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Old Jack   By: (1814-1880)

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Old Jack, by W.H.G. Kingston.

This novel is written as a biography of a seaman, whose life at sea starts as an illiterate boy seaman, and whose career spans the last twenty years of the eighteenth century and the first third of the nineteenth. We learn much of how ships were managed in those days, the press gangs, the training, and the life of the common sailor in the fo'cstle. We experience the life aboard a man of war, a merchantman, a whaler, and even spend a few years ashore among the cannibals of the Feejee islands. There is a lot of meat in this book (not intended as a pun), and the reader will finish it with his or her eyes filled with wonderment. We now give the preface which Kingston himself wrote for the book.

Preface, by W.H.G. Kingston.

I had more than once, in my rambles in the neighbourhood of Blackheath, Greenwich and Woolwich, met an old man walking briskly along, whose appearance struck me as unusual; but we never even exchanged salutations. One day, however, when I was in company with my friend Captain N of the Navy, seeing the stranger, he stopped and addressed a few words to him, from which I gleaned that he had been a sailor. My friend told me, as we moved on, that he often had conversations on religious subjects with the old man, who had for long been in a South Sea whaler, and had seen many parts of the world. My interest was much excited. I took an early opportunity of making the acquaintance of Old Jack for such, he told me, was the name by which he was best known; and without reluctance he gave me his history. This I now present to the public with certain emendations, with which I do not think my younger readers will find fault. W.H.G.K.




Jack began his story thus:

Of course you've heard of Donnybrook Fair, close to the city of Dublin. What a strange scene it was, to be sure, of uproar and wild confusion of quarrelling and fighting from beginning to end of broken heads, of black eyes, and bruised shins of shouting, of shrieking and swearing of blasphemy and drunkenness in all its forms of brutality. Ay, and as I've heard say, of many a deed of darkness, not omitting murder, and other crimes not less foul and hateful to Him who made this beautiful world, and gave to man a religion of love and purity. There the rollicking, roaring, bullying, fighting, harum scarum Irishman of olden days had full swing for all the propensities and vile passions which have ruined him at home, and gained him a name and a fame not to be envied throughout the world. Often have I wondered whether, had a North American Indian, or a South Sea Islander, visited the place, he could have been persuaded that he had come to a land of Christian men. Certainly an angel from heaven would have looked upon the assemblage as a multitude of Satan's imps let loose upon the world. They tell me that the fair and its bedevilments have pretty well been knocked on the head. I am glad of it, though I have never again been to the spot from the day of which I am about to speak.

I remember very little of my childish life. Indeed, my memory is nearly a blank up to the time to which I allude. That time was one of the first days of that same Donnybrook Fair; but I remember that and good reason I have so to do. I was, however, but a small chap then, young in years, and little as to size.

My father's name was Amos Williams. He came from England and settled in Dublin, where he married my mother, who was an Irishwoman. Her name I never heard. If she had relations, they did not, at all events, own her. I suspect, from some remarks she once let drop which I did not then understand, that they had discarded her because she had become a Protestant when she married my father. She was gentle and pious, and did her utmost, during the short time she remained on earth, to teach me the truths of that glorious gospel to which, in many a trial, she held fast, as a ship to the sheet anchor with a gale blowing on a lee shore... Continue reading book >>

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