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NavyThe following simple narrative contains the life of a Veteran who, though not altogether successful in his Naval Career, yet has uniformly run with Patience the race that was set before him. It was originally drawn up to gratify the curiosity of a Friend; and it is alone owing to the importunity of friendship, that so correct a delineation of a British Seaman is now presented to the public. It tells of my life, first in the Merchant`s Service and then in that of the King.
I was born in the City of Edinburgh on the 6th of May (Old Style) 1731, and having from my cradle an abhorrence of a sedentary life, I went to sea at the early age of twelve years with my Father, in the Britannia merchantman, fitted out from Leith and belonging to the London trade. After making several voyages both in her and in the Ships James and John, the latter was taken up as a Transport, and ordered with many others to proceed to Aberdeen under convoy of his Majesty`s ship Fox of 20 guns, commanded by Capt. Beaver; who was under orders there to embark some troops that were destined to oppose the progress of the Rebels, already in the vicinity of Edinburgh. Having received the troops and thirty-two horse on board, we landed them at Dunbar, and proceeded for Leith; where a violent gale came on about N.W. and obliged us to anchor under Inchkeith Island, which is half a league long and half a mile wide, nearly opposite to Leith. The Fox was lost during the night on the Sands of North Berwick, and every soul perished. We arrived providentially at Leith; when, wishing for a little relaxation on shore, I quitted John and remained a short time with my Father.

About this time the battle of Preston was fought, and the town swarmed with rebels. I remained at home until after the battle of Falkirk, when I again grew weary of a quiet life, and longed to be at sea. It happened that my uncle, who was Purser of the Lizard sloop, then on the Bristol station, wrote to my Father requesting that I might be sent, as the captain had promised to rate me Mid; they accordingly equipped me in all haste, and I embarked with no small degree of exultation on board a ship that was bound for London. If not the most prosperous, it was at least one of the happiest cruises of my life. I had a letter from my Father to a fair-weather friend of his in town, who was requested to advance me a small sum to defray my expenses to Bristol; though disappointed in this supply, I was resolved not to knock under; so, having no other alternative, I forthwith shipped myself, in the year 1746, on board the Neptune, letter of marque, then lying off Irongate Stairs, bound for the Mediterranean, commanded by Capt. Charles Betson, with a complement of 45 men, at thirty-five shillings a month.

Having completed our cargo, we sailed through the Downs with a fair wind; off Beachy Head, or as seamen call it, the Seven Cliffs, it took us a-head; kept plying to windward; but during the night in standing to the northward we struck on the Owers, a bank at S.E. half S. from Culver Cliff, about five leagues from the east end of the Isle of Wight. We got the ship off; but making much water we proceeded with her to Portsmouth, and got her docked. Eleven feet of keel were put on. On her leaving dock, having got our guns and stores again on board, we sailed through the Needles with a fair wind. Nothing occurred until half across the Bay of Biscay, when we observed a ship in chase of us considerably a-stern; this she continued for two days; on the third we lost sight of her. Everything in these seas was new to me; and long before we came in sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, I had forgot my disappointment, and felt as happy, perhaps happier, than if I had obtained a sum of money; though poor, I felt I was independent; and confiding in a bountiful Providence, I took no thought for the Morrow. We discharged our cargo at the Rock and proceeded to Minorca, but had scarcely made that Island when a Zebec appeared in chase. We still continued our course, supposing her to be a Spaniard; accordingly prepared for action. At eight in the evening she began to fire her prow guns at us, a compliment which we immediately returned with our stern-chasers. The Zebec had much the advantage of us in sailing; we soon comenced close action, which continued for an hour and a half; when she boarded us with a hundred and eighty men. Not being exactly prepared for such a visit, and having neither cutlasses nor pikes, we were reluctantly compelled to jump down the hatchways in order to save ourselves from their fury. Such of our companions as could not escape from the quarter deck were either killed, or wounded in a most dreadful manner; our Captain and Supercargo were literally cut to pieces. When the Algerines discovered we were English, their violence abated, paricularly as they had been towed out of Mahon Harbour that very morning by some of our Men of War`s boats. To add to our distress, a violent gale had come on; all our rigging was shot away and the ship lay in such a trough of the sea, that we were in great danger of losing our masts. The gale did not cease until the fifth day after our capture; when they sent their boats on board for our men. The Algerine Captain came with them, and to our great surprise exerted himself to repress, and even chastise, that love of plunder which his followers had indulged. Having put our ship in as good a condition as we could, we were permitted to proceed to Port Mahon Harbour; and on our arrival were put into quarantine. The Admiral, hearing what had passed, sent two of his Surgeon`s Mates to assist in the care of our wounded, many of whom were in a deplorable state. On being released from Quarantine they were sent to Bloody Island, and but few returned.

By the death of Capt. Betson, the command of Neptune devolved on Mr Stephen Munday, the chief mate; under him therefore, we sailed for Leghorn, and after continuing there for several weeks without obtaining Pratique, at last bent our course for the last place of destination, Smyrna, During the passage, not being able to weather Strombolo, we bore up in a heavy gale of wind and ran to leeward of that island; but had nearly been lost before we passed the Faro of Messina. At Smyrna we repaired the ship; took in a lading of fruit; and touching Gibraltar for water, arrived safely in England after a voyage of eleven months.

The Shore was pleasant enough after so long an absence but my finances urged an immediate departure from it. I accordingly entered on board the John and Zachariah, bound to St. Kitts, then lying off Stone Stairs in the River. Joseph Inches, Master. Our first convoy was the Advice of 50 guns, Capt. Haddick, under whom we sailed from the Downs to the Motherbank on the Isle of Wight; and there waited until another convoy was appointed to Cork, the Loo of 40 guns. Barbadoes was the first land we made On our arrival at Basse Terre, St. Kitts, we took a lading of sugar and sailed for Sandy Point. It was at this place that a trifling circumstance set me adrift; the Captain had struck me, and as I felt without cause; I determined therefore to leave him; but my mode of executing this intention was as singular as it was rash and perilous. One Sunday evening, it being calm weather, I began by turning all the beef out of the Steep Tub, which I destined for the conveyance of my clothes; then having lowered it down over the side and myself with it, I swam with all my might towards the shore. Here I found a tremendous surf running; my poor tub was upset, and a young shark wishing to make his supper off me. I was obliged to practise every strategem in my power and to save myself, and the only shirt that I had left. At length I succeeded in terrifying my enemy and reached the shore without any other hindrance. I was now blessed with all the liberty, and freedom of choice the most enthusiastic philosopher could desire; but however captivating such blessings may be in idea, I preferred the discipline of a seafaring life, and making what haste I could, went to Deep Bay, where I shipped myself on board the Constantine; a large sloop laden with rum for Ireland. I now crossed the Atlantic to Dublin, and then again to Basse Terre where I was discharged. It was now a long time since I was cheered by the smiles of a Parent; friends I had none, of money I had little enough; but I had commenced my career as a sailor, and was not dauted by finding I was left alone to make my fortune. With these ideas I again shipped myself, without loss of time, on board the brig Lucretia, Capt. Watts, bound for Charlestown, South Carolina, with a cargo of rum and sugar. After a passage of about 12 days we returned laden with rice and Indian corn; when I took an amicable leave of my captain.

I fell in one day with my old acquaintance of the Zachariah, just arrived from America. He upbraided me for leaving him, though his own violent behaviour was the cause, - I retorted in language of truth and sincerity; and thus having had my say, and finding he wanted hands, I at length consented to go again with Capt. Inches. We loaded with sugar and rum and arriving safely in Hull, were all discharged. Not finding any immediate employment in Hull, I resolved to seek it in the Port of London; but I was out in my reckoning, because I there found Sailors as plenty as shingles on the shore on Deal Beach.

The only resource that now offered was an old acquaintance of my Father, who kept a lodging-house for Sailors and had received many favours from my family. The Master of the house was from home; but the daughter was not wanting in hospitality until I made known my real situation, adding that I would honestly repay her father when it was in my power. To my astonishment I found that tenderness does not always predominate in the female character, at least in the civilised part of the globe. The night was considerably advanced when the Master of the house arrived. His daughter took care that his heart should not be taken by surprise. and the natural hypocricy of his character prompted him what course to pursue.

He expected a young man any minute to whom his last bed was engaged, "As it is, I am obliged, reluctantly obliged, my dear Mr Hunter, to say I have no room. So late at night too! - Let me advise you, my dear Sir, to make haste, otherwise you may not get admittance anywhere." As the House door closed in no very gentle manner upon me, I resolved never again to cross its unhospitable threshold. It was now midnight and the streets of Wapping offer nothing very inviting that could induce a man to choose them as a place of repose. A watchman roused me from my reverie by exclaiming, "Whither are you bound, Friend?" Even his hoarse voice seemed kind after the treatment I had received and I answered, "To look for such a man as you are, for a Watch House is the only lodging I am likely to procure tonight." and in his abode I found a warm fire and slept comfortably until morning. I thanked the honest Watchman and Constable then worked though and across all the lanes in Wapping until I found a lodging whose terms were adapted to my pocket. I was to pay one shilling per week for sleeping on a bed of flocks about half an inch thick, my food consisted of sheep`s feet, or as they were more fashionably styled, sheep`s trotters. I remained six weeks here when my purse began to grow as contracted as my stomach. This induced me to try what the India House might produce.

My efforts were succesful; and having obtained a letter from Capt. Egerton, which made me truly happy, I went on board the Lynn East Indiaman, then lying at Deptford. We sailed to Gravesend to complete our lading, and then proceeded on our voyage to Bengal. Everything went favourably until our arrival in that river, when proceeding up, I experienced another trial for my strength of mind; off Fults the ship grounded on a quicksand, and was completely wrecked. With the rest of the ship`s company I was again at liberty to go just where I pleased; but Providence had now blessed me with a friend, who lightened every difficulty which it was my duty as a Christian to surmount.

In this ship I first commenced an acquaintance with that worthy, warm-hearted and benevolent Seaman, Mr William Locker, who died Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital. We made the best of our way to Calcutta, and as he was going home in the Lapwing, Capt. Chyne, I procured a recommendation from my Commander to be received on the same ship.

Our passage from St Helena to the Downs was made in six weeks and three days. We next proceeded to the River and arrived at North Fleet about the 22nd March 1750, when all hands were again discharged. Capt. Francis Cheyne was the best and most complete seaman I ever sailed with; and I profited accordingly; there was not anything done, or that could be done on board a ship, but what he was perfect master of.

Nothing is more trying to a Seaman, both in the King`s and the Merchant`s service, than the manner in which the best and the ablest hands are turned adrift, the moment their labours are no longer required. Well would that man deserve of his country, who could suggest some remedy to this custom; he might not only remove the necessity of Pressing, but establish a continual supply of able Seamen, who would be ready to embark at the shortest notice. For want of this, how many Boys are reduced to beggary; and then driven to the most desperate resources for a livlihood. The professional life of a seaman renders him thoughtless and improvident; and when he is thus suddenly turned adrift from the Element to which he has become accustomed, he literally feels like a fish out of water. I now again, to avoid the spectre of an empty purse, went to London, and engaged myself to work as a Rigger, in which employ I continued for several months, until an offer came across me of going out to South Carolina, in a very handsome litle ship called the Live Oak, and I believe the first ever constructed with that invaluable timber. Our voyage was concluded in a few months; when I was again adrift, and again I engaged myself to work as a rigger. My worthy friend Mr Locker one day came to my relief, and as I well remember in the year 1752. He told me he was going out in the Houghton, East Indiaman, the Hon. Richard Walpole, Commander; and begged that I would once more be his shipmate. I accordingly procured an order from Capt. Walpole to be received on board, and we sailed from Gravesend to the Downs; where, owing to the negligence of our Pilot, the Houghton struck on the North Sand Head; and, if she had not been a new ship, must have been lost. She thumped with so much violence as to lift her masts; but as the tide fell our striking ceased. The weather at this time so severe, that I had nearly been frozen to death whilst on service, in carrying out the Stream Anchor; for never did I suffer more from cold. With the next flood we hove the ship off, and ran into Plymouth to dock her. Proceeding on on our voyage, we arrived at the Isle of Java, and took in store of wood and water; sailed through the Straits of Sunda and Banca with the monsoon in our favour; received a Pilot at Macao, and, passing through the Boca Tigris up Canton River, moored at Wampoo. Here we took in our cargo, floored with china, and then chests of tea; and the trade winds having shifted in our favour, proceeded to Prince`s Island on our voyage home. In the Houghton I finished my career in the Merchant Service.

It was now long since I had been cheered by the sight of a relation; and being very desirous of of once more receiving my worthy Father`s blessing, I prepared to enjoy that support. It was in a Collier that I worked my passage down to Sunderland; whence I walked, in about two days, to Edinburgh, that method of traveling suiting me best. As I approached the well-known haunts of former days, every tree, and cottage, seemed to claim an acquaintance with me; and even to this day, when I recollect what I felt on first beholding my Father, I forget that I am an old man. our joy cannot be expressed. I had as many stories to tell my Father and sisters, as ever the lady fabricated in the Arabian Nights to save her head. For upwards of tweve months I continued to enjoy domestic hapiness, to which I had long been a stranger; and I heightened my relish for it, by employing some of my leisure in the study of mathematics. By means of Euclid`s Elements I became Master of angles; was particularly struck with with the value of the 47th proposition; and at length, without any instructor, made such progress, as afterwards proved of the most important service to me in my profession.

Note: by Lieut. William Hunter. Born in 1731, he served in Merchant Ships and East Indiamen before joining the Royal Navy in 1755.


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