College of the sea
Early Memories of Sir William Reardon Smith.

The whole life of our island, and the world- wide Empire of which it is the pivot,would inevitably droop were the sea, with all it suggests of romance and adventure and power, to lose its attraction. Fortunately, no such fear need be entertained. The names of distant ports are still music to most of us; and, apart from every economic motive, the appeal of the sea to the roving and adventurous and
curious spirit locked in the breast of almost every man of the British nation is as irresistible now as it has always been. Nor is it to be so fully and easily satisfied as in the everyday life and toil of the average tramp or cargo-bearing ship, and in such true narratives as are here included, the early experiences of a typical seaman and tramp ship owner in his first two commands and the sailing ship experience of a modern apprentice we record what is representative of the vast mass of experience
accumulated in the great school of British seamanship.
A native of the village of Appledore, near Bideford, in Devon, Sir William Reardon Smith, Bt., upon whose earlier experiences we have been able to draw, was of typical West Country ancestry. Both his father and grandfather had been lost at sea, his mother being left a widow with eight children. It was when he himself was only twelve years old that he spent one of his school holidays on board the smack Unity of 52 tons. His first voyage in the little vessel, plying between Appledore and Newport,
determined his future calling. After many other experiences in vessels of all sorts, the young sailor, afterwards destined to be himself a tramp ship owner, obtained his first command in the s.s. Baron Douglas of 2,800 tons gross register, with a speed of from 9 to 10 knots.
As both this voyage and the next may be taken as typical of the sort of work carried on day by day in a modern British tramp steamer, the account of these voyages may perhaps best be given in Sir William Reardon Smith's own words:
The voyage commenced at Amsterdam, loading general cargo for the Dutch African Railway, and the cargo consisted of tenders, bridges that is to say, buttresses of the bridges, all dovetailed and keeled ready for erection together with the iron-work for the bridges. We had in addition about a thousand tons of rails, and railway stations consisting of very light brick covered with wood on each side. We also carried telegraph poles and wires and all the different apparatus pertaining to a light railway.
" In addition to the above, we had a considerable cargo for Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay, whence we proceeded via Durban to Delagoa Bay, where we completed discharge of the Dutch cargo. In Delagoa Bay we were ordered to proceed to Calcutta, calling at Point de Galets for orders. We arrived at Point de Galets, bunkered, and proceeded to Calcutta, where we loaded jute for Dundee, with the prospect of a five months'voyage before us. Arriving at Dundee, we proceeded to the Tyne for dry docking and loading. We loaded there for Tuticorin, Southern India (in the Gulf of Manar), and after
discharging at this port we proceeded to Akyab to load rice for Amsterdam. After discharging the rice, we proceeded to Liverpool, where we loaded salt and dynamite for Calcutta. After discharging this cargo at Calcutta, we loaded a cargo of seeds at Calcutta for Antwerp. The passage from Calcutta to Antwerp, in the south-west monsoons, involved a rather rough passage between Ceylon and Cape Guardafui, and owing to the steamer having wooden decks, the heavy seas breaking against the front
of the bridge, poop and hatchways, caused some leaks, and we found the ship was listing, through water getting into the hold and down the lee side." After getting out of the monsoon and passing Guardafui, in the Gulf of Aden, the weather became fine, and the hatchways were opened. We found considerable water in the 'tween deck, and the cargo was taken on deck. The scuppers in the 'tween deck had become congealed owing to the water passing through the linseed and other seed, and this had stopped the water from going into the bilges. After placing the cargo on deck, we put shifting boards in the hatchway, and put this cargo down on the other side. On arrival at Perim, we had all our deck steam pipes repaired. These had all been more or less carried away by the seas. From Perim to Cape Finisterre the weather was uneventful, but at Finisterre we fell in with a nasty, dirty, westerly wind ; on arrival at Antwerp we found that, at about the time we were passing Finisterre, the Serpent had gone down with the loss of all hands but one.
From Antwerp we then proceeded direct to New Orleans, from New Orleans to Havre, from Havre to Glasgow, from Glasgow to Rangoon, from Rangoon to Bremerhaven, from Bremerhaven to the Tyne, and from the Tyne to London, where I left the Baron Douglas, loading for Java, to take command of the Baron Elibank.

"This was towards the end of 1892, and we loaded tin at Swansea for Batum, calling
at Constantinople en route. At Batum we loaded case-oil for Java, and it is interesting to note that the freight at this time was eightpence per case of four English gallons! Although carried 11,000 miles, this freight was less than what was paid for carriage by rail between Bideford and Appledore, a distance of three miles. We called at Constantinople, Port Said, and Point de Galle en route, and arrived at Tjilatjap, on the south side of Java. After discharging at Tjilatjap, we took in a portion of copra as
homeward cargo, and proceeded via Sunda Strait and Thousand Islands to Batavia for orders, thence to Cheribon, Tegal, Pekalongan, and Samarang, on the north side of Java.

" After taking in cargo at all these ports, we proceeded to Padang and Emma Haven, on the south side of Sumatra, where we completed loading, bunkered, and proceeded homewards via Point de Galle and Port Said to Marseilles. After discharging at Marseilles, we were ordered back to Batum, and again loaded case-oil for Colombo and Madras. After completion of discharge at Madras, we proceeded to Calcutta, where we loaded rice and general goods, with Mohammedan pilgrims on deck, and proceeded thence to Berbera, Aden, Hodeida and Jidda, where the pilgrims were landed and cargo discharged. I think Jidda is the worst place I have visited. The heat was terrific during a sand storm, and many pilgrims who had been to Mecca and were awaiting reshipment in other ships to take them to their own countries were dying of cholera.
" Most of the English crew during the Red Sea trips were left at Aden, and some Somali boys were taken on deck and below to run the ship until we came back to Aden. From Jidda we proceeded to Aden, and loaded salt for Calcutta. After discharging, we again loaded rice and general goods, with a deck cargo of pilgrims, for the same round Berbera, Aden, Hodeida, Jidda, back to Aden and Calcutta. At Calcutta we loaded part cargo of wheat for Rangoon, and at Rangoon we loaded rice for Port Said, Alex- andria, Smyrna, Piraeus, Constantinople, from whence we sailed to Sulina, Galatz and Braila to load for Rotterdam. This voyage was completed in eighteen months. Such is the life of a tramp ship !
From railway stations and linseed to case-oil and Mohammedan pilgrims, from Port Elizabeth to New Orleans, and from Rotterdam to Batavia, with every sort of cargo and in every sort of weather, there could scarcely, perhaps, be a more arresting picture of a tramp ship's voyage than that contained above. It will readily be seen what breadth of experience and what knowledge of ships and the ways of the sea, as well as of men, are necessarily predicated in the command of a vessel of this description.

1856 - 1935



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