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III

I have always loved roaming round the world. More than two years of my life have been spent at sea—as a passenger. Dr. Johnson's definition of a voyage at sea was, “Imprisonment with a chance of being drowned.” Perhaps that was fairly accurate in his day, when voyages were made in small vessels that were at the mercy of the winds. It must have been specially trying to a bad sailor, such as one would suppose the portly lexicographer would be. In any circumstances a long voyage would not then be associated with comfort or pleasure. The ships were leaky and unsafe; below decks they were stuffy and smelly; fresh water was scarce and often not very fresh; biscuits and salt junk were the chief stand-by for food; vessels were driven hundreds of miles out of their course, and they


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were becalmed for days if not weeks under the stifling heat of a tropical sun.

How different are the huge floating hotels of to-day! Dr. Johnson would indeed have to revise his definition. What a staggering surprise he would get at the bulletin available daily of the news of the world received by wireless!

Travel removes many misconceptions. The Bay of Biscay has a reputation for boisterous roughness. It is rarely rough, and more often than not it is quite calm. The Pacific frequently belies its name. One of the worst storms I have experienced was in that supposedly pacific ocean. The Red Sea has a vile reputation for heat—and deservedly so. Still, I have known it to be otherwise. I have shivered with cold in it, despite a warm overcoat, gloves and muffler. I had always thought of the Arctic regions as icy cold where furs had to be worn constantly. In midsummer I altered my views as I sat on deck without an overcoat and viewed the icebergs that reflected the brilliant colouring of the sky, the whole seascape representing a scene like a child's idea of fairyland.

The delight inspired by the beauty of an iceberg may turn to apprehension. Near the coast of Newfoundland the passengers of an Atlantic liner on which I was travelling were enjoying the splendour of icebergs that looked like magnificent cathedrals of crystal when we ran into a heavy fog in which objects but a few yards away were obscured. Visions arose of the tragic ending of the Titanic on her maiden voyage through colliding with an iceberg in the Atlantic and the consequent loss of 1,513 lives out of the 2,224 persons on board. As we heard the continuous sounding of the


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fog-horn, it seemed the most mournful of funeral dirges—a dirge that we felt might be the preliminary of our own funeral.

The play of dolphins and porpoises as they jump from the water and dive, and the distant spouting of whales, are amongst the numerous sights of marine life. In tropical seas I never tire of watching flying fish, pretty and attractive, leave the water, skim rapidly over the waves on flights that sometimes exceed one hundred and fifty yards. The flights that are longest are against the wind. During daylight their flight is away from the ship, but at night they cannot see. Sometimes they are carried upwards by currents of air and fall on deck.

One night at dinner, just as a lady passenger sitting next to me had a plate of soup before her, a flying fish came through an open porthole and landed with a splash in the middle of the plate. Its intense activity was accelerated by the heat of the soup. The lady was scarcely less surprised and agitated than the fish.

Sea birds are always attractive. How fascinating it is to lean over ship's bows off the Cape of Good Hope and watch the fluttering flight of Mother Carey's chickens, those small birds, light as a feather, that old sailors regard as harbingers of bad weather!

There are in the southern seas the graceful albatrosses, the largest and strongest of sea birds, often seventeen feet from tip to tip of their wings. When viewed through field-glasses, how truly wonderful they are skimming the water at the bottom of ocean valleys and then soaring aloft and circling round the


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ship, their narrow wings never flapping even when travelling at a rate that made the steamer appear in comparison as though she scarcely moved! They are experts in gliding, and are supposed even to sleep on the wing. When they come close to the deck looking for food, there is something terrifying in their cruel, greedy-looking eyes and their large, strong, sharp-edged beak terminating in a hook.

An old sailor with whom I struck up a conversation on board a steamer in the Great Australian Bight did not view them with the feelings of attachment and superstitious awe with which they are supposed to be regarded by seafarers. Quite the contrary. He was smoking a pipe which he said he made out of the long wing bones of an albatross.

“Them's horrid brutes,” he said, pointing with his pipe stem to a couple of albatrosses sailing beautifully. “A mate of mine fell orf a ship somewhere about 'ere. It was a fine day. We got out a boat quick. He was a strong swimmer, but them brutes 'ad him. They never gave him a chance. Down on his head with their beaks, and at his eyes and hands. I helped to get him in. It was awful. Head covered with blood, skull smashed, eyes torn out. He died soon after.”

The old man was visibly affected. He did not feel like Coleridge's “Ancient Mariner,” who, after he had shot with his cross-bow the bird of good omen, knew that an evil curse would follow accordingly. My seafaring friend would shoot all of them he could without any fears of ill-results.

Half-way between Colombo and Fremantle the


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Cocos, or Keeling, Islands are passed. I have been on board steamers that went sufficiently close to enable an excellent view to be had of the beach, cable station and vegetation. They are low islands covered with coconut palms. The highest point is only eight feet above sea-level. Sometimes a barrel with mails and papers is thrown overboard with a flag attached and it is picked up by a boat from the islands. It was here that the German warship, the Emden, was smashed by the Sydney, and for a great many years the wreck of the raider could be seen close to the shore.

The story of the Cocos Islands and of the Scotch family that has ruled them for more than a hundred years was related to me one morning whilst I lay in a deck-chair as we passed the islands. They are coral and looked like bright green emeralds set in a sapphire-coloured sea.

My informant related how in 1823 the islands were uninhabited. An English adventurer, Alexander Hare, decided to exploit them for coconut production. He settled on the southernmost island with a number of slaves. A couple of years after, a seafarer, John Clunies-Ross, from the Shetland Islands, settled on another island with his family and some Malays. His little colony was soon strengthened by Hare's runaway slaves. The relations between Hare and Clunies-Ross became strained. Something like a state of war existed between them. There are those who say Hare was eventually driven from his island. It is certain that he retired to Singapore.

Clunies-Ross then held absolute sway over the islands for twenty-seven years. His son, John George, succeeded him, and at his request the British Government


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annexed the islands, he being appointed governor. His wife, who was a Malay of royal blood, was a most valued assistant, and they had six sons, who were educated in Scotland.

George, the eldest, who succeeded the father, was an able administrator. He also married a Malay wife, and the union was in every way a success. He and his men in 1875 built a vessel of 178 tons in which the family and a crew of islanders sailed round the Cape of Good Hope to England, the voyage taking six months. He died in the Isle of Wight in 1910 when sixty-eight years of age, and left a fortune of a couple of hundred thousand pounds sterling.

The family still hold sway over the islands, which are their private property, they having been granted by Queen Victoria in 1886 to the Mr. Clunies-Ross who was then head of the family. Excellent order is maintained. The drink traffic is controlled. The climate is equable and healthy.

How remarkable some of the people are one meets when travelling on shipboard during long sea voyages! The type ranges from old seasoned travellers to the retired business man who has amassed a fortune and who is making the first big journey away from his office or counter, and in whom it sometimes happens the bottled-up frivolity of thirty or forty years suddenly breaks out and he becomes as playful as a schoolboy. The close friendships even between total strangers that are quickly established rarely endure after the voyage.

A never-to-be-forgotten fellow-traveller of mine was Sir Joseph Ward, then Prime Minister of New Zealand.


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We sailed together across the Pacific from Vancouver to Fiji, where he was met by a warship that brought him and Lady Ward and their charming daughter, Miss Eileen Ward, to New Zealand. It was during the latter part of 1909.

An intense believer in Empire unity and a warm advocate of its maintenance, Sir Joseph also strongly favoured a better understanding between the British Empire and the United States. He told me that, when lunching in Washington with Theodore Roosevelt, he found that they agreed as to the wisdom of the two nations getting closer together in furtherance of their common interests. According to the President, his chief difficulty in furtherance of friendship with Britain lay in the anti-British spirit of the Irish and German elements in the United States population. He could ignore either of those elements, but not both, and he urged Sir Joseph to use his influence towards a settlement of the Irish question in a way that was satisfactory to the Irish people. “It is,” said Roosevelt, “most essential to the furtherance of friendship between America and Britain.”

One of the most entertaining of the men whom I met when travelling was Lord Frederick Hamilton. It was on board the Empress of Britain whilst voyaging from Quebec to Liverpool in May, 1909. He was on his way from the Far East. On board he showed himself “a good mixer”; became extremely popular; he was a bright and entertaining conversationalist, a man who could talk well and had an amazingly extensive repertoire of experiences and stories.

In the smoking-room or on deck there was invariably a group of passengers about him who listened with


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delight. Occasionally he gave graphic descriptions of big-game shooting, but through most of what he said there was more than a touch of humour. Incidents of his schooldays at Harrow especially were brightly related, also experiences in the diplomatic service at Lisbon and Buenos Ayres, electioneering in England and Ireland, and as a member of the House of Commons.

One story that he told us was of an elderly English lady who died in the South of France. Her relatives had her body embalmed and sent to England to be interred in the family burial-place. Almost simultaneously a Russian general died in the same locality, and his body was embalmed and instructions issued that it be sent to St. Petersburg. When the lady's relatives in England received a casket with her name engraved outside, it was opened and found to contain the body, not of the deceased lady, but of a Russian general in uniform. A nephew who had just come from where the embalmment took place realised what had happened. He telegraphed to a St. Petersburg friend who knew the deceased general's relatives, and received the following reply: “Say nothing. Your respected aunt has been buried with full military honours.”

At a concert given by the passengers on board he was persuaded to tell humorous stories. They were chiefly about the witticisms of the Irish peasantry, and excited roars of laughter. When encored over and over again he was always ready with a story, even better than the one that preceded it. His contribution to the evening's entertainment outshone those of all the other performers.

When we reached the coast of Northern Ireland


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Lord Frederick was at home. Tory Island, Malin Head, Inishtrahull, Rathlin Island, Fair Head, Maidens, Mew Island and Skulmartin were known to him, and he could tell us the history of each of them.

He had been editor of the Pall Mall Magazine, but his career as an author had not commenced. It was years later that he began his delightful series of books, “Vanished Pomps,” “My Yesterdays,” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” Evidently he enjoyed relating his reminiscences. I hope the writing of them also gave him pleasure, as much pleasure as he gave many of us when he talked so fascinatingly on the Empress of Britain.

During one of the numerous voyages I made between England and Australia there was a young lady passenger, bright, vivacious and extremely pretty, who was travelling alone and who told us she was going to be married to a professional man in Melbourne. It was the first time she had been out of England.

She talked freely about her fiancé; she had not seen him for a couple of years; they had become engaged whilst he was visiting England, and both her parents liked him. She added that her family were in poor circumstances and her fiancé had made her a present of a first-class ticket to Melbourne.

She made us think that both he and she were a lucky pair. Certainly she was supremely happy about her prospects and full of interest in what her life in a new country would be like. To her it was all a thrilling adventure.

She was popular amongst the passengers. She played


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all the deck games. At dances in the evening she was much appreciated as a partner.

There were numbers of attractive young men on board. Amongst them was a cheery young Scotchman. She and he became friendly. They had much in common and became good companions. Gradually the friendship developed. They spent their days and evenings together.

The passengers heard less and less about the lady's intended husband in Australia and her future home. Within a fortnight of our leaving England she had stopped making any reference to the matter. A week before we sighted the Australian coast she and the Scotchman announced that they were engaged and would be married soon after reaching Australia. Many thought of the man in Australia who was waiting to make the lady his bride and who had paid her passage out, but it was none of their business. They were too polite to discuss it with either of the newly engaged passengers. They congratulated them instead.

In the Great Australian Bight the weather became extremely rough. A storm arose, and the steamer rolled and pitched and shipped heavy seas. Owing to the unsteadiness of the vessel, the Scotchman met with an accident. He was thrown with violence against the railings of the companion-way and received a painful hurt in the side. The pain did not last long, and he thought nothing of the affair.

A day or two subsequently he became ill, but did not associate it with the mishap. He became worse, and when the ship's doctor was called to attend him, it was not thought necessary to mention the accident. The doctor treated the patient for a complaint from


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which he was not suffering. The Scotchman's fiancé nursed him with care and tenderness, but he sank rapidly, became delirious, and died in great agony.

We sailed into port in the morning with the flag half-mast.

In the rush and excitement of arrival, most of us did not think much of the dreadful position in which our young travelling companion was placed. The dead body of her fiancé was lying below, but the man that she had come to Australia to marry, not knowing the position, was there to meet her, and she was in a strange land without friends and with but little money.

She came on deck dressed in deep mourning; the man and his mother were on the wharf. She went away with them. I heard later that she told them the whole story. It did not change the first fiancé's views, and he ultimately persuaded her to become his wife.

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