A SKETCH OF MY WANDERINGS
From Mike Shaw
Language used to describe black workers in the USA may offend some but as it was in everyday use at the time and is in no way meant to demean or denigrate I have left as is. – Dave Angus
I was born at 44 Frances Street Seaham Harbour on November 24th 1866 and at the age of four I went into the infant’s department of St John’s National School and at the age of five I was transferred to the Boys School into a class taught by Mr Robert Robson, after about 6 months I was moved into the second class, afterwards these were known as Standards, later I was promoted to Standard III. My father worked at Messrs John Candlish Bottleworks where the workmen had a School of their own to which every man subscribed and they had a School Mistress for the girls and a Master for the boys. I did not make much progress there, afterwards it was abandoned and I went to St John’s National School at Swinebank Cottages and rose to standard III, Mr Robert Clark was then Headmaster.
I was also in the Church Choir, Mr John G Phillips was Organist and Choirmaster, there was no restriction on the school leaving age and I used to be absent from School often, taking the place of boys who were sick and unable to work in the Bottleworks. Then at the age of ten I started work permanently but after I had worked a while the School leaving age was fixed, a boy could work half time until he was 13 then he could leave altogether if he had passed into the fourth Standard.
I had to go back to the School but owing to working half time I had not sufficient attendances in to qualify for examination. When I was 13 and wished to leave School, I was still in Standard III but Mr Clark gave me a note certifying that I had not sufficient attendances in to be examined to qualify for Standard IV.
I had been working full time and going to School half time, I was enabled to do that by commencing work at midnight drawing annealed bottles out of the kilns, by pushing on they could all be got out by 7.30 or 8 A.M. so that I got to School in the morning and got to bed after dinner until it was time to start work again.
There was nothing very eventful in my boyhood, at the age of fourteen I was bound Apprentice to Robert Candlish + Son, the former head of the firm having passed away. When I was sixteen years of age a strike took place among the Bottlemakers throughout the North of England which included Seaham Harbour, several factories in Sunderland, one each at Stockton, South Shields and Hartley Panns.
After it had lasted a few months all the furnaces were out and all we Apprentices were kept on just doing odd labouring jobs to hold us. The Manager Mr Archibald Hall told us if we could better ourselves we could leave but must come back when the men returned to work, I got work at Murton Colliery where my Father was already employed , I got just a little over double my Apprentice wages.
The strike lasted ten months then the men returned to work, in my opinion all that was gained by the long strike was a much needed change, for previous to the strike there was no actual time allowed for meals owing to the time it took to prepare the glass ready to make into bottles.
We started at one A.M. on the Monday and finished at one P.M. but it might be 2. 3. or 4 AM or later before the glass was ready for the next shift. I have started at 2 AM on the Monday and owing to the time it took to get the glass ready, sometimes eighteen hours, it was 4 PM on Saturday before we got the fifth shift in.
When we started we had so many dozen bottles to make before our shift (or journee) was completed, I started at 9 A.M. one Wednesday morning and it was 11 A.M. on the Thursday before we completed the shift 63 dozen quart bottles. To begin with, when we started work the glass was what was technically called not fine in respect that correctly named it was not refined, it was actually full of small white stones. It was no use to work it for the bottles would not stand any pressure, in fact they would crack to pieces before anything was put into them, so the furnace had to be opened out again and the fires driven to their fiercest for 8hours.
The men went home, we boys were supposed to go home but instead we just played around doing all kinds of mischief. It was nearly 7 P.M. before we got another start to make bottles then the glass turned what was technically glass-knotty, that is it looked like sago-pudding, the fires had to be set away again at their fiercest, it was four hours before we got another start, we boys just played about the whole time. It was nearly 6 AM on Thursday morning before we got another start and there were so many faults of various kinds that it was 11 A.M. on Thursday before we had made 63 dozen bottles to claim our wages for a shift (or journee) (the French term for a days work). Altogether we were 26 hours completing that shift for which I received l/7d the highest paid man only received 6/-.
Well, before that ten months strike we had no set time for meals, but it was arranged when we re-started work when we would stop for meals, for instance if we started at 11 A.M. to work till 11 P.M. it would be arranged to stop for dinner at 1 PM, perhaps 5 P.M. for tea, then work on without supper until we got home. A messenger would be sent to tell wives & mothers the times we would stop for meals, well when we did stop it was not for 15 or 30 minutes but sit down and eat (gobble) as fast as you could. The quickest eater would often take less than 10 minutes then jump to his feet and everyone had to follow, but after the long strike it was settled to have one hour for meals, the shifts by that time having been reduced to eleven hours the hour was divided into two stops of 30 minutes or three of 20 minutes according to the time of starting.
There was nothing very eventful during my apprenticeship until 1887 when the first continuous (gas) tank in Seaham Harbour Bottleworks burst and the molten glass flowed out on to the floor and found its way down into the huge cave underneath. The heat from the molten glass set the wooden rafters on fire, I was at work at the time, it was in the early afternoon, there were no fire fighting appliances but the men on drill at the Naval Reserve battery close at hand rushed on the scene. Each got a bucket, but the fire was principally 30 feet up so that the buckets of water were practically useless. I remembered there was a fire brigade and I rushed off to the Police Station to give the alarm. I was just as I had been working, just trousers & shirt, no stockings or head covering and only a pair of bottlehouse slippers (usually sea boots cut down to the heel & about half of the uppers cut away), so clad or less than half clad, I ran almost a mile and when I got to the police station they said they had nothing to do with putting out fires.
I had to continue my run up to the Londonderry Engine Works where the Captain & I think all the crew of the fire brigade were working. The Captain and all the workmen could not tell what had happened when they saw me half clothed but the Captain, Mr John Boggon was the first man I saw & he instantly ceased his work and summoned his crew & were soon on the scene of the fire. The fire was extinguished but not before a great amount of damage was done to the tank of molten glass, 200 TONS approximately, of which at least 100 tons ran into the cave and formed a solid block in some places 15 ft thick.
The next three years were without great excitement except for days or nights of sociability in connection with the choir of the Presbyterian Church of which I had been a member from its commencement. I was also a member of Church from the ordination of the Rev John King of Aberdeen who came straight from the University at Aberdeen to be the first Minister of the Seaham Harbour Presbyterian church, he was a man of exceptional scholarship and was said to he the finest Hebrew Scholar in Scotland.
He took his M.A. degree before leaving the University, he also excelled in Greek, he was a great musician and for many years conducted the choir himself during which time it was a noted choir for miles around and rendered several Cantatas. With the assistance of Mr Coates from Trinity Presbyterian Church Sunderland he rendered the oratorio Christ and his Soldiers with full orchestral accompaniments, the principals were Mrs Lawrence, contralto of Newcastle, Miss Oakeshott, soprano of Newcastle, Mr Macdonald of Durham Cathedral, tenor, and Mr Fred Forster of Sunderland, bass. It was a huge success. For over seven years, Mr King was Minister of Seaham Harbour, then he received a call to Alloa, the Church was in a flourishing condition in every way and it was a great loss to Seaham when Mr King went away, just before he left, I got married to my betrothed Miss Jane Ann Clarke who was a native of Sunderland.
We were married on July 2nd 1890 our first child a son was born April 12th 1891. We had two other children born in Seaham Harbour, a daughter Mary Elizabeth, and a son Ernest and we then went to Hendon to live. I went to work at Hendon Bottleworks and while I was working at Hendon we had another son born Arthur Augustus.
In 1897 I went to Scotland to work, I started Provost Wood’s factory in Portobello, afterwards I went to Alloa in Clackmannanshire, while I was there we had a son born to us William by name, afterwards I went to work at Messrs Paul’s Bottleworks in Camlachie where I worked for a good while until a friend of mine from Dublin came to visit us, he gave me glowing accounts of the prosperous state of the bottle trade in Dublin and the large amount of money earned there. I decided to try Dublin, I wrote to Mr Peter McLuskey, I have omitted that just before my friend from Dublin called upon me, my wife gave birth to another child stillborn.
When I went to Dublin to work at Ringsend Bottleworks my wife & family followed about 3 weeks later. I remained some time in Dublin and then moved 109 miles further south to Waterford, a very small factory employing only about 12 bottlemakers, 8 Boys, about 7 labourers and a blacksmith who was also a fitter.
After a while the Manager discharged me and when I asked him what I was discharged for he said he was very sorry but the business was not paying and he had to start as a bottlemaker himself, so as I was collector for the Union and the only Union Official in the factory I had to write and tell the Secretary (in Dublin) the circumstances. The Secretary was not satisfied and wrote to the Manager (who was a member of the Society) that he had called the committee together and they had decided that my notice was illegal and that I must be reinstated or no other workman would be allowed to take my place. A deputation came down from Dublin, they would not consult the Manager as he was still a Bottlemaker, they went straight to the Chairman of the Directors who (quite rightly in my opinion) refused to discuss what they said was the business of the Manager.
I in the meantime was told not to leave Waterford and the Society would pay my wages, in the meantime they would not allow anyone to work in my position which meant another two Men & two Boys being thrown out of work and a reduction of one quarter the production of the factory. Before the end of the week I was reinstated and the Manager was severely reprimanded but the Secretary told me to get out of it as quickly as possible for the Manager would find some excuse to get me out of it, so I looked about and got work at the Waterford Gas Works as a lamplighter.
At first I had to light the lamps with an oil torch on the end of a pole then after a while the incandescent mantles were introduced, I had a long round with 80 lamps, there were five of us employed by the Gas Co to light the City’s lamps. When the incandescent mantle was introduced the manager would not allow the torch to be used as it was apt to break the mantles. Nor would he allow any by-pass to be on the lamps as they waste a lot of gas burning in the daylight, so we each had to carry a ladder 12 feet long and use a match at least to every lamp. It was alright in fine day weather but on wet or windy weather it took 6 or 7 matches to light one lamp as everything was wet and even the sandpaper on the box got wet. We had to try all sorts of devices, luckily we had plenty of matches as we were supplied with 3 boxes of Puck matches per day and as 3 boxes did two nights comfortably we always had plenty in hand.
We were allowed 1/4 shift for lighting the lamps, 1/4 for putting them out and we had to work in the yard the other 1/2 shift unless the lamps needed cleaning or repainting, On one day we were engaged scraping & painting a telescope gas holder, using our lamplighting ladders, I had just finished as high up as I could reach with my 12 ft ladder and come down the ladder when the yard foreman said he wanted the plate next above where I had just been busy.
I told him I could not reach it from my ladder he told me to go to the store and get a box to stand my ladder on, I did and without any thought of safety placed the box level on the ground without thinking whether or not it was safe to ascend on it. The foreman who was standing by did not seem to see anything wrong, but I afterwards learned that the ladder had been too near the edge of the box. I went up with my scraper, wire brush, and pot of paint.
I do not remember anything more, but I was told afterwards when I recovered consciousness (6 days after) that I had placed the ladder too near the outer edge of the box, when I got near the top of the ladder the box overturned and I fell, struck on a fixed metal casting with my left temple fracturing the skull very badly. That was just after 1 P.M. on the Monday and was conveyed to hospital where I lay unconscious until Saturday at 3 PM.
I was in such a bad state that my wife had permission to come in at any time to see me as there was no hope of my recovery, in fact the Doctor said as far as he could see it was impossible for me to recover, but by the end of the second week I was able to get out of bed (unknown to the Doctor) and after a few days I asked the Doctor for my discharge. He pooh poohed the idea, for as far as he knew I had not been out of bed, and he said I could not walk and was surprised when I told him I had been along the corridor on two or three occasions.
He went and interviewed the nurse who verified my statement but still he would not consent, saying that it was only a few days ago that he had no hope of my recovery but after a few more days he very reluctantly consented to let me go home and attend every day as an outpatient, saying that I must not touch strong drink inside 6 months as it would go straight to my brain, I told him there was no chance of that for I was a life-long total abstainer and was not likely to start now on such small wages.
He said that just exactly explained what he and the other doctors and matron and nurses had been puzzled over, for when I was carried in there and for a whole week after there were 100 to 1 chances against me recovering and though they did everything in their power to save me they could not tell how I had pulled through. What I had just told him explained everything for if there had been any alcohol in the system I could never have pulled through.
When I was convalescent I could not understand why the blinds at the windows had two cords hanging from the bottom, or why the nurse when she came to take my temperature had two thermometers & also had two pencils to write it down. I mentioned it to the Matron & she informed the Dr who said that was a case for an Oculist, the Matron informed the Oculist who explained to me that the jolt when I fell & struck my head had caused muscles to open & let my left eye fall below the right one and that instead of the two eyes working in unison with each other each eye saw separately, he could not do anything to help me, and it would depend upon the muscles to raise the eye back into it’s proper position.
At the end of the fourth week I went to see the manager of the Gas Works about getting started on the following Monday but he would not let me start, he said I could not be fit for the Doctor had informed him that I would never work again. He made me take another week off though he was paying my full wages to my wife all the time, so I started after five weeks off and remained there a long time but I was eager to get away to sea as a fireman.
I tried hard to get a ship but Waterford was a very bad place for a stranger to get installed as a fireman unless he had previous experience as it was only a call port for passenger steamers and what cargo steamers came in it was not the end of their voyage. A number of Clyde Shipping Co steamers called there on their way to Plymouth and London then again on their return voyage to Glasgow, I could not get a berth on any of them as it was neither the beginning nor the end of the voyage but an Engineer Chief of the S.S.Sheerness promised to do his best for me.
One Sunday morning when the Sheerness called on her way back to London I went on board as soon as she came alongside and saw the Chief who told me he was going to pay a man off when he got to Glasgow and if I would go round to Glasgow he would give me the berth. Next morning I extinguished my lamps and instead of going into the yard to work after breakfast I went into the Manager’s Office and asked him to let me away without working any notice, at first he would not consent for me to go but when I told him I was going to get double the wage I then had, he at once arranged to let me go.
I went on a free passage to Glasgow by arrangement with the head Agent at Waterford but when we got into the open sea another man turned up, an experienced fireman and a friend of two others of the firemen on theSheerness. When we got into the Clyde, before we got to Glasgow, the Chief told me he could not give me the berth as I was not an experienced fireman and two of the other firemen had threatened to leave if he engaged me instead of the man they had brought with them.
I pointed out to him that I had left a permanent job on his promise to give me the berth, but he said he could not do it so I was left stranded in Glasgow. I was out of work for four days then I got started in Stephen & Co’s shipyard (where they built most of the C.P.R. steamers) as a labourer, after working for a few weeks I returned to Waterford and got work to start labouring for Messrs McAlpine, son in law of Sir William Arrol who built the Forth Bridge.
A company had decided to make a new route to Killarney from a port in Wales to a port a little north of Waterford, to continue the route by sail to the north side of the river Suir then to erect a Bridge across the Suir to the south side and continue the railway from there to Killarney.
The railway on the south side was completed when I started but I started on the north side and remained there for some considerable time during which time several gangs of labourers were broken up and paid off but I was lucky enough to be there until there were only two Gangs employed, about 50 men.
Just then the bottle trade in Dublin got busy and there was a demand for men and I applied and got a job in the Hibernian bottle factory. About this time my wife gave birth to a daughter who was in such a bad way when she was born that she only lived about 7 days & was buried in Mount Jerome, the protestant cemetery away up by the Grand Canal.
Soon after this I wanted to live nearer my childhood home so I got work at Ayres Quay Bottleworks (Sunderland), then my next move was back to Seaham Harbour in 1910 as a labourer & spare bottlemaker.
After being there a while through an unfortunate incident, the yard foreman paid me off, I had done no wrong, for my work was finished till 1 o’clock. At 11.45 A.M. I went over to the office for my wages, any man taking spare work when any of the bottlemakers were off work had the privilege of leaving his work at 11.30 to go & collect his pay from the man he had been working for. As I went to the office a woman was standing with her husband’s dinner, she did not want to go along the yard and could not get anyone to take it along for her so I took it along for her. At 12 noon when I went to the lodge to sign out, my key was not on the board, when I called out, someone has taken the wrong key the foreman was standing near and he said, here is your key come back at one o clock & get your money, when I asked why he replied for being away from your work talking to a bottlemaker. That happened on the day preceeding Good Friday, on Easter Monday I was at Tyne Dock trying to get a ship.
I was not successful & next morning I went on to Blyth where I had some relatives. An Uncle used his influence with a friend of his who was Foreman painter in the shipyard and as they were very busy I got started next morning. The foreman asked me had I ever done any painting and I truthfully informed him that I had done a good deal of painting, so he gave me a pot of paint, the paint was about six inches deep so I went with the crowd under the ship’s bottom and commenced as I had been accustomed to do and as I had seen house painters do, but I got a rude awakening. The other men (all accustomed to the job) set themselves apart at equal distances and without saying anything to me left me a space. I set to work very carefully to do the job neatly so that the foreman at least would not find fault but I had not got 1/8th of my space done when the man on my right hand finished his space and wishing good-bye shifted to the other end and commenced on another space in a few more seconds the man on my left hand did likewise, in a few more seconds I was the only one left at that part of the ship
The foreman who had been standing near, came up to me & said I did not need to take so much pains as there was any amount of paint & instead of taking pains to avoid brush marks all I had to do was to get the brush full of paint & float it on. Adding excuse me & I’ll show you what I mean, he dipped the brush right to the very bottom of the pot and applied the paint as a woman would commence to wash a floor (only it was more in the position of a ceiling). Now, he said that’s the way to paint a ship’s bottom, don’t spare the paint. When I had finished that space I moved along & found that the rest of the squad had finished their second space but there was a space left untouched for me. I was not discouraged but tackled my space without asking the why or wherefore & filled my brush & floated the paint on, and was finished with my fourth space alongside the others.
The foreman never said another word but smiled approvingly next time he came round and I remained painting & had painted dozens of ships when the yard turned slack. We were all paid off on the Friday night until some work came in, I was at lodgings & could not afford to be out of work so I went down to the Shipping Office to look for a ship and at last I got my chance, for the Captain of the Luque belonging to Messrs MacAndrew of Glasgow was looking for a trimmer.
Luque was engaged in the Spanish fruit trade & the orange season was just finished, she was loaded with coal for Malaga & was to sail early next morning so I went on board to see the Chief Engineer and knocked on the door of his berth, when he opened the door I could scarcely see him for a mosquito curtain but I soon heard him for he was a little rat faced bully & I had disturbed his after dinner nap.
I did not mention that the crew were all foreigners but the Officers were British, the reason being the Luque was in the Spanish & Portuguese trade and had signed on at Hamburg where men could be got at £1 per month less than the British rate of wages. The wages were per month. Firemen & Sailors £3.10, Trimmer & Ordinary Seamen £3 so I had signed on for £3 per month just for the sake of getting a ship & a discharge book at the end of the voyage.
The Officers were a mixed lot of Britishers, the Captain (a fine man) belonged to Grimsby, the Chief mate belonged to Liverpool, the Chief engineer (a perfect pig) belonged to Bath, the Second to Glasgow & the Third to Dublin. I wanted to see the Chief to get some idea about my work & what I would need to have with me in the way of utensils, when he opened the door he greeted me with, who the —- are you & what the —- —- do you mean by disturbing my rest. I apologised for disturbing him and informed him that the Captain had engaged me and would he please tell what I would require in the way of gear.
He answered, so you are the new fireman, do you know what you’re going among, I answered I understand I am going to mix with a lot of foreigners and he said, is that all you know about them, let me tell you you’re going among a lot of b——- rogues & if you’ve got any money on you don’t you let them know, I said I could manage to look after myself.
That was the day King Edward VII died & we sailed early next morning but had to lie outside the harbour a few hours as the Second Engineer had not turned up, after a few hours he turned up drunken but when he was sober I found him to be a perfect Gentleman and got on well with him. We had beautiful weather & at night I realised the beauty of the hymn But to us He gives the keeping, of the lights along the shore.
The beautiful weather continued until we got half-way across the Bay of Biscay, then I discovered the truth of the worst I had heard about the Bay of Biscay but we ran into beautiful weather before we got to Gibraltar & having my sketching block & pencils with me, as soon as we came somewhat near the Rock I commenced to sketch it. The foreigners were greatly tickled at a fireman sketching anything but Captain Harrison came down off the bridge & was greatly interested in my sketch but told me I had started on it too soon for if I had waited until we got due west of it I would have been able to get a full view.
I completed the one I had started and then when we got abreast of it I at once saw the truth of what the Captain had said & commenced another, when we got through the Straits I was standing in the stokehold watching the firemen but the Second came through the alleyway & said if you want to learn to fire Reed for God sake don’t take notice of any of this lot for not one of them can fire. Three of them were there at the time to try & get to Malaga before the tide was done but they could not get enough steam and we had to wait until next day.
Malaga is a very beautiful place with beautiful specimens of ornamental gardening almost on to the quays. The first time I went ashore I took pains to notice how far I went to the left hand & was very careful not to go far from the main street and then come back as much through another street, then made my way back to the docks. When I thought I must be near the docks I came to the most beautiful ornamental gardening I had ever seen and I made sure I had lost myself and was in a beautiful Park so I turned round retraced my steps to try & find the docks and wandering about for a while I found myself at the same beautiful park again I turned about again & saw some of the most beautiful scenery it had ever been my lot to see.
All this time when I tried to make inquiries no one could understand me and I landed back at the same spot three times but the third time in front of one of the estaminets seated at a table were some of my shipmates, they could understand enough English to inform me that I was at the docks and that the Luque was just about 300 yards away but the scenery was so beautiful I could not think I was near the docks.
I found out where the English Church was by going to the British Consul’s office and next day being Sunday I went to the English Church and enjoyed a splendid service in English.
After discharging our cargo of coal we took on a part cargo of wine then we departed for Lisbon and took on a large quantity of virgin cork, then we left for San Juan near the mouth of the river Guadalquivir where we took on another part cargo of copper ore then we went further up the river to Seville where we took on board a quantity of Olives and Olive oil.
I had a good look round Seville as we were there 3 days, I was in the Gothic Cathedral & various other places of interest, then we sailed for London, the first night at sea I was roused from my slumber by a noise in the fo’cstle, when I looked over the side of my bunk there were both sailors and firemen having a feast of Olives & Olive oil. They had broached the cargo, also they had pails full of wine which they had obtained from the casks by boring small holes and taking a quantity from several casks. I was invited to join in the feast but declined, this went on until we got to the Straits of Dover then the carpenter who had made the holes in the casks put spales [plugs] in them and trimmed them off neatly so they would not be noticed. I gave 24 hours notice when we got to the straits intending to leave the ship in London and get a discharge with which I thought I would be able to get almost any steamer wanting hands.
I went to Dock Street Shipping Office with the Captain and second Engineer who was also leaving, I was paid off but before I was paid off the Captain in course of conversation observed it was a pity I could not get on with the Spaniards, when I told him I had nothing again the Spaniards, they had dealt with me alright, my grievance was with the Engineer whom I considered to be a perfect pig. The Captain wanted me to remain with him until we got to Hamburg as I would find it very difficult to get another ship in London with only a trimmer’s discharge. I refused thinking even a trimmer’s discharge with a good character would get me a ship, but I failed time after time.
I was sent by the Shipping Federation to one of the C.P.R. steamers the Mount Temple there were 16 hands wanted for the stokehold but as soon as the Chief looked at my discharge book he handed it back saying no good. I tackled one Chief at Dock Street Shipping Office, he was Chief of the Discovery, at that time fitting out for the seal trade in Labrador, when I asked the Chief if he wanted firemen he answered yes, have you a discharge book, answering him yes I produced it but when he looked at it he viewed me from top to toe, then with a kindly look he answered, I’m real sorry lad but that is no use, I would have taken you directly if you had had a fireman’s discharge, so I failed again.
After two weeks I was at the end of my money having spent it travelling from dock to dock meeting disappointment at every turn, then I took the Newcastle passenger steamer to Newcastle and then travelled to North Shields, and put up at a Seamen’s boarding house. I was equally unsuccessful there for a few days but at last the Gentleman Capt Todd in charge of the Federation office told me one morning he had a Captain coming from Blyth who wanted a Sailor & a Fireman and he had put my name down for the Fireman’s berth.
When the Captain arrived he at first was not quite willing to sign a man on with nothing but a trimmer’s discharge, but the Superintendant strongly recommended him to take me, at last he felt my arms like a butcher at a cattle market, then he said, alright Captain Todd this man will suit me. I was instructed to go by a train leaving about mid-day, there was also an Engineer’s steward from the same boarding house going to join the same ship S.S.Sheaffield of Newcastle so the boarding house master accompanied us to the Blyth Shipping Office to get his pay for our keep for 6 days.
I had just signed on and was picking up my half months advance when the Captain (Captain Clark) intervened & stopped me, saying he had forgot there was a Boarding House keeper for six days keep & he attempted to pick it up to give him when the Shipping Master intervened. He said Captain, never interfere with a mans advance or wages where I am, that money belongs to Mr Reed, he has just signed for it, and in future trust to a man’s honesty to pay his debts, it doesn’t matter to you whether he pays the Boarding Master or he doesn’t, you have nothing whatever to do with it so remember in future.
I may say here I am sure the Shipping Master was right, but I never sailed with a finer Gentleman than Captain Clark proved to be, he was part owner and shortly after I left the Sheaffield he was made Superintendant and never failed to stop & speak to me whenever we met. The Chief Engineer Mr Merrit was also a very fine man.
I next joined the S.S.Rowen which belonged to Furness Withy, a steamer of about 4000 tons on which I met the best shipmate ever I sailed with, he was an Irishman O’Neill was his name, I always called him Teddy O’Neill. I left the Rowen and then got engaged by Mr Robert Curry and was firing at Seaham Colliery a while, I was also Engineman at Seaham Harbour Gas Works under Mr James White, manager, afterwards I joined a small steamer S.S.Ravenscraig owned by Mr Thomas Rose of Sunderland we went to Kirkwall & afterwards made several more trips to the Orkney Islands.
On one occasion after discharging coal at Kirkwall we went to a small place called Barra it was not really a port, we had to go through Scapa Flow where I saw the German Fleet which was sunk there at high water, you could only see the mastheads but at low tide they were plainly visible. We loaded barrels at Barra which we took to Fraserboro to be filled with herrings. There we got a cargo of salted herrings for Fecamp, afterwards I went back to Seaham Colliery.
Previous to this I was working at Seaham Colliery, in 1914 in March of that year a friend of mine (but much younger) got promoted to be Chief Engineer of Furness Withy’s S.S. Rossana of 7,000 tons, she was coming to Hebburn to Palmer’s Dry Dock and I called to see my friend Thomas Laidler Robson at his father’s home, (his own home was at Dovercourt) and ask him for a berth firing. He met me in the best room and when I made my request (this was his first voyage as Chief) he said well Mannie, this is my first trip as permanent chief, when I was Second Engineer, the Chief always left the engagement of the firemen to me and now when I am Chief I intend to leave the engagement of the firemen to my Second, but I will recommend you to him so you may consider yourself engaged.
It would be a few weeks before the Rossana was ready for sea so I asked him could he let me know when she was nearly ready so I could give notice to Mr Curry, he said he would if he could.
I heard nothing more for over two weeks until one day when I came home from work after 5 PM there were orders left for me to join the Rossana at Hebburn graving dock next day. It was too late then to see Mr Curry, so next morning instead of going to work at 6 AM I waited until 9 AM to catch Mr Curry leaving his home for the Colliery.
I walked up to him and wished him good morning, he asked why I was not at work, I answered him I had come to ask of him a favour, I wanted to be away without working any notice. He replied that a lot of men came to him asking favours, but never did him a favour, I replied, Mr Curry I have worked for you a long time & have always done my work to the best of my ability and I thought that was the best favour I could do you, he replied you are quite right lad come to the office with me and I will give you the note for your money.
I was on board the Rossana before noon. We proceeded up the river to Dunstan Haugh, I was taken on pay to work on board from day to day until we signed on, which was not until 12 days after, then we got orders to sign on at mid-day, we signed on for 3 years to take coal to Porto Vecchia on the island of Corsica.
We were ordered to sail early next morning, so I had to hurry to get to Seaham Harbour and catch a train back, I succeeded and we sailed at 6 AM on April 1st, all fools day, I am not superstitious but I did not like the idea of sailing on All Fools day. We were not ready for sea at any rate for such a long voyage for the stores were not on board so we had to drop anchor as soon as we got outside and it was past mid-day before the stores were all on board.
While we were lying at anchor I found I had got among an awful crowd, they all (except three) were entire strangers to me, for the Second Engineer had never been up North before and he had to select six of his men at the Shipping Office and as the Discharge book is no guide to a man’s character he selected his men from their discharge books. He picked up no real good firemen as to ability but as to character nuff said.
While we were at anchor the Chief was going round examining everything which concerned him and the remarks passed by the men (whom the Second had picked up at Newcastle) foretold me that I was in a shocking crowd, four of them were pals & goalbirds at that, one was an Italian the other belonged to Gateshead and was the best man among them.
I forgot to mention that one of the men whom I knew had gone on the spree when he got his advance note & thereby missed the ship so another man had to be signed in his place and of course was a pal of the others who had stood by in case of there being someone short.
We had not got as far as Cape Finnestre when the fun started, the gang of pals commenced to complain about the food which I considered fair both as to quality and quantity but they found fault with it and demanded an interview with the Captain. They had found fault particularly with the hash which we had for breakfast that morning and took a plateful along to the Captain who called on the steward to bring a spoon, when he tasted it he asked the ringleader, what do you complain about, is there not enough of it for it tastes alright, and is the self and same as I had for my breakfast. He got a lot of impudence, but pulled the man up saying, remember I’m the Captain and demand civility, state your complaint but I will have civility.
The ringleader would not reason and demanded that we go on our Whack which means that we have the Board of Trade scale of rations, meat, vegetable, tea, butter, sugar, even to a good proportion of pepper, and everything required for making up a meal, the men have to prepare it for the oven and the cook has it cooked in time.
We had an excellent Cook & he was also a kindly man but he was much troubled with bad feet, he was very much perturbed at the complaint (groundless the Captain said) the men had made. So we proceeded on our course to Porto Vecchia which is a large natural harbour and we had to lay a good distance from the shore, the coal was discharged into barges and our only chance of getting ashore was to go by one of the barges.
I was ashore often, it was a beautiful place, about the second morning we were there someone went along to the galley to speak to the cook at about 7 A.M., he was not there but the man on watch said he was not far away as he had been speaking to him a few minutes previously. The Donkeyman (who was wanting to see him) went to his berth but he was not there, being a man that only travelled between his berth and the galley, the Donkeyman was surprised and was wondering where the Cook could have got to. He just happened to get his eye on something in the water, when he took a close scrutiny he found it was the body of the cook, face downwards, floating on the water, nobody had seen it happen. Instantly the donkeyman gave the alarm and being a crack swimmer he dived overboard and secured the body, a rope was thrown to him and he secured it round the body and it was hauled aboard.
A doctor was called on board but the body was lifeless and was conveyed ashore, it was a clear case of suicide, and he was buried there. One of the sailors was made cook and we, left one hand short were bound for Oran for bunkers but it did not take long. Then we proceeded to Huelva to load copper ore for Wilmington N.C. U.S.A., we had a lively time at Huelva, the gang went ashore and got drunk and came aboard about midnight uproarious and tried to rouse the Captain to fight him, another one wanted to fight the Steward, a very boastful fellow who had said he was one of Bombardier Wells’s sparring partners, no one would get out of their berth so they started to fight among themselves.
In the melee one of them fell off the fo’cstle head on to the deck 10 feet below, he lay there until daylight, then the Captain called a doctor aboard but there were no bones broken so the doctor only laughed at the man saying that he had got no more than he deserved.
I enjoyed myself ashore at Huelva, after loading about 7,000 tons of copper ore we set out for Wilmington. Two days out I was lying in my bunk just after dinner when one of the gaolbirds came into the fo’cstle and commenced to quarrel with the Italian, they got to blows and the Italian was getting the worst of it, the other fellow was gripping him round the waist and when they got near the Italian’s bunk he put his hand into it and took out his dagger, instantly the other fellow let him go, that ended the melee.
Three days later another of the gaolbirds came along just after dinner, again, a metal pan was standing on the table, he put his arms round the Italian saying I’ll take good care you don’t get your knife out to me and he pinned his arms to his side but he had left his forearms free and the Italian seized the saucepan off the table by the handle and swung his forearm battering the other fellows head severely, before the gaolbird had sense to let go his arms, then they got out on the deck and finished it but the Italian looked none the worse for his encounter.
After 13 days we arrived at Wilmington N.C., the Captain had said he would not give advances after the behaviour of the firemen at Huelva. Consequently when we arrived at Wilmington I did not ask for an advance and was very much surprised next day when Simeon Wallace a school chum of the Chief showed me some goods that he had purchased the night before, naturally I asked him where he had got the money to spend on them, he said he had got it from the Captain, I asked him how he had managed that and he informed me that he and I were exempted from what the Captain had said.
The Captain told him that he only meant the firemen who had misbehaved at Huelva but that he and I had behaved ourselves well and he was to tell me that I could also have an advance, so during the day I also interviewed the Captain and he said yes I could have some money, how much did I want. I asked for £2, he looked surprised and said yes I could have £2 but he would advise me not to draw so much as Wilmington was a very dear place to buy anything and I had better have less here and when we got to Savanna, I could get more and would find things a good 1 third cheaper there but I took the £2 and had a real good time.
On the Sunday I went to a Presbyterian Church. and learnt that there was a men’s bible class in the afternoon, I decided to go to it and took my seat beside a man, we entered into conversation before the class really commenced, we talked at intervals during the meeting but I had no idea to whom I was talking.
When the bible class closed for the afternoon I just said good afternoon and went my way but a gentleman overtook me and inquired how I liked the place, I said I liked it so well that I would stay there if I could get a job, he answered there were plenty of jobs to be got, had I not mentioned it to Mr Clark, I said I did not know Mr Clark, then I was informed that he was the gentleman with whom I had been conversing all the afternoon, and he was a large lumber (timber) merchant and employed a large number of workmen.
He wanted me to go with him to Mr Clark’s home but I would not go on a Sunday, the gentleman then asked me when my ship would be ready for sea, I said as far as I could tell not before Saturday. He arranged with me to come on Tuesday and he would arrange with Mr Clark for an interview. I saw both gentlemen on the Tuesday night, in a private interview with Mr Clark he offered me a situation at a good salary to take charge of all his machinery. It was a tempting offer but I could not take it as I had no experience of machinery to qualify me for an important position like that, (I omitted to state that in the meantime our ship had been moved 2 miles further up the river to the quay of a large patent manure company where we had to discharge the remaining 400 tons of copper ore) could he not give me some other job, he said he was sorry but he did not employ any white men except his foreman and he looked after the whole of the machinery, and if I could have done the machinery it would have been a great relief to him.
He asked me when my ship was leaving, when I told him not before Saturday he asked if I could meet him tomorrow night, in the meantime he would get in touch with Mr Carpenter the Superintendant of the Waccama Lumber who had succeeded Mr Clark when he left to commence on his own. When I saw Mr Clark on the next night he had fixed for me a job with the Lumber Co, I had to go to a place called Bolton, the headquarters of the Lumber Co, if I had asked him he would have given money to pay my fare (that is the American, you have only to ask and they will give you anything within reason) but I was still English and would hide my poverty, I had just 10 cents (5d) and I had 23 miles to go.
I agreed to go and see Mr Carpenter and went back to my ship, but before going on board I went into the office of the Manure Co and had a chat with the night watchman who was bitterly opposed to a man being tied to a job, for in the U.S.A., if a man wants to change his job he just goes to the office and says I’m quit and if the employer wishes to be rid of an employee he calls him up and you’re fired in both cases the wages due is handed over at once.
I told the watchman that I was going to desert my ship and asked him for advice about leaving my gear which consisted of two sea boxes and a box, I asked him would he buy a pair of new boots which had only been on my feet twice, he said he would have bought them directly but he had no money but 10 cents which he insisted on my taking. I asked him would he take charge of my gear but he refused saying that as soon as they discovered I had left the ship they would come straight to him for information as I must pass his office door to get away.
I went aboard and packed my belongings but found someone had stolen my 10 cents. After getting my gear packed I went ashore, the ship was light then and the deck was 15ft or more above the quay, I omitted to state that I had to wait until after midnight before I could get ashore for the Chief Engineer and others of the ship’s Officers were in the office enjoying a chat with the watchman. I could not get ashore until they were all turned in, just on the stroke of midnight the Officers left the office on the quay and after they had got into their quarters and their lights were extinguished I got the very men through whom I was leaving the ship to lower my gear on to the quay.
After bidding them all good-bye I carried my gear into the office and asked the watchman if I might leave it with him, but he again refused to have anything to do with them telling me to go and hide them somewhere about the works then he could safely deny knowing about the transaction. I had taken my working clothes out of the bag to strap over my shoulder, the watchman made me a cup of tea, gave me a portion of his meal, then he wrote two letters for me to give to friends of his whom I had to pass on my way to Bolton. If I walked a mile before taking train my 10 cents would just bring me to where his first friend lived.
I took train from Ellars to St Helens where Mr Smith lived, when I got there I had great difficulty in finding him (I omitted to say I set off to walk at the first sign of daylight) when I found Mr Smith I handed him the letter addressed to him by Mr Dukes. I did not know what it said but I had expected to get my breakfast but on reading it he said I’m sorry friend but I cannot do anything for you, I replied I had not asked him to do anything, he replied but Mr Dukes has and I have had so many losses lately that I am very short of money. I replied I don’t know anything about what was in the letter, but pointing along the railway I said sharply is this the road to Bolton? he said yes. I said good morning and set off to walk.
When I had walked about two hours, passing two stations on the way, I came to a place called Farmers, I met a man on the railway who entered into conversation with me and I just talked a free and easy way told him I had deserted my ship. He said I was doing wrong to keep on the line for the next station I would come to was New Berlin and as soon as the Captain reported that I had deserted the Police would be on the lookout for me and there was sure to be one or more at New Berlin.
He advised me to leave the railroad and take the turnpike, I did so and after wandering for two hours I was very hungry, then I came to a store (shop) and decided to try and sell my boots, I had changed them by this time they were on my feet when I went into the store, I asked the man if I could sell him a pair of boots he asked was I an agent for boots I said no I wanted to sell a pair to get something to eat, he asked where are the boots, I said on my feet.
He asked what I was going to do if I parted with my boots I said I had a pair on my back which I would put on my feet, he replied that he did not deal in boots but would buy them rather than that I should be hungry. He gave me one and a half dollars (6/3d) for them, I bought somebiscuits and asked my way to the railway, he directed me, after half an hour I arrived at a railway station, New Berlin, the very station I had been told to avoid.
After waiting about 45 minutes I got a train to Birdville where Mr Ellis lived for whom I had the second letter, I had understood from Mr Dukes that Mr Ellis’s house was on the right hand side of the road (of course there were no station building) the train stopped and I had to climb down on to the track. When the train passed on I crossed over to the right hand side of the railroad and found a roadway and walking along (it was after sunset and beginning to rain) I could not see any houses until I came to a broken down farm, not seeing any other buildings near I made up my mind to spend the night here but although I searched around there was not any part of it where I could shelter from the rain so I decided to walk on.
I would come to less harm walking in the rain than by lying down in it. After walking about half a mile I observed some houses on the left hand side of the railroad, I instantly thought Mr Dukes had directed wrong or I had misunderstood him and probably this was where Mr Ellis lived. There was one house lighted up with the door standing open so I walked up to it and rapped as hard as I could with my knuckles but could get no response, so I shouted halloa, then I went into the hall still shouting still no response so I retraced my steps to the railroad.
Looking back the way I had come I saw a man going along in the opposite direction to what I had come so having a very loud voice, although he was fully 300 yards away, I shouted my loudest and he turned round, I hurried up to him and after introducing myself made known my business, he said do you know Mr Ellis, I answered that I did not but had a letter from Mr Dukes of Wilmington for him, Oh I know Mr Dukes, and I am going past Mr Ellis’s farm and will take you there as I pass, so we went on our way.
By this time the rain had ceased but it was very dark, we chatted all the way, he was like all U.S.A. men, he could not understand men tying themselves to a job, presently we came upon a farmstead and instead of leaving me and passing on he went right in. When he got inside he said to a woman, have you got any supper you can give this man and she answered there’s enough and to spare across the yard in the supper room so I had a right good supper the first meal and drink of warm tea I had had since 4 A.M..
It was then 10 P.M., before going across the yard to the supper room I handed him the letter I had in my possession and when he read it he said, you’re alright stay here all night, I am going on to Bolton early tomorrow morning and will take you with me, it is just about two miles further on, I have to go every morning for our letters. We arrived there before 8 A.M. and Mr Carpenter had not arrived at his Office but I had not long to wait, he gave me a note to the foreman out at the camp and I went up on the log train. We travelled 17 miles through a thick forest, great massive trees with thick undergrowth.
I arrived at the camp, I had to wait several hours before I could see Mr Edwards as he was away out in the forest preparing a new place to start and cut trees but when I saw him and gave him the letter from the Super he read it and said, alright you go out with the log train tomorrow morning.
I was attached to a gang of labourers who cut down small trees and lay them to the required thickness and lay the rails across them securing them (the rails) so that a heavy locomotive and log train can pass over them without dislodging, then the surveyors come along and taking a centre for the skidder to stand, they take a direct line to where an extra stout tree has been marked then a huge pole about 35 or 40 feet high is set up near where the skidder will stand. It is just let into the ground sufficient to keep the bottom firm then it is supported by guy ropes at three points of the compass then an extra stout wire rope 300 yds long is secured to it and to the stout marked tree about 20 feet high on this wire rope is run on sheaves with grip for the big timber and chain slings for smaller timber another wire rope is attached to the sheave, in fact two, one to haul it out to where the timber is either cut or being cut, the other wire is to haul the timber in, then a smaller steam winch was used to load the logs on to a log train.
Composed of long flat bogies, the boiler which was of the upright type was on the same bogy as the winches was supplied with water from pools of rain water during the rainy season but when water was scarce in that way a large tank of fresh water was sent out to each of the different sections. There were 5 different sections working at the same time in different parts of the forest.
I had been a few weeks labouring and never got a chance to fire so I was rising with the crowd every morning at 5 A.M. there was a good hot meal ready and we were not at all hurried over it but as soon as everybody had got their breakfast in comfort we got up on to the log train. My work lay the farthest away from the camp, calling at each of the different sections on the way out & leaving the men for that section I omitted to say that we were given a substantial amount of food to serve our mid-day meal & when we came back at night there was a good hot dinner provided by a first rate English Cook (Newcastle). He & I got on well together & many a tasty bite he gave to me apart from the meals.
I was not at all satisfied at not getting a chance to fire though I knew there were changes taking place but not near where I was working so I mentioned it to my foreman, he replied, Oh it is too hot a job for you but don’t worry you’ll get the chance of more than you can stand before the summer is over.
It was then the end of June 1914, about two weeks after this about 10 A.M. I was busy cutting down small trees when I saw a messenger come from somewhere & speak to my foreman, who called me to him saying Reed you have to go & fire No 3 Skidder and the monkey rides at 1 o clock, I said what do you mean what has it got to do with me, he said you‘ll find out.
When I got along to No 3 Skidder I found that the fireman had been overcome with the heat (he was a native) it was a scorching hot day and no one had touched the fire from him collapsing so I got to work & mended the fire, the water was rather low so I got more water into the boiler and the work started, now the heat was terrific with the boiler fire in front of me and a scorching sun on my back. I soon found how to get the better of that, for I observed the water tank on wheels standing & that I could lay under it away from the sun & keep my eye on the steam gauge so I just got up & mended my fire as it needed it and pumped more water into the boiler as it was required then returning to my shelter.
About 12.30 P.M. my foreman came along he could not see me and said to the engineman Hallo where is he I told the —– the monkey would ride at 1 o clock, but he’s knocked out before, the engineman pointed to me lying under the water tank, he turned round (thinking I was exhausted) to chaff me but I just jumped on to my feet climbed up & mended the fire and then returned & lay down again to his very great surprise. The man did not come back to his firing & I was a permanent fireman from then on as I had to be there to have steam up when the men came out from the main camp.
I got a hut to myself, it was just the shell & the Co provided me with a stove & plenty of timber, I had all my bedclothes which I had brought off the ship so I soon made up a bed for myself & a seat alongside the bed and a bench outside to scrub my clothes on when I washed. There was not another white man near but on the other side of the railroad there were 10 niggers belonging to the same gang that I worked in.
This went on for a year, the Great War broke out just as I got out there to live and after a year the Co found it very difficult (almost impossible) to get their lumber exported so had to close down altogether, I was only paid once per month & could not get any money sent home to my Wife from where I was working.
I tried Bolton where the Lumber Co head office was but I could not send money to England from there, I would have to go down to Wilmington which meant a lot of expense and loss of work, because it was half an hour after midnight before my train arrived, I just stepped across the railroad to the Temperance Hotel & slept there, had a bath and breakfast then went to the Presbyterian Church.
I did not go to the one where I had gone at first, I went to one named 1st Presbyterian Church where Rev Mr Wilson had formerly been Minister, he was the Father of Woodrow Wilson who was at that time President of U.S.A., the President was only a schoolboy while his Father was in Wilmington. I was in conversation with one or two people who remembered Woodrow as a boy.
I could not make arrangements about sending home as the Post Office did not open for business on the Sunday, so I had to remain until Monday morning, that meant losing Monday’s wages.
After this had gone on for a few months and by that time instead of going to the Temperance Hotel I went down to the quayside to spend the night with Mr Dukes’ son who was watchman at the Quay of the Seaboard Railway Co which was about 5 minutes walk from the Station, he had the foreman’s office to live in while on duty so I could get a good sleep there
After this had gone on for some time when the papers came out on the Sunday (I forget date) on looking over it I noticed that President Wilson had appointed that day as a day of special prayer for the Nations at War. I looked over the list of Churches in the city and I was attracted, by the name of St James (Episcopal) Church, in Market Street, I did not know where Market Street was but I determined to find it. When I found it I knew the street well but not by name, I went in fully half an hour before it was time for the service to begin and I chose a seat near the back. After I had been seated about 15 minutes a Gentleman came from the Vestry & began to walk about the Church attending to the ventilation and temperature of the Church as there was only he & I inside the Church the other Gentleman being in the lobby.
About 10 minutes before time for the service to begin two Ladies came in to the seat where I was seated, they were Mother & Daughter the Daughter being the youngest of a family of 5 the Service almost word for word the same as the Episcopal Church Of England except that there are no prayers for Royalty but instead there are prayers for the President. I thoroughly enjoyed the Service as I knew all the hymns and the chants.
Shortly after the Service commenced the Gentleman whom I had observed came and sat at the end of the seat beside the elder Lady the younger one being beside me, they were both good singers there was an excellent Choir & a good Organist and a most excellent Preacher, so to use an apt phrase I was in clover and I thoroughly enjoyed the service, for I was surrounded by a goodly number of sopranos.
I may state here that a full choir is an unusual thing, for in most Churches (where money does not abound) they just have the Quartet Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, & Bass, these in almost every case are paid, they lead the Congregation in the singing and are usually paid 5 Dollars £1.0.10 in our money but in the choir at St James Church they had a choir of 30 with the paid quartet they were all good singers. At the end of the Service the Sacrament of the Lords Supper was observed but I did not stay and when I rose to leave the two Ladies made way for me to leave but the Gentleman left his seat and preceeded me to the door. There he pressed on me to stay but I stated my objection, I was not dressed to correspond with the Congregation but the Gentleman answered, we never look on the outside, but I noticed you did not miss one word of the Service which tells me you are or have been in the habit of attending Church & my Wife & Daughter would be delighted to have you take Communion with them.
He pleaded with me to stay but I told him I was a deserter from my Ship and could be imprisoned for so doing but he said we don’t at all agree with a man being tied to a job, he again appealed to me to take Communion but when I would not consent he said, well if ever I can do anything for you let me know & if ever you come this way my seat is at your service.
I came down twice more but was not satisfied that I could not get my money sent home without losing a day’s pay, one day Mr Carpenter came out to where I was working and while there he asked me how I was liking my job, I told him the only fault I had to it was the difficulty in sending money to my Wife, I did not appreciate the idea of losing work could he help me, he said he was sorry he could not help me but thought when I was in Wilmington I ought to see the British Consul, he ought to help me.
So at the end of the month I went to Wilmington, and attended St James’s Church, the Gentleman renewed his offer to do anything for me if I would let him know what I wanted but I did not know his name, had never asked it, & did not know what his position was. On the Monday morning I went to the British Consul’s office, (he was a very wealthy man (millionaire) a cotton exporter on a very large scale) but I was informed by the Sub Consul that I could not see the Consul but was speaking to the acting British Consul. He would attend to me if I would tell him my business, when I told him my name he replied there is nothing doing, when you deserted your ship (he knew all about it as soon as I gave my name) you forfeited all claim on the British Consul, but he said if you go along to the Murchison National Bank and ask for Mr Grainger you will find him a very nice Gentleman and he will probably fix you up.
So I could get nothing but good advice from the acting British Consul, I made my way to the Murchison Bank and asked for Mr Grainger, I found he was the Manager of the Bank and I was directed to the door of his private office, when I entered I got the surprise of my life, Mr Grainger was the very man who had repeatedly offered to help me if I would let him know I needed any help.
He told me at once I need not lose any more work by coming to Wilmington all I needed to do was to send my cheque at the end of the month to him and he would send what I asked him to send to my Wife and if at any time I thought my Wife was in need of money, if I just let him know he would send it on before the end of the month. He gave his full address and asked me to write every week & let him know how I was getting on, I corresponded with him for a few months & did not come to Wilmington. Then I was informed the Company would have to close down.
While at Macatoha (that was where the camp was) we had to go nearly a mile for our letters when we got to know that a mail was in. An old man 84 years of age had charge of the P.O. and there was not any method of dealing with the problem, there were over 100 men living at the camp and when we went to the P.O. someone asked is there a letter for Brown, the old man (the same applies to his Granddaughter aged 20) would pick up the whole of the letters and go through them one at a time until he came across the name Brown, or got through to the last one if he did not find the name Brown. Next any letter for REED he repeated the process & the same was gone through for every applicant for a letter, it was a very very slow business. When I was living out in the forest the Engineman used to bring my letters out to me, I lived a long time out there among the coloured men & never locked anything up and never lost anything until two white men came to live on my side of the railroad, then things began to disappear and I had to lock up.
I had plenty wild cats round about me & a most horrible noise they made during the night, I had also squirrels and bears though I never saw a bear but their footprints were there plainly when there was any snow. There were any amount of snakes several feet long & rattle snakes, I never saw one alive but the Niggers were killing them nearly every day at their work. Of course they were working where the trees were thick and the undergrowth as well whereas I was working where the trees had been cleared, I had a very pleasant time among the niggers & found some very kind hearts among them.
I wrote to the Bank Manager & told him the Lumber Co were closing down and asked him if he could recommend me to a job, he wrote back to say I had not to worry he would see that I was alright so when we closed down I just packed my traps & made for Wilmington & went to stay at the Seamen’s Mission.
I was well looked after as it was in charge of two Salvation Army Officers, Husband & Wife, he was a Greek she belonged to Newcastle so I was quite at home.
I did not get work except odd days for a week or two but there was a large Dredger in the river a few miles nearer the sea, Wilmington was 20 miles from the sea on the river Cape Fear, the Captain came ashore every night and if he wanted any hands engaged he took them down next morning in his launch. I met him on two or three occasions before I was lucky enough to get employed but at last he engaged me to meet him next morning, I was engaged as a fireman at 45 dollars (£9.15.) food & lodging on board.
She was a pipe line Dredger and employed 42 hands, Captain (German), three Mates, four Engineers, two Cooks, a Blacksmith & 6 Firemen, the others were engaged as sailors but most of their work was on the pipe line. I was surprised when I got on board to find two Seamen who were on the Rossana with me but I did not know that they had deserted the Rossana until I met them on the Henry Bacon (dredger) I soon made myself at home among the cosmopolitan crew. There were two Brothers (white men American) one was a fireman the other worked on the launch, there were two launches one did nothing but attend to the anchors as the Dredger wished to move forward or from side to side.
I was told they had a Sister married to an escaped murderer who had shot a Sheriff who called at his house in connection with some debt. He had shot the Sheriff, was arrested tried & remanded then escaped from prison was chased by warders who were gaining on him going over some marshy land when he turned and shot the foremost warder & got away. There was a reward of 1000 Dollars (or £200) on his head but he had been at large for a year.
I forgot to say that anyone seeking a job could come down to the Henry Bacon by a passenger steamer which passed the Henry Bacon on her way from Wilmington to Southport right at the mouth of the river & back again at night. If anyone on the Wilmington wanted to get on board the Henry Bacon they just told the Captain & he blew his Siren when he got near & a small boat was sent off, if there was not a job the applicant could either go back on the Wilmington’s return or could stay & be fed on board, sometimes I have known men stay two or three days.
One Friday night I saw a man on board, I had not seen him come aboard but he was there & I did not like the look of him, I was on the 12 till 4 AM watch and at 4 AM Saturday I was finished until 8 A.M. on Monday. I hurried & got changed & caught the launch going up to town for the Captain, when I got on board the launch I was cast down to see this awful, despicable looking man on the launch going up to town. After we got away a bit there was great revelry in the cabin, & the Captain asked one to take charge of the wheel while he joined in the revelry, when the launch arrived at the quay I went ashore at once straight to the Seamen’s Mission and did not bother about the launch until I came out of Church on the Sunday night, just in time to catch the launch at 8 P.M. back to the Henry Bacon. When I got on board one of the men asked me what I thought of Walker, (that was the name of the escaped murderer) I asked what about Walker, he said well him you came up to town with him yesterday.
I was bewildered, he said did you not hear about him, I replied I had not heard anything about him, then I was told he had been arrested on Saturday morning. Wilmington is built in squares so on coming ashore Walker had gone into a restaurant and had been observed by one of his former workmates who informed the Police. Two plain clothes Policemen came down the street & went into the shop opposite, knowing where Walker would be and two Policemen in uniform took up the stand at the top end of the square.
When Walker came out of the restaurant he turned down the street following the dotted line, the plain clothes Policemen followed a distance behind, gradually closing the gap, the uniformed Policemen went round the top of the square following the straight line. Seeing Walker turn up the street they turned down, as Walker got nearer to them the plain clothes men got closer behind, when both pairs were almost up to Walker they made a grab, instantly Walker put his hand to his pocket but they surrounded him & pinioned his arms. When he was searched he had 6 loaded revolvers in his possession so I am glad I did not enter into any argument with him, he wasremanded again & again but when I left in 1916 he was still under remand.
I decided to return to England after a time and asked Mr Grainger to try & arrange with one of the Captains (whose ships were in for cotton) to get me a trip to England, he arranged with the Captain of a Norwegian steamer who said he would take me to Le Havre. I left the Henry Bacon to be ready then the Norwegian Captain said he was very sorry but he had made a mistake as his articles were for a crew of 26 and if he took me, and he was stopped by a German Warship he would be unable to give a satisfactory account as to why he had 27 on board and a belligerent being on board & his name not on the articles. He (the Captain) would be in a very serious position but if one of the 26 failed to report he would sign me on but all his men turned up & I was left. But not for long, a 7000 tons steamer named Constitution was at the time discharging further up the river and the crew had all been discharged, she was built at Hartlepool & was formerly owned by a Hartlepool firm but had been sold to a American firm. Now she was changing ownership again & was going round to New York to be handed over to a Japanese Firm of Shipowners and wanted a crew of runners to take her round to New York.
I went to see the Chief Engineer but he had all his firemen, (coloured men) but when I told him I wanted to get home and thought if I could get to New York* I would not have much difficulty in getting a Ship to England, he said he wanted an oiler but he could give me the berth I would have to see the Super, adding he is a townie of yours so I think you will be alright. He said the Super was staying at the Imperial Hotel but he would not advise me to go there to see him, it would be best to meet him on board next morning, so I presented myself in good order next morning and when he was in conversation with the Chief I made up to them.
* New York is a little over 500 miles north of Wilmington
The Chief introduced me & the Super asked me various questions which I answered satisfactorily, he turned to the Chief saying haven’t you only got two oilers what about this man being signed as oiler, the Chief replied “that’s just what I was thinking about”. So the Super asked me could I manage as oiler, I answered him yes, then he asked me where I was staying, I told him then he said, why not start in the morning and live on the ship and I’ll give you 23 Dollars (£4.l5.10) for the run to New York and you will get your food with the Engineers. I said but the other two oilers are getting 35 Dollars (£7.5.l0), he said who told you that, I said the men themselves, he said they are not getting their expenses paid back to Wilmington as you think, but I was willing to help you get home, you can please yourself whether you take it or not. But the day before we sailed, the Shipping Master came aboard to sign us on, I approached the other two oilers when they came on board, they said they were getting 35 Dollars, I told them what the Super had said, they said don’t take notice of him we will go in & sign on first you wait outside & we will tell you how the land lies. I did so, when they came out they said 35 Dollars and no questions asked soI went in and signed on for 35 Dollars, three days from signing on we were paid off at New York.
I had forgotten one very amusing incident in which I took part, I observed 50 yards away from my skidder a big tree had been left standing, I was not in the habit of asking questions about any other man’s business but I was curious about that tree and I asked one of the men near me, why it was left. One of them said there is a reason, go over and see if you can find it out, so without any hesitation I mended my fire so that I would have time to investigate and away I went to see if I could find out, I noticed the men I had just left were laughing among themselves as if someone had just told a funny story but the laugh was against them for I discovered there was a wasp’s nest in the lower trunk of the tree, there were thousands of them but I did not interfere with them & none of them attempted to sting me. Though I could not see my jacket, it was covered with wasps, I just walked among the group of men who had by this time ceased to laugh & their laughter had turned to fear for they were in dread of the wasps and ran away in terror but I just opened the door of my fire & swept the wasps off my jacket into the fire & did not get one sting in the process.
Well on arrival at New York we berthed at Brooklyn where the ship changed hands then there arose a dispute about who should pay the crew of runners, the U.S.A. firm were finished with the ship, and said that the new owners ought to pay the men who had brought the ship from Wilmington. I don’t rightly know how the dispute arose or who had to pay but we waited aboard for two hours while the money men were wrangling among themselves who should pay, (it was at least 800 Dollars (£l63)) but at last it was decided that we must be paid. Instead of being paid off on board we had to cross the river into New York proper to the office of one of the two Companies at a skyscraper of 20 stories, I got my 35 Dollars.
I had omitted to say that before leaving Wilmington Mr Grainger had made me a present of 25 Dollars in gold, there was not much gold to be got & it was a great thing to have two gold 10 Dollar pieces and a 5 Dollar. The niggers were all very eager to have the gold pieces, so I exchanged with them then I made my way to the Seamen’s Institute with my 60 Dollars & had an interview with Missioner. I told him everything & that I wanted a ship to get to England as quickly as possible, he told me there was a bank connected with the Institute & advised me not to carry so much money about with me so I banked 40 Dollars keeping 20 Dollars to have a good time and buy presents for my Wife & Family. He also told me the Shipping Office was on the ground floor of the Institute & advised me to wait until Monday when he would speak with the Shipping Master, it being then Saturday.
After tea I went to Madison Square Garden, to see Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, before going in there I had a look at some of the Skyscrapers, and had a look into Wall Street but there were no stockbrokers feverishly gambling in millions it was as quiet as an empty Church.
After seeing the circus I went back to the Seamen’s Institute & had a good nights rest, then I went to one of the big Episcopal Churches, & spent the remainder of the day among the big avenues where the very very wealthy people live. On the Monday I went to have a look at the Woolworth Building, 52 story high it was then the tallest in the world, there were 48 stories of it occupied for shops & offices but Woolworth’s did not occupy any of it themselves. There was a shop right on the very roof, I did not walk up the stairs to it for there was a lift, half a dollar to go to the top & see all round New York. It was a grand view, I saw the two giant German liners which were interned at New York when war broke out, then I spent a few dollars for presents to bring home.
On Tuesday the Shipping Master sent for me to his office, The Captain of the Raphael (one of Lamport & Holt’s) had called & instructed him to engage a Sailor and a Fireman for him & he would be along at midday to sign them on. I went to the Bank and made arrangements with the Manager to make my 40 Dollars £8.6.8 payable at Manchester where we were bound for as I did not wish it to go down with me if the ship was torpedoed.
When the time came I tried to prevail on the Shipping Master to allow me to go over to Brooklyn where the Raphael was lying and tell the Engineer in case some other man might go to the Engineer and get the job, he said don’t you worry the job is yours no matter who goes to the Engineer but I went back to him in the afternoon & he said if I was keen on going I couldn’t do any harm by going, but I couldn’t do any good he assured me but go if you want to.
I went & just as I expected a man who had been donkeyman on another of the same Co’s Steamers had been to see the Engineer who was very sorry but I could not get the job, he had promised the other just an hour before I came aboard. That discouraged me very much & slowly I made my way back to the Shipping Master, he laughed at my despondency but said it didn’t matter what the Chief said no one would get that fireman’s berth but me.
Tuesday midday I presented myself to the Shipping Master before the Captain arrived, when the Captain did arrive the other man was with me stood alongside, when the Shipping Master introduced me as the fireman he had engaged the Captain said but I can’t take him, another man has been engaged by the Engineer who is off another of our ships & though I am very sorry I must disappoint your man. The S.M. reminded him that he had asked for a Sailor & a Fireman, I engaged Mr Reed, neither for you nor your Engineer will I allow any other person to take the job, after a lot of argument the Captain had to sign me on & leave the other man out.
We sailed on April 16th 1916 with a cargo for the British Government, she was a 9,000 tons ship and we had a great number of Motor Vehicles in the hold, and a huge consignment of food so that we would be a valuable catch for the enemy. We avoided the usual course of ships and it took us over three weeks to get to Manchester, where we arrived too late in the day to get paid off and we were due £1 Channel money which the Captain duly paid. I went to the Shipping Office to make enquiries as to my letter & money from Wilmington and I was told there was nothing there for that name so I just took lodging for the night.
Next morning at 10.30 we met the Captain Thomas (a Welshman & a Gentleman) at the Shipping Office and were paid off, I had previously made enquiries about my letter but still it had not arrived, I spoke to Captain Thomas about it who asked me if I had any proof that I had banked any money at Wilmington to draw at Manchester. I shewed him my receipt, he replied you will not hear anything more about it, there is nothing there to work with, there is not even the name of the bank, he spoke to the Shipping Master who quite agreed with him, but I had every confidence in the Bank Manager & the Missioner at the Institute so I made arrangements for it to be sent on to the Custom House at Seaham Harbour. The day after arriving at Seaham Harbour I went to the Custom House to seek my letter, it had not arrived, upon asking for proof that I was due to any more the Chief Officer told me the very same that Captain Thomas had told me, still I kept a stout heart though a week after still no word arrived, so I wrote to my friend Mr Grainger the Bank Manager at Wilmington N.C..
After two weeks I got a reply to say that he had been in communication with Mr Brown the Bank Manager with whom I had left the money who informed him that the money had been sent on (as arranged) to the Shipping Office three times & returned marked, not known. He informed that if I had not already received it, I would in a day or two, sure enough the draft arrived for £8 .6.8. in the same envelope that had been returned from Manchester three times I lost 8d in cashing it as it was made payable on a London bank, and it cost the Seaham Harbour bank (Barclays) 8d and I got my money alright.
I took a small steamer, 1500 tons, and went to Dunkirk, then to Lerwick in the Shetland’s several times, then to Cowes in the Isle of Wight then back to Dunkirk. From there I wrote to Mr Kennedy traffic inspector to South Hetton Coal Co at Murton (I had worked for him as a boy) asking him to speak to the Engineer and obtain for me a job as fireman.
I made another trip to Dunkirk then when I arrived home there was a message from Mr Kennedy to inform me he had seen Mr Curry the Engineer and I had to go up and see him as there was a job for me. I worked there a considerable time then I went back to Seaham Colliery and fired at the low pit for a considerable time then I got transferred to the Brickworks.
After working for many years I retired at the age of 67 drawing my last pay on my 67th birthday, so ended my working days.
I think I omitted to mention the incident of a Russian who joined the Lucient, he was a good fireman but unfortunately he was not half so good as he thought he was, and when he got drunk was in the habit of exhibiting a clasp knife with which he had killed two men in Buenos Aires. We had a 3rd engineer who was too fond of mixing with the Sailors & Firemen and playing cards for stakes, the Russian was very keen at the same game & was always throwing his weight about & boasting about his ability as a fireman.
The 3rd engineer on one occasion made a great mistake & told him that last trip the old man (myself) kept better steam than any of you, the Russian did not like it and though I was not to blame he took a very great dislike to me but hid it until he got ashore & came back drunk. When he came aboard I was in my bunk apparently asleep, when he came to my bunk, putting his nasty face near my ear he said, huh you English —- you keep better steam than me, me kill two men no trouble to kill another. When next I went on watch, I made preparations, and when I came off watch I had a 2lb hammer in my pocket and never went to sleep without it in my hand and never woke up without having it well gripped in my hand but he never interfered with me
1866 and 1871 Emmanuel and/or his family lived in Frances Street, Seaham
1881 Candlish Terrace
1891 Frances Street
1911 Gallery Row
Emmanuel died in Seaham in 1944
His wife Jane Ann died in 1937
If you have a photograph of Emmanuel, Jane Ann or any other member of the Reed family from the 1800s please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Original article loaned by Mike Shaw