"Captains Courageous"

Chapter IV

Notes on the text

These notes are based on those written by Leonee Ormond for the OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS edition of Captains Courageous (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Captains Courageous (1899, and frequently reprinted since).




[October 27th 2003]


[Page 93, line 15] hawse-hole hole in the bows of the ship through which cables run.

[Page 94, line 10] pawl post the post in which the pawls or stays of the windlass are fixed.

[Page 94, line 25] I don't want to play in your yard. A popular song of the time. (Inwood, who quotes it as follows):
I don't want to play in your yard
I don't love you any more
You'll be sorry when you see me
Swinging on the garden door.
The song is called `You shan't play in my yard' in Pearson's Magazine, iii. 78.

[Page 95, line 10] Virgin of our Church the church of Our Lady of Good Voyage, Gloucester.

[Page 96, line 1] Minot's Ledge offshore from Cohasset Harbour and Minot, near Scitutate on Massachusetts Bay, 18 miles south of Boston.

[Page 96, line 2] burgoo seaman's term for a sort of porridge. In John Hattendorf’s A Sea of Words he describes burgoo as “...to seamen, a thick oatmeal gruel or porridge. Easily cooked and cheap to provide, it was frequently served excessively at sea, and so unloved by seamen.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes it as nautical slang for soup or stew for an outdoor meal, derived from the arabic burgul or Turkish bulgar, meaning bruised grain. It was, basically, any thick dish, made of grain products, and not necessarily classic scottish porridge made from oatmeal, which might have been more welcome to discriminating sailors. [A.W.]

[Page 96, line 18] Salem museum now the Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

[Page 96, line 27] 'Up jumped the mackerel... ' a version of "The Fishes' Lamentation", or "Fish of the Sea", in which the different fishes jump aboard. This was an American/English forebitter (sailors' leisure song) also occasionally used as a chanty (sailors' worksong) at the pumps and perhaps at the capstan. It was popular from the late eighteenth century. See The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, ed. Roy Palmer (1986), 157-8.
[I am grateful to David Proctor for help with this entry: Ed.]

[Page 97, line 28] machette `a Spanish instrument like a ukelele or a guitar' (Inwood).

[Page 98, line 2] a reg'lar Boston concert `a reg'lar Paddyrooski concert' in Pearson's Magazine, iii. 78. Ignace Paderewski (1860-1941), Polish pianist and later statesman.

[Page 98, line 20] `There is a crack packet. . .' the song of the Dreadnought, or "The Liverpool Packet", by Admiral Chandler. The Dreadnought was an American packet ship which once crossed the Atlantic in nine days, seventeen hours. She suffered a mutiny when under the command of Captain Samuels, and was wrecked off Cape Horn in 1869. Some scholars believe that this song was adapted from one about a British warship, HMS Pique.

A ‘packet’ was originally specifically a mail-packet – a ship carrying the mails: packet (according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary) being derived from ‘pack’, meaning "put things into a bundle, box, bag for transport”. Because they ran to a schedule, in due course any ship running to a schedule became a 'packet'. The Dreadnought sailed to a regular schedule – as regular as any sailing ship could – in much the same way as stage coaches did on land, hence Disko and Tom Platt’s song. But her schedule might be, say, to leave New York on the 1st of January, March, May, July, etc.: and to leave Liverpool on the 1st of February, April, June, etc. She would expect to make her eastbound passage in, say, 14-16 days, and her westbound passage in 21–23 days, with good luck and good weather.
[I am grateful to David Proctor and Alastair Wilson for help with this entry. Ed.]

[Page 101, line 13] rough and tough M`Ginn unidentified.

[Page 101, line 16] `Skipper Ireson's Ride' a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. Captain Benjamin Ireson of the Betsy was returning from the Grand Banks to Marblehead, Massachusetts on 28 October 1808 when he saw distress flares from the Active. Ireson tried to rescue the crew of the sinking vessel, but his own men insisted upon giving up an attempt which held considerable dangers. On return to Marblehead, the crew, finding themselves blamed for the loss of life, placed responsibility upon their captain. The arrival of four survivors from the Active seemed to confirm the crew's story, and resulted in the so-called `ride', during which Ireson was dragged through the streets, and tarred and feathered. The inhabitants of Marblehead eventually recognized their mistake, but Whittier's poem served to perpetuate the original story.

[Page 102, line 10] war of 1812 fought between Britain and the United States, 1812-14.

[Page 102, line 11] Portland Maine.

[Page 102, line 13] Cape Cod light the furthest point to the north-east of Massachusetts.

[Page 102, line 26] Truro Massachusetts, a whaling and cod-fishing port on Cape Cod. See also note to p. 74.

[Page 104, line 1] Nina, innocente! innocent Nina.

[Page 104, line 6] `Now Aprile is over. . .' a New England fishermen's song. See Kipling Journal, IV (Dec. 1937); 123-4.

[Page 104, line 7] Noo Bedford Massachusetts, a whaling port.

[Page 104, line 26] lee surf sea falling on to a beach on an incoming tide.

[Page 105, line 1] Jiminy Christmas one of the many names playing on the initials J. C. (for 'Jesus Christ').

[Page 105, line 3] The song of Fin M`Coul Finn MacCumhaill, a mythic Celtic hero. Chief of the Fianna of Leinster, he was a warrier, poet, and enchanter. His wife, Grania, fled with Diarmuid.

[Page 105, line 13] `It's six-an'-twenty Sundays.. .' Newfoundland fishermen's song.

[Page 105, line 19] Jonah see note to p. 16. The expression `a Jonah' is used at sea to denote someone or something bringing ill-luck to the boat.

[Page 106, line 2] Georges a bank in the Grand Banks.

[Page 108, line 19] Mother Carey's chickens stormy petrels, small sea-birds, a corruption of Mater Cara. Said to be harbingers of stormy weather.

[Page 109, line 11] cross-trees light timbers, the simplest means of widening the angle for the topmost shrouds. On a warship they were heavier, to support the top.

[Page 109, line 21] davits curved wooden beams with a block or pulleys in the outer end to facilitate hoisting a boat on board.

[Page 110, line 3] Flying Dutchman the legendary sea-captain condemned to sail for ever as a punishment for blasphemy; the subject of an opera by Wagner.

[Page 110, line 9] staysail a triangular sail attached to a stay supporting a mast.

[Page 110, line 10] scandalised to scandalize the sail is to reduce the area of the sail exposed to the wind in a makeshift manner.

[Page 110, line 11] bowsprit a spar projecting over the bow, with a stay to the topmast.

[Page 110, line 12] frigate a three-masted warship, with guns on one deck only.

[Page 110, line 19] Judique port on St George's Bay, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

[Page 110, line 21] Miquelon an island that with St Pierre (p. 77) is still a French colony, about 15 miles from the southern coast of Newfoundland.

[Page 110, line 29] spewed her oakum lost the oakum (rope fibre) used to caulk her wooden planks - in this case the planks below the waterline at the bow. This would cause the ship to take on water, with potentially dire results.

[Page 111, line 23] Bay of Bulls on the east coast of Newfoundland.

[Page 112, line 9] heel-tappers old-fashioned boats which, with their raised stern or poop, looked like upside-down heeled shoes.

[Page 112, line 15] Feecamp Fécamp, on the Normandy coast north-east of Le Havre.

[Page 112, line 21] floggin' naval punishment, banned in the United States Navy in 1862. Flogging was always carried out at the gangway so that the maximum number of the crew could witness it.

[the fuller account below has been provided by Alastair Wilson, Editor of the Naval Review, and the source of much wisdom on sea-going matters for our Project Group]

[Page 112, line 21] floggin' naval punishment, ended in the U.S. Navy by an act of Congress on 2 September 1850. (In the Royal Navy it went in 1873.) Flogging was always carried out at the gangway so that the maximum number of the crew could witness it.

It was a savage punishment. The 'cat' was '… composed of nine pieces of rope about half a yard long fixed upon a thick piece of rope for a handle. Each length of cord had three knots at intervals near the striking end.' (A Sea of Words by John Hattendorf) Tom Platt was exaggerating though, since we are advised that as many as 'six dozen' would probably never have been given.

[Page 112, line 26] fey able to see into the future; in this case foreseeing his own death.

[Page 115, line 3] Great Hook-Block `may have been invented by Kipling as a variation on "The Great Horn Spoon", a well-known seaman's oath' (Inwood).

[Page 115, line 15] trawl-tubs the long lines with scores of hooks were carefully coiled in wooden tubs so that they could be paid out freely without tangle. See also p. 85.

[Page 115, line 20] spewin' her oakum With the oakum caulking between her planks coming looose.

[Page 117, line 8] `And naow to thee, O Capting' see note to Chapter II p. 39, line 3.

[Page 119, line 4] Patrick Henry United States politician and impassioned orator, 1736-99. His words at the Virginia Convention of 1775, 'Give me liberty or give me death!' are here being applied to the boat.


[L. O.]