From Sunda Straits we had a good run till near the Cape.
Here we had calms again, and the grass and barnacles grew very fast.
Indeed, the ship's bottom was like a half-tide rock, and when the water
washed up the sides, as she rolled, the noise made by the barnacles was
like the surf on a sea-beach. We were followed for several days by a
shoal of dolphins, which we caught in great numbers night and morning.
Finally we got round the Cape, and to St. Helena, where we stayed four
days, and employed men to assist us in chopping off grass and barnacles
as far as we could reach. Then we proceeded on our way once more.
We had a wearisome time in the "doldrums" about the equator, only
enlivened by catching dolphins and watching crabs, which would leave the
grass for a swim and then return to the ship. After getting clear of the
calm belt, we had a very good run to Bermuda, where we encountered a
heavy gale, with tremendous heavy seas.
When the weather moderated we found to our dismay that the rudder was
adrift, the pintles having been broken by the heavy seas. I was now
compelled to put before the wind and run for St. Thomas, in the West
Indies, and when near the entrance of the port a passenger, Captain
George Adams, "went off his head," and thus gave no little addition to
my anxieties. Finally we arrived safely in port. Here more troubles
began. I was advised to do many things, some of which would have been
much to the benefit of some of my advisers. One thing was to land and
store the cargo.[*] This I positively refused to do. But after all I
found that there was only one European blacksmith in the place, and he
had but a small shop. This man contracted to do the repairs, and after I
had got the rudder to his shop he coolly asked me if I had a good
carpenter or other handy man to help him, as the job was too heavy for
his negro assistant to weld. I proposed to him another plan. So at last
the work was done satisfactorily, and we went on our way with partly a
new negro crew, some of the old crew having left. We made very good
progress and were nearly off New York when we got into a violent
snowstorm, which greatly amused the negro sailors, who had never seen
"white rain" before, but unfortunately for three of them, they got
frostbitten and lost their legs. We got into New York at last on the
25th of January, 1865, eight months from Hongkong!
Although the voyage was so long, I believe the venture turned out to be
a good one financially. Gold was at a very high premium, - about two
dollars and eighty cents at this time, - and our cotton sold for one
dollar and fifty cents per pound. The "Neimen" went into dock, and
people came in hundreds to see the strange sight. She was covered with
shells like a rook. Some of these shells were sent out to China, and
Messrs. Russell & Co. (the owners) had them mounted in silver as
28th June, 1898.
[*] To land and store cargo should never be done by a shipmaster without
authority from the owners.
A Voyage of Misfortune.
After the last voyage which I gave you an account of I accepted an offer
made me by my late employers, and became superintendent of a business
under their management in New York. Unfortunately, at the close of the
war, this business was temporarily suspended and my contract was
annulled. I then tried two or three different things on my own account,
and finally settled as agent for a paper-mill; and all things were going
on fairly well until in an unguarded moment I read an advertisement in
the New York Herald. It ran as follows: "A gentleman with experience
requires a partner with capital, in a safe business, with no risks." The
bait took, and I had an interview with "the gentleman," and saw the
persons to whom he referred me, and we joined, with the result that in
less than seven months we had changed places. I had the experience and
he had the capital, as well as the stock, and had vanished to where the
woodbine twineth. His friends told me that this was his usual way of
doing business. This was pretty cool. In a short time the same gentleman
was seeking another victim in Chicago. My advice to sailors is to "stick
to the ship."
Well, sir, the next thing I thought of was to get a ship before the
landsharks took all I had from me; and, with the assistance of Mr. Paul
Forbes, I was soon in command of the ship "Royal Saxon," owned jointly
by R. W. Cameron, of New York, and R. Towns, of Sydney. We sailed from
New York for Melbourne, and arrived there safely, though in running down
our easting about 42° south latitude we had continuous fogs.
Now, sir, to the point. The above firm despatched from New York each
alternate week one vessel for Melbourne and one for Sydney. The week
before I left, the ship "Eastward Ho," Captain Byrne, was despatched for
Sydney, and apparently all went well until she got into latitude 37° or
38° south, and a little to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope, when
suddenly one night, when running before a strong gale, she came crushing
into ice. The shock was so severe that her fore and main topmasts and
mizzen-topgallant masts went by the board, and the foremast-head sprung.
The hull was considerably shattered, and the main covering-board split
up from forward as far aft as the main gangway.
After this, the captain thought he had better try to reach Simon's Bay
or the Cape. For some days they were working through field-ice, getting
a little to the north. Patching the vessel with canvas, and rigging
jury-masts and sails, finally they got clear of ice, and with fine
weather it was decided to stand to the eastward, with the hope of being
overtaken by some other vessel (which never came). After many
vicissitudes, - taking to the boats, then returning to the ship twice, -
it was decided that the ship was the safest place, and she ultimately
In passing through Bass's Straits, the "Eastward Ho" had been passed at
a short distance by a steamer from New Zealand, and reported in
Melbourne, but could give no name. This gave great offence to the people
of Melbourne for passing a vessel in such a state and not finding her
name or her wants, if any.
The "Eastward Ho" was repaired and loaded coals in Sydney for Hongkong,
and misfortune again overtook her. In coming through the Eastern seas,
her crew mutinied, and the vessel narrowly escaped wreck on one of the
islands. Then, later, she got into a typhoon, and was very badly
strained, but escaped for what might have been a worse fate - fire. Her
cargo of coals caught fire, and after some days of hard work, the fire
was extinguished; but when the vessel reached Hongkong and her cargo was
discharged, it was found that the hull was a mere shell. Her frames and
planking in many places were burnt nearly through.
The vessel was condemned, the crew were paid off, and the captain left
Hongkong for New York and Syracuse, where was his home. When he had
nearly reached his house he met an old friend who conveyed to him the
sad news of his wife's death and of the funeral from which he was just
returning. A sailor's life is not always a happy one. Is there a
fatality attaching to certain men or things?
Beginning of the German Navy.
In the beginning of the year 1862 I was chief officer of the ship
"Ballaarat," with Captain Henry Jones, of Far East fame. We loaded in
the East India Docks, London, a full cargo of piece goods for Shanghai
and for Taku Bar. We arrived at Shanghai, and, as the war was finished,
we were ordered to proceed to Taku to discharge our cargo for Tientsin.
In due time we reached Taku Bar, where we found several of the British
warships anchored, and the South Forts occupied by British troops.
We anchored in the forenoon very near to a vessel flying the Prussian
flag, and when we had furled sails and cleared up decks it was
tiffin-time. To our surprise, a boat came from the Prussian, bringing
the captain. I met him at the gangway, and reported him to our captain,
with the result that he stayed to tiffin with us. And then he stated his
business on board our ship. He said he wanted to buy provisions and
stores of any kind, sailors' clothing, boots, or anything we could sell,
which our captain laughingly agreed to do.
The following conversation then took place: "What is the name of the
vessel you command?"
"She is now the 'Hertha,' and was the British sailing-sloop 'Thetis.'
The British Government had her converted into a screw vessel, and
presented her to us to bring our Minister, Count von Eulenberg, to
negotiate a treaty with China as soon as the war should be ended, and
that is why we are here; and the barque with the American flag flying
near to us carries extra coals for our use."
"But," said our captain, "you are not a German. How is it that you are
in command of that ship?"
"No," said he; "I am an ex-Danish naval officer, and all my officers are
Danes, and we have German cadets. There being no German navy, there are
no officers yet trained."
Business then began, and the transfer of provisions and stores of almost
every kind was made from one ship to the other. After this we used to
have daily friendly intercourse for about three weeks, and one fine
morning the "Hertha" left her anchorage. A fresh easterly breeze was
blowing, and the "Hertha" was working under sail against the wind, which
was increasing, and a nasty, short sea rising. After a couple of hours
we saw her yards squared, and the vessel put back and she anchored near
to us. In the afternoon, the wind having moderated, an officer from her
came to buy a grindstone.
This caused some little merriment. Then the officer explained that in
the forenoon, when beating down the gulf, in one of the plunges, the
grindstone had been washed off the forecastle-head, where the men had
been employed in grinding their cutlasses.
They were expecting to hear news of a rupture between France and
Germany, and they were on the way to Hongkong for shelter.
It is highly creditable to the Germans that from so humble a beginning
they have raised such a fine fleet as they now possess.
After our return to Shanghai from Taku I was permitted to leave the
"Ballaarat" and take command of the "Neimen" on the Yangtse.
An Incident in Hongkong Harbour.
The following incident regarding Captain Keppel may be of some interest
to sailors, and perhaps is remembered by some residents of Hongkong who
may have been there at the time of the last war with China.
Sir Harry Keppel was every inch a sailor, and sometimes did some very
strange things, which would annoy his superiors; but the very oddity of
his actions gained the hearts and confidence of those who served under
him, and he could rely on every one acting as one machine when he
One day, for some reason, the Admiral, Sir Michael Seymour, who was then
on the flagship "Calcutta," gave orders for the "Raleigh" to proceed to
sea in face of a very strong southwest monsoon. The "Raleigh" was to go
out by the Lyemoon and return by Green Island. The ship was got under
way, and went out in the ordinary way by the Lyemoon, and beat round the
island. After some hours she came back by way of Green Island, with all
plain sails and all studding-sails set. At first this called for no
special attention, except for the grand sight of a man-of-war under full
At this time, the harbour was full of sailing-ships of all nations, and
as the "Raleigh" came near and threaded her way among them, the crews of
the various ships became interested. When the "Raleigh" came near to her
anchorage, the order was quietly passed, and then, as if by magic, in
came all studding-sails; then, in the same manner, all plain sails;
after that "Let go the anchor," and a running moor was made. Then came
cheers from every sailor who had witnessed the maneuvre, cheers that
could be heard all over Hongkong as it was then.
Well, sir, the Admiral was not pleased with this piece of skill in
seamanship, and for coming through a crowded harbour under all sail. The
"Raleigh" was ordered out for a twenty-four hours' cruise, and to come
in in a shipshape way the next time. Well, she went out again, and as
she came in past Green Island, she had all sail as before, and when
nearing the shipping, greatly to the astonishment of every one, in came
all plain sail and furled, leaving only the studding-sails; and under
these she went through the shipping to her anchorage, and then, "In all
studding-sails," and a running moor was made as before. And, if
possible, the cheers were more vehement than before.
Now, sir, what do you think was the effect? Why, nearly half the sailors
in the merchant ships wanted to join the "Raleigh." They could not be
accommodated, but many were engaged and put on board the "Sibyl."
It may also be remembered that when the "Raleigh" struck a rock near
Macao, a French man-of-war was in sight. The French flag was hoisted and
saluted by the "Raleigh." After the salute, the order was given to
abandon ship, and all this was done with as much coolness as if going to
a church parade.
A Singular Meeting.
A few years ago I had with me as chief mate a man who had left his home
when quite a boy to come to China. After arrival in Shanghai, he got a
position as quartermaster, and worked his way up to chief mate.
After about eighteen years' absence from his home, an older brother of
his came to Shanghai in command of a sailing-ship, and the two brothers
met. The captain and I were introduced to each other, and I invited him
to spend all the time he could with his young brother on board the
steamer. Later the captain asked me to use my influence to get his
brother to go home with him to see his mother, who was a very old lady,
and always yearning to see her child "Sam."
After some trouble, I persuaded him, as a matter of duty, to go home,
and obtained for him a year's leave of absence. He left Shanghai in his
brother's ship, and went to Iloilo, where the vessel loaded and sailed
for America. When the vessel was well on her way towards the Cape of
Good Hope, they had one very calm day, and a short distance from them
was another vessel showing the American flag. The two brothers agreed to
have a boat lowered and to pull over to the stranger for a short visit.
This was done, and to their great surprise, when they got on board, they
found that the captain was their own older brother.
The two captains had been employed in different ports and on different
voyages, and had not met each other in fifteen years, and the oldest and
the youngest had never met before.
A Little Railway Experience.
By way of a change, I will tell you of a little railway experience I
once had. During the Civil War in America, I had occasion to go from New
York to Boston on important business, and I was there some days. When my
business was ended I decided on leaving Boston by the midnight train.
Each hotel had its coach to convey guests to the depot or railway
station. I took my seat in the coach, and was joined by a gentleman also
going to New York. We each got our railway tickets, and sat side by side
in the same carriage, or "car," and after some little time we got into
conversation, and when my companion found that I was a "seafaring man,"
no one could have been more astonished than he was.
He looked at me and said, "My dear sir, you look to be an intelligent
sort of man, and you tell me that you go to sea."
I said, "Yes, and why not?"
"Well," said he, "I don't see how any man possessed with any common
sense and reason could ever be such a fool as to go to sea."
I said that possibly that was the reason for my going to sea - just
simply a want of good sense on my part. But it suited me very well, and
I should like to know what objections he had against a sea life.
"Why, sir, supposing you are in a gale and a fire breaks out on board,
what are you going to do? You have no back door to escape through?"
"Well, we may be able to leave in the boats."
"But you can't do it in a terrible storm."
"Well, then, we will do the best we can, and do as sailors often are
compelled to do, trust in Providence. But for my part, I don't see that
we run more risks in a gale at sea than you do in the cities or than we
do now on the rail. What is to prevent us from having a smash-up before
"Well, now, my good sir, I beg of you don't go to sea any more, but just
come out to Iowa and buy a nice farm and settle down ashore. You can buy
a nice farm with all improvements at from three thousand to five
I asked him what was the matter with the other man, that he wanted to
sell his farm and all improvements. I did not get any satisfactory
answer to this, as we had something more serious to attend to. Just at
this time I felt a peculiar motion in the car, like a horse cantering. I
clapped my hand on my friend and said, "Sit still," and in a few moments
I felt my heels grinding on some one - and the next thing was, that we
were landed bottom up down twenty-five feet of embankment, and terrible
shrieks on all sides.
Three cars were capsized. One in front of us went down on its side,
endways. Ours went a side-somersault, and the next one endways, on its
wheels. En route we had gathered a number of soldiers who had been
drafted and were on their way South. The cars were jammed full.
The furnace in our car did great damage to some, and altogether about
seventy were more or less hurt. The accident was caused by a rail
breaking, owing to severe frost.
After this I tried to persuade my friend to go to Iowa, sell his store,
and come to sea with me, where he would be safe from any more tricks of
this sort. He still seemed inclined to hold on to the rail.
A Good Record in Life-Saving.
[From the Shanghai Mercury, April 13, 1887.]
The steamship "Kiang-yu," Captain Knights, left the Kin-lee-yuen Wharf
for Hankow, at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 1st instant. On account
of the fog prevailing, she anchored at Halfway Point till 6 A. M., when
she got under way and ran as far as Lin-ho Point, where she anchored
again until 11 o'clock. The wind had been fresh from the south, but at
noon it changed in a squall to north, and continued very strong all day.
At 4 P. M., when about 75 miles up the Yangtse, a junk that had been
capsized was seen. A boat was lowered and six men, two women, and two
children were taken off, who were all got safely on board the
"Kiang-yu." A change of clothes was raised for them among the Chinese
passengers, and over thirty dollars were subscribed for the
unfortunates, who were landed at Kiang-yin. Their home was about five
miles lower down the river. They had left there in the morning, and were
capsized in the sudden change of wind. The poor creatures appeared to be
very grateful for their rescue.
This is not the first time that Captain Knights has been instrumental in
saving life. During the last six years, he has picked up over thirty
people on the Yangtse, and in November, 1858, when second officer of the
tea-clipper "Northfleet," he performed a gallant action in going in
charge of a boat during a cyclone to the rescue of the crew of the brig
"Hebe." This happened about four hundred and fifty miles southwest of
the Scilly Islands, Land's End. The "Northfleet" was bound for
Portsmouth with some four hundred and fifty soldiers and sailors,
invalids from Hongkong, and twenty-four saloon passengers, mostly naval
and military officers. The "Hebe" was laden with grain from Alexandria,
and was in a sinking condition.
The following testimonial, signed by several of the military and naval
officers on board the "Northfleet," who witnessed the rescue, and by the
captain and mate of the "Hebe," speaks for itself:
Ship "Northfleet" (at sea),
November 18th, 1858.
We take much pleasure in awarding to Mr. Knights, 2nd officer of this
ship, this unsolicited testimonial, expressive of our high sense of the
coolness, judgment and courage he displayed on the morning of November
the 13th, 1858, when, under circumstances of great difficulty and
imminent danger, when in charge of the cutter, with five men, in a gale
of wind and high tumultuous sea running, he was, by the interposition of
Divine Providence, mercifully allowed to be the means of rescuing the
master, mate, and crew (9 in all) of the brig "Hebe," of Southampton,
reported to be in a sinking state.
J. R. Fittock, Master, R. N.
W. J. Stuart, Lieutenant, R. N.
H. J. Tribe, Captain, R. N.
R. Picken, M. D., R. N.
H. Ward, Captain, R. N.
James Driver, Engineer, R. N.
Geo. A. F. Day, 2nd Master, R. N.
Wm. Donnelly, F. W., R. N.
A. W. Stratton (late Master and Owner of brig "Hebe").
Chas. Clarke, Mate.
The first signature to the testimonial is that of Mr. J. B. Fittock,
Master, R. N., father of Mr. Consul Fittock, well known in China. The
following letter on the subject was also written to the London Times by
the master of the "Hebe": -
Heroism at Sea.
To the Editor of "The Times."
Sir: I wish to acknowledge, through the medium of your journal, my
sincere thanks to Captain B. Freeman, of the ship "Northfleet," of
London, for having rescued myself and eight men, the crew of the brig
"Hebe," of Southampton, when in a sinking state, and at the same time
blowing a gale of wind, with a high sea, in latitude 48° 80' N. and
longitude 12° 20' W. At the same time, I cannot pass by the courage
displayed by Mr. Knights, second mate, and five of the crew of the
"Northfleet," in the management of the boat which took us off. Yours
A. W. Stratton, Master.
12 Wood Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight, Nov. 30.
The Board of Trade recognized Captain Knights's gallantry by presenting
him with a telescope (by Troughton & Sons, London) and recording the
fact on his certificate in the following terms: -
"Certified that a telescope was presented by the British Government to
Arthur E. Knights for gallantry in saving life at sea."
Recently, Captain Knights received from his old chief, Captain Freeman,
who was master of the "Northfleet" when the rescue of the crew of the
"Hebe" took place, a large oil-painting descriptive of the scene,
accompanied by a letter, from which we take the following extract:
South Hackney, Feb. 25th, 1887.
I have sent you (by favour of Mr. W. Howell, the chief officer of the
"Glenroy") the painting that Captain Stratton gave me of the
"Northfleet" rescuing the crew of the brig "Hebe," of Southampton, and I
beg your acceptance of it. I am sure you will like to have it, as you
were the principal actor in the scene - and I have a copy of it done by
the same artist. I well remember (as if it was only yesterday) how
anxious I was during the time you were away on the job, and how my heart
was frequently in my mouth (as the saying goes) when the old ship gave
an extra heavy lurch, and you and the dear old cutter were out of sight
for a few seconds in the trough of the sea; and I often think now what a
wonderful and merciful thing it was that we got that boat up without
accident, - but you see we had so many willing hands on board that they
ran away with her as soon as she was hooked on.
The painting represents the "Northfleet" in a storm under close-reefed
topsails, fore staysail, and main trysail, and the "Hebe" under
close-reefed topsails, with heavy seas breaking over her, her boats and
house washed away, her stern-post (struck by a heavy sea) started, and
the brig in a sinking condition. The cutter, manned by a crew of five,
with Captain Knights in charge, and with the rescued crew of the "Hebe"
in her, appears under the stern of the "Northfleet," one man of the
"Hebe's" crew being hoisted on board by a bowline running from the
spanker-boom. The whole of the "Hebe's" crew were got on board the
"Northfleet" in the same way, - the cutter, containing Captain Knights
and the crew from the "Northfleet" being then hooked on and run up
It may be mentioned that the "Northfleet" was the ill-fated vessel which
some years afterwards was run down, while at anchor under Dungeness, by
the Spanish steamer "Murillo," when over three hundred lives were lost.
Presentation of a Telescope by the British Government.
In the early part of the year 1859 I received a letter from the Board of
Trade, notifying me that the British Government had been pleased to
award me a telescope in acknowledgment of my service in rescuing the
master and crew of the brig "Hebe," and requesting me to write a
statement, of what took place before and after the rescue, and hand it
to the President of the Local Marine Board, on a day named, and to be
then presented with a telescope.
I appeared at the place and time appointed, and the President rose from
his seat and read my statement to the gentlemen of the Board. He then
asked me if I had rendered any previous service to British or foreign
subjects in distress; if so, had I received any reward or remuneration
for the same. If not, then the Board would make application and obtain
whatever might be due for such service. Or, did I wish for any further
reward for the present service from any Society in Great Britain,
application should be made.
I replied that I had not rendered any previous service to any others in
distress, and that what I had done on this occasion was voluntary and
spontaneous, without thought of reward. I considered it only as a duty
to my fellow-man; and since the Government had been pleased to
acknowledge the service, I was truly grateful. I was then complimented
by the gentlemen of the Board, and was presented with the telescope. The
inscription on it is my greatest pride to this day, as is also the
honorary testimonial, stamped on my Government certificate of competency
by the recommendation of the Local Marine Board.
To the President and Gentleman of the Local Marine Board, London.
In latitude 48° 30' N., longitude 12° 20' E., on the morning of the 13th
of November, 1858, at 7 A. M., it being then just break of day, I saw
the brig "Hebe" about three miles on our lee-bow, having the signal of
distress flying. I immediately reported it to Captain Freeman, who came
on deck and gave orders to bear down upon her and see what was wanted.
When near enough we hove to and hailed the brig, asking what they were
in want of, and they answered, saying "For God's sake, send us a boat,
as we are sinking." Captain Freeman then asked if they wanted to abandon
their vessel, and they repeated their supplications, every one on board
appearing to be in the greatest mental distress, making signs that their
vessel was going down. The men were working vigorously at the pumps at
imminent risk of being washed overboard, as the sea was breaking
completely over them.
It was now 8 o'clock, and Captain Freeman gave orders for all hands to
remain on deck and to clear away the cutter. I then got into the boat
and asked who would go with me, when I got several volunteers, out of
whom I took five, - viz., Burland, Hill, Hendrickson, Hansen, and
Cummins. The boat was lowered very successfully, when we got clear of
the ship. The brig was about a quarter of a mile astern. Heading for the
ship, I pulled alongside and told them to give me a good line over their
quarter, long enough to veer and haul upon. I told the captain of the
brig to get his log-book and chronometer, with a few of his own personal
effects, but I would not take either bed or bag belonging to any one. I
then told them to stand by and to jump in their turns, one by one, as I
should direct. We then hauled the boat up with her bow alongside the
brig's quarter, taking care lest the stem of the boat should get knocked
out, getting one of them off at a time, dropping clear while the heavy
seas passed, then hauling up again. In this manner we succeeded in
getting them off, nine in all, in about forty minutes, making them lie
in the bottom of the boat as ballast till it was covered. We then pulled
to the ship. When we reached her, they had a block at the
spanker-boom-end, with a single line rove and bowline, into which the
men got and were hoisted one by one on deck. After they were all up, I
sent one of the boat's crew up, and then went alongside and hooked on
the boat, which was quickly run up. There was no other mishap than the
breaking of an oar in coming alongside. We had on board about three
hundred invalid soldiers and sailors from the Canton war at this time.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
A. E. Knights.
Inscription on Telescope.
Presented by the British Government
Mr. Arthur Knights
Second Officer of the "Northfleet"
In Acknowledgment of
His Gallant Conduct
In Rescuing the Master and Crew
Of the "Hebe"
In November, 1858.
The Ship "Bombay."
At the time that the ship "Northfleet" was rescuing the crew of the brig
"Hebe," the ship "Bombay," belonging to the same owner, - Mr. Duncan
Dunbar, - was on the side of the same storm, at about one hundred miles
distance, and had the wind from just the opposite direction, but with
much greater force, and came near being lost.
The "Bombay" had embarked some troops in Portsmouth for the Indian
Mutiny, and was ordered to proceed to Queenstown in Ireland to take on
board some two hundred more soldiers.
When the vessel got near the entrance of the harbour it was nightfall,
and, the wind being unfavourable, when the pilot got on board, he
recommended the captain to make everything easy for the night and enter
the harbour next morning, when he expected the wind to be fair. But
during the night the wind increased and became a violent northeast gale,
and the vessel was blown out of the Irish Channel into the Atlantic
Ocean. For some days the wind blew with hurricane force. The ship lost
some sails, and was at last carrying only a close-reefed main topsail
and fore staysail. The sea was mountainous and lashing the ship from all
directions. Then late in the day, to the dismay of all on board, the lee
main topsail-sheet gave way, and the sail was flapping like thunder and
lashing the mast and rigging most furiously. The ship, now having
nothing to steady her, was helplessly rolling in the trough of the sea,
at the mercy of the waves, which threatened to engulf her, as they were
breaking on board from every direction. The deck-houses were washed away
and the decks were filled with water, which began to find an entrance to
the 'tween-decks, where the poor soldiers were battened down. In this
plight it was necessary to get the remnant of the topsail secure, and if
possible get a new sail in its place, so as to steady the ship. The
second officer was ordered to get the sailors and do this, but he soon
reported that the sailors, many of whom were foreigners, would not go
aloft. The chief officer then went forward and called for men, and asked
if there were any British sailors among them. If there were, for God's
sake, to go aloft with him. He led, the way, followed by seventeen
British sailors. They had nearly completed the work of securing the sail
when the ship gave a tremendous roll on the top of a very heavy wave and
the mast went by the board, carrying with it the chief mate and his
seventeen followers, and not a soul could be saved. Oh, to think of the
horrors of that dark and fearful night!
Now came the trial for Captain John Flamanek and the remaining portion
of his crew. The broken mast and yards, still held by the broken
rigging, was lashing against the ship, threatening to break in her side
and send all to the bottom. It was necessary to cut away this wreckage
as soon as possible so as to free the ship, but before this could be
accomplished daylight had set in. Then the captain asked the officer
commanding the soldiers to let some of his men give assistance. This he
refused to do, and made complaint that his men's food was not being
prepared for them as it should be. The men cried shame of their
commander, and volunteered to do whatever they could to assist the
captain.[*] The weather moderated, and some sails were set on the
vessel, which finally unassisted reached Falmouth. Two steam men-of-war
had been sent in search of her, but missed her.
[*] For his dastardly conduct the military commanding officer was later
dismissed from the army, and was never allowed to enter Her Majesty's
Is There a Fatality Attaching to Men or Inanimate Things?
In another part of this book I have mentioned the ship "Northfleet." In
regard to that vessel the above question might almost be answered in the
affirmative. The vessel was launched at the place from which she took
her name in 1852. She made her first voyage to New Zealand, thence to
China, and from there to San Francisco, and back to China and London.
Then she went trooping for the Crimean War; then for some years ran
between London and China carrying tea, for which she was originally
This ship never made a voyage without some one being drowned from her,
and finally she was run into and sunk by a steamer, which was afterwards
proved to be the Spanish vessel "Murillo." By this collision upwards of
three hundred people were drowned. The "Northfleet" was carrying railway
workmen to New Zealand, and when coming down the English Channel the
weather was stormy and the pilot recommended the captain to anchor under
a point called Dungeness. This was done, and the night came on very
dark. At some time after midnight a steamer came in under the Point,
apparently for the purpose of anchoring, as was afterwards reported by
the crew of the tugboat which was at anchor. They saw the steamer moving
about for some time. Then a crash was heard, followed by most
heartrending cries. The steamer went out to sea, and did not heed the
signal rockets which were sent up by the "Northfleet." The little
tugboat had only four men and a small boat, which was at once launched,
and the mate and the engineer, with one sailor, went to the rescue. When
they arrived all that could be found was the captain's wife and an
ordinary seaman. All the others had perished, through the dastardly act
of the Spaniard in running away.
Captain Knowles of the "Northfleet" was newly married to a very
beautiful lady, who was later on by command presented to Queen Victoria,
who, after hearing her story, condoled with her, and later gave her a
pension of fifty pounds a year as long as she remained a widow.
Some three years after this the widow was again married, to Captain
Cawes, of the ship "Coriolanus." This ship came to Hankow to load tea
and I had the pleasure to meet Mrs. Cawes, who had been saved from my
old ship in which I had served for years.
The steamer that run down the "Northfleet" was twice arrested, but
nothing definite could be proved until some two years later, when one of
her officers was near dying, and he confessed that it was the steamer
"Murillo," which was later proved to be true, and the vessel was
Whilst running to Hankow with the steamer "Neimen" I had as sailors
Malays. The firemen were seedy boys, or Nubians. The steward was a Goa
Portuguese. The servants were Chinese, and the cook a Chinese who
claimed to be an American, he having been trained by Captain John
Parrott, of San Francisco, "a number one American man," who had taught
him to swear quite neatly.
Well, on Christmas Day, 1862, we had a very hard gale and snowstorm, and
early in the evening we had to anchor. Then we sat down to dinner, which
we hoped to enjoy. There were several passengers on board, and when the
soup was served and tasted each looked at the other, and I looked at the
steward and asked him what kind of soup it was. He said it was plain
soup. I asked why some meat had not been used in its making, and he
replied that the cook must have eaten the meat, as he was given plenty.
The cook was sent for, and when he was confronted with the steward he
began to use the refined language taught him by Captain Parrott. I
ordered the steward to put all the soup back into the tureen. Then I
invited the cook to take a seat at the table and consume the soup, which
he did. When he had taken it he rose and, bowing most politely, tucked
the tureen under his arm like an admiral with his cocked hat, and said,
"Excusey, my sir; all hab finishee," and backed out of the saloon most
A Brazilian Slaver.
In the year 1851 I was on a voyage to Melbourne, Australia, on the
sailing ship "Severn." This was shortly after the opening of the gold
mines. We left Southampton with about one hundred passengers, and had a
very fine run with fair weather. There was no incident to mar the
enjoyment of the trip until we neared the coast of Brazil, when one
morning we saw a smart-looking brig hove to, waiting for us to come up,
and when we came near our passengers became very much excited, as we
could see there was an unusual number of men on her deck; the idea was
that it was a pirate vessel.
When we came very near to her, a boat was put off from her, and an
officer brought a letter from her captain asking for provisions and
water, saying that the vessel was bound for the port of Santos, and had
been blown off the coast in a pampero. Neither the officer nor the
boat's crew could or would speak English. They could only ask in Spanish
for "tabac." Some of our sailors protested that they were either British
or - Americans. Well, they were supplied with salt beef and pork, canned
meats, water, etc. Several trips were made by the boat, and when all was
finished, and the boat was at some distance from us, these marauders
stood up and gave us three rousing cheers in good plain English, and
called out "Good-bye boys, and good luck to you for feeding the
blackbirds." The brig was full of slaves.
This "slave" business was then near its end in Brazil, and, probably
this vessel had been chased off the coast by a British war-vessel, as
every possible effort was being made by the British Government to
suppress the slave trade.
Mary Ann Gander.
On this voyage we had a Mr. and Mrs. Gander and their eight children.
Poor Mrs. Gander used to suffer terribly from seasickness, and was
totally unfitted to do anything but scold, whilst poor unfortunate
Gander used to promenade the deck with a child on each arm and a couple
of others tagging on to his coat-tails. He was a wonderfully
good-natured fellow, was Gander; otherwise I do believe he would have
jumped overboard, for whenever he came near to where Mrs. Gander was,
she used to call to him to go to the captain and tell him to put her on
shore immediately; she would not go any further in that ship, - no, that
she wouldn't. "Now, Mary Ann, what's the use your talking that way; you
know that we are a thousand miles from any land and the captain cannot
put you on shore." "Now, Gander, don't you talk to me. How dare you? You
just go to the captain at once. Oh! you catch me going to sea again. No,
that you won't. When I go home I'll go overland, if I have to walk every
step of the way." Poor Gander! Mary Ann and the children all survived
the trials of the voyage and arrived safe in Melbourne, where Gander was
very fortunate, and in three years made sufficient money to enable him
to retire, and as the English Mail Steamer Company, or the P. & O.
Company had put on a line from Ceylon to Australia in 1852, the Gander
family were enabled to go home by the overland route, as Mrs. Gander had
wished to go.
In June, 1854, I left Melbourne on the barque "Junior," bound to Callao,
in Peru. We had a fine voyage, and on arrival, being free, I went to
Lima, the capital. I found this was a very interesting old city, with
beautiful surrounding country, which I enjoyed very much, and spent
nearly a month there. Then I had a week in Callao, which was a pretty
wild place. I used to sail around the bay, and in sailing near the shore
I could look down, at the bottom of the sea, on the houses of old
Callao, which was swallowed by an earthquake in the latter part of the
last century. And, strange to say, when the town disappeared an island
came up out in the bay. This island is very high and is called "San
Lorenzo," after a lone fisherman who had been out in his boat fishing on
the night when the earthquake took place, and in the morning poor old
Lorenzo found himself in a boat about a thousand feet up on a mountain
and no town in sight.
Well, I joined the barque "Tropic," loaded with guano, bound for Cork,
in Ireland. This vessel was a very rotten old thing, and in getting
round Cape Horn we all had a very hard time, and did not know how soon
the vessel would sink with us; but we got round the Cape and into the
South Atlantic, where we had better weather and proceeded pretty well
till in the North Atlantic, when provisions began to get short. When we
were off the Azores, watching the beautiful shores and harbours of St.
Michael, we came near a Dutch brig from Brazil loaded with coffee. The
captain hailed us and asked us for some biscuits. A boat was sent to us
bringing us a half-bag of coffee. We had less than a hundred pounds of
biscuits. Our captain consulted with us about giving any of it away. It
was finally agreed that we would divide with the brig. This was done,
and we had to be very careful with so little bread among twelve people.
We had plenty of salt beef and pork, and a half-barrel of flour, but no
beans or peas or sugar.
We had a fair run till we saw Cape Clear, at the south end of Ireland,
on the 30th of January, 1855. We all were in high hopes that a few hours
more would see us at anchor in Queenstown; but that night came on an
easterly gale, and we were driven out into the Atlantic, where for weeks
we were buffeted about, and to our dismay our last fresh-water cask we
found had leaked and was empty. We were surrounded with many other
vessels in the same plight - short of provisions. We had plenty of snow,
with which we could make coffee, but were reduced to salt meat only,
which is pretty hard fare. The hardest part was, that the captain had
his wife and two children on board, and for the youngest child a goat
had been provided to supply milk. This became a scarce article as there
was no food for the goat. So every day the carpenter used to plane up a
piece of wood to make shavings for the goat to eat. It got along as well
or better than any of us.
Finally, on the 10th of March, in the morning early, we had reached near
to the Old Head of Kinsale, and near to Cork, when we saw a boat pulling
off to us. This proved to be a pilot-boat. The pilot got on board, and
told us that ours was the first vessel that could be boarded in six
weeks, the weather having been so bad, and that only a few days before
the mail-carrier between Clonakilty and Cork had been frozen to death on
his journey. The pilot brought us a few potatoes, which gave us one each
and two for the captain's wife, and the next morning we got safely into
Queenstown, where we were able to get a good supply of milk, bread,
butter, and eggs, of which we all made pretty free use, and with a few
days' rest we forgot all our late cares, as sailors usually do.
After being in port a few days we all left the "Tropic," and I spent a
couple of weeks in seeing Cork and the beautiful country where the
people are so genial and hospitable. After seeing all I wanted to see, I
took steamer from Cork for Bristol, spent one day there, and then left
by train for London. The train left in the evening, and here a rather
amusing incident occurred. I had taken a second-class ticket, and after
taking my seat, it being cold weather, I prepared to make myself
comfortable for the night. In my valise I had a rough sealskin or
Esquimau jacket with a hood to it. I put this on and was nice and warm,
sitting in the corner of the carriage. Shortly afterwards a man in
livery came in and sat in the corner opposite to me. Then came an old
lady and her husband, an Irish army officer returning to India. The old
lady was helped in by the gentleman, but as soon as she saw me she cried
out, "O Lord!" and fell back. Then the old gentleman boosted her in
again, saying, "Go in, you old stupid!" and after the second attempt she
gave it up, saying she wouldn't travel in a menagerie. She had taken me
for a bear, and the man in livery for my keeper. The old gentleman got
in, and she remained on the platform until I assured her that there was
no danger. Then she came in very reluctantly and sat as far away as
possible until we reached Bath, where the man in livery alighted. After
that the old lady, her husband, and I became good friends for the
remainder of the journey.
Memory For Voices.
After the bear incident I spent some time in London, then joined the
emigrant ship "Oriental," bound to Adelaide, South Australia. I was
third officer. We took on board about one hundred families of
excellently selected farm labourers, shepherds, and ploughmen, and after
having made a good voyage arrived safely in Adelaide. The Immigration
Commissioners came on board and inspected the passengers. The result was
most satisfactory. There was no complaint of ill-treatment or deficiency
in supplies, and in less than thirty-six hours every family was engaged
and sent into the country. And the Commissioners awarded to our doctor
fifty pounds sterling, the chief officer fifty pounds for his
supervision, and myself fifty pounds for the supervision of the
After a short stay in Adelaide, we sailed for Madras, in India, and
after a good voyage we arrived and anchored in the evening when it was
quite dark. There was quite a number of native business men came off in
catamarans and "mussulah," or surf-boats. Among the number was one
noble-looking man, who stepped up near to our captain and, addressing
him, said, "How do you do, Captain Mackintosh?"
"How do you know my name is Mackintosh?"
"By your voice, sahib. When you were here in the 'Lady Mary Harrison,'
eighteen years ago, I was your dubash."
This was quite correct. This man recognized the captain's voice after
all these years.
In 1879 I had a similar experience in my own case. I was travelling in
Scotland, and in Edinburgh I met some friends and inquired for an old
lady whom I had known as a child. I found that she was living at a place
called Aberladye, on the seacoast. I decided to go to see her, and was
directed to take the train to Dreme Station, and there I should find a
conveyance to take me to Aberladye. When I arrived the conveyance was
filled with local travellers and I started to walk three and a half
miles to my friend. After I had gone about half a mile I passed by a
magnificent entrance to a fine estate. Soon after this I heard a
carriage coming, and when it caught up to me the gentleman who was
driving in the dog-cart pulled up and asked if I was going to Aberladye
and invited me to take a lift. I thanked him and mounted beside him. He
asked where I wanted to go. I told him to Rose Cottage, when we entered
into general conversation. He learned that I was from China, so we had
quite a pleasant time, and, arriving opposite to Rose Cottage, he pulled
up and graciously pointed to the house, bade me good-bye, and hoped we
might meet again.
I went up to the door and rang the bell, and the old lady herself
answered it all in a flutter, as she had seen me set down from the trap,
which was driven by Lord Rosebery himself. Well, I asked if Mrs.
McKippen lived there. She replied, "Yes; I am she." I said, "Perhaps
you don't remember me?" She said, "No; but I know your voice." I told
her that I was Arthur Knights. "Aye, laddie," she cried, "I heard that
you was drowned at sea twenty-five years ago." Well, I need hardly say
that I was welcome to her and her husband, who was a retired business
man. Poor old gentleman, he cried as a child when she told him of my
taking the trouble to come and see her, and how when I was a small boy
at a juvenile party I was sore distressed by my dancing slippers being
too big and that they kept slipping off. Then she came to the rescue and
took me to one side and stitched them to the heel of my stocking to
enable me to have a good time.
I spent a couple of days with my friends and then went on my way, and I
have often wondered whether that lady could possibly have connected my
manhood voice with that of my childhood.
An Incident of the Great Taiping Rebellion.
In the latter part of 1862 I left Shanghai on my usual voyage to Hankow.
This port is six hundred miles up the Yangtse River. After we had got
about sixty miles up the river, which is here about ten miles wide, our
attention was drawn to a number of human bodies floating down the river,
most of them mutilated. This lasted about thirty hours. As we steamed
along near the shore, the farmers, with their families, were for miles
gathered here and there, gesticulating, prostrating themselves, and
praying for us to take them on board. The poor creatures were between
the Imperialist soldiers and the rebels, or Taipings. Both of these
parties were ravaging, devastating, and destroying all before them, and
the poor peasants had a very hard time. We could not help these poor
creatures, and had to pass on our way.
On the third day we passed a city called Taiping Foo, "foo" meaning
"city" in Chinese. We afterwards learned that for some months the
inhabitants of the city had withstood a siege from both belligerents,
and one day the Imperialist general conferred with the Taotai, or mayor,
and said that it was well known that the inhabitants had been very good
and had not favored the rebels, and now if they would open their gates
to the Imperial soldiers, he would promise them kind treatment; and the
people were weak enough to believe him and opened the city gates, and in
a few hours nearly the whole population was butchered and thrown into
the river, and those were they whom we had seen floating in clusters a
few days before.
In the course of my journey through life I have been in many strange
places, and have met many strange people. I have seen many strange
sights - some grave, some gay. For many years I was on
passenger-carrying ships, and have carried many travellers, amongst whom
some strong and enduring attachments have been made.
Although I have been in some bad places, and met some "hard characters,"
yet was I never molested in any country in which I have been. I have
seen some misfortunes, but was never depressed by them. I could always
see around me others who stood in need of help. I have spent a long life
in foreign lands, and happily I can now look back upon the past and say
that I have found much good in all the lands which Almighty God has
permitted me to visit.
My motto has always been, Never despair; persevere, and never give up
And now with the most happy memories of the past I can look back without
a moment's regret and ask God to bless all those who have been good to
me. And who has not been good?
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