THE MANNING OF NAVIES.
"The gallows and the sea refuse nothing," is a very old sea
saying; and, among all the wondrous prints of Hogarth, there is
none remaining more true at the present day than that dramatic
boat-scene, where after consorting with harlots and gambling on
tomb-stones, the Idle Apprentice, with the villainous low
forehead, is at last represented as being pushed off to sea, with
a ship and a gallows in the distance. But Hogarth should have
converted the ship's masts themselves into Tyburn-trees, and
thus, with the ocean for a background, closed the career of his
hero. It would then have had all the dramatic force of the opera
of Don Juan, who, after running his impious courses, is swept
from our sight in a tornado of devils.
For the sea is the true Tophet and bottomless pit of many workers
of iniquity; and, as the German mystics feign Gehennas within
Gehennas, even so are men-of-war familiarly known among sailors
as "Floating Hells." And as the sea, according to old Fuller, is
the stable of brute monsters, gliding hither and thither in
unspeakable swarms, even so is it the home of many moral monsters,
who fitly divide its empire with the snake, the shark, and the worm.
Nor are sailors, and man-of-war's-men especially, at all blind to
a true sense of these things. "_Purser rigged and parish damned_,"
is the sailor saying in the American Navy, when the tyro first mounts
the lined frock and blue jacket, aptly manufactured for him in a
State Prison ashore.
No wonder, that lured by some _crimp_ into a service so galling,
and, perhaps, persecuted by a vindictive lieutenant, some
repentant sailors have actually jumped into the sea to escape
from their fate, or set themselves adrift on the wide ocean on
the gratings without compass or rudder.
In one case, a young man, after being nearly cut into dog's meat
at the gangway, loaded his pockets with shot and walked overboard.
Some years ago, I was in a whaling ship lying in a harbour of the
Pacific, with three French men-of-war alongside. One dark, moody
night, a suppressed cry was heard from the face of the waters,
and, thinking it was some one drowning, a boat was lowered, when
two French sailors were picked up, half dead from exhaustion, and
nearly throttled by a bundle of their clothes tied fast to their
shoulders. In this manner they had attempted their escape from
their vessel. When the French officers came in pursuit, these sailors,
rallying from their exhaustion, fought like tigers to resist being
captured. Though this story concerns a French armed ship, it is not
the less applicable, in degree, to those of other nations.
Mix with the men in an American armed ship, mark how many foreigners
there are, though it is against the law to enlist them. Nearly one
third of the petty officers of the Neversink were born east of the
Atlantic. Why is this? Because the same principle that operates in
hindering Americans from hiring themselves out as menial domestics also
restrains them, in a great measure, from voluntarily assuming a far
worse servitude in the Navy. "_Sailors wanted for the Navy_" is a common
announcement along the wharves of our sea-ports. They are always
"_wanted_." It may have been, in part, owing to this scarcity
man-of-war's men, that not many years ago, black slaves were frequently
to be found regularly enlisted with the crew of an American frigate,
their masters receiving their pay. This was in the teeth of a law of
Congress expressly prohibiting slaves in the Navy. This law, indirectly,
means black slaves, nothing being said concerning white ones. But in
view of what John Randolph of Roanoke said about the frigate that carried
him to Russia, and in view of what most armed vessels actually are at
present, the American Navy is not altogether an inappropriate place for
hereditary bondmen. Still, the circumstance of their being found in it
is of such a nature, that to some it may hardly appear credible. The
incredulity of such persons, nevertheless, must yield to the fact, that
on board of the United States ship Neversink, during the present cruise,
there was a Virginian slave regularly shipped as a seaman, his owner
receiving his wages. Guinea--such was his name among the crew--belonged
to the Purser, who was a Southern gentleman; he was employed as his body
servant. Never did I feel my condition as a man-of-war's-man so keenly
as when seeing this Guinea freely circulating about the decks in
citizen's clothes, and through the influence of his master, almost
entirely exempted from the disciplinary degradation of the Caucasian
crew. Faring sumptuously in the ward-room; sleek and round, his ebon
face fairly polished with content: ever gay and hilarious; ever ready
to laugh and joke, that African slave was actually envied by many of the
seamen. There were times when I almost envied him myself. Lemsford once
envied him outright, "Ah, Guinea!" he sighed, "you have peaceful times;
you never opened the book I read in."
One morning, when all hands were called to witness punishment,
the Purser's slave, as usual, was observed to be hurrying down
the ladders toward the ward-room, his face wearing that peculiar,
pinched blueness, which, in the negro, answers to the paleness
caused by nervous agitation in the white. "Where are you going,
Guinea?" cried the deck-officer, a humorous gentleman, who
sometimes diverted himself with the Purser's slave, and well
knew what answer he would now receive from him. "Where are you
going, Guinea?" said this officer; "turn about; don't you hear
the call, sir?" "'_Scuse_ me, massa!" said the slave, with a low
salutation; "I can't 'tand it; I can't, indeed, massa!" and, so
saying, he disappeared beyond the hatchway. He was the only
person on board, except the hospital-steward and the invalids of
the sick-bay, who was exempted from being present at the
administering of the scourge. Accustomed to light and easy duties
from his birth, and so fortunate as to meet with none but gentle
masters, Guinea, though a bondman, liable to be saddled with a
mortgage, like a horse--Guinea, in India-rubber manacles, enjoyed
the liberties of the world.
Though his body-and-soul proprietor, the Purser, never in any way
individualised me while I served on board the frigate, and never
did me a good office of any kind (it was hardly in his power),
yet, from his pleasant, kind, indulgent manner toward his slave,
I always imputed to him a generous heart, and cherished an
involuntary friendliness toward him. Upon our arrival home, his
treatment of Guinea, under circumstances peculiarly calculated
to stir up the resentment of a slave-owner, still more augmented
my estimation of the Purser's good heart.
Mention has been made of the number of foreigners in the American
Navy; but it is not in the American Navy alone that foreigners
bear so large a proportion to the rest of the crew, though in no
navy, perhaps, have they ever borne so large a proportion as in
our own. According to an English estimate, the foreigners serving
in the King's ships at one time amounted to one eighth of the
entire body of seamen. How it is in the French Navy, I cannot
with certainty say; but I have repeatedly sailed with English
seamen who have served in it.
One of the effects of the free introduction of foreigners into
any Navy cannot be sufficiently deplored. During the period I
lived in the Neversink, I was repeatedly struck by the lack of
patriotism in many of my shipmates. True, they were mostly
foreigners who unblushingly avowed, that were it not for the
difference of pay, they would as lief man the guns of an English
ship as those of an American or Frenchman. Nevertheless, it was
evident, that as for any high-toned patriotic feeling, there was
comparatively very little--hardly any of it--evinced by our
sailors as a body. Upon reflection, this was not to be wondered
at. From their roving career, and the sundering of all domestic
ties, many sailors, all the world over, are like the "Free
Companions," who some centuries ago wandered over Europe, ready
to fight the battles of any prince who could purchase their
swords. The only patriotism is born and nurtured in a stationary
home, and upon an immovable hearth-stone; but the man-of-war's-
man, though in his voyagings he weds the two Poles and brings
both Indies together, yet, let him wander where he will, he
carries his one only home along with him: that home is his
hammock. "_Born under a gun, and educated on the bowsprit_,"
according to a phrase of his own, the man-of-war-man rolls round
the world like a billow, ready to mix with any sea, or be sucked
down to death in the maelstrom of any war.
Yet more. The dread of the general discipline of a man-of-war;
the special obnoxiousness of the gangway; the protracted
confinement on board ship, with so few "liberty days;" and the
pittance of pay (much less than what can always be had in the
Merchant Service), these things contrive to deter from the
navies of all countries by far the majority of their best seamen.
This will be obvious, when the following statistical facts, taken
from Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, are considered. At one
period, upon the Peace Establishment, the number of men employed
in the English Navy was 25,000; at the same time, the English
Merchant Service was employing 118,952. But while the necessities
of a merchantman render it indispensable that the greater part of
her crew be able seamen, the circumstances of a man-of-war admit
of her mustering a crowd of landsmen, soldiers, and boys in her
service. By a statement of Captain Marryat's, in his pamphlet
(A. D. 1822) "On the Abolition of Impressment," it appears that,
at the close of the Bonaparte wars, a full third of all the crews
of his Majesty's fleets consisted of landsmen and boys.
Far from entering with enthusiasm into the king's ships when
their country were menaced, the great body of English seamen,
appalled at the discipline of the Navy, adopted unheard-of
devices to escape its press-gangs. Some even hid themselves in
caves, and lonely places inland, fearing to run the risk of
seeking a berth in an outward-bound merchantman, that might have
carried them beyond sea. In the true narrative of "John Nichol,
Mariner," published in 1822 by Blackwood in Edinburgh, and Cadell
in London, and which everywhere bears the spontaneous impress of
truth, the old sailor, in the most artless, touching, and almost
uncomplaining manner, tells of his "skulking like a thief" for
whole years in the country round about Edin-burgh, to avoid the
press-gangs, prowling through the land like bandits and Burkers.
At this time (Bonaparte's wars), according to "Steel's List,"
there were forty-five regular press-gang stations in Great
[FOOTNOTE-5] Besides this domestic kidnapping, British frigates, in
friendly or neutral harbours, in some instances pressed into
their service foreign sailors of all nations from the public
wharves. In certain cases, where Americans were concerned, when
"_protections_" were found upon their persons, these were
destroyed; and to prevent the American consul from claiming his
sailor countrymen, the press-gang generally went on shore the
night previous to the sailing of the frigate, so that the
kidnapped seamen were far out to sea before they could be missed
by their friends. These things should be known; for in case the
English government again goes to war with its fleets, and should
again resort to indiscriminate impressment to man them, it is well
that both Englishmen and Americans, that all the world be prepared
to put down an iniquity outrageous and insulting to God and man.
In a later instance, a large body of British seamen solemnly
assembled upon the eve of an anticipated war, and together
determined, that in case of its breaking out, they would at once
flee to America, to avoid being pressed into the service of their
country--a service which degraded her own guardians at the gangway.
At another time, long previous to this, according to an English
Navy officer, Lieutenant Tomlinson, three thousand seamen,
impelled by the same motive, fled ashore in a panic from the
colliers between Yarmouth Roads and the Nore. Elsewhere, he says,
in speaking of some of the men on board the king's ships, that
"they were most miserable objects." This remark is perfectly
corroborated by other testimony referring to another period. In
alluding to the lamented scarcity of good English seamen during
the wars of 1808, etc., the author of a pamphlet on "Naval
Subjects" says, that all the best seamen, the steadiest and best-
behaved men, generally succeeded in avoiding the impress. This
writer was, or had been, himself a Captain in the British fleet.
Now it may be easily imagined who are the men, and of what moral
character they are, who, even at the present day, are willing to
enlist as full-grown adults in a service so galling to all shore-
manhood as the Navy. Hence it comes that the skulkers and
scoundrels of all sorts in a man-of-war are chiefly composed not
of regular seamen, but of these "dock-lopers" of landsmen, men
who enter the Navy to draw their grog and murder their time in
the notorious idleness of a frigate. But if so idle, why not
reduce the number of a man-of-war's crew, and reasonably keep
employed the rest? It cannot be done. In the first place, the
magnitude of most of these ships requires a large number of hands
to brace the heavy yards, hoist the enormous top-sails, and
weigh the ponderous anchor. And though the occasion for the
employment of so many men comes but seldom, it is true, yet when
that occasion _does_ come--and come it may at any moment--this
multitude of men are indispensable.
But besides this, and to crown all, the batteries must be manned.
There must be enough men to work all the guns at one time. And
thus, in order to have a sufficiency of mortals at hand to "sink,
burn and destroy;" a man-of-war, through her vices, hopelessly
depraving the volunteer landsmen and ordinary seamen of good
habits, who occasionally enlist--must feed at the public cost a
multitude of persons, who, if they did not find a home in the
Navy, would probably fall on the parish, or linger out their days
in a prison.
Among others, these are the men into whose mouths Dibdin puts
his patriotic verses, full of sea-chivalry and romance. With an
exception in the last line, they might be sung with equal
propriety by both English and American man-of-war's-men.
"As for me, in all weathers, all times, tides, and ends,
Naught's a trouble from duty that springs;
For my heart is my Poll's, and my rhino's my friends,
And as for my life, it's the king's.
To rancour unknown, to no passion a slave,
Nor unmanly, nor mean, nor a railer," etc.
But notwithstanding the iniquities of a man-of-war, men are to be
found in them, at times, so used to a hard life; so drilled and
disciplined to servitude, that, with an incomprehensible
philosophy, they seem cheerfully to resign themselves to their
fate. They have plenty to eat; spirits to drink; clothing to keep
them warm; a hammock to sleep in; tobacco to chew; a doctor to
medicine them; a parson to pray for them; and, to a penniless
castaway, must not all this seem as a luxurious Bill of Fare?
There was on board of the Neversink a fore-top-man by the name of
Landless, who, though his back was cross-barred, and plaided with
the ineffaceable scars of all the floggings accumulated by a
reckless tar during a ten years' service in the Navy, yet he
perpetually wore a hilarious face, and at joke and repartee was a
very Joe Miller.
That man, though a sea-vagabond, was not created in vain. He
enjoyed life with the zest of everlasting adolescence; and,
though cribbed in an oaken prison, with the turnkey sentries all
round him, yet he paced the gun-deck as if it were broad as a
prairie, and diversified in landscape as the hills and valleys of
the Tyrol. Nothing ever disconcerted him; nothing could transmute
his laugh into anything like a sigh. Those glandular secretions,
which in other captives sometimes go to the formation of tears, in
_him_ were expectorated from the mouth, tinged with the golden juice
of a weed, wherewith he solaced and comforted his ignominious days.
"Rum and tobacco!" said Landless, "what more does a sailor want?"
His favourite song was "_Dibdin's True English Sailor_," beginning,
"Jack dances and sings, and is always content,
In his vows to his lass he'll ne'er fail her;
His anchor's atrip when his money's all spent,
And this is the life of a sailor."
Another of his songs, also set to the significant tune of _The
King, God bless him!_ mustered the following lines among many
"Oh, when safely landed in Boston or 'York,
Oh how I will tipple and jig it;
And toss off my glass while my rhino holds out,
In drinking success to our frigate!"
His advice to a young lad, who shipped with us at Valparaiso,
embodies the pith and marrow of that philosophy which enables
some man-of-war's-men to wax jolly in the service.
"_Shippy!_" said Landless, taking the pale lad by his neckerchief,
as if he had him by the halter; "Shippy, I've seen sarvice with
Uncle Sam--I've sailed in many _Andrew Millers_. Now take my advice,
and steer clear of all trouble. D'ye see, touch your tile whenever a
swob (officer) speaks to you. And never mind how much they rope's-end
you, keep your red-rag belayed; for you must know as how they don't
fancy sea-lawyers; and when the sarving out of slops comes round,
stand up to it stiffly; it's only an oh Lord! Or two, and a few oh my
Gods!--that's all. And what then? Why, you sleeps it off in a few
nights, and turn out at last all ready for your grog."
This Landless was a favourite with the officers, among whom he
went by the name of "_Happy Jack_." And it is just such Happy
Jacks as Landless that most sea-officers profess to admire; a
fellow without shame, without a soul, so dead to the least
dignity of manhood that he could hardly be called a man. Whereas,
a seaman who exhibits traits of moral sensitiveness, whose
demeanour shows some dignity within; this is the man they, in
many cases, instinctively dislike. The reason is, they feel such
a man to be a continual reproach to them, as being mentally
superior to their power. He has no business in a man-of-war; they
do not want such men. To them there is an insolence in his manly
freedom, contempt in his very carriage. He is unendurable, as an
erect, lofty-minded African would be to some slave-driving planter.
Let it not be supposed, however, that the remarks in this and the
preceding chapter apply to _all_ men-of-war. There are some
vessels blessed with patriarchal, intellectual Captains, gentlemanly
and brotherly officers, and docile and Christianised crews. The
peculiar usages of such vessels insensibly softens the tyrannical
rigour of the Articles of War; in them, scourging is unknown. To sail
in such ships is hardly to realise that you live under the martial
law, or that the evils above mentioned can anywhere exist.
And Jack Chase, old Ushant, and several more fine tars that might be
added, sufficiently attest, that in the Neversink at least, there was
more than one noble man-of-war's-man who almost redeemed all the rest.
Wherever, throughout this narrative, the American Navy, in any of
its bearings, has formed the theme of a general discussion,
hardly one syllable of admiration for what is accounted
illustrious in its achievements has been permitted to escape me.
The reason is this: I consider, that so far as what is called
military renown is concerned, the American Navy needs no eulogist
but History. It were superfluous for White-Jacket to tell the
world what it knows already. The office imposed upon me is of
another cast; and, though I foresee and feel that it may subject
me to the pillory in the hard thoughts of some men, yet,
supported by what God has given me, I tranquilly abide the event,
whatever it may prove.
Sorry, no summary available yet.