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Title: On the Fringe of the Harbor Author: John Arthur Barry * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1302101h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2013 Date most recently 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 file. 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.
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I. A LITTLE SHIP IN A LITTLE DOCK.
II. THE SHIPS OF FARM COVE.
III. REST COVE.
IV. THE COVE OF SKELETONS.
I. A LITTLE SHIP IN A LITTLE DOCK.
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surrounded by docks and factories and flaring furnaces and the incessant clangor that ever arises where industry has superseded nature.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 crape.
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.
II. THE SHIPS OF FARM COVE.
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 Arthur.
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 guns.
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 us.
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.
III. REST COVE.
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 expansions.
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.
IV. THE COVE OF SKELETONS.
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 lands.
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 order.
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 foreshores.
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 sheets.
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.
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