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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 66, 26 February 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
• —❖ MUTINY ON BOARD : A SUKOEON'S STOIIY. By Lewis Hough. I commenced my medical career with exceptional disadvantages. My parents were dead, and I had not a friend or relative able or willing to help me ; I was cast entirely on m3 7 own resources, \\liic.i were a diploma, a respectable wardrobe, an 1 twenty pounds in cash Lie balance of the capital that had sufficed for my education. Feeling desperately the necessity of exertion, I applied to all sorts of people, rushing into the presence of bigwigs, who ought not to bo approached without proper introduction, and outraging them with demands for surgical employment. I should say I sometimes received as many as five snubs and rebuffs in a morning. At last I broke down in tho presence of a haughty young admiralty clerk, who was perturbed anil melted by my distress, when, on my .asking him to tell me how X could get into the British Navy, he replied :
“ Suppose you apply on a pwopper form through the pwopper channel. Look here,” he said, calling me back ; “ leave your name and address surgeons are wanted for things sometimes in a harry.” Two days afterwards I received a letter, informing me that a surgeon was wanted for the Alocto, which was to sail for Sydney on the following Sunday with a cargo of convicts, and that if I applied in person at a place and hour named, and answered certain questions satisfactorily, there was little doubt but what I should get the appointment. There was no medical employment on earth that I would not have jumped at blindfold, just then ; so I made my applic ,tinn, was accepted without any difficulty —v i:h rather an ominous alacrity, indeed; and, after such poor preparations m the way of outfit as my ignorance suggested and my slender means could aflord, I went on board the Alecto, which was lying off Greenwich, and found myself in medical charge of a captain, two mates, a lieutenant of the Royal Navy, in some mysterious capacity which I never rightly comprehended, twenty sailors, an officer of marines and his men, and 250 convicts The naval lieutenant was the only man on the quarter-deck when I went up the side.
“I am the su'geon,” I began, advancing towards him ; but, before I could say another word, he asked, abruptly : “ Can you play at ebess 1 ” “ Yes, a little,” I replied. “ I’m thankful, very thankful for that. Shake hands, sir. The marine body, Mr. Phips, no care for the game ; and how should wo surveeve sich a protracted and tedious voyage without chess ? My name is Mac Nab, and I hope wc shall befriends, sir.”
I said that I hoped so too, raid we engaged in a conversation which was the reverse of inspiriting. I gathered from Mr. Mac Nab that the skipper had been unfortunate in former voyages ; that his mates were ruffians ; that the crew.were very poor types indeed of the British sailor ; that the ship herself was a rotten hulk that ought to have been broken up years before. I went down to my cabin, which seemed absurdly small and low and dark, got m3 7 portmanteau there, and tried to make arrangements for future comfort. Then I studied the printed instructions 1 had received, as to how often I was to inspect the convicts, &c., and wondered what was to be done if the} 7 were refractory, and who had authority over me to prevent me shirking my duties ; for I had sole command, it seemed, of my particular department.
"When I returned on deck I found the captain and Mr. Phipps there. The former had a red nose and water} 7 eyes, ■which explained, perhaps, why ho had been unfortunate with his ships ; the latter was a gentlemanly fellow enough, but desponding and taciturn, his ''silence being of the less imp' rtance that when he did talk he generally grumbled, which did not add to the cheerfulness of so small a party. His only solace was in making pen-and-ink sketches, at which Ire was very clever , landscapes, with chiaroscuro effects, involving an immense amount of time and labor, being bis principal forte. Both ho and Mac Nab were disappointed men, but the Scotchman was tho better philosopher of the two. We four supped together, and in due time I went to rny berth, and found out how 7 to get into it. 1 felt like a toy put away on a shelf in a cupboard, for it was my first experience of ship accommodation. When you have learned to lie on your back and not want to move all night, to take enough oxygon into the lungs while on deck to last for the time you are below.
and to be indifferent to cockroaches running over you, you get on a groat dca! better.
On reaching the deck next morning 1 found that wo were under sail, and dropping down the river, which had grown very wide. It was not long before we were faiiy in tiro Channel, and the pilot got into his boat and left us.
There was a nice breeze, but tire sea was perfectly smooth, and the ship glided through the water with a delightful glibness ; so that I felt 1 ought to do something towards learning my duties while I was able, and confided to Mac Nab that I should like to hold an inspection of the convicts, who were all gathered on tho main deck in charge of their warders and the marines, who mounted sentry over them with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets.
I found that I had made an oliicia' application in the right quarter by acci dent, for Mac Nab immediately said :
At what time ? at once ? ”
And when I replied in the affirmative, he gave certain sharp, short orders, the result of which was that in less than ten minutes a warder came up to me, touched his cap, and reported ; “All ready sir.”
And following him I found flic convicts drawn up in lines, barefooted. My inspection of them was a mere form, for, of course, they were sent on board sound and clean, but I made certain suggestions with regard to the sanitary arrangements between decks, where their hammocks were slung, and these were promptly attended to, w!i,ero practicable. When I had done ftlacNab challenged me to a ganie of chess, and fortunately we proved to to very evenly matched. lie was quite right in relying so much upon it as a resource ; how we should have got through the weeks without it I cannot imagine ; we played at least six horns out of the twenty-four. When we got into the broad swell of the Atlantic I bad a week’s seasickness, during which Mar Nab bad the best of me at chess, and after 1 was well I began to have some trouble with the convicts. What scheme;s they were! Their one great object was to get a glass of wine 01grog, which could only be done by my order, and they regularly studied the complaints for which I prescribed such medical comforts, and either simulated or managed to produce them artificially. Greonhornc as I was, they imposed rarely on me at first, and just as 1 was getting up to their dodges, we passed the equator, and there wa.s a good dead of real sickness which gave them the advantage again. As tune went on I became familiarized with the rogues, and learned to Iqok upon them as fellow men who had gopo wrong, rather than as. wild- beasts. T talked to them freely, learned many of their histories—at least their own versions of siem—£qrd took considerable interest in
some of the narrators. Most were ignorant. debased creatures, either born and - bred to prey on their fellow-creatures, or recruited from the most neglected ranks of society : but there were one or two exceptions—notably a man who passed under the name of 'Williams, who was gifted with rare abilities, and had the < manners raid addicss of a gentleman. His face would have formed an interesting study for a physiognomist, the upper part being highly intellectual, the lower half betokening unbounded sensuality. His crime was forgery of bank notes. He was civil, somewhat subdued in manner, and glad of my conversation. Ho had yielded to the temptation of trying to make his fortune in too great a hurry, hid failed, and was content to pay the penalty, he said. Though a “ lifer,” he by no means despaired of his future. He was informed that with good conduct he would soon be a free man within the limits of the colony, and had perfect confidence in his ability to earn a comfortable livelihood if he had that chance. And what did th-' country matter? Life could be made as enjoyable in one place as another. Ha would not go back to England to be cut by all his relations and former friends if he con! 1. Plausibly ns Williams always talked, i mistrusted him. 1 noticed that he had established a considerable influence over the other convicts, and constantly surprised him speaking earnestly in corners to groups of five or six of them. On my appearance these conferences broke up, and, in spite of a l l affectation of indifference. I was certain on more than one occasion that anxiety was felt lest I should have caught some word in passing. And I knew, "without being able to prove it, that secret signs were exchanged bctu cen Williams and at least a score, whom I could have pointed out, habitually. Another convict who evidently had some power with his fedows was Lloyd, a Welsh sailor, who had stabbed another in a quarrel, and narrowly escaped the gallows. But it was natural enough that an experienced sailor should obtain the healing of landsmen during a voyage of such length, and I never suspected him of trying°to influence the others with any sinister designs, as I certainly did Williams. But soon I had no time for übe speculation and suspicion ; the sickness, a fever, attended by symptoms which were unfamiliar to me, increased. Soon there were a score of convicts, several seamen and one of the marines down with it. A man died, was sewn up in his hammock, and launched from the gangway with a shot at his feet, Mac Nab reading the service over him. During the ceremony one of those plrcrrorm na which make the sailors so superstitious occurred. As the body touched the water, the wind sank, and in half an hour there was a perfect calm. In many minds a calm at sea is associated with all that is peaceful and beautiful; in mine it is a horrid nightmare. For a week we lay on the broad, smooth sheet of glass, without a speck in sight to relieve the monotony. Glass ? Molten silver rather, for the heat was so fearful 1 that I sometimes imagined it would 1 seethe. The sun seemed like a mass of white-hot iron close above us, and the pitch oozed and boiled between the planks. 1 Poor Phipps could not go on with Ins sketching, for the perspiration dropping from his" forehead blotted his work, and MacNab’s ardor for chess relaxed. Bet I ; had little time to play with him—under su ch aggra v at in g conditions thefeverraged. ■ Deatlrswerc of daily, sometimes of hourly ' occurrence ] wc soon had to cast the ; bodies overboard without ceremony. On the fourth day the captain and one of his mates sickened, and the shattered constitution of the former caused him to ■ sink at once. Then Phipps took the fever, and though it was a mild attack, ho ' was so feeble as to be unfit for duty. ! Such of the convicts r.s escaped the i fever began to hold their heads erect, and L look you"full in the eyes as you passed, ! ns though they felt that death was bring- . ing us all to an equality. ) The sixth day was the most oppressive i of all—it was literally difficult to draw I breath, and, though I escaped the fever, i I was knocked up for the first time. To ' do my work amongst the dying and the i dead was a physical impossibility for me ; 1 I threw myself down under the awning on the quarter-deck, and lost all consciousness, probably remaining in a state of torpor for hours. I was roused by the most tremendous crash I have over heard, and found my- ! self in darkness, but only for a moment; ■ the next, sea, sky, and ship were lit up ; by a violent glare, while a zigzag line of 1 fire, so intense that the eyes ached at it, flashed, and left the gloom more profound than ever. And again came that awful thunder, compared with which the loudest ever heard in Europe is a whisper. That moment of fierce light revealed to me men in the jigging, taking in the sail which had been spread to catch the slightest breeze ; and a spar hanging awkwardly and all awry. Also Mac Nab and the mate who now acted as cap'ain, standing near me. “ We" shall never be able to manage without help, we are so terribly underhanded,” said the latter. “ We el, then,” replied Mac Nab, “we will pick half-a-dozen of the doevi’s, nao more. One I ken has been a strlor, and—” Another flash and deafening roar, which drowned his voice. “ Eh, Mw Glover, lad,” he said, when the lull came, “arc ye there? Ye had better just go below. Your work is done, and ours is beginning. There will bo breeze enow to blow the fever away presently, and ye will be in the way. I had often determined, if there were a storm, to remain on deck and see it ; fhe freshness of the air too was delightful to breathe ; but fatigue overcame ail else, and I was glad to take MacNnVs advice. Imagine what I had; gone through that week, in such a climate, with patients dying by dozens, in my youthful hands, many of vyhoai I felt could have been saved with better nursing, and you will not wonder at my prostration. I As I reached the cabin stairs the rain. I came down in torrents ; there was a ■ booming, roaring sound ; the ship heeled over and raced through the water as the storm came down upon her. A flash of lightening showed me that the sea was already white with foam. I went below, made a hearty meal off salt beef and biscuit I found on the table, drank a stiff glass of rum and water, and turned into my berth to renew my map, weariness drowning the sense of danger. How long I slept, or what happened in the time, Ido not know. When I awoke the ship was rolling heavily, and there was a continuous, ominous sound, thud, jl thud, thud, thud, accompanied with, tile i pouring of water, which caused, to I hurry on deck, where a scene of' terrible | confusion met my eyes, fov it was broad daylight. A mast had gone ;■ the deck was littered with cordage broken woodwork. All was confusion-,, authority in abeyance ; convicts, sailors,, marines were mixed up together, hurrying to and fro, or working at the pumps,. The gale bad abated,, was dying out m fact, but there was a leak- which could not be discovered, though, in consequence of the number of- hands to relievo one another in pumping, the water did not gain upon j ns. Finding I was not wanted there, I went below again to attend upon Phipps, , who had been left I knew not how long, ; and ivas too weak to help himself much, ; The fever had feft him, but lie was low . and desponding, and asked me to read the - Bible to him, which I did. (TO BE CONTINUED ) 1
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 66, 26 February 1880
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