[Page 183, line 2] Stephano’s Island Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in which a drunken butler, Stephano, is a character, has always been associated with Bermuda. On this, the Encyclopedia Britannica (14th Edition, Vol. 20, Shakespeare) remarks:
The Revels Accounts (give) the precise date of November 1, 1611, for a performance at court. Sylvester Jourdan’s A Discovery of the Bermudas, containing an account of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers in 1609, was published about October 1610, and this, or some other contemporary narrative of the colonisation of Virginia probably furnished the hint of the plot.
Ariel’s reference to “the still-vexed Bermoothes” (Act I, Scene i) supports this theory.
Adapting the first line of Stephano’s song (Act II, Scene ii), “The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,” Kipling provides in “The Coiner” a poetical development of the idea. From all the circumstantial evidence, it is quite clear beyond any doubt that Kipling must have had Bermuda in mind, though he did not create a photographic likeness.
[Page 183, lines 3-4] sub-tropical areas . . . do not breed unlike the Tropics, which are delineated by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at 23½º N and S, the adjoining sub-tropics are only loosely determined by general climate, but Bermuda (32º 15’N 64º 50’W) is well within the generally accepted limit.
[Page 183, line 3] the Line as an expression for the Equator, this now seems quite outmoded, except in connection with the ceremonies traditionally carried out on crossing it.
Although parrots are mostly tropical birds, a few species are found outside the tropics.
[Page 183, line 6] the cedars the Bermuda cedar, like the ‘red cedar’ of America, is in fact a juniper, Juniperus Bermudiana. It has been used for pencils; and sloops of up to 440 tons were built from Bermuda cedar for the Royal Navy (one, His Majesty’s ship Indian. was commanded by the younger of Jane Austen’s two Naval brothers – both became Admirals in due course).
[Page 183, line 12] . . . like a little Jew baby presumably the baby parrot has a curved beak, rather like the stereotypical hooked nose supposed to be a feature of some members of the Jewish race.
[Page 183, line 14] HMS Florealia: a totally fictitious name, and one which is not in the Oxford English Dictionary. At the time Kipling was in Bermuda, as stated in the introduction, there were two sloops on the station: one was a ‘Flower’ class sloop, HMS Heliotrope, the other was a new sloop of the ‘Hastings’ class. It may be suggested that Kipling gave the two ships concerned in this story vaguely floral names (the other one’s name is Bulleana – see p. 288) so that he should not offend the sensibilities of any ship’s company.
[Page 183, line 15] moored ‘moored’ has a very specific meaning in the Royal Navy – it means to anchor with two anchors down, and with a swivel inserted so that the cables do not become twisted when the ship turns with the tide. Kipling tended to use the word in the more general sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘To secure one’s ship, etc., in a particular place; to anchor.’ In the Royal Navy’s sense, the act of mooring with two anchors, usually laid out up and down tide from the final position equidistant between the anchors, is particularly used where room for the ship to swing to her anchor is restricted.
[Page 183, line 15] gig a ship’s pulling boat. See pur note to the Pyecroft stories on ship’s boats. It is unlikely that a sloop would have carried a gig in 1931 – the boat would have been a whaler or a dinghy.
[Page 183, line 21] lay off waited a short distance away, within hail, the crew probably resting on their oars.
[Page 184, line 12] barrel to her steering wheel the central part of the steering wheel, from eighteen inches to three feet (46cm to 92cm) in diameter, round which the ropes leading to either side of the tiller were wound. The act of turning the wheel pulled one end of the rope in, and let the other out, thus pulling the tiller, and with it the rudder, in one direction or another. (In particular, such wheels may be seen on board HMS Victory and HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.)
[Page 184, line 24] Bo’sun an accepted abbreviation of Boatswain, a word of considerable antiquity, though the Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation is not until 1450. In the Royal Navy, he was a Warrant Officer, supervising sails, rigging, canvas, anchors, cables and cordage, but not the boats, which were the Carpenter’s concern. In the sailing navy, he and his mates would pipe the hands to their duty for major evolutions, and on ceremonial occasions he would lead the “side-party” in “piping the side”, the naval mark of respect for especially distinguished visitors. See our notes on the Royal Navy in 1905.
[Page 184, line 26/7] Cornwall Parish There are nine parishes on the island of Bermuda, all with specifically English names – though there is not, in fact, a Cornwall Parish – though there is a Devonshire Parish.
[Page 184, line 30] onion-ground Bermuda used to do a brisk trade in onions and other early vegetables until the U.S.A. introduced protection in aid of Texan farmers. The trade balance, however, was restored by American visitors to the local hotels, which got a splendid boost during prohibition (1919-1933), when the sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal in the United States.
[Page 184, line 33] Dockyard H.M. Dockyard, closed as a measure of economy in 1950, was on Ireland Island, at the north of the group. Bermuda continued as a base for the West Indies Squadron until the 1970s.
[Page 185, line 1] land-crabs crabs which live on land, but breed in the sea. The phrase may offend reader’s sensibilities – it would have caused some, but probably lesser, offence in 1930 – but Kipling was merely reporting common speech at the time.
[Page 185, line 5] hydroplane here means a light, fast motorboat, designed to skim over the surface – almost certainly with a planing hull.
[Page 185, line 9] But no boatman Mr. Randolph means that Mr. Casalis is not much of a seaman.
[Page 185, line 10] took her alongside a wharf last week an unremarkable statement if taken literally, but Mr. Randolph is a master of understatement. He means that Mr. Casalis made a very heavy alongside in his boat last week, and has clearly smashed her up fairly thoroughly.
[Page 185, line 24] counter the overhanging portion of the stern of a ship or boat: strictly speaking, that part between the waterline and the knuckle of the stern.
[Page 185, line 26-27] white coral road . . . procession of horse-drawn vehicles owing to the narrowness and comparative softness of the roads, motor vehicles were virtually prohibited in Bermuda until 1940, when base facilities were offered to the United States Navy as part of the Churchill-Roosevelt ‘ships for bases’ deal.
[Page 185, line 31] tussore or tusser, silk is a strong but coarse variety, derived from the oak-feeding silkworm.
[Page 186, line 16] vulshures vultures.
[Page 186, line 19] Burst-a-frog the expression seems so unconvincing that Kipling probably did hear it, or something like it, somewhere. But it could not have been a common one.
It may be suggested that the “frog” was a Frenchman, since the word has been used in English for a foreigner since the 17th century, and specifically for the French since the late 18th century. The derivation seems to be from the ancient heraldic device for the city of Paris which had three frogs, or toads, as one of the quarterings (representing the marshy nature of the ground on which the city was originally built). The 1898 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that the word (grenouille = frog) was used at the court of Louis XVIII to refer to the Parisians, while Wellington’s army in the Peninsula referred to their adversaries as Johnny Crapaud (= toad).
[Page 186, line 21] Ser… for reasons of his own, Mr. Heatleigh is concealing his knowledge that officers referred to the Navy as “the Service”.
[Page 186, lines 22-23] I took my pension here in Nineteen Ten Mr. Vergil would have been 55 then. Normally, ratings and warrant officers were finally discharged to pension in their base port, but exceptionally could take their discharge on the station where they were serving at the time. Mr. Vergil would have been serving on the America and West Indies station at that time (having, one assumes, fixed on the widow Gallop, neé Mewett, as his helpmeet). Having entered the Navy as a Boy at the age of about 14½, he would indeed have served for “forty odd years”. That would mean he joined in about 1870.
[Page 186, lines 23-24] Jacky’s dam’ first silly Dreadnought ‘Jacky’ was Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O. (1841-1920) created first Baron Fisher of Kilverstone in 1910, after being First Sea Lord since 1904.
He was brought back from retirement by Churchill in October 1914, soon after the outbreak of the Great War, but disagreed over the Dardanelles campaign against the Turks, and Churchill’s habit of interfering in the details of operational matters, which were the First Sea Lord’s province. He remains a controversial figure, the usual division between extravagant admirers of the changes he introduced and harsh critics of the methods he employed.
He was responsible for HMS Dreadnought, laid down late in 1905, launched early 1906, and completed in what was called “spectacular secrecy” within a year by diverting labour from other ships and using the guns and mountings intended for them. She was the first to have an “all-big-gun” armament of ten 12-inch guns, mounted in five turrets. He predecessors had no more than four 12-inch guns, two each in a turret forward and aft, with a secondary battery of 6-inch guns on each side between them.
Fisher’s critics argued that it was foolish for Britain to take the initiative in devaluing her own vast superiority in ships of the pre-Dreadnought type and thus present Germany with the chance of starting level with the new. (Exactly the same argument with respect to France had been put forward 45 years earlier when HMS Warrior had been built in 1860 – but Britain could, and did, out-build the French, as she now did the Germans, though with rather less ease.)
Hindsight suggests that it was neither madness nor genius: a step of that sort would have been taken by some power or other quite soon (the idea of such a ship had originated in Italy) for it was necessary in developing long-range gunnery. On the other hand, the Dreadnought’s design was surprisingly bad in many details and could have been improved with less haste. See our notes on the Royal Navy in 1905.
[Page 186, line 25] noo Navy
[Page 186, line 25] I was boy he was rated Boy – again, see our notes on the Navy in 1905.
[Page 186, line 26] Black Fleet “The Black Battlefleet” was the name given by Admiral G.A. Ballard to a series of articles in The Mariner’s Mirror, the quarterly journal of the Society for Nautical Research, which were published over a number of years from 1929 onwards, and which comprised a series of articles on the battleships in service or building in 1870, the mid-point of the great Victorian transition in warship design. The name was obviously chosen because their iron, or iron-clad, hulls were painted black, in contrast to the black and white chequer of their predecessors with long rows of gun-ports, and the grey of their successors.
We know that Kipling met Ballard when he was collecting material for Sea Warfare (see our introductory note to Sea Warfare for an account of that meeting) and that he corresponded with him later in the 1930s, about this tale in particular, and the likely details of ‘Daddy’ Vergil’s career. (As an aside, Admiral Ballard, as a Lieutenant aged about 30, had been the Naval officer on the staff of General Sir Harry Prendergast, VC, at the storming of Mandalay during the Burma War of 1885-6 – back in Lahore, Kipling no doubt pasted up the telegrams giving details of the expedition’s progress.
There is a splendid photograph of the general and his assembled staff, the nineteen army officers in khaki drill, and Ballard in blue naval uniform, with a Sam Browne belt and his sword. The other contrast is that he is conspicuously clean-shaven, whereas the Army officers are, of course, without exception moustached, with seven of them, the general included, wearing full beards as well.)
There does not seem to be any good evidence that the name “The Black Battlefleet” was in use in the 1870s, though in 1863, the Emperor Napoleon III had described the Warrior as “a black snake among the rabbits” (“un serpent noir parmi les lapins”).
[Page 186, lines 26-27] Warrior, Minotaur, Hercules all British ironclads of the 1870s and `80s. We are fortunate in that Warrior survived as a hulk in naval service until 1979, when she was sold to the Warrior Preservation Trust and restored to her state as built in 1861.
She can now be visited in the historic dockyard at Portsmouth. Minotaur and her sister-ships Agincourt and Northumberland were remarkable examples of the degree of confidence which our forefathers had in the ability of their technology to overcome any problem. When Warrior was completed, there was no warship like her in the world – she marked a step-change in naval architecture, and had virtually every superlative characteristic. And yet, before she had even begun her trials, the Admiralty ordered the Minotaur and her two sisters which were over 20% bigger. Their most noticeable feature of these latter three ships, for an old seaman, was that they had no fewer than five masts, square-rigged on the first four, to make a five-masted barque rig.
[Page 186, line 27] the Hungry Six According to Sea Slang, a book written by Frank Bowen about 1928, and still on the shelves of Kipling’s study at Bateman’s, these were the ships of the Flying Squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Geoffrey T. Phipps Hornby which made a world cruise in 1869-70, combining showing the flag with seamanship training. A more specific aim was to prove to colonial Governors and politicians at home that, in the new steam age, the Navy could reinforce foreign stations and colonial outposts as quickly as most potential enemies could mount an attack.
Some of the ships were exchanged for others in the course of the cruise, but throughout the squadron consisted of four screw frigates and two screw corvettes. Since they sailed whenever possible – the Treasury was unenthusiastic about the expenditure of money on coal – some of their passages were long ones (ten years later, when Admiral Ballard took part in another such cruise, it took five weeks to cross the Indian Ocean from Java to the Cape of Good Hope) and quite possibly their rations were sometimes down to “bare Navy”. Water was certainly short at times.
[Page 186, line 31] bringing my – “stern to an anchor”, Mr Heatleigh would no doubt have added if he had not thought better of it. This is rather ponderous naval slang. The phrase is also used in “The Bonds of Discipline” (Traffica and Discpveries page 55, line 12).
[Page 186, line 33 and page 187, line 1] seemed to wait for Mr. Vergil to precede him under naval usage, the senior officer enters a ship’s boat last and is the first to leave on arrival. This is to spare him a possibly uncomfortable period of waiting while the remainder of the passengers embark ir disembark. We are being given a series of somewhat ponderous naval hints that Mr. Heatleigh is rather more than he seems.
[Page 187, lines 10/11] I’ve got a motor-boat at Southampton a somewhat baffling remark: if, as Mr Vergil seems to think from his remark about Southampton Water at the end of the next paragraph, Mr. Heatleigh is referring to Southampton in England, the reply seems something of a non sequitur. The more normal reply to be expected from the query “’Tourist?” might be something along the lines of “Yes, for a bit: I came in on the “Queen of the Caribbean” three days ago.”
However, Liz Breuilly, a Kipling Society member, has suggested that it is part of the sparring between the two protagonists: Heatleigh is trying to remain anonymous, perhaps so that he can pump Vergil for lower-deck gossip, while Vergil is trying to get Heatleigh to give himself away so that he can be sure who he is. Part of Heatleigh’s game is to tell no direct lies, but to play with (to quote an earlier work), ‘suppressio veri and suggestio falsi‘.
To add to the conundrum, there is a Southampton parish in Bermuda, though clearly Mr. Vergil doesn’t think this is relevant – or is his mind making a sideways leap from Southampton (Bermuda) to Southampton (England)?
[Page 187, line 12] ” ’Don’t believe in ’em – never did” Mr. Vergil’s conservatism on this point was not without basis. Until well into the 1930s the Royal Navy’s motor-boats compared badly with its steam-boats, probably from false economy. The former were a constant subject of complaint, and of shame when in company with ships of other navies. (20 years later, at the Coronation Review of the Fleet in 1953, this Editor, then a midshipman, commented in his Log, slightly enviously, on the boats of the American cruiser present – though the 35 foot motor-cutter with Kitchen-rudder gear which was his usual boat was a superb, reliable, and very handy sea-boat.)
[Page 188, line 1] armoured cruisers Battle cruisers were still so classified when Mr Vergil took his pension in 1910, but the expression was no longer used after the last of the pre-war armoured cruisers had been broken up in the early 1920s.
[Page 188, line 2] bears in the Mediterranean fleet in 1921, HMS Ajax had a bear named Trotsky that was sometime troublesome in this way. (The ORG Editor was writing from experience – he had served in HMS Ajax at that date.) Commander Owen (another Society member who contributed to the ORG notes) knew a bear, probably of the small bruang Malay type, in the submarine L.2 in China about the same time.
[Page 188, line 4] the old Audacious Audacious was another of the early iron armoured ships of the ‘Black Battlefleet’, and was one of the earliest of the iron battleships to spend a long time on a foreign station. She was flagship of the China station 1874-78 and 1883-89. Oscar Parkes records that, under sail, she and two of her sisters were: ‘almost unmanageable under canvas alone.’ It seems possible that the “old W O” of whom Kipling wrote to Admiral Ballard in 1935 (see the Headnote) was the source of this piece of gossip – it is entirely likely that a ship on the China station would have acquired a chameleon or two.
[Page 188, lines 12/13] Now we’ve two cruisers – sloops I call ’em in fact, Kipling has muddled the two types in Mr. Vergil’s mouth. As remarked in the Headnote , the West Indies Squadron consisted of (in 1930s terminology) four cruisers and two sloops.Mr. Vergil would have referred to the cruisers (the next class of warship below a battleship), in 1870s terminology, as ‘frigates’, and the sloops he might well have referred to as ‘cruisers’ – since, before the reclassification of frigates as cruisers 1st., 2nd and 3rd class, any small ship (in descending order of size) on a foreign station, corvette, sloop, gun vessel or gun boat, was referred to as a ‘cruiser’, since her prime task was to cruise round the station, showing the flag. So Mr. Vergil should have said “Now we’ve two sloops on the station, cruisers I call ’em”.
[Page 188, lines 15-16] West Coast West Coast of Africa. The Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa station went as far north as Sierra Leone, and had been a centre of British naval operations in countering the slave trade from the 1830s to the 1890s. It was notoriously unhealthy, as expressed in the old piece of doggerel:
“Beware, beware, the Bight of Benin: there’s few come out, though many go in.”
[Page 188, line 17] the Bight the Bight of Benin, the large bay in the “elbow” of West Africa, into which the river Niger flows, and which forms the sea-coast of (in Kipling’s time) the Gold Coast, Togo, Dahomey and Nigeria (today, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria): together with the Bight of Biafra immediately to the east they form the Gulf of Guinea.
[Page 188, lines 17/18] Theseus – St. George, was it? these were two cruisers of the ‘Edgar’ class. Both took part in the Benin expedition of 1897. St. George was flagship of the Cape station 1894-98, and Theseus was detached from the Mediterranean Fleet to reinforce the squadron from the Cape.
[Page 188, line 19] Benin Expedition, was it? there were three punitive expeditions against Benin in 1894, 1897 and 1899 – the last a minor affair, overshadowed by the start of the Boer War. But clearly Kipling had the second in mind for Mr. Vergil, since the two named ships took part in that one, and not in the earlier one. However, he has possibly conflated the two earlier expeditions, since Laird Clowes’s The Royal Navy, Vol. VII, mentions the capture of several war canoes and the personal treasure of the Chief, Nana, amounting to £324 in English money, although there is no mention of any champagne. (See our notes on “The Horse Marines”, page 312, line 14)
[Page 188, line 24] makee-do pidgin English, real or synthetic (the Navy, in particular, was adept at using the synthetic variety).
[Page 188, line 32] lizard-like here, presumably means inconspicuous or svelte. Mr. Heatleigh’s coat, we assume, is unbuttoned, revealing a cream-coloured waistcoat or cummerbund (more likely).
[Page 189, line 5] Riggin(g) Loft a large covered space in a dockyard where the dockyard riggers would make up sets of rigging of a standard size, length, etc., to be issued as required to ships. This purpose had vanished with the passing of mast and yards, so in 1930, this would have been a large empty space, eminently suitable for housing 72 parrots. (Ships of similar classes were masted, sparred and rigged to the same standard, so that the mainmast and rigging of one second-rate would fit any other second-rate, and so on. When historical novelists describe re-rigging a ship after a storm, or battle damage, in terms of unremitting labour, so that one envisages coils of rope all over the place, and seamen frantically splicing, setting up shrouds, with cries of “Heave-ho, me hearties” and such-like nautical sound-effects, the truth, in a well-organised ship, ought to have been more prosaic – the Boatswain sent his yeoman and a working party down to the Boatswain’s store to “rouse out that set of shrouds for the foremast”.)
[Page 189, line 13] stuns’le-boom stuns’le is a phonetic approximation to studdingsail, a light sail extended, in a moderate and steady favouring wind, beyond the skirts of the principal sail, where it appears as a sort of wing. The studdingsail-boom, sliding through boom-irons on the yard below, becomes an extension of that yard to spread the foot of the studdingsail.
[Page 189, lines 20-21] the old Penelope (she with that stern) the Penelope, an armoured corvette of 1867 (a ‘corvette’ was defined as a ship with her guns all mounted on one deck, the upper deck, in the open: a ‘frigate‘ had all her guns on one covered deck, the main deck, immediately below the upper deck), was the first twin-screw armoured ship. “Her stern was unlike any other in the Royal Navy, or probably any other in the world.” (Admiral Ballard in The Mariner’s Mirror January 1924, page 24.) Below the waterline, she had virtually a double stern, each with its hoisting screw and rudder.
Oscar Parkes remarked that, on account of her shallow draught, this:
‘ingenious solution, however, failed to counteract the other disabilities under which the Penelope drifted rather than sailed, as a result of the reduction in her draught. On the other hand, she naturally had a higher centre of gravity than was customary in the ironclads, and consequently earned a reputation for steadiness and fighting ability in a seaway which was the envy of her consorts rolling their gun-ports under, and was to have a marked influence on future ship design.’
Kipling later came to know her at Simons Town, where she had been the base ship 1888-97, and then a prison-hulk. She receives a brief mention at the beginning of “The Captive” (Traffics and Discoveries), and, although nothing is said specifically, it is quite possible that Laughton O. Zigler might have been incarcerated on board her. All the fore-going detail is irrelevant to this Bermudan tale, but is included here as a means of showing how thoroughly Kipling immersed himself in the mindset of his characters, and as an indication of why his Naval readers have always emphasised that he had the speech of his Naval characters absolutely right – we have elsewhere cited Captain Peter Bethell, Royal Navy in our “Notes on the Pyecroft Stories”:
The remarkable feature of the Pyecroft series has always seemed to me be the absolute verisimilitude of the conversation, whose tiniest details are quite impeccable.
[Page 189, line 22] black powder gunpowder in its original form, as used in fireworks. As a propellant it burned so quickly as to amount to an explosion, and it developed its maximum force almost before the projectile had begun to move. (That is one of the reasons why the guns of the period were short and stubby – they had to have a mass of metal at the breech end, to stand up to the enormous pressures generated in the chamber of the gun.)
Various alterations were made in composition and form to slow down the combustion to give the projectile a progressive shove rather than a fierce blow. After 1890, all forms of gunpowder began to be replaced by compositions like cordite, which were not only more gradual in their action, but comparatively smokeless. It is a little hard to believe that the blast from black powder would be much less unpleasant than cordite to any kind of animal.
[Page 189, line 23] Head the ship’s company latrine, which used to be located in the bows, or head of the ship. (“Heads” in the plural is also found.)
[Page 189, line 27] Car- “Carry on”, with the last two syllables suppressed. We have had two more indications that Mr. Heatleigh knows more about the Navy than he has let on – “Carry on” is the normal Naval form of “Please continue”. (It is also the Naval form of the Army’s “Dismiss” – though, obviously, not so used here.)
[Page 189, line 29] five bells five half-hours after the start of a watch. Here, on evidence below, 10.30 a.m.
[Page 190, line 7] awning(g)-stretchers light spars or laths for keeping a small awning taut.
[Page 190. line 13]upper-yard-man the most active, bold and skilled seamen were given stations on the upper yards when handling sail. Today, the expression is still used in the Royal Navy to denote a sailor who is a candidate to receive a commission.
[Page 190, lines 13/14] cross-trees two horizontal timbers bolted to the head of a mast (topmast or top-gallant mast) to support the mast above.
[Page 190, line 14] Resistance an ironclad battleship, one of the first to be built, commissioned in December 1861, four months after the Warrior, of which she was a smaller version. As ever, Treasury cheeseparing resulted in a ship whose fighting efficiency compared to the Warrior was reckoned to be in the proportion of 1 to 4, despite her cost being in the proportion of 2 to 3.
She was the first British ironclad in the Mediterranean Fleet (and, incidentally, the only ironclad ship to be painted, in her first commission, in the old style with a white stripe along the line of her gun-ports).
[Page 190, line 15] our Marines landing in Crete British marines were landed at Canea, Crete, on 15 February 1897, as part of an international effort to maintain order in Crete where a rising against Turkish rule threatened to lead to massacres on both sides. The situation remained tense until late in 1898.
[Page 191, line 5] ratin(g)s a rating is the Naval equivalent of the Army’s ‘other rank’, i.e. not an officer.
[Page 191, lines 7/8] dumb-crambo a parlour game in which one side must guess a word agreed upon by the other side, who represent rhymes to it in dumb show.
[Page 191, line 14] hung on and off like a sailing ship keeping the same position by tacking to and fro – but not an action recommended in the vicinity of a typhoon. (Analogous to “in the offing” – see lines 8/9 above.)
[Page 191, line 17] Serpent a small cruiser of the ‘Archer’ class, launched in 1887. Three distinguished flag officers, reporting officially on the naval manoeuvres of 1888, agreed that these ships had too much weight forward and the First Naval Lord concurred. (They were heavily armed, having six 6-inch guns on a standard displacement of 1750 tons: 50 years later, the next Penelope carried the same main armament on a standard displacement of 5220 tons – though at twice the speed.) The Serpent’s loss with all but three of a complement of 175 on the coast of Spain, 19 November 1890 could not be attributed to this. A failure to allow for a current setting in to the Bay of Biscay was mainly responsible.
[Page 191, line 19] Viper and Cobra experimental destroyers of 1899 and 1900 respectively, the first British warships to be engined with turbines. By an unhappy coincidence both were lost in 1901. The Viper was wrecked on Renonquet reef, near Alderney, in fog, during manoeuvres, luckily without loss of life.
The Cobra broke her back in bad weather while on passage from her building yard on the Tyne to Chatham. Only 12 were saved out of a passage crew of 79. The question of whether a pilotage error contributed to her loss has never been settled. The two disasters in quick succession created an unjustified prejudice against turbine machinery and a more understandable one against snake names.
[Page 191, line 21] sampans Chinese boats, propelled by oars and sail. Here simply a loose bit of slang for smallish ships.
[Page 191, lines 26 and 27] Warrants and Bo’suns another example of Kipling’s confused thinking on Naval Warrant Officers, which we have previously remarked on in connection with the Pyecroft stories (see our notes on the Pyecroft Stories). The Bo’sun was a Warrant Officer, and usually a fine one.
[Page 191, lines 32-33] chewin(g) the rag talking or arguing: also, sometimes, “chewing the fat”. There was – is – a saying that a naval argument consists of five stages: Positive Statement; Flat Denial; Counter Statement; Personal Abuse; Physical Violence. (They rarely reach even stage 4.)
[Page 191, line 33 and 192, line 1] on-the-knee parties this is a reference to an outbreak of indiscipline in the Royal Naval Barracks in Portsmouth in November 1906. (See our notes on “The Horse Marines” page 324, line 23.)
The “noocleus”, commonly quite small, of a mutiny commonly consisted of a few rabble-rousers capable of making the most of a grievance, with some strong-arm men to intimidate opposition.
[Page 192, line 4] bad hats ill-disciplined, troublesome men, also known as “King’s (Queen’s) Hard Bargains”, “birds” “skates” and other flights of fancy.
The origin of the expression is said to be a remark of the Duke of Wellington on seeing the first assembly of the House of Commons after the passage of the Reform Bill in 1832: he thought that the quality of the new MPs was low and said that he had ‘never seen so many shocking bad hats in my life’. He may well have been referring to their standard of dress, which he thought did not become their supposed status as gentlemen, but the remark has entered into the language to mean a person of inferior character.
[Page 192, line 5] sea-lawyers crusaders spurred on by a sense of injustice based on their own interpretation of the regulations. Seldom popular with anyone.
[Page 192, line 6 Admiralty Regulations issued originally in 1730 as Regulations and Instructions relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea, these became The King’s (or Queen’s) Regulations and Admiralty Instructions (KR&AI or QR&AI) with a growing increase in bulk, but surprisingly little difference in general tenor. (With the passing of the Admiralty upon the formation of the unified Ministry of Defence in 1964, they have become Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy (QR(RN)).
[Page 192, line 7] cheap muckin(g)s trash.
[Page 192, lines 7-8] eatin(g) into the wind probably a euphemism for some more unseemly natural function which any proper seaman would perform to leeward (i.e. down wind and not into it). In this context, the expression which Kipling probably meant, which we can, in these less strait-laced days, express more openly as “p*ssing into the wind” means to do something which is futile (and liable to inconvenience you yourself).
[Page 192, line 9] logged there is more loose thinking here. In the Merchant Marine, punishments of members of the crew (usually in the form of fines) had to be entered in the ship’s log, but this was not so in the Royal Navy. Misbehaviour by an officer might be recorded in the ship’s log by order of the Captain (“Lieutenant XYZ reprimanded for failure to oversee the disposal of surplus grog in accordance with KR&AI abc.de”): the Captain would then sign the entry. But technically, this was not a punishment, since it entailed no immediate consequences except to the officer’s professional pride and the matter was forgotten when the log was stored away at the end of the commission. On the other hand, if the officer failed to mend his ways, the earlier log entry could be produced as evidence aggravating later offences. This did not apply to ratings.
Probably “logged” here means only “placed in the defaulters’ report”.
[Page 192, line 9] got twisted got punished.
[Page 192, line 9] seven bells evidently the time at which defaulters were brought before the Executive Officer, or, in more serious cases, the Captain. (The time might vary from ship to ship.)
[Page 192, line 10] metamorfused Mr. Vergil’s approximation to ‘were metamorphosed’, changed.
[Page 192, lines 15-16] West Coast ju-ju-wallah Ju-ju is a West African charm or fetish. After the murder of some British Nigerian officials in January 1897, a punitive expedition commanded by Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson, C-in-C of the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa station, made its way into Benin and found the place reeking with human sacrifices offered to delay the advance. The town was accidentally burnt. See “The Horse Marines” (A Diversity of Creatures, page 312, line 14.)
[Page 192, line 17] in the bowse Sea Slang, already quoted, gives the meaning of this as “in trouble”. Here it evidently means “in the defaulters’ report”. (This Editor has never heard the phrase, nor read it in the maritime literature of the 20th century, so it may well be one of some antiquity. Today, the expression universally used is “in the rattle”.)
[Page 192, line 17] tally a name, or label of any description: “What’s your tally?” – “Jones, Chief”. Or, “Right, Jones, you polish all those tallies on the left-hand side of the gun-mounting.” In this instance, it is slightly misused to mean his general appearance.
[Page 192. line 20] It the particular epithet is left to the reader’s imagination.
[Page 192, line 22] bitch-cruisers the ORG could not supply an identification, nor can we. We may assume that Mr. Vergil meant ‘cruiser’ whether in the modern or older use of the word, since he goes on to say, no, it wasn’t one of them, but was Resistance which, as we have seen above, was an early armoured ship, or in later terminology, a ‘battleship’.
Certainly, some of the ‘cruisers’ of the 1870s and `80s were not very handy ships, whatever other virtues they might have possessed. And if a Boatswain thought they were ‘bitches’, then it may be assumed that he was referring to their sailing qualities. By studying Admiral Ballard’ later work on the smaller, unarmoured, ships of the 1870s one might make an intelligent guess at the ships Mr. Vergil had in mind – but if Mr. Heatleigh didn’t pursue the reference, why should we?
[Page 192, line 23] Resistance – five masts Mr. Vergil’s memory was playing him false. The Resistance mentioned above had only the three masts then normal, for a ship, barque or barquentine rig. The only five-masted British warships, as mentioned above (page 186, lines 26-27), were the Minotaur, Agincourt and Northumberland.
[Page 192, lines 27-28] ”The anchor ain’t fairly stowed yet, so I didn’t hear you” this wiping the slate of an offence committed before the ship was secured for sea was a local and not a general rule, but might be sensible in special cases. The Merchant Marine had a similar phrase “First turn of the screw cancels all debts”.
[Page 192, line 31] sulphur-crested cockatoo an Australian parrot, cacatua galerita. The cockatoos are marked by a crest of feathers on the head, which can be raised at will.
[Page 193, line 2] jokers another variant for trouble-makers.
[Page 193, line 4] ord’nary seamen Ordinary Seaman was a rating between Boy and Able Seaman, and hence apt to be callow.
[Page 193, line 7] station particular duty: every rating would have his Action Station; his Defence Watch Station; his Emergency Station, etc., all recorded on a Watch and Station Bill.
[Page 193, line 12] quick as cordite an odd simile. As explained above, one of the virtues of cordite as a propellant was that it was – is – comparatively slow-burning. On the other hand, it was liable to become unstable with age, and the destruction of HM Ships Bulwark, Natal and Vanguard, all of which blew up in harbour in 1914-18, was attributed to this. (See our notes on “The Scholars”, Verse 4, lines 4 and 5)
[Page 193, lines 13-14] ”The heart . . . trust in her.” with “doth” for “will”, this comes from the Proverbs 32,2.
[Page 193, line 16] Presentation Whistle in the 15th and 16th centuries, a whistle was the badge of rank of the Lord High Admiral of England, and an ornamental one was sometimes presented as a mark of honour. (Sir George Carew, Vice-Admiral of England, who was lost in 1545 when the Mary Rose sank at Spithead, had just been presented with a golden one by King Henry VIII.)
By 1700 it had reverted to its original use as a means of passing orders at sea (the high-pitched squeal of the whistle, or ‘call’, would carry well against the wind.) A silver whistle would, however, make a suitable present to a good boatswain from his superior officers. (All officers were forbidden to allow themselves to be complimented by either a gift or any other collective expression of esteem from their subordinates.)
(At the battle of El Teb, ashore in the Sudan in 1884, the “Fuzzy-Wuzzies” nearly “broke the square” on a third occasion (see the notes on “Fuzzy-Wuzzy”). That they did not was largely due to Captain (later Admiral of the Fleet Sir) Arthur Wilson, who fought them off with his sword, and when that broke, with his fists and the sword-hilt, being rewarded with the V.C. The point of this anecdote is that, not surprisingly, his brother officers of the Torpedo branch wished to compliment him by presenting him with a replacement sword, which he had to decline.)
[Page 193, line 17] the Raleigh an iron screw frigate, sheathed with wood and then coppered (later reclassified as a 2nd class cruiser). Between 1884 and early 1895 she completed three commissions as the flagship of the Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa station. She was the last square-rigged ship to carry an admiral. (See our notes on “Judson and the Empire” page 359, line 30).
[Page 193, lines 18-19] ten knots on a bowline a bowline (to be distinguished from the bowline knot) was a rope used to haul the weather (windward) edge of a square sail tight forward and steady in an unfavourable wind. Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes, who was a midshipman in the Raleigh in 1888 and writes highly of her sailing qualities, only claims nine knots on a bowline.
[Page 193, line 19] Simonstown or Simons Town, about twenty miles south of Cape Town, was the base of the Cape Station until 1957, when the Dockyard was handed over to what was then the Union of South Africa. (See our notes on “Judson and the Empire”, page 331, line 15; also “Mrs Bathurst” (Traffics and Discoveries, page 339, line 2.)
[Page 193, lines 19-20] draggin(g) her blasted screw this is hard to understand, because although the method employed differed from the normal one, the Raleigh had a hoisting propeller which could be disconnected and hoisted out of the water to reduce resistance, and improve her steering qualities when under sail alone.
Unless Mr. Vergil’s memory is again at fault, the lifting gear must have been temporarily out of action: if so, his claim for the ship’s speed might have been raised to 11 knots with the screw up.
[Page 193, line 21] Call about 1671, we find the boatswain’s whistle being referred to as a “Call”, and this had been its formal name ever since.
[Page 193, line 26] piped down the Naval day ended with the call “pipe down” – the equivalent of “Hands turn in”. After pipe down, normally 10 p.m. in harbour, 9.30 p.m. at sea, ratings not on duty had to show cause if they were out of their hammocks.
The bosun’s call is capable of two notes, ‘high’ and ‘low’. Calls having different meanings were distinguished by variations of long or short notes, varied by a warble or a trill. The pipe down call consisted of two short high notes, followed by a trill on the high note lasting for three seconds, descending to the low note for three seconds, and ending with a short rise to the high note.
[Page 193, line 27 fetched him up with a round turn brought him up sharply. A round turn, one full turn of a rope, is taken round a cleat or other suitable object to stop a rope from running out.
[Page 193, lines 31-33] Number Three at the port six-pounder – she hadn’t much else – in the old Polyphemus ram, that broke the boom at Berehaven the Polyphemus, launched in 1881 as a Torpedo Ram, was a freak ship that embodied the revival of a very old notion that the ship herself might be the best projectile.
The idea took root after the battle of Lissa in 1866, between the Austrians and the Italians, in which the outnumbered and outgunned Austrian fleet defeated the Italians, largely by using the tactic of ramming – two Italian ships were sunk, directly or indirectly, by ramming. As a result, the ram bow featured in naval construction up to the start of World War I. In Polyphemus’s case, the idea was modified to the extent of giving her an armament of five torpedo tubes, but her guns were limited to a few quick-firing 6-pounders, to deal with enemy torpedo boats.
These were Nordenfelt guns, weighing 6 cwt (305 Kg), with a calibre of 2.25 inches (88 mm.), on a recoil mounting, working automatically. A trained Gunlayer could fire 25 to 30 unaimed rounds a minute, and twelve hits were sometimes obtained from fifteen rounds fired at a target, in the same time. The gun’s crew consisted of three men, plus a sight-setter added later, of whom Number Three was mainly a loader.
In 1885, the Polyphemus joined a heterogeneous force assembled under Admiral Sir Geoffrey Phipps Hornby (once of “The Hungry Six”) in the face of a possibility of war with Russia over an incident at Pendjeh on the Afghanistan border. The exercises carried out by the “Evolutionary Squadron” under Hornby’s orders (which became a precedent for holding annual Naval Manoeuvres) included attacking and defending a force in harbour at Berehaven (now Bearhaven) in Bantry Bay, in SW Ireland. The Polyphemus charged a boom intended to keep out hostile torpedo craft and broke it without difficulty or damage. (Report in The Times, 2 July 1885.)
[Page 194, line 2] lovelock a tress or curl worn on the temple or forehead (see also note below, page 195, line 9-10). This reminded Mr. Vergil of the cockatoo’s crest.
[Page 194, line 8] did a caulk took a nap. The expression derives from a sailor’s ironic idea of how a caulker did his work. Caulking involved forcing oakum (teased-out old rope) between the seams of the ship’s side or deck with a caulking iron and mallet. A caulker caught taking a nap in the sunlight on deck might maintain that his weight on the deck was helping to force the oakum in!
[Page 194, line 8/9] boat-rollers used to facilitate hauling a boat up a slipway.
[Page 194, lines 10-11] Hand-of-a-mess for biscuits this required each mess to send a hand to collect the day’s ration of biscuit (sometimes referred to as “hard tack”) that the Navy had to accept in lieu of bread after a very few days at sea.
On a point of order, two of the ORG’s naval advisers agree that in their time this pipe would have been either “Hand-of-the-mess …”, or “One hand from each mess”, but the meaning is the same.
[Page 194, line 16] Squirrel training brig the Squirrel, launched in 1853, was a sloop (a small sailing ship with a single gun-deck, carrying 20 guns or less) rigged as a brig (two masts with square sails). Most sloops were three-masted, so Squirrel was slightly unusual. She was used as a sea-going tender to the Boy’s training ship Impregnable at Devonport from the early 1860s to 1879, and would have been remembered by a whole generation of young seamen as the first ship in which they went to sea.
[Page 194, line 16] seven bells in the afternoon watch 3.30 p.m.
[Page 194, line 27] unexpended one might have expected Mr.Vergil to have said, “uneaten”, or “unconsumed”, but in Service victualling, “unexpended” was the word used in referring to “the unexpended portion of the day’s ration” (particularly an Army expression, but not unknown in the Navy).
[Page 194, line 28] disrated reduced to a lower rating, e.g. from Petty Officer to Leading Rate. This was usually a punishment for a serious disciplinary offence, but could be based on incompetence, without any entry in the punishment returns. In the later Navy, such “administrative disrating” was called “reversion”.
[Page 195, line 1] tack food – see page 194, lines 10-11 above.
[Page 195, line 4] first dog-watch 4.00 to 6.00 p.m.
[Page 195, line 7] weather earrin(g) an earing (so spelt with one ‘R’) was a lashing securing an upper corner of a square sail to its yard. The hand attending the weather earing, on the windward side, was a key man in making or shortening sail.
[Page 195, line 8] dowsed Jemmy’s glim to dowse (or douse) a glim was to put out a light, in this case by putting the cover over Jemmy’s cage.
[Page 195, lines 9-10] short-circuited the quiff bird a quiff was: ‘a curl plastered down on the forehead, formerly as affected particularly by soldiers. Now: a piece of hair brushed and styled upwards and backwards from the forehead, typically worn by a man and associated with the fashion and culture of the 1950s’ (Oxford English Dictionary) (And, as a total aside, the Oxford English Dictionary cites for this latter meaning, which did not apply in Kipling’s time, a quote fromThe Times in 1976, describing the then Governor Ronald Reagan’s hair style as a quiff!)
The naval version was sometimes called a “foretopman’s lock”, while “lovelock” (see above) was generally feminine. The “quiff-bird” was of course the crested cockatoo.
[Page 195, lines 10-11] provin(g) they was workin(g) off the same lead an electrical metaphor – two lights on the same circuit extinguished by the same fault, or switch. (This remark smacks more of Pyecroft, as a Torpedoman, than Mr. Vergil, a Boatswain.)
[Page 195, line 13] Captain of the Head this fine-sounding title graces the latrine-sweeper,
[Page 195, line 19-20] only ranging on the target on opening fire it was quite usual to find the range with single rounds deliberately aimed before going into rapid salvos to achieve, it was hoped, a decisive result
[Page 195, line 23] slave-dhowing in the Red Sea anti-slavery patrol. See also our notes on ‘The Bonds of Discipline” (Traffics and Discoveries, page 54, line 9).
[Page 195, line 24] under single awning(g)s double awnings, spread with about a foot of space between them, were customarily allowed to ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, to provide a degree of insulation from the sun’s intense heat.
[Page 195, lines 24-26] ”Looney Dick” in the old Petruchio corvette – the one that dropped her bottom out off the Minicoys captain, Petruchio and the loss of any of HM Ships on the Minicoy (or Minikoi) Atoll – in the Arabian Sea, in approximately 8º N, between the Maldive and Laccadive Islands – are all alike fictitious. There is, however, a faint suggestion of a famous cruise made by the celebrated “Spuddy”, “Nutty” or “Cuts” Carver in HMS Torch. On retirement to a farm in Canada, Carver gave it the name of “Rotten Bottom Torch”. L.Cope Cornford described this cruise in a sketch which he entitled “The Cruise of HMS Cresset”, thinly disguising the worn-out sloop’s real name.
[Page 195, line 27] under open arrest relieved of duty, confined to his cabin, but not under the charge of a sentry. This might be intended to bring an errant officer up “with a round turn” or a preliminary to applying for his trial by court-martial. The sanction is rarely used today (2009), but the late Rear-Admiral Josef Bartosik, DSC, a gallant officer of Polish birth, who became known as “the flag pole”, habitually made use of this sanction when commanding HMS London, 1964-5: every officer, from the Commander downwards, might find himself under open arrest; none ever demanded courts-martial (see line 28 below).
[Page 195, line 28] demandin(g) court-martials with the object of clearing their reputation by forcing the captain to bring specific charges which could be answered in open court; to put it more bluntly, they invited.their captain to “put up, or shut up”.
[Page 195, line 31-32] When our cockroaches had died – off Gozo that would be Gozo is the Maltese island next in size to Malta itself, and utterly charming. (It is the source of what used to be said was the standard Maltese excuse, “Ow, Seneu, not me, Sare – my brother from Gozo”). Experience does not suggest that cockroaches would be affected by any change in climate till the homecoming ship had got much father west and north. Today’s air-conditioned navy suffers from cockroaches much less than did its sweltering forebears.
[Page 196, line 1] in the waist, under the Ensign This seems a contradiction in terms. The waist is the central part of the ship, between the forecastle and the poop, or quarterdeck; at sea, the ensign would be flown from the mizzen peak, well aft. Probably a loose expression, for the after end of the waist. Thus the ORG.
This Editor would suggest an alternative interpretation. In the next four lines the captain suggests that the kit-bag full of bile be given “Christian burial” – and he has already made the appropriate preparations. The “corpse” (which would approximate to a body prepared for burial at sea in its hammock) lies there covered by an Ensign (note the capital ‘E’), ready to be tipped into the ocean – as indeed it was..
[Page 196, line 11]rux the ORG (1963) cited the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “schoolboy slang for temper or passion”, adding that Sea Slang says that the word is the Dartmouth Naval College term for a “rag” or any other piece of mischief. The ORG went on to say that it seemed an unlikely word to be used by Mr. Vergil, a venerable warrant officer.
However, the Oxford English Dictionary today gives, as the definition, “disturbance, uproar” – and gives as its second citation, this particular quote from ‘A Naval Mutiny’ – the first citation being from Blackwood’s Magazine in 1918. Kipling also puts the word into Mr. Vergil’s mouth again, four pages on. Thus it would seem that the meaning is clear, though the derivation, and likelihood of Mr. Vergil’s character using the word, may be doubted.
Neither the ORG nor the Oxford English Dictionary make any connection with the similar word “ruckus”, whose meaning the Oxford English Dictionary gives as “an uproar, a disturbance; a row, a quarrel; fuss, commotion.” And since the three Oxford English Dictionary citations for “ruckus” (1890-1923) are all American in origin, and since the activities of American tourists ashore in Bermuda at this time (the original “booze cruises”) frequently involved what could very exactly be called a “ruckus”, it may be suggested that, shall we say, Kipling misheard Mr. Vergil, who no doubt picked up the word in Bermuda, rather than from his Naval career.
[Page 196, lines 12-13] “All hands to skylark” some ships of the old Navy used to pipe “Hands to dance and skylark” in the dog-watches in fine weather. A later echo of this was not uncommon in the Grand Fleet (1914-18) where all-male ballroom dancing took place as a means of taking exercise on board – there is a photograph of over 100 sailors, in uniform (complete with their caps) solemnly waltzing in couples on the upper deck of a dreadnought, to the music of the ship’s band. And this Editor has danced an all-male eightsome reel on the quarterdeck of HMS Devonshire as she rolled her way across the North Sea (and ships of her class could roll!)
[Page 196, line 16] traverse a tortuous course: see our notes on “Steam Tactics”, page 196, line 11.
[Page 196, line 22] Gosport lady Gosport lies across the harbour from Portsmouth. The ORG observed, with consummate tact, that Impartial observers see no reason to suppose that this type of lady is more common in Gosport than elsewhere. Which is unquestionably true, but it is equally a fact that Gosport ladies were particularly celebrated in a naval song “Gosport Nancy”, of which the last verse is:
Gosport Nancy keeps a parlour
Where the boys can take their ease.
She will wake you, she will shake you,
She will do whatever you please.
All the Gosport ladies, they do the best they can,
But for making a bed for a sailor’s head
There’s none like Gosport Nan.
Mind you, Portsmouth ladies, Plymouth girls and Chatham maidens were equally celebrated.
[Page 196, line 26] granny knots reef knots crossed the wrong way, asymmetrically. Trials carried out when the Admiralty Manual of Seamanship was being re-written after the Second World War did not support the established belief that a granny is less strong than a proper reef knot; but it is less sightly and jambs more easily.
[Page 196, line 29] pawled to be baffled, prevented or controlled, as by the pawls of a capstan which prevent it from running backwards. (Sea Slang)
[Page 196, line 29 run the official term for “deserted”. A deserter’s Service Certificate was marked “R”.
[Page 197, lines 5-6] when you can’t exercise authority – don’t a profound maxim. A corollary is that orders that have either become unenforceable or have been allowed to lapse should be formally cancelled.
[Page 197, line 12] like a Chatham matey “matey” has been used for over a century and a half as a colloquial term for a dockyard workman. When Mr. Vergil first joined the Navy, Chatham had just completed a substantial expansion in facilities, which had brought with it an influx of new labour, mostly from the north-east and Scotland. They had a reputation for, let us say, blunt speaking, and Rumour once had it (possibly entirely without foundation) that the mateys’ freedom of speech during a royal visit to Chatham had deprived the Admiral Superintendent of the Dockyard of a reasonable expectation of a knighthood.
[Page 197, line 19] gunner an unfortunate slip by Kipling, a Gunner being a warrant officer. The No. 3 of a six-pounder would be at most a Seaman Gunner, the lowest stage of non-substantive ratings. He would unquestionably have been referred to by Mr. Vergil, himself a warrant officer, either as a “Seaman Gunner” or an “S.G.”
[Page 197, line 22] poultry meaning the parrots and probably also reflecting the use of ‘birds’ as an equivalent of “bad hats”.
[Page 197, line 23] Dartmoor-clipped the prison at Princetown, on a desolate part of Dartmoor in Devon the south-west of England, was originally built to house French prisoners-of-war during the Napoleonic wars. It then remained out of use until 1850 when it became a convict prison. As part of the prison regime, inmates had their hair close-cropped, in part, at least, to act as an identifier if they should escape, but also, no doubt, for reasons of hygiene as well.
[Page 198, line 3] scrag seize roughly by the neck.
[Page 198, lines 12-13] turned on his back like a shark a shark’s mouth being well underneath his head, he has to turn over to attack a swimmer on the surface.
[Page 198, lines 14-15] meant as much to him as pigtails used to until the 20th century, the Chinese set great store by their pigtail or queue, and the loss of it was a great humiliation. With the spread of western ideas, however, it came to be regarded as a badge of subservience to their Manchu overlords, and it was abolished when China became a Republic in 1911.
[Page 198, line 25] Commission the capital “C” is quite unnecessary.
[Page 198, lines 28-29] They can’t manage the voice the theory seems to be that disrating leads to a loss of self-confidence and hence to an inability to take charge.
[Page 198, line33] collier-brig a square-rigged, two-masted vessel employed in the coastal coal-carrying trade. A sloping silhouette made her appear down by the head.
[Page 199, line 24] banzai-parties naval men going ashore for a spree. Not an expression in use in the 21st century Navy. ‘Banzai’ is the Japanese for ‘Hurrah!’
[Page 199, line 30] oily-wad Sea Slang gives (as a meaning additional to that of the Royal Navy’s first oil-burning torpedo-boats, Nos. 1-36, new series) “the name occasionally applied to seamen in the Navy who do not specialise in anything, from the amount of time they have to spend in polishing brasswork with oily wads.”
Neither the ORG Editor, nor this one, can seriously believe that anyone ever attempted to clean brass with an oily wad a second time. Until the First World War, the Navy used rags and brick-dust (the latter’s use being as an abrasive) to polish brass. Since the proprietary polish ‘Brasso’ was introduced by Reckitt and Colman in 1905, the Navy must have bought many thousands – if not millions – of gallons of the stuff: it was best used with cotton waste – pads of cotton threads discarded from cotton mills. The demise of the cotton industry in the 1950s and `60s saw the end of cotton waste – old rags are now used.
[Page 199, line 32] P.O. Petty Officer, equivalent to a Sergeant in the army.
[Page 200, line 22] pre-war cordite “pre-war” here would mean 1914 or earlier. As already mentioned cordite sometimes became unstable with age, and its performance was affected by other factors, including heat. After the first salvo or two, a ‘warmer correction’ was customarily applied, to allow for the charge now being inserted into a gun warmed by firing. Other factor might be less predictable. “Pre-war cordite” would be a plausible excuse for a poor shoot.
[Page 200, lines 23-24] the old Superb’s at Alexandria, till we touched off the magazine. Superb is an old and honoured name in the Royal Navy – there have been ten major warships so named (two of them being captured French Superbes) – this Editor served in the ninth of the name.
The Superb which took part in the Bombardment of Alexandria was the seventh of the name. On 11 July 1882, she took part in the first engagement of any British armoured squadron at Alexandria where the Egyptian army was in charge after an early ‘Colonel’s Revolt’.
The harbour defences included some powerful forts, but the guns were indifferently manned. Accounts of the British gunnery differ widely; great accuracy could not be expected of the guns and mountings of the period, fire control instruments were non-existent and much of the ammunition was defective. In common with several other ships, the Superb did not achieve much while under way, but after anchoring, their gunnery improved, and the Superb herself was responsible for exploding the magazine in Fort Ada, which took the heart out of the defenders.
However, in the words of the historian Clowes: ‘Let it be admitted that the bombardment of Alexandria was no very brilliant or dangerous exploit’. But it was written up at the time as a splendid feat of arms, for which the C-in-C Mediterranean, Sir Seymour Beauchamp (also known as “the Ocean Swell” for his dandyism) received a peerage as Lord Alcester.
[Page 200, lines 25-26] five-flag hoists few normal naval signals needed more than four flags.
[Page 200, line 31-32] ten mines in a Portuguee pig-knot Mr. Vergil has gone ten times better than Sea Slang, which gives: ‘Mine in a Portuguee pig-knot = confused, not knowing where to begin a yarn.’
[Page 201, line 16] gas and gaspers “gas and gaiters” were said to be the symbols of HMS Excellent, the naval Gunnery School at Portsmouth and the nursery of naval discipline. The name arose because Excellent was given responsibility after World War I for training the Navy in anti-gas precautions, and because all men under training and the Gunnery Staff Officers wore gaiters – the men canvas gaiters, the officers black patent leather ones – hence another naval nick-name for Gunnery Officers, “Liquorice legs”. Mr Vergil has mangled the expression for his own use – ‘gaspers’ were cheap Virginian cigarettes, which were widely regarded as both unmanly and a mark of inferior social status until the 1914-18 war.
[Page 201, lines 18-19] sent for the Marines in their capacity as preservers of good order and naval discipline.
[Page 201, line 24] chipped taunted.
[Page 202, line 7] foul anchor in real life, an anchor fouled by having its own cable twisted round it can be a considerable nuisance; but being heraldically decorative it was found in the Admiralty flag (right) (now only flown by the Monarch in her capacity as Lord High Admiral, following the abolishing of the Admiralty when the Ministry of Defence was formed in 1964) and on Naval cap badges and uniform buttons and other places, as well as tattoos.
[Page 202, line 9] fore-top a platform at the head of the foremast, serving to spread the shrouds and stays of the topmast and topgallant mast. (The cross-trees – see the note to page 190, lines 13/14 above – were a more rudimentary equivalent at the head of the topmast) The fore-top was also used as a resting place, between spells of activity, by the midshipmen and ratings handling the upper sails.
[Page 202, lines 9-10] Port Royal in Jamaica.
[Page 202, line 11] It’s held the tattoo.
[Page 202, line 20] Comus a small screw corvette of 1878, later reclassified as a cruiser, 3rd class. Again, the name, that of the Greek god of festivities, is well-used in the Royal Navy; there have been four, of which the last was a destroyer of World War II vintage – also commanded by the above-mentioned Joe Bartosik, when he was a Commander, 1956-58.
[Page 202, line 21] Euryalus a large screw corvette, launched 1877, later classed as a cruiser, 2nd class: the third of six ships of that name. Euryalus was a character from Greek mythology – among other actions, he was one of those who entered Troy in the Trojan Horse.
[Page 202, line 25] pooped received a wave over the stern: always a dangerous possibility in a sailing ship running before a big sea.
[Page 202, line 26] the owner the captain. The incident mentioned has not been traced, nor come down in the collective Naval memory.
[Page 203, line 1] tiller-lines should be ‘yoke-lines’.
[Page 203, lines 5-6] Victorias and Phaetons horse-drawn carriages: a Victoria was a light, four-wheeled open carriage, having a collapsible hood, seats for two, and an elevated seat in front for the driver. A Phaeton was also four-wheeled, with seats for two, and usually drawn by two horses.
The Victoria was named after Her Majesty, who habitually drove in one on non-ceremonial occasions: the phaeton was so named after Phaeton, son of Helios, who came to grief through dangerous driving in his father’s sun-chariot.
[Page 203, line 18] “’Glad you haven’t got one between you.” The light yards on the modern ships were only sufficient to support wireless aerials and signal halliards.
[Page 203, line 20] Snotty midshipman: so nick-named because of their alleged teen-ager’s habit of never having a handkerchief, and so wiping their noses on the cuff of their uniform jacket. It was also supposed that the three buttons on the cuff of a midshipman’s jacket were put there to inhibit him from wiping his nose thereon – but in fact, all officers (and Chief Petty Officers) wore three buttons on their jacket cuff; Chief Petty Officers still do.
[Page 203, line 21] off duty in accordance with Poseidon’s Law: see the opening lines of the poem
When the robust and Brass-bound Man commissioned first for Sea
His fragile raft, Poseidon laughed, and “Mariner”, said he,
“Behold, a Law immutable I lay on thee and thine,
That never shall ye act or tell a falsehood at my shrine.
Poseidon was, of course, the Greek God of the Sea. The ORG added a comment, similar to that which we have made at page 187, lines 10-11 above, to the effect that presumably the Admiral originally attempted to conceal his identity to avoid inhibiting Mr. Vergil’s imagination.
©Alastair Wilson 2009 All rights reserved