A JOURNEY to Barbados in a mail steamer of 6000 tons provides little to comment upon unless it be the grumbling of the passengers. There are always many to find fault. Some will complain that the ship goes too fast, or not fast enough. Others are aggrieved because the electric fan in their cabin hums like a giant bee, or because the grand piano is out of tune, or because quails are not cooked in a manner they approve of.
Those who are most ready with grievances may perhaps be appeased by an account of the journey from England to Barbados by mail ship as it was accomplished only seventy years ago.
In 1836 one William Lloyd, doctor of medicine, started for Barbados with three male friends. They were simple tourists, travelling for pleasure, and, incidentally, for that improvement of the mind which was regarded as desirable in those days. The departure was from Falmouth, and the ship was the mail barque Skylark, Captain Ladd. She was lying in the bay, ready to start. It must be stated that the doctor himself commenced to grumble from the beginning. He complained that ” the demand of the boatmen was half-a-guinea eachan excessive charge, allowed by the rules of the port.” It cost the tourists, therefore, 2l. to get on board ! The bulwarks of the ship were ” forbiddingly high,” so that it was impossible to look over. Those who desired to gaze upon the sea had to hang over the gunwale, like boys over an orchard wall. The poop was not safe for tourists, “having no defence at the sides.”
There was one general cabin in the Skylark for all the passengersto live in, dine in, and sleep in. It was so low that it was impossible to stand upright in it ; moreover, it was dark. This was due at the moment to the fact that ” the top of the cabin lights was covered with meat in a recently slaughtered state.” No doubt, when the mail barque got away to sea the joints were removed and the blood-smeared panes of glass were cleaned. The tourists noticed also that ” joints were hung around in various parts of the vessel, interspersed with cauliflowers, cabbages and turnips.”
Now, in this low-roofed cabin, with the blood-dimmed skylight, there were only twelve berths provided. The number of passengers, on the other hand, was eighteenviz. fifteen gentlemen and three ladies. Six of the party had, therefore, to shift as best they could during the month the voyage lasted.
When the ship was well in the tropics the doctor makes the following note : “Our nights are sad from the skylights being closed, the passengers who sleep on the table, on the benches and on the floor being afraid of cold from the night air.” That cabin must have been little less than a torture-chamber. A fetid oil-lamp, swinging to and fro as the ship rolled, would reveal the sleepers on the table. The heat would be suffocating and the air thick with the fumes of the last meal, of stale wine, of tobacco, of damp clothes, and of eighteen perspiring human beings. Above the creaking of the bulkheads there would, no doubt, be heard the sigh of the tired woman who could not sleep, the gasp of the fevered man who wanted air, and the snoring of the heavy people on the floor. The passengers must have hated this too familiar, ever-frowsy ” “black hole,” for it is needless to say, that in the mail barque of 1836 there was no smoking-room, no library, no music room, and, of course, no bath-room. When the weather was unfavourable there was nothing for the fifteen gentlemen and the three ladies to do but to sit below in the gloom, and like St. Paul, ” hope for the day.”
The doctor found the meals particularly trying. Upon this topic he writes as follows : ” It is a trial to be long at dinner when one is panting for breath; the right plan would be to dine off one dish and then away, whereas we have soup, then a wait for fish, then a long wait for a course of meat, then a tedious wait for a course of pastry, then a tiresome wait for the dessert, and long before that is finished we are wiping our foreheads.” One thing is clearthere was no stinting in the matter of food on the good ship Skylark. The order of the day was as follows : coffee, 6 A.M.; breakfast, 8 A.M. ; lunch, 12 ; dinner, 4 P.M., with coffee after ; tea, 7 P.M. ; and supper, 9 P.M.
The doctor remarksand the remark is true to this day” there is some temptation to eat and drink too much at sea.” There was undoubtedly too much wine consumed on board the Skylark ; so much, indeed, that it led to ” headache and other feverish symptoms.”
William Lloyd, however, although in common with his fellows he panted for breath whenever he found himself in that awful cabin, was disposed to make the best of things. The passage from Falmouth to Barbados occupied twenty-six days, from which it may be inferred that the Skylark was a good sailing vessel and had a strong N.E. trade wind behind her all the way. ” We had a pleasant voyage,” writes the cheerful doctor, ” though our captain quarrelled three successive days with his sailing-master, who was at last put in arrest.”
Captain Ladd seems to have had quite an ample idea of his position. At Falmouth he made his appearance before the passengers with a theatrical effect worthy of a leading actor. The barque was ready to sail, the last package was on board, the sailing-master was striding to and fro on the poop, all the passengers, eager to be away, were watching the shore for a sign of the great man who was to lead them westward. Just at the critical moment ” the captain arrived in his cocked hat and uniform with the mails “his Majesty’s mails, no less.
The Skylark reached Barbados after sundown on the twenty-sixth day. At 10.30 P.M. ” Captain Ladd, with his cocked hat and sword, hastened to pay his devoirs to the captain of the Belvidere frigate then in the harbour.” The eighteen passengers having witnessed the first act of this impressive ceremony retired to the loathsome cabin ” for a last stewing,” as the doctor puts it. While they were ” endeavouring to woo a little hot sleep ” Captain Ladd clanks on board again and arouses everybody with the news that ” a fever was raging at Bridgetown.” This choice information was probably yelled down the hatchway in a husky voice scented with rum.
The captain having dropped this bomb into the sweltering hole where the tourists lay, and having made them thereby perspire the more, no doubt divested himself of his sword and cocked hat and sank into sleep, with the happy sense of something attempted, something done.”