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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E
Early Experience as an Engineer—
- London Docks, Herne Bay, Sweden, Start Point, Goole


THE resident’s office, where he obtained his first knowledge of civil engineering in a practical form, was situated in a narrow lane adjoining Ratcliffe Highway, :n the parish of Wapping, where the new apprentice found as junior members of the engineering staff, Messrs. George Parker Bidder, the celebrated calculating boy, father of the late eminent Parliamentary Counsel of the same name, Wickstead, afterwards a well-known waterworks engineer, Peter Barlow, and for a short time his brother William, subsequently engineer for the Tay Bridge, sons of the late Astronomer Royal, all of whom attained positions of eminence in the engftieerng profession, several reaching the Presidency. The home during this period was in Hermitage Street, Wapping, near Wapping Old Stairs ” and “ Execution Dock,” and he used to recount his remembrance of seeing a surging crowd on the foreshore of the river between high and low water mark, with the ghastly figures of two unfortunate sailors who had mutinied at sea, and so come under the category of “ pirates,” suspended in their midst. To this scene his father, George Abernethy, who held some honorary parish appointment, had been summoned on the coroner’s jury, and had, with great reluctance, finally decided to comply.

An entry in his diary, September 8th, 1831, briefly records an amusing ‘ncident, the scene being Charing Cross, and the occasion, King William the Fourth’s Coronation Procession. The entry reads:

“Went to see the Coronation, climbed up on the roof of a house, squall with a butcher. Returned home at eight o’clock.” The particulars of this squall were these,—Some buildings near the old Golden Cross Inn were being demolished in order to clear the space now occupied by a portion of Trafalgar Square, and noticing some lads climbing a piece of projecting brickwork at the end of a wall of one of the partly pulled down houses on to the adjoining slate roof, he followed their example, and succeeded iii perching among them. ' Suddenly through a trap door in the roof appeared a burly fellow in a butcher’s blouse with a stick n his hand, who summarily ordered all and sundry to quit, and as compliance with the order was somewhat slow, he climbed on to the roof, and selecting a negro as the most suitable individual for chastisement, pulled him down by the legs, and commenced striking him with the stick. But he had happened on the wrong man. Sambo assumed a scientific pugilistic attitude, and struck his assailant many awkward blows, whereupon the latter called out for help, and a general scrimmage ensued, which reached its climax when the entire struggling company disappeared through the floor, amid a cloud of dust into the room below. My father managed to escape unhurt, and watched from a safe distance the guardians of the peace marching off a selection of the party to limbo, Sambo included, who looked eminently pleased with himself. A few moments later the Royal Procession came along and vociferous cheers were raised for His Majesty as he passed.

Sights of a very different and debasing character offered at that time to the public at the Old Bailey, where executions took place :n front of the ‘ Debtors ’ Door’ of Newgate prison, and which induced grown-up citizens, who lacked better judgment to repair to such scenes of morbid excitement and take their youthful friends with them, did not fail to leave their ghastly impressions on his mind.


WITHIN the short space of twelve months, however, after entering upon the apprenticeship, the London Docks were finished, and George Abernethy and his son then undertook the construction of a pier at Herne Bay, a company having been formed in London to supply the necessary capital, but the duties there as far as the son was concerned were (on his own admission) light, and the scene of the few incidents which he could recall during a year of residence at the then small fishing hamlet, centre principally around Reculvers and the adjoining marshes, where with a single barrelled flint-lock gun, he used to spend a large portion of his time in shooting, repainng for refreshment to the small inn close by the ruins of St. Mary’s Church, kept by a landlady named Mary Brown, or “Molly Brown,” as she was known to her neighbours. He frequently in later life made reference to this woman, his recollection of her having been rendered the more indelible by what for some time seemed to him to be an unaccountable trait in the character of an innkeeper—namely, a distinct refusal to accept any money in payment for what he had ordered. After this eccentric behaviour had been displayed as he thought for a sufficiently long period, he enquired of her the reason for not accepting any money, and her reply was equally well remembered, “ You’re just the very image of my only son who was drowned at sea, and. it’s quite enough for me to look at your face.”

Molly had won popularity in the neighbourhood by her accomplishment as a smuggler, the secret of a successful career in this “nefarious practice,” up to that date, lying in the accurate timing of her transactions together with a coolness in seeing them through, and an equal capacity for correctly forestalling other people’s movements at any given time. One winter evening, at about eight o’clock, she tapped at the window of his lodgings at Herne Bay, and upon his opening the door she deposited in the passage a large untidy bundle, suspended on her back, calculated to pass as “washing,” but inside was a neat little keg of brandy which she begged lrm to receive as a Christmas present, and as soon as :it was accepted, she hoisted the remains of “ the washing ” over her shoulder and disappeared in the direction of the Reculvers, some four miles distant, as composedly as she had arrived. Frequently during the later period of his life he expressed an intention of “going over to the Reculvers some day” with the object of ascertaining whether she was still alive, but put off his visit till 1875, which proved to be too late, for a tombstone in Herne Churchyard records the fact of her interment beneath it in 1868.

An acquaintance at Herne Bay at this time following a different vocation in life was a Mr. Charles, proprietor of the solitary windmill, who had lived for a long time in town, and still retained his urbanity of manner, and who never lost an opportunity 'n conversation of referring to former aristocratic friends, of whom from the frequent mention of his name the Prince Regent was presumably facile ftrinceps. On Sundays he would walk to Herne Church dressed in a bright blue surtout with gilt buttons, a buff waistcoat, a shirt with conspicuous frills, knee breeches, black silk stockings, buckles on his shoes, and m his hand a gold-headed csne, which was at intervals tucked under his arm to admit of opening a very neat snuff box. In winter time a radical change of costume was effected, among which; the buckled shoes gave place to Wellington boots. He always occupied the same pew—a square, high one—and on a particular Sunday had removed the last named personal incumbrances during service. Towards the close of the sermon he proceeded to re-boot himself, and the tag attached to one of them suddenly failing under the severe test to which it was subjected, his head came into violent contact with his pew, an accident which made it desirable in the interest of all present to close the sermon as expeditiously as possible.

SWEDEN. 1553-34

IN 1833, while engaged in the building of the pier - at Herne Bay, he accepted the invitation of a friend, Mr. Elder, to come and assist in laying out roads to a manganese mine, which that gentleman had recently purchased at Spexeryd, a small village distant some sixteen miles from Jonkoping, in Sweden, and sailed on the 30th of June, in the Anna Bella, a Scotch schooner plying between London and Gothenburg, on a voyage to the latter port. This visit to Sweden was, n fact, almost exclusively on pleasure bent and constituted the longest holiday enjoyed during his long busy life, but as it was undertaken on the pretext of laying out roads, and in point of time, comes in the early part of his calling as an engineer, it is here treated in this connection, although entirely pro forma. From a letter, written shortly after arrival to his brother Robert, it is plain that his experience in crossing the North Sea in this craft was far from being an agreeable one. The sea was rough, the cabin accommodation small, and to say the very least of it, unclean. Its unpleasant condition, however, had been fully realized before reaching Gravesend, at which point the schooner anchored for a time, in order to despatch a shore boat to secure some provisions, and a fellow voyager, who shared the same cabin, utilised the opportunity of landing to the extent of procuring some chloride of lime, with which, upon his return, he mixed a certain modicum erf water, and freely washed out the cabin berths, greatly to the annoyance of the good captain, and sundry venerable blackbeetles, which had long been quartered there unmolested.

From the date of embarkation he kept a diary of his daily experience as “A stranger in a strange land,” and illustrated its pages with various Swedish scenes, several of which will be found reproduced in subsequent pages, and upon his return to England he presented the manuscript to an old lady friend, Mrs. Luxmore, who resided at Plymouth, and who, after a lapse of forty years, returned it through the late Mr. Alexander Lang Elder, of Campden House, Kensington, with the following request:—

“Headi.and, Plymouth,
June 25th, 1877.

“After my letter was written I was minded of my intention to send through you, if you will kindly take the trouble, to Mr. Abernethy, a journal of a visit to Sweden he made in 1833 and which he presented to me many years ago. Will j-ou say that in preparing for what is sure to happen, I thought it best that the manuscript should be in his own possession, and no doubt in reading it over again his early happy days will recur to him.

I will endeavour to give in the present chapter hom the journal now before me a description of the voyage to Sweden, and residence there, from the entries contained in :ts numerous pages, arranging them in a consecutive narrative.

From Gravesend downwards, the river was crowded with shipping, outward bound for various parts of the world, and all slowly and in company, made their way as far as the Nore, at which point they separated Irom one another, and (to use his own expression), “shot off like the rays of the sun in all directions.” “These,” he wrote, “are the rays of Britain’s star, which, by the agency of these oaken messengers, has spread the light of intelligence over the Earth.’’ . . . “What a restless creature man is: not content with flitting about like a ‘ Will of the Wisp ’ himself, he causes a sober stately oak, which has stood in the selfsame spot, fanned by the breezes of a hundred summers, to dash over the ocean, and ‘ Walk the waters like a thing of life.’ ”

On the morning of the fourth day of the voyage the Anna Bella hove in sight of the Naze of Norway, and approacl .ng the coast of Jutland at the Skaw, she thence stood over towards Sweden, reaching Marslrand late on the 25th, and at daybreak on the 26th dropped anchor off the Castle of Elfsborg, where she was duly searched, and her bill of health examined, before being permitted to proceed up the River Gotha to Gothenburg.

The wind having fallen to a calm and there being, consequently but little prospect of the schooner reaching her destination that day, he engaged a small rowing boat, and proceeded up the river, passing en route the Government Dockyards, in which lay a number of schooner-rigged gunboats, well adapted by their light draught for the difficult navigation of the Baltic. A little nearer the town were the merchant ships of various nations,among which the American flag seemed at that time to predominate.

Upon reaching the suburb of Klippa, he landed, and after reporting his arrival at the Custom House, proceeded on foot to Gothenburg by a fine broad road, planted on either side with trees, and frequented by the elite of the town in summer as a fashionable promenade. His steps as a traveller were naturally directed in search of an hotel, and, upon enquiry, he was directed to a large, shabby looking building of coarse red brickwork, over the doorway of which, on a small wooden tablet about one foot square, was painted "Tod’s Hotel.”

A Swedish girl opened the door, and conducted him into a clean and comfortable room, in which, upon the floor, in place of a carpet, were strewn small branches of spruce, a supply of which was kept in a box in the corner of the room. Instead of a fireplace there was a glazed earthenware stove, the bottom of which contained burning wood, the smoke ascending the hollow stove and thence passing into the chimney. When the wood has been reduced to glowing embers a flue at the top is closed, and the heat thus retained in the stove.

The fair conductor, however, was almost wholly unacquainted with the English language, and the guest being no better qualified for opening any conversation in her mother tongue, all attempts to represent the fact that he wanted breakfast and lodging for a few days seemed destined to be futile.

At this juncture, however, the guest apparently to some extent lost his temper, in so far that he was heard to mutter d-m-n. “Eh Englesman,” said the damsel, smiling, and disappearing for a few moments, returned, bringing with her the landlord, one George Tod, who, it subsequently transpired, had emigrated from Fifeshire, some twenty years before, and upon the advent of this personage, materials for a hearty breakfast were soon forthconrng. The meal being ended and a bedroom duly allotted to him, the newly arrived “Englesman” walked along the main street until he reached a high rock, upon which he climbed, and from its summit obtained a bird’s-eye view of the town, which enabled him to write the following description of Gothenburg :—

“Immediately beneath me was the main street, intersected by a wide canal, which is crossed at intervals by draw-bridges, and dotted with numerous boats. Several other streets are intersected by a canal, and some of them bordered with trees. The town has not a very imposing appearance, being built on a plain, and the only prominent edifices are its two churches on the outskirts. The streets are quite straight, and generally cross each other at right angles; they are wide and clean, but badly paved, and there are no causeways for foot passengers. The Gotha meanders in an easterly direction until it vanishes arnong the distant hills: westward lies the crowd of shipping: while on the north and south are high precipitous rocks, studded with trees and houses. The distant rocky hills are but scantily clothed with pines, among which, here and there, peep the country seats of the merchants. The town is built for the most part along the river, and is nearly surrounded by rocks.” A closer inspection of the town, subsequently, enabled him to give a more detailed description. “ The shops are scarcely to be distinguished from private houses, except for the fact of the former having a small wooden board over the door, on which is painted the name of the occupant, together with a sign illustrative of the craft pursued within. Thus, tailors exhibit a small pair of scissors. They are all independent fellows, and seem to regard their customers as the parties obliged by any transaction.

“The town is lighted by oil lamps, which are suspended from an iron chain stretched across the street, one end being made fast to the wall, and the other passed through a pulley, and thence downwards to a wooden box placed at a convenient height where it is secured by a pin.

“About half-way along the main street is a large square, in which are situated the handsome Town Hall and the Market Place. In this space were drawn up a regiment of horse artillery, a fine body of men, but their movements struck me as being slow compared with those of the English.

“The Swedish artillery is reported to be excellent, as they bestow great attention upon it; but I should suppose it is not quite as they rather confidently affirm, ‘the best in the world.’ ”

While residing a few days in Gothenburg he was a guest at a certain dinner party given by Mr. Caralin, an eminent chemist, who lived some two miles out of the town, at a house called, in English interpretation, ‘Jacob’s Hall,’ and in a letter of July 12th, 1833, addressed to his parents at Herne Bay, he gave this detailed account of the hospitality he received,— “Accompanied by my host, we walked up a broad gravel path which led to the mansion. A numerous company were assembled at the door, to all of whom we (i.e., Mr. Elder and himself) were introduced: first, to a little jolly-looking fellow, in a blue surtout, and Hessian boots, and wearing a gold watch-chain on which hung a cross, and a silver star on his breast. This was the bishop of the district. Among the rest was Baron Berzelius, the celebrated scientific chemist. Several of the gentlemen wore orders. Upon entering the house, we were ushered into the drawing-room, where we found the table laid out with schnaps, bread, butter, and cheese, and each of the company took a morsel, and a glass of liqueur. We then entered the dining-room, and while grace was being said each person stood behind his chair; after which, all bowed to the host, and then to the ladies, and these preliminaries over, seated themselves and prepared for action.

“The dinner, of about a dozen courses, was excellent. The meats were carved by the servants, and the guests handed the plates from one to another—a decided improvement on the old English system. I must confess I ate a great deal too much, for I had a complaisant Frenchman for a neighbour, who would have me eat of every dish that came round, but still I cut but a poor figure beside the rest of the company. Some of the dishes were nauseous to my palate —raw salmon, beef swimming in oil, etc. All the wine was consumed during dinner, towards the end of which a large bowl was introduced, into which some bottles of claret was poured, together with a quantity of sugar, and some bitter oranges. This was emptied to the health of all present. Mr. Caralin proposed the health of the Englishmen at the table—four ri number—in reply to which, at a signal from our host, all rose, bowed to each other, and, after a concluding grace had been said, dispersed. The gentlemen then conducted the ladies to the drawing-room, after doing which they went into the garden, or to the smoking-room, each being at liberty to do as best pleased him. Coffee, tea, ices, etc., were handed round by the servants to the scattered company. For my part, I walked to a small summerhouse which commanded an extensive view of the town of Gothenburg, and made a sketch of it. About 9 p.m., all again entered the house to sup,, after which the guests took leave. I regretted, exceedingly that 1 did not understand the Swedish language, as I lost all the conversation which was going on between Berzelius and others of the company.”

But festivities at Gothenburg were only of short duration, for on July 4th, the journey to Jonkoping, which was distant 112 English miles, had to be


undertaken in order to reach the manganese mine at Spexeryd, a small village some 15 miles beyond that town. Accordingly, having secured a “jagtvan,” a vehicle like a small waggon, and in size not much larger than those drawn by dogs through the London streets at that date, fitted with a cross seat suspended at either end by leather straps which somewhat lessened the jolting over the numerous loose stones, the journey was commenced about noon. Having proceeded about eight miles from the town, the travellers came to a narrow ravine, at the foot of which ran a stream ; on the bank adjoining some large cotton mills were at the time ;n course of construction. Following the road, which in its turn followed the line of the bank, the vehicle at length turned a sharp angle in the road and a large lake came into view, its bright waters contrasting prettily with the sombre pines which skirted the margin. Continuing the journey through a pine wood the road emerged close to another lake adorned with little islands. On the summit of the rock, which rose abruptly from this lake, was a chateau, with a red painted roof, steeply pitched to guard against the lodgment of snow in the winter, while several picturesque smaller buildings were discernible among the pines. A little later the first post-house was reached and a considerable time occupied in finding and catching the horses which were required to relieve the tired ones. At last the route was continued through an undulating country, the natural features of which were a series of lakes, pine forests, and rock, until the small town of Alingsas was reached, and quarters obtained for the night.

An early start was effected the following morning and they proceeded on their journey through country of a different nature. The grand scenery which accompanied the previous day’s travel was changed to wild barren moorland, with huge boulders of rock strewed over its surface, and broken only occasionally by the glimpse of a small cultivated patch, and a miserable wooden cabin appendant to ;t, illustrative of the extreme poverty of the peasantry in the district. At mid-day, the ‘‘jagtvan” entered an extensive forest of birch trees, through which they travelled for some hours, but upon approaching Jon-koping these were again replaced by a series of pine forests. The pines, which had grown very straight, and to a great height, were evidently very old. Some of them had their lowest boughs at least twenty feet from the ground. Not a single soul, nor a habitation were seen for hours, and a solemn silence reigned supreme until Jonkoping was reached towards midnight, but the halt there was of brief duration, and a fresh relay of horses being procured, the travellers pressed on towards the village of Spexcryd, a distance of fifteen miles, through a continuation ot the gloomy pine forests. When six miles distant from Spexeryd, the road became so rough that it was almost impossible to proceed in the darkness which had set in, and the driver, Schuss Bonde, declined to follow the path further until daylight. Thereupon, the travellers alighted and continued on foot by a narrow track, of which they eventually lost all trace, and found themselves in a bog, sinking over their knees. Having extricated themselves from this, they wisely determined to remain where they were till daylight; for a few hours they were subjected to a weird experience listening to the wind sighing through the dark funereal pines overhead, while a great horned owl was occasionally heard uttering his melancholy cry. At length daylight broke and they were enabled to regain the “jagtvan” and to reach the cottage at Spexeryd, where they were received with a hearty welcome from the two Englishmen already quartered there. One of these was Mr. Alexander, a mechanical engineer, who had erected an unworkable water-mill for Mr. Elder, and the other “ a young scapegoat, who had been invited over from England, to keep him out of mischief at home, but who managed to get into the same even in this out of the way spot, whenever any slight opportunity offered itself.”

The cottage at Spexeryd was situated on a terrace, near the brow of a hill. Immediately in front rose a rock to a height of about forty feet, beautifully draped with velvet moss, and graced wit-h several elegant specimens of the weeping birch, while above the rock serving as a background was the outskirt of a large pine wood. At the back of the cottage the ground fell abruptly, and the road by which it was approached, wound in a spiral manner to the foot of the hill, where it crossed over a brook by a rustic bridge. Cockspur and wild geranium were the two principal flowers of the hillside, and of forest trees, the spruce, Scotch fir, birch, aspen, and hazel were all to be seen mingling their foliage in charming variety.

The duties in superintending the making of roads were somewhat intermittent and not of an arduous nature, and a good deal of time during the day, as well as in the evenings, was passed in making experiments with manganese, with the aid of a chemical handbook, in a workshop adjoining the cottage. One successful result was a powder, which served as a pigment for sketching, and which the accompanying illustration of the little church close by, and others which will be found on subsequent pages, proves to have been of a permanent quality, for they have faded little, if at all, during the sixty-three, years since the preparation was used.

The manganese mine in the vicinity of Spexeryd,

which had already been worked to a depth of 100 feet at the time of making a roadway to join the high road to Jonkoping, yielded a considerable amount of ore, and frequent journeys on horseback had to be made to that town, where there was a wharf for its shipment, via Lake Wenner and the Gotha Canal, to Gothenburg, For these trips he engaged the services of a black horse, named “Beelzebub,” in consequence of his behaviour to his former master, who, after many uncomfortable experiences on his back, had finally been thrown, with the result that the horse had been pronounced a vicious beast, and as such sentenced to be shot. Beelzebub, however, obtained a reprieve upon the offer of a small Norwegian pony, Leila, in exchange. The pony was accepted, and Beelzebub handed over with the parting words, “go and break your necks together then.” By a course of kind treatment, however, and ministration of small rye cakes on occasions of marked improvement in behaviour, Beelzebub soon became quiet and gentle, neighed upon his new master entering the stable, and carried him safely for the remainder of his stay at Spexeryd.

The road by which he used to travel to Jonkoping entered that town through a large gateway, over which, inscribed on the frieze, were the words “Carl Johan rex.” The town then consisted of one long street, which was badly paved, the houses on either side being built of wood, and painted red. Near the centre stood the wooden theatre and court house, while the last named and the church were the only two stone buildings in the town. Being the judicial centre of the province of Smaland, a large proportion of the population of four thousand were lawyers, who wore a uniform of their own.

Frequently it was necessary to stay at Jonkoping for the night, and he has given an account of a stay on one occasion at a “Wardhus” (hotel), where “in the evening several Swedish gentlemen joined the party and remained til) midnight. Instead of singing songs, as is the custom in England, the Swedes, on these occasions, relate anecdotes, and he is regarded as the most agreeable fellow, who possesses the greatest stock. Each displayed great eagerness to deliver his story, and the moment one of them paused in his narrative another rilled up the interval with a few words of his own, so that by the time the first speaker had finished, the other had made considerable progress with what he wanted to say. On the following day there was a fair, and the market place was crowded with bonders, or peasants, dressed in very varied, but becoming costumes. Among them were many Dalcartians, whom he thus describes: “The men are dressed in white flannel coats, knee breeches, broad brimmed hats, and a leather belt round their middle, while

the women wear short dresses, red stockings, and high heeled shoes. The Dalcartians seem to be a distinct race, with dark eyes and hair, and to bear about the same relationship to the Swedish peasantry, as our Scotch Highlanders do to the Lowlanders, They are noted for their tenacity in upholding old customs, and the aversion they show to all that is foreign. These people wander southwards in the summer as far as Germany, and engage themselves in making and selling clocks, as well as rings, crosses, and various trinkets of plaited horse hair.”

There were also several “Tartars” or gipsies, who appeared to resemble their brethren in England in their appearance and habits.

The bonders for the most part wear coarse blue cloth round hats and silk handkerchiefs round their necks, while the women dress in scarlet jackets, short blue petticoats reaching to the knees, a white handkerchief wrapped loosely round their heads, and the feet are devoid of boots.

Rides from Spexeryd to Jonkoping during the winter months were apparently at times attended by some elements of danger as the following unpleasant experience will show:—Late one evening he noticed some important papers lying on the sitting-room table, accidently left behind by Mr. Elder, who had ridden to Jonkoping in the afternoon, with the intention of remaining there ior the night. Knowing that the particular business could not be transacted until the papers were to hand, he saddled Beelzebub with all despatch and started off for the town. The route from Spexeryd to the high road was by a bridle path through a pine forest, and while making his way along the track, the horse suddenly snorted and set off at full gallop, and all efforts to pull him up were unavailing. In order to avoid being unseated by coming into contact with the fir boughs which overhung the path, the rider had to stoop, and hold on to the animal’s neck, and in this manner he was borne through the pine forest, and for a considerable way down the high road until he came near to a posting house, where Beelzebub slackened his pace. The rider dismounted, and once more the animal’s life was in the balance in consequence of his unmanageable conduct. The posting-house keeper, however, explained that the master, instead of abusing the animal, should on the contrary, feel much indebted to his ileetness, as some wolves had been seen that day in the neighbourhood, and most probably it was they which had scared and followed in pursuit of Beelzebub. After this adventure, the horse and his owner became sworn friends.

Many pleasant days were spent in hunting and shooting in the neighbourhood, and a few anecdotes

connected with both, may be of interest to the reader. Hearing, upon one occasion, of some wolves having attacked and destroyed a couple of cows on the previous evening, which were depastured at a short distance from where he was living—he procured a portion of one of the carcases, and in the company of a Swede, carried it next morning to a spot ir the forest supposed to be frequented by wolves. Here he set to work to build a hut of pine branches, and made preparations for watching during the coming night. All being in readiness he went home, and at about nine o’clock, returned to the appointed station, armed with a gun and axe, the Swede bringing the same selection of weapons. He confesses to have experienced a sensation of 'creepiness' while stationed in the gloominess of the pine forest, watching for the expected vr’sitors. There was very little undergrowth around, save here and there a juniper bush, but the ground was covered with moss, and its even surface broken at intervals with numerous large ant hills. The night, however, was very dark, and the bait placed on the trunk of a tree, some twenty yards distant, was barely visible. The hours passed slowly by, and a deep silence reigned around the hut, broken only by an occasional doleful mope of an honied owl, as he flitted overhead. Neither of the hunters spoke, but crouched, with their eyes fixed towards the bait. Near midnight, faint sounds as of an animal panting were detected, and a few seconds later, a figure, the outline of which resembled a wolf, was espied some thirty yards distant, standing quite motionless beside the b;ut. The Swede took a long aim and discharged his gun, and a loud cry followed the report. Both darted through the smoke with their axes to give the coup do grace, but there was no trace of the animal. A few days after, a farmer complained to him that his large sheep-dog had been peppered with shot in the hind quarters by some unknown person, which caused the sportsmen to shrewdly suspect that it was the farmer’s dog they had fired at.

The appearance of wolves in the neighbourhood had, however, caused sufficient excitement among the peasantry to induce them to hold a “skall” at the end of the week, and in the diary of the 12th July an account is given of the organised wolf hunt. Yesterday, what is called a ‘skall’ took place for destroying the wolves, at which about two hundred persons were present. The custom here is, that a person whose cattle have been injured or killed by wolves, after having given due notice of the fact to the jagtmastre (hunting master) of the district, can call upon all males in the parish over twenty years of age to attend the meet, each armed with a gun or bludgeon. On this occasion the company formed themselves into a circle of about half a mile in diameter, each at a short distance apart. At a given signal from the huntsman, all moved forward in silence, gradually contracting the circle, until it was only some three hundred yards in diameter. Two wolves had been surrounded, but though several shots were fired they broke through the ring. One of them, however, was severely wounded, and could not run very fast. The ‘skall ’ forthwith broke up, every one starting off in pursuit of the wounded animal, which was soon run down and killed. It was an old male, but being summer time he was of a dirty brown colour.”

One more experience with “vargs is recorded :—

“While walking home I caught sight of a wolf sitting on its haunches in a cleared piece of the wood at a little distance off, intently watching some cattle feeding. They seemed to be fully a ive to their danger, for they were standing in line with their heads lowered, when suddenly one of the oxen separated from the rest and made a determined dash at the wolf, who seemed rather intimidated, and inclined to move off. At this moment I discharged the contents of my piece after him, though doubtless it had no other effect than that of accelerating his pace.”

Caperca:llie (tyedars) were to be found, though not plentifully, in the pine forests in the vicinity of Spexeryd, and the various methods of stalking these fine birds practised by the Swedes are described. Sometimes they would take a small dog with them to detract the birds’ attention while they were approached, and at others place a decoy bird made of cloth on a tree and imitate the chuckling note of the tyedar, resembling ‘pelr, peur,’ which attracts the hen birds particularly. A third method is to enter the woods at night with a torch, again imitating the birds’ call, the torch being employed to interest the bird, and divert attention from the gunner in the same way as the small dog in the day time, but in each method the end for which these means are devised, is the same, viz., to ‘pot’ the bird sitting;”

Towards the autumn of 1833 he accepted an invitation to stay at the house of a Swedish nobleman named Captain Quickfeldt, who lived in a chateau called Werisjoo, some eight miles from Jonkoping, and upon the termination of his visit, he wrote a detailed account of the domestic life there. “The wooden house has a lofty, red-tiled roof, with numerous out-buildings of a like description, which are used as rooms for the servants, and perhaps some guests if there is a large party, which is often the case in winter. A cracked bell on a pole, and a walled garden; complete the establishment. There is no lawn or gravel paths as in England. These noblemen keep a good stable of horses, and many servants who cost but little, and are necessary, for the nobles farm their own estates, buy and sell cattle, and even distil whisky to sell. The interior of the house consists of a number of large carpetless rooms, barely furnished, and the little furniture there is of the plainest material. One portion is sacred to the ladies, and the gentlemen seldom enter there. Their apartments are often carpeted and handsomely furnished; indeed it would not do to carpet the apartments of the men, as they are all great smokers, and spit about in every direction.”

We generally rose at seven o’clock and partook of coffee, after which we read or amused ourselves somehow till ten, when we breakfasted on beef steak, potatoes, etc., drinking with them porter or wine. We then rode or walked till two, and returned and dressed for dinner, at which meal the ladies made their appearance for the first time. The dinner consisted usually of a great variety of dishes, but the Swedish cooking is not at all agreeable to an English palate, the meat swimming in grease, and the vegetables, such as cabbage and lettuce, being served up with sugar. The Swedes are great eaters, and take little exercise, and keep a high temperature in their rooms by means of their earthenware stoves. Consequently they have .sallow complexions, and seldom attain a great age.

“After dinner we enjoyed the society of the ladies playing chess, cards, etc., with music on the harp and piano; several of the gentlemen played well on the flute. The music is slow and pathetic, some of it exceedingly fine. At ten o’clock we had supper, and then retired to bed. Occasionally in the winter, especially on Sundays, the evenings were enlivened by a ball, which was always a gay sight, owing to the variety of military and other un’fcrms worn. In the square dances, the ladies and gentlemen keep at opposite ends of the room. The favourite dance is a sort of quadrille, which they term ‘a la Franfaise,’ but it is a sorry imitation, and they finish every figure by jumping as high as they can. The waltzing is still worse: they take very long steps and spin round the room like two cockroaches on one pin.

“Most of the nobles keep a ‘carrosse,’ a heavy lumbering vehicle, 'ike the old-fashioned London hackney coach. Their sledges, for winter travelling, are very handsome. Bells are attached to various parts of the harness, for as they drive very fast, and in narrow roads, accidents would often occur were it not for this precaution.”

Another and somewhat more facetious description is given of the quiet life typiuai of the Swedish nobility.

“His chateau is placed on the most exposed part of his estate, so that he can have his cornfield before him ; such a scene being in his estimation far beyond either the picturesque or romantic. He rises about seven, and having dressed, lights his pipe, and smokes with great solemnity till about nine, when he breakfasts. He then again lights his pipe and stalks forth into the open air, where he may be seen puffing out volumes of smoke and gazing intently on the above-mentioned field of corn, his mind occupied in an abstruse calculation as to how much meal the said field will produce when ground, and the number of loaves he will be enabled to make from it. In this manner he amuses himself till the cracked bell of his wooden chateau tolls for dinner, at which he gorges himself and takes a siesta.”

Of the boors or peasantry this additional description, culled from the pages of his diary, may be given : —

“The men are dressed in jackets, knee-breeches and Hessian boots, and broad-brimmed hats: on Sundays and holidays they are all dressed precisely alike, and they then substitute a surtout for the jacket, and each carries a silver-mounted staff in his hand. They wear their hair long and hanging over their shoulders, possibly to keep the snow in winter from going down their necks .... They have generally a good house, and are independent fellows, and when sober, quiec and obliging, paying great deference to their superiors, but quite vice versd when drunk, which :s too often the case, and is not to be wondered at considering they possess a small still, and are at liberty to distil what quantity of whiskey they please—they are not, however, allowed to sell any, ... Their life is very laborious for so barren is the lard that, if he (i.e. a bonder) possesses an estate of one or two hundred acres, he can do no more than procure a subsistence, for the greater part of the country is pine forest, and the proportion of permanently cleared land, small . . . while in the valleys are bogs, which grow a long coarse grass, affording food for the cattle.”

Occasionally, what are termed temporary clearings, are made in the pine forests in Sweden. A certain batch of trees are felled early in the spring and allowed to lie till autumn to dry. Afterwards they are burnt and the charcoal spread for manure. The cleared ground is then sown with rye, after which, it is perhaps, left untouched for years. One day upon returning from a long ride in the woods, he came upon one of these open spaces, in the middle of which were three upright poles, and upon them were suspended the ghastly remains of a young man who had recently been executed there, the head and right hand had been severed and placed on the outside posts, while the body hung on the centre one. *

Towards the end of the year 1835, the sojourn in Sweden came to an end and he was recalled to England, to again assist his father in the construction of the Start Point Lighthouse, in Devonshire, under Mr. James Walker, of London. His diary bears record that he quitted Spexeryd with much regret, for towards the end there was the following pathetic entry:—“I shall always look back to the time when I dwelt in the secluded Scandinavian pine forest with regret, as I think I shall have few such happy periods of life between me and the grave.’’

This suggests the lines of Lord Byron :—

“My pensive memory lingers on
Those scenes to be enjoy’d no more,
Those scenes regretted ever:
The measure of our youth is full,
Life’s evening dream is dark and dull,
And we may meet, ah
I never.”


JAMES ABERNETHY had completed his twenty-first year when he received the letter from his father asking him to return to England and assist in building the Lighthouse at the Start Point. Very soon after arriving at that lonely headland in Devonshire which was to be the scene of operations during the ensuing twelve months, he was despatched to the small island of Herm, situated some two miles from the Port of St. Pierre, in Guernsey, to superintend the quarrying and dressing of the granite, of which material the Lighthouse was to be built. In a letter to his friend, Mr. Luxmore, he refers to his insular position in these terms:—This little sea-g;rt isle is about four miles in circumference, and the ’’nhabitants, some three hundred in number, are all connected with the quarries. I am literally the Deputy Governor, for all here are under my control, and no man can leave the island without an order from my superior or myself.” The house in which he stayed belonged to a Colonel Lindsey, but apparently he resided there at that time alone, for he continues:—“I have no society, and not even a friend to talk to, and a sense of loneliness comes over me at times, and I feel so dejected that I could almost throw myself into the sea. It is plain I am not intended by nature for a Robinson Crusoe.”

The short period of residence at the Start, to which he returned when the work of building the lighthouse was in progress, was equally monotonous and uncongenial to his taste. An active, energetic man by nature he felt he had a poor sphere in which to display his energy and ability. “I have longed for a letter,” he wrote to a friend when the lighthouse was but half built, “communicating the agreeable intelligence that you had procured for me another situation, but I know this is no easy matter in these times. I should feel ever grateful to anyone who would put me in the way of escaping from this miserable place. You no doubt think me very Impatient to repi le in this manner, but really I cannot help it, living the listless life which I do, and surrounded by perhaps the most uneducated people in England.”

The way of escape was shortly afterwards opened, by his father recommending him to Mr. George Leather, of Leeds, for the position of resident Engineer, under that gentleman, in the construction of the Docks at Goole, with the somewhat characteristic rider as to his qualification, “I would not recommend him although he is my own son it I did not think him capable of taking the situation,” but before concluding the allusion to his residence at the Start, two episodes connected with the smuggling then practised are worth mentioning.

One morning the coastguard officer, stationed there, and whom he knew well, called at the farm-house where he lodged in a great state of excitement, and stated that he had found the man on duty near the lighthouse gagged and bound, early that morning, and minus his pistol and cutlass. The statement of the last named, when his gag was removed, was to the effect that he had been suddenly pounced upon during the night by several men, who had quickly reduced him to the condition in which he had been discovered, and he felt sure some of them were men employed in building the lighthouse, as he perceived, during the struggle, that they smelt of mortar. Subsequent investigation, however, never led to any more specific identification than that, but the suspicion ever remained in the officer’s mind that the navvies had done it, as this second incident will prove.

Through the headland ran a natural tunnel, along which my father was in the habit of swimming, and on one occasion in doing so, struck his knees against a hard object beneath the surface of the water, and, on feeling with his hand, discovered that he had come in contact with one of a number of kegs. After he had concluded his swim and dressed, he saw a man watching bim from the rocks above, and on passing him, the latter said, with a smile, I know you are a gentleman and will not say anything.” About what,” he enquired, “Oh,” observed the man, “you did not swim through the tunnel as usual.” No,” he replied, “I found obstacles in the way, but it’s all right, you may trust me.”

On the following night a small packet was left at the farm house, containing a bottle of very fine brandy, and on the next occasion of the officer paying a visit there a glass of it, in the form of hot grog, was offered to him.

“Hulloa!” he exclaimed, “where did you get this stuff from? one of your ‘mortary friends I should think,” and ended with a hearty laugh.


THE removal to Goole in 1836, to act as assistant engineer under Mr. George Leather, marks the commencement of his experience in the special branch of civil engineering, viz : The construction of harbours and docks, In which he was subsequently to hold the highest posiiion in the profession, and be termed the father of marine engineering. Some of the more important of his works will be alluded to in the pages which follow, but it would be tedious reading were an attempt made to give the engineering details of each of them respectively. The fact that they all remain in a satisfactory condition after, in the majority of cases, many years of trial by wind and wave, speaks sufficiently, perhaps, for the skilfulness of their design, their practicability of execution, and efficiency when completed. Towards their ultimate efficiency and success all who co-operated contributed, but during progress and until completion he, as engineer, was individually looked to as the responsible comptroller, and it would be true to say that in his own conscience he continued to hold himself responsible for their lasting stability throughout his professional career, a retrospect of which, when nearing its close, afforded him the happy consolation that it was unmarred by any failure.

As yet, however, we must regard him as a young assistant engineer, under Mr. George Leather, at Goole, engaged in the construction of the docks at that town, the contractor for the work being Mr. Hugh McIntosh, of Bloomsbury Square, a successful and practical man of business, although at that time totally blind. In spite of this infirmity he was always enabled by putting a series of apt questions to understand the exact condition and progress of the work. Several small accidents, however, occurred to retard operations from time to time, but strangely enough the last of the series, in which the young engineer nearly lost his life, had the effect of accelerating matters by informally opening the lock. This was brought about by the sudden failure of the cofferdam when the lock was all but finished. The timbering had shown some signs of giving way, and while standing one morning on the bottom of the lock inside the cofferdam directing a gang of navvies how to shore up the timbering, it suddenly cracked, and the dam gave way from end to end, filling the lock, and nearly drowning all who were in it.

Upon the completion of the docks at Goole in the following year, he obtained a similar situation on the Aire and Calder Canal Works, between Wakefield and Methley, and a few months later the North Midland Railway enlisted his services to assist In the construction of their line of railway between Wakefield and Leeds. While engaged by this Company he took a house at Normanton, and in the same year, 1838, married Ann, the eldest daughter of John Neill, Esq., of Wakefield and Leeds, who lived to prove herself one of the most devoted of wives and one of the best of mothers through a period of fifty-eight years.

The residence at Normanton was an old manor house, on the walls of which hung portraits of numerous former tenants. Several quaint old houses of a similar description were to be found at the village of Alltofts, one of which had formerly been the home of Admiral Frobisher. The admiral's portrait and sword were still to be seen, but the sons of the widow, a Mrs. Denison, who lived in the house, had defaced the former, and converted the blade of the latter into a weapon bearing some resemblance to a cross bow. After some eighteen months service in the employ of the North Midland Railway Company, he applied for the post of Resident Engineer to the Aberdeen Harbour Trustees, and having the good fortune to be the successful candidate, returned in 1840 to his native city, where shortly afterwards he undertook the first of his more important works as a dock engineer.




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