|From Sail to Steam
Naval Recollections, 1878-1905
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NOT long after leaving the Cape we got into the " roaring forties," and had a strong fair wind all the way to Australia. The roaring forties frequently blow with the strength of a gale, with a heavy, following sea, and the three small ships of the squadron had a very wet time of it.
The Inconstant out-sailed the other ships in all weather; but with a following gale it was almost impossible to keep her back and avoid running away from the rest of the squadron. Often she would be bowling along with double-reefed topsails lowered on the cup, while the small ships would be staggering under every stitch of sail that their spars would stand.
When we got near Australia, but before we sighted land, we got into an unusually heavy gale, with thick weather. It blew very hard during the night, and next morning the Bacchante was not in sight, though the weather had cleared considerably; so the rest of the squadron spread out to look for her, but without success. It was then thought that she had probably gone to the rendezvous, which was ten miles south of Cape Otway and ninety miles from Melbourne; so we sailed on, but on arriving at the rendezvous there was still no sign of the Bacchante.
The Admiral was anxious, as well he might be; for if we got within signal distance of any part of Australia,,
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it was certain that it would be immediately flashed home to England that the squadron had arrived without the Bacchante, and this would undoubtedly have caused great alarm.
Under these circumstances the squadron hove-to on the rendezvous, and kept tacking about under easy sail, so as to keep the ships under command, but taking care to keep just outside signal distance from the lighthouse on Cape Otway. This went on for several days, the Admiral getting more and more anxious as time went on and the Bacchante did not arrive. He hardly spoke a word, even to answer questions or give an order. He sat silent at meals and scarcely ate anything, so that I began to get nearly as anxious about the condition of my silent chief as I was about the Bacchante and her precious freight.
One evening, just before sundown, one of the ships - I think it was the Carysfort - got closer in to Cape Otway than usual, and a keen-eyed signalman was able to make out a signal which told us that the Bacchante had arrived at St. George's Bay in West Australia with her rudder broken, but otherwise undamaged.
This was joyful news for the Admiral and all in the squadron; so we started at once for Melbourne, arriving there next day. We also had the great satisfaction to know that people at home had been spared from the great anxiety that we had undergone; for, of course, the first they heard about it was a telegram from West Australia, to say that the Bacchante was safe in harbour.
On our arrival at Melbourne, the warm-hearted Australians were undoubtedly disappointed to find that the Princes were not with us, for their earnest desire was to show their loyalty to Queen Victoria and their affection for the mother-country; but they did not for
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one moment allow their disappointment to abate in the smallest degree the very hearty and lavish hospitality with which they entertained us. Nothing was too good for us, and from the Governor downwards they did their best to spoil us. The officers of the squadron were made honorary members of all the clubs in Melbourne, and were also given free railway passes to travel all over the State of Victoria. Balls and dinner-parties fell upon us like autumn leaves.
Lord Normanby was at this time Governor of Victoria, and his hospitality took the form of allotting rooms at Government House to the Admiral, his staff, and all the captains of the squadron. The room was ours during the stay of the squadron. We could leave our traps in it, and sleep in it or not, as we pleased. All we were asked to do was to write on a slate, kept in the room of the A.D.C., to say whether we were going to dine in or dine out. It was true, practical, and most convenient hospitality, and was very much appreciated.
Lord Normanby had, in his younger days, been a keen sportsman. He knew Canada well, and had been particularly fond of moose-hunting. He had a peculiar way of pronouncing the name of the great elk. He called it " moosh," and was hence known very generally as " Old Moosh."
It had not been intended that we should pay a long visit to Melbourne, but the accident to the Bacchante's rudder once more upset our programme, which never again got right; and we had to abandon our proposed visit to New Zealand, which was a great disappointment to that most loyal community and also to us.
The Bacchante's rudder was temporarily repaired at Albany, and she then came on to Melbourne and was docked there for permanent repairs, the two young
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Princes being transferred to the Inconstant until the Bacchante was ready again to receive them.
One of the most interesting of the many entertainments which were prepared for us at Melbourne was a trip to Ballarat to explore a gold-mine. It was a quartz mine, as distinguished from an alluvial mine, and was about four hundred feet deep, though they told us that some of the mines went as deep as two thousand feet in following the reef.
The two young Princes were allowed to go on this trip, and there were, of course, great crowds of loyal Australians to look at them. But when we remembered that a few years before our visit to Australia an attempt had been made on. the life of their uncle, the Duke of Edinburgh, it was impossible to help feeling somewhat anxious when the crowds became rather thick and decidedly pressing, in their desire to catch a sight of the Princes. There were, of course, detectives accompanying the party, and my loyalty took the form of carrying a short, large-bore, double-barrelled pistol in my outside pocket, on which I always kept my hand in a crowd. I thought it might come in handy, and was prepared to adopt the practice of the Wild West, by shooting through my pocket, if necessary. There were, however, no untoward events; everything went smoothly. We had a most interesting exploration of two of the mines, and were shown all the different processes of mining the auriferous quartz, crushing it, and extracting the pure gold by means of forming an amalgam with mercury and then volatilizing the mercury in hot ovens; but the process has been so often described that I need not trouble the reader by going into details, and, as I am writing entirely from memory, I should probably be guilty of various inaccuracies. But to
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the best of my recollection we were told that if three-quarters of an ounce of pure gold could be got out of a ton of quartz, it paid, but less than that did not pay. Also that the quartz mines were much the steadiest in their yield, and the alluvial ones much more of a gamble.
About the only black spot which somewhat marred the enjoyment of our visit to Australia was the crime of desertion. The squadron lost altogether one hundred and thirty seamen. The temptations held out to young men with no very special ties in England were great; and even a few of those who had special ties - such as a wife - decided to remain in Australia, with, of course, a change of name and the desertion of the wife.
That glorious word "freedom" has a good many queer things to answer for, and may even be used - on a pinch - to glorify the desertion of a nagging wife.
The chief of the police at Melbourne told us that nine out of ten of our deserters would be only too glad to get back to their ships again by the time they had enjoyed three months of freedom. The methods of the crimps who induced our men to desert were of a rascally nature. One of them was a faked account of a great gold find in Queensland. The innocent sailor, brought up in the Navy from a boy and with no knowledge of the world, was ready to believe almost anything he was told. He was promised wages beyond his wildest dreams of avarice, and a billet well up country, far from the sea, where no one would know he was a deserter, so that he would never be caught, or even suspected, if he would keep his mouth shut; but that was just exactly what the innocent sailor could not do, and it always leaked out sooner or later who he was and where he had come from. After this
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became known to his employer the unfortunate deserter found that, so far from gaining his freedom, he was more of a slave than he had ever been before - even in the Royal Navy !
The manager of the gold-mine, cattle-ranch, farm, manufactory, or whatever other business the innocent sailor had thought himself specially qualified by his sea training to adopt, had the unfortunate man absolutely under his thumb, to do as he pleased with him. The deserter was his helpless slave. If he asked for his wages, he was told that the less he said about wages the better, for if he gave any trouble on that score he would just be handed over to the police. " I shall get eight pounds reward for handing you over, and you will have the darbies clapped on your wrists, be taken to Sydney, handed over to the senior naval officer there, be tried by court-martial, and probably get one or two years' imprisonment."
So much for freedom !
Some of the deserters in Australia, who found themselves in the hands of unscrupulous employers, found their situation so irksome, so absolutely unbearable, that they came to Sydney and voluntarily gave themselves up and took their punishment.
Desertion is undoubtedly a grave crime, even in time of peace, though I must admit that when trying a deserter who had been fooled away by a crimp, and then came and gave himself up, I always felt rather soft, and inclined to let him off as lightly as circumstances would admit.
The best plan I ever heard of for stopping desertion, was that adopted by the captain of a small ship on the Pacific station. She was lying at Esquimalt - always a bad place for desertions - and had lost a good many
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men, until one day one of the deserters came off to the ship to give himself up. He was in rags, and said he was starving. He was brought before the Captain, who thus addressed him
" Oh, you say you are a deserter from this ship, do you ? Well, we don't know you on board here. You are not wanted. The dingy will now be manned to put you on shore, and if you show your nose on board here again you will be handed over to the police as a rogue and an impostor."
That ship did not lose another man.
While the Bacchante was in dock at Melbourne, having her rudder repaired, the two young Princes were transferred to the Inconstant, and we sailed for Sydney with the rest of the squadron.
The people of Sydney did their best to surpass the Melbournites in the lavish hospitalities they bestowed upon us, and it was not their fault if they did not succeed, for the task was impossible. We did not make odious comparisons, but I think most of us were true to our first love, and Lord Charles Scott - the captain of the Bacchante - got engaged to be married.
There was one entertainment at Sydney, however - or rather from Sydney - which many of us, who were already surfeited with balls and dinner-parties, did most thoroughly enjoy, and this was a kangaroo-hunt.
The two young Princes were not allowed to go to it, though they would, no doubt, have dearly loved to do so, along with the other midshipmen; but the sage and perspicacious Dalton guessed it would be rather a rough affair, and he was not far wrong.
The expedition to hunt kangaroos was got up, managed, and paid for by three private gentlemen - Messrs. Aarons, Bromfield, and Pope. The scene was near
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Wellington, a small town about two hundred and thirty miles from Sydney, on the western side of the Great Barrier range, which the railway mounts in zigzags, switchback and change ends.
Mr. Aarons owned an extensive sheep-run of many thousand acres not far from Wellington, and he undertook to provide horses and kangaroos and to entertain us at Wellington. Mr. Bromfield and Mr. Pope. undertook the transit, and provided a special train.
Eighty officers of the squadron accepted the invitation; fifty of them were midshipmen, and what a lark they had! In fact, what a lark we all had; for even we elders were not too proud or too sedate to enjoy a wild scamper in the country now and then. We had all been midshipmen once.
The special train - mainly composed of Pullman sleeping-cars - left Sydney at eight p.m., so that we were not able to enjoy the scenery on our way to Wellington, though we saw it all on our return journey by daylight.
We turned in to our comfortable beds, and next morning found ourselves drawn up in a siding at Wellington. Then the fun began. There was only one washing-place in each Pullman for twenty grimy travellers, so some of the party put on clean collars instead of washing; and then we all repaired to various little inns for breakfast, which was provided by Mr. Aarons. There was plenty of everything, mountains of meat being a leading feature of this, and, indeed, of all Australian meals.
After breakfast it was " boot and saddle," though we had no bugler (I think they call him trumpeter in the cavalry) to sound the call. At any rate, we were conducted to a large enclosure, into which about a hundred horses had been driven, and the party were
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told to help themselves. The only difficulty was saddles; but our host was indefatigable in beating up the town of Wellington, and the good-natured people came forward and lent freely such saddles as they possessed, some of them being rather the worse for wear and of various shapes and sizes. I think Mr. Aarons was under the impression that some of us at any rate would bring our own saddles; but we had not so understood the situation, though it may perhaps be the custom in Australia.
The police magistrate of Wellington (I have ungratefully forgotten his name) most kindly lent me his best horse, duly equipped, so that I had nothing to do but to sit still and watch fifty midshipmen helping themselves to loose horses. The fun was fast and furious, and why some of them were not kicked into the middle of next week I really do not know, except on the principle that midshipmen bear charmed lives, and that the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft takes as good care of them as he does of poor Jack.
Of course, they were not absolutely unhandled horses, such as we saw on the Pampas in South America, though many of them were little more than half broken. But the lads were not to be denied; they cunningly hunted in pairs, and first caught one horse, saddled and bridled him, " moored " him up to the rails, did the same with a second one, and then tossed up for choice of steeds. They were out for a lark, and they had one.
It took some time getting the whole cavalcade under way; but when they were all ready we started off for the hunting-ground, under the guidance of about a dozen young Colonial sportsmen, who were to tell us what to do during the hunt, and who all rode in their
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shirt-sleeves, which appeared to be the correct costume for kangaroo-hunting. All the visitors, however, stuck to their coats, except a few very enterprising midshipmen who did not want to be out of fashion.
The scene of operations was about five miles from Wellington, and the nature of the country might be described as half-open gum-tree bush, varying in density, but generally quite open enough to gallop through; and the preparations for the hunt consisted of a screen of white calico a mile long, pinned up to the trees in a straight line, the top of the screen being about five feet high, but not reaching to the ground by about two feet. At the end of the screen there was another screen at right angles to the long one, but this was only about two hundred yards long. The two screens did not meet by about twenty yards, but they were connected by a low wattle fence, which hid a large and deep pit, in which were stationed four men with bludgeon, to knock the kangaroos on the head when they jumped over the wattle fence and fell into the pit.
As this sounds more like butchery than sport, I must explain that it is, strictly speaking, neither one nor the other, but business. Kangaroos are regarded as vermin. They eat as much grass as a sheep, and they are useless. Therefore, if a man has two thousand kangaroos on his sheep-run, it will hold two thousand fewer sheep. Therefore the kangaroos must be exterminated, which is good logic.
Mr. Aarons expected to wipe off two or three hundred kangaroos from his sheep-run, but he was disappointed, as the sequel will show.
The mounted brigade, consisting in all of about a hundred, were told off in parties of about ten, each of which was under the command of one of the shirt
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sleeve sportsmen; and a line was then formed of the whole battalion, about two miles from the screen, the position of which was, of course, known to our guides, though we did not sight it until within about two hundred yards from it, on account of the thickness of the bush. The line was concave towards the screen, with the wings well advanced, to keep the kangaroos from breaking out sideways; and at first we advanced slowly and silently, keeping a fairly good line, considering that we had had no practice at kangaroo-hunting, and further considering that midshipmen are not of opinion that horses were ever intended to walk, under any circumstances.
Soon we saw several kangaroos hopping along in front of us, and the number increased as we advanced, until there were often as many as twenty or thirty in sight at a time, bounding through the bush, looking more like gigantic birds than animals, as they seemed to fly through the air. The pace was now quickened; the line was closing in on the centre, and we were told to halloo, which we did; but just before we sighted the screen we became aware of music floating through the air, coming from the direction in which we were driving. This seemed to disconcert our guides considerably; but still we rode on, galloping and shouting for all we were worth, with a great drove of kangaroos in front of us. They could have hopped over the calico screen with the greatest ease, as they were jumping twice the height; but instead of doing so, they allowed themselves to be driven along it, towards the trap at the end, where the executioners were lying in wait for them.
The music got louder and louder, until we could distinguish the airs; and it became obvious that we were nearing the climax, as the kangaroos were now
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jumping about in all directions, instead of going straight, forward. They appeared to be unable to make up their minds whether they would face the music or the line of horsemen, who were now nearly shoulder to shoulder.
It is probable that not even the most venerable and widely travelled of the kangaroos had ever before heard a brass band, with a big drum, playing " A life on the ocean wave" and "Rule, Britannia !" in his native bush. At any rate he made up his mind that he would not face the music, but rather adopt the bold alternative of breaking the enemy's line, which he did, and nearly all the others followed him.
There was a scene of wild excitement. We were all armed with waddies - short clubs like a policeman's truncheon, intended to knock a kangaroo on the head with. The waddie is not intended to be thrown; but they were thrown as the kangaroos broke the line, and for a few minutes the air seemed to be full of flying kangaroos and flying waddies. Some of the horses took fright and bolted, and as their riders did not leave room for their own legs amongst the gum-trees, they found themselves lying on their backs, unarmed, and with kangaroos jumping over them, which must have been rather annoying.
It took the still-mounted kangaroo-hunters - of which I happened to be one - some time catching loose horses, and we then returned to see what " the bag " was. It had been hoped that at least two hundred kangaroos would have been slain, but the total number in the lethal pit turned out to be nineteen! Our host, Mr. Aaron, was not pleased, as nineteen kangaroos meant very little in the way of business, and would not pay for the calico, though no doubt it could be used again. But where was he to get another eighty midshipmen ?
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to say nothing of the brass band, though perhaps he could do without the latter.
The whole countryside for many miles around had congregated at the trysting-place. The great majority of them had, no doubt, come with the hope of seeing the two young Princes, as it was reported that they were to join in the hunt and to be entertained at the picnic lunch which followed. It was impossible to help sympathizing with these loyal subjects of our gracious Queen, who had travelled long distances from the back-blocks, to see and to welcome her two grandsons, only to find themselves disappointed. But they did not show their disappointment. They were as jolly as possible, and there was plenty of beer to cheer them up. Beer flowed ad lib. Many casks had been brought out from Wellington, and Commodore J. C. Wilson, of the Australian squadron, made a speech from the top of a beer-barrel. There was always plenty of speechifying on these occasions.
After luncheon, and speeches, we broke up into small parties, and rode off to hunt kangaroos with dogs; and this was far better fun than driving them, though, of course, the drive would have been better business if it had not been for the brass band, the beer, and the loyal sight-seers.
Several of the midshipmen had come croppers, and were more or less hurt. I picked up one boy with a sprained knee and wrist and a dislocated finger, and put him sitting on a comfortable-looking mound at the root of a gum-tree, which, however, contained a colony of bulldog ants, who resented the intrusion, and who we were credibly informed - would eat him alive in five minutes. So we moved the lad and did not give the ants time to finish him. Then, luckily, a doctor
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came by and pulled the finger in again, and we bandaged him up with strips from his chum's shirt, hoisted him on to his horse, and sent him home in charge of the said chum, who had also had enough kangaroo-hunting - for the day.
The hunting with dogs was rather good sport, and quite novel for us. I think the dogs could properly be described as " lurchers." Anyhow, they were some sort of a cross breed that one does not often see. They were fast, and hunted entirely by sight.
Our Colonial friends entertained us with kangaroo stories, one of which related how an old-man kangaroo behaved when cornered and brought to bay. (N.B. The term " old-man " in Australese simply means big, and may be applied to a drink, a cigar, or even to a good time the backwoodsman may have had in town.)
We were told that an old-man kangaroo, when hard pressed by hunters and dogs, would sometimes take to water, and then - standing in three or four feet of water - turn round and face his pursuers. The dogs in such a case would have to swim to get at him, and as they came within reach he would quietly catch hold of them with his two little fore-paws and hold their heads under water until they were drowned, looking as innocent all the time as a Scarborough bathing-woman sousing children. On the other hand, if he could not find water - which must often be the case in Australia - he might turn to bay on land, and then he would defend himself by striking terrific blows, kicking forward, with the great horny toe of one of his hind-feet, with which, it is said, be can kill a dog or a man or rip a horse. I never saw either of these performances, though I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of our friends' stories. The male ostrich sometimes defends himself by striking
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forward in the same manner, and, indeed, there is a great similarity between the foot of the ostrich and that of the kangaroo, with the formidable toenail which they both use for defence.
When we had all had enough kangaroo-hunting we returned to Wellington, where we were entertained at a rough but very substantial dinner, after which there was a ball in the wool-shed.
I did not go to the ball, but sneaked off to my bed in the Pullman car.
The Flag-Lieutenant's description of the ball was very amusing. None of the officers had brought a change of garments, as a ball was about the last thing in the world they expected, so they just had to dance in the same dress they had been riding in. Some of them wore sea-boots, which cannot have been very comfortable to waltz in; but they were out for a lark, and they had one. The company seems to have been rather mixed. Some of the ladies brought their babies, put them down on the floor under chairs while they danced, and then picked them up again and nursed them; but all seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I felt quite sorry that I had been lazy and gone to bed instead of going to the ball in the wool-shed.
Our return to Sydney was by daylight, so that we were able to see something of the country. But there is a great monotony about Australian scenery. One soon gets tired of the everlasting gum-trees, with their dull blue-green leaves, hanging straight down, as if they were just going to die. This is one of the anomalies or contradictions of Australia. The others are: The flowers have no scent. The birds have no song. The trees shed their bark instead of their leaves. The animals
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fly (the possum) and hop, and the birds run. The rivers have no water in them. Bread-and-butter always falls with the butter side up. There are several other contradictions, but I am afraid I have forgotten them.
According to our original programme - and, indeed, according to the amended one - we were to have paid a visit to New Zealand. But the sudden illness of the Admiral upset, once more, our intended route. Our movements, from time to time, were directed by telegrams from the Admiralty; and it had been known for some time that one of the principal items in our itinerary was a visit to Chefoo, in North China, in order that the two young Princes might visit Pekin and also see the Great Wall of China. But in consequence of various unforeseen delays, by the time we got into northern latitudes and had paid our visit to Japan, it was too late in the season for Pekin and the Great Wall, so we missed these as well as New Zealand, much to our regret.
The Admiral's illness was the most unfortunate and disquieting event of the whole cruise. It was very sudden, and occurred a few days before we were to have sailed from Sydney. The inevitable photographer had come on board the Inconstant to take a group photograph of the officers. He had taken one group and we were just posing for a second one, when the Admiral, without saying a word to anyone, first sat down on a gun-slide and then fell on to the deck. The doctors put him to bed, and he remained unconscious for many hours. When he recovered consciousness he remained very low and weak and could take no nourishment, so that we feared a fatal result for some days.
At this time Sir Arthur Kennedy was Governor of
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Queensland. He was Lord Clanwilliam's father-in-law; and as Lady Kennedy was no longer alive, an unmarried daughter lived with her father and was mistress of Government House. They had been on a visit to the Normanbys at Melbourne while we were there, and we all knew them very well. So I immediately telegraphed to Brisbane and asked them to come down to Sydney, which they did by the first opportunity.
I remembered being greatly struck - when meeting the Kennedys at Melbourne - by the deep devotion of Miss Kennedy to her father. When I saw them together, I was constantly reminded of that beautiful description in the " Lady of the Lake " of the relations between the Douglas and his daughter; and I thought this augured well of the care she would take of her brother-in-law, if she would undertake the duties of head-nurse; and she did. She was duly installed in the Admiral's spare cabin, and took entire charge of the patient. She was worth a dozen doctors, and - to use the language of the Naval Discipline Act - " Under the good providence of God " she saved the Admiral's life.
The only difficulty we had, was to get her away from her patient's bedside, for an hour a day, to go on shore for a walk, to get fresh air and exercise. Her unremitting attention and unselfish devotion to that which she assumed to be her duty was an inspiration, even for those whose watchword is " Duty."
The Admiral got better, and when he was sufficiently recovered we received orders from home to pay a visit to Queensland.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is thirty-five miles up a river, which, strange to say, has some water in it, though not enough for big ships; so the squadron
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anchored in Moreton Bay, four miles from the shore, and as the Admiral and all the other Captains went up to Brisbane, and I had to stay and look after the squadron, I never put my foot on shore in Queensland. So, by way of consoling me, my friends told me that it was out and away the most charming and most beautiful country that the squadron had visited. I felt like the tourist who had missed seeing the elephant at Venice.
The squadron only stayed five days in Moreton Bay, and then sailed for the Fiji Islands.
The Admiral's illness and the trip to Queensland put New Zealand out of the question.
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