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Tuesday, April 9, 2013


A mightily philosophical master mariner

From The Friend, Honolulu, December 7, 1840

 The Trials of Ship-masters

To the remark, that all classes of men have their trials, and difficulties, most certainly that of Ship-masters, forms no exception. It would seem as if the recent movements in California, increased those trials and difficulties a thousand-fold. An officer, or a sailor may get his discharge or do as they sometimes do, take "French leave," but not so with the Ship-master. When he takes command of a vessel, she becomes his "for better or worse," until the voyage is ended, or death separates them.

He must keep in mind the owner's interests, and not lose sight of his own; he must govern his ship's company, not losing sight of their health and welfare. He has a character to sustain, and fortunate indeed, is the ship-master that fulfils all the trying, and responsible duties of his station, in a manner not to sacrifice the owner's interests or his own; not to acquire the charge of a "bad" master, yet maintain good discipline and authority on ship-board.

We have been led to make these remarks, in consequence of looking over the private journal of a ship-master, which has fallen under our observation. From this journal, we have taken the liberty to copy the following remarks. The writer seems aware of the trials of his station, and speaks of a ship-master's "perplexing responsibility" in language becoming, and dignified. The journal everywhere abounds with passages indicating a thoughtful and even a philosophic turn of mind. The writer is a person remarkably fond of reading, and though his present voyage is not more than half completed yet he remarked that already he had read about "two hundred and fifty volumes" --

"24, November, 1845, -- Begin with frequent showers of rain -- the weather squally -- winds light and variable from the southward and eastward. Several sails in company at 6 A.M. It opened to me by a call from the steward to hasten on deck, and assist the first officer in a scuffle with the cooper, who had refused to obey his orders, and had been very insolent in his language. While in the heat of passion, I thought to punish him severely, but after a little deliberation I concluded to give him a severe reprimand, which I did in presence of the whole crew, and then sent him to the mast head for the forenoon, and promised him for the next offence, that I would punish him, or anyone else. I have so far in the voyage found him to be a very bad man -- a very poor mechanic, frequently grumbling, and guilty of other misdemeanors.

"Few situations involve a more perplexing responsibility; or require a higher combination of rare talents than the commander of a ship. To be popular, and at the same time efficient, he must be able to enforce a strict and rigid discipline, without giving to it that cast of unfeeling severity, to which the despotical nature of a ship's government is extremely liable. He must be open and unreserved, and express even his sentiments of disapprobation with a freedom and frankness, which may lead the subordinate officer to that instantaneous conviction, that there is no suppressed feeling of bitterness, which may in any unexpected hour reveal its nourished and terrific strength. This plain and honest dealing, is infinitely preferable to a heartless hypocracy of manner,-- it relieves all around from those disquieting suspicions which duplicity never fails to excite, and where it is united with a generous disposition, a well informed mind and a dignified demeanor, can never fail to secure affection and respect."

The spelling and punctuation are exactly as reproduced in the newspaper.  And, despite the high-falutin' sentiments, I bet a blind eye was turned when the cooper jumped ship in San Francisco!


Linda Collison said...

Joan, I am always informed and entertained by your writings. And I'm impressed by the variety of your primary sources.

Joan Druett said...

It's so kind of to say so, Linda. And it's amazing what one blunders over when one is researching something else! It's hard not to be sidetracked, sometimes