EJANZH: Hulme Chapter One

Volume 1

Early Recollections Working in the Cotton Mills To Liverpool The Sloop “Two Sisters” My First Sailing Voyage Learning the Ropes

My earliest recollections as a boy were of a mother struggling hard to furnish myself and two little sisters with enough to eat and to keep us decently clothed and a house overhead to live in; and as I grew old enough to realize the hard task imposed on her, I felt anxious to help her along some way, but I was not yet ten years old.

Mother was employed as a weaver in a large Cotton Factory in the little village of Duckinfield, near Manchester, England. Of father, I had not much recollection, he being at that time in some part of the United States or Canada; but he must have been negligent of his wife and children for I never knew of his ever sending any money home for, or to assist, mother in her hard fight with the world to keep a house over our heads and something to eat; and had not kind ladies of the village helped her, we should have fared worse.

At ten years old, I went to work in the Cotton Factory myself, going to school half a day and working half a day until I was thirteen years, when, after passing an examination before a Government Inspector, I was allowed to work full time as the term went; that meant all day from six o’clock in the morning with half an hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner and about fifteen minutes to eat a small lunch about five o’clock, and then the work went on until half past six and at some Mills until half past seven o’clock. These were the kind of days work done in the Cotton Factories of Lancashire and Cheshire, England, in those days and for many days after, but I am now speaking of the years from 1844 to 1850. The British laws regulating the hours of labor in Cotton Factories in England have undergone many changes for the benefit of the operatives.

About 1850 Mr. S. Robinson, the gentleman owning the Mill I worked at, took me from the spinning room and gave me a better situation in one of the ware rooms with a corresponding increase in my weekly wages which were now ten shillings a week English currency, about two and one-half dollars American.

At this time I had never thought of any other career than a life in or about a Cotton Factory in some capacity or other. When about 1851 the great strike occurred among sailors in almost all the principal sea ports of England caused by the passage of what was known as the Mercantile Marine Act, imposing a forfeiture of from one to several day’s pay for any infringement of the Act. Among the most objectionable of the rules were a day’s pay for carrying a sheath knife or letting slip any kind of an oath on deck. No matter what the cause of it was, if he was overheard by the officer, it would cost Jack a day’s pay.

Another cause of the strike was the Act regulating the daily allowance of provisions weighed and measured out in such niggardly manner, while the quality of the bread, beef and pork was often of the worst kind. Bread full of weevils and the beef more like a piece of old mahogany than anything else. No wonder Jack would repeat the verse about the “Old Horse” and what brought him there when he went into the forecastle to dinner and could not saw his old jack knife through his whack of beef.

Small wages, too, had something to do with the strike, and it was general all over the country in all the large ports. And to help them to keep out and gain their cause, the sailors in Liverpool scattered through the island towns in bands of from fifty to five hundred men, and the men were under charge of some man whose rating at sea was not lower than that of First Mate.

Subscriptions were taken up at all the Cotton Factories to help support them until their claims were acceded to. If a sailor got drunk, his head was shaved and he was sent back to Liverpool.

There were fifty men and a Mate quartered at Ashton-Under-Line, another town of some importance as a Cotton Manufacturing centre, only separated from Duckinfield by a small river.

One night I attended a meeting of the sailors on strike at the Town Hall in Ashton and listened to a fluent speaker, one of their number, who, in language that could be plainly understood by his listeners, explained to them the unavoidable hardships of a sailor’s life and how they were made hard by the unjust laws of the country just passed on them.

After that night my head was filled with ideas of a sailor’s life and a determination to go to sea. How little I then knew of the hardships and dangers that are so surely connected with the sailor’s career!

Time passed on, and it was not until the following summer that I nerved myself up to the point of leaving home and the kind friend who had shown me so many evidences of the great interest he took in my welfare. I was now almost the sole support of mother, but I had assured her that I could earn more money as a sailor than I could even hope to earn in any position I could attain in a Cotton Factory. I had made myself believe the same and she had a world of confidence in her boy, and if there is one thing more than mother of which I feel proud, it is the fact that up to the day of her death in the spring of 1881, that confidence was unbroken. But the high hopes I had buoyed myself up with as to the money I could earn sailing, were soon dispelled.

With an unwilling consent from her for me to try my fortunes as a sailor boy, I packed a few clothes in a bundle one bright morning in July, 1852, and started for Manchester and took the cheapest conveyance for Liverpool by paying two shillings for a ride in a canal boat from Manchester to Runcorn by way of the Duke Of Bridge Waters Canal. From Runcorn, I took passage in the small steamer “Countess of Earlsmere” for Liverpool, arriving at the Georges Landing stage late in the afternoon, and now my troubles began.

I was unacquainted with the ways of a large city and the forest of masts in the docks bewildered me. This was the first time I had ever been to a sea port or seen a vessel or the sea. That night I could only look and gaze at the many strange sights before my eyes: the streets were crowded with vehicles of every description and I felt a dread of crossing the streets, and the sidewalks were filled with a hurrying throng of people all bound somewhere, while I did not know where I was going or where to go to, and all I could do was to gaze at the swarthy looking men speaking languages I did not understand who were continually passing, and there was I, carrying my bundle of clothes yet, without having yet formed any plan or made my mind up what to do, when darkness began to close on the streets and the lamps lighted.

I then began to think I had better hunt up a place to get supper and sleep that night before it became too late. I had been wandering all the time along the front of the docks on what I afterward knew as the Waterloo Road; but at the foot of Deniston street, I turned and retraced my steps and turned up Paradise street and the first house I came to that I thought looked like a lodging house, I went in and found I was in a boarding house for German emigrants who sometimes are compelled to wait over in Liverpool a few days until the ship is ready to sail, in which they are to go as passengers. However, there were some of the household who spoke English and I was told I could have supper and a bed and I was glad to get some supper and lay down, for I had eaten nothing all day since leaving home and had been continually on my feet and was tired.

After getting to bed, I lay awake a long time, forming plans for the morrow and wondering what sort of folks Germans were to have no other bed clothes than two feather beds to sleep in, but I voted them a good, comfortable sort of a bed, anyway.

I awoke next morning refreshed, but with a feeling of eagerness to be off around the docks to find out what success I was to meet in getting a berth on some of the countless number of vessels the docks were filled with.

After a hasty breakfast, for I scarcely took time to eat, I paid my bill, two shillings, and asked permission to leave my bundle there until I called for it or until night, for if I was not engaged on some vessel or other, I intended to come back there to stay over night again.

I took my way down to the Georges Dock and then into the Princess Dock. The vessels in those two docks were composed mostly of either coasters or vessels engaged in some short foreign trade to the Baltic or France or up the Mediterranean. They were of all kinds of rigs from a Sloop to a Barque of 400 or 500 tons, including Top sail Schooners, Brigantines, Full rigged Brigs and Barques, some dirty looking coasters and some clean, handsome looking clippers.

If I boarded one vessel that day, I believe I boarded two hundred. When I first began my round of inquiry for a berth, I did not know who was the right man to speak to, but I soon began to find out that the mate was the man I must speak to, so on going on board of a vessel I began to ask for the mate, and to my inquiry if he wanted to ship a boy, I received answers some short, some insulting and abusive; enough to have discouraged any boy with less determination to become a sailor than I had, for as fast as I was driven ashore from one vessel, I boarded another, and the answers that I received from some of them to this day ring fresh in my ear.

To my inquiry if they wanted a boy, I received some such answers as this, “Boy! No, damn the boys. Got too many of the whelps now. Get ashore or I will break every bone in your damn’d carcass”. From a few others, again, I got civil answers and good friendly advice. My appearance told them at a glance that I had never been to sea. I had not the tough, sun burned, rugged look about me that I saw characterized the most of the boys I saw at work on most of the vessels.

On the contrary, I was almost bleached to the color of the cotton that I had been working among. The high temperature required in those Cotton Mills to work the fine cotton fabrics produced through Lancashire and Cheshire, takes all the bloom from the young cheeks of the boys and girls working in some parts of the Mills.

Some of the officers would speak kindly; ask me where I came from and then picture the hard lot of a boy or man on shipboard and advise me to lose no time in going back home and forget forever that I had ever thought of going to sea. And so it went on all day.

I left the small class of vessels and tried my luck among the large ships lying in the salt house and Rings and Queens docks and up to the north end in the Bramly Moore and Waterloo and Stanly Dock among the American ships; but the result was the same. I was driven ashore from them all, some with curses loud and strong, and from some with kind words, but driven all the same.

Towards dark I was returning footsore and weary and somewhat discouraged at the many rebuffs I had received during the day. I was passing the foot of Porter street where it joins the Waterloo road when three or four boys somewhat larger than myself passed me and turned up Porter street. I do not know what induced me to follow them, but I did, and after going up the street a short distance, they entered a house that I saw from a sign overhead was a boarding house for apprentices.

While standing there, considering if I had not better go in and stay there for the night thinking I might learn something that would be of benefit to me on the morrow, the door was opened from inside and a boy about my own size came out. I asked him if he boarded there. He answered in a broad Irish dialect, “No, did I want a boarding house?” I replied, “No, I want to get a berth on some vessel”. “Its get a vessel ye want. Phod ye go in a Sloop?” I replied I would go in anything. “Sure, you are the boy I am looking for then” said he. “I belong to the sloop “Two Sisters” of Dumfries and I want to leave her to go in a schooner belonging to my own place, and the spalpeen of a skipper won’t pay me the money coming to me unless I get him another boy in my place for he is already to haul out into the river at high water and go to say; and sure if you will go, I can get me money. I was after looking for a boy in the house beyond and if ye will go in my berth shure, that is all I want”. So we started down the street. I asked him where she was lying. “In the Stanly dock”, said he. “Was ye ever at say?” said he. I told him “No”. “Sure now don’t tell the old man that now or he won’t take ye and I will have to go out in her or leave me money behint. Now I will tell you what ye will say if the old man azes ye if ye ever sailed before. Ye tell him, yis, about six months. If he axes what vessel ye was in, ye tell him ye was in the “Mary Sproat” of Kirkcudbright; he know that vessel”. I did not like the idea of my commencing my seafaring life by lying to get into a vessel, and twenty-four hours previously would have scouted the idea that I would tell a deliberate falsehood, no matter what the object was, but my scruples as to lying were overruled by the Irish boy’s ready tongue and I agreed to do as he wanted me.

When we got on board, it was already dark but he took me aft into the little cabin and told the Captain he had found a boy for him who would sail for the same wages he had, ten shillings a month. This was the first I knew anything about what the wages were to be, but I remained silent until the Captain asked me if I was willing to take his place. I told him “yes” when he told me to go right away and get my clothes on board as it would be high water at ten o’clock and he was going to haul out of the dock into the Stanly Basin so as to be ready to go into the river as soon as the dock gates were open. So far I had not been called upon to lie about how long I had sailed and I felt some relief that it was so.

The Irish boy, however, got his wages and came back with me. He now told me what I needed in the shape of clothing and bedding and gave me many useful hints and instructions that I felt glad to receive from him. I went direct to the German lodging house and called for supper, for I had eaten nothing since breakfast. Then taking my bundle of clothes, started back and on the way bought a small straw bed and single blanket and sou- wester and oil skin coat. Purchasing these few articles used up my last penny.

I could buy no more so I carried them on board and took them down the little forecastle. I should not have known where to go with my bed and clothes had I not seen the Irish boy get his bedding and clothes when he left. There was no light below and I had to grope around in the dark for the small bunk the boy told me I should find on the starboard side, but which side was the starboard, I did not know.

I finally found what I called a shelf and spread my bed on it and lay down but the smell of the bilge water and tar down below turned me sick before I had been in the forecastle ten minutes. I went on deck for fresh air and met the mate coming forward to call me to begin heaving and hauling the little vessel to the dock gates.

The mate told me to go in the boat to run a line and I started for the boat with no more idea of what I had to do then a child would have, but as i was going over the side, the mate asked me if I could scull. I told him no, I had not yet learned to scull, so he kept me on board and ran out the lines himself.

We got to the dock gates just as they were opened and as the sloop shot out into the river, the mate told me to run the jib up. I ran aft to the old man who was at the tiller steering. I asked him where the jib was. “Are ye daft an ye no ken waur the jib is?” I made no reply but ran to the mate again forward who was pulling the jib up himself seeing that I did not know where to find the jib halyards. The mate now kept me with him and put the ropes into my hand that he wanted me to pull on, telling me the names of each rope.

After we had sail made on the vessel and she was well under way down the river, the mate found time to question me as to how long I had sailed and what vessels I had been in, and as I had already begun to realize how little I actually knew about a vessel or the work to be done on her, I determined at all hazard to tell him the truth and I never regretted doing so for by doing so I made a true friend of old Jim Bruce that was beneficial to me through all my after life, for he took a strong liking to me from the first of our becoming shipmates and to him I owe more than to any other man for my first lessons in seamanship, for old Jim was a true, thorough, practical seaman of the old style of old sailors.

After getting clear of the Mersey and the sloop heading up channel, I was told what my duties were as boy. They were to do the cooking and whatever else I could be made useful at and was told to start a fire in the bogie as that I found was their name for the small stove that stood on deck amidships fastened to the deck with staples, but no covering or protection of any kind to keep either rain or sea from pouring down on it in case of bad weather or rain. I got a fire started and began my first duties as cook and boy.

I now found out there was no great variety of dishes as there was nothing to cook but to make some tea and boil a few potatoes and salt herrings, there being a barrel of the fish lashed to the paul post in the forecastle. I went down there to get both herrings and potatoes, but on going below, the smell of the bilge water and the motion of the vessel combined were too much for me and I was soon about as sea sick a boy as ever paid tribute to Father Neptune. My not coming on deck again to get dinner ready, brought the Captain to the forecastle scuttle to see what was the matter, and when he saw the condition I was in, writhing, vomiting and tumbling around, he lost temper, came down the scuttle and tried to drive me on deck but I was too sick to care anything about what he either said or did, so he went on deck and got dinner ready himself, and left me to get over my seasickness the best way I could.

I know it was some time the next day before I felt like coming on deck again and when I did, I found we were almost becalmed in sight of what Old Jim told me was Point of Air, or the Isle of Man and a fine looking steamer was sending the water flying from her bows and leaving a foaming, boiling wake astern as far as the eye could reach. She soon disappeared as she rounded the Point, bound, as I was afterwards told, to Douglass, she being one of the packets running between Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast and Douglass in the Isle of Man.

We lay almost motionless so far as going ahead was concerned, but with an uneasy roll to me, but after supper I began, as Old Jim said, to get my sea legs on, and as the night was fine, the Captain and Old Jim who had been on deck almost continuously since leaving Liverpool, concluded to leave me at the tiller and to look out for any change in the weather that might come, with orders to call them if the wind sprung up from any directions. But long after the Captain had gone below, Old Jim was teaching me to “Box the Compass,” and giving me instructions about steering. He finally left me alone with a parting word to call him if I got any change in the weather. When he went below, the moon and stars were shining brightly and as I found out it was useless for me to turn the rudder as she lay rolling without head- way, I got to thinking a sailor’s life was not so bad after all and forming plans of what I should do with my money when I got back to Liverpool.

How long I had been building castles in the air, I don’t know, but I gradually began to find out that I was not alone for every few minutes I could hear something making quite a commotion alongside and ahead. I left the tiller and went forward to investigate, and on looking over the bows found out that the noise was caused by fish larger than any I had ever seen, jumping and tumbling over each other; there seemed to be hundreds of them.

How long they stayed about the vessel, I had no idea but I stayed forward watching them as long as there were any around, and while forward a breeze must have sprung up. I noticed while forward that the sloop was going through the water without thinking as to what caused her to be moving, but just as I got aft, the main boom came over with a force that brought on deck both the Captain and Old Jim to see what was the cause of the boom coming over. As I could not explain and the wind was fair, the Captain took the tiller, the main sheet was eased off and the yards trimmed, for the sloop in addition to carrying a fore and aft main sail also had a square top sail in place of a gaff top sail.

These things I learned after for as yet I did not know the names of any of the sails, for although I had been told the names of every sail and rope in her, I had not yet become familiar with their names. The Captain now took the tiller, sending Old Jim and myself below.

The sun was high when the Old Man gave me a call to start the bogie fire and get breakfast started. After eight bells Old Jim took the tiller and while he was steering I told him how the sloop was surrounded by fish the largest I had ever seen and when I told him how they jumped and tumbled, the old fellow laughed. “Man”, said he, “they are the porpoises you are talking about, sea pigs, we call them”. Then followed stories about catching them with a harpoon and of the oil that could be tried out from the blubber, for I now learned for the first time something about the oil producing fish for the old fellow had in his younger days spent years in the whale fishing trade out of Peter Head and Aberdeen.

While the old fellow was spinning these yarns of whale fishing in his younger days, the breeze had freshened and the little sloop was bowling along at a lively rate. A high point of land on the port bow he pointed out as Caithness and told me we were now in the Solway Firth, pointing out the mouth of the river Nith at Dunfries. As far as the eye could see on the starboard beam where a dense mass of smoke hung over the place, that said he, is White Haven.

We were now getting in and among other vessels, mostly small schooners and sloops with here and there a vessel of a larger class and different rig. Some of them seemed to be well known to Old Jim. A barque with stuffing sails set on the port side he pointed out to me as the Helvetia in which he had once made a voyage to Quebec; and a full rigged brig laying to anchor off Caithness as the old Diana belonging to Dunfries, but she was drawing too much water to get to Dunfries so she unloaded her timber cargo to anchor there and went out to Quebec again in ballast. Almost every vessel we saw he seemed to know, some of them he had been in at one time or another.

After dinner, preparation was made for going in as far as possible with what was left of the flood tide. Here was something new to me again, to learn about the ebb and flow of the tide. We got almost up to New Quay when we met the ebb and came to anchor, and as Captain Stewart and Old Jim lived here, the yaul boat was got into the water and both men went ashore taking me along to bring the boat back; but here was another dilemma. I had never sculled a boat in my life and Old Jim would have had to come back with me again if a boy from New Quay had not come down to the beach at that time and I got him to go off with me, and before dark that night, I could scull a boat.

Next morning I awakened by a boat coming alongside, and going on deck, found Old Jim and Captain Steward had been put on board by a fisherman going to net, and as there was still some of the flood tide left, we soon had sail made and the anchor shot and then broke away and went up the river to Dumfries. Her cargo of salt was now unloaded, but being in bulk it was slow work hoisting out. After the salt was out, we dropped out into the river with the ebb tide and made sail for a place call Carbean, about seven miles from the mouth of the Nith. Here we were to get our return cargo for Liverpool which was to be wheat in bulk, but found out we should have to wait two or three days for our load.

While ashore here one day with Old Jim, he pointed out to me a low white-washed house as the birth place of Paul Jones, one of the early American naval Commanders. I had no idea at that time that I should ever see the United States or I should have taken more interest in the birth place of one who had done so much good fighting for the country of his adoption.

When the wheat was all ready, we lost no time in taking it on board and getting the sloop ready for her return voyage. We got away the night after getting loaded with the first of the ebb tide with a light southerly wind close hauled on the wind. We brought over by Mary Port next morning after eight o’clock when the wind freshened after we had gone round standing off shore on the port tack. The “Two Sisters” was not very fast by the wind I could see by other vessels who were also beating up channel going ahead and passing us.

The southerly wind lasted, some times blowing hard enough for the sloop to be reefed down, but so long as Captain Stewart and Old Jim were contented, I did not feel uneasy for sea-sickness did not trouble me any more, and I know by this time I had become acquainted with all the ropes and was getting familiar with their use, thanks to Old Jim for the interest he had taken in me.

We were three or four days beating up the coast, most of the time in sight of the land and whenever we sighted any place of interest, it was pointed out with the remark every time some new land mark or port was sighted, to mark that down in my memory’s Log Book. We worked along making short tacks, past Workington and White Haven, but from St. Bee’s Head, the sloop was held on the port tack until we sighted Point of Air before she went around; and when we made the land again, we were standing in for what looked to me like a high rocky point.

The Captain had made the land at daylight, and from what he and Old Jim said, I found out they had concluded to go to anchor when we had worked far enough to windward to run in. I had seldom spoken to the Captain as yet, unless he first spoke to me, but to-day I ventured to ask him the name of the place we were going into, and was surprised to find out how communicative he was after getting started.

He pointed out a pile of ruins just to windward of where we went around the last time, saying, “That is what is known as the Piel of Foundry, it is an old ruined castle, and in back of the point is where we will come to anchor”. As we opened out between what I now found out was Wolney Island and the main land, we ran into a place they had often been at anchor at before and come to anchor. There was plenty of water when we anchored, but when I was called at twelve o’clock that night, I could walk all around the “Two Sisters”; she was lying on a dense mass of mussels and sea weeds.

We lay there three days when we got the wind from northeast, and at high water we lifted the anchor and got away. The wind was light and we did not make the Mersey until noon next day. As we were to unload in the Georges dock, we came to anchor only a short distance from the dock gates, so as to be ready to haul in when the tide made, which was near daylight the following morning.

There were a number of vessels to dock there with the morning tide and it was well for us that we were close to the dock gates or we should have been left over until next tide, but we got in and hauled through the half-tide basin into the Georges dock to a grain elevator.