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Friday, May 23, 2014

Eleanor's odyssey comes to an end

She has visited ports like St Helena and Cape Town, seen convicts marched on shore at Port Jackson, heard colorful stories from her husband and others while sailing through coral seas, lived for a while in Calcutta, and now she is on the verge of coming home...

Eleanor's journal concludes.

On the 21st of May we fell in with a large fleet from the Mediterranean, who joined convoy, much to our annoyance, as many of them sailed very heavily, and detained us. We had very thick weather on entering the British Channel. One night a large ship, supposed to be a frigate, ran on board the Highland Chief: they were sailing in opposite directions, and the bower anchors of the Highland Chief hooked into a port of the frigate, and as the ships were going fast through the water, the anchor was carried away. The cable being bent, very soon all ran out at the hawse-hole, and lucky it was that the end of the cable was not made fast, as had that been the case some serious mischief must assuredly have happened; as it was, the Highland Chief received so much damage from the shock  that she was obliged to be towed into Plymouth.

The weather continuing very foggy, obliged us to keep our bell continually tolling, for fear of running foul of ships coming the contrary way; and as the fleet that joined us consisted of 150 sail, nothing was heard but the blowing of horns, beating of drums, and tinkling of bells, to keep clear of each other; but the fog signals from the men of war, made by the report of guns, were so well understood, either by the number, or by quick or slow time, that the ships could alter their course to any point of the compass.  We may say that we entered the English channel in the dark, as during five days we could not see a mile from the ship, and sailed upwards of 300 miles in this way.

However, on the morning of the 24th of May we had the heartfelt satisfaction of once more seeing our native land; the chalky cliffs of the Isle of Wight could not be mistaken. As the wind was easterly, a signal was made for the convoy to put into Spithead, where we anchored about two in the afternoon. Mr. D. was sent to London with the dispatches; at which time Capt. R., Doctor L., and Capt. D. took the opportunity of going to town also. As I did not intend leaving the ship until she arrived in the river Thames, Miss L. remained with me; we stayed here four days, and no custom-house boat or officer came on board of us; what a fine opportunity we had of smuggling! My husband, however, had put that out of our power, by shewing all our presents, &c., before we left Calcutta.

On the 28th the Lapwing frigate made the signal for convoy to the eastward, in consequence of which we proceeded, and passed through the Downs next day, having no occasion to anchor, as the other ships were obliged to do, for their poor seamen to be pressed. The few European seamen we had were hid away, and the boarding officers, seeing so many black faces on board, did not suspect us.

The next day we entered the river Thames, and were met by my brother-in-law, Mr. T. R., who had procured a very fine sailing boat to take us to town; this was a joyful meeting indeed, rendered doubly so to me when I learned that my beloved parents and all my family were well.
Next day, the 2d of June, we arrived in London, after an absence of two years and three days, with thankful hearts to a merciful God, who had permitted us to return in safety to our native land, having traversed a space of upwards of thirty-seven thousand miles without the smallest accident. It was particularly gratifying to my husband to receive letters from the friends of those poor men who embarked from Ireland, expressive of their sincere thanks for the great kindness and humanity shewn to them on the passage, and observing that they had mentioned that the only hardship they experienced was the necessary confinement, which the laws of their country and the safety of the ship required.

I now conclude my remarks upon my first voyage, which I am conscious require much correction and revision.

In the meantime, Eleanor Reid has accumulated hundreds of followers.  Her journal, complete with a discursive commentary, and richly illustrated from contemporary sources, will be out in time for Christmas.

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