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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Captain B.C. Combe

Basil Charles Combe (1871 - 1926) served for many years on British cableships, eventually commanding CS's Dacia and Restorer. He retired in 1923.

During the early part of his career (which began in 1886) he sent letters home which were transcribed into a journal. He joined the S.S. Silvertown, under the command of Capt. A.S. Thomson, as 3rd officer on April 20th 1892, and his description of this voyage forms the last section of his first journal, which ends on August 2nd 1893 when the Silvertown returned to the Royal Victoria Docks and paid off the crew.

This extract from Combe's journal is published here by kind permission of Roger Barclay, Captain Combe's grandson, who also transcribed the text from the handwritten original.

See also the 1898 article Submarine Cable Laying by Archer Philip Crouch, C.E., for a description of work performed by Silvertown during Combe's time of service, and the main page on CS Silvertown.


 

Third Officer Combe's Silvertown Journal - 1892/3


Captain Combe in 1895, when he was Chief Officer on CS Dacia

Pg. 35

S.S. Silvertown

1892
Dimensions - Registered tonnage 4937 tons. Length 350 feet, Beam 56 ft., Horse Power 400. Barquentine Rig, Three Cable Tanks -
Fore tank 34 ft. deep. 47 ft. diameter
Main tank 34 ft. deep. 54 ft. diameter
After tank 34 ft. deep. 49 ft. diameter
Each tank holds about 4½ miles of cable to every inch depth of tank.
Each tank could hold 2000 miles of cable
Greatest length of cable ever carried [left blank] miles
Ships draught at that time being 31ft. (mean)

April 20th. Joined the S.S. Silvertown as 3rd. officer, in the Thames laying off the I. R. G-P Tel Wks [faint in Combe's hand, written above]
T.R.T. [???] works Silvertown.
Captain A.S. Thomson in Command.
6th. Voyage

(19th.) Got down the Silvertown at 10 this morning and got leave off from 2 to 5 to go up to Town about uniform, glasses etc. We are to sail for Pernambuco on the 26th. and go across to St. Louis. We have 5 officers for the ship besides the Electrician Engineers etc.11 in all and I am to be 3rd. of the ships officers. 170 hands all told, on board - The amount of Cable in now weighs 5000 tons, and she will not be finished loading until Monday. As I am told off for the night duty I shall now go off for a little snooze.

26th. Ship left the Silvertown works, loaded with cable for the South American Cable Expedition. Total length of cable being aboard 2200 n (nautical) miles.

Pg. 36

April 27th. 1892. Anchored off Greenhithe to adjust compasses. Large dinner given on board to the committee etc.

29th. Left Greenhithe for Teneriffe. /Canary Islands./

May 6th. At sea off Teneriffe. We have a chance of sending a letter ashore so I know you will be glad to know how I am getting on. This is quite a pleasure trip compared to my last. I have now no hard work to do, but plenty of hard work and lots of writing. Our Navigating Officer has not turned out smart enough to please the Captain so he has given me the work to do instead, which is a good promotion for me. I do not know whether I shall be able to hold the position as it is rather beyond me, but I will have a good try and do my best to keep it. We have regular Man of War discipline here and everything and every one very nice indeed. Very different to sailing ships. We have plenty of fun when we are off duty, fencing, boxing, dancing and all sorts of things. You see there are plenty of us, then there is music in the evenings though I am not always there for it. We expect to get into Santa Cruz on Sunday morning to take in coal - from there we go to Dakar and then take soundings between St. Louis and Pernambuco.

8th. Arrived at and left Teneriffe, proceeded to Dakar. /Senegal/.

12th. Arrived at Dakar, Left Mr. Crouch. /Electrician/

14th. Left Dakar for St. Louis. /Senegal/ Sounding en route.

15th. Arrived at St. Louis.

[Dates seem to be slightly confused]

Pg. 37
May 15th. 1892 (continued?)

We went into Dakar and left again in 24 hours on the 12th. I had no time to write then as I was ashore with the Captain all morning with my five "babies" (the Chronometers) finding the rates etc. and we were till 3 p.m. working out the results. Now I am Navigating Officer I have the entire charge of these and no one else is allowed to touch them. I have to wind them up every day and find out how much each gains or loses per day. When we left Dakar we steered for a buoy which is off St. Louis and picked him up at 10 a.m. We are now splicing on a new piece of Cable which is connected with the shore and we shall then carry it on further out to sea, about 100 miles and buoy it again and leave it till we bring the Cable from Pernambuco, then we shall splice the two ends together. It is very hot out here as the Sun is right over our heads just now. One of my duties is to "shoot" the Sun, moon or stars every hour from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m. I am getting into the way of it now, but it seemed an awful lot at first. The Captain told me the other day I was doing very well and he could not expect an old head on young shoulders all at once. I should hardly have believed the amount of work that has to be done in laying a Cable. All the hands we carry are barely enough, they are at it night and day, but of course this

Pg. 38
(May 15th. 1892 continued
)

has nothing to do with my work. We have already laid 300 miles of Cable from St. Louis in a S.W. direction and we hear now we have to go to Fernando de Noronha from here and lay a cable from there to Pernambuco and finally start with the Cable from Pernambuco to the buoy we have just laid.

5th. to 16th. Picked up Cable buoy off St. Louis, spliced on Cable on buoy to Cable on board and extended the shore end. Let go Cable. Buoyed it in 1000 fathoms of water, 60 miles out at sea. Proceeded to Dakar.

17th. Arrived at and left Dakar for the Island of Fernando de Noronha off Brazil sounding en route.

26th. Arrived at Fernando de Noronha

27th. Left Fernando de Noronha direct for Pernambuco. /Brazil/

29th. Arrived at Pernambuco.

30th. Pernambuco - We arrived here yesterday afternoon - we arrived here yesterday afternoon. Fernando de Noronha which I mentioned in my last letter is an Island and a Convict Station, there are about 2000 convicts here. It was last Friday we anchored off there and the Captain and I were ashore all day adjusting the Chronometers, and we had rather a good time. When we left the ship at 8 a.m. we rowed to the landing place in the life boat as there is a big surf: when we were about 100 yards from the beach we let go the anchor and about 10 convicts came running

Pg. 39
(May 30th. 1892 continued
)

out to us and we got on their shoulders and were taken through the surf to the beach. As soon as we landed a band struck up and played very well as we walked along. I did feel somebody then marching alongside the Captain and everyone cheering us as we went. We were then introduced to the Governor of the Islands and his family and were asked to breakfast with them. After breakfast three horses were brought around and we mounted and rode all round the island. I did enjoy myself. The horses were very good and clever. After we got back we set to work with the chronometers, and came off to the ship about 5 p.m. I feel very grand to have been the only one "allowed out".

June 3rd. Left Pernambuco for Bahia. /Brazil/

6th. Arrived at Bahia. Commercial Coaling Ship Bahia - This is the place we made for in the poor old "Earl of Aberdeen" in 1886, when the coals caught fire. Well we have been taking no end of soundings and when we were out the last time we had good fun with the sharks. We were in about 30 fathoms of water, on a shallow spot, where all around it was 500 or 600 fathoms and we stopped there sounding it all over: as soon as we stopped, one shark after another popped up until the water was full of them. We put four hooks over the stern with about five pounds of meat on each: the

Pg. 40
(June 6th. continued
)

brutes did not think twice about these, we soon landed six like this, and those that did not bite we shot with revolvers. It was quite a sight to watch the wretches in the water when one of them had been shot: as soon as the blood began to show on the water they made a pounce on the wounded one and all disappeared for about five minutes, no doubt making a good meal off their comrade and then returned as wild as ever. None of them were less then 6 feet long and they kept on swimming all around the ship, rubbing their backs on the side: as we were starting off again one of them got crushed in the propeller and was made perfectly flat when we saw him a little later floating astern. Bahia is an awfully pretty place from the sea, but we hear it is full of yellow fever and typhoid so the ship is not allowed alongside the wharf, so it takes a long time to coal us. I have to go ashore with my chronometers tomorrow, but shall take good care not to go up into the town, only remain on the beach. We have a delay in our movements owing to a change of the Government and the Republic do not seem inclined at present to abide by our contract, so we may have to stay here ever so long. It is awfully hot and for the last fortnight it has not been less than 90 (degrees) in the shade.

Pg. 41

June 17th. Mr. M.H. Gray left the Ship for Rio de Janeiro.

18th. Left Bahia to take soundings North, Maceio, Agostinho (sp. ?) etc.

28th. Returned to Bahia to await orders. Went for a picnic up the river to the Island of Taporica.

July 3rd. Received news from Rio de Janeiro that Mr. Gray was very ill.

15th. Left Bahia for Rio de Janeiro. /Brazil/

19th. Arrived at Rio de Janeiro. Finding that Mr. Gray was very ill, left Mr. J. Lumsden, Cable Engineer, there to look after him.

20th. Left Rio de Janeiro for Pernambuco.

26th. Arrived at Pernambuco.

26th. Pernambuco still you see - well we have been cruising about doing very little, waiting for Mr. Gray to return, he has gone to Rio to try and settle matters. The Brazilians say they will not have the shore end of the Cable laid within 40 miles of Pernambuco. One morning we got leave form the Captain to take one of our boats up the river at the end of the bay and go for a picnic up Country. We started at 6 a.m. and went about 30 miles up the river so as to get quite clear of the towns and the fever: and then we landed to lunch on an island: there were about 20 of altogether and you would have laughed to see us: we did not know how to make enough of being once more on land, most of them had not been ashore since we left home. We clambered up the

Pg. 42
(July 26th. 1892 continued)


cocoa-nut trees, tried catching butterflies, fishing, shooting and a little of everything, we had a real good time, every where the country was in its wild state - we stayed about 4 hours and then returned to the ship. Poor Mr. Gray has been taken ill at Rio, so we have had to send for someone from home to come out to us to take command, but I believe the affair has been satisfactorily settled with the government and we may proceed with laying the Cable.

29th. Landed the shore end of the Cable for the Pernambuco and Fernando section and buoyed the end. Landed all cable stores, huts etc.

30th. Went to a dance on shore given for the Ship.

31st. Left Pernambuco for Fernando - sounding en route.

August 2nd. Arrived at Fernando de Noronha.

5th. Sounding around the Island.

6th. Sounding around the Island.

7th. Landed the shore end of the Cable for the Pernambuco and Fernando section and buoyed the end.
Left Mr. Anstruther, Schneider, Dixon, Pratt, Isley, West, Oats & Wilson, members of the Cable staff with the Cable stores, Huts etc. on the Island.
Left Fernando de Noronha for Pernambuco.

9th. Arrived at Pernambuco, Mr. R.K. Gray joined the Ship, left Mr. Morland /Electrician/ at Pernambuco.

11th. Left Pernambuco, picked up Cable buoy, spliced on Cable and proceeded to Fernando laying Cable.

Pg. 43

August 14th. 1892. Arrived at Cable buoy off Fernando - Noronha, spliced on Cable and completed the Pernambuco Fernando de Noronha section.

15th. Left Fernando de Noronha for Pernambuco.

17th. Arrived at Pernambuco. Mr. R.K. Gray left the ship. Left Pernambuco for Bahia.

[dates confusing]

17th. Pernambuco again!!! We have been in and out, the Cable hands engaged in their work and I in mine. Whilst we were laying Cable between Pernambuco and Fernando I was up from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. during which time I had to take seven positions either by Sun, Moon or Stars, sometimes the Sun and Moon together and sometimes by the Sun and Stars together. The latter you will hardly think possible, but we used to get the Sun and one of the planets between 9 & 10 o'clock every morning. I shall be awfully glad when we get this long section laid between Fernando and St. Louis - Now, at it again!! There goes the whistle and there goes windlass heaving up the anchor, so it is time for me to end this and up I must go on the bridge with sextant, Chart and glasses taking angles and bearings and sights. I think by the time I get home I shall be able to navigate a Man of War with the amount of drilling I get.

20th. Arrived at Bahia, gave a concert aboard, took in coal again.

24th. Left Bahia for Pernambuco.

27th. Arrived at Pernambuco. Gave another concert on board.

Pg. 44

August 28th. 1892 Left Pernambuco for Fernando de Noronha.

29th. Arrived at Fernando. The Silvertown Cavalry went ashore and had a days ride over the Island.

30th. Sounded around the Island and laid the shore end of the Cable for the Fernando de Noronha and St. Louis section.

31st. Left Fernando picked up Cable buoy, spliced Cable on shore end and proceeded to St. Louis laying Cable.

Sept. 10th. Arrived off Cable buoy off St. Louis, finding Mark buoy to have gone, picked up on buoy rope, rope broke, so had to buoy the end we had on board and grapple for the shore end Cable from St. Louis. Grappling one day.

11th. Picked up Cable in 1000 fathoms of water, spliced it onto other end and let go final splice, completing the Fernando de Noronha and St. Louis section. Proceeded to St. Louis.

12th. Arrived off St. Louis and left for Tenerife.

16th. Arrived off Tenerife. /Canary Islands/ Left Mess'rs Jones, Knight & Barrett (Electricians) at Tenerife.

18th. Left Tenerife for London.

27th. Arrived off Gravesend, Cable staff all leaving ship here. Ship proceeded up the river to the Victoria Docks.
Stayed by ship for three weeks. Went home for a fortnights holiday.


Pg. 45

S.S. Silvertown
Central and South American
Cable Expedition

Dec. 1892 After spending a fortnight at home I rejoined the ship - Ship went into drydock, then went into the river to load Cable for the expedition.

Jan. 18th. 1893 Ship left the Silvertown Works loaded with Cable having on board 2600 n. miles of Cable. Arrived off Greenhithe in the afternoon, let to anchor and adjusted our compasses. A big dinner given on board to the committee etc.

22nd. Left Greenhithe for Tenerife.

24th. Engines broke down so put into St. Helens Bay, I. of W. to repair them. Left again the next morning and proceeded to Tenerife.

Feb. 1st. Arrived at Tenerife /Canary Islands/ stayed there for four hours, then left and proceeded to St. Vincent /Cape Verd Islands/

5th. Arrived at St. Vincent, took on a little coal, then proceeded to the Island of Fernando de Noronha.

11th. Arrived off Fernando de Noronha, lowered a boat, Mr. Gray and Mr. Lumsden went ashore for an hour, when they returned we set on again and proceeded down South for the Straits of Magellan.

17th. Passed Cape Frio. Encountered a gale of wind. Ship labouring heavily shipping quantities of water, steering gear, boats and deck work, the port surf boat swept overboard.

22nd. Passed Cape Corrientes.

27th. Passed Cape Virgins the eastern entrance to the Straits of Magellan about 6 a.m. steamed up to Possession Bay and let go anchor.

28th. Left Possession Bay and proceeded as far as

Pg. 46

February 28th. 1893 continued

Sandy Point, when we let go anchor. Had a concert aboard amongst ourselves and crew. We entered these Straits /Magellan/ yesterday morning early and gave got as far as Sandy Point before dark, when we were obliged to anchor as it is impossible to ge through the Straits at dark: the Channel is so narrow and there are many hidden rocks not marked on the Charts. In some places the Channel is not half a mile broad and there are neither lights nor lighthouses, and as the Straits are 365 miles long you have to keep a constant watch. Very few vessels besides the Men of War venture to go through as they are so dangerous. Yesterday as we entered we came upon a Steamer, a total wreck with a broken back, apparently having only been on the rocks a few weeks, and we are told that the Savages got hold of them and smashed them up. The people on the Tierra del Fuego side are nothing more than Cannibals, so we keep clear of that side if we do attempt to land. We encountered a heavy gale on the way down here and lost nearly all out deck gear, boats, spars, ladders etc. and we have been quite afraid some passing steamer might pick them up and report we were lost. I shall be very glad when we get out of this as it is am anxious time for me with such ticklish navigation.

Pg. 47
(February 28th. continued)

I have a great deal more responsibility this trip and just now I am hardly able to sleep when I am off watch.

Mar.1st. Left Sandy Point at daylight and steamed through the Straits all day, arriving at Glacier Bay about 6 p.m. We lowered a boat and took and took the Ships name board ashore. Blew a gale of wind all night.

2nd. Hove up at daylight and set on full speed. Passed Cape Pillar the Western entrance to the Straits about 8 o'clock that evening, encountering another heavy gale from the S.W. Ship making very bad weather of it.

8th. Arrived at Coronel /Chili /. Took in a quantity of Coal. Myself and about eight of the Cable staff went on shore to have a run in the Country, we went by the Arauca Railway line to a town called Lota, then on to a village called Conelorve and all over the Pampas, returning on board in the evening. I fell of the train, played a Cricket match, gave a large concert on board for the people on shore.

10th. Coronel - This is a very interesting place and there are many more English than I expected. As soon as we arrived they challenged us to a cricket match which we accepted yesterday, but got a terrible beating so we are going to play them football on our way home. I enjoyed the day on shore very much: after Cricket we had horses lent us for the rest of the day so we all went up Country. They have lovely horses here and you can buy one of the best for 3 pounds. We have been very

Pg. 48
(March 10th. 1893 continued)


busy on board repairing damages as we had nothing but gales coming up here and lost another boat and several spars as well as other damage to the deck work and all together we looked rather a wreck on board just now - We had a lovely concert the other night and all went well until the middle when a deluge of water came pouring down the skylight soaking all of us to the skin and finishing it up quick.

12th. Left Coronel for Valparaiso / Chili /

13th. Arrived at Valparaiso, stopping there a day.

14th. Left Valparaiso for Callao.

20th. Arrived at Callao. /Chili /

23rd. Left Callao to take soundings off Chorrillas.

24th. Laid the Chorrillas and St. Elena shore end of cable and buoyed the end out of sea, then returned to Callao for Coal.

26th. Left Callao for Santa Elena, sounding en route.

31st. Arrived at Santa Elena. / Equador /

April 1st. Laid the Santa Elena and San Juan del Sur shore end of Cable buoying the end, returned to Santa Elena.

2nd. Laid the Santa Elena and Chorrillas shore end of cable and proceeded to Chorrillas laying Cable.

7th. Arrived off the Cable buoy at Chorrillas picked him up and spliced on Cable, completing the Chorrillas and St. Elena section then we proceeded into Callao for coal.

12th. Left Callao direct for Santa Elena.

Pg. 49

April 16th. 1893 Arrived at Santa Elena

17th. Left Santa Elena for San Juan del Sur. /Nicaragua / sounding en route.

23rd. Arrived at San Juan del Sur. /Nicaragua / All the Ladies and Gentlemen came down from the Country to see the ship, almost 100 of them came off to the ship, we gave them some music on board.

24th. Large fire broke out in the Town. The Governor sent off to us for assistance. The Silvertown Fire Brigade went ashore and put it out. Landed the San Juan del Sur and Salina Cruz shore end of Cable, buoying it out at sea, returning to San Juan del Sur again that evening.

26th. Left San Juan del Sur for Salina Cruz /Mexico / sounding en route.

30th. Arrived at Salina Cruz. Gale of wind blowing.

May 1st. Trying to land the Salina Cruz and San Juan del Sur shore end of Cable, Lumsden and Armes drowned in the surf boat, capsized, Sad Fatality.

2nd. Shore end of Cable successfully landed, proceeded laying Cable to San Juan del Sur.

3rd. (Reference to tragedy on May 1st. 1893 )
We have had a very sad accident here, we had to wait three days before we attempted to lay the shore end of the Cable on account of very heavy sea and surf: after that we thought it had moderated so lowered four of our best boats; two cutters two surf boats and the Steam launch: we put the lines into these that were to haul off the Cable to shore and put a rocket and line into one of the

Pg. 50
(May 3rd. 1893 continued)

surf boats so she could let go her anchor and fire the line ashore as it was impossible for any boat to go through the surf then: the steam launch had to keep the cutters well out of the surf while the went further in. One surf boat that had the rocket in was manned with four strong Lowestoft men. Mr. Lumsden the Cable Engineer who was in charge, was just going to fire the rocket when a tremendous swell came along and before they could do anything in the boat caught her stem on tearing the anchor off the ground and turning the boat right over. It was dreadful to see all this, as we could from the ship, the boat floating upside down and two or three men's heads in the very middle of the surf: then another sea came and split the boat completely in halves: then we saw the shore party run into the surf and pick out two of the men and the steam launch let go the cutters after anchoring them safe and went straight to the place: she picked up one more man. But Mr. Lumsden and the other poor fellow were never seen again. The sailor was a married man and we collected 350 pounds later on to be sent home to Lowestoft to his family. Poor Mr. Lumsden was to be married on our return home. This of course

Pg. 52
(May 3rd. 1893 continued)

cast a gloom on the ship for some days; we offered a large reward for their bodies, but they were never washed ashore. Next day we attempted to land the Cable end again and managed it successfully and left as soon as we accomplished it.

7th. Arrived off Cable buoy at San Juan del Sur, picked it up, spliced Cable together, completing the Salina Cruz and San Juan del Sur section of Cable. Sounding all night off San Juan de Sur and proceeded to anchorage in the morning.

8th. Laid at anchor in harbour transferring cable in the ship from forward to aft.

Tuesday May 9th. Ship laying at anchor in the harbour of San Juan del Sur. /Nicaragua/ having a day to spare on board we all went on shore for a run. We were told that the best thing to do was to procure horses and take a ride to a little town called Rivas, about 18 miles in the interior. Ten of us went off at once to find the horses, but we were not able to get a single one owing to the Revolutionists wanting them for military purposes. There being a Revolution in the Country at the time. Nevertheless we determined to go somewhere or other so we engaged two bullock carts with four bullocks in each cart and had dried hides and mats put in the bottom of the carts to make a softer seat. We heard just before we started that the Rebel Army was expected to come from Rivas by foot, so signalled off

Pg. 52
(May 9th. continued)


to the ship our intentions, and to send some arms and ammunition ashore, also some provisions. They all came off in due time, 8 rifles, 7 revolvers and six cutlasses, some bread, tins of meat etc.: at least we were fully prepared to start on our journey. We left the town about 4 p.m. and well in the bush at 5 p.m. We took one of the Cable clerks at the station with us so he could interpret for us. We were all dressed in shore clothes and wore helmets to keep the sun off, for the few hours before dark. Nothing happened till we got to a river which we had to ford, we crossed the river safely, but there was a bank to go up the other side, the drivers whipped the bullocks up and we were nearly all thrown into the river. Once more we were on a very fair road, but the ups and downs we got, with one side up then the other side down were very disagreeable, but had to make the best of it, some of us got out and walked for about a mile, but had to get in again because the road was all mud and it clinging to our boots made us more tired than being jolted in the carts, we were well in the bush by now, not being to see any houses, occasionally passing a native hut with a light in it, next we came to a part of bush that was all on fire which was a very pretty sight. About 7 o'clock thinking that in another two or three hours we should be at our destination we started on out provisions.

Pg. 53
(May 9th. 1893 continued)


When we opened our basket we found a tin of tongue we had was bad and had burst, its contents going all over the bread, so we had to throw most of it away, which left us with hardly anything to eat, we had no corkscrew so knocked the heads off the bottles with our cutlasses. After this stoppage we set on at a very good pace and clear road, so lit up our pipes, sang songs and made our miserable lives happy, our songs were mingled with those of the bull frogs, parrots, pumas and monkeys, fire flies flitted about in myriads, making a very pretty sight. The night became very dark and heave clouds rolled up and we could hear the distant thunder coming on towards us and we had not long to wait before it began to rain and in a few minutes we were in the middle of a regular tropical thunderstorm, not one of us had a mackintosh or umbrella and as the carts were open we were glad to take up the dried hides from the bottom of the carts and hold them over us. The carts under ordinary circumstances would have held two with comfort, but here were five of us huddled all up together under bits of hide which kept the rain off us for some time, but only to come down in a stream directly the position was altered and then there was such a scramble, fighting to get out of the way. When we took the hides up from the bottom of the cart no one

Pg. 54
(May 9th. 1893 continued)

thought of looking what was underneath, but next morning we found out, for the rain had turned the earth which had been sprinkled at the bottom of the carts to make a sort of mattress for us to sit on, into slush and there we were lying on our backs in it. The road then began to have a very marshy look and the bullocks began to sink into this mud right up to their haunches at times whilst the wheels sank down to their axles. Notwithstanding all this the carts travelled in a most wonderful way and were well adapted to the track, at times one wheel would be on a bank whilst the other was far below it, we wedged each other off with out boots, but for all that we lost our grip once and three out of the five of us were thrown into the bush. On we jolted till at last we saw in the distance a light and were not long in getting up to it, we roused the people up and asked for something to eat, it was then midnight. They offered us fowls, but refused to catch or cook them and as we were beastly hungry we were not beyond catching them, some of us went out with lamps to find them whilst the others got up a good old bonfire. I went out to catch what I could in the dark, I saw something by a tree which looked like a fowl so I took up a stone, threw it and struck a beastly wild pig, and it was that pig

Pg. 55
(May 9th. 1893 continued)


that I thought was a fowl, no sooner had I hit him than he started making a hideous row which set all the dogs in the neighbourhood yelping, consequently the chickens all flew, after that we returned to the fire and found that the other fellows had already caught one or two chickens and had them plucked and on the fire, there was one on the fire that was only half plucked, but he roasted as well as the others. We all sat around the fire drying ourselves and waited for the chickens to cook, we were there for quite half an hour and the blessed things did not seem to be half cooked and as some of the fellows got tired of waiting and feeling beastly miserable we decided to leave everything as it was and go back to the ship. We told the drivers to go back to the ship, but they would not return to the coast and said we would be in Rivas in about an hour, so we all got into the carts again and proceeded ahead again. By this time everyone began to get really sleepy and miserable and no one spoke, we dared not sleep because we knew it would mean we would be sure to get fever in our wet things and in the state we were, so we lay on our backs and counted the stars. The way we were going along now there was no path at all, we were just trampling the bush down which stood about six feet high as we went along. The Cable clerk

Pg. 56
(May 9th. 1893 continued)

that we took with us from San Juan del Sur was moaning and groaning all the while and I quite think he thought he was going to die. On we went for another hour till we came to a steep hill and at the bottom of this we could see a few lights here and there, we were told they were at the entrance of the town, so we all sat up and began to have a little more hope of getting out of the bush alive. We sent one of the natives on ahead to tell then at the hotel to have some supper for us by the time we got there. The way the carts came down the hill was marvellous, we all got out before they got half way down as we were expecting to see them capsize every minute. Nine of us went ahead walking, we had to leave one of our fellows names Jones as he had taken off his boots in the cart and they had been thrown out somehow, so he had lost them and was barefooted. The Cable Clerk also stayed behind as he was nearly dead. We arrived in the town at last, there was not a soul to be seen only a lot of wild dogs which we shot when they got too near, we had our guide with us and he piloted us to a house he called the Grand Hotel. We expected a nice reception on our arrival, but were greatly mistaken. We knocked at the door very gently but got no answer, knocked a little louder the next time, but still no answer. We then knocked at the window,

Pg. 57
(May 9th. 1893 continued)

but got no answer. So we started to call out as we knew the landlord spoke English, we could not get an answer at all, we waited a while to see if anyone was going to open the door, but no, so being tired of waiting we took up stones, threw them at the windows which unfortunately broke, at last we got an answer in good old English - "Don't make such a d.d row". We knew then we were all right, the door was opened and in we walked, we asked if the supper was ready, the native knew nothing about the supper, we asked to see the Landlord, but were told that we could not as he had the fever, we asked for the Landlady, but found that she had been drinking, not wisely, but too well and was laying on the floor in his room. After a lot of parlay we got a bottle of brandy which did not go far between the eleven of us, when that was done we went to turn in, there were two bedrooms of sorts with six hammocks in each, so we each had a hammock and tumbled into these all standing, just as we were in our wet things, and needless to say we were soon asleep. It was just four in the morning when we arrived at the Hotel. We were awaked at 7 a.m. and had a cup of black coffee each. When we woke up we did not know who was who, it was a ludicrous sight for every one was caked with mud and dirt from head to foot and some were all red

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(May 9th. 1893 continued)

from the dye off they had held over them in the cart to keep the rain off and the dye had soaked through on to them. We took off all our clothes and had a jolly good wash, putting all our clothes in a large barrel of water. We then sent a native boy out to buy shirts, coats, trousers and hats at $1.00 each. We got back into our hammocks and waited for the clothes, when they came we put them on, the difficulty was that the coats and trousers were built to fit the slender Nicaraguans and fitted like tights on the larger built of us fellows, consequently no sooner did we but them on than they were burst up and down. Jones had to wear a pair of wooden shaped shoes as he had lost his. We left the Hotel intending to take the train to St. Jago, but bad luck followed us through, the only train had gone so had to walk it, being three miles away. When we arrived there we looked a thorough set of Scoundrels, no one had a coat on his back as they had all burst off us. The Thermometer was 95 degrees F in the shade and the heat in the sun was almost unbearable. After refreshing ourselves at St. Jago we decided to go on to the Lake of Nicaragua, that being another two miles. At last we arrived at the lake which was a magnificent sight, the great mountains of Ornetepe rises sheer up from the middle of the Lake and

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(May 9th. 1893 continued)


is lost in the clouds. We all had a very refreshing bathe, the water was quite fresh and we were told afterwards that the water is swarming with sharks; had we known that before we would have kept out of it. Whilst bathing a Steamer from Granada came in bringing the troops that we had expected to meet on out way from Rivas. As it was getting late we caught the one and only train back up to Rivas where we had a good breakfast and began to get ready to go back in the carts to San Juan del Sur. We had ordered the carts at noon, but noon came but the carts did not, so we had to wait. About 2:30 pm we heard trumpets blowing and soon we saw the troops turning out of the barracks ready for inspection and the march to Rivas. It was a grand sight and would have stirred any one who had any martial spirit in him at all. They fell in in a very irregular line, some smoking pipes, some cigars, some cigarettes, others chewed lumps of fathom lengths of sugar cane, some wore sea boots, some sandals and some none at all. The only uniform they wore was a green band tacked around some part of their body. The things they carried their cartridges were like the live bait tins we use in England when we go fishing. Meanwhile trumpets were blown and more men fell in from all directions; at last they started and with one word of command they all turned and rushed

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(May 9th. 1893 continued)

down the street one after the other, war-hooping and yelling "Viva Nicaragua" etc. Even when the army had started more stragglers could be seen rushing along with their rifles in the air and their bait tins flying all about them. They were gone for about an hour when we heard more blowing of trumpets and found that they were returning again, evidently having forgotten their toothbrushes and a change of linen. We waited about the town till 4 o'clock and then the carts turned up. The drivers told us the bullocks got loose and strayed into the mountains. We all got into the carts again and started back for the Coast, we had two hours jolting about which was quite enough for some of us, so we got out and started walking thinking we knew the way, we left Jones and the Cable clerk in the carts to look after the guns etc., we walked on in front of the carts and soon lost sight of them, we were all right till it became dark and then we wished we were in the carts again as we soon lost our way, we shouted, cooed, and made a frightful row, but got no answer, we were afraid to fire our revolvers because we thought that the rebels were laying in wait for the troops along the bush and might take us for them and fire on us, we tramped along for an hour before we saw any traces of footpath or road, then we came upon a telegraph pole and having noticed that wires ran along the road we

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came, on the way to Rivas, we meant to follow the wires, we had been turning about such a lot before we came to the post that we did not know which one to follow, we waited a bit to think in what direction the ship lay from Rivas, we came to the conclusion that it was in a W.N.W. direction, so took bearings of the stars and shaped our course as near in that direction as the wires took us: what a frightful job we had to follow them, in some places we had to wade through water up to our waists, we pushed on as well as we could till at last we struck the road and we all rejoiced, we did not wait but pushed on as fast as we could, we all kept close together in case anything might spring out on us from the bush, we were getting quite brave by this time, when all at once we saw something white moving ahead of us, we could see it was an animal of some sort, but not knowing what sort of animals there were about here we stopped dead short; this beastly thing was coming on us fast so we lay down, got our revolvers ready and with the word fired, the beast fell, we still lay quiet to see if we had been heard by the Rebels, but there was not a stir, only the monkeys started shouting at us, we went to see what we had shot and found it was only a small calf, poor thing, we were glad for one thing because that told us we were near some civilized place and

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so it proved to be the case, we only had to turn a corner and there we saw a light and a large fire, we approached cautiously being afraid they were part of the Army, but to our delight who should we find but old Jones plucking fowls and putting them on the fire, he told us he had been there for two hours quite and as he knew we could not pass here without coming in, he thought he would get supper ready for us, although he was rather afraid we should lose our way. It was just one in the morning when we arrived, we found the Cable clerk lying on the ground quite expecting to die every minute, we gave him some "Chain Lightning" which is very strong whisky and that pulled him together, at least he could hardly stand on his feet from the effects of it. We were all beastly hungry and did not wait to have the chickens dished up but pulled them off the fire and tore them to pieces. After we had eaten as much as we could we dried ourselves and got into the carts and away we went. We all fell off to sleep and slept sound, but just before entering the town we had to cross the river again, the bullocks plunged into it and the tide being at the highest the cart went down, the water coming over the wheels and right into the cart, half drowning us, as we were all asleep. we soon cane to our senses and stood up till we were through the river, all our rifles and

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ammunition were damaged. We arrived in the town at 6 am and went down to the beach, hailed a boat from the ship, and got on board - everyone turned out to see us and had a jolly good laugh at us, but for all that we enjoyed our two days expedition.
If anyone can read all that I have written on this one expedition, he must have a good constitution, there is one consolation he can have and that is, what has been written is the truth and nothing but the truth.

12th. Landed the San Juan del Sur and Santa Elena shore end of Cable and proceeded to Santa Elena laying Cable.

18th. Arrived off Santa Elena / Equador / spliced up Cable to shore end and completed the San Juan del Sur and Santa Elena section.

21st. Left Santa Elena for Callao.

24th. Arrived at Callao, took in Coal.

25th. Went on shore up country to Lima, spent the day there and went to the theatre in the evening.

26th. Ten of us left the ship at 5 a.m. for the shore with intention of going up the mountains. We took a steward with us and enough provisions for two days. Took train at Lima for the mountains. The Aura Railway Company. Had breakfast in the train, at 1 p.m. we arrived at Matacana Station, that being 7788 feet above sea level, we had dinner at the hotel. Matacana is a very pretty place indeed and

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)

people from Lima and Callao come here for their health, it being a regular health resort, we started from there at 2 pm and went straight up the mountains till we reached Casapalca and there we had to get out, we were all so very mountain sick. Casapalca being 14000 feet above sea level. We got out and went to an hotel and there we lay on our beds wishing we were out of it. The air being so rarefied we lost our heads and were not able to stand. We had to stay there that night. I have never had a night as I had that night, no sleep, no rest and everything seemed to be flying about everywhere. We left there at six the next morning, but did not feel well enough to eat anything till we got down to Tamboraque Station which is 9826 feet above the sea, we stopped there, had something to eat and felt quite well again. On our way down we stopped at Matucana again where a lot of Spanish ladies got in and we had great fun with them. Not one of could speak Spanish and there we were trying to make love to them by giving them sandwiches and English beer etc. We arrived at Lima about 7 pm where we got out, sending the steward down to the ship with the provision basket. We had a grand dinner. Went to the Theatre and returned on board in the early hours of the next morning.

30th. Left Callao for Coronel, laying out spare Cable at sea, buoyed it at each end.

June 7th. arrived at Coronel

8th. Had a grand football match, but were beaten.

Pg. 65

June 9th. 1893 Six of us went for a ride through the bush, Jones lost his horse.

13th. Left Coronel for the Straits of Magellan, en route for England.

19th. Passed Cape Pillar, and the western entrance of the Straits, blowing a gale of wind all day. Anchored off Port Tamar, ship broke her anchor, so dodged about the Straits amongst the rocks all night it blowing, snowing and hailing hard, frightful night.

20th. At daylight we proceeded through the Straits for Borja Bay where we arrived at 7 pm.

21st. Left at daylight for Sandy Point where we arrived at about 8 pm.

22nd. Sandy Point … So far back on our homeward way. We arrived here last night about 8 o'clock and were very pleased to get a batch of letters, papers etc. from home. We arrived off Cape Pillar last Monday morning. Cape Pillar is the Western entrance to the Straits and we managed to get up to Port Tamar that night, but before we got to the anchorage the dark overtook us so we had to keep outside in 25 fathoms with a rocky bottom: we hung on there till about 10 p.m. when it came on to blow a hurricane with fierce hail & snow squalls. I was on watch when in the middle of all this the wind suddenly shifted from N.W. to S.W. catching the ships head on the other bow and tearing her anchor. I suddenly felt her dragging her anchor and then found that we were off the

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(June 22nd. 1893 continued)

bank and in 200 fathoms of water. I called up the Captain and all hands and set the engines full speed ahead. The Captain came up at once on the bridge and it was cold up there I can tell you, hailing and snowing and pitch dark. We knew there were some rocks half a mile astern of where we had laid so we kept her going ahead and set a course for mid channel forcing her on as fast as possible, but we could see nothing and when after two hours it cleared off a bit we could see the land on the other side looming up as large as life, we still kept on the same course full speed as we found even so we could only just keep our position, we did not even make a bit of head way and even at times lost ground. We went on like this till 2 a.m. when it fell calm quite suddenly and the stars came out: such a contrast I have never seen before, I could hardly believe my eyes. We then found ourselves astern of where we had anchored and a great deal too near the rocks to be pleasant. However we could feel happy now and proceeded to haul up the anchor which had run out 95 fathoms if chain and when we got it up there was only half and that was just twisted up like a lump of lead - at daylight we set on again down channel as far as Borja Bay,

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(June 22nd. 1893 continued)

a snug little bay and good anchorage so we all had a jolly good sleep that night. From here we go at 10 a.m. and after anchoring one night in Gregory Bay we shape our course for home.

23rd. Left Gregory Bay and proceeded out of the Straits of Magellan, passing Cape Virgins at 6 p.m.

29th. Steaming past the River Plate.

July 4th. Passed Cape Frio. / Brazil /

10th. Called at the Island of Fernando de Noronha.

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July 10th. 1893 continued

signalled to shore with lamps, all well, and left for St. Vincent.

18th. Arrived at and left St. Vincent. / Cape Verde Islands /

19th. Steaming for Santa Cruz

22nd. Arrived at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. /Canary Islands /

23rd. Left Santa Cruz for London.

31st. Past Beachy Head at midnight.

August 1st. Ship arrived at Gravesend, all Cable staff going ashore.
Officers and crew took the ship up to the Royal Victoria Docks, where we moored her.

2nd. Crew paid off at the Tidal Basin Shipping Office.

CS Silvertown

Copyright © 2003 Roger Barclay
Last revised: 30 May 2003

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