A personal account of

Voyage on

4 Masted Barque JORDANHILL

Leaving Liverpool 22nd August 1915 bound for AUSTRALIA

And returning via CAPE HORN to LE HARVE arriving in Le Harve

on 29th December 1916, after 141 days at sea

Before joining the sailing ship ‘JORDANHILL’ mentioned below, William Wall, Slieverue & Arundal Square took me to Liverpool on 27th September 1913 and secured a berth for me in the White Star Line S.S. Medic on which ship he was a carpenter.  I served on this ship for a year and a half as A.S.  I then joined the ‘JORDANHILL’.

It is now nearly thirty years since I swallowed the anchor, and I never cease to marvel at the prodigious improvements which seafarers now enjoy compared with conditions at sea when I first joined my first sailing ship.

When I was a boy I remember a four masted barquentine, the ‘Renfield’ arriving in Waterford from Australia with wheat.  Her Master, Capt. Roberts, had his wife on board for the voyage, and my uncle who was then Harbour Master at Waterford took me on board to see the ship.  He and Capt. Roberts became great friends and I went down to the Quay on many a day to gaze in awe at the ‘Renfield’s’ lofty mast and spars, and I made up my mind that one day I would sail in such a ship.

In the year 1915, I approached my uncle and told him I would very much like to go to sea in a sailing ship, and he told my father that Capt. Roberts was in command of a ship the ‘JORDANHILL’ which was then in Liverpool, and that if he so wished he would use his good offices to get me a berth on board. The result was that I got the berth as O.S.  My uncle gave me his own sea chest, and I got fitted out for the voyage.  I remember that he and another uncle, then Secretary of the Waterford Harbour Commissioners, rounded up all their discarded suits, pullovers and any other apparel that would be useful to me on board.  I was to find great use for all these things later on, in those days’ dungarees or jeans as they are now called were not used much in sailing ships.  Besides the ordinary clothes needed, we had to provide for ourselves blankets, pillows and mattresses, these latter were straw palliaces commonly known as ‘donkey’s breakfasts’; sheets were unknown.  The officers too had to supply their own bedding, in fact the Captain was the only one on board who was supplied with proper bedding by the owners – soap and matches were also a necessity.

I arrived in Liverpool with all my gear in the month of August 1915 and somehow found my way to the ship which was lying in the Herculaneum Dock and made myself known to the First Mate, a Mr. Davies of Dolgelly, Wales, an elderly man in his sixties.  The 2nd Mate was a Mr. Richard of Fishguard, a young man, and the 3rd Mate was a Mr. Shand, a Scot., he was actually a senior apprentice serving the last year of his time.  Capt. Roberts also spoke to me and asked me how my uncle in Waterford was and this made me feel a bit more at home.  There were six other apprentices working on board and I was put in to the half deck with them, this was a house between the mizzen and the jigger mast.

The ‘JORDANHILL’ was a big steel four-masted barque, with black and white painted ports on her side like an old time man-of-war, her masts and spars seemed to tower above the high warehouses at the dockside, she had a very graceful white figurehead of a woman with a long flowing dress, beautifully carved, mounted on her stemhead under the bowsprit.  She was owned by Thos. Law & Co. of Glasgow, the well known owners of the Glasgow Shire Line of sailing ships, so called on account of nearly all their ships being named after Scottish shires.  The ‘JORDANHILL’ was built for another owner but was bought off the stocks by Laws, she was 2291 gross registered tons, and could carry nearly 4000 tons of cargo.  Her cabins were beautifully appointed, all the panelling was in birds-eye maple with mahogany furniture in the saloon and Captain’s cabin, which also boasted of a fire-place.  Ornate swinging oil lamps hung from the deckheads and both these places were carpeted, these latter, however, were taken up in bad weather.  The ladders leading from the main deck to the poop were made of teak as were the doors leading in to the cabins.  On the poop the fittings were also made of teak including the chart house.  She had a pair of beautiful made harness casks, one on each side of the poop deck, these were oval in shape, wider at bottom than at the top and were heavily brass hooped, with ornate brass hinges on the lids, one of these was filled with salt pork and the other with salt beef, hence the name harness cask (this term harness probably originated for some old sailor, comparing the meat therein with leather harness).

About a week or ten days before we were due to sail the seamen joined the ship, they were mostly Scandinavians, the apprentices were English, the sailmaker was an Italian, and the only Irish man besides myself was an old Islandmagee man, named John Collins who appeared to me to be fairly old, and incidentally the only man before the mast to complete the whole voyage.

In the week that it took to prepare the ship for sea we were all very busy taking on stores, and necessary gear such as coils and coils of rope and wire, bolts of canvas, and new suits of sails, which filled all the store rooms and the sail locker.  The forepeak was filled with casks of salt beef and salt pork, and coal for the galley and donkey boiler, and the lazarette was filled with dry stores such as sacks of dried beans, peas and flour.  We had a ton of potatoes which were spread out in the ‘tween decks and sprinkled with lime to keep them dry.  I might mention that the ‘JORDNHILL’ was leaving Liverpool in ballast, this was made up of over 1000 tons of clay stowed in the lower holds, planks were placed on top of this ballast, and the whole was lashed down with chains leading from side to side of the ship, to prevent it from shifting in bad weather.

At last, the day of sailing.   We were towed out of the dock by the tug ‘CAIRNGARTH’ and proceeded on our passage to Port Arthur, Texas, where we were to load case oil for Australia.  The tug took us to the North West lightship where we cast off and all plain sail to a fair wind and headed down the Irish Sea.  The setting of the watches then took place.  Mr. Davies the Mate, mustered all hands aft to the break of the poop and he and the 2nd Mate stood one on each side of the deck, the Mate on the port side, and the 2nd Mate on the starboard side, each officer then called out a man’s name and this man moved over to which ever officer called him.  The second name called by the Mate was ‘Farrell’ and I moved over to his side.  I had been made a member of the port watch and I was glad of this, as I had taken a liking to Mr. Davies rather than Mr. Richards, who fancied himself as a bit of a hard case.  The calling of the names continued until all were allotted to their respective watches.  When setting sail I was a bit shaky when going aloft, and the Mate did not allow me to go any higher than the upper topsail yard, however I soon became used to the work and after a few days I could go to the royal yard which was about 150 feet from the deck, as I said the ‘JORDANHILL’ was a very lofty ship.

The weather was good with moderate wind all the way down the Irish Sea, and everybody was in good spirits, I thought to myself ‘this is the life’.  After eleven days out all hands got served with a ration of lime juice at noon, and this continued throughout the voyage.  Stores were a bit of a problem.  We got a weekly supply of tea, sugar, coffee, Nestle’s milk, butter etc. but some things ran short after a few days so we had to supplement the sugar with molasses in our tea and coffee, until our next weeks’ ration was issued.  We always had a good supply of molasses and sea biscuits, these latter were stored in a long wooden box called a bread barge.  We got fresh bread baked in the galley twice a week.  The butter used in most ‘lime juice’ ships I these days was in tins, and for some reason was always supplied from Cork, it was very salty and in warm weather got terribly rancid.  Every day we got a ration of fresh water which was served out by the carpenter who was in charge of the fresh water pump and stored it in the carpenter’s shop until the next day’s issue.  We kept our water in a tank in the half deck, but we had to give the cook a certain amount of water out of our issue for each man’s cooking purposes.  Our fresh potatoes were all used up after a few weeks, and then we were given tinned potatoes but they tasted awful and bore no resemblance to the real thing.  Our only vegetables consisted of split peas and beans we seemed to have an endless supply of these, which made us very windy.  The meat was always salt pork, salt beef or tinned beef or mutton, we got salt fish (ling) every Friday.   A special Sunday treat was ‘plumduff’ with our dinner.  However, as we had four hourly watches, we had plenty of fresh air and plenty of exercise pulling and hauling on braces and sheets etc., we kept in good trim.

In those days there were plenty of sailing ships afloat and we had  sister ship the ‘GARNETHILL’ both bound to Pensacola, Southern States, in sight on several occasions during the passage.  Both vessels seemed to have a fair turn of speed but when the two ships were in sight both Captains crammed on all sails, royals, staysails, spanker and gafftopsail and the ‘JORDANHILL’  generally pulled away from the ‘GARNETHILL’ and the following morning she would be out of sight.  Under full sail and with fresh wind abaft the beam we had no difficulty in making eleven knots.

We had a very pleasant run down to the North East Trade Winds and as the ship was in ballast trim the decks were dry all the time, only one day did we have to shorten sail to lower topsails, foresail and inner jib.  By now I was beginning to get familiar with all the running gear on the ship and at night time had a fair idea of where to find a particular halliard, sheet or buntline as each one led to its belaying pin.

After twenty five days at sea, we passed the Island of Antigua and then Montserrat, where I was told we got most of our lime juice from.  There was a very little wind and the sea was like oil, this was shark water and several were swimming around, the carpenter had a shark hook and the cook baited it with a piece of salt pork, and we caught one of about ten feet long, and hauled it on board.  The cook fried some of it for our tea, it was a bit dry but being fresh fish it was a change from the salt diet we were getting.  The senior apprentice Dan Vickers cut off the shark’s tail and nailed it on to the end of the jib boom, most sailing ships had one there, and it was commonly thought to bring fair winds.

Life on board was very pleasant for the rest of the passage, and I enjoyed being aloft doing the many repair jobs to the running rigging, which in a sailing ship are endless.

After forty two days at sea we sighted the light at Port Arthur, and following day picked up a tug which took us to our berth.

Port Arthur at that time was a real wild west place, with little in it except an oil refinery.  A number of inter-island schooners traded to there and the crews were all coloured except officers who were Americans, they fed very well and a few of us boys got very friendly with an old coloured cook in a five masted schooner and many a good feed we got from him.  I think he thought we were half starved because we could finish off anything he had left over in the galley, we particularly liked his pumpkin pies which were delicious.

All the seamen except John Collins cleared out here, as the wages paid in American ships were so much better and also plenty of jobs were to be had ashore.  Our first job was to discharge the clay ballast that we had taken on at Liverpool.   The ‘JORDANHILL’ had a donkey boiler and steam winch and the carpenter was in charge of it.  This was real hard work filling the wicker cargo baskets in the hold from seven a.m. to six p.m. with an hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner, the 2nd Mate handled the hoist on the winch end.   The work of discharging the ballast took us about three weeks, and was done by the 2nd and 3rd Mates, six apprentices, John Collins and myself.  There was very little of the rush and bustle to get sailing ships turned round in port compared with the speed with which ships are handled today.

When the ballast was discharged two tugs moved us to the oil berth and we commenced loading case paraffin oil.  Each wooden case held two square tins of paraffin containing six gallons in each, as in this way it was most convenient for transporting to such places as the gold mining towns of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie and other places in the bush in Australia, a lot more went to China.  It was said that John D. Rockefeller sent out hurricane lamps for free to the Chinese and got his money back through his Standard Oil Co. which supplied the oil for the lamps.  This company had three very large four-masted barques in that trade, The Brilliant, Daylight and Comet and each of them carried 5000 tons of cargo.

When sailing time came near the Captain had to think of getting a new crew and this was not easy for a lime juice ship paying a wage of £5.00 per month.  The Sherriff at Port Arthur was a man named McKettrick and his wife ran a boarding house and Captain Roberts became friendly with the pair of them probably with an eye to getting crew later on.   McKettrick anyhow rounded up a crew of sorts and I can see how now with his ten-gallon hat sheparding these fellows on board, no doubt he had to get his ‘blood money’ from the Captain.  Out of the men he supplied only four were seamen, the remainder were mostly farm workers, one was a young Mexican cowboy with high heeled boots who probably never had been in a ship before in his life, incidentally this young man quickly picked up the ropes and was one of the most willing and likeable chaps you could meet.  As soon as the crowd were on board and to prevent them from getting away again, the tugs came alongside and took the ship out to the anchorage.  Here we spent two days, setting sail and taking in sail several times to teach our amateur crew the rudiments of their new job.  The first time the Mexican got on one of the yards he got astride it like as if he was getting on a horse.  The apprentices were really the backbone of the whole crowd and to them fell a lot of the breaking in of the new hands.  We had spent forty days in Port Arthur and I was glad to be on the way to Adelaide, our port of discharge.

At last we hove up anchor and got under way and headed out of the Gulf of Mexico.  The weather was fine with moderate to fresh winds, and we made good headway.  I noticed however that the ‘JORDANHILL’ was a different ship now, she was very low in the water for one thing, her rail was only about eleven feet from the water, she being fully loaded and it did not take much weather for the seas to come over the rail.

Three weeks out from Port Arthur the winds freshened and we started to shorten sail to upper topsails, foresail and mainsail, we were told that the Captain was expecting a blow as the glass was falling rapidly.  Sure enough that evening the storm hit us, the weather had become very sultry and the sky heavily overcast and you could hardly hear the orders given by the Mate.  It was all hands on deck to take in sail.  Seas were pouring on board and the ship heeled over heavily to leeward putting the rails under water.  The main lower topsail split like a shot out of a gun and immediately afterwards the main upper topsail went the same way and next the mainsail, the noise of the wind and the flapping of the tatters of the torn sails caused pandemonium amongst our inexperienced crew.  The Mate then ordered all hands to take in the foresail, we went up on the yards and struggled in vain for about half an hour, when the ship suddenly heeled over and the leeward arm nearly touched the water, the men got into a panic and rushed for the rigging and raced down to the deck.  When the sail was let go there was a noise like thunder and the sail blew to ribbons.  The upper and lower mizzen topsails were still holding but all the sails on the foremast had carried away and the 2nd Mate had to drive the men aloft to take in the mizzen upper topsail, but it blew away before they got half way up and down they all scrambled again.  The decks were completely awash by this time with the water rushing from side to side and all the hands hanging onto whatever they could grasp and the Mate thought it advisable to cut the lower topsail away, the wind being of such force that he considered that the ship would not stand it.  This called for tricky work and he asked for a volunteer to do the job.  Vickers, the apprentice, said he would go and up he went, he cut through the bolt rope with his sheath knife and the sail immediately blew to smithereens and it was all he could do to keep clear of the flying canvas.  The ‘JORDANHILL’ was now running under bare poles and making very heavy weather of it, we were all thoroughly wet through and the half deck, galley and seamen’s quarters were all awash the only dry place was in the poop.  The Cook and Steward managed to boil some coffee on the fire in the Captain’s cabin and we got a mugful each, this warmed us a bit and it was badly needed.  Sleep was out of the question that night, and dawn broke to a desolate sight, every sail from the topgallant sails down were in tatters and the Captain decided there was nothing further that could be done that day until the wind abated.  Strangely enough the weather improved quickly the following day and by noon a moderate breeze was blowing, but the sea was still very high and the ship rolled heavily with no sails to steady her.  All hands were given a kind of meal and some were then set to work sending down the remnants of the torn sails, while the others were getting new sails out of the sail locker ready for bending.  By evening, after a lot of hard work, new sails were bent and we again headed on our course.   I felt very tired and when my watch below came, I fell into my bunk exhausted, fully dressed except for my oil skins and boots and was soon fast asleep.  I might mention that in sailing ships oilskins suits were always worn with what we called ‘soul and body’ lashings, these were lengths of sennit or plaited rope-yarns, tied around the wrists, waist and bottoms of the pants, to help keep the water out.

We had a dozen hens in a hen coup on the poop and these somehow survived the blow.  The eggs laid by the hens were for the use of the Captain and officers but now and again when the officer of the watch was on the deck attending to the trimming of the yards, some of the eggs laid never got to the Captain’s table.

Leaving the Gulf of Mexico, we picked up the North East Trades with good sailing weather, but then got into the Doldrums, and after some days of baffling winds crossed the Equator and then picked up the South East Trades, this was wonderful sailing weather and for about a fortnight we never touched the braces, the wind was so steady.  Plenty of flying fish came on board during those days, and they made very good eating, they are of the herring family.

As the crew now had worked off their cash advance, the ‘Old Man’ opened up the ‘Slop Chest’.  This was done every Saturday evening for the remainder of the passage.  Masters of deep sea sailing ships had a good supply of practically everything a sailor needed in the way of sea boots, oilskins, boots, socks, shirts and underwear, in addition to such luxuries as tobacco, cigarettes, tinned fruit, soap and matches.  At six p.m. the Steward rang the dinner bell and all hands came aft to the poop.  The ‘slops’ as they were called, were kept in a spare room set up as a shop and as each man made his purchase the Steward entered it up on a book.  Any man buying a pounds worth of goods got a free tot of rum.  One item for sale, which I never heard of before or since, was salt water soap.  I got some of this, it was mostly made of caustic soda and while not very efficient for washing clothes in salt water, it was guaranteed to almost take the skin off your hands.  If the men deserted after the end of a passage I am afraid that most of the pay due them had been accounted for in the ‘Slop Chest’.  It must be remembered that the remuneration of the Masters of those ships was small, I believe that Captain Robert’s pay was only £25.00 per month, small enough for the responsibility carried and it was no wonder that any little side-line was welcome.

The Russian-Finn carpenter has just completed a very fine model of the ‘JORDANHILL’, it is really a work of art, and the Captain acquired it for two pounds of Faithful Lover tobacco, this would have cost eight shillings in the ‘Slop Chest’.

One morning when in about 25 South Latitude a three masted full-rigged ship was sighted homeward bound.  Coming near she hauled up her mainsail and crossjack and backed her main yards. She then ran up the Norwegian flag and the signal “Can you give us some coal?” we answered “Yes” and backed up our main yards; in this manner both ships were stopped and the Norweigan sent off a boat manned by the Mate and four men.  The ship was the ‘GEZINA’ of Farsund and the men told us that they were 102 days out bound from Portland, Oregon to Dublin, with a cargo of barley for Guinness’s.  They had plenty of food but no coal for the galley, although we had barely enough coal for ourselves we gave them seven bags and some magazines which they were delighted to get.  They also told us that their ship had been on her beam ends off Cape Horn, but that they had righted her by shifting some of the bags of barley in the hold.  The Mate signed a receipt for the coal, his owners would pay for it when the ship got home.  We then saluted each other by dipping our ensigns and proceeding on our voyages.  It had been a pleasant interlude meeting others in the middle of the ocean, little things like that meant a lot to a crew on a long and lonely voyage, with no communication with the outside world, it made us realise there were others in the same kind of ships, doing the same job of work as ourselves and provided a talking point for a few days.

We continued to make good headway, and soon came to latitude 40 South, or the Roaring Forties as they are called and by this time lifelines had been rigged along with each side of the deck, the teak poop ladders had been taken away, and heavy deal ladders substituted.  Nets had been lashed over that hatch tarpaulins and all made in readiness for the heavy weather to be expected running to the Easting down.  In those waters where shipping was rarely met with, the deep water sailing ships discontinued the lighting of the side lights to save oil and we were no exception to the rule, when we got near the Australian coast we again lit them. 

The prevailing winds in these parts are from the Westward and produce a high sea but provide a fair wind for a squared rigged ship bound out to Australia, the ‘JORDANHILL’ logged a good 11 knots on many a day’s hard sailing, her gear was good and Captain Roberts sailed her hard with all the sails she could carry, this made for wet decks, as she was heavily laden and was very low in the water.

When a hundred days out from Port Arthur we ran into a real hard South West gale and all hands were called on deck to shorten sail, the decks were continually awash and huge seas broke on board frequently, sail was shortened to foresail and three lower topsails, and the ship was running heavily with the wind on the starboard quarter and with two men at the wheel all the time.  As the wind increased the Captain decided to heave the ship to, as there was a danger that she might broach to broadside on to the sea, if she had done this in the sea when running she would have swept away everything on her decks.  The foresail, fore and mizzen lower topsails were taken in and the helm put hard down to bring her up in to the wind, and all the men had one eye on the lifelines to grab them at a moments’ notice.  As we were hauling on the lee braces the ship dipped her rail under scooping up a tremendous dollop of water and the bosun, two men and myself were taken right over the side, we hung on for dear life and another sea took us all on board again, fortunately we all kept our heads, had we let go the rope we would have been all lost, as nothing could be done in that sea, as it was we got wet to the skin, felt a bit dazed but soon recovered.  In those ships the lifeboats were lashed down to the skids with wire ropes to prevent them from being washed away and I often wondered of what practical use they were.   When the ship was hove to we goose winged the main lower topsail, that is, the weather clew was pulled up to the yard and made fast while the lee side was set.  The ship lay with the wind and sea on the Starboard bow, the canvas dodgers on the poop in the jogger shrouds helped to keep her head up into the wind.  A leather bag full of oil with small holes in it was put into the foreward weather lavatory pan and the oil from this bag trickled out and was fairly efficacious in preventing the tops of the seas breaking on board heavily.

At about seven p.m. that evening, the wind shifted to the North West in a heavy squall and it continued to blow a whole gale and the sea became very confused.  She shipped one heavy sea forward and stove in the forward deck house which was of teak and the same sea caught a young Dane named Hansen and before he could grab the lifeline he was taken overboard and we never saw him again, he was only twenty-one and I remember he had told me an older brother had been lost at sea the previous year.

The ‘JORDANHILL’ lay hove to all night, and the following morning at about nine a.m. the watch was clearing the lee main braces which had got adrift and were jammed in the wash port, when the ship dipped her rail under and took a young American lad named Beldam over the side, he kept afloat until the Mate threw him a lifebuoy with a line attached to it, from the poop.  He got hold of the lifebuoy and was pulled up to the edge of the poop deck when it slipped out of his grasp, the lifebuoy was thrown to him a second time, he caught it and was again nearly pulled up to the poop, when the stern dipped down and he hit his head hard on the side of the ship, this stunned him and he let go, drifted astern and was lost.  He was also only twenty-one.  A sailing ship hove to in such weather could not do anything to save a man once he got overboard and away from the ship.  An occurrence like this has a remarkably depressing effect on a crew on a lonely voyage and its effect was felt for days.  It also left us two men short at a time when they were badly needed.

The following day the wind abated and we again set the topsails and foresail and went on our course to Australia.

In the evening, as was customary in those ships, the effects of the lost men were taken aft and auctioned at the jigger mast on the poop.  The proceeds were to be sent to the relatives of the two men.  The Captain, however, did not auction Beldam’s gold pocket watch, as he said he would send it to the man’s mother in San Francisco, her photograph was inside the case.

Later on we sighted Amsterdam Island, a very lonely uninhabited place, where a cache of provisions was kept under a stone cairn to help any mariners unfortunate enough to need them.

The remainder of the passage consisted of strong winds with good sailing weather until we reached the Australian coast.

On the tenth of June, we arrived in Adelaide after one hundred and forty days at sea.  When we picked up the pilot he told us that Lord Kitchener, C.I.C. of the British Forces had been blown up in the H.M.S. Hampshire and that there had been a big naval battle in the North Sea.  The shipchandler brought fresh fruit on board, and we had a meal at tea time that could not have tasted better, if it had been served by the best hotel in Australia.

After about a week in Adelaide, we had all our discharging gear ready and steam on the donkey boiler and longshoremen commenced to discharge the case oil.  These were leisurely days.  When work was finished in the evenings, the Mission to Seamen arranged outings, and we thoroughly enjoyed shore life after a long spell at sea.  At weekends, a saddle horse could be hired for a few shillings and we saw a bit of the Australian countryside that way, although it cost us a lot in discomfort the following day. 

As usual in countries where the wages were good, our sailors began to get restless after a couple of weeks and one day they all got drunk ashore on the Australian beer and came back on board looking for trouble, they had a grudge against the 2nd Mate, who, as I said before fancied himself as a bit of a hard case, he had been hazing them quite a lot during the passage.  Anyhow they set upon him and a fight started between the officers and apprentices on one side and the sailors on the other.  As I lived with the apprentices and the others were foreigners anyhow I pitched in my lot with the former.  The Captain brought out his revolver and threatened to use it on the men, but luckily this was not necessary.  The Mate then hoisted the ensign upside down as a signal that there was a mutiny on board, and hoped for the best.  I do not know who got the best of the fight, but the sailors all cleared off ashore, and when it was all over the police came on board to see what was the matter.  We never saw the sailors again.  Old John Collins thought discretion was the better part of valour and very wisely remained in the foc’s’le, he was too old for that kind of thing anyway.

After discharging our cargo we were towed away to our berth where we took in clay ballast to enable us to proceed to Melbourne, where we were to load wheat for home around Cape Horn.  New men were engaged for the run to Melbourne at Australian wages and I am sure that Captain Roberts did not quite appreciate this extra expense on his owners.  The passage to Melbourne took only a fortnight and the ship was handled very well because the runners were all prime sea men.

In Melbourne there were several large sailing ships in port, all loading wheat for home.  One I remember was a beautiful full rigged ship the ‘MOUNT STEWART’ and I greatly admired her, another ship was the American six masted barquentine ‘ER. STERLING’ named after the owner who was also the Master, she carried a fore skysail yard, and was fore and aft rigged on the other five masts, the advantage of her rig was that she could be handled by a fairly small crew.

At that time the Australian Expeditionary Force was preparing to go to France and the thing that impressed us, was that men in the Australian Light Horse were being paid five shillings per day, a fabulous amount to us or so it seemed.  One day an apprentice and I were painting the ships side on the stage and were discussing whether we should leave the ship and join up for the five shillings per day, I think we  had ideas of being wealthy men when the war was over.  I happened to look up and saw the Mate leaning over the rail, he had been listening all the time smiling to himself, he then called the two of us up and gave us such a lecture that put all thoughts of the Light Horse out of our minds.

We again discharged the ballast with our own depleted crew and then loaded a full cargo of wheat in bags.  The ‘JORDANHILL’ was again down to her plimsoll marks and I had visions of what we were to go through on our next passage.

To get a new crew was quite a problem for our Captain.  Men who would sail in British sailing ships at the low wages offered were few and far between.  After scouting around the boarding houses, and such places, two men were found, an old Australian Bosun who suffered from toothache all the way home and a Scotsman who wanted to get to England.  These two were supplemented with a few boys from the Victoria Training Ship ‘JOHN MURRAY’ but we were till two hands short and as there seemed no likelihood of getting any more the Captain decided to sail, he agreed with the crew to divide the short hand money between them and they were satisfied with this arrangement.

When sailing time came, we were towed out to Hobson’s Bay anchorage by the tug ‘RACER’ on the tenth of August 1916.  Our instructions were to proceed to Falmouth for orders.  We remained at anchor for a few days waiting for a fair wind and when it came we hoisted all our sails with the aid of the donkey boiler winch and this was a great help as our crew now consisted of a large sprinkling of young boys, who could not put very much weight on halliards and braces.

Our first job was to rig lifelines fore and aft and lash down securely anything that was moveable in preparation for what we knew was to be a very hard passage.  We had fair weather passing through Bass Straits and sighted Flinders Island, then headed to pass West and South of the Southern tip of New Zealand.  About a fortnight out we encountered strong winds which increased to gale force, with heavy seas coming on board, and we had to take in all sails down to lower topsails and foresails.  This was very heavy work and with our light crew all hands were required on deck nearly all the time and this made them very dissatisfied.  That day the men came aft to see the Captain and said that they did not think that the ship was sufficiently well manned to carry on and asked that the ship be taken to a New Zealand port for more men.  This the Captain refused to do and then the sailors refused to do any more work apart from sailing the ship and went forward to the forecastle.  This was a pretty kettle of fish.  The Captain and officers held a conference and decided to carry on, in the meantime with the help of the apprentices, carpenter, sailmaker and myself.  That night the vessel ran before the wind and sea and fortunately sail had not to be handled.  The following day the men came aft again and had a parley with the Captain who refused to change his mind.  It ended up with the Old Man, the Mate and 2nd Mate bringing their sextants and charts up on the poop and the Captain said to the men ‘Now Men; If you are prepared to lose the ship, we will do the same and throw all our navigational instruments over the side and you can sink or swim’, this was probably bluff on the Old Man’s part but it evidently impressed the men, they went forward and said that they would turn to if proceedings were not taken against them when they got to port.   This the Old Man agreed to and the mutiny was ended. 

When about 48 degrees South latitude and clear of the South of New Zealand we steered to the Eastward for the Horn.  The weather was appreciably colder now and the seas heavier with the decks never dry.  Sail was constantly taken in and set again as the wind freshened or abated and ordinary work was abandoned to the necessary steering and handling of the ship.  Several albatross, cape pigeons and other sea birds were in company with us, it’s a magnificent sight to see a majestic albatross with a wing span of about nine feet, sailing effortlessly by against a gale of wind, they came quite close to the yard arms and appeared to have little fear of humans.

In 50 degrees South latitude 160 degrees West longtitude we were in typical Cape Horn weather, wind strong easterly, with very high seas which flooded the decks fore and aft and made work in the waist of the ship very dangerous when trimming the yards.  At the braces which are hauled at the bulwark rail it was pull, make fast, hang on and pull again as the seas came right over the rail and over our heads, it was not long before the icy water got inside our oilskins and inside our sea boots wetting us through to the skin.  Strangely enough I have never known anybody to catch a cold in a sailing ship even after days on end of wettings, probably due to the fact of being wet by salt water.

The wheel on the ‘JORDANHILL’ was on the open poop and not protected by a wheelhouse and it was always impressed upon the helmsman that he was not to look astern, this was so that he would not be unnerved by the sight of a huge sea coming up astern.  Another sea rule was that when aloft it was one hand for the ship and the other for yourself and if in danger it was two hands for yourself and hang on for your life.

ON the 20th September when about 800 miles West of Cape Horn the ‘JORDANHILL’ was running before a gale of West South West winds under main upper sail, three lower topsails and reefed foresail with a mountainous sea running the, vessel was rolling very heavily and the seas were coming over each side solidly and running along the decks from the break of the poop to the forecastle.  To get along the decks was to risk life and limb as the wooden decks were now very slippery from being constantly wet and it was a case of hanging onto the lifelines as every sea came on board.  The men were at the wheel, a weather and a lee helmsman and great care had to be taken with the steering to keep the ship from broaching to.  The gale began to increase, heavy squalls of sleet and all hands were called on deck to take in the main upper topsail, for’s’al and mizzen lower topsail, this was quite a job and we suffered a lot from the cold and wet.  When up aloft it was a wonderful sight to see the mountainous seas coming up astern, the distance from crest to crest was about a mile long and at times you would think they were going to crash down on the poop and overwhelm the ship.  The decks were barely visible from aloft, just the tips of the deckhouses, poop and forecastle head, all the rest was white water, when viewed from aloft at night time the contrast between the inky blackness of the night and white swirling waters on the decks below is truly awe inspiring.  When we got down from aloft after making the sails fast a tremendous sea came in over the port side and ripped the tarpaulins off the main hatch, tore out the wedges and iron baton on one side and twisted the batten into a zigzag shape.  This was really serious and we all turned to with a will and after a terrific struggle got new tarpaulins on and got the hatch battened down but unfortunately not before some water had gotten into the hold.  We were already wet to the skin and most of us were cut and bruised by being knocked about by the heavy water coming on board, but this mattered little when our ship and lives were in danger.

The gale kept up for the next three days, with heavy hail and snow squalls, but the old ship kept going before it, the longer she could keep running the sooner we would be in fine weather.  The hard work was now beginning to tell on all of us and some of the men were suffering from salt water boils, my wrists were getting sore from the constant chaffing of my oilskins.  Drinking water was in short supply too, as the pump was situated abaft the main fife rail and for several days it could not be shipped as the deck was so flooden.  The galley fire had been put out several times owing to the place being awash and hot food was not often available, mostly we had biscuits and tinned beef or mutton.  The bosun’s teeth were giving him a lot of trouble, they were bad anyway, and he told us he had to soak his biscuits in water before he could eat them, we did however get some hot coffee now and again.  Life on the whole was pretty grim.  The half deck where we lived was in a wet part of the ship, between the mizzen mast and the break of the poop and we were constantly bailing out water from it, often it was a foot deep in the water and washing from side to side with the heavy rolling of the ship.  We had very few dry clothes left, and these we tried to keep dry by hanging them as high as possible away from the water.

At last the wind eased to a fresh breeze, and we set the foresail, mizzen lower topsail and main upper topsail, the wind was on the starboard quarter, very cold and the sea was as high as ever but not breaking.  The next day it was much finer and we set the main topgallant sails.  On the 25th September we passed Cape Horn with three topgallant sails set and the ‘JORDANHILL’ was reeling off a good eleven knots.  Incidentally, a couple of years later I was to round Cape Horn again as Second Mate of the barque ‘KILLORAN’ in the same month of the year and in somewhat similar weather but with a bit more experience than I had on this passage.

We all felt in much better spirts now and soon we were heading to the Northward and warmer latitudes.  We had a period of head winds after rounding the Cape, yards braced sharp up on the port tack steering ‘by the wind’ that is, the helmsman kept the weather clew of the royal just on the shiver.  Wind and sea was improving all the time.

When we go to 35 degrees South latitude the weather was quite warm and we hung out all our damp and wet gear to dry, some of our clothes were getting mildewed. 

We next unbent all the heavy canvas and bent the fine weather sails.  Human nature being what it is, we soon forgot all our past miseries and revelled in the fine warm weather.  When being aloft doing sailoring work it was most pleasant.  It is just as well that sailors are generally known to have short memories and can substitute the discomforts they have endured in bad weather for the pleasures of warm, sunny, fine sailing weather.

The passage passed without incident through the S.E. Trades and into the doldrums where we met with heavy tropical rains.  All hands were employed saving rain water to replenish our water tanks, as the water in these was getting low, sails were spread like awnings and the rain water was led through a large canvas hose into the tank.  We were also getting short of coal for the galley and several other items including flour, we have been on reduced rations of fresh bread for a fortnight also butter and tinned milk, but there is no shortage of biscuits, beans, peas and molasses, there are sacks of beans in the lazarette still.

On the 1st November when we were eighty three days out, one of the hands working on the main royal yard sighted a steamer coming up from astern, it was my watch on deck and we were told to get the lifeboat ready for putting over the side, there was great excitement amongst us.  When the steamer got near the Captain ordered the signal ‘We are short of provisions’ to be hoisted, and she proved to be the ‘ALKAID’ of Rotterdam bound from Rosario to her home port with grain.  She hove near us and the 2nd Mate, three others and myself manned the boat and rowed over to her.  The 2nd Mate went on board and told the Captain the items we were in short supply of.  We loaded the boat with bags of coal and took them to the ‘JORDANHILL’ and we again returned to the ‘ALKAID’, this time we got more coal, some sacks of flour and other provisions.  The Captain sent down a small keg of claret, a few bottles of schnapps, and cigars for our Captain, then he asked the 2nd Mate if he would allow us to come on board for a drink.  We were allowed up on board and the Chief Steward was sent for and we felt very important.  I did not drink at that time, but the temptation to get something for nothing was too great and I, in common with the rest, got a very liberal tot of schnappes and after thanking the Captain we all went on board our boat again.  Our boat was full up with sacks of coal and flour etc., and going down the rope ladder, I felt very elated, not being used to liquer and when I stepped on to the bags I staggered and fell over the side to the amusement of the Dutchmen looking over the steamer’s rail.  The others pulled me in again quick as sharks abound in those water.  The steamer then towed us back to the ‘JORDANHILL’ as we had drifted a good distance apart and she did not get under way until we were seen to be safely alongside our ship.  We gave him three very rousing cheers and he answered with his siren and then went on his way promising to report us when he arrived at Tenerife where he was to call for bunkers.  When we had taken all the coal and provisions on board and stowed the lifeboat back on the skids, the Old Man called all hands aft and gave them a small glass of the claret.  He and the officers were smoking cigars for the next few days.

By the way, all our officers were Welsh and when conversing amongst themselves often spoke in that language, it was a constant source of wonderment to us that anyone could understand such a strange sounding language.  Mr. Davies, the Mate, was very good to me and often went out of his way to teach me all kinds of sailoring jobs, such as making fancy sennit mats etc. and this made some of the others a bit jealous, he also made me study navigation and seamanship.   I often feel I owe a lot to that fine old sailor man.  He was one of the real old school, I remember him doing his washing at the break of the poop and hanging out what I thought very funny looking underwear, long baggy flannel underpants with tapes to fasten the bottoms of them around his ankles.  He and most of that fine old breed are gone to what I hope is, for them, fair winds and good sailing.

We soon picked up the North East Trades and set everything, royals, flying jib, staysails, spanker and gaff topsail, sailing “full and bye” that is about half a point or so from the wind.  This was really exhilarating sailing with the ‘JORDANHILL’ leaning over like a yacht and with all sails drawing and doing about ten knots.

In my log book which I kept daily, I read – 17th November a man was ordered to be put in irons for refusing duty, he is being fed on biscuits and water.  At this distance of time, I cannot quite recall what the man’s grievance was, or for how long he was kept in irons, but knowing what Captain Roberts was like and the times then pertaining, I think it would not have been long before this man thought better and turned to again.

All to soon we lost the North East Trades and the steady sailing weather and got into the variable winds.  We have been busy painting down all the masts, yards, bulwarks, deck houses etc., and the poop all the teak work such as rails, skylights, hart house, binnacles and harness casks, have been sanded and canvassed and given three coats of varnish.  The ‘JORDANHILL’ is looking really spick and span fore and aft.

Getting nearer the English Channel we were getting a bit anxious about the German submarines, as when leaving Melbourne, we had heard they were getting very active, but we had no means of knowing how the war was going.  One night we had a narrow escape from being run down by a steamer, the Mate lit a white flare to warn her of our presence and this probably saved us.  It was a pitch dark night and a sailing ships oil sidelights are not seen too easily.

On the 23rd December we sighted the Lizard Light in the early morning and the Old Man was very relieved as we had been running on dead reckoning for a number of days, the weather being dull and overcast.  We ran up our numbers and reported to the Light House and they signalled back ‘You are to proceed to Le Harve, your cargo is for the French Government’.  Shipping was now becoming more plentiful, we signalled a couple of steamers to get some war news, but could not get any answer, probably they did not want to stop as flag signalling is a slow and cumbersome job and they were in dangerous waters.

The wind now hauled to the Eastward, a head wind and we were not very happy about this, as it started to rain and the wind commenced to freshen, we put the ship on port tack and it was not long before we had to get the topgallant sails off her, and then the fore and mizzen upper topsails, under the remaining amount of sail we tried to beat up the Channel.

On Christmas Eve the wind moderated and went round to the South West and we set the topsails and topgallant sails again and at night sighted the Casquets Light on the French coast.  At daylight the land was visible on our starboard hand and a French destroyer came close to us and threw us some French papers.  She stayed by us all day as the wind was very light and we were making very little headway.  Towards the evening the wind hauled ahead again and commenced to freshen and we had to shorten sail and stand off the land for the night, this was very disappointing as we were so very near our destination.

On Christmas Day it was blowing very hard, it was very cold and we were tacking ship every four hours, the only Christmas fare we got was extra rations of hot coffee and for this purpose the galley fire was kept going all night instead of letting it go out and locking the galley at 6 p.m. as was the usual practice.

On Boxing Day, the 26th December, we had lost sight of land but picked it up again by evening, the Old Man is not sure of his position and has decided to hold off until morning under short sail.

On the 27th December morning broke with no land in sight and I was beginning to wonder how long it would be before we got into port.  Wind was easterly and we were tacking ship every four hours, at 4p.m. that day we saw a destroyer heading for us, he turned out to be an English vessel and he asked what our cargo and destination was and when we told him we had wheat for Le Harve he was most anxious to get us in port.  As the wind was right ahead and unfavourable for us the destroyer wirelessed ashore to report us and he was told to take us in tow.  We took in all sail and got our towing wire ready and the destroyer came under our bow to get hold of the rope.  The Captain of the destroyer handled his ship very badly and got foul of our jibboom which carried away his two masts and his wireless aerial rendering the apparatus useless.  The Mate who was on our foc’s’le head directing the handling of the towing gear let out a torrent of abuse at the naval officer in charge saying something about, so and so sea soldiers who did not know one end of a rope from the other, however the rope was got on board the destroyer and made fast, she then started towing and moved us through the water at about 4 knots.  We thought this was wonderful, no sails to bother about and only the steering of the ship to be attended to and this continued throughout the night.

When daylight broke on the 28th December the French coast was in sight, and we saw a light cruiser with D.19 on her bow coming towards us.  When she got near she told the destroyer Captain that she would take over and bring us in to Le Harve as she was a much more powerful vessel.  The destroyer let go our tow rope and the cruiser sent a brand new 3 ½ inch wire hawser to us, we then unshackled our port anchor and shackled the wire to the end of the cable, paying out about 25 fathoms of chain, the cruiser also attached a big 12 inch manilla spring to his end of the wire and we commenced towing.  She was indeed powerful as we were towing at about ten knots and everything held.  The cruiser was anxious to get us into port speedily and safely as our cargo was badly needed and we were in the danger zone.  An English minesweeper then came alongside to assist in the towing but was soon ordered to let go as we were going faster the minesweeper could go.  Before leaving us she passed three bucketfuls of oranges on board which we soon made short work of as it was the first fresh fruit he had tasted in nearly five months.  They told us that three sailing ships had been torpedoed the week before in the same place that we had been picked up by the destroyer, one of them was the American four-masted barque ‘DIRIGO’ of Bath, Maine.  When we got into Le Harve the cruiser let us go and we dropped anchor.

The following day the 29th December 1916 the ‘ABEILLE IV’ came alongside to take us to our berth, and we hove up the anchor heaving on the capstan bars to the shanty ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘It’s time for us to leave her’ at 2p.m. we berthed after being 141 days at sea.  Lying near us was the four-masted barque ‘ALICE A. LEIGH’ one of the biggest sailing ships afloat under the British flag.  I visited this ship and got talking to her 1st Mate and was very surprised to discover that he was a Mr. Walsh and that he hailed from the village of Dunkitt, Co. Waterford, about 10 miles from my own home town.

Our voyage is now finished and in a few days, I will be leaving the old ship and my shipmates in fair weather and foul for seventeen months.  The only one I ever met again was the 1st Mate Mr. Davies.  A few years later after having obtained my Mate’s Certificate I was appointed to one of Thos. Law’s steamers the ‘LARGO LAW’ as 1st Mate.  I joined her in Liverpool, also there, was one of Law’s sailing ships the four-masted barque ‘ELGINSHIRE’ and of course I had to visit her.  There on board was Mr. Davies, superintending the stowage of casks of beef and pork in the forepeak with a crowd of raw young apprentices in preparation for another voyage around the Horn.  It reminded me vividly of a few years before.   Mr. Davies must have been nearly seventy when in the ‘ELGINSHIRE’.  What a wonderful heart that man had.


Capt. R.J. Farrell,

Harbour Master

Waterford 1940 – 1975

Dated 21st April 1968

Ships served on


1913 - 1915White Star Line ‘Medic’Deck boySteamer

1915 – 1917Jordanhill Able Seaman (2 years)4 Masted Barque

1918 – 1919Killoran 2nd Mate4 Masted Barque

1918 – 1919Zaydo (for 9 months)3 Masted Barque & Barquentine

1920 – 1927Largo Law2nd Mate & 1st MateSteamer

1928 – 1941Gogovale 1st MateSteamer

1930 – 1941GogovaleMasterSteamer

1941 – 1975Waterford PortHarbour Master