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James Braithwaite, the Supercargo The Story of his Adventures Ashore and Afloat   By: (1814-1880)

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James Braithwaite, the Supercargo; The Story of his Adventures Ashore and Afloat, by W.H.G. Kingston.

This is a typical Kingston book, very skilfully written, with lots of difficult situations very well described. But what is worth remembering is that it is probably the last book Kingston ever wrote, for he had already been diagnosed with a rapid and terminal illness, which I suppose to have been cancer. Yet, despite the position that redoubtable author found himself in, he still gave us one of his very best well written adventure stories.

A supercargo is a position in the ship's crew analogous to the ship's clerk. His work consists of knowing exactly where every item of the cargo is stowed, so that it can be put in the right place for it to be most conveniently taken out on its arrival at its destination.

Do read it and judge for yourself. You will find it worth the short seven hours it takes to read aloud.




"What's the name of the craft you want to get aboard, sir?" asked old Bob, the one legged boatman, whose wherry I had hired to carry me out to Spithead.

"The Barbara ," I answered, trying to look more at my ease than I felt; for the old fellow, besides having but one leg, had a black patch over the place where his right eye should have been, while his left arm was partially crippled; and his crew consisted of a mite of a boy whose activity and intelligence could scarcely make up for his want of size and strength. The ebb tide, too, was making strong out of Portsmouth Harbour, and a fresh breeze was blowing in, creating a tumbling, bubbling sea at the mouth; and vessels and boats of all sizes and rigs were dashing here and there, madly and without purpose it seemed to me, but at all events very likely to run down the low narrow craft in which I had ventured to embark. Now and then a man of war's boat, with half a dozen reckless midshipmen in her, who looked as if they would not have the slightest scruple in sailing over us, would pass within a few inches of the wherry; now a ship's launch with a party of marines, pulling with uncertain strokes like a huge maimed centipede, would come right across our course and receive old Bob's no very complimentary remarks; next a boatful of men of war's men, liberty men returning from leave. There was no use saying anything to them, for there wasn't one, old Bob informed me, but what was "three sheets in the wind," or "half seas over," in other words, very drunk; still, they managed to find their way and not to upset themselves, in a manner which surprised me. Scarcely were we clear of them when several lumbering dockyard lighters would come dashing by, going out with stores or powder to the fleet at Spithead.

Those were indeed busy times. Numerous ships of war were fitting out alongside the quays, their huge yards being swayed up, and guns and stores hoisted on board, gruff shouts, and cries, and whistles, and other strange sounds proceeding from them as we passed near. Others lay in the middle of the harbour ready for sea, but waiting for their crews to be collected by the press gangs on shore, and to be made up with captured smugglers, liberated gaol birds, and broken down persons from every grade of society. Altogether, what with transports, merchantmen, lighters, and other craft, it was no easy matter to beat out without getting athwart hawse of those at anchor, or being run down by the still greater number of small craft under way. Still it was an animated and exciting scene, and all told of active warfare.

On shore the bustle was yet more apparent. Everybody was in movement. Yellow post chaises conveying young captains of dashing frigates, or admirals' private secretaries, came whirling through the streets as if the fate of the nation depended on their speed... Continue reading book >>

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