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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 83, 6 April 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
MUTINY ON BOARD. At Sydney 7 , towards the close of a sultry day in December, 18—, I was pacing the quarter-deck of 11. M. S. Frigate Herald, when the old quartermaster called my attention to an unusually fine merchantman that was just rounding Macquarrie Point. She was a very handsome clipper, and as she slowly came up before the faint breeze, her sun-bleached sails shone out in dazzling whiteness against the dark forests of gum trees that surround the lovely harbor of Port Jackson. Her long hull, though low and b’.ack, was yet exceedingly graceful, and, for a vessel of her tonnage, she seemed to sit lightly on the water. Having nothing io do, I resolved to b« ard her, and accordingly ordered the gig to bo manned. As with long steady strokes we approached the vessel, the slovenly way in which they were taking in sail, the general slackness and untidiness of everything connected with her, became painfully apparent. Not that she was worse than the generality of merchant vessels, hut, leaving a frigate in the magnificent order and seamanhke condition of the Herald, without sd much as a ropeyarn out of pdace, the contrast was so very great. On board all was noise, bustle, and confusion. The captain, who received me courteously at the gangway, I was surprised to find, was a young, gentlemanly looking man. In command of these Australian clippers one generally finds rough, bearish old Scotchmen, who take pride in saying that they “ came in through the hawse holes,” by which they mean that they were originally common sailors. Anyone not knowing much about them would never doubt the truth of this favorite boast of theirs.
However, in this case it was entirely different. The captain, as I surmised, was a protege of the ow'iiers, and was accordingly placed in command of this fine vessel as soon as he had satisfied the very moderate requirements of the Board of Trade.
He was a most agreeable man, of good education, but totally deficient in any strength of purpose, any firmness of will, or quickness of decision ; hence I saw that he was by no means the right man in the right place. After our first meeting, we were a good deal together whilst the ship was discharging cargo, and taking in her homeward freight. As I expected, the greater number of his crew deserted in Sydney, and he had to make up the complement from the loafers and villanous riff-raff that abound in a colonial seaport. The day before he was to sail for England he expressed to me his distrust of his new crew ; they were certainly as rascally a lot of ruffians as one would be likely to meet with. Having had considerable experience of the merchant service, I knew tolerably well what these fellows were ; when once out on the High seas, they would be all right; but whilst at anchor anywhere inside the harbor they became nearly unmanageable. I therefore volunteered to see my friend out of his difficulties, by accompanying him to the mouth of the harbor, a distance of about six miles, and then returning with the pilot. My offer was gladly accepted. On the following day I went on board just as the half-drunken crew, with much shouting and singing, were weighing the anchor. The fussy little tug-boat lashed alongside was hissing and steaming, and, as soon as the anchor was at the bows, her powerful engine began to move the two vessels slowly out from the circular quay into the stream. Then all hands dropped their work, and swarming up the rigging, greeted the bystanders and the shipping with drunken cheers. And so they continued to work spasmodically, and repeatedly leaving off to cheer, feebly and discordantly, anything that was passing. It was only too evident that there would be trouble with them yet, if there should not be uind enough outside the Heads to enable the ship to get clear away to sea that evening. The captain was already as nervous as he could be, and so I said nothing of my fears. It was with much concern for him that I noticed the veering flaws of wind growing every moment fainter and fainter. As we slowly wound in and out amongst the lovely bays of this superb harbor, at every turn apparently landlocked in a different lake, each of a beauty surpassing the last, the wind gradually died away. The golden rays of the setting sun steeped one shore in a glorious flood of warm light, whilst the high cliffs and richly wooded slopes of the other were in dark sombre shade. By degrees the lengthening shadows, extending far out into the blue waters, stretched over to the other shore, and enveloped all in a cold grey twilight. ly this time the noisy rattling old tug had taken the vessel within sight of the Heads ; and it being now a dead calm she was brought to an anchor near a reef called the Sow and Pigs, in such a position that she could stand out to see with the first breeze. This done the tug-boat was cast off and permitted to return to Sydney. As soon as the cable was secured the mate reported that the crew demanded grog. The men being already in a half intoxicated state, their request, which was really a demand, was not complied with. This was the beginning of troubles. There immediately followed much murmuring and many growls of dissatisfaction, gradually getting louder and more vehement. Presently angry voices were heard, in fierce altercation with the mates at the very doors of the cabin, and then about thirty of the worst of the crew rushed violently into the saloon, at the farther end of which the captain and I were sitting. They were an ugly-looking mob, some with blue shirts, some with red, many with neither, but nearly all brandishing large open knives. With frightful oaths and-threats, they demanded that the keys of the ‘ lazarette,” in which the spirits are kept, should be given up to them. This, of course, was refused, and they were ordered to leave the saloon. At this they yelled .and shouted defiantly, still demanding the cask of rum. I attempted to speak to them, but my voice was immediately drowned in a torrent of imprecation. In the adjoining state-room of the captain’s, a revolver was lying on a tabic. I stepped quietly back, and returned witli it under my uniform coat. The captain then, by my advice, ordered the boatswain to pipe to supper. This command was received by all with derisive laughter and yells of defiance. The time for action had come, so, putting the captain a little aside, I stepped forward, at the same time taking care to let the revolver be seen. The sight of the deadly weapon produced an almost instantaneous silence amongst the cowardly mob. Then, speaking slowly and firmly, I said, “Boatswain, you have been ordered by your,s£»tain to pipe to supper : do so. ” He ang&ered, with a string of oaths, that would .not, and concluded by telling me to mind my own business. Taking no notice of his I again spoke to him, in a tone That implied that I should he as good as my word. “Boatswain,” I said, “I have given you an order ; if you fail any longer to obe/ it, I will put it out of your power to obey or to disobey another order in this world ; for, as sure you stand there, I will send one of these balls through your bend. How, then, what do you say to ' itr
With those words I slowly cocked the revolver, and took a deliberate aim at his head. At the first sound of that disagreeable click of the pistol-look he cried nut, “ For goodness’ sake, don’t fire, sir, 111 do it adding, in a low growl to the others, “It don’t matter, chaps, I know you won’t go no..e the more for’t. ” The boatswain’s shrill whistle then rang out. shaiqily and clearly through the saloon, but no one heeded it, except to greet it with yells and roars of derisive laughter. As soon as I could make myself heard above the tumult, I said sternly and resolutely— “ Men, you have disobeyed your captain, but you shall do as I tell you. (Here there were shouts of, “ Who are you '! Go hack and bully your own men,” and the like.) “ Now, I order you all to clear out of this cabin.” Here again I was interrupted by cries of, “ Won’t,” and much stronger exxiressions to the same effect. “Very good,” I continued; “you won’t. Well, then, I’ll give 3 7 0 u three minutes to alter your minds ; at the end of that time I’ll blow out the brains of the nearest man, and then the next, and so on.” At this there was a great buaz and talking amongst the men, j 7 ct they showed no signs of moving, but watched me standing with the pistol in one hand and my watch in the other. “ One minute has gone ; yon have only two minutes left, and you will have but one more warning. ” This I said keeping m3 7 03' es on the dial of the watch. The crowd received this with a sulky groan, but yet they seemed as if they would stand to their ground. It was strange to see these wild, almost frantic men cowed into a state of dogged silence by one determined man with a pistol. “Two minutes have gone ; I warn you no more. The instant this hand passes the third minute I fire, and the nearest man will he my mark. ” For a few moments more they stood grumbling and growling ; but on hearing the click of the cocking of the pistol they began to waver. Then, comparing the distances of the former men from me, and fixing my eyes steadfastly on one burly fellow, I said in a low tone, as if squeaking to myself, 3 7 et loudly enough to he heard by all, “I think he’s the nearest, yes, yes, by some inches.” At this he cowered down, and began to draw back to give one of his comrades the xireference. He, in his turn, gave way to one another, and so on, until it was evident that no one was desirous of being the foremost, and so they moved oft sulkily out of the cabin. They seemed sadly apprehensive that the last minute would be shorter than either of the two preceding ones, and it was really ludicrous to see how the last half-dozen men tumbled over one another in their hot haste to get out of the saloon. “Alone again with me, captain,” he exclaimed, seizing me warmly by both hands. “Thanks, my dear friend—a thousand thanks. But what an awful risk you have run. Did you know 7 that there was not a single chamber loaded in that revolver, nor a single cap on 1” “ My dear sir,” I replied, “ I knew that perfectly well, but the men didn’t and I trusted rightly that they would not find it out.” Having somewhat imprudently replacod the pistol in the captain’s cabin, we went on deck to calm our minds with some good cigars. (TO HE CONTI SUED.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 83, 6 April 1880
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