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Week 15 - high drama on the John Pirie

[ 29th of May 1836 to 4th of June 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 15: Medicine ]


Scene: sunday before a hard gale

sunday before a hard gale. Edward Snell, 1849

It is a week of high drama on board the John Pirie. First bad weather whips up heavy seas. The passengers all huddle on deck trying vainly to escape the leaks, only to be drenched by a sudden wave that washes right over them. This frightens the ship’s cat so much that he leaps overboard and drowns.

But as the weather settles, trouble brews once more amongst the passengers. A violent argument breaks out between Mrs Chandler and the Powells, during which strong language is employed by both sides. Then just when it seems that peace has been restored, Mrs Chandler suddenly throws herself overboard along with all her clothes. We can only guess at the cause of the argument, but there is also a possibility that Mrs Chandler is seriously ill.  After an anxious ten minutes she is recovered alive – but only just.

It is clear that our commentator finds Mrs Chandler’s general behaviour rather shocking.  She does not fit his assumptions about appropriate womanly behaviour. But even so he finds room to record her better qualities. For all her violent temper, she manages to keep her children neat and clean – the first prerequisite of a good nineteenth century mother and a real challenge on a sailing ship!

Journals from passengers at sea:

Monday 30 May 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

There was a strong Breeze all last Night, from
E,S,E, and during which the Rather than a foresail permanently secured to the fore yard, the John Pirie had a square-sail which was hoisted to the yard when required. Square-sail , & A triangular sail carried on a rope stay running between the foremast and the jib boom, an extension of the bowsprit. Jib , were
taken in,  and The mainsail is the lowest sail on the mainmast, as is the fore-sail on the foremast. Main sail Seafarers reduce sails in strong winds so that ships can move more safely and comfortably. Sails are made with rows of small ropes attached to them and these are tied around spars to reduce the amount of sail exposed to the wind. The amount of sail taken in by securing one set of ropes is called a reef. The action of reducing sails is called reefing and the knot that is used to tie the ropes is called a reef knot. In light winds all the reefs are taken out and the full size of the sail is exposed to draw full power from the wind. reef’d , as our Vessel labour’d very
heavy, against an uncommon strong head Sea, which
causes her to leak very much indeed,   ___   At 10, A,M,
while most of our People were assembled on the The quareterdeck was the deck between the main mast and the back of the ship.It was sometimes raised to give more headroom to the cabins below it. In sailing ships the quarterdeck was the place from which the captain commanded the ship.It was the custom in most ships that only officers would use the quarterdeck. The crew would only go there for specific duties or to take instructions. Quarter deck ,
it being the dryest place on the Decks, Our Vessel was struck
by the A descriptive term for a sharp crest resulting from two waves crossing each other, just as it can apply to the elevated region where several mountain-chains meet. Knot of a Sea , that came right over this favourite
Spot, giving all of us a regular good ducking, but the
poor Tom-Cat, got such a fright by the shock, as to jump
from the weather side of the Deck, clean over the lee Sides of a ship raised above deck level to protect objects and crew. Bulwark
into the Sea, where he met a water’y Grave   ________
At Noon the Wind became more moderate, and at 11, P,M,
after a pelting Shower of Rain, it shifted to about due
East, and clear Weather

[ Read the full journal extract ]

Thursday 2 June 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

We have had very fine Weather, since the Rain, last Night
and this Morng was beautifully clear and bright, but at
7, A,M, a brawl took place in the The area of between-decks occupied by steerage passengers, that is, those travelling at the cheapest rate. Steerage , between
Mrs Chandler, and the Messrs Powell, in which the
most disgusting and aggravating Language, was made
use of by both Parties, towards each other, at length
Chas Chandler (who had been on Deck, during all this uproar)
went down to them, and endeavourd to get his Wife pacified,
but it was all in vain, for shortly afterwards She came upon
Deck, with a Bundle of Clothes in her Arm’s, and made
towards the Ship’s side, threatening to drown herself, but
was prevented doing so, by the Captain catching hold of her,
and was made to go below again by the assistance of her
Husband, but while we were at Breakfast, the Helmsman
alarm’d us very much, by crying Out, that a Woman had
jump’d overboard, when rushing upon Deck, we saw
the poor miserable Wretch strugling in the Sea, astern
of the Vessel, when immediately tacking Ship, we suc-
-ceeded in getting her aboard again, but almost in a
lifeless state, having been in the Water, at least 10, minutes,
however the usual remedies for recovering Person’s, apparantly
drown’d, were made use of, and I am happy to say, they
had the desired affect, for She is greatly recover’d, although
still uncommonly Weak, with severe pains in her inside,
and likewise in her Head   _______   It appears that while
we were in the Cabin, she took the opportunity of coming
on Deck, with the Bundle still in her Arm’s, and went
to the fore part of the Vessel, in a terrible rage, but
at which both her Husband, and others who were present,
took little notice, thinking the Woman, could not actually
mean to destroy herself, however, when at the The shrouds supporting the masts pass over channels, broad planks projecting out from the ship’s side, and are tied back to the hull with chains. Thus it is for instance convenient to stand on the channel ‘in the chains’ when finding the depth of water. fore-Chains
She suddenly stop’d, threw the Bundle overboard, and
giving a momentary glance at Chandler, She sprang
over the Sides of a ship raised above deck level to protect objects and crew. Bulwark herself,  to the horror, and amazement
of all who beheld the sight,   ________    The temper of
this Woman is most violent, and when in a passion, She
is shockingly wicked, while her Husband, Chas Chandler,
appears to be a very decent, quiet, sort of Man, for whom
I am truly sorry, but yet, She is not without some
good properties, having always taken great pains to
keep both herself and Children, neat and clean, but She
is now with scarsely a Rag to put on her Back, having
thrown almost the whole of her Clothes into the Sea, that
no other Woman (her Husband might take to Wife) should
have the satisfaction of wearing them, after She was
gone, they have four fine Children, the oldest of which
is a little Girl 10, years of Age, and the youngest about
about 12 Months   __________
At Noon we got sight of the Island of Trinidad
right ahead, bearing about S,W by S, and not less
than 50 Miles distant   ___   The Wind has been va-
-rying since Noon, with light Airs, from E,S,E to South,

[ Read the full journal extract ]

Friday 3 June 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

June 3rd. Lat.4.35.

We To speak a ship is to communicate with it by voice or signals. spoke the ship ‘Zenobia’ from Calcutta and it being Without wind. calm the Captain and several of the Officers dined on board of us. Mr. Bluett, the Surgeon of the Zenobia, came to see me as I was very ill labouring under severe Palpitations, the result of excessive vomiting. I did not conquer the seasickness till seven weeks after leaving England and by this time I was reduced to a perfect skeleton.  Bluett promised to call on my dear Friends in London and give them some account of me as I was too ill to write….

[ Read the full journal extract ]

Saturday 4 June 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

We still contd to have light and variable Winds to the
close of this Day  __   but at 8, A,M, were within 2 Miles
of the Vessel that was seen Yestdy at which time, She
To hoist and display the ship’s flag. hoisted her Colour’s and began to To signalise is to make contact by use of signal flags. Signalize , that was
duly answer’d by us, however at Noon, She commenced
To signalise is to make contact by use of signal flags. signalizeing again, but being then to The direction from which the wind blows. The other direction is termed ‘leeward’. Windward of her
we could not see them distinctly, and therefore bore down
towards her, so as to get within hail, but this it appeared
greatly alarm’d them, as their Capt inform’d us, that seeing
so many People on Deck, he did not like our appearance
at all, and had got everything ready for Action, if required,
of which they soon gave us a proof, and by discharging a lot
of A muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets , and two A sea-term for cannon. great Gun’s , She was a pretty
little A sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. Brig , called the Mary, of Leith, bound to the Isle
of France,  __________    At 5 P,M, we saw a Whale
not more than a Mile off, playing about, and spouting
Water up into the Air   _________

[ Read the full journal extract ]

Next week: There is more bad weather ahead as the ships begin to turn east towards Australia. Everyone on the John Pirie watches Mrs Chandler very carefully whenever she is on deck.

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