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Poenamo
Book the First - Chapter V.
"Ho! for the Great South Land"


I sailed from Greenock in July, 1839, in the good ship Palmyra, Brown master, bound for Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, a new vessel starting on its first voyage.

Next to the Captain I was the most important person on board - I was the doctor, not the officer of that name who rules over the "ship's galley," and who really is of more importance on board a vessel than the veritable captain.

I was the medical officer in charge of the ship.

It had been duly advertised in the newspapers - "carries an experienced surgeon," "and a  cow."

If we were not actually coupled in same sentence, we were in such close proximity that intending passengers by the vessel looked somehow on the one animal as of as much importance to them as the other.

It is quite possible that the quadruped was in some eyes the more important.

To me, however, being coupled with the cow was not to be lightly thrown away. Indeed, I submitted to the conjunction for a valuable consideration in the shape of a saving of seventy guineas for my passage, and the additional comfort of a cabin to myself. It was a very small one truly, but still what a comfort!

The ship, only some 500 tons, was crowded: nearly fifty in the cabin, as many in the intermediate, and as many in the steerage, and the crew in addition.

I soon had my hands full; we had six days of our first start down Channel as rough as well might be, tacking, with double-reef topsails, with the wind dead ahead.

It was "'Where's the doctor?" every five minutes, and the poor doctor, just as sick as those who sent for him, was groaning with sea-sickness; but I had to jump up and go and write useless prescriptions for that vile ailment, and make them up myself as best I could.

I don't doubt I was set down as the very stupidest of doctors, and probably most of my patients thought the "cow" was worth half-a-dozen of me. I had so little time to think of my own sea-sickness, that I am sure I got over it all the sooner. But I had three days' very handsome benefit of that hideous infliction. Imagine having to get up with a splitting headache and go to the steamy steerage with all ports shut: I had to rush up again and gasp at the vessel's side, and then down again to another patient who had tried to seize me as I had rushed away from the last. But after three days I had fought the battle out with the enemy, vanquished him, and cast him out for evermore. Since those days I have made voyages in every conceivable kind of vessel, down to as small a one as would have gone inside the Palmyra's saloon, but I have never been sea-sick again. I have been sorely tried in small screws from Havre to the Thames when I have been the only one who kept captain and sailors company in defying the enemy. But I have done it!

On the sixth night we had been out it was blowing and raining hard, a dead foul wind, and we were pitching into a heavy sea, when about midnight, just as I was struggling along the dark, slippery deck to my cabin from visiting a steerage passenger, I heard the boatswain sing out, "My God! there's a ship bearing right down upon us that will cut us in two. Hard down there!" he yelled. I looked into the darkness and saw a great dark mass full sail close to us. On it came as if going right over us. It was rather too close a shave. The ship struck us, not in the hull but the cutwater, carrying away the figure-head, breaking off our bowsprit as if it had been a carrot, and slowly ground past our bows with a sound through the gale as if merely breaking some matches. At that moment we did not know whether we had been struck in the hull or not, and the next veil that came from the boatswain was, "Carpenter, sound the pumps." It was a few moments of intense anxiety, but "No water in the pumps," in the carpenter's voice, made us all breathe more freely. Then the next moment there rang through the ship from a dozen voices, "Stand clear to leeward—the foremast is going by the board," and the next moment down came the stupendous mass, smashing the bulwarks to the deck just before the main rigging, carrying away main top mast also. Fortunately we had all stood clear, and not a soul was hurt, so the surgeon's experience was not needed. I sat up to see all the wreck cut away and let go, for the great masts and yards were battering against the ship's side as if to stave it in. Everything had to be abandoned as quickly as it could be cut clear of the ship.

When all was clone the poor captain sat disconsolate, I beside him, but unable to console him. The sad plight his beautiful ship was now in forced tears down his weather-beaten cheeks. The beautiful new ship which he had taken such pride in having put in such splendid order was a complete wreck, unable to proceed on its voyage, he was obliged to return to port to refit and face his owners, bringing them back a shipload of people to feed. A dreary night truly it was for the poor captain.

Morning brought a calm. A lovely sunrise shone upon a ua smooth as a mirror, in which was reflected the poor crippled barque. A small brig in sight answered our signals of distress, and a breeze springing up we were taken in tow until we could rig up a jury foremast and bowsprit, and get up some head-sail to make her steer. Three days fair wind brought us back to Greenock, not to the satisfaction of the owners, but they faced the situation energetically, for within twelve hours of our arrival our new "figurehead" was blocked out. The beautiful lady in flowing robes, which could be intended for no other than Zenobia herself, and which we had admired so much, was again to grace the bows of the ship. Fortunately for us there was a vessel on the stocks nearly completed, and the mainmast intended for it just came in to replace our foremast, and everything else in the same way which was ready for that vessel was handed over to us. In a word, we were refitted and off to sea again on the tenth day! During this time I suppose the passengers must have been praising the doctor—as well as the cow—to the owners, for on shaking hands with one of them on our second parting I found he had gilded my palm with ten bright sovereigns! I don't recollect it as a positive fact, but I should not mind betting heavy odds that I went to sleep in my bunk that night with quite a compassionate feeling of superiority—over the cow!

Considering the heavy losses the owners had sustained, I could only look upon this present as a very marked appreciation on their part of my services on board. Well, I had endeavoured to do my duty, and a good deal more too, for in this world, if a man only does his bare duty, no doubt he will get on without much being said against him, but he will not get much said for him. It is the willingness to do more than is absolutely required from us that bespeaks sympathy from others and helps us along. I had tried to do all I could in my capacity of doctor, and being a youth of considerable method, I had, immediately on setting sail, promulgated a wonderful code of regulations regarding the due cleaning and scrubbing of the 'tween-decks, manner of drawing and cooking their provisions, &c., the result being that before the night of our disaster everything was going on like clockwork. When the owners came on board I suppose they saw my "code" hanging up, and appreciated the system I had inaugurated. The emigrants soon saw how it conduced to their own comfort, and were willing supporters of the rules. The thing has all been now systematised, and even done "according to law," but in 1839 the "experienced surgeon" was left to his own resources, and much of the comfort of the passengers during the voyage depended upon whether he was a good administrator or not.

We had a most beautiful passage, not a gale of wind the whole way, and I was very fortunate in not having any sickness on board amongst my passengers. But all my skill, even aided and abetted by the valuable services of the inestimable cow, could not save two tiny children from pining away and being consigned to their last home in the ocean's depths. They were replaced, however, by two births, so when we arrived at the end of our voyage I landed my full complement of immigrants. We had long detentions at our first port of call. In those long-bygone days the facilities for discharging ships were conspicuous by their absence at such young settlements, and our pushing captain had to land the greater part of his cargo by means of the ship's longboat.

It was towards the end of the year before the Palmyra was an empty ship at the Sydney wharf and the "experienced surgeon" and the cow had respectively performed their duties, and had to bid farewell to their ocean home. The "cow" once more figured off in the newspapers, which was more than did the "experienced surgeon." I was utterly eclipsed and completely thrown into the shade by the advertisement of "A fine pure-bred Ayrshire cow" for sale on board the Palmyra.

The levee that cow held for several days was something to remember—and be proud of—for the cow. Streams of people came on board, but it ever was "the cow—the cow" they asked for. Not one mother's son of them asked for the "surgeon." The cow had it all her own way. If the "experienced surgeon" had been appreciated at home by the owners to the extent of a gift of ten sovereigns at the beginning of the voyage, the cow was worth half-a-dozen times that sum to them at the end of it, Which was more than could be said of the sturgeon.

Alas! I plead guilty to, and crave mercy for, having been so small-minded as to have been quite jealous of the innocent cow. But there was no gainsaying the fact that in those days, whenever there was a case of "pure-bred cows" versus "experienced surgeons," the latter went to the wall. Any amount of demand for the former; the latter were a drug in the market.

And so the cow one fine morning was marched away in triumph by the happy purchaser!

And the time had come, too, that I must march away—not in triumph!

I had no friends in Sydney, had only one letter of introduction to the business firm, who treated me after a purely business fashion.

I was no worse, I rather think better off, than the youth who had been boasting of what his letter of introduction to the governor would do for him; for that exalted personage, holding up the letter between himself and the window, peered keenly through the missive and asked, "Do they lithograph these things now?" I was spared that remark, at all events.

The kind captain allowed me to remain on board as long as I was in Sydney. The last day but one in the year of 1839 I shook hands with him and started in the mail-cart for Bathurst over the Blue Mountains.

I was off to connections away beyond the Bathurst Plains, away to the Lachlan River, to initiate myself into the mysteries of "runs," "ewes," ''wethers," and "stock" in general, to feel my way towards my new path in life, and determine my future career.


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