Thursday 20 October 1836

[, on board the wrote. | Read source notes.]

OCTOBER 20.-This day the thermometer was reduced to freezing-point.

When we left London we had on board a young man of the name of Constable, who acted as second mate, but for some reason, which I do not know, he was left at the Cape of Good Hope. When he took leave of us, as he accompanied us to the boats, he wished us a safe arrival at our destination, but added that we should most likely have to sail with bare poles before we got there, a prediction which I was then unwilling to believe, but which was fulfilled to the letter. The absence of this young man from among the officers of the ship was regretted by many of the passengers, as he was very civil and obliging. The chief mate was just the contrary, and seemed to take a delight in annoying the intermediate passengers whenever he had an opportunity to do so, and as the gentlemen in particular would not tamely submit to his arbitrary conduct, the result was almost daily altercations with one or other of them and loud complaints of his overbearing temper. Among other instances in which he displayed his authority was that of removing the step-ladder, preventing us from going on deck, or occasionally keeping us there during his pleasure when we wished to return to our cabins. It so happened that the trapdoor by which access was obtained to that part of the hold where the ship’s stores were kept was on a level with the floor of my cabin, and only a few feet from it. The ladder by which we ascended to the deck rested on it, and was consequently removed and generally drawn up whenever the storekeeper had occasion to descend to the hold for supplies. This was always twice a week, and sometimes oftener, but when the stores had been obtained there was no reason why the ladder should not have been immediately replaced. Instead, it was often kept on deck for hours for no apparent reason whatever but to inconvenience the intermediate passengers, though some of the gentlemen, not choosing to be confined below to humour the caprice of the mate, availed themselves of another mode of egress by mounting on the dining table· and climbing through a hatchway which happened to be above it. As the mate’s word was law with all the ship’s company, except the captain, remonstrance was useless. Nor was this the only way in which we were annoyed by the mate’s insufferable impertinence. It so happened that whenever the aforesaid store was opened we were almost sure to be half-smothered with dust. Moreover, ·a considerable quantity of straw and chaff were generally left for anyone to clear away who chose to do so, but being nearer to us than to any of the others, of course it fell to our share to dispose of it in the best way we could. This we did for a long time without complaint, but one day, a larger quantity of rubbish than usual being deposited close to our cabin door, and seeing no reason why those who left it there should not clear it away or cause it to be done, I went on deck with the intention of asking one of the sailors to remove it. Meeting Mr. Smith, I drew his attention to it, and requested that he should send someone with a broom for that purpose. Not only did he peremptorily refuse to send anyone, but replied to my request with the most insulting language, insomuch that I threatened if he behaved to me in that manner again I would complain to the captain. He told me I was welcome to do that, and, pointing to the quarter-deck, said, “There is the captain. Tell him what you please.” But the captain was not there at the time, or I would have applied to him immediately. Determined, however, to put a stop, if possible, to the mate’s insolence, I resolved to take his advice and appeal to the captain as the only way. Accordingly, the next day I addressed the following letter to Captain Duff:-

Sir-As I presume you will not knowingly suffer anyone on board this vessel to be in any way ill-treated, I consider myself justified in stating to you the particulars of an occurrence which happened a few days ago, in which I was grossly insulted by Mr. Smith, the chief mate, and which likewise led to an altercation last night on the deck, the circumstances of which I think you ought to be acquainted with. But before I proceed I beg leave to state that the complaint I am now about to make has no allusion whatever on my part to anything that passed on a former occasion, nor did I give Mr. Smith the slightest provocation to treat me in the manner he did, but I cannot, in justice to myself and my family, tamely submit to such repeated insults as we have experienced from him since we have been on board this vessel. You must be well aware that all those in the intermediate cabins, ourselves in particular, are greatly annoyed by the frequent opening of the hatchway leading to the hold, and that at all hours of the day, by which our ingress and egress are not only often prevented, but we must also put up with the dust and litter proceeding from the stores, with many other inconveniences, to which even the steerage passengers are not subjected, but all this we should not complain of, knowing it is unavoidable, if we could meet with that civility and attention which, as respectable persons, we think ourselves entitled to, for in this respect I speak in the name of all concerned, though the ungentlemanly behaviour it produced from the chief mate was directed to me alone. It happened, then, a few mornings since that the storekeeper had left a more than usual quantity of dust and dirt, which, as usual, was left for us to clear away, and, being opposite to my cabin, it was not very pleasing or agreeable. Mr. Thomas, therefore, sent a message to the mate requesting a broom and mop to enable us to clean it, but his answer was that he had neither, and if Mr. Thomas wanted them he might fetch them himself. This passed, and we took no further notice, being compelled to let the litter remain till a short time after, when I went on deck, and seeing Mr. Smith close by I pointed down the steps and requested that he would send someone to sweep away the dirt there, to which, with a scornful air, he replied, “Pray, Mrs. Thomas, who do you expect to clean it?” I said it certainly was not my place to do it, nor did I suppose that anyone there considered it their place to do so, that if we swept our own cabins it was surely sufficient without cleaning after the ship’s crew. He then asked me where our servants were, saying that we had too many servants, and if I expected anyone on board the vessel to be my servant or to do anything for me I was mistaken, to which I replied that it was not my servants’ place any more than mine to clean after his men, and supposing that we had brought no servants on board, how was it to be done then? “Done,” says he; “why, do it yourselves, to be sure.” This was his precise answer, to which I replied that I would not be insulted by anyone, and that if he behaved to me in that manner again I would complain to the captain. “There is the captain,” said he, “on the quarter-deck. Go and complain to him.” If you, Sir, had been there at the time, I would certainly then have made you acquainted with his conduct, as I cannot suppose that you or any gentleman in the cabin would suffer his wife to be insulted. Of course, I related what had passed to Mr. Thomas, and in consequence of Mr. Smith’s refusing to allow such a trifling request as mine to be complied with he forbade his men to assist the crew in any way whatever, which before they had done on all occasions, not only with his sanction, but particular desire, and he always felt a pleasure whenever their services were available in any way. Yesterday morning the same annoyance again occurred from the stores, when a quantity of chaff and straw was left and the same neglect ensued as before with regard to clearing it away. Therefore, when Mr. Thomas saw his men pulling the rope (for it seems Mr. Smith had asked them if they meant to mind what that foolish man said), he again forbade them, which he would not have done, notwithstanding his previous orders, could we be treated with common civility. But Mr. Smith has taken every opportunity to annoy and insult the passengers in this part of the vessel from the day we embarked to the present time. As another instance of his discourteous behaviour last night he prohibited the cook from baking any more bread for the intermediate berths, a luxury which we have seldom enjoyed since we came on board, but there being two loaves in the oven at the time, one belonging to me and the other to Mrs. Lewis, he compelled the cook to turn them out half-baked, and, of course, spoiled; but as there can be no reason why others should suffer on my account, and as I consider myself more especially the party aggrieved, I have taken upon myself to state these particulars, and now appeal to your justice as commander of this vessel and to your generosity as a man whether you will suffer such conduct to pass unnoticed. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, MARY THOMAS.

This letter was politely answered by Captain Duff assuring me that I did him justice in assuming that he would not knowingly suffer anyone on board the vessel to be uncivilly treated while he had the command of it, and that he would take care that there would be no cause for complaint in future. Whether Mr. Smith received a reprimand or not I do not know, but the next morning, to my surprise, he inquired if I wished first to go on deck, and added that the ladder would be replaced as soon as possible. From that day his churlishness seemed in a great measure to have left him, at least as far as the passengers were concerned, for I am not aware of anything unpleasant occurring afterwards to the end of the voyage.

About four years after our arrival in South Australia, Mr. Smith again being in this part of the world, he called on us and expressed his satisfaction at seeing us comfortably settled and the colony likely to prosper. I may here mention that Captain Duff intimated from the first his intention of settling in South Australia, which he did, and he is still living here, as are several others who came out with us in the Africaine and other vessels which followed shortly after. But the number of old colonists is considerably diminished now after the lapse of so many years.

Share this page:

Comments or Questions:

No comments yet.