Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: On the Fringe of the Harbor
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302101.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

Produced by: Walter Moore

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to


Title: On the Fringe of the Harbor
Author: John Arthur Barry


On the Fringe of the Harbor
John Arthur Barry

Author of "Steve Brown's Bunyip," "In the Great Deep," "The Luck of the
Native Born," etc., etc.


Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney NSW
Beginning Saturday, November 26, 1898

* * *



* * *


There are in Sydney Harbor hundreds of bays also hundreds of miles of
foreshore. There are lovely sequestered bays where wooded heights slope
abruptly down to the rock-margined water, and where all day long you
will hear no sound save the sudden jumping of fish and the metallic
song of cicadas. Other bays there are, too, where all day long, and, as
often as not, all night long there is never silence, either on water or
on foreshore; where the clank of machinery, the din of iron hammers
upon iron plates, the roar of escaping steam, and the voices of the
workers afloat and ashore seem never to cease. Some day, a century or
so hence, the quiet bays and foreshores around the lower reaches of the
harbor, as well as those nearer the city, will, perhaps, also resound
with the insistent voices of the arts and crafts; and ships from oversea
drawing through the Heads will at once find themselves surrounded
by docks and factories and flaring furnaces and the incessant clangor
that ever arises where industry has superseded nature. Those days to
come, however, need not concern as overmuch. Just now I am going to
tell you of one of the busy bays and its crowded foreshores, and
attempt to describe something of the varied evershifting panorama that
condemns its waters to perpetual restlessness, its margin to be ever
streaked with flame and smoke, and to echo with the loud callings of
its people, leading laborious lives of hardy toil, rising even to sun
and stars. To the poet I leave those others nooks and caves and sandy
beaches and wattie-clad acclivities, mirrored in the blue and limpid
sea that laves their bases. "Arma virumque cano!" And the waters of my
bay are stained and turgid and grimy with the waste from the "works"
that line its shores, and the debris from ships that move ever to and
fro on its breast; its few trees are stunted and scraggy; and the thump
of engines, ring of the rivetter's hammer, shriek of syren, and clean,
clear song of caulking mallets form the music its people dance to.

Many of the busy bays--the commercial bays--seen devoted to some
particular line of business. Mine appears to be concerned principally
in the timber trade, and the repairing of "lame ducks" of all sorts and
descriptions, from the great four-masted sailer, which, with shorn
spars and swept decks, tugs snorting ahead, and tugs panting alongside--
stately even in her disarray--swims deeply to her anchorage, to the
little ketch that with broken wings beats slowly and painfully up to,
if she can afford it, go into the floating dock at the head of the Bay,
or, if she cannot, then snug herself in some odd corner, put herself
"on the mud,'' careen, as did the Buccaneers of old, and have a look at
her bottom. Indeed, my Bay may almost be said to be the headquarters of
Sydney's smaller ships--the mosquito fleet of the coast. Brigs,
schooners, ketches, and an odd--a very odd--cutter or two. From Narrabeen
and Newport and Barranjoey and Broken Bay; from "the rivers;" from far
Northern Queensland ports even come the little ships bringing timber,
maize, sugar, anything, apparently that they can pick up, from firewood
to oysters. They are the fowls of our coast, and when they fill their
crops they come running home again, and sail proudly up the harbor and
into the Bay, and each picking out its own particular little wharf,
puts its helm up, lets go the peak-halliards, and ranges alongside in a
style that would make a man-o'-war coxswain's heart ache with envy. Of
course, with a hard head wind they are bothered; but then a black
little coffee-pot appears from somewhere, and panting and screeching
viciously, making more noise than a liner in distress, catches hold of
them and drags and pushes them into the havens where they would be--the
funny out-of the-way wharves, dozens of which you will find cropping up
in all sorts of unexpected spots around the foreshores, and mostly with
a single little ship moored alongside them. At times sundry of the
fleet come to violent grief, and get enbayed and blown ashore, and
leave their bones and those of the crews there, or are overtaken by
huge seas before they reach shelter, and are pooped, and hurled at once
to the roaring gulfs below; and then the Nancy Jane or the Amanda, or
the Susan and Mary, with Bill, the skipper, and Jack the mate, and Hans
and Herman the crew, are never heard of again, nevermore come sailing
in from the outer sea through the Heads and up the harbor to find their
wharf in the bay. And at such times widows and children weep in the
dingy streets that run down to the foreshores.

But happily these grim disasters are rare, and, as a rule, nothing more
serious occurs than can easily be remedied in the dock, where my
friend, the artist, and myself found the little ship that took his
fancy, and induced him to make his fine picture. She lay there high and
dry and snug, albeit new-scarred from a sea tussle; and the sight of
her, and the clear clink of the caulking mallets, as they smote the
grooved chisels, driving the oakum into the seams, and the smell of tar
and pitch and paint, and new timber, as the wrights got her ready to
once more breast the surges of the broad Pacific, appealed to him, as,
indeed, did the bay generally, with its curious noises and nooks, and
ships and the bustling, eager activity of its people. Therefore, as I
say, he made a picture of the "lame duck" in the dock, and of the
brigantine anxiously waiting to get in, and other matters that caught
his eye. Let us be thankful that it was a picture and not a poem. I
have given some space to these little ships that call the bay "home,"
because they are mostly neat and clean and clever little craft (built
many of them on its foreshores); because nobody else has ever taken
much notice of them; because they are clannish and helpful one to the
other; and because they appear to have a remarkably strict sense of the
proprieties. Thus, if a skipper or an owner dies, the whole fleet flies
its ensigns at half mast, whilst his own particular vessel goes into
deep marine mourning, and wears not only a broad blue band around its
hull, but also paints its mastheads blue; and (in case of the
commodore's ship) drapes the gilt rooster at the topmast truck with

At times one of the outcasts of the floating world makes her appearance
suddenly and shamefacedly, as it were, and shrinks up to a wharf;
adjacent to which is always a tall, black, smoky chimney. She is a
collier brig, grimy and black all over; black and grimy masts and deck
and hull and sails, and black and grimy men; also, very often, a black
and grimy dog. But such visitors are rare. Generally it is a steam
collier, with her stern squatting low in the water, and a straight,
high nose poking out of it, that brings the coal to our bay. A rather
rakish, dissipated-looking craft, with her funnel well aft, and a steam
winch amidships; and she takes the centre of the bay, and turns round
and round like a dog choosing a resting place; and she roars and blares
like a mad elephant, and makes white water with her tail till all about
her looks like a huge tub of soapsuds. But in spite of her frills and
her flash funnel, and her roarings and blarings, we know that she is
probably old--old, and worn thin as brown paper; and that if a man only
poked a boathook at her plates he could send her down amongst the
shrimps and crabs that live along the foreshores.

Hopeless derelicts, too, come to take their last rest in the bay.
Aliens mostly, flying the lone star of Chili, the blue and white
stripes and stars of Salvador's little Republic, or those others of the
"Great Gridiron" that Uncle Sam is just now so bravely flaunting in the
world's forefront. They come along spick and span with paint and tar,
and bring up, and are presently put to auction and "passed in."
Gradually the weather works upon them, and the putty falls out; and
they grow again into their true seeming--open and strained, patched and
worthless--as month in month out they swing to the tide, these thrice
condemned old ships. And then, some night (it is invariably at night)
they sink quietly to the bottom. And passengers by the early ferries,
seeing only their mastheads, say, "Hello! gone at last! Well, good
riddance o' bad rubbish!" Which is their requiem. Then, presently, the
knackers come along, and drag them on to the foreshore, and pick their
bones quite clean and bare. Which is the ending of them.

But the bay receives visits from the aristocracy of the sea as well as
from its paupers. Hither come the few remaining wool clippers to
furbish and preen themselves for their homeward flight; gallant-looking
clippers of steel, resplendent with gleaming brass and glass and
brightwork, modelled on Aberdeen lines--and presently, alas! to be "sold
foreign." Many a great ocean-going steamer, too, honors us with her
presence--steaming majestically in, the copper domes of her light houses
all ablaze in the sunshine for'ard; gold lace gleaming amidships on the
upper bridge. And as her cable thunders through the hawse pipes she
settles to her anchors, and turns around and stares at the common
coasters, as who should say: "Look at me! This is me! Ain't I big and
grand! Why, I could take most of you for a steam launch, and then have
to hunt about to find you."

Nor are we conservative by any means. Come over to the bay any fine
Sunday, and you shall see many other ships besides British ones lying
out in the stream or snugged in here and there along the foreshores,
flying the ensigns of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France, Germany,
the United States, etc., and making bright spots of color against steep
cliffs and dingy factory. Perhaps, however, dealing so much in timber
as we do, the Stars and Stripes take precedence in the bay, borne by
great, wooden, full-rigged ships, with three skysail yards aloft; by
rakish barquentines, square as warships for'ard, and with huge deck-loads
of soft wood reaching half way up the lower rigging; by lofty,
four-masted, fore-and-aft schooners, whose topmast trucks, circling
against the blue sky, makes one's head dizzy to watch, so bright and so
far up are they. All these vessels have "San Francisco" on their stern
in addition to some grotesque family name; they all come from
Vancouver, or Puget Sound, or Tacoma; and all vomit out of their double
bow ports great logs and baulks of Oregon pine and redwood, with which
to feed the steam saws that buzz and growl along the foreshores.

One of these timber vessels the artist has included in his picture--a
four-masted barquentine that has just got rid of her deck load. The
skippers generally have their wives and families on board; the ships
themselves are well kept; and during the late Spanish-American war it
was noticeable that whilst the Stars and Stripes flew at one masthead,
the British Ensign, or the Union Jack, together with the Australian
Ensign, was at the others.

But, in addition to timber, we do also a fair business in Island
produce. And you will often see in the bay, smart little ships whose
trade house and big boats alone, without the dusky faces of her kanaka
crew, and the smell of copra and, trepang, would be sufficient to mark
her as a "South Seaman." This is the kind of craft that, perhaps, the
children of the foreshores appreciate most; for if they cannot borrow
or steal a boat they will put off to her on a plank, and return
triumphant with a couple of cocoanuts or a bunch of bananas.

As I have said, there is little rest or surcease from toil on or around
the bay. Even on Sundays and holidays there seems to be in the air an
indefinable repressed throbbing of machinery, impatient for midnight to
strike; smoke still curls from tall chimneys, and banked fires glow
dull through the darkness. And on the Day of Rest, as on the week days,
the ships ever come and go to the angry whirr of the steam winch; or
the songs and shouts of the sailors, and clank of the windlass pawls,
as the anchors rise from their muddy bed. Motion and toil and the
suggestion of toil are never absent from either land or water; and the
church bells, calling the street-bred people to worship, often mingle
their tones with those of the rude chorus from the fo'c's'le-head of
some "sailer" making ready for the sea, or are drowned by the howling
sirens of in or outward bound steamers slowly feeling their way up to
the wharves or out towards the open. Around the bay, and in the steep
streets that run along it and down to it, live all sorts and conditions
of men, but mainly those connected more or less closely with the sea
and the ships. There are whole nests and clumps of cottages inhabited,
and often owned, by retired skippers--elderly men, gnarled and warped
and grizzled by stress of weather, and much hard usage on those
"wandering fields of barren foam"--who now, in the evening of their
lives have found havens of shelter where every sight and sound around
them serves to remind them of the Past. On fine, sunny days they come
out and sit around meditatively on logs and jetties, and stare across
the bay, and talk about the times that Were, and criticise the rigs
that Are, and smoke, and shake their old heads forebodingly as some
dreadful innovation on a newly-arrived vessel catches their still keen
gaze. Here, too, the coasting seaman leaves his wife and youngsters
when he sails away in the "Melinda Jane" to earn bread and butter for
them. Engineers and masters and mates of intercolonial steamers, too,
you will find by the dozen in the terraces that slope into the valleys
or crown the steep hills. Thus, you may well imagine that when gales
sweep along the coast there are anxious hearts about the bay. Of
course, there are many people who do not in the least appreciate the
bay, and who never by any chance could be induced to live on its
shores, and who, when they do visit it, can see nothing but a patch of
often dirty water, some unintelligible ships smoke, and general
griminess; quake at the strange and ceaseless noises; smell amazing and
unaccountable smells, and vow they would sooner die than live anywhere
within miles of it. And from their point of view they are possibly
correct. Still, on many nights, especially when the moonlight shades
and softens the rugged outlines of the shore and the dingy buildings,
and the ships stand up in places like frosted models; in others loom
mere vague suggestions whence comes, perhaps, the chime of a bell or
the sound of music and song, whilst, at intervals, the furnace fires
flash redly across the water, and perhaps a belated steamer all
a-twinkle with electricity, creeps cautiously to her berth--then the bay,
spite of the drone and grumble of the tireless engines along its
shores, altogether loses its work-a-day aspect, and becomes
unrecognisable with a kind of eerie mysterious beauty teeming with
hopeless possibilities for both the painter and the poet.


I don't know whether Captain Arthur Phillip ever had the Sirius brought
up as far as Farm Cove. It is quite probable that he did, and that the
old warship of one hundred and ten years ago and her consorts of the
First Fleet swung to their anchors on the very same spot where now
crouch the steel dragons of a later day. Be that as it may, could the
shade of our first Governor once more revisit the scene of his early
adventures he would find as much difference between the features of his
former ''Farm'' and "Garden," compared with the Botanic Gardens and the
Garden Island of today, as existed between the old Sirius and the Royal

Without a doubt Farm Cove is conspicuous amongst the beauty spots that
so plentifully stud the fringes of our harbor. And few will deny that,
when taken at its best, under a blue sky, in pleasant sunshine, backed
by the flowers and greenery of the Gardens, white-winged yachts
flitting over its placid and sheltered surface, across which music from
the bands of the Squadron comes gently to the ear, there are few more
picturesque bits of water in the world. Perhaps the best view of the
scene is to be had from a certain spot on one of the terraces of the
Botanic Gardens. A friend of mine used to take strangers there and
descant for a long time on the lovely prospect, invariably winding up
with "The island you see yonder is called Garden Island, and is
remarkable for possessing the tallest pair of shear-legs in existence."
I don't know whether this is a fact or not. They certainly look big
enough and ugly enough. But Garden Island has other claims to notice
apart even from the historical interest attached to it as the spot upon
which the first settlers tried, with more or less success, to grow
vegetables. In a small way it is to the ships of the Imperial and
Auxiliary squadrons what the naval yards of the United Kingdom are to
its vessels in home waters. Stores of all descriptions, including
munitions of war, are here received and kept in readiness. Certain
repairs can also be effected in the Island workshops, and enormous
weights lifted in or out of the ships by the big derrick. From the
island, too, if Britain were to go to war to-morrow, the subsidised
boats of the Peninsular and Oriental Company would receive their naval
stores and armaments with which to act as flying cruisers, or
transports, as the case might be. Not the least interesting, by any
means, among the sights of Sydney, although one very seldom frequented
by country visitors, is the scene at Man-o'-War Steps, at the western
extremity of the Cove, between the hours of 9 and 12 a.m. Then, if the
Squadron is in strength, dozens of boats come racing for mails, meat,
milk, and necessaries of every description for their respective messes
fore and aft; caterers, paymasters, lieutenants, stewards, marines,
blue-jackets, gigs, cutters, yawls, dingeys, steam launches going and
coming, crowding into the steps; boathooks working, and tars "praying;"
sails flapping, and all hands bustling, make up--especially with a stiff
easterly blowing--a sight well worth watching.

Of course, the great attraction of the Cove at any time is the
flagship, now the Royal Arthur. She is a first-class cruiser, and our
artist has made a fine picture of the ship steaming out to sea,
followed by her consorts for the time being.

No more familiar objects to country visitor exist than the warships in
Farm Cove, with their massive black hulls and yellow funnels. On his
way to Manly he gazes at them with inquiring eye; or, leaning on
Moriarty's sea wall, he studies them closely, and by the hour together.
And then he goes home and tells his people all about them in detail. I
have heard him at it. You see, even in the Bush, far back folk have
heard of the British Navy. And when paterfamilias returns from seeing
his wool sold he is expected to be able to tell the youngsters
everything about the ships and the sea, and the guns that guard
Australasian shores from the invader. Of course he does his best. But,
as he seldom or never goes on board, he has to trust largely to his
imagination, and at times with rather remarkable results.

"Were the officers nice looking, pa?" I once heard one of his daughters
ask. "Splendid, my dear," he replied. "Fine big fellows, most of 'em.
Regular swells, too, with their red coats and white trousers, and a
leather bag strapped round 'em to carry their dispatches in." "I
suppose you didn't see the Admiral, pa?" asked another of the girls.
"Certainly," replied pa; "you can never make a mistake about him. He
bosses the whole crowd. Got nothin' to do but walk backwards and
forwards along a sort of a bridge place, where he can twig everybody
from. And at sundown he fires a gun and blows a bugle. Oh, no, you
can't go wrong in the Admiral."

On one occasion, it happened to be "washing day" on some of the ships,
and hundreds of jumpers and trousers, fluttered from the rigging. A
mild-eyed old countryman, intently staring, at length turned to the
writer and asked, "Guv'nor, wot's all them flags a-flyin' for to-day?
Holiday for them chaps out there, I s'pose?" "No," I replied, "it's
only the sailors' clothes drying." At this his mouth opened slowly, and
he gave a great laugh. Then said he "Garn away! D'ye take me for a new
chum. Old I may be, but not old enough to be stuffed that road." And
there is no doubt that many of our country friends carry back with them
some curious notions of our first line of defence; notions, perhaps,
that even a closer scrutiny would do little towards dispelling, such an
elaborate and complicated microcosm is the up-to-date warship.

On paper our combined naval strength looks fine and large; looks
imposing, too, as it lies at its moorings in Farm Cove. Come to dissect
it, it shrinks somewhat. Thus, out of the Imperial vessels on the
station, consisting of, just now, the Royal Arthur, Goldfinch, Mohawk,
Porpoise, Ringdove, Royalist, and Torch, with the sloop Penguin and
screw-yacht Dart, the Flagship is actually the only one in the crowd
fitted to try conclusions with a modern enemy of any size. The rest are
simply gunboats and old, third-class, cruisers, whose duty mainly is to
act as policemen of the Pacific. As a matter of fact, the first-class
cruiser could probably sink the lot in five minutes, and not hurry
herself. But, on the other hand, the Royal Arthur, with the
Australasian Auxiliary Squadron, consisting of the Wallaroo, Mildura,
Katoomba, Ringarooma, Tauranga, and the two torpedo gunboats,
Karrakatta and Boomerang, make up a fairly effective squadron, either
for defence or offence.

It must, however, not be forgotten that none of these ships are
armored, except as to their decks, and that therefore even common shot
would pierce their steel hulls like so much brown paper. Many good
judges think that the British Admiralty is making a terrible mistake in
this respect, as against the practice of other powers, who go in for
heavy armor, and also more guns. This is a point that the first decent
naval battle will decide. To the lay mind it certainly seems feasible
enough that a foreign warship, carrying 8in of steel all over her,
could, if she got our Squadron cooped up in a corner, comfortably sink
them in detail. Then, again, it is said that the great Rossia's own
officers give her only five minutes in which to fight, before "turning
turtle," so encumbered with armor is she, and so crowded with guns.
Indeed, there is probably no big ship afloat at the present moment that
could give a full broadside simultaneously without suffering tremendous
injury. A British battleship tried it once, and the recoil drove her
14,000 tons of dead weight 8ft bodily sideways, besides generally
playing up old Harry. A French battleship also made the attempt, and it
practically broke her up, and sent her into Toulon Dock for six months.
In some places the Royal Arthur's protective deck is only 11in in
thickness; in others, over magazines and engines--5in. The Orlando, by
the way, carried a streak of armor l0in thick all around her at the
water line, and was of the class known as a "belted cruiser." Some of
our great battleships, even such as the Centurion and the Victorious,
carry no more than the "belt," and many of them only a "partial belt."
The American fancy runs more to armored cruisers of the Brooklyn type--
of comparatively small tonnage and very powerful engines. The Brooklyn
is only 9150 tons, but of 16,500 h.p. As before remarked, the puzzle
whether to build with light or heavy armor, to carry many guns of light
calibre, or few of them and big, can only be solved by an experience
compared to which the late Spanish-American naval battles will be the
airiest and pleasantest of summer picnics. Actually we learned more
about naval warfare at the battle of the Yalu River than we did at
Santiago de Cuba. On the next occasion we shall probably know more than
ever we did.

Stepping on to the uppermost of the four decks of the Royal Arthur, the
first object to catch the eye will most likely be the great 9in gun
that she carries astern, all shining in steel and brass, some 25ft in
length, weighing 22 tons, and capable of sending a 380lb shot through a
couple of feet of armor at a five-mile range. For'ard the flagship
carries two 6in guns; indeed, her armament may be described as almost
wholly 6in quick-firers--perhaps the most deadly naval arm of precision
extant. Those at the bow are fought from behind shields; the broadside
batteries from within casemates of 6in steel--the only part of the ship,
by the way, that I should care about being in during an action. On the
upper deck, along the rail, she carries her secondary battery of twelve
six and five three-pounders, besides seven machine guns, the former
wicked-looking, slim, tapering things that peer from behind their
shields in a furtive sort of way; the latter an array of parallel tubes
that rain bullets like hail once they start. Everything about the deck
is as white and bright as much elbow grease incessantly applied can
make it. Red-coated marine sentries stand here and there in vivid spots
of color; officers carry on the work of the ship, and salute each other
at intervals--indeed, there is a tremendous lot of saluting going on the
whole time; the lieutenant on the watch, with a telescope under his
arm, paces up and down; the shrill chirping of the boatswain's whistle
sounds now and again, cutting through the music of the band playing
right aft, where also the signalmen are nearly always busy talking to
the rest of the Squadron lying near. Such is the scene on the deck of
the Flagship any fine day almost in Farm Cove.

But standing on the lofty bridge, and watching the wide-spreading
stretch of deck with the shining guns and the busy crowd, listening to
the music, and gazing around at the pretty Cove instinct with the
spirit of restful peace, yet bearing on its placid bosom such latent
possibilities for death and ruin, one cannot help but think of that
inevitable day upon which the great ship at our feet will present a
very different spectacle--of a day upon which there will be no music
except that made by the thunder of her guns as the cruiser reels to the
recoil of them; when the smoke of battle will enshroud her, and
bursting shells shatter her, and her decks run with the blood of her
men. Let us hope that evil day may be far distant, knowing, as we do,
that the Royal Arthur, like all the rest of them, will render a good
account of herself--a phrase that means much in this connection. Said a
naval officer to me once,

"I give ourselves about a quarter of an hour if opposed to equal weight
of guns and armor, with equally good men."

"A quarter of an hour for what?" I asked.

"Before going to the bottom, of course," he replied, calmly.

"And the other ship?"

"Most decidedly; the same way--probably both together," he answered.
"You see, there's no get out of it if both are willing, eager, and able
to fight. Ever see a 100lb shell burst?"

"No," I replied; "I never did, and never want to, except out of range."

"Well," said he, "they're fired from 6in guns, and they're fired at
about the rate of four a minute; and with good practice from a whole
battery, and at comparatively close quarters, about 4 percent, may hit
you. And where they burst they not only make great gaps in 4in steel,
but with the Lyddite or melinite that fills them set everything in the
shape of timber instantly on fire. For instance," he continued, "a
shell plumping through the quarter and entering this cabin of mine
would start all the furniture in a blaze, if it was there. Which it
wouldn't be, because I'd have every stick thrown overboard before
action. And if I came out in safety I'd have to pay for it from my own
pocket. As a fact," concluded my friend (he was skipper of a first-class
cruiser of the Royal Arthur type), "there shouldn't be a scrap of
wood about any warships. Iron or steel everywhere, decks, companions,
bulkheads, right throughout."

This was his opinion, given before the Spanish-American war; and it is
of interest, as showing how thoroughly his forecast was borne out by
the way the Spanish ships caught fire. It's bad enough, surely, to be
peppered and shattered by high explosives without running the risk into
the bargain of being roasted alive. The Americans, realising this, are
already reorganising the interior fittings of their ships, even to the
extent of substituting corrugated iron partitions between the officer's
berths in place of timber ones. As to the question of comfort--well,
comfort on board an ironclad is, even now, reduced to such a minimum
that a little more or less iron or steel will not make much difference.
Once off the upper deck, and, spite of all air fans and other
appliances, the atmosphere of a modern man-o'-war is seldom, under the
most favorable circumstances, aught but stuffy; at certain times it is
almost unbearable; at others damnable--this latter in very heavy
weather, a hot wind blowing off bush fires along the coast, everything
closed, and something wrong with the ventilating apparatus. Indeed, as
far as mere comfort goes, I have no hesitation in affirming that the
old Sirius, that over a hundred years ago, likely enough, sat and
looked at the land from that very patch of water that the Flagship now
claims for her own, was, as regards room and comfort, the superior of
the cruiser of to-day. And yet the flagship of Commodore Arthur Phillip
was of but 600 tons or so against the Royal Arthur's 7000; and only
carried a company of 160 men against the cruiser's 500. But she had no
space taken up with coal and engines; nor probably as much iron about
her all put together as would make a kedge anchor for the Arthur.

On the starboard bow of the Flagship in our picture, as she steams out
to sea, the artist has introduced one of the Imperial gunboats--the
Pacific patrols, whose duty mainly lies amongst the islands under
British control or protection, and whose present occupation is confined
to shelling native villages and keeping order generally in the groups;
but who are, nevertheless, for their size, very heavily armed with 4in

To port and abeam steams one of the Auxiliary Squadron, and it might be
any one of them, because, as regards size, armament, speed, and all
else they are exactly similar--sister ships, in fact, of whom a detailed
description recently appeared in these columns, and upon whom, for all
practical purposes, together with the big cruiser, the defence of our
coast would devolve.

Farm Cove is hospitable, and at times you may see there warships flying
foreign flags, mainly those of French and German cruisers--visitors,
these, for a spell and an overhaul in dry dock after a long patrol in
the Pacific; mostly obsolete vessels, seldom relieved from either
Republic or Fatherland, and quite powerless for harm should hostilities
suddenly break out. But they help to enliven the Cove by their
presence; are hospitable to all visitors; and are probably made far
more welcome and free of the point than British ships under similar
circumstances would be on any foreign naval stations in the world,
except perhaps those of Italy--which, however, are so limited in number
as to be almost non-existent.

Indeed our Cove may be taken as a good example of Britain's open-handed
and liberal system of naval hospitality on all her Imperial stations
abroad--a system which contrasts very strongly with the policy of
certain of the other Powers, who seem never comfortable while St.
George's Cross flies in their harbors, and who ere now have flatly
refused to supply our ships with necessaries. But Britain can afford to
despise this dog-in-the manger sort of business, and from Halifax to
Sydney, from Esquimalt to Simon's Bay, extends a welcome and--if
necessary--aid to all requiring it. And this is as it should be, and
worthy of a great nation that girdles the whole world with the tap of
its drums and the calls of its bugles, and upon whose flag afloat the
sun never sets. Thus in the Cove, as elsewhere, you will often hear the
strains of "La Marseillaise" and "Die Wacht am Rhein" mingling with our
own National Anthem; and in the streets of the capital meet dapper
Jacques rolling along close to British Jack, to whom both in style and
uniform he bears a nearer resemblance than to the semi-military, stolid
Karl who tramps the Sydney pavements all a-row, covered with white
metal buttons, keeping well in step, and thoroughly symbolic of an
Emperor, whose watchword afloat, as ashore, is evidently "Drill."

But Jack and Karl and Jacques never fraternise. They roll and march in
very distinct companies about the city. It is, however, different when,
at rare intervals, an American cruiser puts in, for then you can hardly
tell Jack from Jonathan, and when they get a chance nothing pleases the
pair better than to paint Lower George-street a vivid red. This will in
future be probably a more apparent function than ever; also, with
Honolulu as a naval base, a more frequent one.

Of late Britain has been putting her house in order--i.e., getting her
navy and reserves ready for action. This alone cost her a trifle of
something over a million sterling. But that it is money well spent no
one who reads oversea news can doubt for a moment. And to many of us on
this side, who have watched with mingled feelings of doubt and pride
this awakening of the Sea Queen, will recur those lines of the Canadian
poet, who, writing in 1896, seems to have forecast this very occasion:

At last, ye have roused the Sea Queen, at last when the World unites.
She stirs from Her scornful silence, and wakes to Her last of fights.
Alone with a World against Her, She has turned on the snarling crew.
No longer the Peaceful Trader, but the Viking North Seas knew.
She calls, and Her ships of battle--dragons her seas have bred--
Glide into Plymouth Harbor, and gather round Beachy Head.
She wakes! and the clang of arming echoes through all the Earth,
The ring of warriors' weapons; stern music of soldiers' mirth.

These be stirring lines, and ones that recur to memory whilst watching
the couchant dragons of steel who make our Farm Cove their home.
Although it is a far cry from Fort Macquarie or Man-o'War Stairs to
Beachy Head and Plymouth Hoe, it somehow gives us a comforting sense of
protection, and enables us to realise the potency and might of that
Empire whose armed aegis ever covers us, to know that when the bugle
sounds and the gun fires, and the Red Cross flag comes down o' nights
upon the Royal Arthur, and her consorts, the rising sun at Plymouth and
scores of other ports is saluted from scores of battleships and
cruisers in similar fashion. Not, of course, that those distant ships
could be of use to us in any sudden emergency. We must trust to our own
in that case. Still, to feel that we form a link, and not by any means
a weak one, in the Imperial defence cable that girdles the seven seas,
and to be utterly certain that any alien shock rudely jarring that link
would find an instant and responsive echo throughout its fellows,
should be, and no doubt is, a source of great comfort and security to

But to return. As the place where our especial "link" has its
headquarters in these southern seas, Farm Cove is known far and wide,
its name familiar as household words in the mouths of British Navy men
wherever the flag flies. Small "fringe" of our harbor as it is, its
fame and reputation is world-wide, because the station is, so to speak,
looked upon as the blue ribbon of the Service abroad. Gibraltar, Malta,
Halifax, Esquimault, the Cape, China and the East, all have to yield
pride of place to Australasia in the naval mind of both Jack and his
masters; and many of the latter now stewing in Hongkong, or blowing
their fingers in Nova Scotia, without a doubt look back regretfully to
the sheltered Cove, and the garden parties, and the pretty girls, and
the lawn tennis, and the yearly trip to the "Cup," and the general
worship of the blue cloth and the foul anchor, and the open-hearted
hospitality that met them throughout the land. As for Jack, you have
only to go down to the Cove and stand at the Stairs, when his ship
flies the homeward bound pennant, to discover what he thinks of the
station, and feels at leaving it; looking, as he does, more like an
outward than a homeward bounder, especially after a long commission in
our waters.

Between this fringe and the one described in my last paper it would be
difficult to imagine a greater contrast. That was a work-a-day, busy,
democratic fringe, one full of the sights and sounds of ceaseless toil,
along its dingy and smoky foreshores. This is a calm and stately, and
dignified one, in which the beauty of its shores serves but as a foil
to set off the grim war-dragons who lend it life and color, and motion;
whose kind make us what we are, "Wards of the Outer March, Lords of the
Lower Seas," and in whom is our sole trust that

In the day of Armageddon, at the last great fight of all,
Our House stand together, and the pillars do not fall.


Few people who have not experienced it can form any idea of what life
on an intercolonial steamer is like, or can conceive the tireless labor
and vigilance that is required of those who work upon it, both fore and
aft. On the deep water tramp, once clear of the land, matters settle
down into a state of comparative comfort for both deck and engine room.
Also, she generally has a fairly liberal margin of time, even when
freighted; whilst, when looking for cargo, she simply dawdles along to
save her bunkers. But with our larger class of coasters, carrying both
passengers and cargo, things are very different. They are never clear
of the land; they are timed like mailboats; and are run for all they
are worth, through fair weather and foul alike; and with the result
that some of the finest services afloat keep up our intercolonial
communication between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, the West,
and all Tasmanian and New Zealand ports. But, especially on the shorter
routes, the life is a terribly arduous and exacting one.

Take, for instance, a boat leaving Brisbane full of passengers and
cargo for the south. Clearing Moreton Bay she perhaps finds herself in
heavy weather, and with a big deck load that takes all hands half the
night to secure, after having had to work cargo all the same day. Of
course, the captain is up all night, and, as likely as not, all the
next day, if the bad weather continues. Indeed, it may be fairly said
that in such a case there is little or no rest for the executive except
such as they can snatch like they do their food, in hurried snacks.
That night, very late, perhaps, they grope their way up to the wharf in
Sydney, and at once the hatches are off and the steam winches at work,
for she is billed to start for Melbourne at noon the next day. And
every hour of the day and night, almost, you may see one or other of
these vessels steaming slowly in through the Heads, homeward bound from
north or south, or going out to their ports up or down the coast, some
bulking high and light, with sides like a factory wall, and their
screws revolving amidst a white smother of foam; whilst others, more
deeply laden, show but a streak of red or green bottom meeting the
black top sides. Their funnels bear devices by which the initiate eye
may at once know to whom they belong; deck space is limited, and, with
the exception of an oasis aft for saloon passengers, is generally
blocked by cargo winches and steam pipes; but, below, the first class
accommodation is quite equal to that of the average ocean liner;
electricity is generally installed throughout, smart stewards aboard,
and in the engine-room you will find Scotch engineers and triple

At times, of course, like all other ships, they come to grief more or
less thoroughly and suddenly, and then our newspapers are full of tales
of heroism that serve to show us that the race is as good as it ever
was, if not better--both the male and the female of it. Unforeseen
currents and fogs, rather than downright stress of weather, are their
worst enemies on these coasts, and sometimes they pile themselves up in
all sorts of curious and utterly unexpected places, the very ones, in
fact, as after evidence--when there is any--shows that they were doing
their best to avoid. Lighthouses would appear to exercise a special
fascination for some of them, and a few of the saddest wrecks on record
have taken place right under the coastwise lights of Australia. And,
although we cannot say, like England, that

"We have fed our sea for a thousand years,
And she calls us still unfed,
Though there's never a mane of all her waves;
But marks our English dead,"

still, on this eastern coast especially, we have paid heavy toll
through the past.

The companies have a strict code of rules for the guidance of their
officers whilst at sea, the gist of which amounts to an injunction
never to imperil life for the sake of a fast passage; and to take no
risks whatever. But human nature is much the same at sea as on shore,
and no skipper is going to be thought a laggard if he can help it, nor
is he willing to slow down to quarter speed for the smoke from bush
fires or for a fog, whilst other men to port and starboard of him are
trusting in Providence, and getting along under a full head of steam.
And, after all, it is the boat with a record for quick passages that is
the favorite with the travelling public, who thus, as it were, offer a
premium for their own undoing, whilst inciting the master of the
popular vessel to live up to his reputation. If, however, they ever
suspected the narrow shaves this predilection costs them sometimes when
fast asleep in their berths and that they never hear a whisper of, they
would possibly view the matter in a somewhat different light.

As elsewhere, there are set courses from port to port along the coast,
courses, so to speak, stereotyped on the brains of the men who use
them. Such a course clears such and such a headland, and certain
bearings should show such a light at such a time; and for years this
holds good until by some vagary of the weather, or other cause, the
formula fails to work, and the vessel hits the headland in place of
clearing it; or the light is not visible when it should be; and,
standing in to look for it, the vessel hits something all the same, and
knocks a hole in her thin skin, and sinks without much loss of time.
Then there is the usual inquiry, at which the survivors, if any,
contradict each other in the usual way, and, seem able to agree in no
one essential particular, except the loss of the ship. But tragedies
are rare; and that this should be so speaks volumes for the skill and
ability of the men who handle the steamers of an intercolonial fleet,
and send them to and fro on one of the worst coasts in the world with
such a slight percentage of accidents.

Very often the first glimpse caught by visitors to our shores of
anything Australian is in the shape of one of these coasters, which, if
she happens to be as smart a looking craft as the one shown by our
artist in his second picture, gives the people on the big liner a good
notion of what our steam fleet is like as she drives past them,
comparing more than favorably with some of the old rattle-traps that
still carry passengers around the British Islands. As a rule, steamers
live long, bar accidents. Still, there comes a day when, either so old
and obsolete and slow have they become, that it will not pay to run
them any longer, or when Lloyd's surveyor shakes his head over them,
and makes a note of repairs that would reach to half their original
cost. Then they "lay up," and are moored, generally a couple or three
together, cheek by jowl, in some sheltered cove along the fringe of the
harbor. And there they lie, tide in, tide out, kissing each other's
rusty cheeks, shackled to the same anchor cable; desolate looking and
forlorn, they sit and watch the water-way adown which they were wont to
go spick and span and shining to the sound of fare well cheers,
returning often battered and strained, and with the sea-crust thick
upon their funnels. They were alive in those days with the tireless
spirits of brass and steel that struggled ever in their wombs, and
urged them on to fight wind and sea, bearing them victorious through
many a wild watch of storm. Now the souls of them lay dead and dumb as
their dead and chained bodies. "Never more" you may imagine them as
whispering one to the other in hoarse rusty whispers, "Never more
shall we reach the outer sea, and go plunging past the barren capes and
sandy beaches and long stretches of tall, grey cliffs, with the salt
spray in our nostrils, and the great green combers roaring up behind
us. Never more with gleaming eyes and hooting siren shall we glide
through the Heads o' nights to the sound of music and of laughter along
our decks, bringing men home to their wives and children and wives and
children home to their husbands, and taking our share in the world's
work upon the sea. We are old, old; and our plates are thin and worn;
and, dim though our eyes now are, we can see the ships of the new
order, who have usurped our places, as they journey to and fro with
their raking masts and funnels and hydraulic cranes, and smooth plates,
and anchors like three-pronged forks sticking out of their
hawser-pipes. Never more!"

Thus, if you can find this cove that the artist found along the
foreshore of the harbor, and go out some moonlight night and scull
around the old steamers, you may interpret the metallic groanings and
grumblings, and creakings, and eerie noises, all with a sharp note of
protest running through them, that you will hear as the breeze comes
down from the scrub-clad hills, and makes the little waves lip-lap
against their dingy sides.

Still, there is no telling. Some day, passing Rest Cove, you will,
perhaps, notice that one of the old boats is missing. Then, later,
along the wharves, or in some of the busy bays, waddling fussily in or
out towards the wide reaches, your eye will catch sight of a vessel
whose build seems strangely familiar, although for a time you cannot
place her as an acquaintance. The old-fashioned clinker-built sides
glean with coal tar, whilst her upper works look as if a paint factory
had been emptied over them; her so long empty stack pours forth volumes
of smoke; there is a clank of machinery in her so long silent interior
as the superannuated high pressure engines shove her slowly along to an
accompaniment of loud chuffings and snortings--noises that sound as if
she were trying to clear her throat in an attempt to give vent to her
joy at having escaped from thraldom to form once more a part of the
work-a-day world.

How she got away does not matter much. Perhaps when they put her on the
slip to clean her bottom from the grass and barnacles of Rest Cove, and
found that the scrapers would not go through her plates, it was decided
that she was still seaworthy. After all, it's a poor bottom indeed that
won't do to carry coal--and human lives. The next you will hear about
her will probably be after a "bit of a blow" along the coast. It will
be in the newspapers, and to the effect that "grave fears are
entertained respecting the safety of the steam collier Dinaghadee.
Dinaghadee, it may be remembered, was once known as the Angelica, a
favorite intercolonial, passenger boat. The Angelica was built at
Dumbarton in 1815," etc., etc. Very often the "grave fears" prove very
well founded, and the harbor misses her noisy journeyings; and her old
mates, still lying in chains, and who were so envious of her good
fortune, wonder why they never see her pass to and fro any more, nor
hear the wild shrieks she used to send them in sign of sympathy and
greeting. Sometimes, too, you may recognise a former denizen of Rest
Cove amongst the hulks that stud the harbor. With all her upper works
and masts and funnel gone, a donkey engine amidships, and a couple of
derricks aft and for'ard, she has succumbed to the last indignity that
can befall any floating thing of her kind. Screwless, rudderless,
engineless, she has ceased to be an entity, and exists only in order to
supply others with the means of a career, for ever closed to herself.

In all the world of ships there are no more pathetic objects than
hulks, whether represented by the dead bodies of old three-deckers that
in their day have borne the Meteor Flag to victory amidst the crash and
smoke of foreign battle, or by the old-time sailers of renown who fled
to and fro in the sixties and the seventies, and some of whom still lie
moored along our foreshores, and those of Chinese and Indian harbors.

But of them all, I think the steamer's hulk the most pathetic. For
years, independent of the winds, she has been accustomed to move over
the sea, full always of life and brisk motion and the capacity for
motion, and now, like some blind beggar and his dog, she has to trust
entirely to a dirty little tug to guide her about those very waters
that in her day of action she so confidently breasted. And at odd
intervals she is towed into Rest Cove, and moored for a while within
respectful distance of the waiting ones, but more helpless even than
they are. Nor would it require any great effort of the imagination to
picture them turning up their sharp noses at the newcomer, and
muttering indignantly to each other that matters were coming to a
pretty pass when, old enough they might be, they were expected to keep
company with a beastly hulk!

Now and again in the height of summer when seas are generally calm, and
winds are spoken of by poets as zephyrs, you will be surprised to see
the cove smiling blandly empty to the sky. Somebody has rented the old
stages, painted and scrubbed them, put six lifebuoys and a dozen garden
seats and a band on board of them, and then sent them off picnicking.
But they never go very far, and always keep a shrewd eye on the
weather, ready at a moment's notice to turn tail to it and run for
shelter. Nor do these seasons of dissipation last for any length of
time, and the old boats are soon back again in Rest Cove, where,
coupled together once more, all their smart veneer presently wearing
off, they look shabbier than ever.

Of course, the same vessels do not always make the cove their resort.
In place of the three old coasters that the artist happened to catch
there at the time he made his picture, you will perhaps be surprised to
find a great ocean steamer "resting," like a popular actress, out of an
engagement. But she is full of life; outside of her men are slung on
stages, chipping her plates; inside of her the engineers are taking
advantage of the wait for a freight to overhaul their machinery. Look
at her how you will, you can make the big tramp nothing but ugly, with
her tall wall sides tumbling home in a heap, her bow like a 30ft
knife-blade, and stern that might belong to a ferry steamer. There is no
bright, brass or woodwork about her decks; everything is paint, and
what isn't paint is coal tar. She is built for use without ornament,
all of the latter there is being on the coats and caps of her officers,
who pay for it out of their own pockets. But she pays her owners all
right, for she can carry 12,000 bales of wool, besides as many frozen
sheep, as served to grow them; and 1000 tons of dead weight into the
bargain. Ugly she may be, and undoubtedly is, but she is the
utilitarian ship of the age, and as such typical of an essentially ugly
and commonplace period of marine construction.

Nor does the big ship "rest" for long. Go and look for her in a few
days, and you will probably find her in dry dock, having her propeller
sighted; and bottom scoured and painted, prior to being "put on the
berth for London," whilst in her place swim perhaps a couple of muddy,
clumsy, grimy old broken-down dredges, a tug with battered sponsons,
and a dingy, old well-decked blackleg of a boat, whose designer should
be compelled to ever live on her, and the sight of which instantly
suggests a picture of a lee shore and an easterly gale, and the gleam
of white breakers thundering through the thick darkness, and the
well-deck full of water from rail to rail, her hatches bursted, and the
stokehold fires dead and black, and the little group on the bridge or
the poop with, mayhap, a woman or two and some children amongst them,
waiting for eternity as the miserable tank that carries them is
battered and pounded towards the rocks.

No matter how calm the blue water in the cove, no matter how peaceful
the shore that surrounds her, how bright the sun that shines upon her,
such is the picture that the sight of this craft instantly conjures up,
and that, sooner or later, is sure to be more or less closely realised.

The cove, however, sees these iron suicides but seldom. They are
nearly, indeed, all lost now. Its most frequent visitors are either the
frankly worn-outs, or those that with a little tinkering may yet do a
few more trips around the coast. Some there are, like the big tramp,
come-by-chance sojourners, who perhaps never see its waters any more;
others who stay on month after month and then suddenly disappear;
others, again, whom you may see being broken up by knackers along the
foreshores; it is, in fine, this sequestered cove, a sort of purgatory
for the craft of screw and paddle, who, as everybody knows, lead very
different lives and speak an altogether different language to those
others who depend solely on their wings, and who, having other resorts
and resting places, seldom or never come near the cove. And to those
who know the habits of ships and understand the ways of the sea, as
well as to many who do not, this bit of quiet water on the harbor's
fringe is, in its own fashion, no whit inferior in interest to those
already described.


Also, in some sort, "Rest Cove," this one, like the last, but
differing, inasmuch as for the emnants along its foreshores there will
very assuredly be no more sea. They have had their day, and after long
years of toil and stress the knacker has had his will of them, and
picked their bones clean of all that was worth having, and left them
lying lifting great ribs in protest against their fate. And yet, as
regards some at least of them, not lonely, but, at the very last,
affording warmth and shelter to, perhaps, descendants of those who at
an earlier day drove them to and fro the deep seas; fisher folk, now,
and boatmen, only too glad of such a refuge for themselves and their
families; an amphibious sort of people who can, while hearing the wind
blow and the water wash against one side of their dwelling, when they
please, walk ashore from the other. From the days of the cave dwellers
mankind has been apt to choose curious places to live in, and an almost
ready-made refuge has ever forcibly appealed from Palaeolithic ages
down, whether formed by human hands or by those of Nature herself. Thus
caves and trees, no less than worn out railway vans and carriages, and
ships that have seen their day, are still used as homes either by folk
who can do no better for themselves, or in some cases of sheer
preference. But of all these ready-made resting places that our kind
has taken to, the most picturesque is undoubtedly the ruined ship, such
a one as, for instance, the artist has found in our first picture--a
mere carcase of a vessel, bare-ribbed and broken-backed, hard and fast
at low water, amidst rocks and mud; perished as a fabric, yet instinct
with human life and the sound of cheery young voices, whilst the smoke
curling from the ancient galley funnel over the wooded shores, and the
clothes drying and flapping in the wind where once upon a time gales
roared under the foot of the great main course, divests the scene of
the pathetic features of the second picture with which the knacker has
as yet scarcely finished, and the ship-dwellers have not yet taken
possession. They will probably do so by and bye, and with tarpaulins
and odd bits of planking and galvanised iron erect a nondescript
structure over the hollow empty body; and therein people will live, and
be born, and die just as they used to do when the old ruin they have
found their home in was alive and sound, and wont to rear skyward tall
pyramids of snowy canvas as she breasted the broad seas to far off

They are old, very old, these ancient relics, nameless, and with
histories that would take much time and travail to unravel, from the
birth of them on Tyne or Thames side yards, or North American sheds, to
when they used to build them of soft woods by the mile, and cut off to

Many names they would most likely have; and numberless owners; sailed
on every sea, and under many flags; and carried every cargo between
sugar and coal. Which are long distances apart. Wood they are, of
course, and for the most part fastened and built with a strong and
cunning workmanship now banished from the trade. And when such is the
case the fewer bones have been left by the knacker to litter the

But nowadays the average wooden ship hardly pays to break up, unless
perhaps in the case of an odd one or two born where her dark-skinned
Parsee builders laid their praying-carpets every morning and waited for
the sun to rise that they might worship him ere turning-to on their
teak planking, copper-fastened from garboard strake to topside. At such
a prize, in the old days, the knacker would nag away until he had
stripped her of every knee, drawn every nail and bolt and treenail, and
made a handsome profit out of the big frigate built craft that men like
Sir Jamseejee Jeejeebhoy used to turn out of their yards in Bombay. But
now there is comparatively little breaking done with wooden ships. It
pays far better to spend money on them, shove coals into them, and
sending them to sea once more, trust in Providence to clear expenses
before they fall to pieces.

Only a sailor can take these bones, and, like the scientist did with
those of the moa, erect a complete and harmonious whole of them, clothe
the naked and dismembered skeleton as it was clothed in life, and make
a fairly correct guess at rig, build, and rating. But to do this he
must be a man who has sailed much in wood as opposed to iron, and be
able to talk planks and knees and timber-heads in places of plates and
stanchions and stringers; have noticed the difference between British
and foreign sterns and cut-waters, and sides rounded like apples and
those that tumble home all in a hurry or sheer up steep as a wall from
the water-line. And inasmuch as Professor Owen could make no mistake as
to the habitat of the great bird he put together so cleverly, therefore
in this single respect is Jack foremost in his own work so far as
indication goes.

It might, perhaps, be thought by the general public fit and proper that
such abodes as those in the Cove of Skeletons should be tenanted by
sailor men who, having left the sea, yet delight to pass the remainder
of their lives in as close proximity as possible to the sights and
sounds of the past. But few sailors are such enthusiasts as the
youngster who, returning from his first voyage, found it impossible to
sleep o' nights unless his mother and sisters took watch about in
dashing water against his window and working the big kitchen bellows
under the door of his room, thus to simulate in some sort the wash of
the seas along the deck and the roar of the wind that had so long
formed his lullaby. No; the average sailor man who has been through the
mill and eventually escaped, or, at least, the majority of him, gets in
the flesh as far away from the scene of his labors as possible, and
looks back with a shudder to the hard, monotonous, dreary life that he
has left behind him, and that of his own free will he would never go
back to again. There are, of course, exceptions, but even these do not
carry sentiment so far--if they can help it--as to live in hulks.

But there are some who have no choice, and who, too, too old or too
feeble to ship again, are only too glad to find a familiar refuge, free
from any trouble as to rent and taxes, and in which, by aid of a little
boating, fishing, and odd jobs long shore, they still can earn an
honest penny. And this is the class that, generally speaking, make a
home of the dead and broken ships that lie, not only along the shores
of our own harbor, but along those of the world's harbors.

On a few, however, the sea, in addition to leaving an ineradicable
impress physically, retains such power that after years of disuse and
land living, lying soft, and feeding well, and laboring equally, they
will get up suddenly, as if they heard her calling with loud and
certain voice for them, and then leaving home and wife and children,
and all that to most people makes life worth having, they will go back
to her again, back to the long and dreary night watches; back to the
squalid fo'c'sle, and hideous food; back to the many masters; back, in
fine, to what, when they left it, they stigmatised as "a dog's life."
This is the fascination of the sea; a fascination exercised in the
strangest way, and in the strangest places.

Once, not many years ago, a squatter had a "handy man," whom he valued
highly, because there seemed hardly anything he was put to that he
couldn't make a decent job of, from driving a team of bullocks to
shoeing a horse; from throwing a wire suspension bridge across a river
to cooking a good dinner. Of course the fellow was a sailor; but
apparently, with no more idea of ever leaving his comfortable quarters
and returning to the old life than he had of trying to fly. Then, all
at once, at the end of some five or six years, he became restless and
dissatisfied. The sea was calling him. In vain the squatter raised his
wages. In vain his friends pointed out the stupidity of throwing up a
good billet for a miserable and precarious livelihood. Go he must. And
go he did, leaving, however, some 30 in the local bank as a sort of
"stand by" should he ever come back again. But he never came back any
more, and there is little doubt that the sea has claimed poor "Jack the
Sailor" for her own.

The bush of Australia is full of sailors, some of whom leave their
bones there, but many of whom, on the other hand, come and go between
it and the sea, making none the worse shellbacks for being able to reap
and ride, to shear, or to use axe, maul and wedges; none the worse
bushmen for the ability to reef, hand and steer. True amphibians, these
folk; as much at home in the men's hut at Wattle Downs as in the
fo'c's'le of the Albatross; equally ready to "go on the bust" at the
sign of the "Swagsman's Arms" on the out back track to Myall Gully, as
they are for a rousing spree at "Yankee Joe's," in Sailor Town,
Yokohama. To such men as these men, whose motto might well be "Per mare
et per terras," a residence, as shown in our first picture, would seem
to most people an ideal one, for here they might rest "one foot on sea,
one foot on shore," and listening on the starboard side to the
ceaseless chatter of the cicadas, and the laughter of the great
kingfisher, conjure up visions of the further bush, and plan a route
along its well-known tracks, its shady river bonds, where the huge
coolabahs grow, and nothing breaks the hot summer silence but the
struggles of some big cod, as he comes to land at the end of the
"whaler's" line. Or the amphibian--tired, perhaps of a fresh mutton and
damper and fish diet; tired of "all night in," and the hard saddle-seat
on the deck of a craft of which, in spite of much practice in steering
and navigating, his knowledge remains ever elementary and superficial--
glancing to port, sees matters far more familiar, and his by right of
birth and upbringing. Sees tall ships and great steamers slipping past
the mouth of his bay; hears the songs of the seamen--his aforetime
mates--on the sailers, as they get their anchors almost within hail of
him; and as he looks and listens there come to him memories not
altogether bitter of storm and calm; of "good" and fast ships in which
he took pride as belonging; of the curious seductive smell of foreign
lands where, though "British beer" costs a rupee the small bottle, one
can get gloriously tight on "samshoo" for less than a quarter the
money; of brown, and yellow women not half uncomely and wholly
endearing in manner; of glorious "Liberty Days" in Eastern cities,
where he took the crown of the causeway six abreast and elbowed princes
into the gutter. And, thus, you may picture him hesitating between bush
and sea, knowing both, but belonging to the latter.

And call the cicadas and the birds never so insistently towards the
open forest country inland, with the sluggish rivers and the fish and
the shady banks, where just to camp and spell and fish and bathe
through the hot days after a long spell of "hard graft" on some
adjoining station, seems a foretaste of that "Fiddlers' Green" towards
which all true seamen look in steadfast faith; still, very, very often,
the long rhythmic beat of the salt waves and the songs of the men that
use them, and the sight of snow-white canvas heading seaward, prevail;
and Jack the Amphibian, rummaging amongst his stock of shearing
"references" and sea "discharges," as often as not selects the latter,
and pays whatever he may chance to owe with a pull of the fore-topsail

But, as we know, Jack in action does not, as a rule, live in the dead
bodies of ships that lie in the Cove of Skeletons and other similar
coves around the Fringe.

If, however, anybody wants to find Jack either amphibious (which, by
the way, is not strictly correct, because even the cleverest Jack of
them all can not exist under water) or otherwise, he may be found not
in the hulk-houses along the foreshores, but in the boarding-houses
along Kent and Sussex and certain other streets in the vicinity.

Take a stroll down any of them some sultry summer's night, and you
shall find your man--lots of him. And both outward and homeward bound.
In the former case, you will see him sprawling disconsolately on
benches that abut on the pavement, sucking desperately at pipes that
reek of spent quids. And if you are of the craft yourself you will
perchance recollect the mornings upon which you--a week behind with your
rent--descended the stairs stealthily, and meekly wishing your landlord
"Good morning," were met with the historical answer, "Good morning, be
d--d! Go and look for a ship!"

And whilst "Jack" the outward bounder takes the pavement and the hard
stools for it, peering inside, you will see "John" the homeward bounder
sprawling on the hard and slippery horsehair chairs and sofas that line
the big general room; or in the centre of it, busy with a solo
hornpipe, or whirling round Poll and Sue from "The Rocks" to the music
of an asthmatic concertina. No very big pay days now, of course, since
steam has came so much to the fore. But, nevertheless, big enough for a
fortnight of unlimited beer and threepenny rum, new, hot, and biting,
enough to buy a new dress and some fallals for Poll--whose true
Christian name, by the way, is generally Sophie or Dagmar or Suzette,
and whose English is broken--enough, in a word, to justify his host in
saying to his better half at each meal throughout that glorious time,
"They're all drunk again, Maria. Take the cheese off the table, and put
the grindstone in its place. They'll never tell the difference."

Perhaps we have wandered somewhat from the bodies of the old ships in
the Cove of Skeletons. But the fact is that they and the men who used
to sail in them, and who sail in their like still, are inseparable;
and, to talk about the one and exclude the other is wellnigh
impossible. Also, is it very strongly borne in upon me that, more than
any of the great majority, are the dead and gone toilers of the sea
likely to be allowed to, in some form or other, revisit the glimpses of
the moon, and haunt o' nights the ruined homes they labored and strove
and suffered and died in. In which case, be sure Jack sees not a shorn
and stripped and lonely carcass as we see her, but rather walking the
waters like a sentiment being, instinct with life and beauty, and full
of memories, not all harsh and bitter ones; full of whispering voices,
both fore and aft, that the Shade alone can recognise for those of
staunch messmates and kindly officers. This may not be so. Still, when
passing some of the old skeletons you see perched on gaunt ribs in the
moonlight the shapes of resting sea birds come in for refuge from the
gales of the outer ocean, one may, perhaps, be excused for fancying
that aforetime they were much more than mere gulls and petrels.


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia