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could not weather her, and put my helm up in what I (then) thought ample time; but when I got her in sight on our port bow, I saw the light change from red to green. I remarked to the man at the wheel that the brig had put her helm up, and desiring him to keep ours hard up, I let go our mizen-sheet, and hailed him to keep his luff. She struck us very violently stem on amidships on the port-side, doing a very great amount of damage. In time we both got towed to our port; a committee of the club held an inquiry into the accident, and, to my utter astonishment, decided that my vessel was wrong, because both master and mate of the brig asserted that their helm had never been put up. In vain did I beg the committee to examine the ships. They said they had to decide by the evidence, and there was the word of the master and mate of the brig against my unsupported testimony. For, never dreaming that the facts would have been denied, my own crew (runners) had all been allowed to scatter. Looking back now after many long years of experience, I can see that the decision was not in accordance with the real facts of the case. (It was afterwards reversed.) But, though not legally guilty, I now feel myself morally so; for, confident in the knowledge I possessed, and my command over my ship, I held on too long-I, in fact, threatened the brig-put him in terror of his life. If the master bimself had been on deck it would not have happened; but it afterwards transpired) the mate got terrified, lost his presence of mind, and ordered the helm to be put up. Nothing could justify him in doing that. Neither am I or you justified in threatening to take a man's life—“frightening him out of his wits.”
The mate neglected his duty in not calling the captain the moment any doubt of the ship's perfect safety entered his mind. No matter how cool and capable an officer may be, he is guilty of wilful neglect of duty if he leaves the captain in ignorance of any approach of danger.
It may be out of place here to mention it, but I cannot but think and hope the time will soon arrive, when a chief officer in steamers will be released from the ever-increasing strain upon his powers of endurance, by the appointment of another responsible watch-keeping officer.
Do not confuse your mind with any intricate problem of how you can legally get into collision, but study how to avoid getting into a position of danger. Your best safeguard is in cultivating perfect self command—better, far better done in your daily routine of duty than in dangerous emergencies—which will enable you to adopt promptly (not hurriedly) the proper course in times of doubt and danger.
I have hitherto practically ignored the commander, feeling assured that you perfectly understand your duty to be always subordinate to his.
I have used the terms employer, commander, &c., indiscriminately, for (whoever may engage you) you will do well to regard them as synonymous. There should be no separate interest any more than divided authority in the little world you sail in.
“How, in one house should many people, under two commands, hold amity ? 'Tis hard; almost impossible.” Had Shakespeare been writing of a ship, he would have omitted the word “almost.” You must be careful to set an example to your men of prompt and cheerful obedience to your superior officer, bearing always in mind how much your future prospect depends upon his report of your character. Do not be impatient of his supervision, it is his duty to see that yours is duly performed. The more perfect and truthful your character the less need there will be for him to interfere with your management, and the less you will be inclined to take offence when he does so.
Masters are not “ infallible," and you may be placed with one who is unreasonable and cannot appreciate your conscientious desire to do your duty; but if you are consistent in your conduct, he cannot but contrast it with that of other officers, and value your services accordingly. Upon this subject, as with that of your conduct towards your crew, so much could be said that I had better leave you to think it out, only warning you that the master's authority cannot suffer without yours suffering also; therefore, however much you may differ from him as to the wisdom or desirability of any instructions you may have to carry out, never let your men imagine that you do so. Upon the tone in which an order is 'given depends, in a very great measure, the
manner in which it is carried out, and no officer who in any way teaches his men that an order is given on compulsion, can be a desirable character, upon which, more than on the possession of a certificate, depends your success in life.
In the good old times, underwriters and insurance clubs found it necessary, for their own protection, to "pass masters," &c., for the vessels they insured. Their requirements were low; but even these were often evaded, and the lives of those sailing in vessels uninsured, were often entrusted to totally ignorant men. Many ludicrous, but still more tragic, results were the consequence. Jack, at no time credited with much forethought, could not be expected to distinguish between the minimum and maximum of risk to which they were exposed in different vessels, and so to protect them and all who travel by sea came Government supervision (just as with mines, factories, &c.).
found necessary to fix standard of requirements, low at the outset, but it is now gradually raised to keep pace with the superior education our young men are receiving. That the standard of excellence is not yet fixed too high is proved by the fact that some of those who have successfully passed the ordeal and nourish the idea that their certificate fairly entitles them to a situation, may be heard lamenting the prospect of there being no sailors left. “We'll all be masters and mates, soon,” is not an uncommon cry. They cannot yet see that if it were really so, if every man held a certificate enabling him to compete for an officer's situation, the service must needs be better for it, and the most efficient men would, as a rule, struggle to the surface.
The young man who first acquires a correct estimate of the truth in this matter, and acts upon it, will have an incalculable advantage over a contemporary who continues to think that a Board of Trade certificate stamps him as possessed of all the qualities necessary to make him an expert and therefore successful seaman. For the one will go on patiently, picking up grain by grain the gold that will make him rich in character, and, if spared, will some day realise the pleasant fact that it would be easier for him to find another employer than to leave his present one. The other, failing to convince his employers that the certificate is a monster nugget,
creating him a very“ nabob” in respect of character, is in danger of becoming like men I have known, who for years have been "passed masters,” and not having obtained the command they consider themselves entitled to are fast settling into soured, disappointed, discontented men, living feverishly through the present (not in it), waiting like Mr. Micawber "for something to turn up." “ It is a foolish bird which fouls its own nest." My object is not to vilify the class to which I am proud to belong, but to help you if possible to adorn it; I am well aware that there are many capable and meritorious officers who have long to wait for their promotion. But it is only necessary to sail with others to understand the reasons for their disappointment. To see how easily they square their sense of duty with their love of ease; to see the false pride that pervades their whole character, preventing them from in any way admitting that they can be in error, or that there is anything n their profession left for them to learn, forgetting “that to acknowledge we have made a mistake only proves us to be wiser now than when we made it;” anxious only that those around them should take them at their own valuation, and believe that their employer has the best of the bargain.
These men do not go on board a vessel to learn; they do not go to work ; being perfection themselves they expect it in others, and therefore do not go to teach ; they are jealous of their dignity (?) and privileges; and while, as a natural consequence of their character, many of their most important duties are neglected, they are always ready to take offence and quarrel with the commander for trying to remedy their neglect. Believing it to be their privilege to remain idle, they do so most conscientiously, and may often be seen following their men round like convict warders, the men, of course, assisting to complete the resemblance by working like convicts.
Exercising no forethought, they do not know how to employ their men, though the ship is going to wreck for want of attention. Work that could be done under shelter is selected for fine weather, and more important work aloft neglected ; beside the still worse mistake of practically teaching the men that there is nothing for them to do, which they are always ready to believe most religiously.
Thoughtless of all that concerns the ship, except in so much as it ministers to, or interferes with, their self-indulgence, there is no stiteh taken in time, but all manner of thoughtless and wasteful expedients are resorted to, to remedy evils that ought to have been prevented. The progress of the ship is impeded by their dilatoriness in trimming and setting sail. But nothing will testify more surely to their thorough selfishness, and the fitness of things that keep these men in a subordinate position, than the fact that they not only allow themselves to be overcome by sleep in their watch on deck, but actually court it; wilfully staking the lives of their shipmates sleeping trustfully below, against the chance of getting their criminal self-indulgence indicted by the commander, leaving to more ignorant (?) and less responsible men the duty they set them the example of neglecting.
It may appear incredible, but I appeal to the reader if he has not known men do this. I have known many spars and sails thus lost, but who can know of the many fatal collisions brought about in this manner by men who have not even the plea of being mistimed, overworked, or extreme youth, to palliate a neglect of duty so gross that there never can be a valid excuse for it.
The guard, pointsman, or signalman, who is prosecuted for manslaughter, seldom influences others by his pernicious example ; but these passed masters practically teach the whole crew to neglect the more important part of a seaman's duty. How can they expect a trustworthy character ? When will they learn that if, by chance, they were placed in command to-morrow, they could not retain it because they have neglected to cultivate self-command (subordination), economy, endurance, perseverance, and true moral courage, which is necessary to ensure success.
Thank God such men as these are not numerous, for the evil they do cannot be estimated. Thank God, also, that many, very many, of our successors are earnestly striving to become proficient in their calling. To men whose ideas of duty are not limited by the knowledge their short experience has given them; who will, by their example, do much to counteract the evil caused by selfish men, and who, while striving to avail themselves of all the assistance science is so rapidly providing for them,