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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part I - The Journal of George Hepburn, 1850 - Chapter II


After leaving the Isle of Wight they see Nelson’s ship " Victory" and so pass Plymouth, and clear the shores of England—In the Bay of Biscay they encounter a storm in which the ship "tosses like a piece of cork"—Their quarters are swamped with water pouring down the hatches, and they are thrown out of their bunks, but the ship’s carpenter astonishes them by saying "the weather could not be better!"—The sailors make passengers pay their first footing on visiting the foc’s’le—He describes the view of Madeira, which they reach twelve days after leaving the Isle of Wight.

Monday, February 25th, 1850.—Yesterday afternoon we weighed anchor and set sail from the Isle of Wight (after laying there for eleven days). It was a beautiful day and so calm that we scarcely felt moving. The vessel had to take two or three tacks to clear the Island, in one of which we sailed very close past the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour, where we had a view of the great ship Victory of famous memory, in which the venerable Nelson fought and died. We also sailed close past the ship Lady Bruce, which lay alongside of us in the London Docks, but which did not leave for eight days after. She is bound for Port Natal with emigrants, and is said to have upwards of 300 on board, the most of which appeared to be on deck at the time looking over the poop and sides at us.

It was like a beehive which must be very uncomfortable, for we do feel noise and confusion enough with 100. What must she not be and a far less ship. The most of the passengers appeared to be the working classes.

Towards evening we got clear of the Island and into the fairway of the Channel, carrying all sail, at which we were glad. At 8 o’clock about fifteen of us Scotch folk met between decks, where we engaged in family worship, singing the 121st Psalm. After which we took our usual walk on deck in order to warm our feet before going to bed. I must here remark that we have all suffered a great deal from the cold weather, almost everyone complaining of chilblains in the feet and hands. I believe it must, have been very frosty weather on shore. It is a wonder how the children have stood it, never complaining, neither having been the least coddled. But we have now the prospect of being soon clear of such weather, for to-day we are, sailing right before the wind in a calm sea with our main topgallant sail and stenchals [Stunsails] set, and are now far down the Channel but without land in sight on either side.

Tuesday, February 26th, 1850.—Still calm weather. During all last night it was so much so that we were almost becalmed, rather a rare occurrence I believe in the Channel at this season. Four o’clock p.m.—The breeze has freshened a good deal that we are now going at about six knots an hour. In the forenoon we saw land in the distance on the English coast, "Start-point" I believe, so we must now be past Plymouth, and it is just a chance if we see land again. Hope by tomorrow at this time we will have cleared Land’s End. In the forenoon also two small boats came alongside selling fresh fish of which a few were bought for the "cuddy " [Cabin] passengers. The duty of watching the ship between decks has lately been imposed on us steerage passengers at which we are dissatisfied, because they exclude the forecabin passengers. Besides it is only the married men who are eligible. So there being only eight of us, and three required every night, that is one for each watch. It follows that we have a watch every third night, it being my turn 1st night from 12 till 4. I saw the beautiful moon and the calm sea to advantage. Still I prefer the bed in the night watches.

Wednesday, February 27th, 1850.—Last night about 9 o’clock we were opposite Lizard Point and saw the light in the distance, at which hour they put the ship right about and steered south-west with the full moon right ahead, and a fine breeze with rather a heavy sea. It is a rather nice affair shifting "stays." The vessel pitched a good deal through the night which made our sleep rather broken. To-day the ship’s, course is again, westward, and we must now be a good way on the Atlantic Ocean, with still a heavy sea and the vessel pitching more. The wind is, however, steady, but there has been a good deal of sickness to-day among the passengers.

Thursday, 28th, 5 o’clock p.m.—Since writing last night we have made very little progress. About midnight the wind fell clear off and left us literally in a dead calm. The sea to-day is like glass, but constantly coming in so large swells as to make our ship roll from side to side, making it rather uncomfortable walking the deck. By this hour, however, it is rather better and a slight breeze coming on. Just now I have been called on deck to see a French schooner pass close by our stern whose captain bespoke ours. She is bound for London, and will likely report ours all well and somewhere near the Bay of Biscay.

Friday, March 1st, 5 o’clock p.m.—Sailing to-day has been quite like a pleasure trip, a bright sun, gentle breeze and calm sea, the swell much fallen; course, almost due south, sun right ahead at 12 o’clock. Have been in company all day with other two large ships. We have gained a little on each. Passengers most on deck and more quietness below. Should this be the dreaded Bay of Biscay we have not "seen it to advantage," the sunny 1st March being too fine for it.

Monday, March 4th.—Just four weeks to-day since we came on board, out of which we have not had more than twelve days’ sailing, although the fourth part of our journey ought to have been over. In looking at the short sentence which I wrote on Friday last I find the old problem verified, that a person should not cry "Haloo! until fairly out of the wood." My calculations as to distance or progress made on the voyage is chiefly a guess or from others as ignorant as myself, because we steerage passengers have no dealings with the "Cuddy " folks and cannot be always asking questions. Well, it was quite true that Friday last was a beautiful day, and so was Saturday for sailing’s part. We got on well, but as the day advanced so did the breeze, and as the breeze brightened so did the sea, and towards evening the sailors gave token of more to come by taking in the "top royal" and making all fast. (About this time we bespoke another large ship bound for Demarara.) So, long ere the morning dawned and all Sabbath and all last night was what we called such a storm that we never saw the like before and hope we shall never see the like again. It seems that yesterday we were only in or close upon the Bay of Biscay. For twenty-four hours our big ship was tossed upon the billows like a piece of cork. She pitched and rolled and lurched at such a rate as made us poor inmates think we would never see the morn, and every movable article in and out of our cabins was tossed from side to side and we along with them, when we attempted to hold them together. What with the falling of the main hatch gunways and forms, etc., in one general melee. The water also came pouring down the hatches in bucketfuls, setting the whole in a swim, and to add to our comfort the bottom fell through three of our sleeping berths, landing the one half on the top of the other. But the carpenter soon put that to rights. He said he never saw such another mess between decks, but as to the weather he said it could not be better. We were running right before the wind in full sail and no danger. Our opinion of the weather, however, differed from his. What could we do but keep our minds in perfect peace, which we were enabled to do, knowing our Heavenly Father was at the helm. The whole family stood it out well by keeping bed, the writer only keeping watch and handing a drink of water. Food was little wanted. Between 4 and 5 o’clock this morning I lay down with my clothes on for a little, being fatigued enough. To-day, however (Monday), things are changed for the better for us. We are all again on deck occasionally to look on the sea in its majestic grandeur and the vessel mounting over the great billows right before the wind at a rapid rate. It is said if we hold on all right we will be at Madeira on Thursday and have fine weather. But when I now write it is difficult to keep my seat. I must also remark the conduct of some of the young men in the forecabin yesterday, setting up roars of laughter at every new downfall, whistling and singing, and one tried to play the fool. Such conduct only added to the misery that day. It is a Sabbath long to be remembered by us.

Tuesday, March 5th.—The sea is higher than yesterday, nearly as much so as Sabbath last, but no cross seas as then, but still running right before the wind in full sail at from 10 to 11 knots an hour, just as much as the ship could do through a sea the most mountainous I ever saw. Indeed we may say that we never saw the sea, neither sailing on, till these last three days; in the afternoon I ventured on deck and even up to the poop, holding on. There the scene was truly grand. The sea rises in a round conical shape like a great hill foaming at the top, over which you would think it impossible to pass, but which changes its position so quickly that we pass through amazingly. At times the ship when passing these mountain waves would lay over nearly perpendicular on deck for a minute or two. Then the water would rush right across the quarterdeck, giving someone not looking out an unexpected cold bath; but to those who could stand it, and knowing there was no danger, it was majestic. Our three oldest boys enjoyed it to the full, fearing nothing, and the younger children played below as much at home as on dry land.

Something rather novel occurred on deck this afternoon which produced some merriment. From the bow of the vessel great numbers of porpoises were seen leaping out of the face of the waves as the ship passed on, which excited some curiosity, but it was no joke to us landsmen to go forward to see them. However, some of the "Cuddy" gentlemen were induced to venture in the fo’c’sle to see what others were seeing, but no sooner did they reach the bow than the sailors made a cross with chalk on the front of their boot, at which they looked rather queer. But they were soon made to understand that they expected them to pay off their first footing on the forecastle, which the gentlemen readily did, giving about 1s. each. But as no class of men like to be taxed above their neighbours, they soon contrived to send up their companions, one by one, to see the great sights. But just as they came (timid enough some of them) they received the chalked foot, then down with their shilling, which caused a fine laugh. So the sailors got a good few bottles of porter to drink their health with. I understand that on Sabbath we split the main topsail and to-day two stenchal yards were broke and sail split. But it’s good we don’t know of these things until after. It seems the vessel has been averaging ten knots an hour these last three days and nights in the right direction, which will help to make up lost time. I must here do justice to Captain Beal. On the evening of Sabbath and again on Monday he came into the steerage to see how we were living after the storm, ordered two hands with water pails to clear off our water from the decks, and also gave a fire on Monday to dry up the place.

Wednesday, March 6th.—We have again got all things pretty comfortable, almost as dry as before. The sea is much fallen down and sailing is again very agreeable, but only about five knots an hour. The evening was beautiful and starry. Thursday, one of the finest of days, the sun bright and almost everyone on deck, enjoying themselves, and entirely forgetting the late rocking. The air is mild and balmy and the sea calm, but a gentle breeze and sailing beautifully. Expecting now every hour to come in sight of Madeira.

Friday, March 8th.—This has been another of the finest days you could have in Scotland, even in July. The heat was 88 deg. this morning at 9 in our berths. The Island of Madeira was the first object of excitement this morning. Seen only in the distance like a cloud, and sailing has been so slow that we are little more than past it yet. Five o’clock, and our distance from it supposed about eight or ten miles, so that our view of it has been very indistinct. A thick haze seems hanging over it until lately that the sun is off. We see it more distinct. It appears very high land, rising nearly perpendicular out of the sea, very rocky, and soars up in the middle like a great mountain top clad with the clouds—very bare, not a bush to be seen, some white specks to be seen, supposed to be houses, very high up, but we were on the west side of it, not the best to see the towns.


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