Capt. Arthur David LINKLATER

Captain Arthur David LINKLATER 1879 - 1955

His Life Afloat and Ashore: Apprenticeship Aboard ‘British Princess’ (ii)

Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me - that ever with a frolic welcome took the thunder and the sunshine

It was in 1944 that my father gave Arthur, or ‘Dum’ as he was known by then, the copy of ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ by Dana already referred to. In a letter Dum said of it;

I have just finished reading it for the second time, and it is the only book of the sea which I have read which is correctly written. It deals with a time only sixty odd years before I went to sea, and as far as I can see the conditions of sea service in my time were little, in fact no better than the time Dana writes about.

The book was first published in about 1840. The author, Richard Henry Dana, was an American, from Boston who sailed in The Pilgrim as a common sailor or deck-hand i.e. as an even lower form of life than Dum who sailed as an apprentice or brass-bounder, the pupa who's imago would one day emerge in full, gold-braided glory as an officer. Dana intended his book to be "a voice from the forecastle." Much of his book concerns life and customs ashore. Both Dum's and Dana's ships were trading vessels which naturally made halts to take on or discharge cargo - unlike say a whaling vessel which would spend far longer, uninterrupted periods at sea. Of one old salt Dana wrote that he had sailed in "everything except whalers, which a thorough sailor despises, and will always steer clear of if he can." Just as Dum was able to endorse the accuracy of Dana's writing about the sea, Dum's own life bears testimony to the almost prescient accuracy of what Dana wrote about sailors. "Many are the boys, in every sea-port, who are drawn away, [to sea] as by an almost irresistable attraction, from their work and schools, and hang about the decks and yards of vessels with a fondness which, it is plain, will have its way. No sooner, however, has the young sailor begun his new life in earnest, than all this fine drapery falls off, and he learns that it is but work and hardship after all." Both Dum's Journal and his later letters to his son concur with this. However, almost all the other recollections of brassbounders I have read - Worsley, Villiers, Ellis, Eaddy - agree in describing the life as enjoyable, exhilarating, and awe-inspiring, their shipmates and officers as usually skilled, caring, and even occasionally kind, while being strict and fair. To be sure there was always the odd curmudgeon, but the only complaints these writers seemed to have was never having enough to eat and never having enough sleep. Neither complaint is at all to be wondered at!

In his introduction to ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ Dana wrote of it that; "It is written out from a journal which I kept at the time, and from notes which I made of most of the events as they happened." Dum's Journal could have been the basis for a similar book. Dana's book will in all liklihood remain in print in America where it is now listed as volume 23 of The Harvard Classics. At the time of writing it was online at Bartleby Among other works by Dana is ‘The Seamans Friend...’ which contains ‘A Dictionary of Sea Terms’ which I include here as a general GLOSSARY. This is as good a place as any to look for the meaning of any unfamiliar terms in Dum's Journal. Not all the nautical terms in Dum's journal are found in Dana's ‘Dictionary’ and similarly there are many terms in Dana not found in Dum's Journal.

horn-swanston.jpg A much better book than Dana's is First Voyage in a Square-Rigged Ship by Frank Worsley [1938] who wrote at least two other books about Shackleton with whom he travelled on several expeditions including the Antarctic expedition in the Endurance, which he skippered for a while. It was largely due to Worsley's skill as a navigator that the expedition party made a safe landfall on Elephant Island after the Endurance finally sank, crushed by the Antarctic ice.

Worsley then navigated the open boat James Caird with Shackleton and a few others on the 800 mile, sixteen day journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia through 50 foot seas which led to the subsequent rescue of the remainder of the crew from Elephant Island without any loss of life. My copy of ‘First Voyage’ came from Hagbourne, and is presumably the result of a request to ‘Santa’ [a.k.a. Dick] from Dum in a letter dated 6th October 1944 quoted later on. Apart from this request I have found no other reference to it among Dum's papers so am therefore unsure what he thought of it but I would be surprised if he hadn't whole-heartedly approved of it. I say Worsley's book is ‘better’ because it covers much the same time and ground as Dum's Journals, and Worsley sailed as an apprentice aboard the Wairoa only eight years before Dum did the same aboard the British Princess. As an apprentice from New Zealand Worsley sailed as a British subject and under the same Board of Trade Regulations and Certification as Dum. As a bonus, Worsley's book is extremely readable and amusing. While Worsley is very forthcoming on most matters, he is very reticent over dates and, so far as I can see, gives no hint anywhere as to when he first set sail or any other dates for his apprenticeship. However, in chapter 13 [page 233 in my copy] he wrote; Abaft our beam lay Salcombe where, Stringy told me, the famous tea clipper Hallowe'en had been lost with the last sailing-ship tea cargo fourteen months before. The Hallowe'en was lost on 17th January 1887 which means the Wairoa was off Salcombe in March 1888 and therefore must have departed New Zealand on 24th December 1887. I have since discovered that Worsley was born on 22nd February 1872 which makes him about the right age when he first embarked - not quite 16.

Both Worsley and Dum embarked on their first trips shortly before Christmas, and both seem to have been revising their lives as apprentices at about the same time, as Dum's ‘Preface’ is dated 1937 and Worsley's book was published in 1938. Both were apprenticed at about the same age, Worsley at 15¾ and Dum at 16½. Worlsey also has the distinct advantage over Dana in my eyes of not being an American and his book is better written than Dana's - which is not to say that Dana's book is a bad one; but donning Orwellian headgear, "Dana good, Worsley better." There was also a Linklater on board with Worsley and of whom he speaks well [including in the extract shortly to be quoted], but exactly who he was I have been unable to establish. So excellent is his book that I can do no better than quote him extensively in order to give a very concise description "straight from the horse's mouth" of a sailing apprenticeship which would have applied equally well to Dum. Worsley's words appear in green, my interpolations as here.

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