Read CHAPTER XIV of In Eastern Seas The Commission of H.M.S. 'Iron Duke‚' flag-ship in China‚ 1878-83 , free online book, by J. J. Smith, on

“Each earing to its cringle first they bend
The reef-band then along the yard extend;
The circling earings round th’ extremes entwin’d,
By outer and by inner turns they bind;
The reeflines next from hand to hand received,
Through eyelet-holes and roban legs were reeved;
The folding reefs in plaits unrolled they lay,
Extend the worming lines and ends belay.”

Sunday, January 2nd. For some time past we have been exercised to know how we could best signify to the admiral our appreciation of his many kindnesses to us during the time we have served under him. His approaching promotion gave us the desired opportunity, and it was decided that the most fitting present would be a silk flag of the largest size, to be hoisted at the main on that auspicious occasion. With this end in view we had purchased some 130 yards of silk at Nagasaki, which had been made up on board so quietly that few even of those most interested in it knew of its progress.

To day he was to hoist his flag as full admiral for the first time; and on this morning a deputation of the ship’s company awaited on him in his cabin to make the presentation. The captain, in a few suitable words, having introduced the representatives, and the admiral having responded to their presentation address in simple, unaffected, heartfelt language, the flag was soon fluttering in lazy folds aloft, to be saluted at “eight bells” by the shore battery and foreign men-of-war in harbour. A most innocent thing that flag, and scarcely could we conceive that it was destined to become the occasion of newspaper paragraphs, parliamentary questionings, admiralty minutes, and that sort of thing, but it was so to be. By one of the regulations of the service no officer may receive presents or testimonials from his men hence the correspondence. It is, however, satisfactory to know that in the present instance the admiralty allowed the admiral to retain our flag.

January 7th. To-day’s mail proved a complete hoax. By it we were speedily to be relieved so said all our private letters, so corroborated the officers, and even the admiral seemed to give a certain amount of credence to the rumour. But need I say it was a chimera. The papers are to blame for all this; for they stated that Admiral Willes had inspected the “Swiftsure” and had found her in every way fit for his flag-ship. This was all true; but what wasn’t, was that she is to come out to relieve us.

February 16th. A month since and if anyone had asked us where we should be bound when next we slipped from the buoy, we should have answered with a joyful “homeward!” To-day we know better. We are speeding Singapore-ward, it is true, but not to meet our relief. The voyage into those torrid seas was not momentous, and a week afterwards we lay alongside the coaling jetty before spoken of.

And now we became aware that quite an unexpected and perhaps in some respects judging from after experience not altogether a welcome change was about to be made in our executive. The admiral, of course, leaves under any circumstances; but, further, the captain, commander, and staff-commander were to be superseded, their reliefs being already on the passage out. In addition, the chaplain and Mr. Clarke were to leave, though at their own request.

By the mail of the 26th the first instalment of our fresh officers arrived. These were the admiral, G. O. Willes, of Devonport dockyard celebrity and traditionally known to us; the commander, nephew to the admiral; and the flag lieutenant.

February 28th. So quietly, that the majority of us scarce knew of it, the admiral left to-day for England, and with him the good wishes of everybody on the lower deck. With the hauling down of the flag at the main, and its re-hoisting at the fore, a new departure in the conduct of the fleet on the China station was inaugurated. Henceforth a season of activity, seasoned with salt junk, is to be the order of the day.

After a short cruise with the squadron in Singapore waters, during which period the “Tyne” arrived with our new captain, and having bid good-bye to Captain Cleveland, we stood away for Hong Kong, encountering such heavy weather on the passage that we were compelled to put into Saigon for coal.

The anchorage to seaward of Saigon which town is the French capital of Gambodin, part of the kingdom of Anam, and situated some miles up the river Dong-nai is Cape St. James, where we brought up until the tide should suit for the river passage. In the first watch we commenced to go up the river by the light of a brilliant moon, which, however, did not allow us to judge of the beauties of what is really a beautiful river. By the following morning we had arrived off the town; and what a surprise it was to see a popular European town in such a situation, well laid out, clean, and well, thoroughly French. The river here is so narrow, and yet of so even a depth, that, in turning, our dolphin striker was buried in the foliage on the one bank and our stern almost touching the opposite one. The town is seemingly built on a well-drained swamp or marsh, and consequently lies very low, in fact, from our topgallant forecastle we could command a pretty general view of the whole of it. Ashore the place is just as pretty as it looks from the ship. It is almost a miniature of Paris. A great cathedral, Notre Dame an exact model of that on the island in the Seine; a palace for the governor, which might well accommodate an emperor; streets with Parisian names; boulevards and champs, all bearing the well-known nomenclature of the gay capital; cafes, hotels, all remind one of the Paris of Dumas’ charming novels. It is the boulevards, streets, and promenades, planted with trees, which make Saigon so beautiful, so cool, and so refreshing towards the evening even in a temperature where to live is a punishment. It is not until sunset that we see anything of the French population, then, indeed, the cafes and restaurants are in full swing, and gay with music and laughter. These places of refreshment are generally al fresco; and as each tiny pure white marble table is presided over by pretty wholesome-looking French girls and matrons, we must have less impressionable hearts than sailors are known to possess if we can pass so much mischief by unnoticed, so courteous as these demoiselles are too.

The native population is Anamese, a race something like the Chinese in feature, but differing from them slightly in dress. They do not shave the head, but gather all their hair into a knot at the top, which in the case of the females they decorate with rolls of brilliantly colored silks, generally scarlet or emerald green. The dress of the ladies is far more graceful than that of their “celestial” sisters, for though they wear the indispensable trousers, yet that masculine garment is hid by a long sack-like robe, something after the style of a priest’s toga, of in nearly every case emerald-green silk, a color which seems to harmonise well with their complexion. The men wear a similar garment of black silk.

Their walk is peculiar. They go barefoot, and strut, rather than walk, without bending the knee, with chest and stomach pompously projected. From this gait results a certain balancing of the body and a movement to the hips, which gives to the women a bold, and to the men a pretentious air. Most of the women hide their faces when a stranger heaves in sight; but it must not be supposed from this that they are either modest or retiring, on the contrary, for young girls and women yield their persons indiscriminately to men until they are married: before that they are at liberty to do as they please, and do not, in consequence, lose the respect of their fellows. In fact, I am given to understand, most strangers find the advances of the fair sex rather embarrassing.

At the landing place, and thronging the fine bronze statute of Admiral Genouilly, the hero of Saigon, an immense crowd had gathered to witness the embarkation of the governor, on a visit to our admiral. His barge is a splendidly got up affair. A large boat of native build, painted and gilded till one could scarcely look on it, and rowed by fourteen French seamen standing, clothed in spotless white, with broad crimson sashes around their waists. This equipage had such a holiday look about it, that one of our fellows irreverently asked if “Sanger’s circus was coming!”

Only a day at Saigon, and off again. Instead of shaping course direct for Hong Kong we hugged the coast of Cochin China, thinking thus to cheat the monsoon. In this we were mistaken, for the wind and sea proved so strong that lower yards and topmasts had to be struck. Thus it was not until the 25th, and after hard steaming, that we reached Hong Kong.

April 16th. To-day, William Edwards, second captain of the main top, died in hospital of a complication of debilitating complaints.

April 21st Started on our yearly trip. Between Hong Kong and Amoy we encountered a series of baffling fogs, compelling us to anchor for days at a stretch. One clear day the “Lapwing” passed, bound for Hong Kong. She had recently been in collision with a Chinese merchant steamer, and inflicted such telling damage on the latter that now her bones lie rotting at the bottom of the Formosa channel.

At Amoy we found the first division of the cruising squadron at anchor, under the command of Captain East, of the “Comus.” From Hong Kong here they had been under the convoy of the admiral, who had, to use an expression of one of the interested, given them a thorough “shaking up,” especially in the night watches.

Before sailing the “kit” of our late deceased shipmate was disposed of at a public auction, and realised the sum of L25. This, together with a general subscription, allowed us to send the comfortable sum of L100 to his widow. It is at these sales that one sees the sailor come out in what shall I say, a new character? Well, in a way, yes; for he certainly exhibits a carefulness of thought and an enlargement of the organ of feeling, for which the world would scarce give him credit perhaps. I have often thought it the most beautiful trait in an otherwise rough and crude nature. Let it but be known that a poor woman is left helpless to struggle through a hard and selfish world, may-be children to add to her difficulties, then you shall see that the sailor’s heart is in the right place; then all private animosity against the deceased is swallowed up in the “charity which is kind.” The ancient Romans were not more eager to obtain a memento of dead Cæsar than they for some article of the deceased’s clothing; not so much for the sake of the thing itself, but simply that, by the purchase of it, they may exercise their generosity, by giving for it, perhaps, four times its value.

We have orders to cruise to Chefoo under sail. Fancy an iron-clad making a passage under canvas! With the “Iron Duke’s” usual luck we encountered either boisterous head winds or flat calms all the way, compelling us to reef our canvas or to endure the tantalizing and provoking agony of witnessing our sails hang in picturesque, but useless, festoons up and down the masts.

For ten days we scarce saw the sun; for ten days the sextants lay idle. When at length the sun did condescend to slash the sky with his hopeful beams, we found we had made the satisfactory average of ten miles a day. Our potatoes, too, that self-provided esculent upon which sailors depend so much, and without which the admiralty allowance assumes such skeleton proportions now began to fail us. As it was useless to attempt to reach Chefoo under sail alone, steam was got up, and we managed to make the harbour on June 6th.

Here again we picked up the squadron and the admiral, the former of whom had been lying idle for fourteen days, eating of the fat of the land, whilst we, like certain ruminants, have been consuming our own fat, for want of more natural food.

On the 11th, the squadron departed for evolutions in the gulf of Pe-chili, outside, the admiral accompanying to put them through a little practice.

Whilst at Chefoo, this time, we became acquainted with the ladies and gentlemen of the China Inland Mission, of whom Mr. Judd is the pastor. These toilers in God’s vineyard, for the better carrying out of their work, adopt the Chinese national dress. The ladies are young, seemingly, for such work, but possess unbounded enthusiasm. Their visits to the ships were frequent, but not the less welcome in consequence; and long before we left we had got to look upon them as very dear friends. On one occasion they provided a temperance entertainment for as many as could come in the Seamen’s Hall, on shore a real floral fête, where the fair English faces of the ladies seemed to vie with the lovely blossoms around. There were many in that audience who went there under the impression of being bored, but who, long before the proceedings had finished, declared they had not enjoyed so pleasant an evening since leaving home. That was it, these kind Christian friends made that gathering so home-like, that one could scarce fail to be happy. For a few short hours only we rough sailors were permitted to enjoy the refined and cultured society of our generous friends, and it is to be hoped we came out the purer for the contact.

June 24th The sweetest pleasure has its after-pang; the most beautiful rose its latent thorn. So, too, I see, is it with those who undertake to narrate facts. This day marks the loss of another shipmate, from one of those suddenly awful deaths to which the sailor is, above all other men, perhaps, ever liable. One of our boys, William Edwards, whilst at work on the main crosstrees, fell to the deck, sustaining such fearful injuries that he died a few moments afterwards. We buried him in the little cemetery on shore, where an unpretending gothic cross now records the simple fact that a sailor has died.

After all, our ship is not entirely useless; so thinks the admiral, for he left orders that we were to repair to Wosung to fill up with provisions for the squadron, and from thence to proceed to Nagasaki to await their arrival; a feat we performed, I believe, to his entire satisfaction.

Another of our old officers left us here to take command of the “Lapwing,” her captain having shot himself in consequence of the decision of the court against him in the affair of the late collision. Much regret was felt at losing Mr. Haygarth about the last of the executive officers who commissioned us.

Sometime after the sailing of the squadron, we left, with the “Zephyr” in company, to rejoin the admiral in Posiette Bay, Siberia. But the little ship being minus several sheets of copper, we put in at the island of Tsu-sima to allow her effective repairs.

August 7th. And now we may be said to form a component part of the squadron; henceforth, the ships are to follow our lead, for the St. George’s cross once more flutters from our fore-royal mast head.

Posiette is certainly a magnificent anchorage, capable of accommodating many fleets. All around richly clothed hills, admirably suited for grazing and agricultural purposes, shelter the great sheet of water from all winds. Nature, however, seems to hold undivided sway on those still, solemn hills, or those broad glassy plains; for not an animal nor house to betray the presence of the universal devastator can be seen, though I hear that only a short distance over the hills several thousands of Russian soldiers are under canvas, pending the conclusion of négociations with China, relative to Kashgar.

August 11th. At noon the squadron, comprising the following ships: “Iron Duke,” “Comus,” “Encounter,” “Curacoa,” “Pegasus,” “Albatross,” “Zephyr,” and “Vigilant,” were signalled to get under sail, except our ship, the “Zephyr,” and the “Vigilant.” Unfortunately for the accomplishment of this evolution, the wind, after holding out hopes that it would last all day, with the force of the morning fell light just as the ships had tripped their anchors. The little “Zephyr,” in this emergency, proved of invaluable service. She was here, there, and everywhere to the rescue of her great sisters, which could not be induced anyhow to come to the wind. We were over four hours clearing the harbour, and even then steam had to be got up for the purpose.

Next day we reached Vladivostock, anchoring in a semicircle in front of the town. Scarce had our anchor left the bows when another of our young lads, William McGill, was suddenly ushered into that unknown world that lies beyond. Whilst uncovering the mizen gaff, he lost his hold, fell, and was so shattered that he died ere he could be borne below. He lies in the Russian cemetery on shore, a wild, neglected, “God’s acre,” without any pretensions to the sanctity usual to such places. Another of the “Iron Duke’s” crosses, of stout old English oak, also marks this spot.

I must now request the reader to take a leap with me permissible enough to book writers, though scarcely possible to pedestrians. You are now in the straits of Tsugar, and near the scene of our former misadventure. Before you are the ships of the squadron drawn up in line for a race no, not all, for the “Mosquito” parted company during the night through stress of weather. The breeze is now blowing at force eight; or, as we should say, “slashing.” During the night we had met with a few casualties to our sails, but so slight were they that in the morning we were able to take our place among the coursers, as judge, referee, and starter. At this moment the admiral signals “chase to windward.” What takes place now is a pretty sight. Clouds of snowy balloon-like canvas spring, as if by magic, to masts and yards, straining and bellying out with tremendous effort. The steel corvettes were able to carry all plain sail with impunity. Not so with the “Encounter,” however, for she is obliged to take a reef in her topsails and to furl her royals, a proceeding which does not lessen her chance of coming in first in the slightest, for she is known to be such a good sailer, that a few yards of canvas, more or less, does not affect her much. Away they go, listing over under the strong pressure, and rising and falling in all the majesty of ships of war. The “Pegasus” now shoots ahead, bidding fair to overhaul the corvettes, but her ambition is speedily curbed by the springing of her main-topsail yard. Placed hors de combat, she drops astern to shift her wounded spar. Many little accidents such as this, calling for prompt seamanship, occurred during the forenoon, and hence the value of such trials of speed.

For eight hours the squadron disported themselves in this manner, when the “Encounter” was declared the winner by 400 yards. At the moment of shortening sail, our lame duck, the “Mosquito,” hove in sight astern, in a sad plight, as is usual with lame ducks. She had lost her fore-topmast and jib-boom during the night, off O’Kosiri. She was at once signalled to repair to Hakodadi with all speed, to effect repairs.

By the time the race was finished we were broad off Hakodadi, on the opposite side of the strait, but as it was not intended to push on until next day, easy sail was kept on until daylight.

September 7th. At daybreak a man-of-war, with the Japanese royal standard at the main sky blue, with a white chrysanthemum in the centre was observed making out of Hakodadi. Our larger ships at once saluted, the smaller ones lowering their upper sails at the same time. Subsequently we fell in with a Japanese squadron, all with royal flags displayed. They were in attendance on the mikado, who is now on a tour of his empire.

By the evening we had arrived and anchored in a double line, at right angles with the town.

We have, doubtless, all seen, heard, or read of the various devices adopted by the different peoples of the globe in the capture of the finny tribe, from our own familiar hook and line to the Chinaman’s trained cormorant or the Chenook Indian’s tame seal. These are all good in their way, only they involve a great loss of time and require no end of patience. But the method illustrated to us the morning after our arrival, besides being a more certain is also less cruel than anything else in the shape of fishing I have yet seen. Observing a vast quantity of fish disporting themselves near the ship, our experimental torpedo officer armed himself with a small torpedo, pulled himself into their midst, quietly dropped the missile overboard, and pulled away again. The beautiful unsuspecting creatures still played on, unconscious of the doom that awaited them. The effect on firing the torpedo was terrible: for a space of 150 yards all around, the surface was like one mass of silver, from the closely-packed and upturned bellies of a species of pilchard. The slaughter was complete not a fish moved after the awful stun it had received. Boats from the squadron were signalled to gather up the slain, which will perhaps convey a pretty fair idea of their number.

Of late the admiral’s barge has been attracting much attention by her sailing qualities. She has been taken in hand by the same energetic officer previously alluded to, who has altered the service rig, and provided a new set of sails, more suited in every way to develop the boat’s qualities. We had not long to wait for a challenge, for the “Comus’” people, ever jealous in all such matters, offered to match their sailing pinnace against her. The challenge was accepted, and bets were concluded in the customary manner. The admiral, in particular, was especially pleased to think that, at last, he would have an opportunity of verifying his remarks about his boat; for he has reiterated again and again that, in his opinion, the boat wanted only proper handling to go. Well, as you know the race came off, and as you may also remember the “Comus’” boat was beat in common phrase “all to smash.”

September 15th. Southward once again. It was intended to call in at Yamada on the way down, but by some unaccountable reason we overshot the mark and found ourselves in Kama-ichi instead. The mistake was, of course, speedily discovered; the squadron hove around and headed north for Yamada.

Next we put in to Sendai bay, a commodious anchorage, but very much exposed seaward from its broad and unprotected mouth. Great rollers and heavy swells come thundering in with nearly all winds.

Previous to leaving, the admiral conveyed his intention that certain ships would prepare to take the others in tow. Acting on this the “Curacoa” took us and the “Mosquito;” the “Comus,” the “Albatross” and “Zephyr;” and the “Swift,” the “Lily.” Thus we started, and under these conditions logged five knots, and all went merry until the sky began to frown, and displayed evident signs of bad temper. Half a gale blew, ships still towing, but cutting a violent caper because their freedom of action was curtailed. With the night the wind increased to a full gale, and as the ships were making the most frantic efforts to free themselves from the imprisoning hawsers, and likely to become bad friends over the job, signal was made to cast off. Now in her impatience the “Mosquito” was not content to wait until we gave her her freedom, but proceeded to wrest herself free by pulling one arm of our main bitts clean off to the deck. Annoying, was it not? But this is a quality generally conceded to mosquitoes I believe. The squadron now re-formed under reefed canvas, and though we could see scarcely 400 yards ahead, from the obscurity of the weather, we managed to reel off eight and a half knots, the “Duke” of course under steam.

Very cold and bleak blew the ice-cold breath of Fusi this morning as we headed into the bay of Yedo. Contrary to all our expectations, instead of making our way at once to Yokohama we turned aside, and anchored at the naval arsenal of Yokusuka, on the opposite side of the bay, presumably for the purpose of making the ships presentable to the argus-eyed naval critics in Yokohama.

On the 24th we slipped across in gallant style, and confessedly in first-rate order and trim. Even the “Yanks” conceded this, with a rider, of course, to the effect that they “guess’d” the “Alert” did’nt they mean the “Palos,” I wonder “would knock saucepans out of the whole bilin’.” On account of the great number of men-of-war already at anchor we had to take up stations as most convenient. As the flagship’s anchor dropped, a signal from main, mizen, and yard-arms, drew the attention of the squadron. This great display of fluttering pennants and parti-colored squares conveys to the initiated the following sentence: “cruise at an end; satisfactory to both officers and men.”

September 28th. Before the dispersal of the ships to their winter quarters, and as a pleasant finale to an unpleasant cruise a regatta, under the sole patronage of the admiral and officers, was to be held on this and the two succeeding days. The two first days were allotted to the pulling contests, the third day to the sailing boats. Of the pulling races it will, perhaps, suffice to say that they were contested in the usual close and lusty manner.

The morn of the third day came in most auspiciously, so far as the wind was concerned; but by mid-day heavy rain clouds began to darken the weather horizon, and by their aspect, threatened to mar the pleasure of the proceedings. The race, however, had started long before this. More than ordinary excitement was felt concerning it, as the prize was to be a splendid silver cup, presented by the admiral, and which he hoped which we too hoped, nay, confidently expected would be won by his own boat. So beyond question it would had the breeze held. But it didn’t, it fell to a flat calm, with not a breath to ripple the harbour’s glassy surface. In some manner to wipe out their late defeat, and by a persistency really most laudable, the “Comus’” men rolled their pinnace all around the course, and ended by winning the cup. Some idea of the labour entailed on her crew may be formed from the time at which they were at it. At 10 a.m. the boats started, and it was not until 5 p.m. the race finished; the crews being all this time without a drop of water, and under a vertical sun.

October 9th. We are now in Nagasaki and about to go in dry dock on the morrow.

If we had previously made up our minds to any enjoyment in Japan’s westernmost port we were doomed to disappointment, for we had not been an hour in the bay before alarming accounts reached us of the prevalence of a most virulent cholera on shore. Leave is of course out of the question provoking, to say the least of it, in lovely Nagasaki. The captain at once issued a memo., couched in terms which ought to have appealed to each man’s common sense, and containing the most accurate information with regard to the epidemic. In the face of all this, and notwithstanding the British consul’s statistics, our men would not believe in the urgency of the case at all; and several, despite all that could be urged against it crossed over to the town.

The days in dock were not, however, allowed to pass altogether unpleasantly or devoid of interest, for the officers no whit better off than we in the matter of leave recognising the necessity of making an effort to divert ennui, and to set an example of cheerfulness under depressing circumstances, got up a series of athletic sports on the limited space afforded by the dock. It will suffice to notice a few of the leading items in our highly amusing programme, for amusing it really was from beginning to end, exemplifying to the letter the committee’s motto, “fun, not dollars,” though dollars were not lacking.

The sports commenced at 1 p.m. on the 13th, with a closely contested flat race of 100 yards. A sack race which followed was, of course, rare fun, though not to some who took the most active part in it, for I am afraid one’s nose coming in contact with hard gravel is anything but fun to the owner of such organ. The jockey race which came next must be noticed as exhibiting steeds in entirely a new light. In the present instance, they so far threw aside the nature of the equine race that, they selected for themselves jockeys from the arms of fearful Japanese mothers, who had come to see the fun. Clearly, as the referees decided, this class of jockey did not come within the scope of the programme.

But one of the most entertaining items was the obstacle race, and considering, as I said before, the small space at the committee’s command, several severe obstacles had been placed in the way of the competitors. Eighteen entered for this race. First, half a pound of pudding, minus anything oleaginous, and a basin of water was administered to each. At a given signal the “gorging” commenced. He who first got outside his “duff and water” started, and so on with the next. One would scarce believe with what incredible rapidity that pudding was metamorphosed. The next obstacle to be surmounted was a huge balk of timber raised at the ends, about a foot off the ground, under which the coursers were compelled to crawl. A row of eighteen barrels, with the ends knocked out, came next; then a climb up slack ropes, and over a transverse bar; and finally another balk of timber if anything less than a foot off the ground under which they had to squeeze and wriggle in the best manner possible.

As a finale to our excellent programme, the most amusing and entertaining thing of all was yet to be carried out. A stunsail boom had been rigged out over the caisson, and rendered extremely fit for pedestrianism by plentiful libations of slush and soft soap. At the extreme end a basket containing, in the words of the programme, “a little pig” was slung. About thirty men stood to the front, as would-be possessors of “porcus.” Each of the thirty, as valiant heroes as ever trod a plank or fisted handspike, tried and failed and tried again with a like unsatisfactory result. Piggy still lay nestled in his swinging stye. True, once or twice he had cocked out his head with an enquiring squeal as the pole now and then received an extra hard shake, making the foundations of his house rather insecure. The affair was at length decided in an unlooked-for manner. As the thirty could not get the pork out, the latter took the initiative and got out himself of course falling overboard, where he was secured by an amphibious sailor below.

As the time anticipated had not been consumed in the pork affair, a tug-of-war between the fore and aft men was decided on; and as it is a generally understood thing that our men can pull on occasions, a four-and-half hemp hawser was hauled to the front, experience having proved that ropes of lesser diameter are like as much tow in their hands. As no prize could be conveniently awarded for this, about six dollars’ worth of that ambiguous compound, known as gingerbread, was supplied and laid on a piece of canvas in a formidable heap within view of the antagonists, with the intention that the winners might regale themselves afterwards. But this highly laudable and very proper intention was frustrated, for the losers happening to be nearest the heap took base advantage of their proximity to pillage the store, which, by the aid of a score or so of Japanese imps, in all manners of reversible attitudes in the crowd, they managed to raze to its foundations. So ended one of the most enjoyable days of the commission.

By the way I must not omit to mention that the ubiquitous “Aunt Sally,” of immortal memory, was present on the occasion, and contributed the usual amount of sport.

October 14th. By midnight, all hands having relegated themselves to the close embraces of the sleepy god, a terrible din and an unusual alarm was circulated throughout the ship. At first, in our semi-wakeful state, and before we could adjust our ideas, we had the most confused notions of what was the matter. Most thought that the shores under the ship’s bottom had carried away, and that we had fallen over on our bilge; and, strange to say, in our imaginary terror our eyes seemed to convey that impression. The ominous word “fire!” followed by the maddening unmusical efforts of a crazed bell, reduced all this din and uncertainty to a logical something. But where was it? What was on fire, the ship? Fortunately no; but a fire so close to the ship that she was in imminent danger of taking the flames every minute. Ahead of us, and within a biscuit’s throw of our flying boom, a long shed containing kerosene and other inflammables had taken fire, but how does not so clearly appear. But that doesn’t matter. In a moment there was a general conflagration. It burst out with sudden and alarming fierceness, threatening speedily to overwhelm the whole yard.

Our captain’s first consideration was the safety of his ship. To this end the dock was flooded, and pumps rigged on board in readiness for any possible eventuality; for, though we were not in immediate contact with the danger, yet it was so unpleasantly hot on our top-gallant forecastle, and such quantities of sparks and lumps of burning wood were so constantly lodging on our tarry ropes and rigging, that there was no saying how soon we too might add to the general glare.

The means for putting out fires in Japan are, as everybody knows, of the most simple and primitive kind. But simple and ineffective as their method is, we were compelled to adopt it until there should be a sufficiency of water in the dock to enable us to work our pumps. One would have thought that in a Government yard like this the machinery for pumping out the dock might have been utilized for such a purpose. Possibly if fires were of less frequent occurrence amongst the Japanese this plan might be considered.

After the ship had been attended to we next turned our attention to the fire. From the first we saw it was useless to attempt its subjugation, even had we the ordinary appliances at hand, so our efforts were mainly directed to the prevention of its spreading to another shed standing near, containing vitriol, and to the preservation of a stack of huge balks of timber, adjoining the burning shed. We succeeded in the former, but the timber proved too cumbrous to be interfered with, and it was not until four o’clock in the morning that the fire was got under or rather, burnt itself out is, I suppose, the more correct expression. After a good hour and half’s delay a Japanese fire brigade arrived on the scene. The appearance of this body of men was such that they claim a few words of description. They were attired in tight-fitting blue garments, and mushroom-shaped hats of bamboo, with each an umbrella over his shoulder, the use of which will become apparent directly. Before the cortege marched a man blowing a large conch, which emitted, not “the murmur of the shell,” but a much more ear-splitting music. Next to him came a personage bearing the insignia I suppose we must term it of the brigade. This affair reminded me of nothing at home so much as the stall or stand of the itinerant vendor of boot and corset laces in our streets, the laces in this case being represented by strips of gilded leather, and surmounted by a ball, on which was traced a great character in gold, signifying fire, in the language of the children of the “rising sun.” Then followed their box-like engine, borne on bamboos across the shoulders of the main body. Notwithstanding the ludicrousness of the whole cavalcade, the men set to work most energetically, and displayed that dash and intrepidity of conduct for which the Japanese are famed, and which must eventually raise them to the dominance of the peoples of the far east. Right into the midst of the fire dashed these fellows, their only shelter from the fierce glare being the before-mentioned umbrellas. These frail shades, though made only of paper, seemed to answer the purpose admirably.

October 26th. Left for Wosung, anchoring in the Yang-tsze, after a quick run of four days across the Yellow Sea. We are to await here the arrival of the flying squadron. Meanwhile an opportunity was given us of visiting the great European metropolis of China. The “Foxhound” was ordered down from Shanghai, and converted into a passenger steamer, for the benefit of our ship’s company. Shanghai at this time offered plenty of scope for enjoyment to sailors. The city is divided into three principal parts or “concessions” English, French, and American the English being far more extensive than the other two combined, and much more beautiful, with clean broad streets, houses like palaces, and shops which would do no discredit to Regent street or the Strand. The great attraction was the races, held outside the city, on the Nankin Road, near which is an extensive race-course.

Of the native city well perhaps the less said the better. It is full of the foulest filth and abominations in which it is possible for even a Chinaman to exist. I will not afflict my readers with a description of its horrors; it would scarcely be fit reading for our friends. Fever and plague are ever rife within the city gates, a fact so well established that the European residents never visit this quarter. We had not been warned of this, however, and the result was that some of our men, who had weakened their systems with poisonous liquor, fell victims to some disease very like cholera, which in two cases proved fatal within twenty-four hours. I trust these awfully terrible examples were not without their lesson to us. (Shipmates, there is a higher aspiration within the reach of every sailor than that of blindly devoting himself to the service of the “boozy” god, a self-immolation which leaves no enjoyment no healthy enjoyment, I mean to its devotees. It must be, and I know it is so, that every one such feels ashamed of himself afterwards, and calls himself by hard but honest adjectives when the “bad head” period comes on.) I am thankful to state that our other cases recovered, though not until almost all hope had well-nigh gone.

November 22nd. To-day the long-expected flying squadron arrived, and took up positions ahead of us. The following ships comprised it “Inconstant” (flag), “Bacchante,” “Cleopatra,” “Tourmaline,” and “Carysfort.”

For days past much activity has existed amongst the junk fleet in this neighbourhood. Dozens of these trim-built and picturesque-looking craft have lately accumulated here to give the princes a proper reception. Day after day they have duly gone through some extraordinary and to us meaningless evolutions, all flags, gongs, yells, and gunpowder.

November 24th. Leaving the squadron to the joy and festivities of Shanghai, once more we head for Hong Kong. We thought then it was for the last time; but hopes have been shattered so frequently of late that we were not prepared to bet on it.

Whilst at anchor, awaiting the tide to cross the outer bar, our attendant pilot boat came to grief under our bows. Everybody who knows anything of Chinese rivers of the Yangtsze in particular will have often remarked how great a velocity the current attains at near low water, making boating alongside a ship an almost impossible and extremely hazardous proceeding. The water hisses, seethes, and boils past the sides as if the ship was under weigh in a heavy sea; thus when the little vessel reached our bows there was nothing to save her. Fortunately she came down upon us in such a manner that she escaped with the loss of mainmast and sail, whilst a little damage was done to our head-gear in the scrimmage.

November 30th. Again the well-known rig of the Canton fishing junks heaves in sight, and ere long the equally well-known outline of Victoria Peak, the most welcome sight on the station, after all said and done. In a few hours that prince of bumboat men, old Attam, had paid us a visit, giving us a kindly welcome, with his good-tempered, ever-smiling, and flat celestial face.

December 20th. To-day at noon the flying squadron came in from the northward. Their arrival was awaited by eager and expectant crowds thronging the shore, in anticipation of witnessing the landing of the young royal middies. In this they were disappointed. The same absence of ceremony and reserve was to be observed here, with respect to the queen’s grandsons, as was recently followed out in Shanghai, and which gave so much umbrage to the residents of that city. It was soon officially known that whilst staying at Hong Kong, the princes would be publicly recognised simply as “mids.”

The Europeans and other foreign residents were quite prepared to do the honors handsomely, had things been ordered differently. These shortcomings were however amply compensated for by the magnificence of the Chinamen. It did not signify to them as to how the princes were to be treated; to them they were the queen’s grandsons, midshipmen or not.

The two nights immediately preceding Christmas Day were devoted to the grandest display of fireworks and illuminations I have ever witnessed, and which, possibly, few men see but once in a lifetime. All accounts of China agree that in the pyrotechnic art the Chinese stand alone, unequalled.

We have all, no doubt, been struck when reading of the wonderful changes of form assumed by their fireworks in the air. This, like many other descriptions about this people, is rather misleading. What actually does take place I will endeavour to show; only bear in mind the most perfect description must fall far short of the startling reality.

In the present instance two skeleton, tower-like structures of bamboo were erected in the soldiers’ drill ground, and within this simple framework all the business was to be transacted. Seats for the accommodation of the governor and other high functionaries, and for the leading Chinese, were set up at a convenient distance, whilst the respectable public were permitted within the enclosure. For several hours before dusk, relays of coolies had been bearing into the open space curious-looking balls of wicker, innocent of anything like the gorgeous things they really were. At sunset the programme opened. One of the balls was hoisted to the top of a tower, and set fire to in its ascent, so that by the time it had reached its highest altitude it was all one blaze. But behold the change! so sudden and brilliant that a shout expressive of admiration was involuntarily sent up by the sea of faces around. In place of the homogenous ball, hundreds of small figures of mandarins and ladies, some seated at tables, some riding on mules, others playing at shuttlecock or flying kites, and all clothed in the most beautiful garments, and around which innumerable squibs were hissing and cracking, revealed themselves to our astonished gaze. Another change! The human element disappears. Birds and flowers, with swarms of brilliant butterflies flitting amongst them, and alighting on their gorgeous petals, the light all the time ever-changing and varying in color. These in their turn disappear, and a grand pagoda suddenly drops, as from the skies, out of the burning mass, its different storys all distinctly marked by parti-colored lamps, whilst little rockets are continually going off at all its windows. What, not finished yet? No; exit pagoda, enter a royal crown, dominating the Prince of Wales’ feathers, with the initials “A V” and “G” underneath. Bear in mind all these changes emanated from the same ball, which was but one of scores such, and all different. Each ball generally wound up in one tremendous report, and a rocket, which shot far into the night, and whose sparks, scintillating for awhile in space, rivalled in brilliancy the tints of the stars.

This was but the first part of the entertainment; a far prettier was yet to come. Starting from the various Chinese guilds, and uniting in front of the governor’s house, a grand procession, over a mile long, commenced the perambulation of the streets of the city. Each man bore on his shoulders exaggerated representations of all the domestic and food animals used in the Chinese ménage, principally fish, fowls, and pigs, constructed of bamboo framework covered with tinted gauze, and illumined from within by colored candles. Illuminated shops, trophies, interiors, representations in character from the sacred books, the figures being real and resplendent in the most beautiful silks, were amongst the most important objects in the ceremonial. Bands of music save the mark! filled up the intervals. Towards the end of the procession came two dragons a gold one and a silver one of such a length that each required somewhere about thirty pairs of bearers. They were divided into sections, to every one of which a pair of men was attached, illumined from within, and covered with a rich scaled brocade, in which the bearers themselves were also enveloped, their legs and feet appearing from underneath like the legs of a huge centipede.

Whilst on the subject of dragons I may just mention a curious ceremony I witnessed, during the earlier part of the day, in connection with one of these the gold one in the present ceremonial. The occasion was the instillation of life into the legendary monster. He was conducted by his bearers to the largest temple in the city, where a yellow-robed bonze was in waiting to receive him. On the huge head being brought to the door the farce commenced. Taking a live cock in his hand, the priest pricked its comb in three several places, and with the blood proceeded to mix some vermilion paint, in a small china vessel. With this pigment he now described three cabalistic signs on a piece of yellow paper, which he stuck on the monster’s forehead, at the same time touching with his brush the eyes, the cavernous jaws, and horrible fangs of the animal. This completes the business, and the dragon proceeds on its sinuous way amidst the howling and contortions of a superstitious and excited mob.

It is not to be supposed that the flying squadron could be permitted to leave for England without the usual challenges for boating contests being thrown out. We, of course, came in for the lion’s share of their attacks. A match was pulled, in which our green galley came in the victor; then a second, in which the “Bacchante’s” cutter beat our crack boat. This unexpected defeat set our men on their metal, in fact raised a bit of a storm in the lower deck, so that dollars were freely tendered towards a high stake to pull them again. But the “Bacchante” wanted not our two hundred dollars. “They had beat us,” they said, “and to their entire satisfaction; what more could they desire?” The “Tourmaline’s” men appeared highly delighted at our defeat. On a black board, fixed up in their fore-rigging, they had written, “‘Iron Duke’ no can do ‘Bacchante.’” This was met by a counter taunt from us, “‘Iron Duke’ can do ’Bacchante’ 200 dollars.” I am inclined to the belief that had the “Dukes” and “Tourmalines” met on shore that night there would have been work for the doctors.