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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mrs. Captain Reid sails from Ireland

Despite pestilence and certain hardship, Mrs. Reid makes the big decision to sail with her beloved husband

Marquis Cornwallis 1795

July 15—Having got on board the compliment of men ordered by government, the captain received orders from Gen. Johnson to proceed to Cork, under convoy of a cutter, and there receive instructions from Admiral Kingsmill, who commanded on that station: the Friendship with the convoy sailed next day, and arrived at Cork on the 18th.

The ship anchored about ten in the forenoon, after which my husband waited upon the admiral, and finding there was no likelihood of being soon dispatched, I accompanied him to Cork in the ship’s boat. The day being fine, had an interesting view of the country on the banks of this fine river, with many gentlemen’s seats on either side, particularly on the right bank, near Cork, called Glanmire.

While we remained at Cork we spent our time very agreeably and had little excursions about the country, and received many hospitable attentions from the neighbouring gentry, particularly from the Jennings, Grahams, and Sainthills families.

About ten days after our arrival a fever broke out amongst the prisoners on board, supposed to have been brought from Geneva Barracks, which appeared so alarming from the occurrence of several deaths, that government ordered the prisoners to be removed into another vessel; also the ship to be whitewashed and fumigated, and new clothing furnished.

It was understood by my esteemed parents and friends that I should return to London after the sailing of the ship; and as the time drew near, many a heartrending emotion struggled in my breast, as I was preparing to separate, perhaps for ever from my husband. Even now I cannot bear to think of the meditated parting.


However, for the mutual happiness of both, it was agreed between us that I should proceed, and share with him the dangers of the voyage, committing ourselves to that Providence whose eye is over us all, and to be found by all those who seek him in sincerity, whether on the ocean or on the land, in a cottage or a palace.

This was indeed a trying voyage, as my husband was the first who engaged to take prisoners without a guard of soldiers appointed by government; he chose as substitutes for the usual military escort, Indian seamen, called Lascars, who did not know the English language, and manned his ship with British seamen. 

His reason for manning and guarding the ship in this manner was : in 1795 he had been chief officer of a ship called the Marquis Cornwallis, destined on a similar voyage; the soldiers sent on board as a guard had been draughted from different regiments, for desertion and other deliquencies; thus a description of men, the most unfitted to be trusted with arms, were to act as centinels over others scarcely as bad as themselves. 

These guards were implicated in a mutiny which appeared on board that ship, in which some lives were lost before order was restored. Capt. R. thought that it would be possible to take the prisoners to the place of their destination without having an occasion intervene for inflicting them punishment, or any severity beyond that of attending to their safe custody; which if accomplished, my narrative of the result would shew. 

Our mutual determination not to separate was communicated to my parents, and to my much esteemed brother-in-law, Mr. T. R., who took a father’s interest in all that concerned us. 

August 20—The admiral gave notice to prepare for sea; in consequence all was bustle, especially with me, preparing to live on a new element. It may be supposed that I was ignorant of many articles of equipment necessary for the voyage, but the deficiency was kindly made up by one who had had experience.

24th—The signal for sailing was made from his Majesty’s ship Dryad, and repeated by the R√©volutionnaire frigate, who was to convoy us; and the ship Minerva, Capt. Saltkeld, who also had prisoners on board for New South Wales.

[August 24, 1800, continued]—We left Cork harbour with a large fleet who were bound to America and the West Indies. 

Our party at the cabin table, besides the captain and myself, consisted of Mr. Muirhead, chief-mate, a very good and worthy man; Mr. Macdonald, second mate; Mr. Linton, third mate; Mr. Bryce, surgeon, and a gentleman named Maundrel, going out to join the New South Wales corps. On the third day after leaving Ireland, the different convoys separated.

Sept. 5 and 6—We had calms; and as I understood, we could not have calms without sharks, so it happened; for during the night a small one, about 4½ feet long, had been caught by a hook over the stern, intended for a dolphin. It was shewn in the morning, and as I had never seen one before, was curious in examining such a voracious animal; the stomach had been taken out before I saw it, and when opened it contained only some fish bones; my expectation had pictured at least to see some human bones: it had three rows of teeth.  At dinner a part of the shark formed one of the dishes at table, of which all but myself partook; they said it was very good.  I did not appear to doubt it; it was cut into thin slices and fried, and appeared like slices of crimpt cod. During the calm two small green hawk’s-bill turtles were caught asleep upon the surface, they weighed about five or six pounds each.

We were now off the entrance of the straits of Gibraltar, but a considerable way to the westward. These calms were becoming very tedious; but a breeze springing up, soon carried us to the island of Madeira, which place we made on the 11th of September, but were not allowed to have communication with the shore, much to our mortification. 

The ship’s crew had hitherto been healthy, but some of the prisoners had been sickly. Every indulgence consistent with propriety had been shewn them, all of whom, by messes, were alternately admitted upon deck in the day-time. The captain, the only person on board who had made the voyage before, knew well how to prevent any abuses; he caused the rations allowed by government to be stowed up in different parts of the prison, and the provisions to be weighed by their own messes in turn. The surgeon was instructed to distribute tea, sugar, and other little comforts, sent for such as were sick. 

There had been a considerable quantity of wine sent on board at Cork for the private use of about 12 or 14 of the prisoners who had seen better days, and who indeed were enjoying the comforts of affluence when their untameable discontent plunged them into the vortex of rebellion. The wine was served as they required it, by returning the empty bottles, which was a proper caution, as a bad use might have been made of them; the wine was a great comfort, and no doubt saved some lives amongst them. We now entered what is called the Trade Winds; a wind which blows throughout the year, with little variation, from the N.E. quarter.


14th—The commodore made the signal that he would part company that evening, but would lie too until four o’clock for our letters; in consequence of which all were busy preparing to write to their friends, and amongst the number I was not backward in writing to my much loved and venerable parents. Sent the letters on board and parted with the frigate. 

We kept company with the Minerva until next day, when as she sailed much faster than the Friendship, Captain Saltkeld thought it eligible to make the best of his way, and left us to pursue the voyage alone.

Sept. 18 and 19 [1799]—Passed between the Cape De Verd Islands and the Guinea Coast; two of which were seen from the ship on our right hand, one called Sal, and the other Bonavesta. These islands are often visited by ships of different nations on the outward voyage to India.

On the 20th, in the morning, two strange sails were seen to windward; and as they drew close together for communication, their appearance was not at all liked by our officers; however it was judged advisable not to alter our progress or point of sailing, and all were ordered to their stations in case of being attacked; the part assigned to poor me was to accompany the surgeon below. I am afraid I should have been but a poor help indeed; but our apprehensions soon subsided, as they both set their sails and stood from us. It was supposed they were Ginea ships, from the direction in which they came.

One morning we were agreeably surprised with a voluntary sacrifice to our table, namely, number of flying fish who had lighted on board during the night. Fear, no doubt, was the cause of these volatile amphibia leaving their fitter element, the deep; the ship penetrating a shoal of them in the dark, caused them to separate in different directions, darting into the atmosphere to escape a supposed danger, by which means some of them dropped on board us. When fried, they proved a delicious morsel: they resemble the mullet; their fins, or wings as they are called, extend from behind the gills as far as the tail; those that I saw measured from eight to ten inches. They cannot leave the element in a calm; at such times I have often observed them struggling to fly from the dolphin and other fish, without avail, and were devoured; on the contrary, in a breeze, I have seen thousands dart from the water in company, and fly a great distance.

There was another specimen of marine life, found on board in the night, which our officers called squid. These likewise are a prey to the dolphin, bonneto, and albicore. The squid is of a glutinous substance, like a jelly, about four inches long; and when put into a tumbler of water, emitted a dark fluid like ink, which tinged the water so much that the animal was hid from sight. I am told that this property, given by nature, is the only defence it can make against its enemy; that is, by darkening the water around itself in a limited space, then trying to escape in an opposite direction.

We were favoured with the finest weather for seven or eight days after we parted with the frigate, sailing at the rate of from eighty to a hundred and fifty miles in the twenty-four hours. When in latitude about three or four north, the winds became variable and light, with frequent calms; the heat also became oppressive. Great care was observed in ventilating and fumigating the prison; the windsails, with the scuttles, were open night and day. Notwithstanding this attention, three of the prisoners died of fever, and several of the ship’s crew were also attacked. The progress of sickness became very alarming; for, as soon as the first subjects of it became convalescent, others were seized with it. This alternate afflication ran through the major part of the ship’s company; however there had been a plentiful supply of all things needful sent on board by government, and the same was administered most seasonably to the sick, which kept the fever under. The prisoners were also permitted to bathe in the morning-watches, which had a salutary effect after a sultry night.

On the 28th of September, after the officers had retired from breakfast, a sudden noise and bustle upon deck surprised me; when the steward coming down, I inquired of him what was the matter? He told me that a tornado was coming on, and that he was sent down by the captain to shut the ports and scuttles in the cabins. I proceeded to the quarter-gallery to see what he meant by a tornado, but had no sooner cast a look towards the east, than I became much alarmed; an immense black cloud was repidly overcasting the heavens, darting out vivid lightening, while the thunder, at first distant, seemed by its louder detonations fast approaching.

The noise with the people securing the sails, and otherwise preparing to meet the storm, was awful in the extreme. The ship lay quite becalmed, yet at a short distance the tempest made the water fly before it in a white foam.

I shall never forget my feelings and apprehensions at this moment; but fortunately my husband came down and told me not to be alarmed, for the squall had given timely warning, and enabled them to get all sung aloft, and that it would be over in half an hour.


He had scarcely done speaking when its fury burst upon us, laying the ship nearly upon its broadside with its force; the mingled tempest of lightning, thunder, wind, and rain made the scene altogether dreadful. I thought it the longest half hour I had ever remembered; but it was upwards of an hour before they again set their sails, and all on board most happy as the lightning had not been attracted to the ship’s masts.

2 comments:

Linda Collison said...

Oh, this is the kind of stuff that seeds my imagination. Thanks for sharing, Joan!

Joan Druett said...

And thank you, Linda! Unfortunately, Mrs. Reid gave few domestic details. But as you will find, she had a delightful sense of humor.