Read CHAPTER III - LEAVING FOR SEA of From Lower Deck to Pulpit , free online book, by Henry Cowling, on

A few days prior to our departure, Miss Weston kindly invited the draft ashore to her Sailors’ Rest to tea, and presented each of us with a Bible, and gave us all a tender farewell. Never will time erase from my mind the memory of the parting with my loved ones; it pains me now even as I dwell upon it. It was Sunday afternoon, and two days prior to my sailing for Bermuda, when the heartrending parting took place. Love can never say its last ‘good-bye,’ and especially is this true of a mother’s love. What thoughts were passing through her mind that Sunday afternoon? God knows fully. But surely they were tinged with this reflection: Would she ever see me again? A shadow deep and dark had recently fallen across the home. During my ‘Foudroyant’ days a messenger came on board with the sad news that my dear sister had been almost burnt to death. I will not dwell on the sadness of the awful tragedy, save to remark that she died through the cause of the terrible burns three days after the accident. The effect this had upon my mother is almost beyond expression. Her nerves were shattered and she became a physical wreck, and to this day she has never recovered from the shock. Judge then, her sorrow on the Sunday afternoon, when I was bidding ‘farewell,’ and within a short time of that overwhelming experience. I was now going thousands of miles away for three years, severed from paternal counsel and maternal affection, and on this occasion she was drinking the dregs of her cup of grief. Again, amidst choking sobs and scalding tears, I uttered the last ‘good-bye.’ The time had come for leaving, and I must depart. With two Sunday School scholars, one on either side (for I had been to my Sunday School in the afternoon for the last time), loaded with large parcels of food, we passed down the street. How easy to write it down how heartbreaking the experience!

The great troopship’s anchor was weighed on the Tuesday evening at 5 p.m., and we proceeded to sea. It was the month of October, and ere the evening shadows had stretched upon land and sea, I had gazed upon Maker church tower, at whose base my dear sister lay interred, until my eyes were strained. At last it disappeared from view, and the ‘Himalaya’ was far, far at sea.

She made a good passage to Madeira, arriving there on the following Sunday morning, and after coaling, we proceeded on the evening of the same day to Bermuda. In the first watch of the night the cry was heard: “Man overboard! Away lifeboat!” The lifebelt was let slip immediately by the sentinel, the engines were reversed, and the lifeboat with its crew lowered quickly from the davits. The lifeboat was one of an improved pattern, fitted with accessories, such as two calcium lights which burn for thirty minutes, and a whistle, the latter being useful to the drowning man in a fog or in darkness to indicate his-whereabouts.

Fortunately the poor man had seized the lifebelt. It was a dark night, but astern the crew of the lifeboat could observe the calcium lights burning. The boat’s head was put in that direction, and in a short time the sailor was rescued and rowed back to the ship. Did this seaman accidentally fall from the rigging, or lose his grasp in any manner? No; it is the same old story. Drink was the cause of the accident. He had indulged himself in Madeira wine, which befooled him to such a degree that he deliberately threw himself overboard, the ship steaming eighteen knots an hour at the time. He was confined in a cell the remainder of the voyage, and on arrival at Bermuda was sentenced to a court-martial.

My spare time on the outward voyage was occupied in reading ’Daniel Quorm,’ one of Mark Guy Pearse’s books, and in attending religious meetings in the evening in the sail-maker’s room. There were several relief crews on board for the various ships of the station; hence there were many Christians, and these evening gatherings were blessed by God, and made profitable to all. We had on board one whose destination was the prison at Bermuda, not to become a prisoner, by the way, but a warder. This man, at 4 a.m. every morning, would ferret out all the boys in the ship, sending them to the upper deck to undergo a salt water bath, which to us all, at that untimely hour, was a very trying ordeal.

Nine days after our departure from Madeira, we sighted Bermuda. So calm had been the voyage that I was not troubled by sickness. A dusky pilot came on board, and conned the ship onward through the Narrows, and within a few hours we were securely fastened in the camber at the dockyard. Then came the dispersion. Many ships of the fleet whose commission was now drawing nigh to a close, were flying their paying-off pennant, the crews of which were full of gladness at the ‘Himalaya’s’ arrival, with reliefs, and, moreover, she was their homeward-bound ship. We boys were despatched to H.M.S. ‘Terror,’ a receiving ship at Bermuda. Here we were kept three weeks, during which time the other ships of the fleet steamed in from sea. One day the ‘Emerald’ hove in sight. All took an especial interest in this ship, as we had learned she was the worst ship in the fleet for boys quite a ‘waker-up.’ Certain it was that some of us would be told off for her.

The dreaded morning came at last, and on the quarterdeck of the ‘Terror’ we assembled to await our destiny. “Boys whose names I now mention,” said the officer, “will join the ‘Bellerophon,’ the flagship of the fleet.” Then followed a long list of names. These ‘Bellerophon’ boys realised at the time it was better to be fortunate than rich. In proceeding, the officer said: “Eight boys will join the ‘Emerald.’” There was a silence that could be felt at this expression, and all, excepting those who had been told off, looked downcast and fearful. “Their names are,” he continued, “so-and-so, so-and-so . . . . and Cowling.” “And the lot fell upon Jonah.”

It took me many hours to recover from this blow, but the whole of us received the sympathy of all the other boys, who regarded us as embryo martyrs. Next day we eight were taken on board the ‘Emerald’ in her steam-launch, which came to fetch us. On boarding the ship, I, in looking round to observe what kind of man it was who wielded the cane, fell headlong down the hatchway with my bag of clothes. This I thought was an admirable introduction.