|From Sail to Steam
Naval Recollections, 1878-1905
CONSTANTINOPLE – MARMORA - DERKOS
Shortly after our expedition in the Lebanon, recorded in the last chapter, the Rapid was ordered to Malta to undergo a general refit, to pay off and recommission with a new crew; and as I had only been a year in the ship, I was reappointed in command. I was very sorry to part with the officers, who were a good lot, though very bad shots; and I was especially sorry to part with my sporting sergeant, who would very much have liked to stay in the Rapid, but was obliged to go home with his detachment. I shall never see his like again. The new sergeant did not know a woodcock from a seagull, nor one end of a pig from the other.
The summer at Malta is very trying, and we spent the four hottest months of the year there, refitting the old Rapid for her next, and last, commission; but I had nothing to grumble about, as I had spent a most delightful winter, and all places in the Mediterranean are hot in the summer, though perhaps Malta is the hottest. The Malta stone gets baked with the sun; it becomes a veritable oven, and everyone who can get away from it during the hot months does so. It is, however, only fair to say that Malta in winter is one of the gayest places in the British dominions. Balls, parties, teas, picnics, operas, etc.; so that it is a paradise for those who like these sort of things.
In the late autumn of this year (1879) my Admiral
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informed me that he intended to send me to Constantinople in the Rapid, to spend the winter there as guardship to our Ambassador. Each of the Great Powers keeps a small man-of-war at Constantinople to attend to the wishes of their Ambassadors. They are called the "stationnaires," and are always small ships of little fighting value, as the Porte is very jealous of foreign warships of power coming within range of the capital. A special firman from the Sultan has to be obtained before any of them can pass through the Dardanelles, and the Turkish authorities at Chanak generally keep you waiting two or three days while the firman is being prepared, just to show how important it is, and what a great favour they are conferring by allowing you to go through at all.
It was with great joy that I received my orders for Constantinople. I had not been there since the days of the Crimean War, when I went out in the old three-decker Royal George, to bring home troops; but I appreciated my great luck in once more being selected for detached service, far from the gentle attentions of a senior officer. I also knew, from the reports of my friends, that Constantinople was a very pleasant place in winter, and that there was excellent shooting all round the shores of the Sea of Marmora, where I should have to make occasional cruises to exercise the crew at sail drill and gunnery. In fact, I thought the chances of sport were so good that I wrote home immediate to my dear old friend Mirehouse, and asked him to come out again and join the Rapid at Constantinople, which he did.
On my arrival at Constantinople in October, our Ambassador (Sir Henry Layard, of Nineveh fame) had not yet left his summer residence at Therapia, on the
Bosphorus; so I took the Rapid up there and moored her in a funny little creek near the Embassy villa. We had two anchors out astern, and the other end of her tied up to a big tree, with the additional security of the stream anchor taken on shore and well dug in. So we were very snug there until it was time to move down to the anchorage at the mouth of the Golden Horn, where we were not nearly so snug.
I got on very well with Sir Henry when I came to know him, though I was a little bit startled at first by his somewhat brusque manners. The first time I called on him I thought he kept me standing rather longer than necessary, considering that there was a good deal to talk about and our conversation lasted some time; but he finally asked me to sit down; and then, opening a drawer in his writing-table, he took out a box of cigarettes, helped himself first, at which I was a little surprised, and still more so when he didn't help me second, or at all, but lit a cigarette and put the box back again. I suppose my presumption soared too high in expecting that a full-blown ambassador would condescend to offer me a cigarette, though I had formed the idea that all our diplomats were the very pink of politeness.
The only other full-blown ambassador that I have ever had anything to do with was Lord Dufferin, when he was at Paris; but he was quite different.
I finally won Sir Henry Layard's heart by getting a steam-launch for him, to take the place of the old Antelope. The Antelope was a very ancient paddlewheel steamer; too big and much too slow, and was quite useless to the Ambassador, though she was called the Ambassador's yacht. He consulted with me concerning the details of a small yacht which would be of
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use to him, and we finally decided upon a sort of glorified steam-launch, with a cabin and certain other conveniences; and after a good deal of correspondence with the Admiralty (which I was allowed to conduct direct, though, of course, sending copies to my Admiral) the glorified steam-launch was sent out, and met with complete approbation.
At the time of my arrival at Constantinople, Hobart Pasha was still alive and was Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Navy. When the Russo-Turkish War broke out in 1877 he was placed in a very awkward position; for as well as being an Admiral in the Turkish Navy he was a retired Admiral in the British Navy, drawing his retired pay; and as we were at peace with Russia, he had to choose between having his name removed from the British Navy list and losing his retired pay, or desert the Turks in their extremity. Of course, he could not do the latter, so he had to submit to the former, as some busybody in Parliament had called attention to his position.
Hobart felt this very deeply, not only on account of the pecuniary loss, but at being removed from the finest service in the world, in which he had spent all the best years of his life. He was one of several young Captains in our Navy who employed their half-pay time in blockade-running to the Southern States during the American Civil War; and at one time he had made a considerable "pile" at this risky business, but lost it all again in his last venture. He found great difficulty in getting his pay from the Turks, but they allowed him a barge's crew of twelve Turkish sailors, with whom he manned a steam yacht, called the Hawk, and in her he cruised about the Sea of Marmora in the winter, getting most excellent woodcock-shooting. He knew
all the best places in the Marmora, and was also in communication with the lighthouse-keepers, who used to send him a wire when the woodcock were in at their several districts, and then off he went at once in the Hawk. He took me with him once, and we found the covers full of woodcock, and had excellent sport. We had four days at it, and came back to Constantinople with the davit guys festooned with woodcock, all of which went to the palace. Hobart knew his Turk; but even woodcock to the palace in the days of Abdul Hamid failed to bring the Pasha's pay with any regularity, though it is highly probable that without this little bribe he would have got none at all.
I think Hobart was the best and quickest woodcock shot I ever saw; but he was a little jealous, and it was not good to walk too near him. It was said that he regarded all the shores of the Sea of Marmora as his special preserves; and I certainly did hear rumours that he was in the habit of sending the officers of the stationnaire to the wrong places and going to the right ones himself; and, indeed, I think it highly probable that when he came across some real bad shots he did do so, on the principle that it was no use wasting good places on them. Nevertheless, I was somewhat surprised one day when he volunteered the remark, " Some people say I send them to the wrong places on purpose. Never did such a thing in my life." To which I made the obvious reply, "Who ever said you did?" But got no answer. Qui s'excuse s'accuse.
The winter of 1879-80 was an exceptionally severe one at Constantinople. There had been nothing like it since 1854-55, known in England as the Crimean winter, when our troops suffered so severely in the trenches before Sebastopol. The snow lay in the
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streets of Pera and Galata for weeks, without melting or being removed, and all the country around was deep in snow. Our sporting friends of the English colony told us that this sort of weather afforded a splendid opportunity to go to Derkos to shoot wildfowl. They said that all the lakes in the country would be frozen, except Derkos lake, and as this never froze, we should find it covered with wild ducks and have splendid sport. The English Consul and the Vice-Consul both said they were very fond of duck-shooting (N.B.- They couldn't hit woodcock), and that one or other of them would accompany our party to Derkos, which they both knew well, and would act as guide and interpreter for us; so we made our arrangements for the trip, and as it was too cold for tents, we decided to take only blankets and some commissariat stores, and trust to getting some sort of shelter in the native hovels.
The weather was extremely cold, and the day before that on which we had arranged to start both Consul and Vice-Consul jibbed. One said he could not go because the other was going, and the other said he could not go because one was going. I travelled from one to the other several times trying to arrange matters, until it became obvious that neither of them intended to go. They both preferred the fleshpots of Pera to the wild ducks of Derkos; so that I had to cast about at the last moment and look for a guide and interpreter, which was no easy matter; but at last I hired a ruffianly-looking Levantine, who said he could speak English and could guide us to Derkos. He could not do either; but we did not find this out until it was too late to make a change.
We sent our saddle-horses and a baggage-horse up to Therapia the night before, and started at daylight
for that place in the steam pinnace, found the horses waiting, loaded up the baggage-animal, and off we went; but we had not gone far before it became clear that our guide had only the very haziest idea of the route to Derkos. Luckily for us, however, the man who led the baggage-horse proved to be a much better pilot, though even he was several times at fault; and small blame to him, for the snow was very deep, and any path there might have been in ordinary weather was completely obliterated, and landmarks also get much changed in appearance when covered with snow.
The distance from Therapia to Derkos is only thirty miles, but our progress was so slow that it soon became obvious we should take two days to get there; so we steered for a small village called Pyrgos, intending to spend the night there.
Then the baggage-horse got into a snowdrift and cast his pack, and we had a troublesome job getting him out again and reloading him. Then we all got into a snowdrift just as night was falling, and our two guides were busy quarrelling as to which direction Pyrgos lay in.
At this point there seemed to be a very good chance that we should spend the night out in the snow, which would have been unpleasant, even if we had been alive in the morning. We could see nothing around us but a dismal and unending waste of snow, and by the time we had got our horses out of the snowdrift it was dark, and so were our prospects. The situation, in fact, looked quite serious, but it was useless to stay where we were; so after some further argument between our two guides, we set off in the direction indicated by the leader of the baggage-horse as being most likely to lead to Pyrgos, though he did not seem to be by any means certain. So off we went, floundering along
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in single line ahead, baggage-horse leading; and after about an hour's time we saw, to our great joy, the twinkle of a dim light in the distance, and another hour brought us to the promised land. But our troubles were not quite over yet. It was now nine o'clock, and the little Greek village of Pyrgos had gone to bed. We rode down the one street, but there was no light in any of the houses; all doors were shut and barred, and it seemed like a village of the dead.
All we wanted was a dry wooden floor to sleep on; so it was
"Up the street and down the street, and knocked at every door.
Give us all the world, Sir, we couldn't find a floor."
But our indefatigable baggage-man was not to be denied. He forced his way into a house at last, told the people that three great Pashas from Constantinople were travelling, that they had lost their way, and that they must have a room to themselves, or else there would be trouble for the village. He then cleared out a family, with all their furniture and belongings, and ushered us into a good-sized empty room, with a moderately clean floor and a good fire burning. So we cooked and ate our supper, rolled ourselves in our blankets, and slept the sleep of the just. Yes, of the just; for, needless to say, we gave the poor people ample compensation for disturbances, and next morning they were all smiles and gratitude, which would scarcely have been the case had we been real Pashas instead of bogus ones.
We made an early start next day, had much the same deep snow to travel through, and, without losing our way this time, we arrived at Derkos village about an hour after dark, and secured a very clean, comfortable room in the house of a polite old Turk, whom we called
"Chelabi," in consequence of his frequent use of that word, which we were given to understand is the Turkish equivalent for signor, monsieur, or gentleman.
Chelabi's house was close to the shore of Derkos lake, and the reader will perhaps remember that the main reason of our trip to this lake was, that we had been told by those who were supposed to know all about it that the lake never froze, that all the other lakes did freeze, and that consequently all the wildfowl in the country were to be found at Derkos. Our consternation, then, may be easier imagined than described when, on looking out of our window next morning, we saw that the lake was frozen stiff, as far as the eye could reach !
After all our trouble to get to Derkos, it did seem hard luck to find the lake frozen, and the Consul and the Vice-Consul were called some hard names. We came to the conclusion - rather hastily, as it turned out - that we were in for a wild-goose-chase instead of a wild-duck battue: but we were wrong.
After breakfast we shouldered our guns and sallied forth. The weather was still very cold, with a strong, bitter north wind, blowing in from the Black Sea. We walked along the north shore of the lake for about two miles, and then came to a large patch of open water, and this, was literally swarming with wildfowl. There must have been millions of them.
At this point the lake was only about two miles from the Black Sea, and a little winding river ran out of the former into the latter. There was a ferry, so one of us crossed to the western side, and we all three dug ourselves into the deep snow, partly for shelter from the cutting wind and partly to make ourselves less conspicuous to the ducks.
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The first shot put up some ducks, and these flew over our heads towards the Black Sea, keeping more or less to the line of the river, as is their wont. Each succeeding shot put up some more birds, and they all did the same thing; but when they got to the Black Sea they apparently found it was too rough for them, for they all came back again, this time down wind and at a tremendous pace. Truly they were between the devil and the deep sea.
It was cold work, but it was lovely shooting; the best wildfowl-shooting I have ever had in my life. We shot fourteen different species of duck, teal, and widgeon, many of which we had never seen before. Some were of great beauty, and we eventually stuffed some of the rarer species. We lost a good many birds; in fact, most of those that fell in the river were lost; for although we had a retriever, we dare not let her go into the water in such weather, and the ferryman was very old and slow, and with his clumsy boat and still clumsier oars he only succeeded in picking up a few of the birds that fell in the river.
We devoted two days to the ducks, and then, having bagged nearly three hundred, we thought we had enough for all our friends at Constantinople, and we marched on to a place called Mandere, about fifteen miles further west, where we were told there was a good chance of getting a shot at a red deer, which would be driven down from the mountains by the great and unusual cold. We got a local guide, a very intelligent Italian, with the usual long single-barrelled gun, and he shot a red deer (a hind). I did not get a shot, but Mirehouse wounded a stag. It was a close country, with much bush and scrub, but the blood on the snow made it easy to follow the track, which we
did for quite two hours, but never sighted the wounded deer again. It was heavy-going in the snow, and we had on big boots and a lot of clothes, so it is not surprising that we got hot, and finally exhausted, and had to abandon the chase, the bush getting thicker and thicker, and apparently no chance of coming up with the quarry. It was very disheartening, and there is something very pathetic in having to abandon a wounded deer; but there was no help for it. The natives had given in some time before we did, and we were afraid of losing our way and getting lost in the bush.
We returned to Therapia by a different route and a much easier one than that by which we came to Derkos. The first ten miles of our return journey lay along the shore of the Black Sea, upon a beautiful sandy beach. The weather had become much warmer, there was no wind, and it was a delightful ride. Our friends the wild duck had all put to sea; the water was covered with them, and we watched two eagles helping themselves to their share of the ducks. It took them a long time to get a duck; but they persevered steadily, and this was how they did it: They worked separately at two different flocks of ducks, but their method was the same. The eagle would swoop down over a flock of ducks, and all that were anywhere near him would immediately dive, coming up again rather scattered. After this had been repeated two or three times, the eagle managed to separate one duck from all the others, and then by swooping down between him and the flock, he drove him still further away, until he was completely isolated, the flock swimming rapidly in the opposite direction, but never attempting to rise and fly while the eagle was anywhere near them. Once a duck was separated in this manner, his doom was sealed; his
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submarine excursions became shorter and shorter, for he was never given time to take breath; and finally, when he could dive no more, the eagle picked him up and carried him off.
After our ten-mile ride along the sands, we struck inland, and soon got into a large oak wood, where we found a herd of swine feeding on the acorns; but they were not the least like tame pigs. They were dark brown and had long hair, or rather bristles; they had long heads, high shoulders, and low hindquarters, and looked for all the world like the wild boar we had been in the habit of shooting in Albania and Asia Minor. They were not really wild; at any rate not very wild, for there were three or four very wild-looking men with long sticks loafing about near them. We had with us a little dog we called Pincher; he was a thoroughbred mongrel, about the size of an Irish terrier. I only gave half a medjedi (two shillings) for him; but he was full of pluck, and had been very useful to us in finding and baying the wild pigs at Ayas Bay. The moment Pincher saw these hairy-looking animals he took them for wild pigs, and rushed at them, barking furiously. This was a little too much for the pigs, and as there were about a hundred of them they evidently thought they were strong enough to take the offensive. There was much grunting and squealing, and apparently some hesitation; and then, as if by word of command, they rapidly formed in order of battle. The front rank consisted of thirty or forty in line abreast, evidently composed of the elder statesmen, with the ladies and children in the rear; and then, with a hideous noise, composed of grunts, snorts and squeals, they charged Pincher. This was all we saw, as after this our backs happened to be turned towards the pigs, for our horses
took fright and in panic fear rushed madly through the forest. They got their bits between their teeth, and nothing could stop them until they got well out of sight and hearing of the charging pigs. It was a most ignominious flight, and if we could have looked behind us I have no doubt we should have seen the swineherds in roars of laughter; but it was no laughing matter for us, as we had all we could do to keep our panic-stricken horses from dashing us against the trees. We lost a few ducks, and I have no doubt the pigs ate them. Brutes like that would eat anything.
When at last we managed to pull up we found Pincher with us; for he too had thought discretion the better part of valour.
We made quite a triumphal entry into Constantinople, with our red deer, and our horses hung round with festoons of wild duck. The people stared and the street-curs barked. Pincher had several running fights and some narrow escapes of being killed and eaten by these mangy, hungry scavengers. We all three carried hunting-whips, and by the free use of these we saved Pincher's life and got him safely on board the Rapid. We had plenty of wild ducks, and could afford to be generous; so it was but natural that we should heap coals of fire on the heads of the two Consuls by sending them a goodly supply, and also by giving them graphic accounts of the splendid sport they had missed; though I am not quite sure that this affected them as much as we amiably intended it to do.
During the winter the Rapid took several cruises into the Sea of Marmora, to exercise the crew, and Mirehouse and I got some first-rate woodcock-shooting, particularly in the Gulf of Ismid, at Artaki, and at Kara Burnu, near the entrance to the Dardanelles. At one
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village near which we anchored there was a wealthy old Turk with a large farm. He said that on many occasions he had received great kindness from the English, and he insisted on sending a present to the crew, consisting of fifteen geese and seventy ducks. I could not very well refuse, as this would have greatly hurt the old man's feelings. I had nothing to offer him in return - after the custom of the East - but I feel sure he did not expect anything. So the ducks and the geese were got on board, and next day the Rapid put to sea, and was sailing along gaily under full sail with a nice breeze, going nearly seven knots, when one of the ducks took it into his head to fly overboard, and was immediately followed by most of his companions. They only flew for a few yards, and then began swimming for the shore as hard as they could go. "Hands shorten sail!" " Square the mainyard!" " Call away both cutters!" " Pick up your ducks, my boys!" But there was not much difficulty about this, for by the time the boats got to them they were nearly all drowned! Those that were not drowned were knocked on the head with oars and boat-hooks, and those that did not go overboard promptly had their necks wrung.
Desertion from a man-of-war is always considered a grave matter.
The geese were not such fools. Indeed, I have never thought that geese were fools. Certainly wild geese are not - when you are trying to stalk them.
Constantinople is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. For the number and variety of languages you hear, and of costumes you see - some of them very picturesque - it beats any other city that I have ever visited. Everyone seems to do pretty much as they please. On one occasion I rode down the
Grande rue de Pera in full-dress uniform, on a packhorse, with the owner hanging on to his tail. I was on my way to the Sultan's salaamlik, to be presented by our Ambassador, and nobody turned round to look at me, nor did even the dogs bark, which rather disappointed me. But fancy doing this in Pall Mall, on your way to a levee at St. James's !
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