Home -> A. M. Robertson -> Notes by the Way in a Sailor's Life -> Hard Times

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Hard Times.

In June, 1854, I left Melbourne on the barque "Junior," bound to Callao, in Peru. We had a fine voyage, and on arrival, being free, I went to Lima, the capital. I found this was a very interesting old city, with beautiful surrounding country, which I enjoyed very much, and spent nearly a month there. Then I had a week in Callao, which was a pretty wild place. I used to sail around the bay, and in sailing near the shore I could look down, at the bottom of the sea, on the houses of old Callao, which was swallowed by an earthquake in the latter part of the last century. And, strange to say, when the town disappeared an island came up out in the bay. This island is very high and is called "San Lorenzo," after a lone fisherman who had been out in his boat fishing on the night when the earthquake took place, and in the morning poor old Lorenzo found himself in a boat about a thousand feet up on a mountain and no town in sight.

Well, I joined the barque "Tropic," loaded with guano, bound for Cork, in Ireland. This vessel was a very rotten old thing, and in getting round Cape Horn we all had a very hard time, and did not know how soon the vessel would sink with us; but we got round the Cape and into the South Atlantic, where we had better weather and proceeded pretty well till in the North Atlantic, when provisions began to get short. When we were off the Azores, watching the beautiful shores and harbours of St. Michael, we came near a Dutch brig from Brazil loaded with coffee. The captain hailed us and asked us for some biscuits. A boat was sent to us bringing us a half-bag of coffee. We had less than a hundred pounds of biscuits. Our captain consulted with us about giving any of it away. It was finally agreed that we would divide with the brig. This was done, and we had to be very careful with so little bread among twelve people. We had plenty of salt beef and pork, and a half-barrel of flour, but no beans or peas or sugar.

We had a fair run till we saw Cape Clear, at the south end of Ireland, on the 30th of January, 1855. We all were in high hopes that a few hours more would see us at anchor in Queenstown; but that night came on an easterly gale, and we were driven out into the Atlantic, where for weeks we were buffeted about, and to our dismay our last fresh-water cask we found had leaked and was empty. We were surrounded with many other vessels in the same plight - short of provisions. We had plenty of snow, with which we could make coffee, but were reduced to salt meat only, which is pretty hard fare. The hardest part was, that the captain had his wife and two children on board, and for the youngest child a goat had been provided to supply milk. This became a scarce article as there was no food for the goat. So every day the carpenter used to plane up a piece of wood to make shavings for the goat to eat. It got along as well or better than any of us.

Finally, on the 10th of March, in the morning early, we had reached near to the Old Head of Kinsale, and near to Cork, when we saw a boat pulling off to us. This proved to be a pilot-boat. The pilot got on board, and told us that ours was the first vessel that could be boarded in six weeks, the weather having been so bad, and that only a few days before the mail-carrier between Clonakilty and Cork had been frozen to death on his journey. The pilot brought us a few potatoes, which gave us one each and two for the captain's wife, and the next morning we got safely into Queenstown, where we were able to get a good supply of milk, bread, butter, and eggs, of which we all made pretty free use, and with a few days' rest we forgot all our late cares, as sailors usually do.

After being in port a few days we all left the "Tropic," and I spent a couple of weeks in seeing Cork and the beautiful country where the people are so genial and hospitable. After seeing all I wanted to see, I took steamer from Cork for Bristol, spent one day there, and then left by train for London. The train left in the evening, and here a rather amusing incident occurred. I had taken a second-class ticket, and after taking my seat, it being cold weather, I prepared to make myself comfortable for the night. In my valise I had a rough sealskin or Esquimau jacket with a hood to it. I put this on and was nice and warm, sitting in the corner of the carriage. Shortly afterwards a man in livery came in and sat in the corner opposite to me. Then came an old lady and her husband, an Irish army officer returning to India. The old lady was helped in by the gentleman, but as soon as she saw me she cried out, "O Lord!" and fell back. Then the old gentleman boosted her in again, saying, "Go in, you old stupid!" and after the second attempt she gave it up, saying she wouldn't travel in a menagerie. She had taken me for a bear, and the man in livery for my keeper. The old gentleman got in, and she remained on the platform until I assured her that there was no danger. Then she came in very reluctantly and sat as far away as possible until we reached Bath, where the man in livery alighted. After that the old lady, her husband, and I became good friends for the remainder of the journey.

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