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LIFE OF A SAILOR.-No. VI. 1 SOME reports of slave-ships having reached us, the Arethusa suddenly put to sea, and proceeded to the Islands de Los, between which we sailed the whole day; first running before the wind, and then beating to windward-capital exercise for the men, and on the whole amusing. At sunset we discovered a brig, evidently English built, lying near the factory, and bore up in chace immediately. It blew fresh, and the ship was under a crowd of canvass. We had passed through this passage twice before during the day, and the navigation as laid down in the Admiralty charts appeared perfectly safe. I was standing on one of the forecastle carronade slides admiring the islands, when the ship suddenly struck upon a rock, and threw me off my perch, pitching me headlong some few paces. The following sea lifted the ship, and left her amidships on the rock. She struck this time about two feet abaft the step of the mainmast, which threw the mast so far forward as to leave the stays hanging down in bites. When she surged from this situation, the masts flew to their proper situations with such a jerk as to shake the whole ship fore and aft. The sea which lifted us
on, was superseded in kindness by its follower, which lifted us off again ; but, in the downward surge, the rudder came in contact with the rock, and lifted it so completely that the rudder-head broke through about twelve volumes of the captain's library, and came smack against the under part of the quarter-deck. The captain called to “ let go the anchor," but the first-lieutenant wisely remarked that by so doing we should anchor on the shoal, and the land-wind would swing us on the rock. The sails were worked as the expert lieutenant directed, and we were again free. On sounding the well, we discovered that the ship had sprung a leak at the rate of six feet an hour. The chain-pumps were set to work; and while we progressed towards the brig, we had time enough to experience all the horrors of hard work in the vicinity of the coast of Africa. At first it did not amount to much, but, as we advanced in rapidity through the water, the leak evidently increased. In the hurry and bustle of such a situation, we came to an anchor close to the brig, and made a prize of her ; it being quite clear to us that she must have been waiting for slaves; and we wanted assistance.
In the former part of these papers I have endeavoured to make myself as amphibious as possible, being perfectly satisfied of the truth of Lord Erskine's remark in his “ Armata," that a sailor's log would sell for very little in Bond Street. But I must now become professional, I hope not disagreeably, in endeavouring to describe the horrors of a night, which are too indelibly stamped upon my memory ever to be effaced, and gave me an insight into the resources of a seaman's brain, which all my Salsette cruising could never have taught mema night of horrors and of death, of sleepless anxiety and continual labour.
It became a doubt when we anchored, if the ship could be kept afloat during the night. The whole of the men could not be
1 Continued from Vol. II. p. 195.
applied to the pumps, for some were despatched to bring the brig alongside ; some furled the sails, and struck the top-gallant-mast; others were making preparations for getting the guns out; a division of bands were employed in discharging the powder into the boats, and the boats on the booms were to be hoisted out.
The ship was in fair discipline enough : the first-lieutenant was worth his weight in gold, and the captain did very well in echoing the first-lieutenant's orders, being wise enough to know his own insufficiency to direct in so trying a situation : but human labour was wanting—the hands were insufficient for the work, and the continual change of taking some men from one work to lend a hand at another created a world of confusion. The very elements soon conspired against us !-a small black speck in the east grew into an awful thunder-cloud, extending as far as the eye could reach, and darkening the formerly welcome light of the moon and stars. That some war of elements was soon to be expected was beyond a doubt, and the cheering cry of“ Hurrah, my lads-bear a hand before the squall comes," indicated too certainly the presages of the officer's mind. I had been placed in the yawl with as much powder as she could stow, and with as few hands as could unlade her. My orders were to place it in an empty house, which the crew of the brig had formerly inhabited; and seeing that the darkening cloud increased apace, I was anxious to get rid of my charge, or, at any rate, to reach the shore before the squall burst. Scarcely had we shoved off, when the forked lightning began to show itself in quick and vivid flashes : a tarpaulin was instantly hauled over the barrels of powder, and I never recollect a boat appearing to move so slowly as the yawl did at that time. Fearful that as the lightning neared us, we might be blown to atoms by the explosion, and doubly fearful that if the squall came before we landed, the hands in the boat would be too few even to keep her head to the wind, I first took an oar, then relinquished the oar and steered-then looked with painful anxiety at the nearing storm, and did my little utmost to cheer my small crew to an additional labour. We landed at the very moment the storm burst. Heavens! no poetical imagination could convey the varied feelings at the moment-we were obliged one and all to fix the boat firmly on the beach. The trees groaned as the whirlwind whistled through the long branches; and the rain fell, or rather came from the heavens with the force of water ejected from a fire-engine: the lightning, which flashed around us in horribly quick succession, only showed us for an instant our perilous situation, and then left us in tenfold darkness. The ship, which appeared through the flame of fire for a second, looked the wreck she was. The yards were hanging in different directions; the fierce wind swung her about with the ease that a child is moved in a cradle; and the flash which showed her broadside on, would be succeeded in the moment by another, which showed her bow to the shore. The instant lull, before the loud wind and hoarse roaring of the elements resumed their fury, only bore upon its wings the confusion on board the ship and the brig; and the succeeding flash exhibited the dreadful effects of its power, as we saw the main-topmast rent from top to bottom, while a prolonged existence of a moment's light showed us the fishes of the main
mast rent from their iron fastenings. The time elapsed was about ten minutes, when a calm, as tranquil as an infant's sleep, succeeded the storm. The sky to the eastward was clear, and every thing promised a comfortable night through which we might pursue our labours unmolested by the element. Delusive hope! for soon, too soon, we found that fortune, already unkind, was resolved to continue her frown.
In the mean time we availed ourselves of the calm. The gentlemen belonging to the factory sent about a hundred negroes on board, who were instantly placed at the pumps, and the eternal “ Spell oh!” the cry when sailors are fatigued, and require to be relieved, gave way to some elegant term in the real negro dialect. A party of hands were placed to thrumb a sail, a process by which canvass is converted into a mat, and this was intended to be hauled under the ship's bottom to stop the leak, or at any rate to be so far sucked up into the holes as to block up in some degree the unwelcome apertures. The brig was brought alongside, and the guns on the quarter-deck made over to her. The ship was put a little more snug aloft, and the launch was sent with a lieutenant and ten men to Sierra Leone to desire the attendance of any man-of-war there, and to urge them to use all possible despatch in coming to our assistance. The powder was, thank God, safely landed, and we returned to the ship as wet and as tired as rain and labour could make us. Every man and boy in the ship was turned to some use; the servants were taken from the lieutenants and midshipmen, and every one put his shoulder to the wheel in good earnest. The senior officers set a good example, which was followed with alacrity by all hands. While our men worked in silence, the black men worked hard, but would sing some of their outlandish songs as the winches of the pump performed their rotatory movement. This was well enough at the beginning, but eternal fatigue soon lowered their tone, and convinced us that when once fatigued, they would be rather untractable subjects. Every thing appeared to be going on favourably, when, at one o'clock in the morning, another black cloud showed itself above the horizon, and soon spread its sable wings over the whole sky. We knew what was coming fast enough : the other bower and sheet-anchor were let go--the ropes all properly belayed, for nothing in the world impedes work on board a ship more than slack ropes eternally flying in your face. The main-topmast, or rather its wreck, had been struck, and the fishes of the mainmast removed : the deck was clear of the guns, and we had done prodigies in the way of labour. The instant the cloud was observed, the brig was cast off, towed some small distance, and well secured, as far as anchors could secure her; and we were soon in readiness to stand another squall. It came on in all the fury of the first one, accompanied by the rain and the lightning, singing through the rigging in all the dismal moan of violent wivd,
appearing to come from all quarters at once, and heeling the ship first one side then the other, with frightful rapidity. The black men, who rather enjoyed a squall on shore, became instantly frightened when they heard the strange sounds and roar of water, and we were obliged to show a determined spirit in order to force them to continue their labours. They sullenly toiled, and
silently worked until a flash of lightning struck the ship, which appeared to run along the decks. This fatal flash left three men dead at the pumps: the blacks hid their faces in their hands, and threw themselves down on their faces; they roared louder than the wind, creating confusion beyond all description. Some one declaring that the lightning had gone through the ship, an instant search was ordered below: the bubbling of the water forward, as it rushed through the leak, was audible enough, but we could not discover any other catastrophe. In the mean time the leak increased, for the black gang disregarded all threats of punishment, and all solicitations of kindness. Oar men were engaged at other works, with the exception of some who had been sent below to get a few hours' sleep, in order that the work of the sail should be continued ; and we had plenty before us for at least a week's occupation. When the bodies were removed, the blacks went to work again. The squall passed over, and left us in the same calm and beautiful night which had preceded its coming. Day dawned, and what a sight presented itself! no longer the dashing Arethusa, in all the trim neatness of a well-ordered ship; no longer the tall mast and squared yard, the tight rope, and elegant appearance : she was as much altered in one night, as the face of a beauty after an attack of small-pox. A wreck, a palpable wreck; the sailors jaded and fatigued; the blacks nearly exhausted; the rigging more like a Russian frigate's when under repair, than the boasted neatness of an English man-of-war; and the sultry sun rising to curse us by its unwelcome heat. From the shore the ravages of the night were as visible as on board. The mainmast was standing, but here and there were pieces torn from their places: the long fish in front of the mast was lying on the booms with its end on the quarter-deck, on each side of which sat men busily employed at the sail, preventing the possibility of taking our usual not too lengthy walk. It was a sight to humiliate any pride-one night had reduced us from the most powerful adversary the French had on that coast, to the level of the most insignificant cruiser. Alas! our sufferings had only begun, for the rain had kept us cool, and heat and thirst, and sickness and fever, were yet to follow up the disaster; and there is no calamity like a hot sun and a thirsty throat, when fatigue and sickness are to be endured. There was no time to think of dangers to come; we had now to remedy what had befallen us. The sail was completed and placed under the bottom, and, what was delightful enough, answered the purpose uncommonly well. The ship was set to rights aloft, and began to assume a creditable appearance : preparations were made to re-embark the powder, and, with the exception of some of our guns, that evening would have seen us a formidable foe. The quarter-deck was scuttled abaft; and, after using all kinds of weights and ingenious pulleys, the rudder was forced down in its proper place; we found that although it did move with stiffness, still it was possible to steer the ship by it, and that when we got to sea we could keep her head the right way without the eternal shivering of the mizen-topsail, or hauling out the spanker. It was deemed advisable to keep the ship as light as
November, 1831.-VOL. II. NO. VII.
possible ; for which reason the prize was again brought alongside, and the most part of the provisions placed on board of her. This was easy work. It was proposed to take out the main-deck guns, which was as vigorously opposed by the first-lieutenant, for there was a French frigate on the coast; and not long before our arrival, our predecessor, the Amelia, had discovered that it was not every English frigate that could make a sure prize of a Frenchman.
I now beg leave to introduce myself to my readers, no longer as a good-looking, curly-headed midshipman, " pride in my looks, defiance in my eye,” strutting the quarter-deck with the proper step, and repeating the constant “ Aye, aye, Sir !” as the officer of the watch gave his loud commands; but as a midshipman's boy—the servant of the mess—the drudge of all drudges. It became necessary that some one should do the work; and the lot first fell upon the captain's son, who, although a very nice boy, was not likely to come into our views when his father was within hail: we next pitched upon the captain's nephew, but he declared he had been told to mess in the cabin, which certainly we did not envy him, and quietly consigned him to his burgoo and his pride, whilst I was installed in all the honour of the situation. I am quite of Byron's opinion in Don Juan, that those who have been servants have the opportunity of becoming better masters, although, true it is beyond contradiction, that there is no tyrant like an emancipated slave. I trust that the numerous kicks, and cuffs, and curses, so frequently and so roughly bestowed upon me, have made me cautious, from the experience of my own feelings in those days, of bestowing them upon another. My first essay at cooking (for any body can make tea, who can boil a kettle,) was a beef-steak pie; for, while we remained near the island, we were supplied with small quantities of fresh provisions : a jumble of pepper, and salt junk, made the dish palatable enough, of which I had the strongest evidence, as my masters did not leave one bit for their cook, and seemed disposed to rob me of a small portion of the skin of salt pork, with as many bristles thereon as are found in a scrubbing-brush, and which did not belong to them, for I stole it from the boatswain. In vain they asked for water : we had little enough of that, for when the ship struck, almost one of the first things done, when the leak was discovered, was to “ start it:" what was left was used sparingly, and we had not many spare hands to be employed for the purpose of getting more. My next specimen as a cook was a splendid one, and happened when we had left the island-it was in the shape of a mouse pie : the tails of the little animals were collected like pigeons' feet, and made a most inviting dish. I got preciously cuffed for this exhibition ; but I verily believe that no man living, if hungry, would know a mouse from a sparrow pie : they are very delicate eating, and became a fashionable dish with us when curtailed. My occupations in the 'berth were no excuse for not keeping my watch ; and I can safely aver, that no dog which draws a baker's barrow had more to do, and less to eat, than I had. If the heat of the sun was uncomfortable in one respect, it was beneficial in another, inasmuch as it almost entirely deprived us of appetite, and we were on short allowance enough. In a week the squadron arrived, consisting of the Meteor, the Tiger, and a