ON arriving in England, I applied for the place of, and was appointed, midshipman to H.M.S. Calcutta, then fitting out at Portsmouth as flagship of Sir Michael Seymour, Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies and China station.
The Calcutta was a fine 84-gun sailing line-of-battle ship, built of teak, and, like most of her class, a good sailer. She carried long 32-pounders on her main and lower decks, and 32-pounder carronades on the forecastle. A gunboat with one long gun would be more than a match for her at the present day.
Sir Michael Seymour had gone out to Hong-Kong overland some time previously, and we had orders to follow as fast as we could, so on 7th May 1856 we sailed from Plymouth Sound, and were soon bowling down Channel at eleven knots an hour.
Nothing of importance occurred during our passage to the Cape. We passed Madeira seven days out, and the Cape de Verdes a few days later; had a spell of calms in the "doldrums," and picked up the southeast trades a few degrees north of the equator. The usual ceremonies observed on crossing the line were dispensed with by the captain's order, which was
lucky for such of us as were crossing for the first time. Whilst becalmed, we had some sport with sharks, which are always to be met with in those latitudes: one monster was hooked and hauled up on to the poop to his intense disgust, which he showed by lashing about with his tail till deprived of that appendage. We hooked another out of the gunroom port and hauled him aboard. The brute lashed out in all directions, sending chairs and tables flying all over the place. Every one armed himself with a weapon, and while one belaboured him with a handspike, others attacked him with swords and dirks, and a kettle of boiling water played on his nose. In the midst of this uproar the captain, W. King-Hall, and Commander W. R. Rolland, appeared on the scene and watched the proceedings with much interest, the commander observing that we might clear up the mess in the gunroom ourselves, which we did. Having cut off the shark's tail, we cut him up and cooked him for supper. The flavour of shark-steaks is not particularly choice, but when a midshipman has been on salt horse for several weeks he will eat anything. We carried the south-east trade wind to lat. 35° S., when we lost it, and had to contend with light and contrary winds to the Cape.
On the 25th June a man fell overboard, and as the ship was running fast it was some time before he was picked up and taken below to have the water pumped out of him. As soon as the doctors had done with him the parson approached, and, after alluding to his merciful preservation, asked him if he knew to whom he owed his providential escape. The parson's disgust may be imagined when the man simply replied, " Well, sir, I don't exactly know what his name is,
ON THE WAY TO THE CHINA STATION.
but it was that officer who wears the Crimean ribbon on his breast! " (Lieutenant Hallowes, who was in the boat).
We remained only three days at the Cape to replenish water and provisions, and soon were scudding before a strong north-west gale, passing many homeward-bound vessels lying to under their close-reefed top-sails. With favouring breezes we ran on for several days without meeting a sail, till on the 21st August we sighted Java Head, and next morning bore up and ran through the Straits of Sunda, dividing the islands of Java and Sumatra. The scenery of these coasts is most beautiful, and we enjoyed the refreshing sight of the well-wooded hills luxuriant with tropical vegetation.
Everything looked so fresh and green, the sea so smooth and blue, the coral-reefs plainly distinguishable beneath the clear waters. The air also was loaded with scent from the spice which abounds on these lovely islands. We could see monkeys skipping from tree to tree, and many parrots and cockatoos flew about, making the air resound with their discordant cries. The same evening we anchored off Anger Point; the ship was immediately surrounded by canoes bringing off cocoa-nuts, bananas, cockatoos, and Java sparrows, &c.
Next morning we weighed anchor, and for several days threaded our way through intricate channels, passing lovely islands, till we anchored in Singapore Roads on 28th August. The bum-boats were soon alongside with fruit, vegetables, poultry, and parrots. The boatmen were fine muscular fellows, nearly black; their bodies smeared over with cocoa-nut oil, giving them a very sleek appearance; the water
ran off them as from the back of a duck. Here we met with Chinese junks for the first time - great, clumsy-looking craft, painted all the colours of the rainbow, with an eye in the bows; for, as the Chinamen say, " Suppose no got eye how can see?" These trading junks are only able to sail before the wind, running down from Hong-Kong before the north-east monsoon, and returning with the southwest, thus making two voyages in the year. The mandarin junks, or men-of-war, were built on fine lines, sailed remarkably well, and carried a number of guns: we were destined to become better acquainted with them soon. After leaving Singapore we picked up the south-west monsoon, and reached Hong-Kong on the 8th September, after a passage of 120 days from England. This may seem an absurdly long time to the present generation, when fast steamers do the same via the Suez Canal in less than six weeks, but for a sailing-ship going round the Cape of Good Hope it was nothing unusual.
We found the usual amount of shipping at Hong-Kong, including men-of-war of various nationalities, and a fleet of opium-clippers. These beautiful little vessels were mostly top-sail schooners, or brigs, of about 300 tons, built for speed, and heavily armed to protect themselves against pirates. They, and also tea-clippers, have been quite superseded by fast steamers via the Suez Canal - the romance of sailing is over.
Whilst running up the China Seas I practised a form of sea-bathing which I have never heard of being done before or since, nor do I recommend its adoption, and that is going overboard whilst the
SEA-BATHING IN THE CHINA SEAS.
ship is under weigh, and being towed by a rope alongside. Every morning, until I was stopped by the officer of the watch, I went down the side and slipped into the water with a rope from the lower studdingsail-boom and had a bath. One would suppose that a person would be towed under, but such was not the case, and I tried it successfully with the ship going nine and ten knots : a short scope of rope is necessary, for with a long rope one would be dragged under.
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