The first night out of port was a clear, moonlight one; the
frigate gliding though the water, with all her batteries.
It was my Quarter Watch in the top; and there I reclined on the
best possible terms with my top-mates. Whatever the other seamen
might have been, these were a noble set of tars, and well worthy
an introduction to the reader. First and foremost was Jack Chase,
our noble First Captain of the Top. He was a Briton, and a true-
blue; tall and well-knit, with a clear open eye, a fine broad
brow, and an abounding nut-brown beard. No man ever had a better
heart or a bolder. He was loved by the seamen and admired by the
officers; and even when the Captain spoke to him, it was with a
slight air of respect. Jack was a frank and charming man.
No one could be better company in forecastle or saloon; no man
told such stories, sang such songs, or with greater alacrity
sprang to his duty. Indeed, there was only one thing wanting
about him; and that was a finger of his left hand, which finger
he had lost at the great battle of Navarino.
He had a high conceit of his profession as a seaman; and being
deeply versed in all things pertaining to a man-of-war, was
universally regarded as an oracle. The main-top, over which he
presided, was a sort of oracle of Delphi; to which many pilgrims
ascended, to have their perplexities or differences settled.
There was such an abounding air of good sense and good feeling
about the man, that he who could not love him, would thereby
pronounce himself a knave. I thanked my sweet stars, that kind
fortune had placed me near him, though under him, in the frigate;
and from the outset Jack and I were fast friends.
Wherever you may be now rolling over the blue billows, dear Jack!
take my best love along with you; and God bless you, wherever you go!
Jack was a gentleman. What though his hand was hard, so was not
his heart, too often the case with soft palms. His manners were
easy and free; none of the boisterousness, so common to tars; and
he had a polite, courteous way of saluting you, if it were only
to borrow your knife. Jack had read all the verses of Byron, and
all the romances of Scott. He talked of Rob Roy, Don Juan, and
Pelham; Macbeth and Ulysses; but, above all things, was an ardent
admirer of Camoens. Parts of the Lusiad, he could recite in the
original. Where he had obtained his wonderful accomplishments, it
is not for me, his humble subordinate, to say. Enough, that those
accomplishments were so various; the languages he could converse
in, so numerous; that he more than furnished an example of that
saying of Charles the Fifth--_ he who speaks five languages is as
good as five men_. But Jack, he was better than a hundred common
mortals; Jack was a whole phalanx, an entire army; Jack was a
thousand strong; Jack would have done honour to the Queen of
England's drawing-room; Jack must have been a by-blow of some
British Admiral of the Blue. A finer specimen of the island race
of Englishmen could not have been picked out of Westminster Abbey
of a coronation day.
His whole demeanor was in strong contrast to that of one of the
Captains of the fore-top. This man, though a good seaman,
furnished an example of those insufferable Britons, who, while
preferring other countries to their own as places of residence;
still, overflow with all the pompousness of national and
individual vanity combined. "When I was on board the Audacious"--
for a long time, was almost the invariable exordium to the fore-
top Captain's most cursory remarks. It is often the custom of
men-of-war's-men, when they deem anything to be going on wrong
aboard ship to refer to _last cruise_ when of course everything
was done _ship-shape and Bristol fashion_. And by referring to
the _Audacious_--an expressive name by the way--the fore-top
Captain meant a ship in the English navy, in which he had had the
honour of serving. So continual were his allusions to this craft
with the amiable name, that at last, the _Audacious_ was voted a
bore by his shipmates. And one hot afternoon, during a calm, when
the fore-top Captain like many others, was standing still and
yawning on the spar-deck; Jack Chase, his own countryman, came up
to him, and pointing at his open mouth, politely inquired, whether
that was the way they caught _flies_ in Her Britannic Majesty's ship,
the _Audacious?_ After that, we heard no more of the craft.
Now, the tops of a frigate are quite spacious and cosy. They are
railed in behind so as to form a kind of balcony, very pleasant
of a tropical night. From twenty to thirty loungers may agreeably
recline there, cushioning themselves on old sails and jackets. We
had rare times in that top. We accounted ourselves the best
seamen in the ship; and from our airy perch, literally looked
down upon the landlopers below, sneaking about the deck, among
the guns. In a large degree, we nourished that feeling of
"_esprit de corps_," always pervading, more or less, the various
sections of a man-of-war's crew. We main-top-men were brothers,
one and all, and we loaned ourselves to each other with all the
freedom in the world.
Nevertheless, I had not long been a member of this fraternity of
fine fellows, ere I discovered that Jack Chase, our captain was--
like all prime favorites and oracles among men--a little bit of a
dictator; not peremptorily, or annoyingly so, but amusingly
intent on egotistically mending our manners and improving our
taste, so that we might reflect credit upon our tutor.
He made us all wear our hats at a particular angle--instructed us
in the tie of our neck-handkerchiefs; and protested against our
wearing vulgar _dungeree_ trowsers; besides giving us lessons in
seamanship; and solemnly conjuring us, forever to eschew the company
of any sailor we suspected of having served in a whaler. Against
all whalers, indeed, he cherished the unmitigated detestation of a
true man-of-war's man. Poor Tubbs can testify to that.
Tubbs was in the After-Guard; a long, lank Vineyarder, eternally
talking of line-tubs, Nantucket, sperm oil, stove boats, and Japan.
Nothing could silence him; and his comparisons were ever invidious.
Now, with all his soul, Jack abominated this Tubbs. He said he
was vulgar, an upstart--Devil take him, he's been in a whaler.
But like many men, who have been where _you_ haven't been; or
seen what _you_ haven't seen; Tubbs, on account of his whaling
experiences, absolutely affected to look down upon Jack, even as
Jack did upon him; and this it was that so enraged our noble captain.
One night, with a peculiar meaning in his eye, he sent me down on
deck to invite Tubbs up aloft for a chat. Flattered by so marked
an honor--for we were somewhat fastidious, and did not extend
such invitations to every body--Tubb's quickly mounted the
rigging, looking rather abashed at finding himself in the august
presence of the assembled Quarter-Watch of main-top-men. Jack's
courteous manner, however, very soon relieved his embarrassment;
but it is no use to be courteous to _some_ men in this world.
Tubbs belonged to that category. No sooner did the bumpkin feel
himself at ease, than he launched out, as usual, into tremendous
laudations of whalemen; declaring that whalemen alone deserved
the name of sailors. Jack stood it some time; but when Tubbs came
down upon men-of-war, and particularly upon main-top-men, his
sense of propriety was so outraged, that he launched into Tubbs
like a forty-two pounder.
"Why, you limb of Nantucket! you train-oil man! you sea-tallow
strainer! you bobber after carrion! do _you_ pretend to vilify a
man-of-war? Why, you lean rogue, you, a man-of-war is to
whalemen, as a metropolis to shire-towns, and sequestered
hamlets. _Here's_ the place for life and commotion; _here's_ the
place to be gentlemanly and jolly. And what did you know, you
bumpkin! before you came on board this _Andrew Miller?_ What knew
you of gun-deck, or orlop, mustering round the capstan, beating
to quarters, and piping to dinner? Did you ever roll to _grog_ on
board your greasy ballyhoo of blazes? Did you ever winter at
Mahon? Did you ever '_ lash and carry?_' Why, what are even a
merchant-seaman's sorry yarns of voyages to China after tea-
caddies, and voyages to the West Indies after sugar puncheons,
and voyages to the Shetlands after seal-skins--what are even
these yarns, you Tubbs you! to high life in a man-of-war? Why,
you dead-eye! I have sailed with lords and marquises for
captains; and the King of the Two Sicilies has passed me, as I
here stood up at my gun. Bah! you are full of the fore-peak and
the forecastle; you are only familiar with Burtons and Billy-
tackles; your ambition never mounted above pig-killing! which, in
my poor opinion, is the proper phrase for whaling! Topmates! has
not this Tubbs here been but a misuser of good oak planks, and a
vile desecrator of the thrice holy sea? turning his ship, my
hearties! into a fat-kettle, and the ocean into a whale-pen?
Begone! you graceless, godless knave! pitch him over the top
But there was no necessity for my exertions. Poor Tubbs, astounded
at these fulminations, was already rapidly descending by the rigging.
This outburst on the part of my noble friend Jack made me shake
all over, spite of my padded surtout; and caused me to offer up
devout thanksgivings, that in no evil hour had I divulged the
fact of having myself served in a whaler; for having previously
marked the prevailing prejudice of men-of-war's men to that much-
maligned class of mariners, I had wisely held my peace concerning
stove boats on the coast of Japan.
He presides at the head of the Ward-room officers' table, who are
so called from their messing together in a part of the ship thus
designated. In a frigate it comprises the after part of the
berth-deck. Sometimes it goes by the name of the Gun-room, but
oftener is called the Ward-room. Within, this Ward-room much
resembles a long, wide corridor in a large hotel; numerous doors
opening on both hands to the private apartments of the officers.
I never had a good interior look at it but once; and then the
Chaplain was seated at the table in the centre, playing chess
with the Lieutenant of Marines. It was mid-day, but the place was
lighted by lamps.
Besides the First Lieutenant, the Ward-room officers include the
junior lieutenants, in a frigate six or seven in number, the
Sailing-master, Purser, Chaplain, Surgeon, Marine officers, and
Midshipmen's Schoolmaster, or "the Professor." They generally form
a very agreeable club of good fellows; from their diversity of
character, admirably calculated to form an agreeable social
whole. The Lieutenants discuss sea-fights, and tell anecdotes of
Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton; the Marine officers talk of
storming fortresses, and the siege of Gibraltar; the Purser
steadies this wild conversation by occasional allusions to the
rule of three; the Professor is always charged with a scholarly
reflection, or an apt line from the classics, generally Ovid; the
Surgeon's stories of the amputation-table judiciously serve to
suggest the mortality of the whole party as men; while the good
chaplain stands ready at all times to give them pious counsel and
Of course these gentlemen all associate on a footing of perfect
Next in order come the Warrant or Forward officers, consisting of
the Boatswain, Gunner, Carpenter, and Sailmaker. Though these
worthies sport long coats and wear the anchor-button; yet, in the
estimation of the Ward-room officers, they are not, technically
speaking, rated gentlemen. The First Lieutenant, Chaplain, or
Surgeon, for example, would never dream of inviting them to
dinner, In sea parlance, "they come in at the hawse holes;" they
have hard hands; and the carpenter and sail-maker practically
understand the duties which they are called upon to superintend.
They mess by themselves. Invariably four in number, they never
have need to play whist with a dummy.
In this part of the category now come the "reefers," otherwise
"middies" or midshipmen. These boys are sent to sea, for the
purpose of making commodores; and in order to become commodores,
many of them deem it indispensable forthwith to commence chewing
tobacco, drinking brandy and water, and swearing at the sailors.
As they are only placed on board a sea-going ship to go to school
and learn the duty of a Lieutenant; and until qualified to act as
such, have few or no special functions to attend to; they are
little more, while midshipmen, than supernumeraries on board.
Hence, in a crowded frigate, they are so everlastingly crossing
the path of both men and officers, that in the navy it has become
a proverb, that a useless fellow is "_as much in the way as a
In a gale of wind, when all hands are called and the deck swarms
with men, the little "middies" running about distracted and
having nothing particular to do, make it up in vociferous
swearing; exploding all about under foot like torpedoes. Some of
them are terrible little boys, cocking their cups at alarming
angles, and looking fierce as young roosters. They are generally
great consumers of Macassar oil and the Balm of Columbia; they
thirst and rage after whiskers; and sometimes, applying their
ointments, lay themselves out in the sun, to promote the
fertility of their chins.
As the only way to learn to command, is to learn to obey, the
usage of a ship of war is such that the midshipmen are constantly
being ordered about by the Lieutenants; though, without having
assigned them their particular destinations, they are always
going somewhere, and never arriving. In some things, they almost
have a harder time of it than the seamen themselves. They are
messengers and errand-boys to their superiors.
"Mr. Pert," cries an officer of the deck, hailing a young
gentleman forward. Mr. Pert advances, touches his hat, and
remains in an attitude of deferential suspense. "Go and tell the
boatswain I want him." And with this perilous errand, the middy
hurries away, looking proud as a king.
The middies live by themselves in the steerage, where, nowadays,
they dine off a table, spread with a cloth. They have a castor at
dinner; they have some other little boys (selected from the
ship's company) to wait upon them; they sometimes drink coffee
out of china. But for all these, their modern refinements, in
some instances the affairs of their club go sadly to rack and
ruin. The china is broken; the japanned coffee-pot dented like a
pewter mug in an ale-house; the pronged forks resemble tooth-
picks (for which they are sometimes used); the table-knives are
hacked into hand-saws; and the cloth goes to the sail-maker to be
patched. Indeed, they are something like collegiate freshmen and
sophomores, living in the college buildings, especially so far as
the noise they make in their quarters is concerned. The steerage
buzzes, hums, and swarms like a hive; or like an infant-school of
a hot day, when the school-mistress falls asleep with a fly on
In frigates, the ward-room--the retreat of the Lieutenants--
immediately adjoining the steerage, is on the same deck with it.
Frequently, when the middies, waking early of a morning, as most
youngsters do, would be kicking up their heels in their hammocks,
or running about with double-reefed night-gowns, playing _tag_
among the "clews;" the Senior lieutenant would burst among them
with a--"Young gentlemen, I am astonished. You must stop this
sky-larking. Mr. Pert, what are you doing at the table there,
without your pantaloons? To your hammock, sir. Let me see no more
of this. If you disturb the ward-room again, young gentleman, you
shall hear of it." And so saying, this hoary-headed Senior
Lieutenant would retire to his cot in his state-room, like the
father of a numerous family after getting up in his dressing-gown
and slippers, to quiet a daybreak tumult in his populous nursery.
Having now descended from Commodore to Middy, we come lastly to a
set of nondescripts, forming also a "mess" by themselves, apart
from the seamen. Into this mess, the usage of a man-of-war
thrusts various subordinates--including the master-at-arms,
purser's steward, ship's corporals, marine sergeants, and ship's
yeomen, forming the first aristocracy above the sailors.
The master-at-arms is a sort of high constable and school-master,
wearing citizen's clothes, and known by his official rattan. He
it is whom all sailors hate. His is the universal duty of a
universal informer and hunter-up of delinquents. On the berth-
deck he reigns supreme; spying out all grease-spots made by the
various cooks of the seamen's messes, and driving the laggards up
the hatches, when all hands are called. It is indispensable that
he should be a very Vidocq in vigilance. But as it is a
heartless, so is it a thankless office. Of dark nights, most
masters-of-arms keep themselves in readiness to dodge forty-two
pound balls, dropped down the hatchways near them.
The ship's corporals are this worthy's deputies and ushers.
The marine sergeants are generally tall fellows with unyielding
spines and stiff upper lips, and very exclusive in their tastes
The ship's yeoman is a gentleman who has a sort of counting-room in
a tar-cellar down in the fore-hold. More will be said of him anon.
Except the officers above enumerated, there are none who mess
apart from the seamen. The "_petty officers_," so called; that
is, the Boatswain's, Gunner's, Carpenter's, and Sail-maker's
mates, the Captains of the Tops, of the Forecastle, and of the
After-Guard, and of the Fore and Main holds, and the Quarter-
Masters, all mess in common with the crew, and in the American
navy are only distinguished from the common seamen by their
slightly additional pay. But in the English navy they wear crowns
and anchors worked on the sleeves of their jackets, by way of
badges of office. In the French navy they are known by strips of
worsted worn in the same place, like those designating the
Sergeants and Corporals in the army.
Thus it will be seen, that the dinner-table is the criterion of
rank in our man-of-war world. The Commodore dines alone, because
he is the only man of his rank in the ship. So too with the
Captain; and the Ward-room officers, warrant officers, midshipmen,
the master-at-arms' mess, and the common seamen;--all of them,
respectively, dine together, because they are, respectively, on a
footing of equality.
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