Philip John Pinel's journal 1855-1867
The adventures of John Pinel 1849-1930 Part 1
I was born on 14 January 1849 at a house in Lempriere Street in the town of St Helier, Jersey, one of the Channel Islands on the coast of Normandy. My father was a Jerseyman, Captain of a sailing ship belonging to the port of St Helier and my mother was of English parentage, her father having been a cloth manufacturer in the town of Wootton-under-edge in Gloucestershire.
My grandfather on my on my father’s side was a small farmer in the parish of St John’s on the north side of Jersey, and my father was a family of nine - four boys, Philip, Thomas and Joshua, five girls, Mary, Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret and Marie. On my grandfather’s death the eldest son, Philip, inherited the farm which he lived in and cultivated up to the time of his death at the age of 93. The next boy, Thomas, died an infant; Joshua the youngest, took to the sea and became part-owner and master of a small trading schooner. He fell overboard and was drowned at a quite early age. Up to the age of nearly six years, I lived with my mother in Jersey, occasionally making trips to London when my father arrived there from his voyages. I know little of what happened during those years except that I had two illnesses: one was typhus fever of a very severe type, and the other was a mild attack of small pox.
To revert to my father - After a little education at a country school, he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in St Helier and I believed, served his time right through. But cabinet making was too slow for him; his ambition like that of many other Jersey boys was to go to sea, and to sea he went, in what capacity at first I do not know but about the year 1841 or 1842, he found himself in India and joined the HEICL Tenasserim as carpenter. This ship, a small paddle steamer, formed part of the fleet sent to China and in 1842, my father was present at the attack in the Woosung forts, during which he was wounded in the leg; the wound which was a bruise on the shin, got very inflamed and my father was invalided to Calcutta and the doctors decided to amputate the leg, but he got an attack of fever and was too weak to stand the operation so it was delayed and by the time the fever left him and he began to regain strength, the wound showed signs of healing and the leg was left on and did him good service for the rest of his life.
On his return home, he joined with some friends in building a small schooner called the Pandora for trade to the West Indies and took command of her. She had not a long career for she was wrecked on one of the West Indian Islands, probably a very fortunate thing to my father for instead of spending his life in sailing small craft, he got command of a full-rigged ship and made several voyages to Australia and India and at last, in about 1853, he got command of a ship out of the port of London, the Great Britain which made him think his future was made. He made a very satisfactory voyage to China coming home with a huge freight of tea and silk in the autumn of 1854. It was then decided that my mother and I should accompany him on his next voyage and we joined him in London during lodgings in America Square near the docks.
London to China
The Winter was a very cold one, the Thames being partly frozen over and roads in main places impassable. The Great Britain was on the berth for Sydney and her departure was delayed owing to the fact that some heavy machinery that she was to take out could not be brought to London owing to the state of the roads. We finally got away I think, about March 1855 and even then, great blocks of ice were floating in the river. We had as far as I can remember an uneventful voyage to Sydney, the only passengers being an elderly lady, Mrs. Nageulis and her two daughters, Mary and Wilhelmina, friends of my mother in Jersey. One incident on the voyage, I remember, the steward fell in love with Wilhelmina and when she would have nothing to say to him, he tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of lauderim, fortunately, his heavy breathing was noticed and he was got up on deck and marched up and down by two seamen until the effects of the drugs had gone off. he was cured of his folly and made the rest of the round voyage with us. From Sydney we went in ballast to Foochow, China, and then loaded tea for London. On the way home, we got on a coral reef named Discovery Rock in Garpur Straits. The natives came round in their canoes in great numbers and would have no doubt have plundered the ship and murdered us all, as they had done in the case of former vessels which had got ashore there, but fortunately, there was a French ship close by which, on seeing our distress signals, anchored and remained near us for the night. Cargo was thrown overboard to lighten the vessel and every preparation made to abandon her if she could not be floated. Anchors were got out astern and the next day at high water, she was hoved off and proved to be uninjured.
I shall never forget the cheering of the men at the windlass when the ship moved off the reef. We remained at anchor for a short time, and before we again started, the American ship Sunny South came up, a vessel we met in Foochow and Captain Gregory kept in company with us for a day or two to see that our ship had sustained no damage, then he crowded on more sail and left us astern. The old Great Britain with her bluff loins had no chance to keep up with a fast Yankee clipper. The rest of the voyage was uneventful. We called at St Helier for fresh water and provisions and in due course arrived at Liverpool.
Mr James Alexander, of the firm of Australian Merchants - Redfern, Alexander and Co, was so pleased with the result of his venture in buying the Great Britain that he purchased the ship Tiptree, a large North American-built vessel of 1,650 tons and gave my father the command. The Black Bull Line which then had the contract for the mails to Australia, being short of a vessel for the monthly mail, chartered the Tiptree which sailed in the autumn of 1856 with mails, passengers and cargo. My mother and I were left at home and lived in a house at Leacombe on the Cheshire side of the Mersey. There my brother Oswald Henry was born on 26 December 1856 and sometime after we moved to a house in Parliament Street, Liverpool, there to wait my father’s return which took place in due course. It was arranged that my mother and the baby, Oswald, with his nurse should accompany my father on his next voyage which was to India with a cargo of coals on ships account; they sailed in the autumn of 1857 leaving me at boarding school - Dr Fisher’s Academy in Parliament Street, Liverpool. I went there when I was nearly nine years old and remained there till December 1859 when I was nearly eleven - two years.
The Tiptree after going to India, Singapore, Penang, Hong Kong Island, returned to London in the summer of 1859.
There is not much to chronicle about the two years I was at school in Liverpool. I had some very good friends in Mr and Mrs fox and her sister, Miss Maddick, and spent a good part of my holidays at their house. They had an only son Willie, about four years younger than myself and were, I think, glad to have me as a companion for him; in fact, their house was like home to me. I also spent one or two holidays with Mr and Mrs Dean who lived a short distance in the country so that altogether my schooldays in Liverpool were very pleasant. When I was about 10 years old, I had the measles which attacked small boys in the school. My parents having arrived back in England, I went up to London for the summer holidays of 1859 and afterwards returned to Liverpool. My mother with my brother Oswald came to Liverpool for Christmas and we all spent that and the New Year with our friends, the Foxs.
It was a very severe winter and I contracted a bad cough which troubled me more or less through the remainder of the cold weather. After the New Year, 1860, I returned with my mother to her home in London (Albion Road, Dalston) and was sent to a school kept by a Mr Gardner in Hackney. My cough, however, was so troublesome that I was kept away from school nearly all the winter and when my father returned in the summer of 1860, it was decided to give up the home and that my mother and young brother and I should accompany him on the next voyage which was to Sydney. This was principally on account of my health, my parents fearing that my lungs would be permanently affected and accordingly we left for Sydney in the Tiptree in the autumn of 1860.
I do not remember anything of importance during the passage out. I had my twelfth birthday in the Southern Ocean and we arrived in Sydney early in 1861. The ship was berthed at Circular Quay, then very different in its appearance to what is is today. Sydney Cove then had only a sloping mud bank round it and a staging had to be erected to the ship from the shore with two long spans and a flooring of planks between them. Close to our stern as we lay at the centre of the Cove there was a landing stage from which a steam launch (an open boat with seats round - it would carry 20 - 30 passengers) went to North Shore and back. This was the sole precursor of the large fleet of steam ferry boats that now ply between Circular Quay and other places in the harbour. I believe in addition to the above-mentioned launch, there was a steamer running to Manly. In connection with our arrival in Sydney, I may mention that we had a narrow escape of being wrecked on the South Head. As we approached the entrance to the harbour, the wind dropped and the ship commenced to roll heavily in the huge swell and to drift helplessly towards the rocks. People on shore thought we were going to have the same fate as the “Dunbar” which had been wrecked there a few years previously. Fortunately , however, a light breeze sprung up and we managed to get in between the heads and we anchored in the entrance to the harbour. Two small ferry boats were sent to tow us up the harbour but they had not sufficient power to control the ship and we drifted back into the quarantine ground where we anchored for the night. Being a holiday, the tug boats were away somewhere with excursionist. The next morning the tug came out and towed us to a berth.
There was not much to record of my stay in Sydney. One incident remains in my memory; one Sunday, the Chaplain of convicts at Cockatoo Island took me to the morning service in the Chapel there. We went in his boat, one member of the crew being the only survivor of the wreck of the Dunbar. He was picked up on the rocks in an exhausted state and never properly regained his reason. It was a very hot day and soon after I returned to the ship, a southerly buster sprang up bringing with it a clouds of dust that the dinner which had just been placed on the table, had to be removed, everything being covered with dust. I have been told that people had been coming out of the church and the ladies of those days wearing large crinolines could not stand against the wind and had to sit down on the grass, the men standing on their dresses to keep them down. I did not see this myself.
After a stay in Sydney discharging cargo and loading wool and other goods, we left for London with a full complement of passengers. We had the worst gales and heavy seas rounding the Cape Horn. We put into Pemambuco for water and after leaving there, we had a long spell of calm. I don’t know how they lasted but ships served to congregate from all quarters until there was quite a number around us. Once or twice, some of our passengers went in one of the ship’s boats to visits other vessels. The breeze sprang up at last and we were soon in London. My parents then took a house in Camden House, 28 St Augustine Road. It was the last house in the street in the corner of Cantitowes Street, and beyond it even fields extending almost to the Caledonian Cattle Market. This was in the late summer of 1861 and I was sent to the North London Collegiate School in Camden Town, High Street. It was a large private school of about 400 boys, the proprietor and Headmaster being the Rev W Williams, a Church of England Clergyman. Having had very little regular education, I was placed in the lowest class with little boys (nine years old) but although I had not had much regular schooling, my intelligence had not lain dormant and I quickly rose until I, finally at the age of 16 years, was in the highest class.
Looking back at my school life in London and considering what I have seen and heard of schools since, I think I can safely say that the management of the North London Collegiate School was superior to anything I have come across since. For one thing, there were practically no examinations, prizes being awarded for the 12 months’ work as shown by the position of each boy in his class day by day, so to get a good position a boy has to work steadily, not depend on a cram before examination and the luck in getting questions but to him of which he had the luck to know the right answer.
When we went to live in St Augustine Road we made the acquaintance of Mr and Mrs Penn and their family who lived close to us and the friendship that formed had lasted for many years; in fact, I am still (1927) in touch with the daughter and one of the younger sons, Edmund. Mr, subsequently Captain, Penn was in the Hydrographic Office at the Admiralty having retired from active service, he and his wife were very quiet, homely people; they had Willie, Henry, Edmund and John. Willie, a year or two my senior, went to school with me and we were chums until he went to Plymouth in the employ of his uncle who was a timber merchant and I went to see my father in the Earl King. All are dead now except the daughter and the boy Edmund about eight years younger than me. We got to know the Penns through Mrs Penn's brother, Mr Edmund Harris, who was second mate with my father in the Tiptree, and afterwards mate with him in the Sea King.
The year after our return from our voyage in the Tiptree was the year of the International Exhibition of 1862 and I paid two or three visits to it; also either this, or the following year, saw the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Princess Alexandra. My Uncle Philip came to visit us from Jersey at this time and I took him into the city to see the decorations for the Princess’ arrival. We attempted to cross London Bridge but the crowd was so dense that after getting about a third of the way across, we were glad to give it up and return to King William Street, the end from which we started.
My father made two more voyages in the Tiptree to Sydney and then resigned the command to his former Chief Mate, Captain Davis, my father, having arranged with others to build an auxiliary steamer for the China Trade. This vessel was built in Glasgow and was called the Sea King. She was an auxiliary service steamer, composite built, that is, iron frames and teak planking, and owned by Gladstone and Co, London Merchants, Robinson and Co, ship brokers, and my father. She was built in the early part of 1863 by Stephensons and Co and engined by Inglis and Co and my father went to Glasgow early in the year, taking my mother, brother and my-self with him to superintend the building and fitting out, having previously given up their house in Camden Town and sold off their furniture.
When the ship was finished, we all, together with Captain Mc-Minnes, of the firm of Robertson and Co, came round in her to London. We had a very rough voyage and put in to Loch Ryan is in the south of Scotland. From there we made a fresh start and ran into a heavy gale in the Irish Sea. Our cargo consisted of pig iron taken for ballast and a quantity of gunpowder in kegs stowed on the top of the iron. The cargo shifted during the gale and some of the powder kegs were buried under the iron, with great danger of an explosion should the iron shift again and crush the kegs. Water was poured on the iron to minimise the chance of this and fortunately no further trouble occurred; the weather moderated and we had fine weather for the rest of the passage.
It so happened at the time, news had just been received of the outbreak of the Moaori War in New Zealand and the Government was anxious to get some troops out as quickly as possible. The Government had no steam transports at this time and were in the habit of chartering merchant vessels to convey troops. An auxiliary steamer such as the Sea King offered a speedier means of conveyance than the ordinary sailing vessel and the Government chartered her at a satisfactory rate to convey troops to New Zealand. She arrived in due course and afterwards went to China, I think via Sydney, and loaded tea at Hankow for London. This was the time of the war in America between the Federal and Confederate States and the latter was desirous of securing another cruiser similar to the Alabama. Through a Liverpool firm, they made an offer for the Sea King and before she arrived in London she was sold at a very satisfactory price. She was loaded with stores and munitions and despatched from London and Madina was met by a Confederate ship and guns placed on board her and the Confederate flag hoisted.
Captain Waddell took command and the English crew were given the choice of either volunteering to serve under the Confederate flag or being sent home - some I believe volunteered. The Sea King was renamed Shenandoah and so ended my father’s connection with her. It may be of interest to say a few word as to her subsequent career. She cruised about in the North Atlantic sinking American whalers during the remainder of the war and in fact, for about three months after peace was declared, Captain Waddel asserting that not having entered port, he had no news of the cessation of the hostilities. He then went to Liverpool and delivered the ship up to the British who handed her over to the United States. The Captain dared not take her to an American port as there was a strong feeling against him that he would probably have been hanged as a pirate. The “Shen-andoah” was afterwards sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar for a yacht and was subsequently wrecked during a hurricane on the East Coast of Africa.
When it was arranged the Sea King it was intended that my mother should again accompany my father on his voyage, but her being taken up for troops prevented this. The house in Camden Town having been given up, we lived for a time with Mr and Mrs Penn in East India Dock Road, Poplar, near the docks, then furnished lodgings were taken in Breckwork Crescent, Camden Town, where we lived during the winter the Sea King was away and when she was expected home, we again returned to our lodgings in Poplar.
The Sea King being sold, my father and the other owner decided to build an iron auxiliary steamer somewhat larger for the China Trade and a contract was made with A and J Inglis, Shipbuilders and Engineers of Glasgow for the construction of the same. The new steamer named Erl King' was of 1044 tons net and something over 1400 tons gross. She was barque rigged with a full poop and accommodation for about 50 first class passengers.
As my father was expecting to be home during the winter of 1864/65, lodgings were taken in a house in Cornwall Crescent, Camden Town and we lived some six or eight months there, I all the time going to the North London Collegiate School. Early in 1865 my father, mother and my young brother went to Glasgow leaving me at school in London. I lived until Easter with Mr and Mrs Leeke, friends in Dalston and afterward was a boarder with Mr Valentine Williams, the brother of the headmaster in Amphill Square. My life there was uneventful until about the beginning of June, a telegram came from my father summonsing me to Scotland as my mother was very ill. I knew that she had not been well in Glasgow and had been sent to Bridge of Allan in the hope that the change would do her good. I travelled by the night train to Sterlingand then my father met me and we walked to Bridge of Allan about three miles. I found my mother in bed, very ill but in full possession of her senses. She got gradually worse and died about a week after my arrival at the age of 52. She was buried at Logie Old Churchyard. After the funeral, my father, brother and I went to Glasgow and lived in a home which he had taken in Lanchishill Street while the building of the Erl King was going on.
After two or three months in Glasgow, my father took me and my brother to Jersey and placed us at St Aubin’s School which the headmaster was Mr Le Maistre. My father had relations and friends in Jersey who opened their houses to us children so we did not want for friends. Most of our holidays was spent at the home of my father’s eldest brother, Philip Pinel, at St John which was like a home to us; we also visited Mr and Mrs Philip Blampied, and Mr and Mrs Mourant in St Helier and Captain Manger at St Lawrence. I did not take to the Jersey school and wished myself back in London, but all the same, I cannot say I had a bad time in Jersey. Now it so happened that my schoolmaster wanted to send a boy up for the Senior Oxford Local Examinations, and two or three of his most advanced boys having just left school, I was the only one available.
When he first asked me I refused, but it was difficult to say no to one’s schoolmaster and I finally agreed to try and I reaped one benefit, viz:- I go leave to visit my friends whenever I wanted whereas other boys were limited to one a month. I was really not fit to go up for the examination and had to work very hard. When the time arrived for the exam, in the summer of 1866 Mr Le Maistre suggested my going to Oxford but I preferred staying with friends in London and wrote to Mrs Penn asking if she would put me up; this she did so I went to London travelling via Littlehampton and returning to Jersey after the examinations was over. I was very doubtful as to whether I had succeeded but in due course found that I had scraped through with honours and received my certificate conferring a AA degree. All this involved months of very hard work and has never been the slightest use to me.
About September, My father after a short visit to Jersey, sailed for Sydney in the Erl King with cargo and passengers. From there he went to China and loaded tea at Foochow for London arriving home about August 1866.
There is nothing much to record of my school life while he was away. My Christmas holidays were passed with my Uncle and Aunt at St John and in there were also, in addition to my cousins Ann and Mary Ann, two young visitors, Albion and Ada Esnouf staying in the house. We made up a jolly party and enjoyed ourselves. My cousin Mary Ann, with the help of Ada Esnouf, used to play tricks on me and tease me while Albion took my part and we had some fun with it all. I was very anxious to leave school in the summer of 1866,and while spending the midsummer holidays at St John, I watched anxiously for news of my father’s arrival in London, but the weeks slipped by and no news came and at last the end of the holidays and I had to pack up my own and my brother’s things to return to school.
Fortunately, I had to pass through St Helier on my way to St Aubin and on calling on my friend, Captain Manger’s office, I learned that the Erl King had arrived in London. I was in a quandary as I did not want to go to school till I had communicated with my father. At last I decided to take my brother to school and stay away myself. I took him there and packed our clothes which were all together, leaving his and taking away my own. As I have said before I was anxious to leave school and go to sea with my father. My imagination had been firstly stirred by reading tales of adventure on the sea and my voyages to Sydney on the Tiptree and I wanted to be a sailor. It was arranged that I should take my brother over to London for a visit to his and my father and while we were there we talked over my future movements.
My father did not think I was strong enough for sea life, but said that if I liked, he would take me for a voyage practically as a passenger in the saloon; he would put my name on the ship’s articles so that my time would count if I subsequently decided for a seafaring career. In that case I must go to some other vessel as he would not have me as an apprentice on his ship. He would like me to be a civil engineer or something of that sort but he thought a voyage to sea might set up my health which was none too robust. To this I agreed and, after taking my younger brother back to school in Jersey, I returned to London and got fitted out for seafaring rig to start a sort of hybrid between a passenger and an apprentice on board the Erl King.
Early in September 1866, we left London for Shanghai, calling at Plymouth on the way; this call was made principally because there was a certain amount of cholera in London and it was hoped we could get a clean bill-of-health and not be quarantined at St Vincent where we had to call for coals. At Plymouth I went ashore to see my friend Willie Penn and spent a night at his uncle’s house; had a stroll around the town, on to the Hoe Roard and next day returned to the ship, Willie coming with me to say goodbye, and it was goodbye for I have never seen him again.
With the exception of the heavy rolling sea in the Bay of Biscay, nothing particularly occurred till we anchored at St Vincent to renew our supply of coal. There in spite of our clean bill-of-health, we were quarantined and allowed no communication with shore. The coals were towed off in lighters and the crew had to take them in and weigh them. Of course when they were all in the bunkers, there was a dispute which had to be settled between my father at the companion ladder and the coal merchant standing in his boat a little way off. A compromise was effected and we started again on our voyage. We had a shrewd suspicion that the coal merchant was in league with the Portuguese to put steamers in quarantine where possible in order to be able to charge for more coal than was supplied. If no quarantine, the Merchant’s clerk would leave and come on board to check the weights! My father was in command of the Erl King and had with him Mr A J Nursey as a chief mate, Mr Langley as second mate, Mr Nairimar as third mate, Mr Murray as Chief Engineer, Mr Crawford as second engineer and Mr McNab as third engineer. There were two apprentices, S Soutter and O Mauger - the latter a son of our friend Captain Mauger of Jersey, the two stewards and besides the petty officer, boatswain and carpenter, an engine-room and a deck crew. I had forgotten two very important personages, the cook and myself.
I had no specified duties but I used sometimes to pretend to keep a watch and walk up and round the deck with Mr Nairimar while he stuffed me with the most improbable yarns. My father taught me navigation and I used to take the sun every day and work out the ship’s position. Besides this, I picked up a good deal of knowledge about the ship and probably learned more than if I had been an apprentice. I had a cabin in the saloon and my meals at the Captain's table so I was really a first class passenger, an anomalous position for a youngster.
Nothing out of common happened on the voyage out. We had the usual gales off the Cape and in due time arrived at Batavia, there to discharge cargo and take on coals. We lay at anchor off the town and no one went ashore except my father. Starting again on the last lap of our journey, we encountered a severe gale on 23 and 24 December. Our jib boom was carried away and minor damage done and part of Christmas day was spent repairing damages. We had finally arrived at Shanghai on 1 January 1867. I forgot to mention one incident on the way out in the Indian Ocean. One stormy day a sailor, a fine fellow, a Dane or Norwegian, fell overboard. Preparations were made for lowering a boat and the vessel which was under steam was backed down towards him but before we could get near enough to lower a boat, he sank.
It was a very cold winter when we arrived in Shanghai and we were then for about a fortnight discharging cargo and loading for Yokohama; two, I think of our seamen were left ashore ill, the result of the bad liquor supplied to them by the local public houses. After a long voyage, seaman will have a bust on shore, but it is a shame that they should be supplied with what is little better than liquid poison - so-called “Chain Lightning”. We had an uneventful trip to Yokohama where we arrived about a week before the Japanese New Year.
Shortly after our arrival, there had been a big fire which destroyed the greater part of the native town and also some of the European settlements. The only buildings standing up in a larger portion of the native town were the pawn-broker stores; they have solid square fireproof buildings while all the rest of the native town consists of wooden structures highly inflammable. It was curious to see these square fireproof structures standing up here and there in an area absolutely cleared by the flames. During our stay in Yokohama, I had one or two trips ashore and was much interested in the curio shops filled with beautiful lacquer, bronzes, carvings, etc. Of course, I would liked to buy all sorts of pretty things but money was scarce in those days and I had to content myself with one or two inexpensive articles. On one of my trips I was with the first mate, Mr Murray, and as it came on squally and rough in the afternoon, we had great difficulty in getting a boat to take us off to the ship which was at anchor some distance from shore; finally we persuaded a man to take us and got on board by a ladder over the stern as it was too rough to go alongside.
Fortunately there was no love lost between the deck crew and the engine room crew and the latter came up to the rescue and with their help and that of the the officers and the writer, the anchor was lifted and when the deck crew saw that we were steaming down the Bay, they turned to again and gave up as a bad job their attempt to stop the steamer. There was really no danger to us in the help of our steam in starting for Hong Kong, a five day trip. We had fine weather on the way down and arrived there in due course. One sad accident occurred during the passage. When a ship with a fair-sized crew leaves London, an attempt is usually made to palm off one or two old men really past work as seamen; they are spruced up and made to look as young as possible. We had two such, an old man named Collins and another named Wood. These men were fit only for light work on deck and there was a good deal of grumbling on the part of the crew because they could not take their share of the work aloft. Collins was left ashore sick in Shanghai and on leaving Yokohama, Wood, in consequence of the grumbling that had gone on, was sent by the mate to furl the Main trisail. It was about the lightest job aloft that could have been given to him but his strength was not equal to it and when he had done about half, he let go his hold and fell into the engine room sky-light. He was stunned and never regained consciousness, dying about five hours later. He was buried at sea the next morning.
On arrival at Hong Kong, we had still three or four months to wait for the tea season to give us a cargo for London and three months charter was arranged for the Erl King to run on the coast between Hong Kong and Shanghai. The charterers were a large American firm, Augustine Heard and Co who had already a steamer of their own in the trade and wanted another ship to run with her. Their vessel was the Luwonada, a side-wheel wooden steamer with a walking beam, a type now obsolete. She was the fastest vessel on the coast but probably not a profitable one as too much of her space was taken up by the engines and boilers.
The City of Victoria, commonly spoken of as Hong Kong, was on an Island of the same name which was ceded to the British after the war of 1842. It was very solidly built on the slopes of the hill facing the north with a magnificent land-locked harbour having entrances in the east and west and at the time I was in China, always filled with the merchant ships and steamers of all nations, mostly English, and a number of man-of-wars, British and others, it being the headquarters of the China fleet. There was also a large military force on the shore. Hong Kong was also the headquarters of most of the large mercantile houses which had branches at the other treaty ports in China. While we were in Hong Kong, I contracted a mild attack of dysentry which could have probably yielded to proper treatment without becoming serious, but I did nothing for it and it lasted all through the four-day passage to Shanghai and weakened me considerably. I was asked to stay with Mr and Mrs Michie while the Erl King made a trip to Hong Kong, and while with them, I got much worse and they thought seriously of sending me to hospital; but under proper medical treatment the attack subsided and when the ship came back to Shanghai, I was well enough to return on board.
The English, French and American settlements in Shanghai formed a good-sized town with a row of very fine mercantile houses along the river front, known as the Bund. The principal homes or hongs faced the Bured and other of smaller importance were in the back streets. The position of the settlement was as follows: American on the north reaching as far south as the Foochow Creek to another small creek; English in the middle from the Foochow Creek to another small water way on the south; and beyond that the French Concurim, reaching to the walls of the Chinese City. The American and English settlements were managed by a joint Municipal Council and the French had it’s own separate control.
The wharves for ocean steamers were of the American settlement, or Hong Kong as it was called, and those for the Yantze River steamers were on the boundary of the French concurim. The Erl King on her first trip lay alongside the Shanghai or Hong Kew Company’s wharf but afterwards when under charter to Augustine Heard and Co, she always went to Hunto Wharf which was under the management of Jardine Matheson and Co. Most of the steamers and ships, however, lay at anchor in the river. The principal drive and promenade was Bubbling Well, which was in a westerly direction from the Bured for about two miles, past the Race Course along which were a few very nice suburban residences. The Bubbling Well was a square stone tank by the road-side filled by a spring and in one corner of which a few gaseous bubbles kept rising. From then, the road turned southward along the bank of the Foochow Creek for a short distance and then turned to the east back into foreign settlement.
For three months we traded between Hong Kong and Shanghai. Our principal cargo from Hong Kong was sugar; we also took indigo and sundry goods, sometimes a few cases of opium and silver for the Banks. Passengers European were not numerous - three or four a trip but sometimes we had three or four hundred Chinese. For first-class European passengers the fare was $95, with the exception of Ministers of Religion of all denominations - these went free. Friends of the Charterers were also given frequently a free pass.
On the way north, the ship was generally as deep as she would float; there was then no plimsoll mark, going south we were light and always had to take two or three hundred tons of ballast in Shanghai. The charter money was $8,000 per month, the charterers finding coals and two-thirds of the European passage money, the ship finding provision, including wines for these. Each passage in the fine weather took about four days, and we were usually four or five days in Hong Kong loading and about 36 hours in Shanghai.
After our three-months charter was up, a 12-month term was arranged at $7,000 per month; my father thinking that this would pay better than going home with tea. The trade was alright for the summer months but in winter it was sometimes a hard struggle going north against the monsoon which often blew a hard gale for days together and it must be borne in mind that the Erl King was heavily masted. She had a two-bladed lifting screw. Also in the Formosa Channel there was a southerly current of from two to three knots. In fact, my father thought seriously of going outside Formosa in the winter, but we never tried this, though it was sometimes a very hard struggle to get through the Channel. The longest passage we had, or one of the longest (about eight days), was when we took the Bishop of Hong Kong and his Chaplain up the coast, and then we took them back to Hong Kong, we had a slight collision in the Shanghai River just after leaving the wharf and knocked the mizzen mast out of a small barque and nearly sank her. So much for the old sailors’ superstition that it was unlucky to carry Ecclesiastics.