James Braithwaite, the Supercargo

W.H.G. Kingston
James Braithwaite, the Supercargo
The Story of his Adventures Ashore and Afloat
by W.H.G. Kingston
"What's the name of the craft you want to get aboard, sir?" asked old
Bob, the one-legged boatman, whose wherry I had hired to carry me
out to Spithead.
"The Barbara," I answered, trying to look more at my ease than I felt;
for the old fellow, besides having but one leg, had a black patch over
the place where his right eye should have been, while his left arm was
partially crippled; and his crew consisted of a mite of a boy whose
activity and intelligence could scarcely make up for his want of size
and strength. The ebb tide, too, was making strong out of Portsmouth
Harbour, and a fresh breeze was blowing in, creating a tumbling,
bubbling sea at the mouth; and vessels and boats of all sizes and rigs
were dashing here and there, madly and without purpose it seemed to
me, but at all events very likely to run down the low narrow craft in
which I had ventured to embark. Now and then a man-of-war's boat,
with half-a-dozen reckless midshipmen in her, who looked as if they
would not have the slightest scruple in sailing over us, would pass
within a few inches of the wherry; now a ship's launch with a party of
marines, pulling with uncertain strokes like a huge maimed centipede,
would come right across our course and receive old Bob's no very
complimentary remarks; next a boatful of men-of-war's men, liberty
men returning from leave. There was no use saying anything to them,
for there wasn't one, old Bob informed me, but what was "three sheets
in the wind," or "half seas over,"--in other words, very drunk; still, they
managed to find their way and not to upset themselves, in a manner

which surprised me. Scarcely were we clear of them when several
lumbering dockyard lighters would come dashing by, going out with
stores or powder to the fleet at Spithead.
Those were indeed busy times. Numerous ships of war were fitting out
alongside the quays, their huge yards being swayed up, and guns and
stores hoisted on board, gruff shouts, and cries, and whistles, and other
strange sounds proceeding from them as we passed near. Others lay in
the middle of the harbour ready for sea, but waiting for their crews to
be collected by the press-gangs on shore, and to be made up with
captured smugglers, liberated gaol-birds, and broken-down persons
from every grade of society. Altogether, what with transports,
merchantmen, lighters, and other craft, it was no easy matter to beat out
without getting athwart hawse of those at anchor, or being run down by
the still greater number of small craft under way. Still it was an
animated and exciting scene, and all told of active warfare.
On shore the bustle was yet more apparent. Everybody was in
movement. Yellow post-chaises conveying young captains of dashing
frigates, or admirals' private secretaries, came whirling through the
streets as if the fate of the nation depended on their speed. Officers of
all grades, from post-captains with glittering epaulets to midshipmen
with white patches on their collars and simple cockades in their hats,
were hurrying, with looks of importance, through the streets. Large
placards were everywhere posted up announcing the names of the ships
requiring men, and the advantages to be obtained by joining them:
plenty of prize money and abundance of fighting, with consequent
speedy promotion; while first lieutenants, and a choice band of old
hands, were near by to win by persuasion those who were protected
from being pressed. Jack tars, many with pig-tails, and earrings in their
ears, were rolling about the streets, their wives or sweethearts hanging
at their elbows, dressed in the brightest of colours, huge bonnets
decked with flaunting ribbons on their heads, and glittering brass
chains, and other ornaments of glass, on their necks and arms. As I
drove down the High Street I had met a crowd surrounding a ship's gig
on wheels. Some fifty seamen or more were dragging it along at a rapid
rate, leaping and careering, laughing and cheering. In the stern sheets

sat a well-known eccentric post-captain with the yoke lines in his hands,
while he kept bending forward to give the time to his crew, who were
arranged before him with oars outstretched, making believe to row, and
grinning all the time in high glee from ear to ear. It was said that he
was on his way to the Admiralty in London, the Lords Commissioners
having for some irregularity prohibited him from leaving his ship
except in his gig on duty. Whether he ever got to London I do not
On arriving at Portsmouth,
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