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Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 21 — Nova Scotia and Boston

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Chapter 21
Nova Scotia and Boston

From Sydney to Boston is about 600 miles and the moment we left the former port were in the open sea and subject to the full fury of the Atlantic. Before reaching Cape Breton, we passed Glace Bay, and saw the great aerial towers so recently erected by Marconi for his first demonstration of transmitting wireless messages across the Atlantic. The whole countryside was covered in snow, and the white background made the towers stand out clearly. Winter was near at hand, and this first trip gave forebodings of what was in store.

A straight run down the coast of Nova Scotia, a distance of about 350 miles, brought us to Cape Sable, off which stands Sable Island. We then made straight across the Bay of Fundy to Boston, berthing at the wharf, where the same type of mechanical appliances that unloaded us so rapidly at Montreal were awaiting us. It was always a busy scene when these coal-grabs began to operate.

Two things I already knew about this place were firstly, that it was the scene of the famous Boston Tea Party, and secondly, that the people prided themselves on being the most English-like of all Americans. I was to learn that Boston had many claims to be called a great city.

The population at this time was about half a million. Many imposing buildings were to be seen in the centre of the city. When visiting a place for the first time, I liked to get a general idea to begin with and then follow up with piecemeal exploring of the sights. My first visit fulfilled all expectation regarding the English-like appearance of the city. On looking at buildings in Sumner, Tremont or Washington Streets, the architecture was exactly the same as that of a similar period in London. This was in the days before the skyscraper. Most of the high buildings seemed to be about five or six storeys, although I saw one or two often storeys. The churches were in the old English style. The South Terminal railway station was a splendid building. There seemed to be numbers of statues. These were my first-day impressions of the first of many visits to Boston.

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We left again next evening and I took with me a vivid picture of a great New-World city. Each trip I renewed my interest in seeking a knowledge of this place. There seemed so much to see. The great obelisk monument on Bunker Hill was of course the pride of the Boston residents. When I looked at these splendid people, I thought to myself, “How absurd it was for England to fight her own kith and kin of those early years; how equally absurd that they should fight us!” There are still to be found some Americans who, to this day, love to rake up the days of King George III and the actions of his Prime Minister, Lord North. They never quote the magnificent speeches of Chatham, Burke and others who so strongly opposed the war with America. The year 1775 is a far call, but there is a type of Irishman, always “agin” Britain, who would go back five hundred years if need be to find political ammunition to shoot at John Bull. Thank goodness, except for a few people who will never be reconciled, I found that closer friendship between the two peoples on either side of the Atlantic was already a fact. It would have been on an even firmer basis but for the anti-British writings of the Hearst press. It was distressing to read some of the articles. W. R. Hearst could have been a name honoured on both sides of the Atlantic; instead, he preferred to trifle with the affections that bound two great peoples. He found twisting the lion's tail more entertaining and more profitable than working for a closer union.

But there was more than the voluble, bitter tongue of the disgruntled Irishman influencing wherever possible a feeling against Britain. The German, who has always been intensely jealous of the British Empire, would put his spoke in as often as he could. Unlike the man of the Emerald Isle, who was always outspoken, the Teuton preferred to put sand in the bearings. When America has time to examine the operations of these mischief-makers, she will be astonished at the things she will discover and the subtleness of the influences that have been at work to keep America and Britain apart.

Many years later than the times of which speak, I was to have an experience with a rugged American on a visit to New Zealand that illustrates the need for an even better understanding. Meeting in a casual way, the visitor, after a few complimentary remarks about our country, astonished me by saying, “But, Jesus, I wish you fellows would break away from page 287 old England. She's got her thumb on you and will always hold you down. That's why you're forty years behind the times!” To say the least of it he was downright!

Recovering from the shock that his words gave me, I said quietly, “But we do not wish to break away; New Zealand owes everything to the Old Country. Instead of holding us down, Britain has propped us up and shielded and protected us all our lives; she is the Motherland to us.”

This seemed to stir up his combatant spirit. “Well, why is the Empire breaking up?”

“But the Empire is not breaking up. It has never been so strong, so united and the Dominions so attached to Britain.”

“Well, why does India want to get out?” he retorted.

“We can hardly start to argue the Indian question now,” I said, for it was near midnight, “but you ought to know something about native problems. How did you handle the Indians in America?”

This made him blink a little.

“How do you handle the black fellow in your own country to-day?” To this he did not reply and I said, “Well, I will tell you. You allow him to occupy a suburban villa in Chicago, and won't let him ride in a tram car in New Orleans!”

He laughed heartily at this, but could see he had raised a question that was not as easily handled as he had imagined, especially when he learned that in South Africa they have a nine o'clock curfew for the natives, and in the day-time will not allow them to congregate in the streets. I emphasized that establishing the status of the native races was a world problem, and that, so far, no nation had handled it as well as Britain; no people had been kinder or more considerate to their coloured subjects. The conversation turned back to Britain and her Empire. He had never been to England, so, as we parted, I said, “Will you promise me one thing?”

“What is that?”

“That when this war is over and your young men return to America you will accept their opinion of Britain and the British people?” He said he would, and it was a pleasant good night we bade one another.

It was winter when I saw Boston's beautiful public gardens with the lovely bridge, the statue of General Washington on his page 288 charger, and trees and shrubs all laden with snow. It was probably as imposing a sight as it would be in summer.

Then came January, then February—the two worst months on this coast—and the seas became rougher. Our accommodation being right aft we had an uncomfortable time. The Bay of Fundy is a notoriously rough sea. One night, when running before a gale with the sea almost catching us as our stern dropped into the trough, one big sea rolled on top of our deck houses. My cabin was near the stern; with a bang this heavy sea shook the ship, and water poured on to my bunk through openings in the caulked deck above. The Captain decided to turn bow on to the sea. One can always notice with the breakers on the shore that three successive waves, bigger than the rest, will roll in and then it is calmer until the next three arrive. Waiting for these three “old man seas” to pass, Captain Dawson turned her round quickly and we were all relieved when we were head on, for in such a sea one would not like to be caught beam on. We remained hove-to till daylight and then headed for Boston.

This was but typical of my five months on this particular run. After two or three voyages the ice drove us out to Sydney Harbour and for the rest of the winter Louisburg became our loading port. Louisburg was France's great naval base in the days when Quebec was a French colony. Its capture by Wolfe in the middle of the eighteenth century was his initial success in the great battles for supremacy in Canada. It was surprising to find that a port, only twenty-five miles farther down the coast, should be free from the danger of drift pack-ice. The explanation is that while Sydney Harbour is within the freezing area, it also faces north and acts like a funnel in catching the drift-ice that comes out of the St. Lawrence. Louisburg Harbour, on the other hand, faces south and is protected on the Atlantic side by a long promontory that acts as a shield. This makes Louisburg a port well sheltered from the ice-floes. We experienced no difficulty getting in or out, even in mid-winter, although they told me that on one occasion the ice was sufficiently thick to enable the steward of the Catalone, sister ship of the Dominion, to walk ashore one morning before his ship had berthed at the wharf.

I had been remarkably fortunate with regard to weather and calm seas on my voyages to the West Indies, followed by the page break
S.S. Dominion Off Nova Scotia, January 1906

S.S. Dominion Off Nova Scotia, January 1906

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Engineers of the Cymbeline

Engineers of the Cymbeline

The Stern of the Opihi

The Stern of the Opihi

page 289 calm of the St. Lawrence. I was now to have my “average” spoilt; trip after trip was as rough as could be experienced on any coast in the world, when the full force of the Atlantic struck the shores of Nova Scotia and swept round into the Bay of Fundy.

At the northern end of our voyage it was often so cold that spray coming on board was frozen at once. The bulwarks became covered with a solid mass of ice. The lower rigging ropes gradually got thicker and thicker, until they were the size of a man's body. The ice, and sometimes snow, on the decks would become many inches thick, and the winches and hatches would also be smothered. It was a remarkable sight. The photograph shown of the Dominion at sea off this coast in mid-winter makes a graphic picture of the Arctic-like conditions experienced. As illustrating the extremity of the cold in these parts, and the dangers of ice accumulating on deck, I was told in Boston of how a ship arriving in that port, on slowing up in harbour, heeled over on her beam-ends. It was estimated that there were seven hundred tons of ice on her decks.

Deck officers on ships trading to the tropics experience delightful conditions for carrying out their duties; white duck suits in the heat of the day and pleasant evenings on the bridge made them the envy of the engineers who faced the stifling heat below. Now the position was reversed; we enjoyed the warmth of the engine-room and the stokehold, while the officers on the bridge faced the rigours of winter. I have seen my friend, Tamlin, the Mate, come down off the bridge with his moustache a solid mass of ice. Our officers were clad in warm clothes, with balaclavas on their heads, but it was they who envied the engineers in those hard, wintry conditions.

Leaving Louisburg one night, we were to have a startling experience. It was pitch dark and as we approached the heads, a heavy swell made the Dominion rise and fall as if she were out at sea. Suddenly there was a heavy bump and the ship shook from stem to stern. I am not sure whether the ledge we struck was a menace in the middle of the fairway, or whether we were away from the middle of the channel—it mattered little—we had struck bottom. The Captain kept the vessel at “Slow-ahead.” Soundings were taken in all the holds. As our engines were aft it was the engine-room that was most minutely examined, for it was clearly the stern that had struck. Long page 290 conversations between the Captain and Chief Engineer were followed by more soundings and another examination of the tanks and bilges under the engine-room. Finally Captain Dawson decided he must make for Halifax, two hundred miles south, where there was a dry dock. We arrived there the following evening. After examination by Government and Lloyd's surveyors we were ordered into dry dock, which meant discharging our cargo and, as it was decided that we should have our annual overhaul at the same time, we spent a fortnight in port.

Halifax presented a magnificent sight. There were not inches, but feet of snow on the ground, which had to be shovelled from the roads and footpaths into the side channels where it was banked five or six feet high. Tracks were cut through, here and there, so that people could walk across the road between sections. It was a real thrill to see sleighs and sledges, drawn by horses, travelling silently along the streets. The only noise was the jingle, jingle of the little bells attached to the necks of some of the horses. In the cold atmosphere the breath of the horses shot out like puffs of steam. I had previously seen only the occasional fall of a few inches of snow in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a similar light fall at Newcastle, in England.

A diversion from a regular route is always welcome to sailors. When orders came that we were to load for St. John, New Brunswick, I was glad of the opportunity of seeing still another port of Canada. Rounding Cape Sable and passing Yarmouth on the starboard side, we steamed across the Bay of Fundy, known to all seafaring men in that part of the world. St. John proved to be a delightful place tucked away in this bay and sheltered from the heavy seas of the Atlantic. It was confusing to have St. John, New Brunswick, and St. Johns, Newfoundland.

At St. John I was to see one of the most remarkable sights to be seen in any part of the world. It will be difficult for the man in the street to visualize a reversing falls. It just does not seem to make sense to say that a waterfall could fall both ways: nevertheless, that is exactly what I saw. In New Zealand and Australia we are used to a tide that rises and falls from six to eight feet. As already stated, the rise in the Mediterranean is only eight inches. In the Bristol Channel it reaches the remarkable figure of over forty feet. I have seen the beach at page 291 Caswell Bay, near Swansea in Wales, where at low tide the sand on the foreshore stretched for more than half a mile before it reached the ripples of the Atlantic. Imagine, then, the effect of a rise and fall of sixty feet! That is what it is at the head of the Bay of Fundy. The river St. John, starting from a point near the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec, flows through the town and, as it reaches the bay, tumbles forty or fifty feet down a rocky face and forms a foaming falls. These are one of the attractions of the city. Now what happens at high tide after a rise of sixty feet? The sea then pours back, tumbling over the top of the rocks through which the river had picked its way before dashing down the face of the cliff. Though the reverse action was not as imposing as the falls, when the river was falling into the sea at low tide, it nevertheless constituted a unique phenomenon.

Back on the regular run to Boston, I was to be favoured with the opportunity of seeing two of the world's greatest celebrities of the stage. Sarah Bernhardt—what a name to conjure with fifty and sixty years ago! She played the leading role in “Magda.” I have seen many actors and actresses, but none impressed me as did the “Divine Sarah,” with her dramatic acting and her wonderful voice. If she no more than whispered, her voice carried to all parts of the theatre. The other celebrity was lovely Maxine Elliot. Could there be a more beautiful woman on the stage? Mr. Winston Churchill, in his book My Early Days, refers to meeting the attractive Maxine and having supper with her after the play. I saw her from the gallery, but admired her no less than he did.

I cannot complete this story of five months at sea in these boisterous parts without reference to Captain Dawson, R.N.R., of the Dominion. He was easily the most outstanding master I had sailed under since Captain Greenstreet on the Rimutaka. It mattered not whether we were at sea in the roughest of weather or densest of fogs—no one ever turned a hair with Dawson in command. I have known us leave Boston in a fog, steam full speed all the way, pass between Cape Sable and Sable Island and pull up off Louisburg, without having seen either land, lighthouse, or ship. He must have been a good money-maker for the owners. Captain Dawson was proud of-his Naval-Reserve rating and ran his ship in the manner of a naval commander. Even on this big coal carrier, he expected everyone to dress well and look the part; men like being well led. page 292 Although Captain Dawson was a man one could never get close to he was admired by all on board.

On the S.S. Catalone, engaged in the same trade as the Dominion, was another New Zealander, Robert McLean of Gisborne, who was Third Engineer. We frequently met during these twelve months and became close friends. His term was up about the same time as mine, and as he was also going to London to sit for his Chief Engineer's Certificate, we decided to return together. We signed off at Boston and, both being anxious to see Niagara Falls, caught the train to Buffalo the following morning. This four-hundred-mile run across the states of Massachusetts and New York was my first experience of seeing the interior of the great United States of America. The train was a fast one, but no faster than those of England. The relative speeds of the trains of the two countries was, in those days, often a subject of argument on either side of the Atlantic.

After spending the night at Buffalo, we got an early start for the Niagara Falls, not many miles away. When we stood on the bridge below the falls we were enthralled. Although winter was over, there were still some icicles hanging here and there like stalactites, and added to the brilliance of the scene. There were lumps of ice in several places on the rocks at the foot of the falls, but the full volume of water falling over the precipice had been restored on the break-up of the ice. The clouds of fine spray, created by the dashing waters at the foot, made the Maid of the Mist an appropriate name for the small passenger ship that cruised about on the lake below. Across the bridge we came opposite the Horseshoe Falls of Canada, generally conceded to be the most beautiful part of Niagara. It was here that several freakish and hazardous stunts had recently been performed. They told us of a man who had been sealed into a barrel which was well padded on the inside, and, with his little dog for a companion, had been pushed into midstream above the falls, drifting over into the swirling waters below. The barrel bounced up like a cork and was recovered by a boat crew before it could be carried on to the rapids farther down. A little later another man repeated the attempt, but this time the barrel, an oil drum made of steel, did not come up! We were shown where Captain Webb had met his fate when attempting to swim the rapids and saw where page 293 Blondin had walked the tight-rope with the foaming waters beneath him. It is extraordinary the amount of local knowledge one acquires from a guide. It was a thrilling day. We felt we had been well repaid, even although it costs money to do this sort of trip.

Returning to Buffalo in the afternoon we saw Lake Erie, and after dinner caught the night train for New York, three hundred miles away. In the early morning we found ourselves racing towards the great metropolis, first through the outer suburban areas, then the more dense residential parts, and presently into New York itself.

We were all excitement as we alighted and took a cab to the old Waldorf Hotel—not the Waldorf Astoria! After a bath and breakfast we decided to have a shave at the barber's shop near by. This proved our first experience of American salesmanship. I do not know whether the sailor is more susceptible than the man on the land; at any rate we were soon like putty in the hands of those alert and obliging hairdressers. After a long run in the night train of course we would have a hair trim, a shampoo, a face massage. Yes, the attendant could brush our hats and the boot-black could shine our shoes. We felt refreshed. “How much is that?”

“Five dollars, sir.”

Outside the shop McLean and I stopped, looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “That'll teach you!”

Booked to sail by the Cunard liner Lucania, we had three days in which to see New York. Keen to see this great city and its environs, we soon were going here and there. Avenues going lengthways of Manhattan, on which the city is built, and streets across, with numbers for their names, were new to us—Fifth Avenue, 43rd Street, and so on. Some of the abbreviations amused me: “St.” for street and “Av.” for avenue was natural, but “Wash. Av.” for Washington Avenue seemed something more than a short cut. One was at once struck by the high buildings. There were many of the fine old English style, but this was the New World, in which concrete had already begun to oust brick and stonework, for the New Yorker wanted height, and height he must have. With a sandstone bed for foundations, there appeared to be no limit in height for reinforced concrete. The skyscraper had already begun to appear. page 294 We took the lift to the top of what, I think, was called the “Grid Iron,” a three-cornered building, twenty-eight storeys high, at the junction of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. The “Times” building had gone still higher; the new Park Row building jumped to over thirty storeys and snatched the honour of highest, and most storeys. The race, which was to continue for many years, is, no doubt, still going on. It was an express lift in Which we went up. It served the top five storeys only. From about the twenty-third, when coming down, we seemed to drop like a stone. I have been on many lifts since, but was never so startled, never felt so much that funny feeling inside, as I experienced that day in New York; it took me back to the sledge ride at Madeira.

The Americans chuckled over a story they told of this building. A young New Yorker visiting Australia was impressed with the prolific growth of the tree and plant-life of that country. When he praised the peaches of Melbourne and the grapes and oranges of Adelaide and Sydney the glib answer was, “Climate!” It was always climate, until the use of this word became a little tiresome, especially as it was sometimes said in a manner almost suggesting the Australians' claim to share with Providence the honour of providing the sunshine and sun-showers enjoyed by the coastal belt of their continent. In due course his cousin from Sydney visited the New Yorker and one day, walking down Broadway, they came to the “Grid Iron,” the first of the skyscrapers. The Australian stood still in amazement, and looking up exclaimed, “Good heavens! How do you get to the top of a building like that?”

“Climb it!” said the American!

We spent the first day among all these skyscrapers, saw the great wharves on the Hudson riverside and the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River, on the other side of the city. When we walked along and through the Bowery, I had the same feeling of trepidation as I had experienced when exploring Houndsditch in London.

On the second day I looked up a distant relative connected with one of the big financial houses in Wall Street. He was extraordinarily kind, insisted on both of us going that evening to his home in Brooklyn, and mapped out a number of trips round the city.

We followed Fifth Avenue to Central Park, which is bordered page 295 on the other side by Eighth Avenue. Central Park is worthy of the greatness of New York. It was a new experience for me to see squirrels in the trees. The lake in the park did not invite boating at this time of the year, but one could imagine this pleasure in mid-summer. The Columbus Statue at the Eighth Avenue entrance to the park is very imposing. I also remember a beautiful statue of Eagles; and so one could ramble on. Like Boston, there appeared to be a great number of monuments and statues. Those I remember best are a splendid one of Washington in Wall Street, as well as Washington Arch in Fifth Avenue. The name of Lincoln is deep in the hearts of the American people and we visited his monument in Union Square. An overhead railway was something I had not seen before, but of the things I remember most vividly, none exceeds the brilliance of Broadway at night. It was here that neon electric signs were first made a feature, and at that time, as to-day, Broadway was the most brilliantly lighted street in the world. I finish my impressions of New York with a word about the many splendid buildings we saw and noted, for while skyscrapers were beginning to predominate, the older ones followed the line of the best architecture of the Old World. The Americans did not stint themselves regarding the money spent on churches, universities and educational buildings. In fact, in all their buildings they appeared to have designed for the future—a foresight that has not always been shown in every country.

On our last afternoon in New York McLean and I hired an old four-wheeler. We drove along the Riverside Drive, past General Grant's imposing monument and had a splendid view of the Hudson River, with Jersey City on the other side. Our old cabman was proud to point out the new mansion home of Charles Schwab, Andrew Carnegie's successor, and a man who was to prove a staunch friend of Britain's in the first great World War. We paid a flying visit to Coney Island, but it was out of season and we saw only the beach, the buildings and some of the fun-making machines of the side-shows.

This racing round New York for three days resembled a Cook's tour on the Continent, but it gave us a very good general knowledge of America's greatest, and one of the world's greatest cities.

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We were timed to sail at noon. Arriving on board about half an hour early, we found everything a hustle and a bustle on the ship and the wharf. A large crowd had assembled, for the departure of a big Atlantic liner was still an event, and the docks are close to the heart of the city. At last we backed out from the wharf and turned to steam down the Hudson past the great array of wharves that are such a feature of this great port. The ships all berthed square on to the river which forms the marvellous harbour for all the largest liners of the world. One saw ships of all nations—American, British, German, French, Italian—each country has its own wharves. When the ships depart it was usually for their own country; the British mainly for Liverpool in those days, the German for Bremen, the French for Cherbourg, and the Italians for Naples or Genoa. It was truly an international clearing-house for the ships of the world.

Passing Jersey City which was on the starboard side, we were soon in New York Bay and abreast the Statue of Liberty, then through the narrows and out into the Atlantic. This was still the days of reciprocating steam engines, and soon we felt the throb of the Lucania's powerful engines. No rival ship was in sight, yet we heard the thud, thud, just as was experienced on the coast of Australia when the Peregrine raced the Iniminca. Across the Atlantic it is a race against time—always against time—and so this twenty-two knot liner was soon pushing the white foam in front of her bows. This was the fastest speed I had travelled at in a steamer, unless it be for those few moments down the Lachine Rapids. The Deutschland, Germany's crack twenty-four knot ship, was now champion of the Atlantic, but the turbine-engined Mauretania and Lusitania were being built and speculation was rife as to what these great Cunard ships would do.

Selecting a berth on the Lucania was my first experience of the fare being based not only on different classes but also different prices for different cabins in each class. McLean and I preferred to have the money at the London end, so booked one of the cheaper two-berth cabins. The Lucania was a popular ship and carried many passengers, but they fraternized far less than those I had travelled with in Australia and New Zealand as well as on the Rimutaka; this was probably due to the number of different nationals on board. We met. a fine page 297 young English woman who was a fellow passenger; I mention her because she was none other than the daughter of the Vicar of Wakefield.

We had a good trip across the Atlantic and in about five days were approaching the southern shores of Ireland. Passing the famous Fastnet Rock lighthouse, we were next off Krurale Head and soon steaming into Cork Harbour. Our stay at Queenstown was short. Passing several lightships at the southeastern point of Ireland, we were in St. George's Channel, then the Irish Sea, as we steamed past Holyhead and Anglesey Islands. Arriving at Liverpool in the early morning I experienced the same thrill that came to me each time I reached the Old Country in the Claverhill and Savan. It was grand to be back in England.

It was not long before the southern passengers were seated in the boat express and the train speeding on its non-stop run to London. The blossoms and new leaves of early spring, and the rolling downs of England were as beautiful as at any time of the year. We arrived at one o'clock on Saturday—the day of the great football Cup Final. Leaving our luggage at the station, we hurriedly had something to eat and took a cab across London to catch a train to Crystal Palace where the match was being played. There were eighty thousand people present and, arriving late, we could not get a seat, or even a place to see the game. It was no use getting just a glimpse of such a match, similar to the glimpse I got of the Derby three years earlier. There were boys selling old fruit cases and candle boxes on which one could stand and see over the heads of the crowd in front. Obtaining a box each, McLean and I were soon perched high enough to see the whole field of play. It was in this way that I saw Everton play Newcastle United in the final of 1906. I have already described how all England appeared to go to the Derby. As both teams in this football final came from the north of England, it was the Geordie who appeared to have taken possession of London. He certainly-made a picnic of it, and at the ground his merry laughter and his humorous sayings could be heard wherever one went. Late that night we recovered our luggage and wended our way to Canning Town.

We started at once at James Boyd's Engineering School and were soon in the midst of concentrated cramming preparatory page 298 to sitting for our Chiefs' Certificates. This time the examination papers covered more advanced engineering; the oral test being much more searching. It was a proud young man who walked into the cable office to tell his mother that she now had a chief engineer in her family.