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The ship which lost her rudder or her foremast, or caught fire either aloft or below, was the one to strike. If one of the combatants became unmanageable her opponent took up a position on her bow or quarter, and raked her into submission, at a safe distance. When a ship struck, a boat was sent to take possession of her. Her officers were sent aboard the captor as the guests of the ward-room and cabin. The men were hunted down into the hold under a guard of marines. If they showed signs of rising, or if they were too numerous for safety, they were put in irons. In extreme cases they were battened down below, with cannon, loaded with grape, pointing down the hatchways at them.
We quote part of the account of a boy who fought in one of the hottest of our frigate actions. The action belongs to a period half-a-dozen years after that of Trafalgar, but, nevertheless, as the author says, “it will reveal the horrors of war, and show at what a fearful price a victory is won or lost.”
"The whole scene grew indescribably confused and horrible. I was busily supplying my gun with powder, when I saw blood suddenly fly from the arm of a man stationed at our gun. I saw nothing strike him; the effect alone was visible: ... the third lieutenant tied his handkerchief round the wounded arm, and sent the groaning wretch below to the surgeon. The cries of the wounded rang through all parts of the ship ... those more fortunate men who were killed outright were immediately thrown overboard. ... Two of the boys stationed on the quarter-deck were killed. A man, who saw one of them killed, afterwards told me that his powder caught fire and burnt the flesh almost off his face. In this pitiable situation, the agonised boy lifted up both hands,
as if imploring relief, when a passing shot instantly cut him in two. ... A man named Aldrich had one of his hands cut off by a shot, and almost at the same moment he received another shot, which tore open his bowels in a terrible manner. As he fell, two or three men caught him in their arms and, as he could not live, threw him overboard. .. Our men kept cheering with all their might. I cheered with them, though I confess I scarcely knew for what. Certainly there was nothing very inspiriting in the aspect of things where I was stationed. Not only had we several boys and men killed and wounded, but several of the guns were disabled. The one I belonged to had a piece of the muzzle knocked out. The brave boatswain, who came from the sickbay to the din of battle, was fastening a stopper on a backstay, which had been shot away, when his head was smashed to pieces by a cannon-ball; another man, going to complete the unfinished task, was also struck down.
A fellow named John, who for some petty offence had been sent on board as a punishment, was carried past me wounded. I distinctly heard the large blood drops fall pat, pat, pat on the deck. Even a poor goat kept by the officers for her milk, did not escape the general carnage; her hind legs were shot off, and poor Nan was thrown overboard. Such was the terrible scene, amid which we kept on our shouting and firing. I felt pretty much as I suppose everyone does at such a time. We all appeared cheerful, but I know that many a serious thought ran through my mind. ... I thought a great deal of the other world . . . but being without any particular knowledge of religious truth I satisfied myself by repeating again and again the Lord's Prayer."
The poor little boy was barely fourteen years old.
After an action a supply of vinegar was heated for the sprinkling of the ship, to drive away the smell of blood from decks and beams. The last of the dead were thrown overboard, the wounded were made as comfortable as the circumstance allowed, and as many men as could be spared were sent on deck to knot and splice the rigging. Before the repairs were begun the cannon were secured, and a gill of rum served out to every man and boy. Then the heaviest work of the action began. "It is after the action the disagreeable part commences." There was then no excitement to support the worker. The tired men had to turn to with a will, to unbend sails and bend new ones, to send up new spars, or new yards, to reeve new running-rigging, and set up new stays and shrouds. "For days they have no remission of their toil, repairing the rigging and other parts injured in the action.” The work of a prize-crew, in charge of a prize, was especially arduous, for they were generally a mere handful of men, barely sufficient to sail the vessel, let alone to repair her. A prize-crew were sometimes too busy to clean the prize's decks. The Chesapeake came into Halifax six days after her capture by the Shannon with her decks still horrible with blood, and with human fingers sticking in her sides, "as though they had been thrust through from without.” In any case a ship which had been in a hot engagement needed to be cleansed in every part with vinegar, and disinfected with brimstone, before the shambles smell was removed from her.
The sailors were often inconvenienced indirectly during a hot engagement by the destruction of the hammocks. The hammock nettings stopped a great number of cannon balls, and the gangways were frequently littered with hammocks thrown out by the shot, torn, in
pieces, or shot clean through. As a 321b. round shot made a very big hole in a purser's blanket, and as the sailors paid for their own bedding, this was a real hardship. However, "everything is a joke at sea." The thought of prize-money atoned for the discomfort.
THE GREAT SEA SERPENT
[From "The Romance of the Sea," BY FREDERICK WHYMPER]
"O creature has ever disturbed the imaginations
of mankind more than the great sea-serpent,
and he is no modern invention. A large work might be filled with the various stories concerning him, to be found in ancient and mediæval writers, and more especially in Norse literature and traditions, dating from a very early period and continuing almost to the present time.
Nor is there any valid reason for doubting the existence of some monstrous serpents or snakes in the ocean, as yet unclassified, because unknown to exact science. Naturalists of the highest attainments believe in such, although they are unable as yet to count them among living facts.
On the other hand, it will be apparent enough to the reader that in many of the accounts to be presented in this chapter the eyes of the first narrator must have possessed ample magnifying powers, while his successors have made up by imagination what they lacked in knowledge.
Many commentators believe that a great serpent is meant by the leviathan of the Scriptures. Thus Job xli. 1-8—
"Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?