Wednesday, 24th July. Off the Scilly Isles, 6 P.M.
When I wrote last Sunday, we put our pilot on shore, and went down Channel. It soon came on to blow, and all night was squally and rough. Captain on deck all night. Monday, I went on deck at eight. Lovely weather, but the ship pitching as you never saw a ship pitch - bowsprit under water. By two o'clock a gale came on; all ordered below. Captain left dinner, and, about six, a sea struck us on the weather side, and washed a good many unconsidered trifles overboard, and stove in three windows on the poop; nurse and four children in fits; Mrs. T- and babies afloat, but good- humoured as usual. Army-surgeon and I picked up children and bullied nurse, and helped to bale cabin. Cuddy window stove in, and we were wetted. Went to bed at nine; could not undress, it pitched so, and had to call doctor to help me into cot; slept sound. The gale continues. My cabin is water-tight as to big splashes, but damp and dribbling. I am almost ashamed to like such miseries so much. The forecastle is under water with every lurch, and the motion quite incredible to one only acquainted with steamers. If one can sit this ship, which bounds like a tiger, one should sit a leap over a haystack. Evidently, I can never be sea- sick; but holding on is hard work, and writing harder.
Life is thus:- Avery - my cuddy boy - brings tea for S-, and milk for me, at six. S- turns out; when she is dressed, I turn out, and sing out for Avery, who takes down my cot, and brings a bucket of salt water, in which I wash with vast danger and difficulty; get dressed, and go on deck at eight. Ladies not allowed there earlier. Breakfast solidly at nine. Deck again; gossip; pretend to read. Beer and biscuit at twelve. The faithful Avery brings mine on deck. Dinner at four. Do a little carpentering in cabin, all the outfitters' work having broken loose. I am now in the captain's cabin, writing. We have the wind as ever, dead against us; and as soon as we get unpleasantly near Scilly, we shall tack and stand back to the French coast, where we were last night. Three soldiers able to answer roll-call, all the rest utterly sick; three middies helpless. Several of crew, ditto. Passengers very fairly plucky; but only I and one other woman, who never was at sea before, well. The food on board our ship is good as to meat, bread, and beer; everything else bad. Port and sherry of British manufacture, and the water with an incredible BORACHIO, essence of tar; so that tea and coffee are but derisive names.
To-day, the air is quite saturated with wet, and I put on my clothes damp when I dressed, and have felt so ever since. I am so glad I was not persuaded out of my cot; it is the whole difference between rest, and holding on for life. No one in a bunk slept at all on Monday night; but then it blew as heavy a gale as it can blow, and we had the Cornish coast under our lee. So we tacked and tumbled all night. The ship being new, too, has the rigging all wrong; and the confusion and disorder are beyond description. The ship's officers are very good fellows. The mizen is entirely worked by the 'young gentlemen'; so we never see the sailors, and, at present, are not allowed to go forward. All lights are put out at half-past ten, and no food allowed in the cabin; but the latter article my friend Avery makes light of, and brings me anything when I am laid up. The young soldier-officers bawl for him with expletives; but he says, with a snigger, to me, 'They'll just wait till their betters, the ladies, is looked to.' I will write again some day soon, and take the chance of meeting a ship; you may be amused by a little scrawl, though it will probably be very stupid and ill-written, for it is not easy to see or to guide a pen while I hold on to the table with both legs and one arm, and am first on my back and then on my nose. Adieu, till next time. I have had a good taste of the humours of the Channel.
29th July, 4 Bells, i.e. 2 o'clock, p.m. - When I wrote last, I thought we had had our share of contrary winds and foul weather. Ever since, we have beaten about the bay with the variety of a favourable gale one night for a few hours, and a dead calm yesterday, in which we almost rolled our masts out of the ship. However, the sun was hot, and I sat and basked on deck, and we had morning service. It was a striking sight, with the sailors seated on oars and buckets, covered with signal flags, and with their clean frocks and faces. To-day is so cold that I dare not go on deck, and am writing in my black-hole of a cabin, in a green light, with the sun blinking through the waves as they rush over my port and scuttle. The captain is much vexed at the loss of time. I persist in thinking it a very pleasant, but utterly lazy life. I sleep a great deal, but don't eat much, and my cough has been bad; but, considering the real hardship of the life - damp, cold, queer food, and bad drink - I think I am better. When we can get past Finisterre, I shall do very well, I doubt not.
The children swarm on board, and cry unceasingly. A passenger-ship is no place for children. Our poor ship will lose her character by the weather, as she cannot fetch up ten days' lost time. But she is evidently a race-horse. We overhaul everything we see, at a wonderful rate, and the speed is exciting and pleasant; but the next long voyage I make, I'll try for a good wholesome old 'monthly' tub, which will roll along on the top of the water, instead of cutting through it, with the waves curling in at the cuddy skylights. We tried to signal a barque yesterday, and send home word 'all well'; but the brutes understood nothing but Russian, and excited our indignation by talking 'gibberish ' to us; which we resented with true British spirit, as became us.
It is now blowing hard again, and we have just been taken right aback. Luckily, I had lashed my desk to my washing-stand, or that would have flown off, as I did off my chair. I don't think I shall know what to make of solid ground under my feet. The rolling and pitching of a ship of this size, with such tall masts, is quite unlike the little niggling sort of work on a steamer - it is the difference between grinding along a bad road in a four-wheeler, and riding well to hounds in a close country on a good hunter. I was horribly tired for about five days, but now I rather like it, and never know whether it blows or not in the night, I sleep so soundly. The noise is beyond all belief; the creaking, trampling, shouting, clattering; it is an incessant storm. We have not yet got our masts quite safe; the new wire-rigging stretches more than was anticipated (of course), and our main-topmast is shaky. The crew have very hard work, as incessant tacking is added to all the extra work incident to a new ship. On Saturday morning, everybody was shouting for the carpenter. My cabin was flooded by a leak, and I superintended the baling and swabbing from my cot, and dressed sitting on my big box. However, I got the leak stopped and cabin dried, and no harm done, as I had put everything up off the floor the night before, suspicious of a dribble which came in. Then my cot frame was broken by my cuddy boy and I lurching over against S-'s bunk, in taking it down. The carpenter has given me his own, and takes my broken one for himself. Board ship is a famous place for tempers. Being easily satisfied, I get all I want, and plenty of attention and kindness; but I cannot prevail on my cuddy boy to refrain from violent tambourine-playing with a tin tray just at the ear of a lady who worries him. The young soldier- officers, too, I hear mentioned as 'them lazy gunners', and they struggle for water and tea in the morning long after mine has come. We have now been ten days at sea, and only three on which we could eat without the 'fiddles' (transverse pieces of wood to prevent the dishes from falling off). Smooth water will seem quite strange to me. I fear the poor people in the forecastle must be very wet and miserable, as the sea is constantly over it, not in spray, but in tons of green water.
3d Aug. - We had two days of dead calm, then one or two of a very light, favourable breeze, and yesterday we ran 175 miles with the wind right aft. We saw several ships, which signalled us, but we would not answer, as we had our spars down for repairs and looked like a wreck, and fancied it would be a pity to frighten you all with a report to that effect.