Babbling Portuguese—the c.i.v. and their prestige—the c.i.v. at dinner — inoculation—Colour-Sergeant Gibbons—where the flying-fishes play—pugnacious passengers—Sunday on board—something more about the c.i.v. — across the line — death amongst us — Ascension Island — athletic sports — excitement — a dinner-party—general Wavell—fancy-dress ball— the London Scottish contingent—smoking concert— tipping carried too far—types of humanity.
Jan. 18.—The row back from the pier to the Briton was not so easily accomplished, as a strongish head-wind had got up, and the Portuguese boatmen, in rather clumsy boats, had greedily taken on board a somewhat larger cargo of human freight than they were able to pull across the bay. A passing tug was chartered and three boatloads made fast to her, and so we accomplished a none too dry journey. I never knew such babblers as these Portuguese are, and the noise they made round the ship in their flotilla of small boats reminded me of the monkey-house at the Zoo.
We were slightly delayed by the late arrival from shore of some of our Volunteers ; and to show the keen desire they have to do their utmost to maintain the prestige of their corps and to earn the sobriquet of "soldier" in the truest sense of the word, the following incident may be recorded. One boatload contained a sergeant and several men of one of our best - known Volunteer regiments, and on beino- hauled over the coals by their officer for over-staying their leave the incident would have ended, as the latter was quite prepared to accept the explanation that it was not their fault, but that of the wind and Portuguese boatmen. However, shortly before mess, a letter was received by the commanding officer from the sergeant taking the whole blame for his men on his own shoulders, expressing his deepest regret, and offering to resign his stripes as a mark of his humility and desire to show the true military spirit. Needless to say the matter has been forgotten. We are running through a strong E.S.E. wind with a bright warm sun, but have so far found no reason to change the warm clothing we started in, though greatcoats have been discarded. We passed Teneriffe during the night, so I can tell you nothing about it, and we shall be off Cape Verde to-morrow. I have had a trial of field-glasses, and by general consensus the Zeiss glass is considered superior, but Ross has supplied some one on board with a very good instrument. I hear of a kind present from the officers of the 3rd Middlesex Artillery, who insured the lives of all their men who were accepted for foreign service for a nice little round sum — an example which might easily be followed by many other Volunteer and Yeomanry regiments who may also have large county funds at their disposal.
I have just come up from seeing the men at dinner—a most amusing spectacle. Soup, roast lamb, and potatoes, followed by a pudding suspiciously like plum-duff! The men have to buy their drinks, and lemonade, ginger-beer, and beer seem to be equal favourites. Whilst I was there the orderly officer and his sergeant came round, and every one sprang to attention, to be immediately allowed to go on with their dinners. There were no complaints; and at the end of each table was the mess orderly for the day carving the meat and doling out the potatoes and pudding. I heard one say to a man evidently famous for his appetite, "Have another go, Bob?" "Yes, please," was the reply. "Then you can't," was the answer, " as there's none left, and you've had two ' go's' already ! " and there followed a general laugh from the messmates. " Come to the kitchen " was sounded on the bugle as I was looking on, and away rushed the mess orderlies with the nearest available tin for the pudding. One had apparently not heard the call, and his omission was at once noticed by his pal. "Hi, hi, Jim! what are you doing ? Pudding, Jim, pudding ! " and off went the delinquent to the kitchen, to the evident satisfaction of his table companions. Jan. 21.—We are in the tropics at last, and our cool fine weather changed so suddenly yesterday afternoon that there was a general rush for the shady corners and an immediate display of the most summery garments. Still, if it gets no hotter I shall be agreeably disappointed, as I had anticipated an almost unbearable heat, instead of a light breeze from the Gambian coast, which is causing a gentle ripple on the sea as I write.
To begin with, as I know the doings of the City Imperial Volunteers will interest you most, the majority of officers and men have been inoculated against enteric fever. I had had ugly versions of this anti - fever remedy given me before I left home, and had also heard of the failure of the " cure" in one instance, so 1 decided to leave it alone, especially as a doctor told me the operation was not only painful but likely to make me seriously ill for at least three days. It was with a feeling of some curiosity, therefore, and not a little anxiety, that I went to see the ship's doctor commence operations on the officers and men. Of the former, Colonel Cholmondeley, Captain Bell, Captain Reid, and Quartermaster Ridler are not going to avail themselves of the preventive, and possibly Lieut. Manisty will climb clown from his present intentions; but the other officers and 80 per cent of the men came forward and were inoculated. The operation itself seemed extremely trivial and practically painless, the insertion of a subcutaneous syringe in the groin being performed in a second ; nor have the after-effects proved nearly so serious as I had expected. The lymph began to take effect within two or three hours, and the first symptoms were the inflammation of the place punctured and a great stiffness, beginning in the lower limbs and moving gradually upwards till in some cases the men could not move their arms. Drowsiness and a feeling of sickness soon supervened, but as quickly passed away, and the chief discomfort was a swelling of all the glands of the body. The men are getting over it, and to-day (two days after the operation) are practically well again. I hear Lieut. Berry was lightheaded at night, and Lieut. Wilson also suffered considerably, but both are about and well now. As I am talking about sickness, I am sorry to record a serious case. Colour - Sergeant Gibbons of the Inns of Court section is dangerously ill with double pneumonia, and has been moved into a first-class cabin for greater comfort. As I write he is doing very well, but I fear it will be a long time before his services are available. His is a hard case. He was desperately keen to go out, and held a commission, which, being unselected, he resigned and then enlisted. He was subsequently given the rank of colour-sergeant.
We are racing through the sea at sixteen knots, and my mind has been momentarily diverted from my Diary by watching the flying-fish as the}^ dart away in all directions, terrified at the approach of the big steamer. They are quite the prettiest little animals I have seen, with their green bodies and silvery wings, now flying, now plunging, now flying again, and they remind me of coveys of partridges early in the season rising from some field of clover, to drop again a few hundred yards away. Truly we might have had a good day's sport to-day, but I am afraid, at the pace we are going, the pick-up would have been nil!
We are not quite alone in this great expanse of ocean, as the nautili, or, as they are nicknamed, Portuguese men-of-war, are spreading their pink, shell-like sails before the breeze, as if to signal us a welcome to Delagoa Bay; or maybe they are on the look-out for contraband of war, of which we have plenty on board ! Revenons a nos moutons!
The usual desire was expressed to have a concert and sports, so it was necessary to call a meeting of the first-class passengers with the captain's consent. This was done on Friday, and it was soon apparent that even on board ship there can be a demonstrative and fractious opposition, which reminded some of us as being strangely similar to the Irish Party in Parliament. The captain had expressed a wish that the committee should consist solely of first-class passengers—with power to invite competitors for the sports and artistes for the concert from other parts of the ship. He had had previous experience of a breach of privilege by other passengers coming to the first - class deck by reason of their being allowed there during the holding of the sports. On board ship a captain's wish is law, but a group who have stuck very closely to one another throughout the voyage clamoured for the representation of the second-class saloon passengers on the committee. In vain was the captain's wish urged by General Wavell, who had been elected chairman of the committee. It was no use. The question had to be put! The result was an overwhelming vote of confidence in favour of the captain's authority, which would have been still larger but for Lieut. Wilson's arrival to champion the representation of the non - commissioned officers and men on the committee! Impervious to the argument that four officers of the C.I.V. had been placed on the committee, he argued that the men's interests were not properly safeguarded. Poor men! but he has since been so well chaffed by us all that I shall say no more about him. The result of the vote not only led to the refusal of the clique to subscribe to the prize fund, but was also carried to the second-class saloon, and intense friction was at once apparent. However, all's well that ends well. The committee, after having been formed, allowed me, with the captain's consent, to use a little diplomacy, and not only have the second-class saloon passengers joined in, but they are represented on the committee, have offered some very interesting Jubilee medals for a tug-of-war prize, have subscribed largely to the fund, and have appeased the intense wrath of the " Opposition," and caused them also to open their purses ! The concert takes place to-morrow night and the sports on Tuesday : both these events are open to the ship, and we shall have fully £70 in prize-money. We have also organised a tournament at indoor games and quoits which will be confined to the first-class passengers—so, as T am secretary, my work is cut out for the next week, when I hope we shall be in sight of Cape Town. I have seen no land since Madeira, as we passed Cape Verde and Teneriffe in the dark, though some passenger was bold enough to say he had seen the snow-clad peak of the latter about G a.m. far astern. As we passed Cape Verde we found a quantity of sand on the decks, and I hear it is not at all unusual for ships to be covered with it even at a farther distance than the ten miles at which we passed, especially if a strong east wind is blowing. Last night we had an impromptu dance : the ship's band is none too lively nor tuneful, but we had a gay set of lancers, and one or two of us danced a waltz and polka. The fact is, there are very few ladies on board to make such an entertainment "go," but the second-class passengers are better off in this respect, and have more ladies than men. I got my porthole open yesterday for the first time, and a wind-scoop out. Previous efforts to obtain a little fresh air had resulted in the sousing of my clothes, books, &c. It is a great comfort, and this calm sea and soft breeze are quite delicious.
To-day we have had a very interesting service—just the usual Morning Prayer, Psalms, Lessons, and Hymns; and as many of the Volunteers as could be accommodated joined in the church parade. The ship's officers were all in their white uniforms, as were the crew and stewards, and these were all paraded and the roll called before the service began. Yesterday there was a fire drill, the alarm being sounded at 4 p.m., and the men all turned out to their respective stations, manned the boats, and set the hose going, while the Volunteers were allotted special posts.
I have not much more to tell you about the Volunteers. They have sent in very large entries for the sports and concert, and are sure to acquit themselves well. They have been drilling in bare feet to get them hardened, and occasionally with their new boots to get them softened. They are learning with the vaulting horse how to mount and dismount, are doing musketry and physical drill, and any amount of work " at the double." All are as cheery and happy as possible. It is getting hotter and hotter, and the thermometer is registering 85° Fahrenheit at 5 p.m.!
Jan. 24.—We are across the line. What progress civilisation is making ! and how the manners and customs of our forefathers are changed! 1 didn't see a gruff old tar rigged out as Neptune, I wasn't asked to pay my footing, I wasn't clipped and half-drowned in a sail bath, nor was a soapy shaving - brush shoved down my throat and my face scraped with a rusty iron! How lucky for me ! And here I am south of the line, which we crossed without bumping about 9 p.m. on Monday night, the 22nd day of January 1900.
The concert has come and gone, and the sports and tournament are in full swing. The weather is as fine as ever, though much cooler, but Death has taken from us poor Gibbons, whose illness I have already mentioned. He died last night (January 23) about 6 p.m., after hope had been given up for at least twenty-four hours. We were at the concert on Monday night, and I had just finished reciting Mrs Arthur Harter's magnificent patriotic poem, "The Women of Britain," when the news was brought that he was dying. The captain immediately cancelled the rest of the programme out of sympathy for his comrades in arms. Mrs Harter's beautiful lines must have forced themselves into the hearts of many, especially these:—
" In the clamour and crash of encounter
There is valour and glory—or Death,
With the dream on their eyes of the woman they prize,
To hallow their last dying breath."
And to the mother whom he leaves sorrowing behind him, the following seem to express the general feeling on board ship :—
" But what for the women of Britain?
Ah, they need our pity the most;
In patience abiding, awaiting some tiding
Of the dear one who dies at his post."
The doctor had got the better of the pleuropneumonia when heat apoplexy attacked him. Everything that two doctors and skilled nurses and his own comrades, who took it in turn to act as orderlies by his bedside, could do, was done, but he passed peacefully away after having given a few parting instructions and messages to one of his chums in the Inns of Court section, to which he belonged, and in which he had, as I told you, originally held a commission. The funeral took place this morning on the promenade deck, and was most impressive. The C.I.V. paraded in review order, and the body, covered with a union-jack and borne by six sailors, was preceded by the firing-party, which was selected from all sections, and led by the adjutant. The Dead March was played, Colonel Chomondeley read the beautiful service for those buried at sea, the engines were stopped, the body slipped into its watery grave, three volleys fired, the ship proceeded on its course, and the first military funeral at sea I have witnessed was at an end. The reverence of the ceremony and the sympathy for his friends and relations has cast a gloom over the ship, which can only recall vividly to each of us the words of the service that " In the midst of life we are in death."
It is an interesting coincidence, and may possibly afford consolation to his family, that all that remained mortal of poor Gibbons was buried almost immediately east of the island of Ascension, the smoothest and sunniest spot in South African waters, and where, in Rud-yard Kipling's words, " the nying-fishes play." For the moment I can write no more.
We got through the sports yesterday, and brought the unfinished concert to a conclusion in the evening. There are few who have not seen the everyday athletic sports of Britain, but on board ship are many new and amusing events unheard of on dry land. "Threading the needle," "chalking the pig's eye," and the " egg - and - spoon race" (all for .ladies) afforded us endless amusement* In the first instance, a man stands at the turning-point with a cork in which are three needles; to these needles the competitors have to run, and having threaded them carry them back to the starting-point. Chalking the pig's eye gave us evidence that the bandages over the fair competitors' eyes were not tight enough in every instance ! A pig is drawn on the deck, and each lady has to be blindfolded, turned round three times, and then made to walk about ten yards to where the pig is, and with a piece of chalk mark where its eye should be. The result is often very amusing. The egg-and-spoon race should always be seen from where the egg lies, as the competitors' often futile attempts to pick the egg up in a spoon give every one the utmost merriment. In the men's sports the most amusing events were the " Military tournament" and " Are you there ? " In the first you sit on a spar laid across and about three feet above the deck. You have to balance yourself on this and fight your adversary, who is similarly placed, with a bolster. The game is to knock him off his perch, as he is not allowed to use his hands to save himself. "Are you there?" created shrieks of laughter. Two competitors are blindfolded aud given a rolled paper as a weapon. They lie fiat on their faces opposite each other and holding each other's left hand. One says "Are you there?" The other says "Yes," and immediately dodges his head from where he spoke in order to avoid his opponent's blow. The City Imperial Volunteers did very well, and won several prizes. In fact, the sports have been a great success, and helped to relieve the monotony of the voyage.
I am startled as I write by loud cheering from the upper decks, and looking out of my porthole I see a large steamer, evidently a Castle Liner; and now my servant rushes in with the news that she has signalled " Lady-smith relieved." No wonder they cheer! I have run up hurriedly on deck to hear the news, but the ship which gave it us is not a Castle Liner but the Manchester City, which belongs to a new firm. She is evidently a cattle steamer, and has probably been employed in the transport of mules or horses. Champagne corks are flying, and everywhere there is the greatest jubilation : I doubt not it was the same in old England when the good news was received. Of course our appetite is whetted, and we are keen for details, but we must "bide a wee."
We are now two days exactly from Cape Town, so we have made a fast passage. A strong head-wind from the south-east, generally known as the trade wind, is blowing ; but the ship is behaving well. To-night will see the end of our festivities, when the City Imperial Volunteers will give a smoking concert for our benefit, and this afternoon we are going to have a tug-of-war with the ship's crew.
I forgot to tell you of a birthday dinner given by the C.I.V. officers on Thursday night. It was Mr Wilson's birthday, and they invited to their table Mr and Mrs Webber, the ship's doctor, Miss Syfret, General Wavell, and, of course, the adjutant's wife (Mrs Bell) and the colonel. After dinner, at which the fattest of Warter Priory pheasants formed the piece de resistance, a present and testimonial were given to Mr Wilson. The present consisted of a made-up white tie ! and the testimonial took the form of an amusing address signed by his brother officers. After dinner we finished the interrupted concert, and gave away the prizes for the winners at the sports and tournament. The Volunteers (I should now call them " the new regiment") assisted materially in its success, and Private South's comic songs sailed just near enough to the wind to make them delightfully amusing without injuring the susceptibilities of some of our easily shocked companions!
General Wavell kindly gave away the prizes, receiving two himself. Talking of General Wavell reminds me of a short conversation I had with him. He has made this journey some ten times. The first was thirty-five years ago, when he started from Gibraltar with his regiment in a sailing-ship in August, and arrived in December ! The last time was in 1870, when he came home in forty clays in a 450-ton screw steamer. Tempora mutantur! He says they thought it then a very comfortable voyage because they knew no better, and the word " progress" had scarcely its two first letters formed.
Last night we had a fancy - dress ball — imagine Covent Garden upon the R.M.S. Briton ! — but it was quite a success, and really the ingenuity displayed was marvellous. I could carry myself back to the " Sign of the Cross" when I found a not very good imitation of " Mercia " ; we had the Mad Hatter (Mr Byatt) from ' Alice in Wonderland' ; a Spanish dancer (Airs Curtis), who took first prize ; the signals " Ladysmith Relieved " reproduced by the flags on a lady's dress; a Red Cross nurse (Mr Scott of the ' Illustrated London News'), which tied for first place among the men with a Sick Soldier (Mr Day); a Parisian beauty in the latest Paris fashion, portrayed by a hotel - keeper in Johannesburg; and all sorts and descriptions of other nationalities were wonderfully reproduced with the meagre assistance which the ship's "properties," in the absence of Clarkson, could afford. I did not join in the competition, but went as " Lady-Smith Relieved."
Needless to say, it was yesterday we heard the news of the relief of Ladysmith.
A section of the London Scottish contingent have won General Wavell's prize for " the best knowledge of Baden - Powell's book on scouting" (a book they all have), and " for the best man on the vaulting-horse and fire discipline." Wherever we go we always find a Scotsman to the front when common - sense is required. The winning section was made up of Privates M'Donnell, Mumford, Burn, and Duncan.
Jan. 29, 10 a.m.—Land ahead on the port bow! So in a very few hours the first stage in my journey to Pretoria will have ended. Yesterday we passed the Gascon a long way off, and on asking her for news, she signalled, "Nothing of any importance"; so speculation is rife as to whether the Manchester City told us the truth about Ladysmith, or whether the news was so stale that the Gascon thought we must already know it. Nous verrons!
The Volunteers gave us a splendid smoking-concert on Saturday night, and in Privates Webb, Pursaill, and Murray they have three magnificent singers to enliven any idle hours they may have in camp at Cape Town, where I shall pay them a visit after they have settled down. We had the usual Sunday service yesterday, and collected about £10 for the National Lifeboat Institution, and the rest of the day was spent letter-writing and settling - up. The voyage has been a very pleasant one, but has given me an insight into the malpractices of "tipping" on board ship. It is really a disgrace that the Union Steamship Company should wink at a system which I am told has been prevalent from time immemorial, and, instead of being suppressed, grows worse and worse. We have a big enough sum to pay for passage-money, but what would you say if the bandmaster came to you as Secretary of the Sports Committee and asked you if you had remembered to set aside a sum of money for the band out of the subscriptions ? and what would you say if, after £19 has been handed to them by the generosity of the passengers, the bandmaster remarked it was a very small sum ? What would you do if the bathman advertised his name in each bathroom, adding, "Please don't forget the bathman" ? and wouldn't your hair turn grey if you knew the smoking-room steward had a list carried round for subscriptions, and that that subscription sometimes reached the sum of £25 in one voyage ? Wouldn't you, too, be inclined to kick the deck steward who, having just received a douceur for his services, walked past you with his hand in his pocket when you remonstrated with him for want of attention ? I hardly blame the Company's servants as much as the Company's officials. Surely they should pay their servants sufficiently well to obviate a sum like £45 going into the band's coffers— a sum which I noticed was paid to them on one occasion last year out of the funds collected from the passengers for sports, prizes, &c. Perhaps this will interest the Union Steamship Company's directors. Out of a sum of £71 collected for sports and entertainments, only about £31 was used for prizes and refreshments—the remainder, if I except £10 for charities, going to the band and other stewards. And this was considered a very small sum !
The passage has opened my eyes to the multitudinous variety of character this world produces, and how little one learns if one does not travel. Here on board I have met a type of the hard - worked, ill - paid, and possibly hardened hospital nurse, as contrasted with the nurse who volunteers her services and shows kindliness in everything she does. The storekeeper and bar-tender of South Africa rub shoulders with the representative and partner of the richest mining firms of that country. The bank manager and the commercial traveller hob - nob over the latter's letter of credit. The flirting girl surrounds herself with the idle youth, the latter a journalist, an artist, an adventurer, or a boy who is going (where ?—he does not know) in search of employment. The general in the army off to the seat of war consults his maps and discusses the possibilities and probabilities with his A.D.C. The latter in his moments of ease indulges in a rubber of whist, or joins a sober tea-party, composed probably of the quiet, well-to-do Africander and his family who know the country as well as you do Great Britain. The mother plays with her children in one part of the ship, and in another the type of Polish Jewess is visible, dark-skinned, dark-eyed, speaking to none but her husband, and feeling every movement of the ship, even when there is no wind or wave to rock her. Again, I see a civil service officer on his way to the wilds of Nyassa-land, young and keen, who will not be home for three years. The consulting engineer stands near him, and not far away is the partner in a well - known South African racing - stal)le. Another group is composed of men, one going to fetch home a wounded relative, another to join some irregular force; while dotted about are the officers of the C.I.V.M.I. Truly a motley, yet withal a genial, company, and one in which any man who has a desire " to inquire within " will find plenty to appease his appetite. And in a few hours we shall part to the four winds of heaven, may possibly forget one another, and more probably never meet again. Such is the world, and such is its charm. Variety relieves monotony, and change of scene makes — well, it makes a man !