| ||The Cruise of The Flying Squadron
1869 - 1870
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
Melbourne, Dec. 7,1869.
"This is Childers's idea," said a smart young officer to the present writer, explaining the origin of the Flying Squadron. At the time of this little speech six fine vessels of war - the Liverpool, the Phoebe, the Endymion, the Liffey, the Barrosa, and Scylla - were sailing down Hobson's Bay with some thousands of Victorian colonists on board. The day was an alternation of Australian sunshine and Australian showers. The occasion was a graceful and exceedingly well managed return of civilities by Admiral Hornby to the people of Melbourne for the balls, dinners, and general hospitality bestowed by the Victorians on the officers and crews of "the Flying Squadron."
"This is Childers's idea," said the young officer, a mouthful of lobster salad very slightly qualifying the perfect delivery of this authoritative sentence. Several other mouths, also partially occupied with lobster salad or with something else, suspended operations while listening to this announcement. Some of these mouths merely opened at the speaker. Some said, "Now, really." Some looked unfathomable things. One man said, " Mr. Childers has had an advantage which not every English statesman has enjoyed ; he has seen and studied many men and distant lands ; he has got rid of the cockneyism of mere London ideas ; he has acquired knowledge in the best of all universities, the world at large. His Flying Squadron is a wise and good thought; he knows how to cement communities and peoples ; he strikes their imaginations ; he unvulgarizes their previous ideas of pounds, shillings, and pence, by showing to them how stupendous and wonderful a thing in its way is a squadron of modern ships of war, and how improvingly it represents the power of a great nation."
This last speech, I suspect, partly expressed the popular impression produced by the Flying Squadron. Never before were so many thousands of people, in every variety of craft, seen on Hobson's Bay, not even to receive the Duke of Edinburgh.
That peculiar structure a ship of war, with her gigantic sodawater-bottle-shaped modern guns, her chilled shot and tall bulwarks, and prodigious yards and masts, and her hundreds of sun-browned, large-throated, muscular sailors, doing all sorts of incomprehensible tasks to bands of music and to unmusical roars of boatswains alike, seemed to many a colonist no bad representative of the grandeur of "Old England." Here, indeed, was power. It was a material exhibition of science in action which made many an old settler sentimental, almost to the point of the lachrymose. " We are rich, and have abundance to spare," said one old fellow a sort of notability in his way, " why should we not remain part and parcel of Old England ? Why not pay our fair share of supporting such magnificent defences as these ?" This and many similar speeches were among the first fruits of Ohilders's " idea."
Had Mr. Childers, when putting this idea into execution, foreseen its inevitable effect on the colonial imagination ! If so, it shows his prescience, and goes far to vindicate the occasional appointment of a Minister whose observation and experience have taken in some of the life of the outlying parts of the British Empire. No number of reams of well-penned despatches, no accumulation of columns of English Parliamentary debates, could ever have reconciled Victorians so much to the idea of "paying scot and bearing lot" in the business of England's defences as this "Flying Squadron."
Of course there are a vast number of readers of The Times who are prepared to say, and who probably will say, "What fools are the Victorians, pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw." Why should a few big ships, with a lot of big guns in them, have any influence on a wise man's opinion touching a colony's relations with the British Empire? We cannot answer such a question any more than we can say why it is that in so many other things man's views and conduct are controlled much more by feeling and imagination than by the rules of logic and arithmetic. Until man becomes a creature of pure and passionless reason we must be content with him as we find him ; and we find him studying large armaments and flying squadrons as part of the necessary incidents of international life and death.
This much in respect to the temper with which the Flying Squadron has been received in these colonies. These fine vessels arrived off the Otway as early as the 26th ult. They would have entered the Heads in company the following day had not a heavy gale of wind come on and dispersed them just as they were approaching Port Philip, when, for more abundant caution, the whole squadron stood well out to sea for the night, wisely giving our ironbound coast " a good wide berth.'' At about 6 o'clock on the afternoon of the Friday following four of them were seen standing up the Bay, before a spanking breeze, and the other two came in about 30 hours afterwards. Thenceforth for a week "the Flying Squadron" became the principal, if not exclusive, object of interest throughout the colony. The offcers and such of the crews who could be spared from duty were unable to avail themselves of one-half of the invitations they received or of the recreations provided for them. Balls at Government-house, dinners at the Australian Club, monster picnics got up by the Melbourne Corporation to our great show places, the Yan Yean Reservoir and Fern Tree Gully, besides an overwhelming pressure of private invitations, must have satisfied our visitors and guests that we still preserve unabated the traditional interest in the British sailor. Nor were the "poor Jacks" forgotten. The railways were thrown open to enable such of them as desired to see the country, to visit Ballarat, Sandhurst, Castlemaine, or others of the towns of the interior. "Jack ashore " is an expression usually suggestive of drunkenness. rowdyism, and the police-office ; but on this occasion Jack himself has been quite as well behaved as his betters. Although our streets have during the past week been swarming with the Blue Jackets, I have not seen a single drunken man, and only one or two instances have occurred of some nautical Sampson ashore on leave, with more money than discretion, being betrayed into the hands of the police by the Delilahs of Melbourne. Considering how many hundreds of men there are distributed among these six ships, it is to me something surprising that with the novel excitements and attractions of shore after a long voyage, the conduct of these men has been so all but uniformly good. The fact has been a topic of general admiration and wonder among the Australian community, and speaks much for the judicious selection of the men, and something, perhaps, for the tact and management we must admit to have been exhibited by Admiral Hornby and his brother officers throughout the fleet. The squadron proceeds this day to Sydney. Even in that magnificent harbour the ships will hardly have room for what they gave us on Saturday last, a nautical review of port and starboard lines, with all the evolutions most conducive to wholesale homicide at sea. If, however they behave as well in Sydney as they have behaved in Melbourne, they will have raised the character of British seamen throughout the world, and I take this to be a fact worthy of record even in the columns of The Times.
The above forms a part of an article from The Times, of 25 Jan 1870
[Note : It is interesting to note, from the accompanying Diary of the Cruise (click on the image at the top of the page), that "Jack" liked it so much that over 150 of them attempted to stay-on after the visit.]
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