THE VOYAGES OF DUGALD
ROBERT ON THE SAILING SHIPS, "FIRTH OF FORTH" (1891),
"CAMBUS NETHEN" (1893) AND THE STEAMER "MARTABAN",
AS WRITTEN BY HIS SON-IN-LAW HERBERT GOURLEY IN 1956
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Pop was standing by the rail: looking out
over the blue Caribbean. He was fond of doing this from time
to time and never seemed to tire watching the waves and the
distant horizon. Perhaps he was thinking about some of the
things he had once told me. I had been able, one day, to get
Pop to sit down with me at home and tell me something of his
early days and of his of his experiences as a sailor. While
he spoke to me at that time I made a record of what he said
(most of this in shorthand). As Pop gave me a running account
of what had happened (in response to my various questions),
I will in a few moments reduce this conversation in narrative
form since this will approximate what he said and in the way
he told me. The specific details are just as he gave them
to me as I did write them down as he spoke, and I kept my
notes ever since.
Pop came from the little town of Greenock on the River Clyde
in Scotland: this being a short distance from Glasgow. This
is in the middle of the great shipbuilding works stretching
all along this part of the Clyde. This part of the Clyde has
an air of the sea about it, and everybody there was and is
interested in ships and the building of them.
In Pop's day, everybody in Greenock and
that general area had very definite ideas about conduct. No
work was allowed on Sunday. You had to walk to Church, as
you couldn't ride because of the local ordinances. All stores
were closed Sundays, but the hotels were open. A drink of
liquor could be had a certain hours on Sunday, but not during
As a boy, Pop had a longing to follow the
sea; and his Scotch Presbyterian aunt, with whom he lived,
at last reluctantly agreed to let him spend several years
in a Government training ship where he was taught all the
things a sailor needed to know in those days: such as the
handling of sails, the working of the compass, the climbing
and manipulation of the rigging, the sewing and repairing
of sails, and so on (and some academic subjects as well).
Boys started this training at an early age and were just teenagers
when they graduated.
the training they got, the graduates (and it took three years
to complete the courses) had the knowledge which otherwise
would have taken years to acquire, and they were soon able
to join the ranks of experienced sailors who were generally
classified as "Able Seamen" or "Ordinary Seamen".
"Able Seamen" were paid the highest wages and were
assigned the jobs requiring the greatest skill. Comparisons
as to skills, especially with other industries, are not easy
to make - as all jobs on sailing ships required a certain
amount of skill. Pop did say, however, that a rough comparison
would be that of the driver of a big truck and his helper.
Discipline was strict on the
training ships that were run by a Navy commander and a staff
of officers. Those that Pop were in had formerly been British
men-of-war: the first training ship he was on having been
H. M. S. "Cumberland", and the second was H.M.S.
"Empress". Pop's training course, in which between
five hundred and six hundred boys participated, lasted three
years and he lived on the training ship the whole time except
that after the first six months the boys were allowed short-
leaves at various times.
The training day was long and
busy one. Pop got up at 6:00 a.m., washed up, got breakfast,
and then spent some time in the mess and also in sewing on
sails. Then he went to classes for general schooling and seamanship:
how to hoist sails, how to pull the cannon out the gun-ports
and back. Families had to pay a small amount per month for
the boys' education. In Pop's case he became a pupil-teacher
and was paid a certain amount a month for this that was applied
to his own education.
Although the administrators
and officers who ran this Government training program for
seamen were sturdy men and firm disciplinarians they evidently
were also men of sincere religious convictions and have a
real regard and gruff affection for their students. When Pop
and the other boys received their graduation certificates
from the Superintendent, the following comments and fatherly
advice were written on the back:
"While on board the
H.M.S. "Empress" you received a good education.
The best return you can give for these benefits is to turn
out a credit to the ship. My duty is not ended when you leave.
but I am directed by the Committee to help you in every way
possible until you have established for yourself an independent
position. I therefore begin by giving you the following advice.
Try to rise to the top of
your profession. A thoroughly upright and trustworthy person
is invaluable to an employer. If you wish to grow up a Godly
man, take our Lord Jesus Christ as your model; strive to be
like Him; read your Bible every day and remember that God
is always near you. Ask Him for what you need and never be
afraid to kneel when you pray. If in any trouble go straight
to a clergyman for advice. Your body is "the Temple of
God'. Therefore keep it pure...
Write occasionally to me
from abroad to let me know how you are making out. When you
return to the Clyde always come on board. You will always
find friends to help you in the old ship. Bear in mind that
steamers are rapidly taking the place of sailing ships and
that knowledge of steam is generally required in the mastery
of a steamer. When you have finished your apprenticeship or
have been long enough at sea, go to the government Examiner
of Seamanship of the port where you be at, or on board any
training ship, and ask to be examined for "Able Seaman".
If you are bound as an apprentice
the advantages you have over and Ordinary Seaman are several.
You have constant employment instead of being discharged after
each voyage. You have a home on board your ship and are provided
for in case of sickness. In most ships you have a far better
berth. After you serve your apprenticeship well it will be
to the interest of the owners to keep you in their employment.
With the education you have received you can get much higher
wages as Ordinary Seaman; and the temptation will be very
great to run away from your ship, but do not forget that you
have signed an agreement and you can never hold up your head
as an honest man until you have returned to the Master's service"
The face of the graduation
certificate issued to Pop gave him a rating of "Good"
or "Very Good" for each of the courses listed and
under the caption, "Special Qualifications" was
written: A very promising trustworthy lad".
Let us now hear Pop tell about some of his
early days as a sailor and of his experiences at sea.