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 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
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.