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(12) Crossing the Line -- Sabbath on board ship -- Funerals at Sea -- Cape of Good Hope [[55-60]]

[*crossing the equator*; *funerals at sea*; *the Cape*]

[[55]] A few days before an arrival on this coast, when it comes within the scope of the voyage, the usual ceremonies attendant upon crossing the Line are duly observed. Those who have never sailed so far to the southward are impressed with the belief that sundry operations by no means pleasant are to take place. Among other things, they may expect to be suspended from the fore-yard-arm, and thoroughly ducked by frequent dips into the sea.

However unreasonable this may appear, there exists no doubt of such a practice having been perfectly common about sixty years ago. It was then regarded as an excellent joke, affording wonderous merriment to the veteran part of the crew. In time, the practice ceased; either from the interposition of good sense, or owing to the judicious distribution of some liquor among the chiefs of the dramatis personae

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((66)) The amusements incident on this occasion are not very tedious, and though filthy in the extreme, cannot be witnessed without exciting much laughter. About noon, the boatswain, being full dressed as the god of the ocean, is supposed to hail the ship, enquiring whence she comes? whither she is bound? and if any persons are on board who never before crossed the great boundary dividing the northern from the southern hemisphere? After much pompous and authoritative elocution, wherein Neptune declares a firm resolution not to relinquish his rights, he ascends at the bow, under which his car is supposed to be in waiting, whence, attended by his mates, whose paraphernalia accord with the dignity of their office and the solemnity of the occasion, he proceeds to the quarter- ((67))  deck, where, after an appropriate speech, he exercises his powers of divination, and in a few minutes discovers the several novices who are to submit to his decrees.

His god-head, like his progenitor of ancient times, invariably has an eye to business; and as the sea deity of the Greeks was supposed to delight in ample sacrifices, so does his descendant, or rather his representative, of our time, equally cherish the idea of copious libations in honor of the day. Hence, there is little difficulty in appeasing his wrath, and conciliating his good-will towards the vessel and her crew, by the immolation of from two to three gallons each, of good rum or gin; which, being duly tendered to the officiating priests, soon reach their destination, and avert the threatened danger.

While this is going on, some of the old hands are busied in the construction of a ship, which is to be launched in the presence of the deity, under whose auspices she is to sail the world over, and back again, in perfect safety! This important duty is conducted with great precision, and takes place in the lee-waist, where all the novices among the sailors, recruits, &c. are ranged in two rows, face to face, to represent the ribs of the stately Argo.

It is usual to select some of the more pliant, or silly, of the party, to form the head and bows: one of these being placed in the centre, looking ((68)) forward, his head covered with a long swab, of which the threads hang down nearly to his heels, and his face being smeared with all the filth the ship affords, by way of paint, is considered the typical figure suited to the nomenclature of the vessel.

All being in readiness, the builders attend Neptune as he retires, in order to allow the shoars to be knocked away, that the launch may take place: the captain and his officers aid the farce by encouraging the passengers to advance towards the waist, there to view the construction; when, at a fit moment, the god roars forth his mandate for committing his protege to the deep.

It, however, unluckily happens that the vessel does not shew any disposition to quit the stocks; therefore, as she will not proceed to the water, the only chance of setting her afloat is by causing the water to proceed to her; which it accordingly does from some dozens of buckets, &c., previously secreted in the fore and main tops, and in the long boat, for that purpose. This drenching concludes the show, and the crew retire to make merry upon the amount of their collections, which, when not sufficiently abundant to afford a moderate allowance to each, is liberally augmented from the ship's stores. 

The Sabbath is always observed on board every Indiamen with perfect decorum. Having no chaplain on board, unless perchance as a passenger, the captain, or one of the officers, reads the morning service, succeeded by a short lecture suited to the audience, who consist of all on board not confined by illness. The decency prevailing on such occasions is exemplary; the whole standing bare-headed on the quarter-desk and refraining from every act or look that might trespass on propriety. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((69)) Many sailors, notwithstanding the character in which they are generally accepted, are of a very religious disposition, and are easily led by those who shew a reverence for the church establishment. Yet like most persons bred up in ignorance, they are shamefully superstitious, and often entertain notions very little short of those which actuated their ancestors to throw Jonah overboard. However ridiculous it may appear, yet it is strictly true that among hundreds of the bravest tars, one wag may, by whisperings, groanings, &c., aided by a white sheet, and a hollow intonation, create a most disgraceful panic.

But our terrestrial population, of corresponding rank, can claim no title to laugh at their peers on the element. The sermon lately delivered and printed by the Rev. Isaac Nicholson, A. M., Curate of Great Paxton, in the county of Huntingdon, in consequence of two attacks on the person of Ann Izzaard, a reputed witch, whereby Alice Russel, who endeavored to protect that poor woman, was destroyed, ((70)) evinces the deplorable state in which the minds of our lower orders remain, notwithstanding the great expense incurred for the propagation of the Scriptures among them, and the infinite pains taken to instruct those who cannot afford to pay for education.

Funerals at sea can rarely boast of much display, but their attendants are often sincere mourners. Confined [[56]]  within a narrow space, the loss of a companion is not easily forgotten, while every object reminds us of his fate. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((70)) Few linger, either of disease or of wounds, so long as persons under similar circumstances would do on shore. The want of room, of fresh air, of clean linen, of suitable diet, and of a change of scene, all contribute, notwithstanding the most assiduous attendance, to depress the spirits, and to aggravate the symptoms. Above all, the ravages of scurvy are peculiarly distressing, and tend most to dishearten; even those in perfect health become alarmed, and from that circumstance alone, often participate in the dreadful evil.

It being utterly inadmissible that a corpse should be retained on board, no time is lost in sewing it up in a hammock, placing a few lumps of coal, or other ponderous matter, at the feet, to cause its sinking. Thus prepared, it is laid upon a grating at the lee gang-way; and after the usual burial service, at which all attend, is ((71)) committed to the deep.

In some instances, during calms, sharks have been seen to dart from under the vessel, and to attack the corpse in the most ravenous manner. It is well known that all sickly ships are attended by many of those fishes; which, if numerous in the vicinity of a healthy vessel, are, in the opinions of the crew, the surest indications of great mortality on board. Without pretending to doubt the acuteness of a shark's sense of smelling, it may be permitted us rather to ascribe their congregating to chance, than to their supposed powers of anticipation: at the same time there can be little doubt, that certain effluvia must escape from a vessel not duly purified by ventilation and ablution; and that such a neglect will rarely fail to induce diseases of the most malignant description; thereby giving a latitude, among those who view things superficially, to adduce instances apparently confirmative of their assertions.

Whatever convenience it may be thought to afford to the survivors, it appears to me that the customary sale of all the effects of the deceased, indiscriminately in general, is contrary to the dictates of prudence, so far as relates to salubrity. That in such a situation whatever is appreciable may produce a better price, cannot be controverted; but I should rather incline to think it were better to forego that advantage, than to risk the dissemination of disease, though ((78)) not previously malignant, by an unlimited distribution of the apparel of one demising under any clinical distemper. To say the least, perfect ventilation should be given to every atom; nor would the trouble or expense (if any) of fumigating the wearing apparel and bed-clothes, be ill bestowed: perhaps baking would be found tbe safest precaution.

It has already been stated that in rounding the Cape, the weather may be expected to correspond with the season of the year. This is so well understood, that only during the summer season in that quarter are vessels considered safe in Table Bay, situated to the north of a low, flat, sandy isthmus, over which the sea appears to have flowed formerly into False Bay, lying a few miles to the southward.

The mouths of the two bays have different aspects. Thus when that channel existed, the Table Mountain, whence the northerly bay derives its designation, together with Cape Town, which stands between the mountain and that bay, together with Wineburg, Wittiboom, Constantia, &c. &c., including a length of about forty-five miles by four, on an average, in breadth, must have been insulated.

When a ship is to touch at the Cape, it is very desirable on every account that her arrival should take place during the summer season, so that she may come to anchor in Table Bay, about half a mile distant from the wharf. The convenience thus afforded, of going immediately into comfortable lodgings, where nothing is wanting which can tend to the refreshment of persons fatigued by a confinement within such narrow limits, probably for ten or twelve weeks, is not to be calculated. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((73)) The Dutch, it is true, are most offensively avaricious; but that must be compounded for, in consideration of the satisfaction attendant upon the liberty of taking exercise in a fine climate, abounding with the most delicious fruits, the choicest vegetables, and that kind of social intercourse which, chasing away the recollection of former langour, gives energy to meet succeeding dulness and inactivity.

The British visitor will, however, experience considerable disappointment if he expects to witness the performance of dramatic pieces, or that jocund hilarity which with us prevails among persons long resident together. On the contrary: the inhabitants of Cape Town think of nothing but money-making; in which they are neither inexpert, nor very scrupulous. In public, they are so awkward, stiff, and unsociable, that. I have often been surprised they did not go to sleep at their visits.

If such was the state of society only a few years ago, what must it have been previous to the occupation of the Cape, during ((74)) the American war, by two French regiments; which, according to the confession of the Dutch themselves, made a very considerable improvement in their breed?

Few of those who take lodgers will admit such as do not board with them. The rates are not fixed, but the average may be taken at from three to four rix-dollars for each lady or gentleman, half-price for young children, and one dollar for each servant, per diem. Thus a single gentleman must be an economist, to pay his expenses of board, washing, horse-hire, &c., under thirty [[57]] shillings daily. The rix-dollar is fixed at four shillings; but is an imaginary sum. Notes of any value may be had; but gold and silver currency are scarcely ever seen; the Dutch being extremely eager to obtain guineas at twenty-one shillings currency, and re-sell them at the rate generally of six and a half or seven rix-dollars.

Persons visiting the Cape should be careful to reserve their cash till about to pay their bills, and then to account their gold coin at its current value, as above shewn. Such is the estimation in which bullion is held, that no small coins are any where to be seen; even shillings and silvers are paid in paper currency. Passengers from India ought to take a bag of rupees of the worst description; for whether (sikku) sicca or (trisoolee) tersooly, such will be gladly received, without distinction, at two shillings and sixpence.

The cookery of the Dutch is nearly on a par with their flesh-meats. Their beef, mutton, veal, and pork, is rarely of tolerable quality, and invariably made to float in strong sauce, of which butter and spices are the chief ingredients. The table is, in most houses, laid in [a] central hall, looking into a garden. The floors are all painted, that they may not absorb the damp when washed, as they are almost daily; the beds tolerably good, and the apartments of a moderate size.

Before every house is an elevated terrace, on a level with the ground-floor, having at each end a seat, usually of masonry also. On this terrace, called the steupe, the Dutch promenade half the day in fair weather, enjoying their pipes, and occasionally taking their sopkies. These are small glasses of raw spirits, for the most part hollands, which their servants tender, at intervals, as a matter of course.

The extensive gardens of the late Dutch Company, [[58]] through the centre of which is a broad gravel-walk, full half a mile in length, are crowded, on Sunday evenings and on all festive days, by a promiscuous [=mixed] group, walking under the shade of the oaks and other trees planted on either side. There is also an institution, but of a more private nature, and frequented with few exceptions by the Dutch only. It is held at a neat house, where wines, &c., are sold, having attached to it a spacious garden; not unlike some of our tea-drinking places in the vicinity of London, and is called Concordia. 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((76)) This is called Concordia; a name perfectly unsuited to the scenes occasionally disgracing the interior, which has more than once excited the attention of our government, in consequence of the seditious principles of its visitors.

The late Lord Macartney did not fail to keep a watchful eye over Concordia, as well as to check in their infancy whatever attempts might be made to spread, and to inculcate, revolutionary principles. A large portion of the inhabitants being descended from delinquents who had quitted their native country, as Gil Blas says, 'not without good reason', and having rarely paid much deference to their rulers in Europe, it is not to be wondered at, that those doctrines of the mountain which condemned Louis the XVI should have been adopted at the Cape.

Such was the advance made in the cant of the day, and so numerous were the meetings at Concordia, that Lord Macartney judged it necessary to adopt measures for bringing his Dutch subjects to their senses; which he did in a manner that reflected the greatest credit on himself, and evinced with ((77)) what facility traitors may be subdued under a just and energetic government....

 Many of the farms, within a morning's ride, are well worth seeing, not as objects of imitation, but as displaying much novelty, and affording a just idea of the character of a Dutch agriculturist in that quarter. The vineyards and depots of wine at Constantia are remarkable; especially considering that the soil which produces that luscious wine is confined to a very few acres, probably not more than forty; beyond which, sets from the same vines, under circumstances of perfect equality, in regard to site and culture, produce a very different liquor, little superior to that sold at the several wine-houses at sixpence per quart, and possessing a peculiar terraceous flavour, which does not diminish by keeping.

The stranger not habituated to the use of the Cape wines, either white or red, should be extremely cautious on his first arrival to avoid them; and to drink port. A neglect of this precaution will produce considerable inconvenience, and may be attended with habitual diarrhoea.

Many whalers frequent the coast to the eastward of the Cape, where they kill numbers of the white species, which supply spermaceti and the oil bearing that name. In False Bay, including a space at least equal to two hundred square miles, black whales may often be seen [[59]] sporting about; as, indeed, they may in Table Bay, close in among the rocks, about half a mile below the fort. A few are killed by the crews of such ships as have not been so fortunate as to be filled with the former kind; but this seems almost as much for pastime as profit: the oil extracted from black whales being very low in price; as neither burning well, nor making so good soap as the spermaceti kind.

Although the winter months are held to be very dangerous for vessels riding in Table Bay, from the dreadful swell sometimes setting in from the north-west, towards which it is much exposed, it is, however, rare that vessels are lost therein during that season. This may, no doubt, be attributed to their very short stay, as they usually proceed to Seamon's Bay, the inhabited part of which is about twenty-five miles from Cape Town. The Sceptre, of 64 guns, together with a Danish 74, and about ten or twelve other vessels, were wrecked in Table Bay on the 5th of November 1799; a period when a gale of wind from the north-west is never expected.

To make up for the deficiency, that part of the year is attended with very stiff breezes from the south-east, which drive up the small gravel against one's face with such force as to give most acute pain. These south-easters, as they are called, certainly produce excellent effects: cooling the air, and destroying a vast number of insects.

Nature has been truly liberal in the profusion of flowers she has scattered throughout this part of Africa. The plains are covered with heaths, or heathers, of an exquisite fragrance, of boundless variety, and of the most delicate colouring and formation. The whole country, where the soil is not absolutely barren, teems with all that could enrich a pleasure-garden. Among these, the [[60]] wild geraniums bear a large proportion: the plain beyond the camp at Wineburg absolutely resembling a rich carpet! 

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((84)) The Cape, considered as a colony, cannot be said, at present, to be valuable in any respect, except as an asylum for shipping, homeward or outward bound. The supplies requisite for the town are derived from the labors of a few boors [=Boers?], settled at some distance. Hence, provisions are by no means cheap; nor would they be so, even if the demands of St. Helena could be answered from any other quarter; since the indolence of the Dutch agriculturists would, it is to be feared, cause them to limit their operations in proportion as the consumption might decrease.

It is, doubtless, owing to some such cause, that the greater part of the slaves are maintained upon a very black, heavy kind of bread, on which the fat of sheeps' tails is smeared, as a substitute for butter; and that the lower classes of the population live in the most wretched manner. This should seem inexcusable, where thousands of acres of good soil lie unheeded, within such a moderate distance of the town as could scarcely fail to repay the ordinary expences of cultivation....

 Few ships remain long enough to allow of passengers proceeding to the interior; where, however, they would find much to admire. At some of the farms they may be well accommodated, with the great advantage of finding their purses far less burdensome on their return. The famous vineyards of Stellenbosch are well worth seeing, as is the Salt Lake, which annually dries, leaving a bed of muriate of soda many miles in diameter, and of unknown depth. Surely, in parts accounted sterile, such a depot of manure ought not to be overlooked.

The hot baths, situated in a most romantic valley, about forty miles from the Cape, demand the traveller's attention. Whether he proceed on horseback or in a waggon, a gun will be useful, on account of the prodigious quantity of game of every description, and as a defence against the numerous wild beasts which infest all the woody country beyond Hottentot Holland.


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