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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter XI


"Man's inhumanity to man, Makes countless thousands mourn." —Burns.

UNDER improved auspices I entered on my second voyage, and soon discovered that my old enemy was not to be cheated out of its victim. Calm weather, with a heavy ground swell, gave rise to a motion in the vessel that intensified the disease, and deeming it also aggravated by the obnoxious smell of camphor, I had to lay the charm aside until we returned to Shields, when, in respect to the feelings of the charmer, the charm should resume its intended location. During this voyage I became reluctantly convinced that nature had not cut me out for a sailor. I. became as much disgusted with my uselessness as with the cruel disease that caused it, and in that frame of mind resolved that in the event of another voyage failing to improve my condition, I would try some other course for a living. On arriving at Shields I found Mr. Walmsley, notwithstanding the exaggerated report of Patterson, still desirous of keeping me in his service. Mrs. Cookson approved of my determination. Jane seemed somewhat down in the mouth, lamented the failure of her charm, and hoped if I did quit the sea I would do so at this end and not at the London end, where there is so much wickedness. I could go back to my own business as well at the one place as the other. But my destiny led Londonward, and there I left the old Barbara on my third trip, and threw myself once more on the heartless world, with threepence in my pocket, which the carpenter gave me when he rowed me ashore, while the captain was up town, saying it was all the cash he had by him or he would have given me more (Jesus was the son of a carpenter), and I believe him. He had hurried me ashore to escape a punishment as certain as that the sun gives heat. A young fellow-apprentice, who, unlike myself, gave evidence of becoming a good seaman, had offended his high mightiness, and had committed the unpardonable offense of making an effort to escape the enraged fool while in a paroxysm of anger, and was therefore felled to the deck by a hand-spike in the hands of the veritable Captain Patterson, of the Barbara, of North Shields, formerly boatswain's mate of a man-of-war in good King Geordie's reign. At the sight of this wanton brutality I imprudently, yet voluntarily, gave utterance to an audible murmur, without any articulation, at which he turned his fierce fiendish eyes on me, and said, "I will attend to your case when I return on board." Taking the hint, I imparted my secret intention of leaving the ship to the carpenter, who suggested immediate action as above, and left the impotent creature to find a new cabin-boy, and thereby augment the number of his legion of haters. Now I am in the great metropolis of the world, a stranger in a strange land, where, after discussing my two-penny breakfast, I had one penny left still, in the event of absolute starvation driving me to the necessity of applying for succor to one of whom a word of mention must now again be made,—my half brother Alexander, whom we recognized as a good soldier, and whom we left in the enjoyment of a comfortable sinecure in Leith Fort, troubled with a restless wife, and while the Iron Duke remained, Master-General of the Ordnance. It was only to ask a change more congenial to her caprice to obtain it. She was too near the sea at Leith, in Edinburgh Castle too high, in Calshot Castle, Hampshire, too low, in Yarmouth Castle, Isle of Wight, too lonely, in Seaforth, ditto. Now they are vending Barclay and Perkins' Entire, near Wellclose Square, E., London. Under the impression of a dreaded correspondence with home, awakening in my guilty conscience an awful sense of my foolish conduct, I resolved to hold out. It took six days to conquer my aversion to an interview with that family, passing their door in a starving condition every day. At length my brother, having noticed a poor, emaciated sailor boy once or twice strolling by, resolved to arrest the attention of the same, should he again make his appearance, and sure enough, out he came, with the dreaded interrogatory, followed by a good meal and a much-needed clean shirt. The reader will readily perceive how these would be appreciated when I inform him that my food for four days consisted of the maggoty remains of the bread locker of a West Indiaman, which I had earned by assisting the rigger employed to dismantle her, and my bed was among the weeds in a neglected corner of the West India docks. After the largest dose of humble pie that ever fell to my share to swallow, my future was promptly settled in the most approved military fashion. Home letters, like bullets, were mercilessly leveled at my devoted head. The luxury of one night of bed repose was receding rapidly from view. Said my brother: " Captain Christie, of the Leith smack Trusty, now at Downing's wharf, sails for Leith by the morning's tide ; so to secure your passage you must get on board tonight. The captain, a friend of mine, will take you to Leith, and you can walk to Haddington the next day." To consult me in cutting and drying these trifles would fail to comport with the dignity of the court. Some are slow to discover the mettle of those with whom they are dealing. In this case I ventured to inform the supreme judges that London was my destined field of future action (which in after years was amply proven); that during these six days of untold misery I had not failed to endeavor to obtain employment, and even dared to hint that all that was needed were a few articles of decent clothing. But no ; the fiat had gone forth. Nothing left but to obey. My obedience was more seeming than real. I wished them good-by and went on board the Trusty, not by any means, as they thought, to avail myself of a passage home, but simply to take advantage of the food and shelter which a night on board might furnish. After a generous supper the crew remained in the forecastle, spinning yarns, till "the 'oor o' night's black airch the keystane." The company was enlivened by a cousin of one of the crew, who inquired if there were any steerage passengers on board. " None but this poor boy going back to Scotland under the care of the captain. He has been trying to be a sailor, but fails to overcome sea-sickness. He is therefore going back to his parents, from whom the young rascal ran away." Kindly turning to me, the stranger asked me if I really wished to go back on the effort necessary to become a seaman.

"Man," said he, "the great Lord Nelson himself never thoroughly overcame seasickness, and yet you have no doubt read at school what kind of a sailor he made of himself. I am sailing on board the Ann Dal-rymple, of Methel, in Fifeshire, lying in the Pool. Our captain wants a cabin-boy, and I think you will suit. Come right along with me. The same tide that takes the Trusty down stream this morning takes us. We ballast at Purfleet, and off to Riga, in the Baltic sea. We have a kind captain. I'll protect you from the mate, who is, nae doot, a bit of a Tartar."

This man's eloquence silenced every scruple, and away we went rejoicing, together, to tackle once more my insidious enemy, lured to the combat by the beauty and grandeur of old Father Thames. The dockyard at Deptford, named by Caesar in finding the streamlet a little too deep for the passage of his legions on his way to London, is now mainly used as a granary for the army and navy of the great nation, and the old Dreadnaught, eighty-four gun ship, used as a hospital for the navy. The Isle of Dogs is opposite, where the pleasure-seeking profligate, Charles, kept his favorite canine specimens, who vied with himself in wisdom. To attempt to describe the glory and grandeur of Greenwich would be out of place here, further than to simply make mention of a few of its outstanding features: its proportionate architecture; the humane purpose to which it is appropriated; its celebrated painted ceiling and hall; the identical coat through which the ball sped to reach the heart of England's noblest naval hero at Trafalgar; the deer park; the far-famed hill surmounted by Flamborough House, from which the longitude of the world is computed; the marine school, with its ship full-rigged on dry land, and the number of disabled naval pensioners to be seen perambulating ad libitum about the extensive grounds, making the glorious resting-place of the disabled seamen of Old England a world in itself and a credit to the nation. About two miles below this princely building, and opposite Blackwall, there still stood in that day a remnant of barbarism happily to be seen now nowhere within the bounds of civilization, viz : the skeletons of eight fellow-creatures on three gibbets dangling in chains. Blackwall has long been famed for its catering capacity, particularly for its whitebait, a tiny fish caught nowhere else, and which the caterers know how to cook. A dinner at Lovejoy's is not easily forgotten, but the little knowledge I possess on the subject has been acquired many years subsequent to the period of which I am writing. We leave the table and the means by which man is supposed to be recruited and turn to the potent instruments at once of his protection and destruction. We are now off Woolwich. Patriotism has had much to do with the attainment of the wonderful perfectibility of the architecture of the British navy. The prescriptive constitution of England appears to be naturally interwoven in the heart and soul of every one born under her flag. The protection of that constitution has for many years largely fallen to the glory of her wooden walls. Here from keel to royal in mathematical proportions those huge leviathans, which prove in their dextrous handling a terror to less scrupulous nations, are constructed. Here, also, adjoining in the Royal Arsenal, the death-dealing ordnance is forged and tested, with all the concomitant operations necessary to accuracy of aim, and all the countless variety of missiles with which the warlike student problematically mitigates the evils of war by rendering it more fatal and terrific. Abreast of the arsenal lie at anchor two vessels called the Hulks, where the evil-doers of the United Kingdom are concentrated preparatory to transportation to distant misery. Nor must the more remote features of Woolwich be overlooked: the extensive artillery barracks, the practicing ground, the cadet academy, and the Rotunda, which was formerly erected in St. James's Park, wherein to entertain the crowned heads of Europe during the transitory peace of 1814, now employed on Woolwich common as a repository of arts, in which may be seen a variety of fine models of British possessions abroad, such as Gibraltar, Malta and others; also, models of ships in sections, showing improved methods of shipping horses, etc. An ingenious clock in this building may deserve a passing notice, from the fact of its requiring no winding up, and is reputed to be the nearest approach to perpetual motion. On passing Woolwich we heave in sight of another historically interesting spot on the opposite bank of the Thames. Purfleet stands on the Essex bank of the river, and here, in imminent danger of invasion, Elizabeth adressed her troops. The fleet being threatened with destruction by the approaching formidable Armada, the queen in ecstacy was made to ejaculate, "Alas, my poor fleet! " Hence the name of the village. Situated in a quiet, secluded nook, out of the way of navigation, the government was not long insensible to its advantages as a spot wherein to deposit the nation's combustibles. Therefore, at an early day, in a very unostentatious way, the great national magazine was founded.


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