The Hooghly story..continued..


The Fraser—Our brigs become lightships—Ships fallen on live days—The Clan MacArthur—Tramp steamers—A swarm of quail” Justice ” in Texas—The gouging match—”Champion Ananias ” —The Bosnia—The profitable Monarch.

BY the time I reached the grade of Branch Pilot in 1900 conditions on the river were very different from what they had been when I joined the Service. The sailing ships had entirely deserted Calcutta, and with them had gone the fine tugs, and the splendid men who commanded them. The only two tugs remaining were the Retriever and Rescue, which had been bought by the Port Commissioners and were employed in the River Survey and in the port. Steamers had become much larger and deeper draughted. The men who had taught me my work had either taken their pensions or joined the great majority, and I had seen several generations of Harbour Masters come and go ; for they wore out more quickly than we did, because their work was largely nocturnal, and they were always in the stuffy atmosphere of Calcutta. Some of the old sailing-ship lines had replaced their windjammers with steamers. Brocklebanks did so, and I remember one of their early steamers arriving at Calcutta officered entirely by captains of their sailing vessels, who were making the trip in order to learn how to run a steamer.

We were amused on the brig when we were told that the great Bully Mackenzie, a well-known old sailing-ship commander who had made many smart passages, had been seen tallying cargo at the new steamer’s mainhatch.

207 2fl8


Having made their voyage of instruction they were duly appointed to steamers, and doubtless found them a much easier job than the work they had been doing in sail. The Germans were getting a large slice of the trade of the port, and their steamers were becoming larger all the time. The French flag was only seen on the small steamer which the Messagerie Maritime ran between


Calcutta and Colombo. The Arab ships were nearly finished, and James Nourse was taking coolies to the West Indies in steamers instead of in the smart, well-found sailing ships with double crews which had done the work so well. This change was not altogether a change for the better. The voyage being shorter in steam, the coolies did not have so much chance of putting on flesh, and arriving in plump condition.

Sailing vessels having gone, it was merely a matter of time before the pilot brigs would follow them and STEAM PILOT VESSELS


be replaced by steamers. In 1905 arrived the pilot steamer Fraser, named after the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. A handsome yacht-like vessel, painted white with a yellow funnel and three masts, she was fitted with wireless to send and receive messages, and with a refrigerator and cold storage. We did not regard this last altogether as a boon, for it meant no more gram-fed Sandheads’ mutton, or well-fed poultry, and the messing was not so good in the opinion of some of our epicures. But we were now independent of the weather. Westerly gales made no difference to the steamer, and the weather had to be very bad indeed before we shut up shop and refused to put the boat out.

We had not yet entirely finished with the brigs, for when the Fraser went up to town to refit, she was relieved by a brig which kept the station until the return of the steamer. In 1908 came the second steamer, the Lady Fraser, and then we were entirely done with sail, and our brigs departed to become lightships as their predecessors had always done when past work at the Sandheads.

To a seafaring man it is always a pathetic sight to see a vessel which has fallen upon evil days, after having been a thing of beauty and a source of pride to all connected with her. As a leadsman I had hove the lead in one or two of the famous tea clippers which used to race home from China to be first in the market with their precious cargo of the new season’s tea. With the opening of the Suez Canal their racing days were done, and with reduced spars, and a much smaller spread of canvas, they now picked up a living by wandering from port to port, like any other ocean tramp. One of these was the Sir Lancelot, and in spite of the way in which her sail plan had been reduced, I was surprised at the manner in which she slipped through the water with a very light wind as wc sailed into Saugor. She held, if I am not mistaken, the record for the best day’s run, and had now become 370


a ‘ country ship ‘ trading between Calcutta and Mauritius. Another one was the Pericles, which had fallen from her high estate, and had her spars cut down.

But the fate of these ships was not so dismal as that of the S.S. Clan MacArthur, which had been one of the crack passenger steamers running to Calcutta from England. Having been sold to the Russians she was used by them in the whaling trade in Bering Strait, where she served as a sort of oil factory to which the blubber was brought to be boiled down and stowed in casks. She came in, to my turn, one breezy afternoon in the south-west monsoon. Age and probably ill-treatment had impaired the engines, which in the days of her prime had been the pride of her Scotch chief engineer, and she was coming to Calcutta to be patched up. *

It was many years since I had last boarded her. She was then one of three popular passenger steamers belonging to the Clan Line (the other two were the Clan Macpherson and Clan Matheson) and was a smart, well kept-up vessel, with spotless decks, and a general air of prosperous self-respect. I had not heard anything of her for a long while and did not know what she had been doing, but as we pulled alongside I noticed that she looked as though she wanted a coat of paint, and as I climbed over the rail saw that she was in a very dirty and neglected condition. The people who received me at the gangway were foreigners, but I did not know what they were until I reached the bridge and learnt that she was now a Russian steamer. I took charge and set the course up-channel, and then had a conversation with the captain, who spoke English quite well and told me why they were coming to Calcutta.

When we were in the neighbourhood of the Lower Middle Ground Buoy the engineer came on the bridge and I was told that we should have to stop for an hour or two to effect some necessary repairs to the engines. There was a good sea running and it was not at all the AN OLDTIMER


sort of place in which I cared to anchor, so I asked them to hold on if possible for a while until we got to Saugor anchorage. They said that the engines would stop of their own accord directly, so I turned round to head the tide and we brought up with forty-five fathoms of chain.

On going below I saw how greatly the Clan MacArthur had altered for the worse. The long line of passengers’ cabins had disappeared. The saloon was still there but indescribably frowsy and dirty. In one corner was an ikon, and a couple of monkeys were walking about as though they owned the place, as they practically did. I joined the captain and officers at their evening meal, at which they drank neat gin and seemed surprised when I restricted myself to one glass of the fiery liquid. When the ebb made down, we lay in the trough of the sea and did some heavy rolling, and I was not sorry when the engineer reported the engines in working order again and we were able to heave up and proceed over the ebb to Saugor, where we brought up for the night.

We weighed at daybreak, but on the way up had to stop three or four times on account of the engines, the last time being at Pir Serang, where I had to anchor for an hour. When I handed over to the Harbour Master I told him that the engines kept breaking down, and as I left the vessel he hailed me from the bridge that they had gone wrong again.

The people in the tramp steamers who wandered about all over the world, putting into all sorts of strange ports in search of cargoes, had some queer tales to tell of the places they visited and the people they encountered in the course of their travels. The mate of a tramp told me the following extraordinary story. He said that one day in the Black Sea, when on watch, he noticed a dark cloud to the northward which approached with great rapidity, looking for all the world, he said, like the north-west squall which we had experienced on the previous evening. But instead of a violent squall of 272



wind and rain they were suddenly invaded by millions of migrating quail, which, exhausted by their long flight, sought shelter on the vessel. In a few minutes the decks were piled up with the birds to a depth of two or three feet, and still they came. All hands including the firemen had to turn to with shovels to get the decks cleared, and they all lived on quails for a week afterwards. It may be that the man exaggerated. He looked a stolid, weather-beaten old salt and not at all an imaginative sort of person. But one cannot always judge by appearances, and, as a Yankee skipper once wisely remarked to me, ” You can’t tell by the look of a toad how far it can jump.”

I gathered from what I was told by these ocean wanderers that the manner in which law and justice were administered was somewhat peculiar in certain ports. At least it struck me as being peculiar. An interesting instance was given me by a dry little clean-shaven man who was in command of one of the steamers which it fell to my lot to take up the Hooghly. The ease which he narrated was as follows. On one of his voyages, the steward stole some of his property, money, trinkets and clothing. The stolen articles were found in the steward’s cabin, and there could be little doubt as to his being the thief. On arriving at their port of destination, a port in Texas, he handed the man over to the poiitM-, and waa advised of the date on which the case would be heard.

On the morning of th<r appointed day, as the captain was about to go ashore, the stevedore who was loading the vessel asked if he could have a word with him. This stevedore was an old acquaintance, having been employed by the captain on previa u, voyages, when he had shown himself to be a reliable person and good at his job.

” Well,” said the captain, ” what is it ? “

” It’s about that steward of yours, captain. He’s engaged Johnson the lawyer to defend him, and I guess you’re going to lose your case.” A POLITICAL PULL


” But,” said the captain, ” the evidence is dead against him. What can Johnson do ? “

” He can get him off. He’s the cutest lawyer in all Texas, and he ain’t never lost a case yet! “

The stevedore seemed so positive as to the invincibility of the redoubtable Johnson that the captain thought that it would perhaps be advisable to engage a lawyer himself, and asked the stevedore if he could recommend one.

” ‘Tain’t no good, cap.; none of the others has a dog’s



chance against Johnson. . . . But,” he added, ” tell you what I’ll do. I’ll introduce you to Mr. Brown the chemist, he’s a friend of mine.”

” Mr. Brown the chemist! ” said the astonished skipper. ” What on earth can he do ? “

” Well,” said the friendly adviser, ” he’s got a big political pull, and he’ll be able to fix this.”

As the case was to be heard that morning there was no time to be lost, and the stevedore lead the way to the little shop where the powerful Mr. Brown made up prescriptions and sold remedies and poisons to the surrounding population. Mr. Brown’s appearance gave no hint of the formidable power which he possessed. He was a small

s 274


man with a grey beard, and weak blue eyes framed in horn-rimmed spectacles.

” This,” said the stevedore, ” is Captain Jones of the steamer Dalkey. He’s prosecuting his steward on a charge of theft and the steward has engaged Johnson to defend him. I shall be much obliged, Mr. Brown, if you’ll see that Johnson don’t get away with it.”

Mr. Brown enquired when the case was coming on, and on being told consulted his watch, and said that they had better go along at once to the court, which was situated a short distance away.

They did not enter the room, in which a stout, red-faced man, who on account of the heat had removed his coat, was dispensing justice, but stood in the doorway and addressed the bench from there. The conversation was short and to the point.

” Morning, Judge,” said Mr. Brown.

” Ah, Mr. Brown, good morning,” said the Judge. ” How are you ? “

” I’m all right, Judge,” said Mr. Brown. ” This is the captain of the Dalkey, whose steward is coming before you this morning on a charge of theft. . . . The captain’s a friend of mine.”

” That’ll be quite all right, Mr. Brown,” said the Judge affably.

” Thank you, Judge,” said Mr. Brown; ” I thought it would.”‘

He turned to leave, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him. He turned again, faced the Judge, and remarked :

” Six months, Judge ? “

” That will be quite all right, Mr. Brown,” said the legal dignitary.

And six months, said the captain, was the sentence which the steward received.

This tale was told me many years ago, and things are NOT MARBLES


probably quite different nowadays in Texas, where I do not suppose the following incident could now occur.

A young Englishman, so the story runs, came in the course of his travels to Galveston and spent the night in one of the best hotels there. It was a disturbed night, his rest being somewhat broken by the sounds of revelry which rose at intervals from the restaurant below. He


managed to drop off at about three a.m., but was almost immediately startled into wakefulness by a succession of bloodcurdling yells which continued for several minutes. After that things were quieter, but his nerves had been rattled, and after tossing restlessly about for an hour or two, he decided to get up and go for a little walk in the fresh air. As he passed through the large hall of the restaurant, he noticed a negro busily engaged sweeping up some little round objects resembling marbles. Adjusting his monocle, for his sight was not too good, he said to the negro : 276


” Have they been playing marbles ? ” ” No ! ” said the darkic ; ” they had a gouging match, and them’s eyes.”

The horrified globe-trotter fled from the country without delay.

I was amused on board a tramp steamer which arrived from New York with case oil, and which I piloted to Budge Budge, by the captain’s account of his experience with the newspaper reporters at the great American city. He arrived at New York after a voyage to the


South Sea Islands, m the course of which he had touched at a number of places which are very seldom visited, amongst then being the island of Owhyhee in the Sandwich group, the spot where the great Captain Cook came to a violent end at the hands of the natives on February 14th, 1779. Immediately after arriving at New York the steamer was boarded by a couple of reporters from the principal newspapers, who asked him to tell them something about his cruise in Polynesia. He had acquired A SHOCK FOR THE CAPTAIN


quite an interesting collection of curios in the way of canoe paddles, knives, bows and arrows, clubs, ornaments and earthenware utensils, which he produced for their inspection, inventing some little story in connection with each exhibit, which the simple-minded reporters accepted without demur. As they seemed prepared to swallow anything he chose to give them, he let himself go and thoroughly enjoyed himself, showing them amongst other precious relics a bracelet made from the whiskers of a missionary who had been barbecued, and the identical club with which Captain Cook had been massacred. When he had exhausted his power of invention the innocent


reporters took their leave with many expressions of gratitude, leaving him convulsed with merriment and feeling very pleased with himself.

His enjoyment, however, was somewhat marred on the following morning, when he opened the newspaper and read:




These, however, are not the real names either of the steamer or of her commander, who told the story against himself. 278


The largest steamer which I handled during my time was a German named the Bosnia. She had four masts and a black funnel; I don’t know what line she belonged to. She was taken up by W. T. Wawn and I was appointed to her by turn. She was lying at Mutteabrooj moorings and was to haul out at daybreak. I think it was in the month of September, but I know that it was in the freshets and the day after the moon, or fifth day of springs.

When I went on board I found the Harbour Master getting ready to unmoor. I asked him what her draught was and on learning that she was drawing twenty-seven feet three inches forward and twenty-seven feet aft told the captain that I wanted her to be three inches by the stern instead of by the head. He demurred at first, but as I was resolved not to leave with her in her present trim, he consented to run some water into the after ballast tanks and to trim her by the stern. As a matter of fact all her ballast tanks were empty and she was lying with a list, and there was no difficulty about altering her trim.

My reason for being so insistent about the draught was that, shortly before, I had had trouble with a steamer named the Knight Bachelor, which had been loaded two inches by the head. I had piloted this vessel several times before and had always found her steer quite well, so that when I was told that she was an inch or two by the head I did not worry about it, but hove up and turned round in the Reach with a light heart. As soon as she gathered way, I found that she was slow and sluggish in answering her helm. Just at that time the channel round Sankral bight had contracted and was narrower than usual owing to the encroachment of Sankral Sand, and it was necessary to keep close in to the bank before approaching the narrow spot. But the Knight Bachelor declined to do this, and was so slow in answering her port helm that we grounded on the extension of the sand, THE S.S. BOSNIA


and stuck there. W. Bryant, who was following me, on seeing that I was aground promptly put his helm hard a-port and stuck his steamer’s nose up the bank just below the National Jute Mill. She swung round to the ebb, slipped off, and he steamed back to the Reach. The Knight Bachelor lay where she was quite comfortably until the tide rose, and she floated off. The engineers drove her all they could, and we got down to Kulpee. I attributed the grounding entirely to the fact that she was loaded by the head, and I was very chary ever after of leaving with a heavy-laden, flat-bottomed vessel in similar trim.

When the Bosnia’s draught had been altered to twentyseven two forward, and twenty-seven six aft, we unmoored and I took charge from the Harbour Master. She had a heavy list, which disappeared as we crossed Moyapur Bar with only a few inches more than our draught, and on reaching deep water returned again. She gave no trouble at all, steamed and steered quite well. We got to Kulpee the first day, Saugor the second, and out on the next tide. But when we were over the Gasper Bar and they started to fill the ballast tanks, she took a really serious list. I watched the captain as he studied the clinometer which was fixed to the binnacle and which registered a greater inclination which each lee roll which the vessel took, for wc were going along in the trough of the sea, and I was glad when we were able to alter the course to bring her head to sea. I put the engines to slow and kept within boating distance of the Lower Gasper Light until she began to come upright, when we went ahead again and all was well. I have never had to do this with any other vessel.

The S.S. Monarch was another vessel to which I was appointed by turn, as the pilot who took her up did not want her, although she was drawing the lucrative draught of twenty-six eight. The trouble t with her was that one could not rely on the engines going astern when 280


asked to do so. I was on turn and was told that the agents wanted to see me about her. On going to their office I was told that on account of the state of the steamer’s engines I could have the tug Retriever to help me to turn heT round, and to keep me company through the upper reaches of the river if necessary. I did not much fancy the job, for I was no fonder of trouble than other people, and preferred a comfortable, straight-forward bit of work without any extra risks.

When I went on board in the morning she struck me as being a very fmc-Iooking steamer, in fact quite a handsome vessel. The Harbour Master, in answer to my enquiries, told me that the engines certainly took a little time to think it over before going astern, perhaps a minute or two, but that I could rely on their doing so in their own time. He had had no trouble with her. I therefore decided not to make use of the Retriever, which was standing by in the Reach, but to make sure that while turning round we never got into such a position as would render it imperative to go astern in a hurry. We went as close as possible to the northern bank and drifted until we were nearly dead in the water before putting the helm over and going slow ahead. As soon as her nose got into the strength of the current she commenced to turn quite nicely. The engines were slow in making up their minds to go astern, but they did so in ample time to keep her stern tucked into the bank, and she came head down without any trouble and in reasonable time. She steered beautifully and was a very nice vessel to pilot. We got to sea in two days without any difficulty.

On returning to town and calling at the agents’ I was asked whether I thought that a couple of hundred rupees over and above the pilotage would meet the case. I thought that it would, and to my surprise was presented with two hundred and fifty. That was the only occasion on which such a thing ever happened to me, and is TOO MODEST


probably the reason why I retain such a vivid recollection of my trip down in the S.S. Monarch.

I received a larger sum for sailing up the Albyn, for when the agents of that ship asked me how much I thought that I ought to have, I modestly said three hundred. Having received notes to that amount I invited the captain to share a bottle of wine, and while discussing it learnt from him that they had been prepared to part with four hundred. On both these occasions the vessels concerned had been saved a lot of expense for tug hir

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