Home

CORVIZ

Main content

Title: McMahon Glynn, Patrick to Glynn, Ellen, 1880
ID4360
CollectionPatrick McMahon Glynn_Letters to his family (1874-1927) [Gerald Glynn O'Collins]
Fileglynn/10
Year1880
SenderMcMahon Glynn, Patrick
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationmigrant
Sender Religionunknown
OriginShip Orient
DestinationGort, Co. Galway, Ireland
RecipientGlynn, Ellen
Recipient Genderfemale
Relationshipson-mother
Source
Archive
Doc. No.
Date
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Logunknown
Word Count2457
Genreaccount of passage
Note
TranscriptS.S. Orient
Friday 25th Sept. 1880.

My dear Mother
As we are approaching the Cape where we will arrive early on
tomorrow, I have an opportunity of writing another letter. Since I
last wrote to you, we have been at St. Vincent, one of the Cape Verde
Islands, a Portugese settlement of about 4000 inhabitants, principally
niggars. It is a coaling station, where we took on board about 700
tons of coals. On our arrival, we are soon surrounded by young
niggars who dived for any money we threw overboard and recovered
it with wonderful quickness. They were perfectly naked. We remained
there nearly two days—arriving at noon on Saturday, and sailing
on Monday at 9 a.m. The bay is very fine—surrounded by conical
hills—the summit of one to the west (called Washington's head)
bears a most extra-ordinary resemblance to the face of a man looking
upwards. I went on shore both days with a lot of other fellows. The first
thing one becomes aware of on landing is that the art of begging is
brought to wonderful perfection at St. Vincent. Every young naked
niggar knows how to ask for a penny. The town itself is of the
Portugese style, verandahs in front of the open windows,—-narrow
but well paved streets—relieved by occassional squares with seats
under orange trees—among the principal buildings being a Roman
Catholic chapel, which I visited during Mass on Sunday. The native
Police stand round the altar—or rather at its sides—during mass—
with swords fixed in their guns. The swells go there in their Sunday
togs—being a mixture of Colors, outvieing the rainbow. Dancing at
several "Public Houses" is always possible—Sundays included—to
the music of the banjo and with black women—the latter being well
built, but by no means prepossessing as regards facial structure.
Oranges (green), lemons and cigars are cheap—home drinks (such as
Guiness's stout and Irish whiskey) dear, but Spanish wines moderate
and bad. The heat was very great—but not uncomfortable, as
perspiration was always going on—but I was very bad with rheumatism
and have been for 10 days, in the arms and left big toe. I
am a little better today. I had a swim on Sunday. I don't think there
is much more to tell about St. Vincent—except that its black hills,
standing up in the dark yellow athmosphere of the day, exhibit no
sign of vegetation. The harbour has made it the "half-way house"—
larger islands being perceptible in the distance. Day fades into night
there and in the tropics almost at once.
We sailed from St. Vincent on the morning of Monday the 12th,
and as we approached the equator the weather became perceptibly
colder, with a strong wind ahead, blowing from the S.E. until now it
is almost too cold to sit on deck. People had top coats on within the
tropical lines. The South east breeze was I think the cause of this. I
did not see the equator, but several children kept a sharp look out for
it—some alleging they could see it, in order to beat the others in
optics. The Northern constellations have disappeared, and the
Southern taken their place. I saw the Southern cross for the first time
last night. It is not much to look at, consisting of four bright stars
—at present lying near the horizon like the following elegant diagram.
*
**
*


Concerts—piano—concertina—& Kid-throttle-playing—teetotal
lectures (at one of which I spoke on behalf of the drinkers, receiving ovations therefore) bible readings—drinking—card—domino—chess
playing—boxing in case of a few of us, etc. etc. continue to divert
people. We were to have had a niggar entertainment, followed by a
farce last night, for which I wrote and was to have delivered a
prologue, but had to postpone it until we leave the Cape, as a first
class passenger died on board about noon (8 bells) yesterday. He was
sewn up in canvas by the sail maker, tied on a board with lead
attached to it by the carpenter, placed on deck—the plank resting on
the bulwarks astern—and the Union Jack laid across it—at 8 a.m. this
morning, and after a few prayers said by the Capt. and Chief Officer
as substitutes for clergymen—thrown overboard. The Second Saloon
passengers were at breakfast just then but I remained on deck getting
up the rigging for a good view. The sad event—now 12 noon—
scarcely lives in the memory of this busy little world. A few whales
seen about ten afforded a better subject to gossip about. All that live,
must die—passing thro' nature to eternity.
I think I have brought you down to the present time, the burial
of this morning being the only thing of note. I keep a diary every
day: reading incidents as I describe them causes a good deal of
amusement among my clique—several having taken extracts from it
to send to their friends. Now I must clear out as the table is being
laid for dinner. 3 p.m. I have had my dinner—to carve for a lot as
usual—and a walk up to the forecastle.
There the sea is coming over, as there is a very strong wind and a
high sea—big-blue-foam crested monsters. It will be worse by and by,
as the sea rises after the wind abates. Passengers seem to be getting
wonderfully affectionate towards one another; embracing—whether
one wishes or not—very much in vogue at present. I will give you an
extract from my Diary, to enable you to form an idea of its style, as
well as the habits and incidents of life on board.
Sat. 11th Sept. After describing St. Vincent it thus proceeds:
"On the arrival of our visiting parties at the vessel each night a few
mistakes occurred. A disciple of Bacchus for instance mistook the
sea for the gang-way and was received into the liquid bosom of his
Oceanic Majesty, from which, minus some grog, he was soon
recovered; while a teetotaller, heavily laden with a cargo of sherbet,
lime juice, jalap, and other cooling beverages displayed the rectitude
of his judgment by insinuating one of his legs into a coalshoot, breaking
several bottles and thereby demonstrating with mathematical
precision that the possibility of acquiring an angular gait was not altogether without the province of a waterdrinker. Another of the
heterogeneous qualifications of the said teetotaller, namely his skill in
comic singing, being displayed with nasal accompaniments about 1
a.m, in his cabin, had the effect of causing a volley of cigar boxes to
be discharged at his head from the bunk of Mr. Schofield cannoning
on to the sleeping carcass of Mackey. The effect of the discharge
was only to stimulate the water-drinker to the utterance of a species
of music bearing some affinity to the dying elegy of a goose; whereupon
Schofield, whose amunition was exhausted, with the agility of a
kangaroo sprang linen-sheathed, from his bunk, and in the twinkling
of an eye grappled him by the throat. Through the guttral apparatus
of the discomfited lime-juice, sherbet, and jalap consumer there
emerged some gasping sounds of sufficient power to arouse the
slumbering Mackey. As an ass, with a saucepan appended to his tail,
if perchance a pin be insinuated into the unfashionable portion of his
body, pounces and buck-jumps, his ears being assailed by sauce-pan
music from behind—so the valiant Mackey indented as to his forehead
by the cigar-box, and terrified by the unusual din, rushed upon
the combatants dealing his blows on every side to the utter astonishment
of the originals. For full 10 seconds the battle raged with
doubtful victory, until the eyes of the valiant Mackey being sufficiently
open to enable him to perceive the real state of affairs, like a second
Jupiter, he commanded a cessation of hostilities. On the resumption
of peace Schofield advised his opponent to study the Noble art of
Swimming as in case of an involuntary emergence through a Porthole
he might find it useful."
While I was writing this extract bang across the table went paper,
pens, work-boxes, and writing cases. My hat located itself between
an old lady's feet, where it must remain for the present, as she is deaf,
and from considerations of delicacy I decline to pursue it. There is
another extract perfectly true, however startling. "Sat. 18 Lat.
3.3S'-S Long. 7.36'-W. Just as the boatswain had tolled 8 bells to
announce the arrival of noon, and the time of the watches relief, a
quick succession of peals, rung out from a bell immediately in front
of and under the promenade deck, notified to all the fearful fact that a
fire had broken out. Fire!! What a terrible word! In the midst of the
lonely ocean and with over 800 souls on board. I have read in books
of fires at sea and can remember how vividly, in my early days, the
pen of a romance writer, supplemented by the poetic imagery of a
youthful mind, have conjured up such scenes before my imagination; but never before experienced that fearful consciousness which is
compounded of awe, inspired by the contemplation of a terrific
grandeur and a feeling of proximate personal danger. Ah well—my
children—may you when such a story is being told gather closer
round the fire, and from your cosey security, with importunate eyes,
ask Papa all about it. Poor Papa, that omniscient individual from
whom children expect all the information of personal acquaintanceship
with every fact in history. But listen. Words are insufficient to
describe what followed. Try and picture to yourself a ship of 5,400
tons burden, with 800 passengers and crew, only a few boats,
steaming at the rate of 14 nets an hour thro' the Gulf of Guinea, and
the fire alarm ringing. Imagine, if you can, the palid glare of fear
sickening every face, the consciousness of unpreparedness and death's
approach stultifying many a look; conceive the heart-ache which
comes from looking on the prospect of a last hour unsolaced by a
kindly word of sympathy and a fate for which the friendly tear will
fall only when the wreck of mortality consists of a skeleton; confusion
and terror everywhere except where the sailors, with the hydrants set,
send a torrent of spray upon the flames, as they hiss upwards thro' the
steerage deck vomiting smoke and sooty ashes over the sea, which
jealous of destruction, gurgles and boils around; up-up-along the
masts, snapping ropes, igniting sails, cracking yards go the flames
wagging their blood-red tongues until the very top-masts receive their
Judas-kiss; down, after a few seconds oscillation, come the iron masts,
smashing as if in the devilry of despair, every impediment to their
descent, and, at last, amidst the din of mingled screams, yells, curses,
prayers, whistles, signal guns and rattle of disgorging waters—imagine
—well imagine what asses you are to believe anything of the kind
occurred. It was simply a false alarm of fire, to test the men's
knowledge of and aptitude for their respective duties in case a real
one broke out." Such is the style of my Diary. You see I began my
description with "Imagine". The false alarm of fire is rung very often
to keep the men in readiness. Several fainted at first when they heard it.

The vessel is a little world. The same indications of human
nature as on land—gossipping—dancing—raffling—lying—swindling
—cursing—praying—flirting—jealousies—open heartedness—selfishness
— marriage-eye-openness — mother-in-law's long windedness,
never-open-your-mouth-at-all-ed-ness,—all here the same as on land.'
For instance I carve for a young lady—open-hearted and agreeable —on my right; a selfish old lady on my left, that would eat the devil
himself if he was wasted, or rather if he was unwasted, as I believe
that would be the way to cook him,—another young, capricious, flirting,
little, but innocent-hearted girl opposite outflanked on both sides
by silent juvenile and mid-juvenile females—an ogre-like Scotch man
and his wife, that seize everything on the table at once and pile them
on their plates for fear of losing anything—with several skirmishes in
the distance—principally Irish by birth, but all right sort of fellows.
We expect to arrive at the Cape early in the morning and I will
go ashore. Letters must be posted on board tonight, so farwell until
Australia receives me. I can [not] write to all my friends, but you
could lend them or send them copies of this, James, P.B.T. etc. with
love to all
Your affect, son
P. McM. Glynn
P.S. I find I can write a few more lines. I have had tea at 6 and it is
now about 7 p.m. The sea is running very high—the vessel rolling
and dipping, but with wonderful grace and majesty owing to its great
length. Several sick again. The solemn thud of the engines always
going on, regular and unceasing, in intonation just like its heart. I
am now in saloon, the lamps being all alight, with all sorts of people
around at all sorts of businesses. Some playing cards—some chatting
—some writing, some reading—some sewing—and some gazing at
nothing in the air and evidently surprised at the keenness of their
visions in seeing it. Smash go fifty or a hundred plates. In comes the
melancholic Scotchman—misery and desolation sitting on his imitation
of a face. In comes after him old Tozer—another cabin fellow
—jolly—laughing—goodnatured and every one's favourite as usual.
In do not come—but are forcibly projected—after him a brace of
females—and up I am going to have a smoke, and post this letter as it
is now the witching hour. I just see an old stout lady, at the end of
the table, playing cards and beaming with good nature. There are
some agreeable people in the world, and I have a jolly crew near me
now. Up goes the screw sometimes, and then there is a tremor thro'
the vessel. There is a poor old lady from Denmark on board going
out to her son. She speaks no language but Danish and has no one to
converse with. I tried her in French and had Germans at her, but no use. Nevertheless she is always a model of patience and good temper.
We are endeavouring to exclude the ladies from our smoking place,
which they always monopolise, but I have got an exemption in her
favour, as it enables her to be on deck, without drafts.
Goodbye again.