In 1902 Walter returned to the Kingstown District on the east coast of Ireland, leaving sailing cruisers and taking up his last command at sea aboard the Fanny, a newly adapted steam yacht of 155 tons.
As the Fanny was undergoing certain alterations, in passing through London I decided to call at the Admiral’s office to ascertain if there were any special orders for me. The secretary conveyed to me the wishes of the Admiral – who had himself recommended the purchase of this particular vessel – in the matter, to do my best and get ready for service as soon as possible, and be certain not to raise any contentious questions. He also informed me that the hot-blooded Irishman, the Chief P O of the Victoria mentioned earlier, who had left that cutter some months before, was to be the Mate, my second-in-command. I was rather sorry to hear that as I had hoped to have a more dependable man. The secretary did not fail to see that I was not very favourably impressed with this arrangement. The appointment however had been approved by the Admiralty and nothing could be done to alter it. An Irish station for me again. The Fanny was to become a tender to HMS Melampus at Kingstown. The Petty Officers were drawn from other cruisers and engine-room staff and seamen from the naval depot.
After the alterations were completed at Falmouth it would be necessary to go to a naval port for certain fittings in accordance with the regulations and complete with stores and provisions. For some reason the Admiral Commanding Coast guard and Reserve did not approve of Devonport and gave orders that we were to proceed to Queenstown for that purpose. The Commander-in-Chief at the latter port appeared to resent the Fanny being sent there instead of Devonport and accorded me scant courtesy.
When in all respects ready for service, orders were received to proceed to Kingstown, the headquarters of the parent ship. On arrival, the Captain of HMS Melampus inspected the Fanny. Apparently he had been ordered by the Admiral to inspect and report on the suitability of the vessel for coast guard work. He expressed to me his dissatisfaction with the vessel in certain respects, but as she had been selected and recommended for purchase by no less a person than the Admiral Commanding Coast guard and Reserve, the disapproval of the District Captain did not count for much.
Our first employment was to carry out the removal of a certain number of coast guards and their families. With a handy vessel such as the Fanny, this was child’s play when compared with one’s experiences in carrying out removals by the sailing cutters. Frequently a man would be embarked in the morning and landed at his new station the same day. Only with stormy weather when landing might be difficult would they be on board for more than forty- eight hours. A change for the better fully appreciated by the coast guard, officers and men generally.
In October the Fanny was detached from the Melampus and placed under the orders of the captain of HMS Collingwood, headquarters at Bantry, with orders to proceed to that post and report. Arriving at Bantry and reporting to the Captain of the Collingwood, he informed me that we were to be employed in fishery duty and that the patrol would extend from Bury Head at the mouth of The Shannon to Cape Clare. This was something new and strange to me, seeing there were never any fishing fleets working along this coast at this season of the year. There was usually a mackerel fishery by French drifters in the spring and hitherto an early summer fishery by drifters from the Isle of Man but no deep sea fishery so late in the year as this.
1902 – A Lonely Patrol
In due course the sailing orders were sent on board and the patrol commenced accordingly. An aimless, dreary and monotonous business it proved to be with never a fishing boat in sight. The orders did not tie us down to calling at any particular port; consequently we put to sea from one port and to make the log read anew, would steam for a few hours and enter another port as most convenient, rendering a weekly report accordingly. And so the days and weeks passed without any questions or interference from anyone.
Throughout the dark days of November and December, with the never ceasing rainfall common to the south west of Ireland, all hands appeared to have partaken of the surrounding and depressing gloom.
The coastline at this season of the year, forever lashed by the towering and roaring Atlantic swell presented a most forbidding appearance and woe betide the craft whose keel should be apt to come into contact with any one of the numerous islets and sunken rocks.
The cliff scenery of the bold headlands of Mizzen Head with its sharp peak 755 feet in height; Sheep Head, a remarkably bold and rugged headland standing out in supreme and gigantic majesty defied throughout the ages the fiercest assaults of Neptune, king of the seas. Dursey Head, the western extremity of Dursey Island, with an elevation of 915 feet, surmounted by an old watch tower, most bare and uninviting, even for a mountain goat. Bolus Head, 930 feet in height – the extremity of bold mountainous land 1,340 feet high terminating in a precipice of 600 feet, capped by an ancient tower from which brave and stout-hearted watchers of ages long past kept their constant vigil. All these rugged cliffs, with the teeming sea bird life again and again smitten by nature when in the most destructive mode, yet standing still unconquered, serene and defiant, were awe inspiring in their strength, majestic in their setting and a reminder of that power of the Creator of all things. The Atlantic rollers driven home by a strong south-wester, or a storm possibly a thousand miles to the westward, spending their strength against this rock bound shore and sending their white crusted heads to unbelievable heights was a sight that only the few have the privilege to behold and contemplate at leisure.
Patrolling along the shore, here and there one would discover a cluster of cottages perched high up, apparently sitting on a shelf in the side of the cliff such as those at the fort of Brandon, a bold headland backed by Brandon Mountain 3,126 feet in height, down the side of which gusts of wind would sweep with destructive and terrifying violence. A position, dark, dreary, barren and inhospitable in the extreme is where the peasant cottager in the humble cabin that he called home would, throughout the long and dreary winter, eke out his meagre supply of potatoes scratched from the small plots of earth between the rocks of the mountainside, making the best – cheerfully – of such comforts as his turf fire gave forth and over which the good wife prepared the griddle cake with its raising agent of sour milk and soda bicarbonate. The comfort or discomforts of man are all by comparison and exposed as they were to the full fury of the Atlantic storms, often accompanied by torrents of rain, once could not but pause and ponder over the discomfort under which fate had doomed these humble but cheerful folk to spend their lives.
About 4 pm of a December evening a Milford trawler hove in sight, just about to commence a night’s fishing at the mouth of Ballingskelligs Bay. Fishing in this bay was not permitted by this class of trawler. He had moored a light fixed to a pole – known as a dan – just at the mouth of the bay, on a line inside of which fishing was forbidden. It was quite apparent that he intended to steam around and around the dan, taking a good sweep into the bay over forbidden ground. Drawing near to the trawler, he was plied with certain questions as to his intention in dropping his dan in that position. Of course, he assured me, it was his intention to keep outside. But it was quite apparent that he intended to follow the usual procedure and steam around the light. It was no intention of mine to stay and see that this procedure was not followed. After a time he made the offer of some fish, which offer we were pleased to accept. Then, getting a line across, a basket of ‘prime’ turbot, sole and plaice was passed over followed by a couple of baskets of what the skipper called ‘rough’ but all good edible fish.
The thought occurred to me, that any man with the courage and grit to spend a December night trawling close home to such an iron bound and inhospitable shore – rules or no rules – deserved all the fish waiting there to be caught. Now growing dusk and bidding them goodnight and good luck, we left the skipper to follow his own inclination and proceeded on our course.
Lying in Valencia Harbour, weather-bound with strong winter gales, it was my custom to land for walking exercise over hill and dale and at times found it very fascinating to stand on this hill top and watch the mountainous Atlantic waves expend their fury against the distant cliffs and to note every few minutes a huge wave towering along, heavier and higher than others, roll home, striking the headland, sending the foam heavenward hundreds of feet.
In my rambles, liberty was frequently taken of calling at a wayside cottage for a word with the good man of the house, or lingering on the road for a chat with the farmer, homeward bound with his load of turf for the fire on the hearth. On calling at a cottage door one usually gave the customary salutation “God bless all here” bringing a reply “and yourself, son” followed by an invitation to enter and take a seat, with an assurance “you are welcome, son”. They were invariably polite, kindly disposed, sociable, hospitable and cheerful, sometimes in very depressing surroundings. It was usually found that the most intelligent interest was taken in the most important topics of the day and they were always ready and interested in discussing the question then uppermost in their minds – their claims for self-government – often showing a thorough knowledge of the subject. However depressing their story of the past may have been especially under the Landlord System, with rack rents and other oppressions, there was always the hope and expectation that the clouds would one day disperse and the full sunshine of prosperity await them at their door. From the cheerful outlook of these kind-hearted peasants there was a lesson worthy of a place in one’s book of remembrance.
On 24th December, the weather having moderated, steam was raised, and leaving Valencia Harbour [*] in order to resume the patrol, there being no fishing craft of any sort calling our attention, a course was set for the Bull Rock – a bold rock, steep too, standing two and a half miles from Dursey Head, 290 feet in height, surrounded by a lighthouse with perpendicular cliffs and perforated by a large arched cavern with a depth of five fathoms of water. In days long past the commanders of some of the King’s ships were apt to attempt the unusual, such as that of throwing the Logan Rock, near the Land’s End, from its delicate poise. According to tradition, the commander of a man-o-war brig, after striking lower yards and topmast, got all boats ahead and towed the brig through the arch.
Steaming around the rock, a few friendly remarks were passed with the light-keepers by semaphore. The compliments of the season and, could we be of any service or take a message on shore, thus we took our departure, leaving them to their lonely watch and the polishing of reflectors and prisms.
Then onto the Great Skellig, a jagged rock a few miles to the westward of The Bull. This rock, on which stands a lighthouse, is half a mile long, a quarter of a mile wide, 704 feet in height and about one and a half miles from the shore. On it there are the remains of a monastic establishment of the early Christian ages, consisting of a walled enclosure unbroken after the lapse of centuries. There is a small building said to have been a church. The highest peak named the Needle’s Eye has on it a work of dry masonry in the form of a horseshoe, erected by the monks as a place of prayer. A spot named Christ’s Valley has several ancient graves and rude crosses. Before the time of monthly reliefs for the light-keepers, it was customary for one man to live permanently on the rock and he was held responsible for the light. Quarters were provided for the accommodation of the light-keeper, his wife and family. Under these conditions, to a certain light-keeper, for twenty one years this lonely rock was home and I have been told that two of his children were buried there.
The Little Skellig, not far distant, 430 feet in height, is of interest as being the most southerly resting place of the gannets where, during the hatching season, they congregate in great numbers. A shipmate – keen on egg collection – once informed me that he landed on this islet and scaled the heights where the birds were sitting. Unperturbed by the presence of man, they refused to move and had literally to be beaten from the nest.
As we steamed around this rock on the eve of Christmas we thought and spoke of those men of the early Christian era who. from their religious convictions, elected to take up their abode on this rather barren rock, where in sincerity and simple faith on many a Christmas eve must have bowed the knee and reverently by their prayers have made their requests known unto heaven. The beehive cells, in which the monks slept, cut from the solid rock, can be seen to this day. As we pictured the isolation of the monks and spoke of the lonely watchers of the light keepers – with seldom a passing ship in sight – in our hearts there was a feeling of fraternal sympathy. In all probability the light-keepers were sorry for us, rolling and pitching about in the ocean swell on Xmas eve and would be loath to exchange their solid foundation, that stood unmoved, and unmovable, for that of the deck of any ship. Life after all is diverse, and we are sometimes apt to think the other man’s job to be much worse than it really is.
Returning to Valencia Harbour that evening the steward was landed, with the idea of supplementing the navy rations at the festive season. The fat poultry had been despatched to the markets and there was very little selection left. After much searching and inquiry, at last a goose was run to earth and procured for the sum of two shillings and sixpence. True, it had not had any special feeding, but it served its purpose and provided a sumptuous Christmas dinner.
It being holiday time, and nothing important outside for the next few days, the anchor was allowed to retain its hold in the mud.
As the New Year opened we were still employed under the same orders – protection of fisheries – and no fishing boats in sight. There was nothing very eventful from one day to another: changing the anchorage from one harbour to another, writing up the log and tendering a blank weekly report.
Putting to sea of a moderate morning in the second week of January, there being nothing special, we steamed away to the Great Blasket Island for no particular reason other than to view the island at our leisure. This island, one mile from the mainland, is three miles long and half a mile wide. From this narrow base, it rises to the height of 950 feet. The precipitous cliffs, lashed by the ever surging Atlantic ocean, are of an inspiring and stupendous character and on this dark winter’s day the island did not appear to be very inviting or desirable as a spot for a permanent residence, yet there were a number of people that called it home. On numerous occasions I had passed this island but never before had I noticed its wild but charming grandeur.
When closing the island, near the landing place and village, a large pile of timber came into view, flotsam that had been recovered by the islanders. After waiting for some little time and remarking on the isolation of those dwellers on the island, they, thinking that we had come in connection with the timber, came off in a canoe manned by four lusty, hardy looking men. These canoes have a framework of very light wood over which is fitted and stretched to the exact model of the framework a stout canvas afterwards coated with pitch and tar, thus making a perfectly watertight boat or canoe. It swims lightly on the water, drawing but a few inches and when skilfully handled will ride a rough sea like a seagull. It is only the native of the west of Ireland who can handle this frail but safe class of boat, always showing great skill in manoeuvring them, even in rough and tempestuous weather.
As the canoe drew near, the senior man saluted at the same time calling out “God bless ye, God bless ye”. The thought occurred to me, what better salutation than that could anyone desire, and where else would anyone receive such a greeting?
Replying: “Thank you, thank you, God bless yourself, you are welcome on board”.
The canoe came alongside and the men came on board and very interested we became as we listened to their accounts of their mode of living on the island with a visit now and again to the mainland for food and tobacco and to trade the eggs, chicken and pigs. The chief food is the potato and fish – the fish caught in the summer salted and dried for use during the winter.
Truly the happiness of man consisteth not in the abundance of his possessions. If it did, I am afraid these islanders would stand very low down the list. The mode of living kept them healthy and consequently contentment and happiness followed. A friendly contact having been made it was proposed to muster a couple of pounds of tobacco, some tea, and a few pounds of corned beef for them. Nothing could have been more acceptable and to show their appreciation their thanks were profuse and crowned by all the blessing in their vocabulary bringing to one’s thoughts the words of the psalmist: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
These were the early days of wireless and experiments in transmission across the Atlantic were being carried out from a temporary station on Brow Head. When sheltering in Crookhaven, and having landed for a little exercise in my wanderings, I found myself near the wireless station on the headland. Very soon the official in charge appeared, apparently not displeased to see a visitor and probably like myself, glad of a little conversation with anyone by way of a change. Eventually I expressed a wish – if there was no objection – to see the instruments when working. Although it was all private and confidential he permitted me to enter the instrument room, knowing full well my inability to collect any inside knowledge, and demonstrated the method of sending out the electric waves. It did not reveal very much. The electric sparks were shot forth from an instrument onto a revolving drum connected to an aerial going out into space to a receiving station on the other side. I was more impressed by the noise than anything else, it was of an ear-splitting character and I was glad to be once again in the open; so much for the early days of wireless.
At a later date a terrific storm swept over Southern Ireland doing considerable damage afloat and ashore. Fortunately we were in Valencia Harbour, riding with two anchors ahead, a good scope of cable, and steam on the engines moving slowly to take the strain from the cables. A yacht on passage to Limerick and, in for shelter, drove from the anchorage, passing us very close, blew away to leeward landing on the rocks and becoming a total wreck. Fortunately the crew managed to get ashore and so save their lives. Over a thousand trees blew down in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
The Fanny still continuing on this so-called fishing duty preceded to Bantry for a further supply of victualling stores from HMS Collingwood, arrived at dusk after a day’s steaming against a cold north-easter. On entering the harbour, a signal was made from the Collingwood: “Commanding Officer need not report”. With the fading light, the signal was not correctly read. Following the usual procedure, I went on board to report arrival.
Ascending the accommodation ladder and passing onto the quarter deck, the lieutenant of the day – quite a junior officer – who was in charge awaited me, to all appearance not in too good a temper.
Saluting, I said: “Commanding officer of the Fanny to report my arrival”.
Reply: “A signal was made that you need not report, the captain in not on board”.
A pause, followed by a question from me: ”Will the captain be on board in the morning?”
The lieutenant sharply: “You are only casual, go back to your ship and await orders”.
Without another word I obeyed, went down the ladder and into the boat, feeling very much annoyed. On the second day following I am ordered to appear on board HMS Collingwood. My suspicions were aroused that the lieutenant had reported me and was quite prepared to defend myself. This officer had really been rude to me, as an officer holding a corresponding rank with himself. Arriving on board, the officer of the day informed me that the captain would see me on the quarter deck. After a few minutes I am beckoned toward the captain’s cabin. Passing in, there stood the captain, the first lieutenant, and the lieutenant.
Captain calls on lieutenant to state his case.
Lieutenant: “This officer, sir, after a signal ‘you need not report’ came on board. He said that he was the captain of the Fanny to report his arrival and was disrespectful, sir; he did not say ‘sir’ to me. He was told to go back to his ship. He then asked if the captain would be on board in the morning.”
The captain turning to me: “Do you know that the lieutenant was my representative, during my absence?”
“Perfectly well sir. Am I not allowed to make a statement, sir?”
Captain: “Oh yes”.
Myself: “There is not a man alive that ever heard me make use of the word captain in reference to myself. My words were ‘Commanding Officer of the Fanny”.
Captain: “What authority have you?”
“My appointment, sir.”
Captain: “I should like to see it.”
“The lieutenant was rude to me, sir, and ordered me out of the ship. I am the officer that should be making a complaint. I try to remember my manners and if I neglected to say ‘sir’ I will apologise to the lieutenant. I am appointed by the same authority as Lieutenant X and entitled to civility.” I am afraid that I was a little heated and indignant in defending myself.
The Captain thinking that I had said enough turned the table on the lieutenant and said: “I am sure that you did not intend to be rude” and placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me to the door.
Before leaving the ship, the lieutenant, who I had reason to think had a straight word from the captain, sent for me to join him in the smoke room, invited me to join him in a drink, said he was sorry, that he did not know of my equivalent rank and let it pass. A few times that I met the lieutenant afterwards he was always very agreeable. I suppose in all walks of life men are subject to pin pricks. This was one.
Resuming the patrol which was so very dull, any little variation was welcome by way of a change. There are two things that the sailor least likes to hear: ‘abandon ship’ and ‘fire in the hold’.
A large ship, Manchester Merchant, bound to Liverpool with a general cargo including cotton, when about three hundred miles to the west of Ireland was found to be on fire in the hold where the cotton was stowed, with every possible appliance being brought to bear on the fire without avail. It became a race against time – on the one hand to reach Ireland, spreading of the fire and “abandon ship” on the other.
Eventually the light on the Blasket Islands (Tearaght) was sighted from the burning ship. There were two alternatives: “abandon ship” and trust to landing in the boats or try and save the ship by scuttling in Dingle Bay. The latter was decided on. The captain, plotting his course into Dingle Bay scuttled his ship in seven fathoms – forty two feet of water just covering her upper works, the crew leaving in their own boats and landing at Dingle. Without delay salvage officers from Liverpool were readily on the spot, to examine and report on the prospects of salvage.
Steaming into Valencia Harbour these officers were found somewhat stranded, not being able to find a craft other than a small fishing boat to take them out to the ship. Begging of me to render them a service and take them out and seeing that we were not in any way pressed for time, their request was complied with. Steaming out to the ship, it was found that the hatches had washed away and that the cargo – more particularly the cotton – was floating out and that boats and canoes were busy recovering the flotsam.
The salvage officers, weighing up the position in which the ship had been scuttled, open to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, with the sea breaking heavily, as it were, breaking over a sunken rock, making it impossible to go very close, to make their examination as they wished to do. That had to be postponed for another day. A couple of days later the officers were again taken out to the wreck. The wind and sea now abated, the boats and canoes were making a good thing out of it collecting the stuff as it floated out of the holds.
The salvage boat had brought with them half a dozen men, a diver and his assistants included. The officer in charge wished the diver to don his diving suit, descend and examine the hull from the outside, but the sea being so much disturbed and the groundswell surging around the wreck with the pull of the wide, wide ocean behind it, the diver was reluctant to make the attempt.
After waiting for the flailing tide to uncover the upper works of the wreck, the diver at last consented to get into his suit and try it. Giving his attendants careful instructions, he descended but I don’t think that he could have reached the bottom, for the sea carried him along the side of the ship as it would a bag of sand. It did not take the diver very long to discover that the sea had begun its work of destruction by breaking the ship in two and that any prospect of salving her was hopeless.
Those residents on the shores of Dingle Bay had not had such a time for many years – if ever before – collecting the cargo as it washed out of the holds, gaining in salvage alone many pounds for their labour. The wreck was abandoned and in all probability her frames are there to this day.
[The first volume of Walter Hunkin’s journal ends here]
February passed and the fishing patrol discontinued; orders were received to report at Queenstown.[*] It later came to my knowledge that the so-called fishing duty was only a blind; that the real reason for the patrolling of the south west of Ireland at that season of the year was to have a vessel on the spot and ready to deal with any attempt at illegal landing of arms.
A submission had been forwarded suggesting a removal of certain yacht fittings and that further alterations should be carried out to the Fanny. The Admiral in command of the Home Fleet, whose command included all coastguard ships and coastguard cruisers, who had recommended the purchase of the Fanny, desired to see for himself the further alterations suggested. The orders were: ‘Proceed to Milford Haven’ where the Home Fleet would rendezvous, arriving by a given date.
On arrival of the fleet and my going on board to report, the late Captain of the Collingwood, Sir William Fisher, was on the quarterdeck. The officer of the watch somewhat amazed with the breezy manner with which he greeted me, remarked: “I presume that you have met Captain Fisher before. You must have been one of his favourites”. Agreeing that I was known to the breezy captain, having served under him, he added: “It is not everyone that is received as you were”. With that I was passed on to the Flag Lieutenant, he announcing my presence on board, I was ushered into the Admiral’s cabin. Answering the questions addressed to me, the alterations suggested were explained. As a yacht, he knew the Fanny very well and clearly understood my wishes. He did not raise any objection and said that he was sorry that he could not give the time to come on board and that he would send an officer to report. Eventually three officers came on board, agreed with my suggestion, and reported accordingly. The alterations were approved and in due course carried out by a firm of shipbuilders in Dublin.
After a few days the Home Fleet put to sea, the Fanny being ordered to proceed to Kingstown. After leaving Milford and setting a course for the Blackwater Lightship, the wind commenced to freshen with a following and rising sea. It was very soon apparent that we were in for a strong March gale. Before reaching Dublin Bay the wind and sea were as much as the vessel could contend with – torrents of rain and visibility very poor. I was not sorry to sight the light on Bailey Head and the lights of the Home Fleet at anchor in the bay exposed to the full force of the storm.
The following day, going on board of the parent ship for orders, the Commander remarked that we must have had a rough time coming from Milford. My answer: “Yes sir, and you would like to feel the same as I did when I sighted the Bailey Light”. He, to show his agreement, laughingly remarked: “I expect you are right”.
I had been away from home for a year and on the return of the parent ship to Kingstown made an application for twenty-one days’ leave. Proceeding to my home in Grimsby I saw our youngest child for the first time. The company of my wife at our own fireside with our children was enjoyed to the full. But, alas “the sweetest moments are ever briefest in their stay”. My leave expired and the hour to say farewell came all too soon.
If I desired to see anything of my home, my only plan was to remove my family back to Ireland. Vacant houses were scarce. I however eventually succeeded in securing a house at Dalkey, a very pleasant spot, a mile or so below Kingstown. In due course my home was set up there, thus giving me the opportunity of seeing my family when the Fanny was at our home port.
All through the summer we were kept constantly on the run, removing coastguards and their families and distributing stores to the coastguard stations and Royal Naval reserve batteries.
Changes were now following in quick succession. In 1857, the date when Revenue Cutters and the Coastguard Service were placed under the control of the Admiralty, the whole coastline of the British islands was divided into districts. One ship, known as the District Ship, was stationed in each district, the Captain of which became known as the District Captain, having under his supervision all coastguard stations and coastguard cruisers in his district. These district ships were now to be abolished as such and utilized as sea-going training ships for the Royal Naval reserve. The District Captain, no longer captain of a ship, performed his duties from an office on shore. Coastguard cruisers were still attached to the Naval Reserve training ships for pay, provisions and accounts but under the District Captain for working orders. All Royal Naval reserve batteries were now closed and coastguard stations no longer considered necessary were being closed one by one.
The Fanny was now placed in the hands of a shipbuilding firm at Dublin for alterations and repairs taking several weeks which gave me the opportunity of spending a little time at home, a privilege much appreciated.
The usual removals and attention to the requirements of the coastguards brought us to the close of the year, the men having the usual Christmas leave from Kingstown.
With the closing of naval reserve batteries and changes generally there was not a great deal of work by which the District Captain could keep the vessel employed and in order to keep us from rusting out at the moorings gave us a little weekly job to bring the coastguards and their families from Lambay Island to the mainland for provisions etc., taking them back again in the evening. It would sometimes happen that fair weather when setting out in the morning would by evening have changed to a gale. More often than not it would prove to be anything but a pleasure outing for them.
The officer of the station was a cockney – full of fun and nonsense, never missing an opportunity of having a joke at the expense of one or another of his crew or their wives. One day the cat followed one of the women down to the boat and our friend, the funny man, would have the ‘darling cat’ – his expression – taken on board to accompany its owner on her market outing to her great annoyance and embarrassment. I was later informed that the cockney’s practical joke with the ‘darling cat’ led to unpleasant scenes at the station a few hours later.
In the middle of February orders were received to report at Queenstown. On arrival and reporting at the Commander-in-Chief’s office I was informed that the Fanny was to be employed on fishing duty on the south-west coast under the direct orders of the Commander-in-Chief.
At this season of the year, the French fleet of sailing drifters were usually found working off the coast of Cork and Kerry in search of the early spring mackerel and, when caught in great quantities – which was of no unusual occurrence – and taken home to France in time for the early market, would result in large dividends for the owners. The skippers were keen to be numbered amongst the first boats back with a cargo.
Completing with provisions and stores we proceeded according to orders cruising to the westward. On account of boisterous weather a great number of French drifters had been at anchor for several days in Crookhaven and Schull harbours. Having been hung up ourselves in Berehaven, with moderating weather we lifted the anchor, steaming to the eastward, calling during the afternoon at Schull for the despatch of mails etc.
The Frenchmen were then putting to sea to make their first trials for the season, eager to make a beginning – even to lose one night’s fishing might mean the loss of what might otherwise mean a good season. After transacting our business we got underway again and as we proceeded down the bay sighted one of the drifters shooting his nets a mile inside of a line between the headlands forming the bay. The three mile limit was that of an imaginary line joining the headlands, prohibited to foreign fishermen. There was no alternative but to order him to recover his nets, take the boat back to Schull, and place him under arrest.
The matter was reported to the Commander-in-Chief who ordered the usual proceedings to be taken. The first move was to communicate with the public prosecutor in Dublin who ordered the line of procedure and instructed a solicitor to take action. The French fishery cruiser in company with this fishing fleet soon arrived on the scene. In the interest of the arrested vessel the officer commanding the cruiser tried – with a message to the Admiral – to beg him off, but without avail. On the third day – it having taken more time than usual with the preliminaries – the local court assembled. After hearing my evidence and extracts from the log, the accused having nothing to offer in his defence, the court found the charge proven and imposed a fine of £1 and £1 costs. Although it was a court of justice I could not help but remark that it appeared to be a farce. The chairman retorting: “that is the finding of the court”. A gentleman, near to me, seeing that I was annoyed with the small fine imposed, whispered into my ear: “Remember Captain, this is not England, this is Ireland where we are a little less severe with a stranger”. The small fine may have been prompted by the kindly Irish nature but I was inclined to think there was a leaning towards the foreigner seeing that about a month earlier a Milford trawler fishing within the prohibited waters off Bantry Bay was fined £50 and his gear confiscated. The solicitor conducting the case was most happily patting himself on the back to know that the accused was fined – if only a small sum – and that he was successful in securing a conviction.
The French skipper shook hands with me to show there was no ill feeling. I remarked to him that the got off very lightly. He thought otherwise – the loss of three nights’ fishing was the greater consideration and the greater punishment.
By the end of April, the spring mackerel fishing having closed, the patrol was withdrawn and the Fanny again placed under the orders of the District Captain. With the recent changes and closing of naval reserve batteries, there was not quite so much work awaiting us thus giving a little more leisure time at headquarters.
In the late summer orders were received to proceed to Queenstown. On arrival at that port the cruiser Julia from the Western District together with the Fanny were deputed for examination duties at Berehaven in connection with the exercises of the fleet.
Connected with the examination service, a Divisional Officer of Coastguards – a senior lieutenant – was the senior examination officer, with quarters on shore, under whose orders we were to carry out our duties and to whom we were to report on the number of vessels examined at the entrance. This officious and fussy officer boarded the Julia at Queenstown for the passage to Berehaven and, as far as I could make out, took complete charge out of the hands of the Commander, going on the bridge and issuing orders. This I had never seen done by any officer and in my opinion he was overstepping his authority. Had this happened with me, I think that I should have respectfully questioned his authority to take the navigation of the vessel out of my hands.
On arrival at Berehaven the Lieutenant took up his quarters on Bere Island, issuing verbal orders to myself and the Commander of the Julia. I respectfully suggested the orders might be given in writing. He disagreed with this suggestion, saying: “you have your orders, carry on”.
Our duties were at the eastern entrance of the haven, to intercept any vessels attempting or wishing to enter, each vessel relieving the other every twenty-four hours. There was not much room for playing about and one day the weather being thick we dropped anchor. On the Lieutenant becoming aware that we had been at anchor he became very angry, had me on the carpet, gave me a dressing down and threatened to report me to the Admiral of the Fleet. Then, ordering me to give my reasons in writing, I was dismissed. Seeing that I was acting under verbal orders I gave my reason – interpreting his orders to my own advantage – for coming to an anchor. That it was understood when receiving orders in connection with the nature of our duties, it was laid down that in thick weather when the towers on Bere Island became obscured, there would be no objection to our coming to an anchor and that I was under the impression that I was acting in strict compliance with the wishes of the Senior Examination Officer. And so this little incident blew over without a report to the Admiral.
At the close of the manoeuvres and returning to Queenstown the vessel was taken in hand by the dockyard authorities at Haulbowline Naval Yard for repairs. With other items for survey, the steering compass was included. The latter came under the jurisdiction of the Navigating Commander of the dockyard staff. He came on board, fiddled about, and told me to hang a magnet – which he provided – in a certain position and to report after a few days. The magnet made no difference and when I went to report he started to lay into me about the cost of a new compass and scold me just as if I were to blame. He was really budging at the expenditure of a few pounds or, in other words, being difficult. He declined to issue the orders for a new one and said I must do with the same. He would get it adjusted. But I had no intention of leaving the harbour with a faulty compass on the authority of the Commander.
The time was going on and nothing having been decided I had reluctantly to approach the Commander again – a rather weak personality, not always the easiest to deal with – and respectfully mention the matter. Result: further orders as to the hanging of magnets, without results. At last I ventured to suggest that I might appeal to the Commander-in-Chief. That was quite enough. He did not wish for that to happen, the tune was very soon changed. He supposed that I must have a new one. He would issue an order. The raising of obstacles in such a small matter, one was sometimes apt to find most irritating. What a difference in the two officers, when compared with the jolly commander of the flagship at Berehaven.
Now under the orders of the District Captain, our first job picking up condemned stores for return to Queenstown commencing in the north and working down the coast. When we got as far as Kingstown orders awaited us to “proceed to Queenstown immediately”. On the passage after passing the Tuskers we fell in with a very strong gale compelling us to seek shelter in Waterford River. Apparently the Fanny was required at Berehaven by a certain date to run despatches for ships of the fleet carrying out gun practice. Being a day late in arriving at Queenstown the Julia, that had arrived in the meantime, had been despatched instead.
The District Captain, residing at Queenstown, who was also the Flag Captain, was then acting as Senior Officer – the Commander-in-Chief of all naval units on the coast of Ireland being absent from his headquarters. This District Captain was junior to the District Captain at Kingstown and the latter claimed that during the absence of the Commander-in-Chief from his station the duties of senior officer were his by seniority. It was therefore plain that there were strained relations.
On arrival at Queenstown the Flag Captain was very angry that I had not got there earlier. I ventured to remind him of the gale the day before and to add that I did not know another man that would have come around the Salter islands in such a sea. He then ordered me to land all the condemned stores, complete with coal – two days’ work – and be ready for sea in the morning.
The next morning I was commanded by signal to appear at his office bringing my sailing orders with me. There was a mistake in reading the signal and I appeared without the sailing orders. For this I got a dressing down and was ordered to get back, do this and that, and be ready to sail at eleven o’clock. “You will receive fresh sailing orders”. The new sailing orders, cancelling those issued by my own District Captain, instructed me to proceed as far as Wicklow, embark condemned stores and return to Queenstown.
We had a sick man for the hospital and the Medical Officer would not admit him without the usual formalities that took over an hour to get through. After more signals and orders from the Flag Captain the question came over: “Why are you not underway?” Reply: “Waiting for the boat to return from the dockyard with stores”. At last we slipped and proceeded. After being harassed by the Senior Officer all the morning although it was blowing hard and very boisterous I was not sorry to get out of signal distance when I could use my own discretion and promptly decided to seek the first anchorage in Waterford River remaining a few days and going up to Waterford Quay for supplies. After leaving Waterford fortunately we came to an anchor in the river, for that night it blew up to a terrific gale with much damage to shipping, the Barrels Lightship being driven half a mile from her usual anchorage.
Reaching Wicklow on a Saturday afternoon and remembering the send-off I had before leaving Queenstown I was in no hurry to go back and decided to chance the consequences of going to Kingstown and having a Sunday at home. On Monday I reported to the District Captain, taking the sailing orders issued by the Flag Captain at Queenstown. He read the orders and asked a few questions. It has been mentioned that he was the senior of the two and, apparently not liking the idea of the Fanny being given orders without his knowledge, ordered me to remain in the harbour. I had not returned on board many minutes before a messenger from the office stood on the pier and made the signal: “Flag Captain asks why Fanny has not returned to Queenstown as ordered?” My reply: “Need for replenishing supplies”. My District Captain took it all right and whatever passed between him and the Flag Captain, I remained in the harbour.
That did not finish it. On account of the mistake in the signal mentioned above, the Flag Captain probably to have his own back, reported to the Commander-in-Chief that the Fanny was slack at signals. Consequently my District Captain was called on for a report on the question, and replied to the effect that when using the Fanny in visiting coastguard stations he had never experienced any difficulty whatever in communicating between ship and stations by signal.
On our next visit to Queenstown the Flag Lieutenant was sent on board to examine the men in signals. The Flag Lieutenant, to all appearances a decent sort of fellow, wanting to know what the fuss was all about, sent for the man – Leading Seaman – that made the mistake in reading the signal, gave him a test, asked a few questions bearing on signals, generally expressed his satisfaction and said that he would report accordingly, thus ended this little irritation through an officer making a mountain out of a mole hill. It shows the petty jealousy, apt to arise between officers of equal rank, clinching onto any trifle in order to test one another.
1904 The Ship’s Ghost; Revenue Cutters.
About this time the story of a ghost on board had cropped up among the men. The cabins for the commanding officer, officers and accommodation for coastguards were in the after part of the ship, abaft the engine-room with a gangway down the centre, the cabins on each side approached by a stepladder leading down from the deckhouse at the foremost end of the corridor and a ladder from the deck at the after end. The method of lighting was by candle and lantern, the candle burning in a spring socket would last for six hours. It was the duty of the watchman to renew the candle as required. If the candle should burn out, it was then pitch dark and rather creepy. On the strength of this a wag set a story going that when descending by the after ladder to renew the candle in the middle watch, he saw a ghost at the foot of the fore ladder and that it had an eye in the centre of its forehead. The fellow was one of those jesters playing up to some of his more sensitive shipmates. The story took on and consequently we were frequently left without a light. On making enquiry into the reason why, the ghost story was revealed.
Included in the crew was a man from Belfast – a fat good tempered simple sort of fellow -usually addressed by his mates as “Fatty”. After the start of the ghost story nothing would induce Fatty to go down and trim the lamp during the night. Lofty Jenkin had seen the ghost himself and that was all sufficient for Fatty.
Discussing the story of the ghost on the lower deck:
Chippy, a man from Cork, said: “Shure it was only a story, there is no ghost in it at all”.
Fatty: “Lofty saw the ghost himself”.
Chippy: “Lofty must have had a dhrop taken”.
Lofty: “I only had my tot at dinner time, haven’t had a pint for a month”.
Chippy: “You must have been after getting the smell from the rum locker”.
Lofty, indignant: “Rum locker! I tell you, I saw a ghost there”.
Chippy: “It’s after dreaming ye are or walkin’ in your sleep”.
Chippy, after saying: “Fatty is afraid to go down”.
Fatty: “You are afraid to go doon yourself”.
Shipmate: “Well done Fatty. Chips is not game”.
Fatty: “I heard a queer noise doon there”.
Chippy: “Ach shure, it was the stoker in the engine room you were after hearing”.
Fatty: “I’ll make a bet you are no game to go doon yourself now, there is no-one there”.
Chippy: “What’s the bet, shure?”
Fatty: “Two bob”.
A voice: “Cookie will hold the stakes. Stakes placed in the hands of the cook”.
Chippy: “I must be after saying a prayer for myself.” (Produces his prayer book and reads the prayer).
Fatty: “And now, you are no game to be going doon”.
Chippy: “It’s no fear I have”. (Proceeding aft he descended the ladder, explored the corridor, returned and claimed the stakes).
Fatty: “You haven’t been doon”.
Chippy: “Indeed I have. I am after going down the stern ladder”.
Fatty: “See anything doon there?”
Chippy: “Shure, there is nothing there, there is no ghost in it, I tell ye”.
Chippy: “Come along Fatty, we’ll be after going down together”.
Fatty: “No more ghosts, for me, Chips”.
Shipmaster: “Go on Fatty, Chips can take his mallet with him”.
Fatty, after further banter from shipmates, agrees to go down, accompanied by Chippy. Taff Jones, the funny man, creeping aft, enters the deck house, waiting at the top of the ladder leading down to the corridor. Chippy descending the after ladder, followed by the fat one.
Fatty: “Very dark Chips, doon here”.
Chippy: “Where the divil is the ghost?”
Fatty: “Wait a wee while”.
Chippy: “The divil a ghost is in it at all”.
Fatty: “Listen Chippy”.
Chippy: “Faise, that only a stoker below there”.
Fatty, holding on to Chips: “What’s that?”
Taffy, a bit of a ventriloquist from the deck house, making strange sounds deep in his throat, was quite enough. Fatty making a bolt for the after ladder, followed closely by Chippy who is a bit superstitious and after all not very sure ‘there is no ghost in it’ and who in his haste brings the fat one to the deck rather near to a ventilator giving him a black eye.
Shipmaster: “See the conquering hero … Well, what news, any ghost about?”
Fatty: “Yes, hand over the stakes”.
Cook: “Wait a bit, not so fast Fatty”.
Fatty: “Chippy heard him. Didn’t you Chips?”
Chippy, not very sure of himself, but not wishing to be branded as fainthearted, said that he was after seeing nothing. The cook thinking there was something funny and mysterious about it decided that he had better hold onto the stakes and they could have a glass the next time they landed.
The ghost story as told by the quartermaster held good for many a day and was told with much solemnity to every new shipmate. Consequently we were frequently without a light in the corridor.
At this date, with the progress in steam and the coming of the motor engine, all classes of sailing craft were rapidly being superseded. The utility of the sailing cutter had long since passed and their extinction was not far distant. Writing of the cutters, it is well to refer back a few decades. The Coastguard Cruiser Service, as it was known until its abolition after the close of the Great War, had its origin in the Revenue Cutters dating back to a period of over two hundred years.
During the 18th century the protection of the revenue on shore was in the hands of the Board of Customs. Lacking in an adequate number of officers to deal with the ever increasing number of smugglers, the only organised force for the suppression of smuggling was that of the revenue cutters under the control of the Lords Commissioners of H M Treasury. They were vessels built on fine lines for speed, very heavily sparred and carried a vast spread of canvas including a flying squaresail, and topsail for use in a following breeze. Every fitting was remarkably strong in order to stand the strain when pursuing a vessel in a chase or in pursuit of a smuggler. The living quarters for the men were clean and comfortable; a commodious cabin for the commander and separate cabins for the mate, gunner and boatswain.
There were different classes of cutters ranging from 40 to 180 tons. The commander of a first class cutter was usually one who had held the rank of a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, the smaller cutters being commanded by those promoted from mates, gunners and boatswains.
The code of discipline was of a low standard. In the nature of their duties strong drink was easy of access and with so much cheap liquor obtainable there followed resultant drunkenness, insubordination and desertion. The crews were recruited from the ordinary run of seaman. There was no continuous or binding agreement between the department of HM Treasury and the men and, with all too frequent recurrence, those guilty of misbehaviour found themselves promptly discharged to the shore.
The duties of the revenue cutters were protecting the revenue and the suppression of smuggling. For the running of contraband, principally from the French ports, specially built fast vessels were used including yawls, cutters, luggers and gigs. The aim and object of the revenue cutters was at all times to checkmate the smugglers and if possible seize ship and cargo.
Each cutter was allotted a stretch of coast for which they were responsible that no smuggler effected a landing. Their patrol in the channel was more or less confined to the coastline limit, other cutters being responsible for the adjoining guards. The duties, to be effective, demanded vigilance and a constant watch on every movement of any craft suspected of making an attempt to land an unauthorised cargo.
The crews needed to be men of fearless mettle especially when some of the armed smugglers turned on the cutter engaging in deadly combat. There was one outstanding inducement, both to officers and men that acted as a stimulant, encouraging them to face up cheerfully to all the discomfort of the patrol and an occasional brush with a smuggler. That was the prize money arising out of smuggling vessels and contraband goods seized by the cutter and confiscated. There was a special incentive to their exertions in an endeavour to capture a smuggler in person as there was a special monetary reward for everyone captured and convicted.
The duties were exacting and dangerous, wages low, and with prolonged periods without prize money it was by no means unknown for a cutter to run a little consignment of contraband on their own account. During the war with France in the latter years of the 18th and the early years of the 19th centuries smuggling had increased to such an extent that the number of revenue cutters employed were quite inadequate to cope with or check the ever increasing number of men and vessels engaged in the unlawful traffic in contraband (such as silks, tea, tobacco, brandy, wines etc.) having acquired proportions beyond control.
With the introduction of the Preventive Water Guard, the Revenue Cutter Service was re-organised and their numbers increased to about 55 vessels. In 1822, by a consolidation order from the department of HM Treasury, the Revenue Cutters as well as the Preventive Water Guard were handed over to the control of the Board of Customs. The customs flag was flown and the officers and men placed on the footing of civil servants. In 1831 the Preventive Water Guard who were recruited from all classes – not necessarily from the seaman class – were disbanded and their places to a large extent taken by men from the revenue cutters under the title of coastguard.
The second quarter of the 19th century may be regarded as the heyday of the Revenue Cutter Service. With the new and faster vessels better armed, they were able far better to deal with, overhaul, search, and seize more smuggling craft than ever before in the history of the Revenue Cutter Service. With the liberal distribution of prize money ranging in proportion from 100 shares to the commander, to five shares to the boy, sometimes amounting to as much as £50 to a seaman, it had become a remunerative and much sought after service. Discipline had improved and recruits were obtained from a more dependable class of seaman.
With the vigilance and close co-operation of the revenue cutters and the coastguard, smuggling eventually became less remunerative and those, who in times past, were apt to provide the money and charter a vessel to run a cargo, were now less prepared to play a gambler’s chance in the handling of contraband. Consequently many habitual smugglers lost their employment and their living.
Round about 1850, probably through a little slackness on the part of the preventive services, there were renewed attempts of dealing in smuggled goods but this was of short duration; these illicit practices as a paying proposition on an extended scale gradually declining until its final suppression.
With steam now the acknowledged form of propulsion, four steam vessels of about 400 tons were added to the fleet of revenue cutters. They were built on fine yacht-like lines. One of them, HMS Seamew, built of iron, continued in constant commission to the close of 1904.
With the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1850, the Admiralty being in need of an additional number of seamen, in order to bring the personnel of the fleet up to its fully required strength, called for volunteers from the revenue cutters. Many hundreds of men responded, volunteering for five years or the duration of the war, their places being temporarily filled by casuals. After the close of the war the majority of these volunteers were reinstated in their former service.
The naval authorities having had experience of the valuable services rendered by these men were impressed with the desirability of placing them under the direct control of the Admiralty as a naval reserve. After the elapse of some little time, arrangements were concluded between the Admiralty and the Board of Customs whereby all revenue cutters were to pass under the control of the Admiralty. In 1857 this transfer was accomplished, the coastguard and revenue cutters becoming absorbed into the navy. The customs flag which had been hitherto flown was now replaced by the white ensign. Revenue cutters were eventually known as coastguard cruisers. In future the Commanding officers and mates were to be promoted from the petty officer class with equivalent naval rank.
|Rank||Equivalent Naval Rank|
|Chief Officer in Command||Master|
|Senior Mate||Master’s Mate|
|Second Mate||Assistant Master’s Mate|
With the abolition of the naval rank of Master and Master’s Mate, the equivalent Naval rank became:
|Chief Office in Command||Lieutenant|
|Senior Mate||Commissioned Boatswain|
|Second Mate||Warrant Boatswain|
The seamen were now drawn from the ordinary naval ratings; promising petty officers being retained for permanent coastguard cruiser services with the possibility of reaching command and eventually becoming Divisional Officers of Coastguard on shore.
In the sixties the Coastguard Cruiser and Coastguard services having been reorganised, smuggling on an extensive scale had been suppressed, it therefore was no longer necessary to retain the same number of vessels for the protection of the revenue. One half were withdrawn from active service and paid off, some of the officers being pensioned, others absorbed into the Coastguard Service, leaving in commission twenty sailing and four steam cruisers.
Since the heyday of the revenue cutters, with cheap tobacco, liquor plentiful, exciting pursuit of smuggling craft, with a sharing in the prize money, the work and duties of the Coastguard cruisers had entirely changed. With the revenue cutters, their duties were of a local nature, and their crews were frequently local men. They were rarely called on to proceed beyond the limit line of their own particular patrol. The coastguard cruiser now attached to a coastguard district ship became the drudge of all work within the limits of the district; at all times bearing in mind the importance of the primary duty of protecting the revenue. In the early eighties it was deemed expedient to utilise coastguard cruisers on duties of quite a different nature, still combined with their original duties, the protection of the revenue.
Following the International Fisheries Convention, under which the government undertook to provide a certain number of vessels as a North Sea police patrol for the better ordering and supervision of the fishing fleets, such vessels came under the control of the Admiral Commanding Coastguard and revenue coastguard cruisers were the first to be detached for this duty, the nature of which has been mentioned earlier.
From time to time, as the older vessels were condemned or lost, they were replaced by gunboats that had been withdrawn from foreign service, the officers appointed being those from the coastguard cruiser class and regarded as specialised fishery officers. With the Admiralty changes were usually very slow and, although the sailing cutters were long ago outclassed and fishing boats had changed over to steam or motor, there still remained thirteen in commission. Competent officers capable of handling this class of vessel were diminishing annually and the officers in command experienced in sail were having their worries with incompetent mates and petty officers.
There were indications of a move in the direction of superseding the old sailing cutters. Two vessels had been purchased and two steam cruisers built but not yet in commission. More gunboats were being brought forward and there was every prospect of the coastguard cruiser service being brought up to date.
In 1904 there were heated discussions over the navy estimates with a desire in some quarters to keep the figure as low as possible. A happy thought struck Lord Fisher, the First Lord of the Admiralty, by which it was estimated a saving of one million pounds could be effected. Figuring on the navy list were a number of small craft of little or no fighting value such as admirals’ yachts, special service vessels, obsolete gunboats, steam and sailing coastguard cruisers etc. The First Lord, not without pre-thought and vision of the rapidly approaching change in the speed and fighting qualities required in all classes of naval craft, proposed that these small and out of date vessels, in the interest of economy, instead of being kept in commission at considerable annual cost should be stripped to a gantline, paid off and scrapped.
To those coastguard cruisers to be paid off, the final order came without warning. About Christmas time telegraphic orders were received by each vessel to proceed to the nearest dockyard and pay off. It was a hurry-up job. The North Sea sailing cruisers were not given time to proceed to Chatham under sail but were taken in tow by the senior officer’s ship and piloted on their last voyage at the end of a tow line.
The old cutter, Squirrel, making the best of her way from the Clyde to Devonport, called at Kingstown when I heard the news of the last of the cutters.
Some officers were appointed to the two new cruisers, some paid off with a bonus and pension, others absorbed into the coastguard. Thus came about the passing out of the last of the original revenue cutters whose primary duty to the end was the protection of the revenue.
In a last word of the cutters, it may be mentioned, to the best of my knowledge the Adder was the last cutter in which an attempt was made to smuggle a little packet on their own account. Calling at Heligoland for supplies before it’s cession to Germany, a considerable quantity of tobacco was purchased, evidently with the idea of landing at their home port, but the fact becoming known to the coastguards on the island, word was sent informing the customs who boarded the vessel immediately on her return to port. On being questioned, the tobacco on board was declared, the customs officer then placing it under seal. This seal could not be broken without permission until the vessel had passed out of the harbour and beyond the three mile limit. For a very long time some of this tobacco was on board, the customs officer boarding the vessel and placing it under seal on each occasion of returning to port.
The District Captain on Board; With the Atlantic Fleet; Odd Jobs; A Deserter; A Dutch Coper; The Dover Fishery; The French Trawlers; Decline a North Sea Appointment; A Shore Appointment.
With the lengthening days and finer weather, the Fanny was taken in hand by the Garda authorities at Haulbowline for the annual overhaul. This work having been completed a couple of months were passed carrying out the usual drudgery of the district.
The longest day having passed and fine summer weather now cheered both those on land and sea bringing forth the butterfly sailors from their winter hibernation. The District Captain decided on carrying out a round of visits of inspection of coastguard stations on the north west coast making use of the Fanny for this purpose.
This was quite a new experience for the captain, dodging in and out of the small harbours and creeks, landing, inspecting the station and moving on again, so that it became as much a pleasure cruise as that of exacting duty. After visiting the island of Arranmore and other stations in the division, with the threat of becoming benighted among the numerous small islands and rocks of the Rosses, by permission of the captain, it was decided to enter Rutland harbour, the approach to which is through a narrow and difficult channel and never resorted to by coastguard cruisers during my experience. After having negotiated the channel and taken up a berth in the harbour, a boat came alongside, the senior man asking the question: “Would ye be after wanting a pilot your honour?”
“Too late now, you should have come off when we were at anchor in the bay”.
“It’s meself didn’t know ye would be wanting a pilot sir”.
“Too late now anyway.”
“May I be after taking ye out sir?”
“No thanks we shall find our way out”.
The District Captain appeared to be highly amused and it struck me as being extremely funny to ask if we would take a pilot after the dangers were passed and the vessel safely at anchor.
The Captain with an eye to the beauty in nature expressed his admiration of the wild romantic scenery of the cliffs and rocks never scaled by man and, when opening out, that bold overhanging cliff about 600 feet in height to the west of Horn Head resembling in profile the head and prominent nose of King William the fourth, he had the thrill of his life.
Having finished with the District Captain and his inspection of coastguard stations, there being a new coast cruiser building in one of the Clyde shipyards, orders were received to proceed to Greenock and confer with the commissioned shipwright superintending the building of the new vessel and to consult on certain fittings considered necessary as in the case of the Fanny. This was more of a pleasure trip and a visit to Greenock and Glasgow appreciated by way of a change. This little matter being finished with, once again we returned to the drudgery of the coastguard district of Northern Ireland.
My servant, who had come with me from the last ship, had decided to leave the service and take his chance on shore. In order to fill his place a youth from Kingstown was entered as a servant. He was quite a raw youth with no particular qualifications whatever and no idea about this duties – that of keeping the cabins clean and attending to the officers’ food. For instruction in cooking he was handed over to the cook, an A.D. who was paid sixpence per day extra for performing the duties of cook, the Petty Officer taking him in hand for a few lessons in the use of a scrubbing brush and deck cloth, together with the necessity of keeping himself clean. He had a good tempered disposition and was very willing and anxious to please. However much one might be displeased, it was difficult to find fault or use harsh words. His cheerful smile and his ever ready reason for any untoward happening always had the effect of dispelling one’s displeasure.
After a time, the cook had taught him a little plain cooking – preparing a bowl of soup, roasting or boiling a portion of beef, preparing vegetables when we had any. He excelled chiefly in the preparation of a dish of rice.
It was well that one’s appetite was stimulated by the ozone from the sea for daily we proved the truth of the old adage “God gave the food but the other fellow provided the cooks”. Paddy struggling along from the galley to the pantry with the fish clasped to his breast never failed to call forth a jest and a laugh from the more hardy sea dogs.
On one occasion, it being well past the time for him to report “Dinner ready soon”. Instead of “Dinner ready”, he came and reported: “The pot is after hopping off the galley sir”.
“What do you mean?”
“The pot hopped on to the deck sir”.
“You mean that you have let the pot fall and there is no dinner?”
“Shure it was meself, sir, that gave it no reason to hop off, sir”.
“Well what are you doing now?”
“Boiling some rice, sir.”
“All right, hurry up.”
Given sufficient time, along came the dinner. A sea-pie that, as Paddy put it, had hopped off the galley onto the deck, been collected, washed and brought along garnished with a liberal supply of rice. It was no use in being faddy over such a trifling matter. No doubt Paddy had done his best and better sailors had been known to allow a pot to slip from their fingers. Our appetites by this time were somewhat sharper than usual and, stimulated by the waiting, we fell to doing justice to this dainty dish, hoping for better luck tomorrow.
In the autumn our orders were: “Proceed to Berehaven” and join the Atlantic fleet carrying out fleet exercises. On joining the fleet and reporting on board the flagship, the Fanny was deputed to run the mails and despatches between Berehaven and Bantry. Frequently, there were a few passengers, officers and men joining or leaving the ships. On one occasion, before daybreak, after receiving the mails at Bantry and about to depart, two young officers appeared on the scene, both in plain clothes, enquiring the whereabouts of the fleet, some at Berehaven, some at sea. “What can we do for you please?”
“Give us a passage to Berehaven. We wish to join the Repulse”.
“All right, come on board if you please”.
They were from the staff of a London bank and as Royal Naval reserve officers had volunteered to serve in the fleet for a month.
The weather conditions were what might be described as dirty – wind SW with a rough sea, accompanied by heavy rain and, muzzling down the bay, the vessel was rather lively. The young gentlemen had taken up a berth in the deckhouse feeling rather thrilled with their first contact with the real thing but Neptune, who is no respecter of persons, soon laid them horizontal. It certainly was not a very cheerful introduction to a holiday cruise.
Arriving at Berehaven, the cutters from every ship, manned by twelve lusty seamen, swathed in oilskins, some of them after leaving their ship having had a long and hard pull before reaching the Fanny, were soon clustering alongside in readiness to receive the mail bags etc., each taking their departure after the last bag had been handed over.
“Any boat from Repulse alongside?”
“Yes sir”, comes the answer from the midshipman, the young officer in charge of the cutter. “Two officers here to join Repulse, don’t leave without them”.
The midshipman trained in the tradition of the navy to act according to orders ventured to say that he had no orders from the commander. “Please give the Commander my compliments and say these two officers were stranded in Bantry looking for Repulse, the Fanny had brought them down”. The midshipman having no orders from his commander reluctantly allowed them into his boat. And so the young gentlemen from their London office were introduced to life in the Royal Navy.
The manoeuvres having terminated, orders were received to embark a coastguard for passage to Whitsands (near Plymouth), call at Devonport and embark certain stores for Queenstown. Arriving at Devonport there were further orders to proceed to Milford and await orders from the District Captain at Liverpool. His instructions were to proceed to St Bride’s Bay, take down and remove a flagstaff from a closed coastguard station and return it to Pembroke dockyard. An officer was sent on shore with a party of men and gear to lower the flagstaff, get it down to the beach and bring it on board. Although I had told him how to proceed, I am afraid he was not very well acquainted with the safe method of lowering a forty foot spar. Having my doubts, I watched the procedure with the aid of my glass. At last it was noticed that all the gear had been placed in readiness to lower away. Then it was observed that the mast was moving – an interesting movement – and I was not surprised to see it suddenly topple over and fall to the ground – in such a happening usually breaking at the mast head – I had to laugh, seeing that happily the mast was intact. Had it broken I would have been called on to answer for the bungling.
On the open beach, with the wind freshening and sea rising, those sent on shore had to beat a hasty retreat and return on board half filling the boat with the sea before getting away. The job was completed the following day.
Arriving at Queenstown, orders awaited me from our friend the Flag Captain to attend at his office. No scolding this time. The Fanny had been placed at his disposal. One of his coastguard stations had been closed in the River Shannon, one man remaining in charge. The lease of the station would expire in three days. If the station was not cleared of the stores with the man and his effects, another quarter’s rent would have to be paid. Could I manage to get this done in time? Assuring him that I would do my best and, if possible, clear the station in time. Immediately filling the bunkers we left the harbour and arrived off the station the next day. With an encouraging word to the men they set too in good heart, got the flagstaff down and on board with better luck this time, brought off all the stores and the two boats, then the man with his wife, family and effects and, the day before the expiration of the lease, I was able to report: “The station all clear”. With two boats, the station furniture and stores piled up on deck, there was far more stuff than we could convey to Queenstown. It was therefore decided to leave one of the boats and some of the more cumbersome gear at the next station.
On reaching Queenstown the Flag Captain was so well pleased to know that the station had been cleared in time that he ventured to offer – something very rare – a word of appreciation and approval.
The annual leave having expired and a new year opened before us; the usual coastguard work was resumed. Calling at Belfast and taking up a berth alongside the quay it so happened that we had a native among the crew – not Fatty – who was undergoing punishment for a trivial offence with consequent stoppage of leave. I had it in mind to give him permission to go on shore for the night but before I had spoken to the mate he had taken French leave and departed. Our business completed, the next day we took our departure leaving the man behind. After three days – according to the regulations – he was treated as a deserter and his description with a warrant and the offer of a reward for his arrest was forwarded to the police. After an absence of three weeks he was arrested by the police and accompanied back to the ship, for which they received a reward of three pounds chargeable against the deserter. He was really a very good seaman and in favour with his shipmates. I was sorry to see that he had been so foolish and in such trouble. Being reported for desertion, he was awarded the usual punishment of ninety days imprisonment with forfeitness of time and pay.
On his return, I thought that he might like to leave the ship, go back to the depot at Devonport and make a fresh start. On the question being put to him, whether he wished to stay or leave, he replied that he was quite contented in the Fanny and wished to remain in the ship, thus showing that the folly of desertion was not due to any dissatisfaction with his ship or his shipmates.
After a few weeks in dock for the annual clean-up and a short round of visits with the District Captain, in compliance with an order from the Commander-in-Chief, we made the best of our way to Queenstown. Reporting at the office, I was informed that a Dutch coper was known to be cruising off the south coast disposing of tobacco etc. Orders were issued for the Fanny to proceed without delay and to deal with this craft in the best interest of the revenue and in compliance with the customs regulations that was the prevention of smuggling or, if found within territorial waters, to arrest and bring into port.
This appeared to be employment, more or less of unusual interest. Seeing that if this craft should lay herself open to arrest by encroaching within the three mile limit, and should we succeed in making a seizure, it might bring in a few pounds in the form of prize money. To my disappointment, after a few days during which time the coper had been sighted and our plans had been formulated to lie in wait for the opportune moment to reveal our presence, an order was received to return to Queenstown, a gunboat taking over our duties. The gunboat did eventually arrest the coper, brought her to Queenstown, handing her over to the customs authorities. In due course – but not before many months had passed – the case was tried before a court of justice in Cork. The finding of the court was in favour of the prosecution with confiscation of the vessel and all contraband on board at treble value and duty. Presumably the money arising therefrom – as usual in such a case – was handed over to be divided between the officers and men of the gunboat in the form of prize money.
The Fanny was now directed to proceed to Dover and await orders from the Inspecting Commander of Coastguard at Folkestone. His orders were to the effect that we were to take on the patrol for the protection of the fisheries, making Dover the port of call. There had been a little trouble from small French trawlers working rather close to the shore between Brighton and the North Foreland, doing damage to the gear of the local fishermen. The authorities, wishing to put a stop to this, had deputed us for this duty of policing the Straits of Dover. It being fine summer weather, the work was by no means of a tedious character, the days passing pleasantly beyond the vision of an eagle eye of a senior officer. The Frenchmen were not long in discovering that a policeman was on the beat and were careful afterwards not to venture within the prescribed limits.
My second in command, who had been with me four years, was an officer with whom I had to exercise much forbearance, who had not been recommended for promotion and had seen the length of his rope. It was decided that in the best interest of the service and all concerned, a change was desirable. I therefore took action with this end in view by asking for an interview with the Admiral’s Secretary at the headquarters in London. At the interview, simply stating my reasons for suggesting that this officer be transferred to another ship and leaving it to him to do the necessary.
The Admiral, a fine type of a British naval officer, with an aptitude of making a subordinate at ease when in his presence, was in his office and the secretary informing him that I was on the premises, he ordered me to appear in is room. With the paying off of so many of the Coastguard cruisers there were many applications for appointments to the Coastguard. I had heard that the admiral was not altogether drawn toward those officers that were so anxious to get ashore.
On appearing in his room his first question was: “Why have you not applied for the Coastguard?” I respectfully replied that I had descended from generations of sailors, that I loved the sea and had no desire to go ashore yet. With this answer, he expressed his appreciation. He then spoke of the work at Dover and added: “There are a lot of complaints from the West Country fishermen in regard to foreign trawlers. I am sending you there instead of back to Ireland”. Seeing that I had been so long employed on the coast of Ireland I was not sorry to hear that.
Off the South West coast
The fishing ground, over a radius of twenty miles, between south east and south west from the Eddystone, over which the driftnet fisheries had been prosecuted by the fishermen from Plymouth, Looe and Mevagissey for many years with varying success, had now become the favourite ground for the French trawlers, to the inconvenience and loss of the West Country men. The boat owners had lodged their complaints with their respective members of Parliament who had, in turn, brought the question forward in the House of Commons; the Secretary of the Admiralty passing it on to the Admiral Commanding Coastguard and Reserve in order to provide fishing cruisers to patrol these waters.
With the closing of the inshore fishery season, the service of the fishery cruisers being no longer required in the Straits of Dover, orders were received to proceed to Devonport complete with stored provisions etc. and report for duty to the District Captain of the Western District. HMS Julia from the Northern Ireland District had taken up her duties on the western fisheries and HMS Fanny was to take on as her opposite number, working under the orders of the District Captain at Liverpool, with Falmouth as the headquarters.
After the great sweep by Lord Fisher there remained only five coastguard cruisers – two more were subsequently built – two of which were withdrawn from the Irish station to take over this duty.
The orders from the District Captain were to work in forty-eight hour reliefs, one ship at sea, one ship in harbour. This routine was not very acceptable, as it scarcely gave the fires sufficient time to lie down before we were underway again. This was respectfully represented and a suggestion made that the North Sea routine of weekly reliefs be allowed. This submission not being approved, the shorter reliefs continued.
Notwithstanding the patrol, the foreign trawlers were still the cause of occasional damage to the West Country driftnet men and the interested Members of Parliament – in particular those from the opposition benches, in my opinion out to make political capital in readiness for the next election, were not slow in making their voices heard in the Commons.
The Commander of HMS Julia being ordered to appear at the Admiral’s office in London for a personal interview as to the actual state of affairs between the trawlers and driftnet men, seized the opportunity of mentioning the matter of weekly reliefs to the Secretary with the result that an order was very soon received from the District Captain at Liverpool to make this change. I feel certain that he never knew why this order emanated from the head office.
The local newspapers now having a subject on which they could write from local knowledge, worked up quite a little agitation with reports of damage to the local fishing interests, interviews with fishermen, boat owners, and would be champions of the fishing community, enlarging on the enormity of the foreign trawlers fishing in these waters, which were regarded somewhat as a local preserve.
After the newspapers had done their part, it became the turn of the Members of Parliament to carry it still further, to the House of Commons, there questioning the Secretary of the Admiralty as to the efficiency of the patrol and the methods adopted to guard the local interest. Passing through the usual departments, the Admiral Commanding Coastguard and Reserve would be called on to furnish the reply for the Secretary of the Admiralty, the Admiral obtaining his information from his officers on the spot; consequently the fishery cruisers were compelled to keep a diligent patrol in order to be prepared to answer any question that might come through. Frequently when all local fishing craft were in harbour, on account of strong weather or other reasons, the fishery cruiser would remain at sea, otherwise the newspaper men might give us a headline.
During the winter herring fishery, unusually severe weather for the West Country was experienced, with heavy snow storms and gales, yet from the policeman’s point of view we considered it a soft job, when compared with the North Sea patrol.
The spring mackerel fishing having commenced, agitation against the foreigner became intensified, the would-be champion giving expression – through the press – to his indignation with the powers that be, over the question of foreign trawlers fishing in local waters, enlarging on every rumour or complaint wither genuine or imaginary. In most, cases on boarding a fishing boat and asking a few pointed questions, it was found that so-called complaints were imaginary and could not be substantiated. With all this intensified agitation, the cruisers had to be on the alert following up the movements of the foreign trawlers and the drifters very closely.
Waiting off Plymouth of a Sunday and watching for the boats putting to sea, in order that we could keep in touch with them, it was noted in the log that one boat set out on quite a different course from the other boats. Naturally the greater number were followed. On the boats returning to harbour the following day, the boat taking an independent course reported the loss of nets cut away by a steam trawler.
That was something for the newspaper reporters to get on with, enlarging on the inefficiency of the patrol and emphasising that the fishery cruisers were conspicuous by their absence. This was immediately passed on by the champions to the Member of Parliament who brought the question forward in the House of Commons as a matter of the first importance, calling on the Secretary of the Admiralty for an explanation and to give the whereabouts of the cruiser on duty on this particular night. Immediately on our return to Falmouth an order was received to forward a copy of the log for the last week at sea that would show our movements during the night in which the drifter received certain damage to her nets. Fortunately, we had paid particular attention to the writing up of the log, noting every movement of the driftnet fleet, together with the number of foreign trawlers sighted, and were therefore in a position to furnish the Admiral with full details concerning the vigilance and efficiency of the patrol.
It was however decided to send a third cruiser, a late contemporary, now in command of one of the latest new cruisers, who had been confirmed in the rank of lieutenant and was credited with having a special knowledge of deep sea fishing laws, was sent as senior officer to superintend the western fisheries, having under his orders HMS Julia and HMS Fanny. It was our decision to render unto him the usual loyal support in his newly found responsibility. He proved himself a most reasonable and considerate senior officer giving honour where honour was due and appreciating the cooperation of those hitherto his contemporaries.
Seeing that the Fanny was likely to remain employed on the western fishery duties no time was lost in removing my wife and family and setting up a new home at Falmouth. This was a change much appreciated.
About this time the officer mentioned earlier, received an appointment to another ship. Not having been recommended for promotion he was transferred with the same rank. On the discharge of an officer it was the duty of his commanding officer to hand him a certificate as to competence with special reference to sobriety. As to the latter, I was not quite clear so took the unusual and non-committal course by compromising in these words: “has conducted himself with sobriety in my presence”. Whatever the officials at the head office, to whom a duplicate was sent, thought of this I never knew, but Mr X was well satisfied with what I had written.
The rocky ground off the coast of Cornwall had for a long time been a favourite fishing ground with the French crabbers from Brittany – during the summer months a great number being engaged in this class of fishery. The crabs were caught in pots, specially designed as a trap, from which the crabs once in found it almost impossible to escape. These vessels were of about thirty tons, fitted with a well open to the inflow of the sea in which the crabs were placed and kept alive. After the well had become sufficiently stored, the boats would proceed to their home port, there market their catch and so on, making repeated voyages throughout the season.
Three miles from the shore was the prescribed limit for crab fishing by foreigners, the same as driftnet or trawl fishing. Occasionally one might venture closer in. For my part, although frequently very near to the boundary line, never was a crabber sighted within the limit but our newly appointed senior officer made frequent arrests obtaining convictions. Presumably, the French government becoming aware of these frequent arrests had communicated with the foreign office. In any case, special orders were received that the exact position of crabbers suspected of fishing within the three mile limit must be most carefully checked and verified by not less than three cross bearings instead of two that hitherto had been accepted as sufficient proof.
Fatty, mentioned earlier, who was still with us, on one occasion when at anchor in harbour, lost his cap overboard. I happened to be on the quarterdeck with the newly joined mate and was amused to hear the chaff of his messmates: “Over you go Fatty and fetch it back. It’s the price of a new cap, over you go!” But Fatty tried another method, that of a boathook; the cap drifting toward the stern, Fatty was outboard holding onto the rail with one hand and a boathook in the other. At last his hand slipped and overboard he went; being an indifferent swimmer he started splashing and spluttering to the amusement of his chums who were calling “man overboard”. He was making such bad work of keeping afloat that I was wondering if the boat would reach him in time or if another man would need to go over and secure him with a rope’s end. The boat just coming off was nearing the ship and just in time to haul the fat one out of the water, the boat’s crew being much amused at having performed the gallant rescue of a favourite shipmate. I could not help but to share in the fun and laugh at Fatty’s involuntary bath but suspected that someone must have touched his fingers to see if he had a good holdfast.
The pilchard seine fishing had for many years past been gradually failing and becoming less remunerative but a few seine boats were still kept afloat at St Ives and, being at anchor in the bay during the pilchard season, I saw the last school of pilchards caught by seine landed and sold at that port; my friend, the late Mathias Dunn, being the purchaser at 20/- per thousand. Thinking of the days of 5/- per thousand, I remarked to him: “You have paid too high a price”. He replied: “The Italian market will permit of that price this year”. For several years afterwards some seine boats at St Ives were kept afloat during the season but to the best of my belief, and from local information, the school of pilchards mentioned above was the last caught in this way at St Ives.
The months passed pleasantly. Newspaper men, fishermen’s champions and Members of Parliament had gone quiet on the question of foreign trawlers and the fishing patrol had settled down to a recognised routine under very pleasant conditions. Those were the days of sailing boats and often of a calm morning we were apt to give some of them a rope’s end and pull them into the harbour, thus saving their market at the top price.
In the last two months of the year we found ourselves working with the herring fleet between the Eddystone and Start Point. An insignificant fleet when compared with the number of boats with which we had to deal in the North Sea, especially in the months of October and November. This patrol continued into the early months of the New Year. There were no foreign trawlers to disturb the peace of the herring drifters and the Secretary of the Admiralty was spared the cross-questioning in the House of Commons.
The weekly patrol was kept with regularity and, in this case of the channel fisheries being no distance from the shore and within easy reach of a harbour, together with the fact that the West Country boats remained in harbour for long periods during stormy and wintry weather, our duties could by no means now be considered as of an arduous nature. There was a good spirit among the men and the days passed pleasantly.
A private communication was now received from the Admiral’s Secretary informing me that the Admiral proposed appointing me to the command of HMS Thrush – a sloop once commanded by the late King George V on the North American station – now employed on North Sea fishery duties. Did I desire this appointment? Knowing that within another year I would stand a chance of an appointment on shore and not wishing to leave my home at Falmouth to spend the winter in the North Sea – although the Thrush was a more important command – I replied that I desired to thank the Admiral for this offer but begged – if convenient to the demands of the service – to be allowed to remain in the Fanny. This request the Admiral was pleased to grant.
Knowing there would be a vacancy for a Divisional Officer of Coastguard in Ireland in June, for which I was scarcely eligible on account of my age, I commenced to ponder over the advisability of making an application for this appointment. Having had so many years’ service on the coast of Ireland, I had always thought that I would not go back if it could be avoided, even to an appointment on shore. In this case the emoluments were on a most liberal and tempting scale. I should have the pleasure of living at home. Hard weather and the discomforts of small ships – that had been my portion for so many years – would be finished with. On the other hand there was the education of my children to be considered.
According to the regulations, to become eligible for this appointment one must have reached the age of forty six. In June, when the Division would become vacant, I would be forty-five and six months. It was a question if this would debar me. I was now the senior of the officers in command of the coastguard cruisers and had a faint idea that some of the reports and information tendered concerning the complaints of the West Country fishermen and the foreign trawlers had given satisfaction, that my name would be known to the Admiral and that I might stand a chance. It was therefore decided to submit an application through the senior officer, whom I have reason to believe, supported it with most favourable remarks. At the same time writing privately to the secretary concerning the age clause, drawing his attention to the fact that I had attained my seniority by early promotion through risking my life in saving a shipmate from drowning. That it would no doubt be found in the records and that I hoped that the age bar would not turn me down. In due course my name appeared in the list of appointments and promotions as the successful applicant for the post of Divisional Officer of Coastguard in County Clare, Ireland.
Returning to Falmouth after a week at sea, as the order was given to let go the anchors, I realised that my seagoing days and close association with ships and sailors were now at an end. Naturally, I was pleased to receive an appointment that would give me a substantial increase in salary even though it meant taking my family to the west of Ireland. On the other hand, I was sorry to sever my connection with the service afloat with which I had been so long associated. My life had been full of change and uncertainty, never knowing what the next order would bring. Sometimes with hard weather, discomfort, exposure, or from pricks from a disgruntled senior officer, one was apt to feel like our friend ‘The Skipper’ of the cutter Hind that a coalmine was preferable. Even so there were compensations and always the comforting thought that there was smooth water within the sheltered haven.
An old shipmate had come to relieve me and the following day, after going through the usual custom of turning over the stores, the Fanny was formally handed over to my successor.
Having a few days leave before taking up my new appointment and the date of the Fanny putting to sea, I went on board to take farewell of my shipmates – good fellows all – that I was so sorry to part company with. As I pushed off in the boat for the shore the officers and men all assembled on deck gave three hearty cheers for their departing commander. That demonstration of respect meant far more to me than any word of commendation that I had ever received from any superior officer.
From 1857 onward an officer in command of a coastguard cruiser was eligible for appointment to the coastguard as divisional officer and although the cruiser service continued to function as such until the close of the Great War when it was finally abolished, I was the last of the cruiser officers to receive such an appointment.