CHAPTER I. DOWN CHANNEL.
At Gravesend—Taking in Stores—First Night on Board—"The Anchor's Up"—Off Brighton—Change of Wind—Gale in the Channel—The Abandoned Ship—The Eddystone—Plymouth Harbour—Departure from England.
20th February: At Gravesend.—My last farewells are over, my last adieus are waved to friends on shore, and I am alone on board the ship 'Yorkshire,' bound for Melbourne. Everything is in confusion on board. The decks are littered with stores, vegetables, hen-coops, sheep-pens, and coils of rope. There is quite a little crowd of sailors round the capstan in front of the cabin door. Two officers, with lists before them, are calling over the names of men engaged to make up our complement of hands, and appointing them to their different watches.
Though the ship is advertised to sail this evening, the stores are by no means complete. The steward is getting in lots of cases; and what a quantity of pickles! Hens are coming up to fill the hen-coops. More sheep are being brought; there are many on board already; and here comes our milk-cow over the ship's side, gently hoisted up by a rope. The animal seems amazed; but she is in skilful hands. "Let go!" calls out the boatswain, as the cow swings in mid-air; away rattles the chain round the wheel of the donkey-engine, and the break is put on just in time to land Molly gently on the deck. In a minute she is snug in her stall "for'ard," just by the cook's galley.
Passengers are coming on board. Here is one mounting the ship's side, who has had a wet passage from the shore. A seaman lends him a hand, and he reaches the sloppy, slippery deck with difficulty.
It is a dismal day. The sleet and rain come driving down. Everything is raw and cold; everybody wet or damp. The passengers in wet mackintoshes, and the seamen in wet tarpaulins; Gravesend, with its dirty side to the river, and its dreary mud-bank exposed to sight; the alternate drizzle and down-pour; the muddle and confusion of the deck;—all this presented anything but an agreeable picture to look at. So I speedily leave the deck, in order to make a better acquaintance with what is to be my home for the next three months.
First, there is the saloon—long and narrow—surrounded by the cabins. It is our dining-room, drawing-room, and parlour, all in one. A long table occupies the centre, fitted all round with fixed seats and reversible backs. At one end of the table is the captain's chair, over which hangs a clock and a barometer. Near the after end of the saloon is the mizen-mast, which passes through into the hole below, and rests on the keelson.
The cabins, which surround the saloon, are separated from it by open woodwork, for purposes of ventilation. The entrances to them from the saloon are by sliding doors. They are separated from each other by folding-doors, kept bolted on either side when one cabin only is occupied; but these can be opened when the neighbours on both sides are agreeable.
My own little cabin is by no means dreary or uninviting....