On The Hooghly – another chapter….


Windjammers and their crews—Brocklebanks’ ships—Others not so good—Bad food—A crew in irons—” Shanghai-ing “—The runners’ coups—A much-married captain—The ’91 cyclone and the loss of the Coleroon.

AFTEK a year on the Chittagong run I became a Junior Master Pilot and took my turn again with the other men of my grade on the river. Conditions had changed considerably since I joined the Service in 1878. Most of the work was still sail, but the ships had become very much larger, and so had the tugs which had to handle them. In place of the paddle steamers Court Hey, Hunsdon, Challenge, and Defiance, belonging to Messrs. Gladstone Wylie, there were the powerful twin-screw boats Clive, Warren Hastings, and Dalhousie. Messrs. Turner Morrison had replaced the first Retriever by another more powerful boat of the same name and another twin-screw boat, the Rescue.

Sailing ships of one thousand tons were now considered small vessels, while ships of twice that size had become quite common. They were built to carry rather than for speed, had flat bottoms, or very little rise of floor. Many of them were four-masted. The illustration overpage gives a good idea of the class of vessels lying in the port of Calcutta during the late ‘eighties. But the ships belonging to James Nourse which carried coolies to the West Indies were still built for speed, were heavily sparred and carried double crews.

I recall an afternoon at the Sandheads in the month of May. There was a fresh breeze from the south-west and the weather was very hazy. Three steamers came in, fairly close together, and were supplied with pilots. As the boat

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was returning from the third steamer a sailing vessel appeared out of the mist. She was one of Nourse’s vessels, the Allanshtm\ commanded by Captain J. Ferry, and I was sent off to her. We squared away and with everything set soon overhauled first one steamer and then another until we had passed all three of them, and were in at Saugor, anchor down and all sails furled, before any of them reached the anchorage.

On another occasion, some years later, I had an experience with one of the large four-masted vessels, the Holkar, belonging to Brocklebanks, commanded by Captain Peterkin. She was above the tonnage of my grade and was really a Branch Pilot’s vessel, so that when she was sighted I did not feel interested in her; but the Branch Pilots on the Station did not want her and offered her to me. As she was nice and deep I naturally jumped at the offer. When we were about half-way through the Eastern Channel, the wind came round to west-south-west which made it rather tight for the course through the Gasper, so we hugged the western side of the channel and passed well to windward of the Lower Gasper Light. We were drawing twenty-four feet six inches. Wc kept close to the wind and passed just to leeward of the Upper Gasper, but on a wind she was a different proposition from a vessel like the Allanshaw, being flat-bottomed like a barge and making a lot of leeway when close hauled. I saw it was going to be a toss-up whether we weathered the Middlcton Spit buoy or not, so kept her a point free, passed the buoy on the wrong side, and had what the French called un maiwais quart d’keure ; but we found sufficient water and were soon at anchor in Saugor Roads.

Brocklebanks’ ships were always well found and there were a nice lot of men in command of them. For that matter the majority of the men commanding the windjammers were very likeable. They were usually big men and inclined to be stout, from lack of exercise. The mate was generally a lean mail, in hard condition, from being continually on the move and using his muscles ; but when o



he became skipper his physical occupation was gone. He now led a life of dignified repose and ease. He could sleep whenever he chose, there was no watch to keep, and nothing to prevent him putting on flesh. It is true that he had increased responsibility, many anxious hours and sleepless nights ; but there was nothing to keep him lean. He was an absolute autocrat during the three or four months that the voyage lasted. His word was law.

The men who composed the crews were not always easy to govern, being often a job lot of all nationalities ; sometimes one watch would be all negroes. Frequently among the crew there would be one or two men anxious to give trouble and stir up disaffection. Occasionally such agitators succeeded in upsetting the others before the voyage commenced. The men would have come on board with sore heads and their digestions out of order, suffering from the poisonous liquor with which they had been served in the boarding-houses whence they had been collected; they had been swindled out of their hard-earned money, and were suffering from a sense of ill-treatment. Under such conditions it was easy to persuade them that the ship was all wrong, the food bad, and the captain and officers objectionable. Aft they would tramp in a body to say that they had decided not to sail in her.

The complaint was generally about the food, and sometimes they had good grounds for complaining. I remember joining a vessel which was dropping down to the Reach. As I went alongside another dinghy also arrived with meat and vegetables, which were passed up on deck. The Health Officer who was on board happened to notice the meat, which he declared was unfit for human consumption. The captain was very angry with the Indian contractor and asked him what he meant by bringing such stuff on board. The man replied, ” It’s not for the cabin, Sahib; it’s for the crew.” The captain turned to the Health Officer and said, ” That’s all right, Doctor; it’s for forward ! ” But the doctor had it thrown overboard and the crew dined on 176


salt horse. Salt horse was not always safe either, as was shown in the case of the Crofton Hall to which I shall come later.

As a rule when the men complained, the captain was able to persuade them to turn to, and the incident was closed. It was a nuisance when they refused duty on the way down the river. This happened to me in the case of a soft-wood North American barque the Austriana, Captain Mcintosh.

We had passed the night at anchor at Saugor and were taking in tow to proceed to sea, when the men refused duty and said that they would not sail in the vessel. One or two of the crew were unwell, suffering from something which they had eaten, and they made that the excuse. Captain Mcintosh, being unable to persuade them to carry on, decided to return to Calcutta in the tug and get a fresh crew. Left to myself, I had all the cooking utensils thoroughly cleaned, dosed the sick men with castor oil, and settled down to await patiently the return of the captain.

On the second night it blew very hard from the westward and we dragged our anchor. The men all refused to turn-to and give her more chain, although I pointed out to them that their own skins were in danger if we were driven ashore. The principal stirrer-up of discontent was an ill-favoured little Irishman, and they followed his lead like a flock of sheep. With the assistance of the mate, second mate, cook and steward, we managed to light to some more chain, and as she was still driving we let go the second anchor.

After two days the tug returned with the captain and a fresh crew, also a new third mate, a great big fellow of the ‘ bucko’ type, and the old crew were put in irons. The orders were to return to Diamond Harbour, hand the old crew over to the police, and proceed to sea, so we took in tow and proceeded up. At Diamond Harbour the Ddk, or post-office boat, a long, heavy boat painted red, came off with a crowd of chowkedars in red turbans, to collect the mutineers. When it came to the ringleader’s turn to SHANGHAI-ING


embark in the boat, he turned to the captain, who was standing on the break of the poop, and told him what he would do to him if only he were free. I said to the third mate, who was conducting the proceedings, ” Take his irons off and let him have a go at the captain.” But, as I anticipated, when the handcuffs were unlocked he crawled over the side and into the boat without a word. As he went down the ladder, I told him what I thought of him, which was some little relief after the delay and bother which he had caused me. To the best of my recollection they all got six weeks.

Sometimes there was a scarcity of sailors in the port, and then the boarding-house runners, whose job it was to supply a crew, would ” shanghai” all sorts of people who had been so unwary as to partake of the refreshment offered by some genial stranger. The victim would be dumped unconscious on board a vessel about to depart, the boarding-house runner would get a month’s advance of the man’s pay as his commission, and the man, on coming to his senses, would be surprised to find himself in strange surroundings. If an old shell-back, the experience would probably have lost for him the charm of novelty, and he would settle down philosophically to make the best of things.

One morning on board an outward-bound vessel taking in tow in Garden Reach I noticed among the men walking round the capstan a small, middle-aged Eurasian, looking a picture of misery. He was obviously not a sailor, so I asked him what he was, and he told me that he was a reporter on the Statesman, a married man with three children, and had no idea as to how he had got on board. I took him aft to the captain to whom I pointed out that the man was a very poor specimen who would be of little use on board, and asked him to send him ashore. But the captain replied that the man completed his complement, and he could not afford to let him go.

On another vessel which was leaving, and just about to turn round in tow, the mate suddenly cried, ” Where’s that

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fat fellow who was put on board this morning ? I don’t see him ! ” One of the crew replied that the man referred to was in his bunk. ” The Hell he is,” said the mate. ” I’ll soon have him out of that,” and went down into the forecastle. There was a sound of a scuffle followed by yells, and a short fat man shot out of the forecastle, propelled by the mate’s boot. It looked like a sailor clad in blue



dungarees and properly equipped with belt and sheath-knife, but the shrieks were pitched in a high falsetto, such as is only heard on Arab vessels, which include neuters among the crew. The runners had once again scored a bull, to the intense annoyance of the captain who was now a man short. A dinghy was hailed and into it was bundled the lady, who expressed her opinion of the ship, the captain, the mate, and everything generally in a mixture of broken English, German and Hindustani.

One night as I entered Monk’s Hotel, accompanied by a ship captain who was sailing the following morning, a runner accosted the latter with an enquiry as to whether he wanted any more men, because if he did want another man, there was Mr. MacQ upstairs whom he could put on TRICKS OF THE ” RUNNERS”


board during the night. Mr. MacQ , who had served for a time on the brigs as mate, and afterwards on the lightships, was sitting at a small table with a friend, innocently enjoying a whisky and soda and all unconscious of the interest taken in him by the gentleman downstairs.

I think it was generally agreed that the runners performed their star turn when they shanghaied a policeman, who on discovering what had happened to him appealed to the pilot who was taking the ship down, and who after satisfying himself as to the man’s bona fides took him with him on board the brig, whence he was sent in the first inward-bound steamer to rejoin the force.

The ease with which the sailorman was duped, robbed and sold was always a surprise to me. He would arrive in port as fit as a fiddle, with two or three months’ wages to draw, would take his discharge, get his money and decide to have a good time. The good time might possibly last forty-eight hours, and he would wake up on board a strange vessel, without any kit, or with very little, and his first month’s wages taken in advance by the rascal who had sold him. When taking down an outward-bound ship I once recognised a man, although much altered in appearance and the worse for wear, who when questioned admitted that he had been one of the crew of a ship which I had taken up a few days before. Sometimes a skipper would complain of having been badly done by some artful runner, and might perhaps point to some venerable patriarch, with white locks, a husky cough and a general appearance of senile decay, who had been put on board at Valparaiso, Callao or ‘Frisco, dyed and made up to represent a stout fellow in the forties.

On one ship which arrived from Australia the captain was very sick at having been planted with an imbecile of most objectionable habits, when leaving London for Australia with emigrants. The man had been a continual source of trouble, and it had been necessary to keep him locked up most of the time. He had been unable to get 180


rid of the man at Melbourne and the same at Sydney, where they had gone to load for Calcutta. I do not know whether he was more successful there, as I did not take the vessel down, but possibly the runners may have helped him.

One of the most unusual crews was that of the Helen Pembroke. They were all Welsh. The officers and steward were sons of the captain. They spoke Welsh together all the time, and seemed quite a happy family. She was a fine vessel, well found and well kept up.

A ship which regularly sailed to Calcutta, and was named after one of the royal parks, was commanded by a man who emulated the great Tudor monarch in his matrimonial ventures, having been married no less than six times. I never took him up the river myself, but a pilot who had done so told us that after anchoring at Saugor the muchmarried mariner produced an album with photos of all the ladies, but seemed to have difficulty in identifying one or two of them. ” Yes,” he said, pointing to one of them ; ” that was Jane, a most lovable creature ” ; but after scrutinising it closely he corrected himself and exclaimed, ” No, by Jove, it’s Eliza.” He had buried two of them in the cemetery at Calcutta, and every Sunday would make a pilgrimage to their graves, carrying a couple of bouquets.

In November, 1891, it was my fortune to go through the cyclone in which the pilot vessel Coleroon was lost with all hands. She was doing duty as buoy brig at the time and on arriving at the Sandheads I was taken out by her. The weather was easterly but we were into November and were looking forward to the north-east monsoon. The glass had been falling for a day or two, but the general appearance of things was not too bad, and both the brigs had anchored north-west of the Light. Mr. J. T. Broadhead was in command of the Coleroon, and young Reddie, son of Mr. Reddie with whom I hove my first lead down the river, was mate. The Medical Officer, Mr. Mullens, was also on board. THE ’91 CYCLONE


He was rather a favourite with the younger members of the Service, who had nicknamed him Kobi Raj.

The morning after I had been taken out I was transferred to the Fame, which was doing duty as cruiser and putting pilots on board inward-bound vessels. I was the last pilot to be transferred from one brig to the other and I left behind me on the Coleroon F. L. Puttock and A. W. J. Turner.

The weather had now changed for the worse, and we got a succession of hard, easterly squalls with rain. In the


afternoon an Arab ship made the station, but we were unable to supply her with a pilot as the boat could not have fetched back if we had sent it away. The China mail steamer S.S. Japan managed to get a pilot from the Coleroon and we learnt afterwards that Turner had been sent to her. The position now was very similar to that in the cyclone of 1885 except that we were lying more to the northward than the Cassandra on that occasion.

Towards evening the wind came more from the northward and the squalls became more violent. We were riding to a long scope of chain and making very heavy weather of it. We hoped to be able to ride it out, but shortly after dusk we parted, slipped what chain we had out, sheeted home the lower topsails, and stood away south to get clear of the tails of the sands. A big sea had got up into which we plunged heavily. We clewed up the lower 182


lopsaiL and only kept the fore staysail set. The men, accompanied by the mate, Mr. Brederick, attempted to go aloft to furl the sails, but it was all they could do to hold on and keep themselves from being blown overboard, so Mr. Collingwood very wisely called them down from aloft. It was well he had done so, for they were hardly down on deck before there was a cry from forward that the bobstay had carried away. With the next dive we made the bowsprit went, and almost immediately afterwards the foremast broke short off and went over the side.

One of the men had been hurt when the foremast went. The doctor was on the other brig, and we decided that the man had broken one or two ribs, so we put a tight bandage round his chest. Nobody saw the mainmast go : the brig was lying right down to it, with her lee rail in the water, and we were all sheltering under the weather rail right aft when it went, about ten feet above the deck. We did noi even hear it go, the noise of the wind and sea drowned all other sounds. The hatches were on and battened down, but we kept the hatch of the companion leading to the ‘tweendecks open, as it opened towards the starboard or lee side. My servant made his way on deck and told me thai there was water in the ‘tweendecks. I went down and saw that it was only some water which had found its way below from the upper deck, and that she was quite sound, though how long she would remain so it was impossible to say, for with the send of each heavy sea we pounded away on top of our spars, which had all gone over the side and were lying under the brig’s bottom.

It was obviously of the first importance to get clear of our wreckage as soon as possible, and several of us started at once cutting through the lanyards of the shrouds and backstays. As in the 1885 cyclone the serang, tyndals and two or three of the men worked very well, as also did my servant, who got the other servants to bale the water in the ‘tweendecks into buckets, pass it up the companion, and empty it on deck, and when they had done that he worked THE ” FAME” DISMASTED


with me at clearing away the rigging. The main and forestays being set up on end, and seized with wire, gave most trouble ; but before daylight came in we had cleared away most of the gear of the fore and mainmast.

Mr. Jones, who was on board, had a new aneroid which he kept going below to consult. He hailed me to come and have a look at it. I found him standing in the companion with the instrument in his hand. It had gone down to 28’20 and he was very proud of its performance. But in going below to put it away in his chest he slipped and had a bad fall. His servant asked me to come to him, and I found that he had a deep cut at the back of his head, which I bandaged, and advised him to lie down. It was surprising that more of us were not damaged. Besides all our spars coming down, the port quarter-boat was blown inboard half-way across the quarter deck, where wc lashed it.

As the daylight came in, the weather moderated. We were rolling about in the heavy swell left by the cyclone. Everything had been cut away except the head gear, which served as a sea anchor to which we were riding, and which kept us head-on to the sea. We cut that all away and were proceeding to rig up a jury-mast with the awning boom. The topgallant yards had been sent down and were lying on deck, and we intended to cross the awning boom with one of them, set the topgallant sail, and try to run back by means of it to the station—a fairly forlorn hope as there was not much chance of our getting a southerly wind.

While we were busily engaged with this, we sighted a German steamer inward-bound who gave us our position as forty miles south-west of the Eastern Channel Light. We arranged that she should tow us back to the Pilot Station, the bill for towage to be settled by the Government, and sent Mr. Anderson, Branch Pilot, off to her in the starboard quarter-boat. The boat brought back a line, to which we made fast our hawser, which they hove on board, 184


and we were soon on our way home, very glad to have come through so well.

We wondered what had happened to the Coleroon, and whether she would get back to the station and supply all the inward bound vessels before we could do so. As we neared our ground we sighted a two-masted square-rigged craft and made sure it was the Coleroon, but it proved to be one of Nourse’s coolie ships, the Lena, which had lost her foremast. We anchored west-north-west of the Light and the German steamer proceeded up-channel. I forget what she was paid for the tow, but it was something quite substantial.

As we were towing back, Mr. Jones’ servant called me and I found that his master’s bandage had worked loose with the motion of the brig while he was sleeping, and he had lost a lot of blood. I fixed him up again and made a better job of it. He insisted on taking his turn, when a steamer came in for him, and went off in the boat with his cap perched on a regular turban of bandage.

As the Coleroon did not turn up we concluded that, like ourselves, she had been dismasted. A steamer was sent to search for her and after hunting for a couple of days came across some wreckage which was undoubtedly hers. It consisted of one or two of her quarter-deck settees and some of her lifebuoys, mingled with the wreckage of the Arab ship which had been close to us while at anchor at the beginning of the blow. There was nobody left to tell the tale of how or why she foundered, and it is possible that she and the Arab may have been in collision. They had evidently had time to cast off the deck lashings of the settees, and some of them may have floated on these for a while. We were sorry to lose Puttock, young Reddie, Broadhead, Adly the second mate, Mullens and a number of good sailormen. In St. Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta, there is a stone tablet to their memory.

We were now a brig short, and the Fame was a hulk which had to go up to be relitted as soon as possible. The steamer THE ” ALICE”


Guide did duty as a pilot vessel until the Sarsitii was ready for sea. The Coleroon was replaced after a time by another composite brig the Alice, built at Bombay. She was also unlucky, for she caught fire and was burnt at the Sandheads. Fortunately it was fine weather at the time, and only one man was lost.

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