The Survivors of the Chancellor
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Series: Extraordinary Voyages
Pages (PDF): 177
Publication Date: 1875
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This is the 13th book in the Extraordinary Voyages Series. The book is about the final voyage of a British sailing ship, the Chancellor, told from the perspective of one of its passengers (in the form of a diary). At the beginning of its voyage, the Chancellor carried 28 people, but by the end, only eleven people remain.
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CHARLESTON, SEPTEMBER 27th, 1869. — It is high tide, and three o’clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery-quay; the ebb carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, the northerly breeze drives the “Chancellor” briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed, and by four o’clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has carried us through the harbour-mouth.
But as yet we have not reached the open sea; we have still to thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a south- west course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven o’clock in the evening; we are out free upon the wide Atlantic.
The “Chancellor” is a fine square-rigged three-master, of 900 tons burden, and belongs to the wealthy Liverpool firm of Laird Brothers. She is two years old, is sheathed and secured with copper, her decks being of teak, and the base of all her masts, except the mizen, with all their fittings, being of iron. She is registered first class A I, and is now on her third voyage between Charleston and Liverpool. As she wended her way through the channels of Charleston harbour, it was the British flag that was lowered from her mast-head; but without colours at all, no sailor could have hesitated for a moment in telling her nationality — for English she was, and nothing but English from her water-line upwards to the truck of her masts.
I must now relate how it happens that I have taken my passage on board the “Chancellor” on her return voyage to England. At present there is no direct steamship service between South Carolina and Great Britain, and all who wish to cross must go either northwards to New York or southwards to New Orleans. It is quite true that if I had chosen to start from New York I might have found plenty of vessels belonging to English, French, or Hamburg lines, any of which would have conveyed me by a rapid voyage to my destination; and it is equally true that if I had selected New Orleans for my embarkation I could readily have reached Europe by one of the vessels of the National Steam Navigation Company, which join the French Transatlantic line of Colon and Aspinwall. But it was fated to be otherwise.
One day, as I was loitering about the Charleston quays, my eye lighted upon this vessel. There was something about the “Chancellor” that pleased me, and a kind of involuntary impulse took me on board, where I found the internal arrangements perfectly comfortable. Yielding to the idea that a voyage in a sailing vessel had certain charms beyond the transit in a steamer, and reckoning that with wind and wave in my favour there would be little material difference in time; considering, moreover, that in these low latitudes the weather in early autumn is fine and unbroken, I came to my decision, and proceeded forthwith to secure my passage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have reason to regret my determination is a problem to be solved in the future. However, I will begin to record the incidents of our daily experience, dubious as I feel whether the lines of my chronicle will ever find a reader.
SEPTEMBER 28th. — John Silas Huntly, the captain of the “Chancellor,” has the reputation of being an experienced navigator of the Atlantic. He is a Scotchman, a native of Dundee, and is about fifty years of age. He is of middle height and slight build, and has a small head, which he has a habit of holding a little over his left shoulder. I do not pretend to be much of a physiognomist, but I am inclined to believe that my few hours’ acquaintance with our captain has given me considerable insight into his character. That he is a good seaman and thoroughly understands his duties I could not for a moment venture to deny; but that he is a man of resolute temperament, or that he possesses the amount of courage that would render him, physically or morally, capable of coping with any great emergency, I confess I cannot believe. I observe a certain heaviness and dejection about his whole carriage. His wavering glances, the listless motions of his hands, and his slow, unsteady gait, all seem to me to indicate a weak and sluggish disposition. He does not appear as though he could be energetic enough ever to be stubborn; he never frowns, sets his teeth, or clenches his fist. There is something enigmatical about him; however, I shall study him closely and do what I can to understand the man who, as commander of a vessel, should be to those around him “second only to God.”
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is another man on board who, if circumstances should require it, would take the more prominent position — I mean the mate. I have hitherto, however, had such little opportunity of observing his character, that I must defer saying more about him at present.
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert Curtis, our crew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boatswain, and fourteen sailors, all English or Scotch, making eighteen altogether, a number quite sufficient for working a vessel of 900 tons burden. Up to this time my sole experience of their capabilities is, that under the command of the mate, they brought us skilfully enough through the narrow channels of Charleston; and I have no reason to doubt but that they are well up to their work.
My list of the ship’s officials is incomplete unless I mention Hobart, the steward, and Jynxstrop, the negro cook.
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