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the never-ceasing confusion which reigns on board a vessel newly put in service, there appeared to be a perfect tornado of dock-yard artisans-carpenters-riggers-tinkers, and the likewho rushed distractedly about, tearing everything to pieces that had been effected before, and never seeming to please anybody.
It is worthy of remark, as a general rule, that there is always a wide difference of opinion between the dock-yard people and the mariners, with regard to the comparative utility of the various improvements or fittings of a sea-going ship, and, in the end, both parties are not disinclined to part with each other as soon as practicable.
Our trials, in this respect, were not of long duration, and one bright, pleasant morning, early in the month of May, Anno Domini 1852, the sailing orders
When the tide made in the afternoon, the pilot gave the word, the iron fasts were let run from the ports, the stagings hauled on shore, and slowly the vessel's head swung off from the pierhead towards the stream. There was a low, squat steam-tug in readiness for us, painted very red, and looking extremely infernal and wicked, as she lay at a wharf some distance astern, and only evinced her spleen at intervals, by short splenetic coughs from her escape pipes, as if she was viciously inclined upon bursting her boilers, out of the purest spite and rage, right under the frigate's
"Are the hawsers ready?" cried the first lieutenant. A toss of the hand was the affirmative reply from the man on board the tug, and, without a moment's hesitation or timidity, the red beast screwed noiselessly alongside the ship, and seizing her with a nip like to a forceps, the broad propeller vibrated backwards and forwards for a moment; and then, as if tired of such nonsense, with a whirling spin, that made the water foam, she breasted her enormous burden slowly, but surely, down the harbor of Boston.
A little before sunset, we reached the outer anchorage of Nantasket Roads, where, the wind being unfavorable, we let go an anchor. The steam tug, having apparently done her worst in dragging us away from our homes, rested placidly beside us for a time, in the enjoyment of our grief; when, having
taken on board some pleasant friends, who had come to see the last of us on this side of the globe, they departed, leaving us poor, sad, woe-begone mortals, to brood over our sorrows alone.
At early dawn, the following day, the wind came furtively fair. I am inclined to this opinion, though I did not feel it, nor ask a soul about it; for, I was much too miserable to care for anything of the sort. Yet, I felt assured my surmise was correct, because I heard the sharp ring of the boatswains' whistles, with the cry of: "All hands up anchor." Then again there was a short race around the capstans, but presently the tramp of the busy feet ceased; the word was passed along the gun deck to "secure the cable;" and then, I knew again that we were not off yet.
I made a determined effort some hours later, and succeeded in reaching the upper air. The weather had changed, as the barometer had predicted; the horizon, where the sun rose, looked hard and gloomy; and the wind, too, was creeping stealthily, but steadily, from the same direction. Before noon, rain came, and then the pilot muttered that he felt "dubersome" about the appearances. One of the ocean-steamers was anchored near us; but presently she struck her paddles deep into the water, and, turning her nose up at sails and head winds, dashed away towards Halifax. It was a matter of discussion with us at dinner, that day, if the steward of the Cunarder had not supplied her with a superabundance of provisions, since long before night, with a rising head sea and strong gale, she must have been forced to reduce her revolutions, while, perhaps, her passengers increased theirs. In fact, with our big hull, and the very slight and almost imperceptible oscillations caused by the ocean swell, the young marine officer was heard pathetically to request the caterer not to cook any delicacies for him, of any kind or description. From that, those of the strong stomachs divined that the soldier preferred the land for a lengthened residence. The warning, however, to the caterer, seemed to be a matter of supererogation, for no opportunity presented itself during our stay at the Roads for procuring delicacies of the most frugal sort; with the exception of a merchant in a boat, from the famous town of Hull, hard by the anchorage. He came close under the frigate's
stern, and, holding up a couple of eggs, asked if " some wun of you fellers keer'd to buy 'em." He also volunteered to " go and kitch some tom cod," but, gaining no heed to his solicitations, he sailed away disgusted.
For six tedious days, the easterly gale howled dismally, while the rain fell chillingly, in concert. There we lay, ready for sea, the guns secured, the messenger passed, the capstan bars laid beside the capstans, and all dancing attendance upon the perverse wind,
"All the noisy waves went freshly leaping,
Like gamesome boys over the church-yard dead."
The only object which seemed to revel with delight in this dreary scene was our friend the red steam-tug. She was evidently out on a frolic. During the heaviest and wildest weather, the monster, as if conscious of her iron muscle and power, would go plunging out to sea, in and out and around the angry ledges and breakers, looking for all the world like a huge lobster, with her revolving claws ready, at a moment's notice, to snap up any misguided bark that had unfortunately been driven, in distress, upon the pitiless rocks by the gale.
How we all doled through the time, during this tedious weather, I leave to those who are fond of the sea to imagine. For my own part, I mustered up a little energy one morning, and arranged my traps in some show of order. I lived down in a dark, gloomy aperture of the ship, in a place called, for what reason brain of man cannot divine, the cockpit. It is always associated in my mind with the "spot where Nelson died"—which, by the way, aside from the cowardly musket-ball of the Frenchman, would not have been a subject of wonderment, if he had been obliged to lodge in any similar hole to mine.
Owing to the detestable internal economy of space within our old-fashionedbuilt vessels of war, neither officers nor men enjoy the wholesome or well-arranged quarters they reasonably should. In the present day, the ward-rooms are the most crowded apartments in the ship; and it frequently happens, as in my case, that, without swinging in a cot, al fresco, as it were, in the open "country," with the privilege of a wash-stand in the street, I should have been obliged
to perambulate the frigate of nights, on my individual feet, or to roost in the boats, or, perhaps, in the codfish-boxes under the maintop, since the regular state rooms were legitimately occupied by those entitled to them.
Fortunately, however, the cockpit was vacant, and there a cabin was placed at my disposal; for, as I was in " everybody's mess and nobody's watch," I had no claims to more agreeable accommodations.
There were three others who shared with me this retreat: the secretary and a brace of surgeons.
It was a perfect ladderrinth to get down to this pit; but, when once down, it had virtues of its own. Sunlight was never seen there by the Ancient Mariner himself. Air had been there occasionally, but in very small quantities-I mean breathing air. My private belief is, that the cockpit was solely invented for purposes of suffocation. The great bread-rooms opened into the pit, from whose capacious tinned receptacles the biscuit was daily taken to feed the mouths above. The purser's store-house, too, sent forth its tribute of slops, consisting of every imaginable material from red jackets to pepper-brogans and beeswax, thread, trowsers, thimbles, pins, pans, silks, and candles. Then, again, the hospital drugs, and the officers' private stores, were all drawn in bulk from these realms, to say nothing of the loaded shell magazines, with their villainous sulphur and saltpetre, being entombed directly beneath the deck.
The awful smell, in warm weather, of tar, ropes, damp clothing, drugs, provisions, powder, and the compound fluidextract of pure bilge water, and the like refreshing elements, reeked here in stifling profusion; but one good mouthful of pure oxygen, I say again, was never inhaled in the pit. Ethereal spirits of that volatile nature resort nearer to the heavens.
This was the appearance of things at the outset of the cruise; and, moreover, there was an obstructed passage-way leading forward from this den to the spirit-room hatch, and designed for filling shells, thus corking us up like a bottle. At a later period, however, on getting quit of the dock-yard men, our own carpenters, with a few vigorous blows of sledge-hammers and crowbars, knocked the entire fabric away, leaving a wide space, where a large lantern shed
its gleams perpetually beside a sentinel placed there to keep guard over the residents and property; and where, too, a plethoric wind-sail poured a current of fresh air from the breezy regions above; thus making, on the whole, our life more luxurious, wholesome, and comfortable than before.
At the same time, notwithstanding the unavoidable ills of a sea life, not sufficiently alleviated by a liberal allowance of candles, and the certainty of being the first blown up in case of fire, we still existed as pleasantly and happily as human beings could expect to, six feet under water, within the walls of a ship.
To descend, however, to details: my own cabin was precisely six feet square and nearly five feet high-not quite, but an inch or two below a certain elevation is not important. Except in the struggle to put on my trowsers in a hurry, which, perhaps, could have been more easily performed by standing on my head, I experienced no difficulty or inconvenience whatever on that score.
Of the six feet square, my bunk and bed occupied about one-fourth-narrow, to be sure, in the most sanguine view of the case. Had it been occupied by my uncle Toby, before his anticipated marriage with Mrs. Wadman, I feel persuaded that Mr. Shandy would not have cast reproach upon the widow for being about to prevent her lover from "sleeping diagonally in his bed;" for, under the most favorable auspices, it would have puzzled a monkey to have laid crosswise in mine.
I often pondered, while lying awake in my narrow crib, how a gentleman in easy circumstances on shore would accept of a night's lodging like unto my retreat; to be asked to sleep in a hole six feet under ground-except it were considered a grave-with a smoked pork-shop next door, a bakery and druggery on the other, an old clothes emporium over the way, and a powder magazine beneath; then to breathe a foul atmosphere of tar, cheese, and roaches; without a ray of light, save that dimly emitted by smoky oil; and the whole catalogue of delights closed by reposing on rockers, to roll and to pitch, or swing to and fro as in a birdcage. I wonder, I say, whether, after a first trial, the visitor would care to enjoy the like hospitality again!
A bureau, with a writing affair at
tachment, stood in one corner; a small wash-stand in the other; a couple of shelves held my books above, and around were racks of wooden pegs to hold my watch-clothes and ordinary raiment. Outside the cabin, behind a canvas screen, was a bath-tub, where I could disport myself to an unlimited extent in salt water. All this constituted my palace afloat; and, though neither gilded nor frescoed, it still became a snug little home for the cruise, where I could be sad or merry, studious or dreamy, as the spirit moved me.
It was on the 17th of May, at daylight, that we were all astir. The wind had veered fair, and, indeed, it was high time, for the pilot was out of shirts, and threatened to leave us to our fate. The anchors were soon wrung from their resting places, the head sails hoisted, and, in company with a great crowd of outward bounders, we all steered seaward together.
On gaining an offing, we hove to for a moment, to give the pilot a chance to step into his cockle-shell of a boat. Good-by, captin," said he, as he strapped up the certificate of his pilotage in one of the fat pocket-books with which people of his profession invariably supply themselves. "Good-by, pilot," said we all; "keep a look-out for us three years from to-day." "Aye, aye -I guess I won't," he exclaimed, as he gave his beaver a pull, and, seizing one of the oars, sculled on board his vessel.
An hour later, we ran past the steam frigate Mississippi, gave a mutual salute of hearty cheers, and then, making all sail, before the night closed around us, the rocks, villages, light-houses, and sand-hills of Cape Cod had faded away in the distance, and the frigate held her prow resolutely towards the broad Atlantic.
For some days we went bowling along at great speed, with a single reef in the topsails, past George's shoals into the Gulf Stream, with the fogs and drizzle which hang round those warm water regions obscuring the horizon, and holding the canvas of the frigate out full and rigid. The effect, too, produced by the sudden change of medium of air and sea, caused the inside walls and ceilings of the vessel to condense in moisture, and every plank, timber, and bolt pour out oozy drops of perspiration upon our devoted heads. At last, came clear, drying weather, when, with winds
at times light, then fresh, first from one quarter, and then another, but always fair, we made rapid progress towards the Old World.
The internal organa of the ship also progressed favorably; a great portion of the crew were at first greener than the sea, in the ways of a man-of-war; but constant drilling in the ordinary routine of duty soon put everything in tolerable working order. At the outset, after recovering from the soul-harrowing effects of sea-sickness, their physical energies were devoted to recruiting their stomachs, and the effect was visibly manifest at every succeeding general muster, when they all marched around the captain for inspection.
I should say, on an avoirdupois guess, that in aggregate bulk, the crew increased at the rate of about four tons per month. The marines, perhaps, fell a trifle below this estimate; for being of sedentary habits, and immoderately addicted to "duff," which invariably produced the colic, they were in a mass neutralized in fatness. Our friends, however, the Milesians, were the most difficult persons to bring into the traces. Paddy is tractable and witty, but stupid and blundering. They would persist in stowing their hammocks on one side of the deck in the morning, and looking for them on the other at night; being deluded into this dilemma, by remarking only the rising of the sun, and giving no heed to the stem or stern of the ship, they forgot that the sun had got round to another part of the heavens. Going up the rigging, however, was their severest trial. They were always "light in the hed, and wake in the ligs, not bein' accustomed to the say," though an old quarter-master of my acquaintance was eager to bet a month's pay that, with a hod of mortar over their shoulders, they could beat a cat to the main-royal truck.
It was not, however, trifles of this nature that the officers had seriously to contend with. It was with that class of persons whose characters or habits had become distasteful to their fellowmen on shore; to whom a man-of-war is an Alsatia of refuge; with whom clear good-natured persuasion or reason has but little weight; and who require the strong hand, and not unfrequently the cold steel at their throats, to reduce them to wholesome discipline and obedience.
The government had abolished flogging in the navy. Since the passage of the law, this was the first cruise wherein I had had the opportunity of witnessing the effect of that measure in a ship of war. It was, at the time, with me, a matter of exceeding doubtwhile the grog part of the ration was left to work its pernicious influencewhether a man-of-war could be properly disciplined, without the lash, or the substitute of cruel and unusual means of punishment, to curb the naturally mutinous and vicious.
Contrary, however, to all my preconceived convictions, trained, as I had been, for many years, under the old system, where the cats were swung habitually upon the backs of the seamen, I must candidly admit, that my views have undergone an entire change.
There is not an officer, with the true feelings of manhood, whose soul has not revolted at the disgusting practice of punishment under the old regulations; and neither, do I believe, are there many who would not willingly have seen the lash abolished, had wise and effective substitutes been devised to supply its place.
This, however, in a moment of hasty legislation, was overlooked; and the only means left with the officers to control the men, were those of an ordinary nature, or in nautical parlance, "according to the usages of the sea service."
The experiment, I feel persuaded, was fairly tried on board the Cumberland, and I am equally certain with decided success. There was introduced on board the frigate a thorough and impartial administration of rewards, as well as punishments, which held out encouragement to the good, and meted out strict justice to the bad. A prison was constructed on the lower deck, where the prisoners could not communicate with their shipmates. It had transverse rods of iron at top and bottom, to which the culprits were shackled, and they were made to keep the same watch below that their shipmates did on the upper deck, instead of dozing away their time in comparative comfort.
For light offenses the men were given extra work, and deprived of liberty on shore; but for offenses of greater magnitude, confinement for certain periods in double irons, and by sentence of court martial, disratings, deprivation of
pay, or disgraceful discharge from the
It was, however, the minor delinquencies that required the most attention, and the burden of the duty fell entirely upon the executive officers, of whom incessant vigilance was at all times demanded. At the same time, the rights of the crew and their comforts were respected. They were treated with moderation and firmness. I never heard of an oath being spoken through the trumpet during the period I was in the ship; and eventually the frigate became the most creditable vessel, in many points of view, that it had been my lot to sail in.
I must admit, however, that the crew did not, on all occasions, work with the same quickness and alacrity, as I had known in other ships; but this was more attributable to the feebler stamina of the men themselves, than to any defect of the system.
Of recent years, a great depreciation has been observed in the professional capacities of the enlisted men in the navy, and California and Australia may have been, in some degree, the allurements which have drawn them away, though it is fair to presume the race has not become entirely extinct. There is another reason, however, in the belief the sailors cherish, that, since the abolition of the cats, the brunt of the work on Uncle Sam's decks will fall upon the good men; and that the lazy, skulkers and worthless will have all the play and none of the labor. Even now, I venture to assert that, were the vote taken among the men themselves, on board every ship of war in commission, a large majority would be cast for the
The chronometric point from which everything dates, on ship-board, is seven bells. A man-of-war wakes fairly with bustling life at that hour in the morning. The boatswains' whistles ring through the ship; the men tumble out of their hammocks on the gun and berth decks, and preparations are made for breakfast. As sounds fly upward, and as a salute of 32-pounders might be fired without particularly disturbing the denizens of the cockpit, we were generally informed of the hour by a servitor who attended upon us-a recent importation from Cork. Unlike his countrymen, he was a dandy, and had been known to reverse the oil cruets of the
casters upon his hirsute locks, to give them a glossy hue. "Av ye plaze, sur, to turn out," was his accustomed salutation, while lighting a candle on the bureau. Without a moment's reflection, I would throw my heels out of the bunk, and slide as gracefully as my attire would admit (taking care the while not to jolt my brains against the hard pine beams above) on to a campstool. Here, a few moments' rasping with the hair brushes served to restore my wits for the day, when ducking through the state-room door, into what we called the rural districts, I underwent a splash of sea-water, and then returned calmly to my vestments. There is nothing like a dip of cold water, at any time, but especially when the blood wants quickening in the sleepy morning.
By the time the boatswains again begin their shrill music, in piping to breakfast, the bell strikes eight, and then I knew by instinct that the gunroom meal was ready also, and accordingly I ascend to the upper regions. The officers' breakfast is quite "à la traiteur," that is to say, each servant has something hot on the coals, at the cookshop of the galley, for his officer. My individual prejudices were usually in favor of a grilled sea robin-the marine jargon for red herrings-stale bread with red wine and water. Eggs I never touch on the ocean-an absurd fancy which I could never overcome.
The breakfast equipage remains on the mess table about an hour; and any indifferent person, whether he be of the civil or military establishment of the ship, may sit and chat, or eat away the time, as it best pleases him. But, as the bell strikes nine o'clock, the drum takes up
the sound, with a sharp, quick beat to quarters, while all hurry off to their stations. In a few minutes, the morning inspection of the crew and vessel is over the batteries and gear examined -the retreat sounds, and all are thrown upon their resources of duty or pleasure, as the case may be. The captain and executive officer visit the different parts of the vessel, to see if all is in a state of order and cleanliness; the lieutenants exercise the divisions at the great guns and small arms; the surgeons make their professional calls upon the sick, and, if need be, the mechanics fall to work upon the canvas, wood, and iron. Every one has something to do,