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Title: With Young Germany on Shipboard
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302331h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  May 2013
Most recent update: May 2013

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(Author of "Red Sun and Blue Star," "In the Great Deep," etc., etc.)

Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal
Wednesday, January 18, 1905

It is a curious fact, but a true one nevertheless, that German shipowners have realised before their British contemporaries that to prepare men to make good officers in steam they must first have some training under canvas. "No one," remarked Captain Zander, of the Herzogin Sophie Charlotte, "is, in my opinion, competent to take charge of a steamer unless he has also served in sailing ships. Apparently, however, your people think otherwise, and many firms are now taking apprentices on their steamers." Most people who know anything of the matter will be inclined to agree with Captain Zander and his employers, the Nord-Deutscher Lloyd, the great German shipping firm, which has given practical endorsement of its belief in the splendid vessel that now lies alongside Circular Quay. Of course, we have, ere this, had training ships belonging to different nations in Port Jackson. But none of those visitors have in the remotest degree, resembled the Herzogin Sophie Charlotte. So far as externals go, she is a very pretty clipper-bowed model of a ship, with perhaps the loftiest spars of any craft that has been seen in an Australian port for many a long day. They are of steel throughout with the exception of the fore and main skysail-yards, which are the only pieces of timber aloft to cross the masts of the stately Duchess. The captain and his officers are, by-the-way, rather proud of their skysails, and would have no objection to another one on the mizzen. Proud, and with reason, the whole executive are, too, of their ship, their boys who "man" her so efficiently; proud of the flag they serve under, and of the uniform they wear; and proud, also, of having broken the blank record of many years by sailing up Port Jackson, with everything set to a main skysail.

There is no veneer or gingerbread about the Duchess. Throughout the ship the motto is "Utility." From the galley to the hospital, from the officers' quarters to those of the cadets, everything strikes one as having been arranged with a paramount object in view—the one the ship is intended for. Under the immensely long poop the boys are messed and berthed. And there space, ventilation, and scrupulous cleanliness everywhere prevail. Each lad's seat at the moveable tables is numbered; and above that seat his hammock will be slung at 8 p.m. Fore and aft and athwartships run rows of numbered upright lockers, in which are kept such clothes and toilet necessaries as may serve for present use. The chests are stowed away in the 'tween decks, and do not appear in the living room. Printed and framed rules and regulations for boat and fire drill are hung here and there; the routine and surroundings smack of "steam" all over the vessel. Which, seeing what the training is intended for, a supply of officers for the great steamers of the N.D.L., is, of course, as it should be. Even the cadets, when on watch, are bound to step the deck athwart it, instead of fore and aft, as a preliminary to the bridge, where, in time, they hope to stand.

Unlike the fashion that prevails on such ships as the Illawarra and the Macquarie, as Captain Zander, smiling and courteous, is careful to point out, on the Duchess, there are no adult seamen. The cadets do everything. The officers lead in everything; their charges follow the example set. Alow and aloft these strapping young children of the Fatherland, coming, the majority of them, from far-Inland States where the sea is known of only in books, do the whole work of the ship. And how it is done may be appreciated by seeing them at it. We have been accustomed to regard the German as a somewhat phlegmatic and stolid race. Perhaps this may have been true at one time. But, decidedly, judging from the way the youngsters behave on the Duchess, the rising generation, at any rate, is waking up to some purpose. And standing at the gangway with the captain and his smart young chief officer, and watching the lads who have been on leave coming on board, all spick and span, saluting their superior, and being scrupulously saluted in return, one cannot help being impressed by the sight of so much good material, in preparation for, perhaps, a future great mercantile marine. There may be also a vague and uncomfortable feeling engendered somewhere in the background to the effect that it is time the British shipowner was also beginning to realise his responsibilities.

The officers of the Duchess all belong to the German Naval Reserve, and have done terms of training on German war ships. A surgeon is carried, as also are two instructors in navigation, who at sea find their time fully occupied.

At present it seems that the training ships of the N.D.L. are quite unsubsidised by the Government. They are, in fact, being maintained at an absolute loss to the company. The cadets pay £40 each per annum for their three-years' course on board. Freights, as a rule, are low, and expenses of upkeep are heavy. Thus there is, it is stated, always a heavy debit balance on each round voyage. This, however, is a state of affairs that will no doubt be presently remedied when the success of the new departure has been justified in the direction not only of rendering it a nursery for competent officers for the N.D.L., but for the German Navy into the bargain. All the cadets, it must be understood, are lads of good family, and their three years on the training ship entitles them to the privilege of a reduction of two years' service out of three in the navy of their country.

That the boys and their officers are in happy accord is evident to the most casual eye. On such occasions as the birthday of one of the latter, there are rejoicings and presentations. Many of the youths are expert with pencil and brush; others have a facile knack of rhyming; hence the gifts to their preceptors often take the form of allusions in which are embalmed in colour the physical attributes of the recipients, while their mental virtues, and, at times, their little failings, are celebrated in good-natured verse. English is regularly taught; and everybody on board appears to be more or less proficient in the language. "I'm an able seaman," proudly, in answer to a question, replies a youngster of 16 or 17, dressed in working dungarees, covered with tar and paint. He is a nicely-spoken lad, and he explains that the badge of his rank, when in uniform, "is a bud—bud, oh, how is it said in the English? I am sorry I forgot." Then, in a second, he touches a button on your coat. "Button, so. A button on each breast." "A fine ship?" "Yes, also a very swift ship. Likewise a somewhat wet ship when she travels swiftly." He is "out of his time," and he hopes to presently either become a quartermaster on one of the N.D.L. liners, or staying in the Duchess attain the rank of petty officer. He opens some of his comrades' lockers, and you notice whatever else they may contain there are always books in them. Then he apologises. "I can no longer stay. To work I must return," salutes, and so departs.

It is of interest to learn from the young "chief"—there are no elderly people anywhere visible on this ship, whose master even seems only a little over 30—that the vessel, originally the Albert Rickmers, one of a line of famous four-masted German clippers, was, when bought by the N.D.L. for the present purpose, renamed after the daughter of the Archduke August of Oldenburg, and that both of these personages take the utmost interest in the ship and her mission. Then, again, you are told that she is probably the only vessel now afloat that carries studding-sails, lower and topmast on main and mizzen. They are manufactured out of old stay sails, and are, of course, "jib-headed." That they also give a lot of trouble is confessed. But then the setting and trimming of them makes excellent practice for the boys, who might otherwise be napping o' nights. Questioned as to the influence of the "extras" during that wonderful passage of his last year from Melbourne to Hull, in 76 days, the captain placidly remarks that he "certainly had very fine winds." Captain Zander knows, too all about the doings of the Loch Torridon, and one imagines would not be disinclined to back the Duchess against the speedy British clipper, with whom she is much of a size and rig, spreading, however, a larger area of canvas.

Incidentally, it was mentioned that the sister ship to the Herzogin Sophie Charlotte, the Herzogin Cecilla, christened after the sister of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, was also a very fast ship. She is also more modern than our present visitor; built specially for the business in 1902, she is 800 tons larger, although practically alike in all other respects. To speak of the courtesy and hospitality to visitors on board of the Duchess would be only a work of supererogation; no time taken or trouble expended in showing what is to be seen, and explaining its uses is considered ill-spent by the executive. In the history of Sydney Cove many fast and famous clippers have lain at the berth now occupied by the Duchess, their modern prototype. And it is within the memory of people still alive that one or another of those old ships took wing unaided from the wharf to the outer seas. In those days, of course, the Cove was comparatively clear water. But as Captain Zander appears to take a delight in getting the utmost possible use out of his canvas, he might, perhaps, give the citizens a trial by, if the wind allows, when once in the fairway, taking his fine ship out as he brought her in—under all plain sail. Prosit!


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