Read THE LASS THAT LOVED THE SAILORS. of Beneath the Banner, free online book, by F. J. Cross, on ReadCentral.com.

THE STORY OF AGNES WESTON.

“I was obliged to go to church, but I was determined not to listen, and oftentimes when the preacher gave out the text I have stopped my ears and shut my eyes that I might neither see nor hear.”

Thus writes Agnes Weston of the days of her girlhood. There was therefore a time in the life of this devoted woman when there seemed no prospect of her doing good to any one to say nothing of the great work she has accomplished in giving a helping hand to our sailors in every part of the world.

However, she got out of this Slough of Despond, and having become convinced of God’s love she told the good story to the sick in hospitals, to soldiers and sailors without number, and has done more for the good of Jack Tar afloat and ashore than perhaps any other man or woman.

Her public work commenced at the Bath United Hospital, where in 1868 she visited the patients. These looked forward so eagerly to her helpful conversation that in course of time it was arranged she should give a short Gospel address in each of the men’s wards once a week.

One day a man who had met with a terrible accident was brought into the hospital whilst she was there. His case was hopeless, and Miss Weston asked that she might be allowed to speak to him. She whispered to him the text, “God so loved the world”; and, though he gave no sign of taking it in, yet presently, when she repeated it, big tears rolled down his face. The word of comfort had reached him.

Another day she came across a poor fellow with both legs broken; and after a little earnest talk he said, “I’ve been a bad fellow, but I’ll trust Him”.

Others she found who had been already influenced by Miss Marsh; and so her task of teaching was made easier.

At the Sunday school she showed so great a genius for taming unruly boys that the curate handed over to her the very worst of the youths, that she might “lick them into shape”.

Ere long the boys’ class developed into a class for working men, which grew and grew till it reached an average attendance of a hundred.

After that followed temperance work. This is how Miss Weston came to sign the pledge.

She was working hard at meetings for the promotion of the temperance cause when a desperate drunkard, a chimney sweep by trade, came to her at one of the meetings and was going to sign the pledge.

Pausing suddenly he remarked, “If you please, Miss Weston, be you a teetotaler?”

“No,” she replied; “I only take a glass of wine occasionally, of course in strict moderation.” Laying down the pen he remarked he thought he’d do the same. So after this Miss Weston became an out-and-out teetotaler, duly pledged.

She had some experience of good work in the army before she took to the navy. The 2nd Somerset Militia assembled every year for drill; and for their benefit coffee and reading rooms were started and entertainments arranged, Miss Weston taking an active part in their promotion. The soldiers’ Bible class which she conducted was well attended; and altogether, as one of the officers remarked, “the men were not like the same fellows” after they had been brought under her influence.

The way Agnes Weston was first introduced to the sailors was singular. She had written to a soldier on board the troopship Crocodile, and he showed the letter to a sailor friend, who remarked: “That is good: we poor fellows have no friend. Do you think she would write to me?”

“I am sure she will,” replied the soldier; “I will write and ask her.”

The good news that there was a kind friend willing to write to them gradually spread; and sailor after sailor wrote to Miss Weston, and their correspondence grew so large that at length she had to print her letters.

Even in the first year she printed 500 copies a month of her letters ("little bluebacks” the sailors called them, on account of the colour of their cover); but before many years had passed as many as 21,000 a month were printed and circulated.

Then the sailor boys wanted a letter all to themselves, saying they could not fully understand the men’s bluebacks. Miss Weston could not refuse; so she printed them a letter too; and many a reply she had from the boys, telling her of their trials and difficulties, and the help her letters had been to them.

Before Miss Weston had been long at work she thought it would be useful if she went on board the vessels, and had a chat about temperance with the men.

But there was a good deal of difficulty in the way to begin with. A man would have been allowed readily enough, but a woman to invade her Majesty’s ships, it was not to be thought of!

At length Admiral Sir King Hall became interested in the subject. He determined to hear what Miss Weston had to say to the men, and, if he was satisfied that her teaching would benefit them, to assist her in her object. He got together a meeting of dockyard workmen, and asked her to speak to them.

So pleased was he with her address that the word went abroad to all the ships in the harbour: “Don’t be afraid to let Miss Weston come on board and speak to your ship’s company. I’ll stand security for her.”

She had some grand audiences on the ships, those she addressed sometimes numbering as many as 500.

One day when she went out to the Vanguard that vessel was getting up steam ready to go away, having received sudden orders to put out to sea. But, when the captain heard Miss Weston was there to keep an appointment, he put out the accommodation ladder, took her on board, had the notice piped that she had come to give an address; and soon a crowd of sailors was swarming round her in the upper deck battery, standing, sitting, lying, kneeling all earnestly listening.

Then the pledge book was brought out and placed on one of the big guns, and about forty signed.

On H.M.S. Topaze the grog tub was used as a table for signing the pledge book, one sailor remarking (to the tub): “Sixty odd nails in your coffin to-day, old fellow! If they all hold firm I would not give much for your life.”

At the present day on board every ship in the service there is a branch of the Royal Navy Temperance Society, and thus our sailors are being encouraged to become sober as well as gallant men.

Having seen to Jack’s welfare afloat, the next thing was to look after him on shore; for though the song says:

If love’s the best of all that can a man befall;
Then Jack’s the king of all for they all love Jack;

yet as a matter of fact there are always sharks on the look-out to cheat and rob Jack whenever he has money in his pocket.

Miss Weston took counsel with some officers in the service, and engaged a room for meetings at Devonport. The first Sunday one boy alone came, and next Sunday not a solitary lad made his appearance; so Miss Wintz, in whose house she was staying, offered a kitchen as more homely, and tea and cake as an attraction. Soon the audience reached a dozen; then all the chairs were filled, and very soon the meetings became so large that the kitchen would not contain all who came; and then a bigger building was provided.

Of course money was needed to enable Miss Weston to develop her scheme to such an extent. But she just asked in the right way; and before long, from one source and another, a sum of nearly L6000 was subscribed, which bought and fitted up a Sailors’ Institute and Rest.

Great was the rejoicing of Jack ashore to have a place where he could thoroughly enjoy himself without fear of being plundered or getting drunk. In fact, so great was the enthusiasm that, the night before the house was to be opened, three sailors presented themselves, and said they had asked for special leave to be ashore that night, that they might be the first to sleep in the building.

It turned out that they were the right sort of jacks; for, when the attendant went round to see if all was safe for the night, he found the three seated together, one of them reading aloud the Bible.

Not only has this home prospered, but similar homes have been founded in other places. In Portsmouth Miss Weston’s Sailors’ Rest is one of the most noted buildings in the town; whilst the principle that Jack, who fights our battles at sea, and keeps our country prosperous by his labours aboard ship, needs to be made happy when he is ashore is far more fully acknowledged than it used to be.

Miss Weston’s homes are as bright almost as the sunshine. Cheap and good food, tea and coffee both hot and fresh, plenty of light, lots of periodicals and games; and, for those who wish it, short meetings for prayer and praise.

There is a great deal more to tell about Miss Weston, but my space is short; those, however, who wish to know more will find plenty of information in the little book called Our Blue Jackets.