Thursday, 4 August 2011

Continuing George Thomas Howell’s voyage to the Orient back in the early 1890s.

One of my own voyages through the Med

The date is December 4th. 1891 and George and his missionary friends are steaming through the Mediterranean having been at sea for nine days.  He writes:

The days, now that we are settling down to life on board ship, are wonderfully alike.  We generally rise about 7 and after a cold sea-water bath and private devotions get time for a turn on deck before breakfast at 8.30.  After breakfast we gather in the lower hatch for our Bible reading together.  After this we study the Phinese Radicals until about by which time we are ready to appreciate the fresh air which blows across the hurricane deck and occupy ourselves till dinner time, viz 1.30.  The afternoon is spent in reading or writing, some of us varying the proceeding by indulging in quoits, leap-frog, chess etc.  The Captain is proposing a cricket math between 1st and 2nd saloons and I am hoping to take part should this be arranged.

After tea we frequently adjourn to the hurricane deck again armed with our rugs and Sankey’s hymn book and for an hour or two the ship rings with the well known tunes from this book. 

December 5th.

At we anchored in the magnificent bay of Naples and the scene as we stood on deck and looked at this city of churches was a pretty one.  The bay is semi-circular with the houses almost down to the water’s edge and to the east Vesuvius stands out rugged and gloomy looking.  We had not been long at anchor before we were surrounded on all sides with craft of every sort, bringing vendors of trinkets and fancy articles of all descriptions which as soon as they could get on board they spread out on seats, hatchways and deck until our vessel had something of the appearance of a Fancy Fair or Eastern Bazaar.  Whilst at breakfast a boat with musicians came alongside and our ears were greeted with some of the beautiful airs and songs of these Neapolitans which the women who were gorgeously attired rendered capitally. 

At 9.15 we boarded the steam launch and in a few minutes were again on solid ground and having engaged a guide for our party of five we started on our tour resolved to see all that we could of Naples in the seven hours at our disposal.  I think we may fairly claimed to have done this mainly through the reckless driving of the “Jarvey” whom our guide engaged ! …………………………………………………………………..

Reaching Pompeii at 11.40 we at once proceeded to inspect this strange silent city – one day the centre of life and activity and steeped in sin and vice (awful evidence of which exists to-day after eighteen centuries) and the next in ruins and buried with its thousands of inhabitants in the stream of burning lava and ashes which belched forth from the sombre looking mountain which overhangs it, and which on the day we stood at its base was enveloped at the summit in thick smoke.

To describe all we saw would fill a volume and then I should fail to make you understand all the visitor feels as he walks up and down these deserted streets and thinks of the wonderful history and awful end of Pompeii ……………………………………

December 6th.

Upon going on deck this morning our eyes were greeted with a glorious sight.  We were in the Straits of Messina and on one side were the vine covered hills of Sicily, with the lovely little towns dotted here and there, and on the other side the scene on the Italian shore was one of perfect beauty and as we slowly steamed through with a grand sky and bright sun overhead “Etna” came in sight making with the surrounding hills a picture glorious in the extreme.

December 8th.

To-day we have been enjoying a cricket match in which several of us took part between the first and second saloons.  A match on board a large steamer is a matter of interest and we had many spectators.  The game is not played quite in the orthodox style of “Lords” as the ball is made of rope, the wicket with four stumps instead of three and the bat a little narrower than regulation width.  This will be readily understood as being necessary when the difficulty of bowling straight on board ship is considered.  Should a ball be sent overboard the batsman scores six but is out.  I had been chosen as captain of the second saloon team and there was a humorous account of the match in the Sutlej Gazette the next morning.  We thus spent an enjoyable afternoon though intensely hot.

December 9th.

Arrival at Port Said remarkable as the greatest coaling station in the world, 1,000,000 tons being supplied annually to steamers here.  We went on shore for a couple of hours and returned disgusted; the only enjoyable feature being a short visit to the missionary in charge of the Sailors’ Rest, with whom we had a chat and prayer.  Quite a number of boys came alongside our vessel as soon as we “made fast” and showed considerable skill in diving for coins which the passengers threw into the water invariably bringing them to the surface and putting then into their mouths which formed a temporary pocket while they dived for others.

Port Said at dusk in 2008

At we entered the Canal and by aid of the magnificent electric search light fixed at the bow of our vessel commenced to make our way slowly through.  It took us eighteen hours to travel the eighty-seven miles from Port Said to Suez, including a short stay at Ismailia to land a few passengers.

Steaming through the Suez canal

I will continue with George's voyage in a few days so please keep following the tale.

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