Chapter 5: Chatham
So, one morning, coming to Work at six o'clock in the Morning, instead of going to the Shop, I went over London Bridge, as I understood that was the Way to Chatham. I got as far as Shooters Hill, when a Gentleman's Coach came along, with a Footboard behind. I jumped up behind till it came to a Standstill in a Livery Hotel Yard in Gravesend to change Horses. When it started again I took my seat behind as before. We went through Strode and over Rochester Bridge, when the Coach came to a standstill and marched along with the Crowd for they were proclaiming King William the Fourth, for King George the Fourth had just died; this was 1830.
After I got clear of the Crowd, I enquired my way to Chatham. They told me that I was in Chatham, and if I wanted to go to the Ships I must go over Chatham Lines. When I got to the Lines I met an Old Soldier and asked him about the possibility of getting a Ship. He told me that there was not the least likelihood of getting a Ship there, which made me hang down my head in confusion and I concluded that my best way was to make my way back again as fast as I could and sauntered along until I got to Rochester Bridge. While I was musing there, up comes the Stage Coach with four Horses, with a lot of Sailors sitting behind. I jumped up behind, and got nicely between the Sailors' legs (they seemed inclined to screen me from the Coachman's observance). It went right enough till we got twenty Mile on the Road, the last change of horses, when the Coachman got his Eye on me and shook his Whip in a threatening way at me, so that I had to make the rest of my Way on foot. I got home to Bethnal Green, where I lodged at 11 O'Clock at night, well tired.
After this, my aunt got me a Place at a Public House as a Pot Boy; but the change from poor living to good living brought a breaking out all over my Body, so that I had to give up my Place and go into the Workhouse again to get cured. After this, I made another Start straightaway to Chatham, went to the Soldiers' Barracks and asked for the Master Tailor, who set me down to make Fatune Jackets at 8d each. I could make two in a day, which was the most that ever I had made. But it did not last long, so that I had to look out for other Work. This I got from a Mr Murphy, a man with whom I lodged, who was an Old Clothes Dealer. He gave me a good deal of repairing to do. When I had worked him out I got work from another man who was in a similar line of Business, and worked him out also.
Now an Idea came into my head - that if I got into a Sailor's suit of Clothes I should get a Ship sooner than having my own Corderoys which I had brought with me out of the Workhouse. So I proposed to Mr Murphy to exchange with me, which he was willing to do. So he furnished me with a Blue Jacket, a pair of White Duck Trousers, a faded Velvet Vest and a Black Glazed Hat. So made up, with three shillings in my Pocket, I started off to Sheerness, 22 miles, to seek a Ship. I got there at Night, and went in to a Public House to lodge for the Night.
The following Morning, I went to the Beach, and saw a large Ship getting ready for Sea. I asked the people thereabouts what she was. They told me: "That is the 'Senegal', an Old Seventy Four taken from the French in the last War. She is fitting out for Service, and all the Men are on Board". I looked at her with a longing Eye. "Oh", thought I, "if she would only take me!" but how to get on Board I could not tell. I ascertained that any Waterman would take me on Board for a Shilling. I had but one Shilling left: but I thought I would chance that and go to the Ship. I soon found a Waterman to take me on Board. When I got there, I stared about with Wonder and Surprise. There were the Marines, pacing up and down as Sentries. They asked me what I wanted, in my broken English I told them I wanted a Place on Board. They forwarded me to the Officer in Charge, who gave me to understand that I had come on a Fool's Errand. That was not the Place to come to; the Rendezvous in the Minories was the Place to go to.
He gave me to understand that I might look about a bit. The ship was full of men. Here and there there were groups of Men getting their Breakfast. One of the men handed me a cup of Cocoa, of which I was glad, for I had not had my Breakfast. After looking about, I returned to the shore, only wishing I could have remained with them. I now sauntered into the Town, and went into the Dockyard, where I saw a large Man of War lying in the Graving Dock. I looked at her huge dimensions, and admired her very much. After satisfying my Curiosity in the Dockyard, I went to the Slip, where the Boats ply to and from the Ships. From there, back again to the Town until Evening, when I returned back to the Slip.
There I found a Sailor, a Blockade Man, pacing up and down, with Cutlass by his side and Pistol in his Girdle, looking out for Smugglers. I joined him, walking up and down with him until he was off duty, which was late at Night. He entertained me with interesting Yarns, so that the time sped merrily on. But now I was left alone and thought it was time to look out for a Night Lodging. So, after looking about the Slip, I spied an Old Shed, wherein were lying some Boards where I lay down for the Night. This was the first Night I had to lay out, and I did not like it at all, for I felt very Cold through the Night. But Morning opened up Cheerfully, the Sun shining warm on my back made me forget the Cold Night.
The first thing for me to do was to watch the Boats coming from the Ships that were lying in Ordinary. There was one Boat belonging to the Commodore's Ship, an Old Dutch Man of War, a Three Decker. I asked the Boy having charge of the Boat whether there was any Chance for me on board of his Ship. He said he thought there was. "Come with me in the Boat" said he, "You will find the Commodore on Quarter Deck. And mind, when you go, hold your head up and look Bold and straight in the Face" When we got on board, he pointed out to me the Captain sitting on the Deck. So I made up to him, as I was told by the Boy, took off my black glazed Hat, made a Bow and tried to look Bold, and said; "Please Sir, do you want a Boy?" He took stock of me,and shook his head: as much as to say "You will not do!"
So I withdrew, and went down tween deck to the Boy that brought me on Board and said; "No success! But Hark ye, have you got anything to Eat, for I am hungry, for I have had nothing to eat these two days!" He went to his Locker and brought me a piece of Salt Junk, about the size of a Hen's Egg and two small Kidney Potatoes. "There!" he said, "That is all I can find" I took them gratefully, and ate them up at once. They had a magic effect; my Faintness at once left me, and in its place I felt an exuberance of Spirit which I never felt before, and went back to Chatham, 22 miles, whistling and jumping as light as a feather, so to speak. So that I thought God must have put an extraordinary degree of Virtue in that bit of Salt Pork and those two small Potatoes.
I got to Chatham at the close of the Evening. Just then Mr Murphy's Son had come home from Sea, and in opening his Chest they brought out some Ship's Biscuit and Butter, of which they invited me to partake of, so that I finished the Day with an abundant supply. After a Night's Rest I again looked for something to do. I think I got another job at the Barracks, making Fatigue Jackets, and a little more mending of Old Clothes. When that failed, I thought I would go to Dover and see what I could do there. Probably I might get a Berth on a Ship there!