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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.

Between his voyages on Omba (1894) and Dacia (1895), Combe studied for the examination for his Master's Certificate, which he passed on December 12th 1894. This part of his journal describes the examination.

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.


November 6th. 1894. After having been eleven days at home, enjoying a thorough good holiday, I decided to go to London to work up for my Captains examination. I left this morning and went straight up to Hampstead, to some rooms an old friend of mine had in readiness for me.

November 7th. I started my schooling this morning at 10 and put in a good day's work, finishing at 4 p.m. The school I went to was at Captain Baxter's, 66 Leadedhall Street

November 30th. I have now had three weeks coaching, so intend to go up for my exam on Dec. 3rd. i.e. next Monday, as I feel fairly confident in my ability to pass for Master.

December 1st. This morning I went to the Board of Trade examining room for sight and colour test. I passed through without any trouble whatever.

December 3rd. Monday. I rose early this morning, has my breakfast and was at the Board of Trade examining room by 8.45 a.m. At 9 a.m. we were all shewn into a large room, full of desks, we followed one another in like so many sheep going to a slaughter house. I must say none of us felt very comfortable. At 4.0 p.m. I had finished all my problems required for that day. The examiner told me to go home then, and be back again by 9.30 a.m. the following day.

December 4th. Tuesday. At 9.30 a.m. I was at my desk in the examination room, working away like a good little boy. All went well till 1.0 p.m. when, Alas! I was called up by the old examiner, I could see there was something wrong by the twinkle in his eye. He said "Mr. Combe you have failed to correct this problem, (that being the one I had just given up) you may bring your pens, ink and paper back here and leave the room, as you have failed". I said Oh! Thanks and then put my writing materials away. When I passed him on my way out of the door, he glared at me over his spectacles, like a hawk at a sparrow, but said nothing. How beastly I felt. You can imagine my feelings. I was just a short time before 1.0 p.m. praising myself as doing so well. And then to be told a few moments after that to "go out". Oh! I should have liked to have half an hour with him in an open field. Well, it was not so bad, as I had another chance of going up again the next Monday.

December 5th. I was at school all day today meaning to lose no time between this and the 10th.

December 10th. Monday - At 9 a.m. I sat down to my desk again, as on the previous Monday, but this time with not such an independent air. Well by 3.30 p.m. I had finished all that was required of me, on this day, so left, being told, as before, to return at 9 a.m. the next day.

December 11th. I was punctual to the minute and commenced on my papers before any of the others, I plodded along, slow, but sure this time, having made up my mind not to be thrown out again on the same problem as on last week, neither was I, by 4.0 p.m. my last paper was passed in and found to be correct. I was then told as before to come back at 9.30 the next morning.

December 12th. This I knew would be my last day, if I was careful, so you can understand I took great pains over everything I did. By 2.30 p.m. I had finished all my figuring in navigation and astronomy. I had then to go before another examiner for seamanship. I was shown into his room which was at the other end of the building, he kept me there for an hour and a quarter questioning me on everything that came into his old head regarding a ship, her rigging, her cargo, how to build a ship. I think it would almost fill a book to tell what he did ask, his old tongue was ever wagging. Anyhow I answered everything he asked. He then gave me a slip of paper, which I took back to my old friend, the examiner in the room where I had been all day. He looked at the paper, then at me, perhaps he remembered my politeness the week before when I thanked him after he told me I had failed. He said nothing though, but sit down. Soon after that I was called up to compensate magnets on a Deviascope and adjust a compass, which performance I went through without a hitch, then I had a quantity of magnetism to write out. After having gone through this successfully I sat down and waited patiently. At last I was told to go up to the desk again, this time, instead of having some more work given me, or being told I had failed. I was handed a square piece of blue paper, this paper was to state that I had passed my examination and was qualified to take command of any ship afloat. I really did thank the old examiner this time and ran out of the place as hard as my legs could carry me. First I went to the school and told my crammer, then to the Post Office and telegraphed home the good news, and in the evening I went to the theatre with my old friend and spent a jolly evening.

December 14th. I returned home this day with a great weight off my mind, feeling a far happier and prouder man than when I left.

December 16th. This morning I went into Yarmouth, to the Custom House and there handed them my precious piece of blue paper. I was then given my Captains Certificate, which I took home. It was eagerly scanned by all the children.

December 25th. Today was a merry day for all at "Ferryside". We were all at home, except one brother who was away at Vancouver Island. In the morning we all went to Church. In the afternoon we went for a walk and in the evening we had our family Christmas dinner. This was really a most enjoyable day, as I am glad to say, that Father, Mother and all my Brothers and Sisters were in the best of health and all full of joy and happiness.

Copyright © 2003 Roger Barclay
Last revised: 3 April 2003

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Last revised: 12 November, 2015

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