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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Winter 2017 issue

Alfred Thomas Osmond’s Diary and Letters

Alfred Thomas Osmond’s diary and letters relating to his sea voyage from Southampton to Calcutta and his early months in Calcutta. 1852 -1853. Alfred Osmond was the son of Rosemary Monk’s great great great Grandfather William, who was a stonemason at Salisbury Cathedral.

First letter.          P&O ship Bentinck

N. Atlantic Ocean – about 150 miles from Teneriffe

Tuesday Nov.23rd 1852

My Dear Father,

As we are now approaching Teneriffe where we shall probably remain a day or two, I will commence a letter. I hope you will have no difficulty in reading it when done for I am not yet accustomed  to the motion of the vessel which somewhat interferes with writing as well as other things. I keep a diary of course, and will commence by giving you an account of our voyage so far, extracted from my notes.

We left the Docks at Southampton as William has told you, at about half past one on Monday. I remained on deck as long as I could distinguish William and Joseph on shore and then went down to the Saloon. Before I had been there many minutes I heard much noise on deck and the fearful cry of “Man Overboard”. I rushed up, and found the men lowering a boat to the rescue. The officer in charge of the boat caught sight of the poor fellow once, but before they could reach him he sunk to rise no more. He and many others of the crew were drunk at the time, which the Captain tells me is generally the case on leaving shore. They were employed about some part of the rigging, and 2 or 3 others were only saved by clinging to a rope. This was a sad beginning – let us hope the voyage will terminate more happily! At half past 4 we passed the Needles, since which time we have not seen land. I expected to have seen something of the Portuguese coast and the various Capes as we pass along, but I find we are rarely nearer than 100 or 200 miles to the land.  The first night was rather rough, and as I was just beginning to feel queer, I did not sleep very comfortably.

On Tuesday morning we were leaving the Channel, being in what sailors call the “Chops of the Channel”. We spoke with a French Brig about 10am. Entered the Bay of Biscay about 6pm. The weather was by this time quite boisterous and we had what is nautically termed a “very dirty night”. I felt very uncomfortable, but as yet had not really been sick. On Wednesday morning I had a short fit of sickness, since which time I have been perfectly well. I am considered a first rate sailor – many of the crew were ill longer than I was and our doctor (who is on sea for the first time) was ill nearly the whole week, so I may consider myself fortunate. The whole of Wednesday and the following night we had heavy rain and a tremendous swell. The pitching and rolling of the vessel was quite fearful, at least to me, and our captain says he has never had a worse passage across the Bay. It was a great relief on Thursday morning to find the sun shining brightly. We found this morning also an evident change in the temperature, we were as our chief officer remarked “beginning to cheat the winter”. About half past one we exchanged signals with some men at war. One of them was Admiral Corry’s vessel the “Prince Regent”. Passed several other vessels during the day. On Friday the weather changed again, a very heavy sea and gale of wind with rain. Still getting warmer, the thermometer averaged 65 today. Was on deck between 9 and 10 in the evening and saw some lightning.

Saturday (20th) still wind and rain. The Captain told me at breakfast that there was a beautiful rainbow about 11 o’clock last night. The colours were clearly distinguishable which is quite unusual in a lunar rainbow. The Officer on the watch also saw a glorious meteor, not an evanescent one as we see in England, for it remained near half an hour.

Sunday (21st) Tremendous pitching and rolling all last night – scarcely slept at all. We have hitherto made an unusually rough passage – average speed not more than 150 miles per day. Captain read the Church service this morning at half past 10 in the Saloon. Monday (22nd) Fine weather is come at last. The great Atlantic is as calm as Southampton Water on a fine day. Thermometer at 71 before breakfast, yet it does not seem very warm on account of the pleasant sea breeze. I walked on deck 2 hours after tea this evening. It was a splendid moonlight night, such as I have rarely seen, and a light balmy breeze blowing, which after the heat of the day, seemed the most delightful thing I have ever experienced. Average temperature of this day was 72. Fancy this at the end of November! We are now steaming away most merrily, wind and weather all in our favour. We have a large cloud of canvas which would do credit to a sailing vessel, and now endeavouring to make up for it by putting on the steam, and crowding all sail. Tuesday (23rd) The weather is still fine and we expect to reach Teneriffe tomorrow morning.

So much for my diary – I will now tell you something of our domestic arrangements, if they may be so called. Our Captain and his lady are exceedingly agreeable people. He evidently does his utmost to make things comfortable to all parties. He has given me a cabin with a bath and co attached to it, which I shall find a great comfort as we get into really warm weather. The officers are one and all, the most sociable and agreeable fellows I ever met. Our Doctor is an Irishman and has a full allowance of national wit and humour. He and I are great friends, for, we have more time on our hands than the others and are consequently thrown much together while the others are on duty. The Officers mess consists of the Captain, the Chief or 1st Officer, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Officers, the surgeon, the Chief Engineer and myself – I being a sort of semi-purser – no regular Purser having been appointed in consequence of our having no passengers. The Captain’s wife also joins our mess. We breakfast at 9 – tiffin (or lunch as we should call it) at 12 – dine at 4 – tea at 7 and grog etc at 8. At half past ten all lights are extinguished, so I usually turn in at 10. We are allowed bottled ale, porter, wines and spirits of all kinds as much as we please. Four stewards act as waiters to our mess, and everything is served up in good style. Soup, fish, flesh and fowl every day in abundance. After tea we play chess, draughts and backgammon etc – so you may guess there is no starving on board the “Bentinck”. There are advantages and disadvantages in having no passengers. The advantages are that there is no crowding in the saloon or in the cabins and this is certainly a great thing in the extremely hot weather which we may soon expect. But when there are passengers, a good band of music is enjoyed, and the immense saloon is brilliantly lighted and the Officers say it is quite a round of amusements, concerts, balls etc. When the weather becomes very hot, they cover the quarter deck with an awning, and these performances take place there. This is especially the case on the Mediterranean when they are plying from Southampton to Alexandria.

There is a second set of inferior officers who sport the gold band etc. Viz:- the engineers, of whom there are five or six – they mess by themselves in some remote corner which I have not discovered yet. Then there are the Stewards, the Quarter Masters, Carpenters, Boiler Makers, Firemen, Butcher, Able Seamen, ordinary Seamen and apprentices nearly 100 altogether.

November (24th)  ½ past 10 am. - We are now anchored at Santa Cruz, so I will finish this, hoping to send it by a steamer which is expected this evening or tomorrow morning from the Cape. At 6pm yesterday, passed a small island called “The Salvoges”. It was about 20 miles west of us and looked like a mound or barrow. I was on deck early this morning and found we were approaching Teneriffe. We cast anchor at Santa Cruz (the chief town) about 8.45. A health boat was immediately sent out to examine our Bill of Health etc. The officer in charge was a Spaniard. 2 Englishmen were with him and the crew 7 in number, were Spaniards.

The appearance of the island as we approached was very beautiful. It seemed to be composed of a multitude of conical hills, some very lofty – evidently the result of volcanic action. Three small rocks, called the Allagnas, are detached at the northern extremity – not unlike the needles of the Isle of Wight. Clouds were resting upon and concealing the tops of the highest hills. The celebrated Peak (which is 13 thousand feet high) lies quite behind the hills which we see on this side. The top of the Peak is rarely visible, but we were fortunate enough to obtain a glimpse of it occasionally as the clouds partially cleared away – we could distinctly see the snow lying about the top of it.

The town of Santa Cruz lies upon a level spot surrounded at the back and sides by the hills, and open to the sea in front above which it is scarcely raised. The houses are of a plain character, generally white – and we can see numbers of country villas on the sides of the hills beyond the town.

There are several towers or campasisles(?), which I hope to see more of when we land. The town appears to be strongly fortified, indeed it must be so, as Lord Nelson was defeated in his attempt to take it. There are but few vessels at Santa Cruz, the principal port being on the other side of the island – tho’ Santa Cruz is the chief town. I can see this from this saloon as I write, a great number of windmills at work. I cannot discover any trees except in the gardens – if there are any they must be of small size – or we should surely see them – we are not more than half a mile from the shore.

I must finish this letter this morning, because a steamer is expected from the Cape today and we shall then be able to send our letter off at once. It is very warm today – warmer than we generally have it in summer in England and the Captain says we shall find it still hotter on shore – I can scarcely believe it is November. I do not know whether we shall land today – everybody is busy letter writing. The Captain went off just now in his gig to make arrangements for “coaling” as they term it. We are to take on about 650 tons on board here – we consume from 40 – 50 tons a day according to the speed. Rather an expensive thing isn’t it? The heat as you approach the engine room or boilers is something quite fearful; how the poor firemen stand it I cannot imagine – and this vessel is going to ply between Calcutta and Suez! through the Red Sea where the average temperature is 90!! I must now conclude and hoping that this will reach you safely and find you all well.

I remain, my dear Father with love to all the dear party, Your ever affectionate son,

          Alfred T. Osmond

Santa Cruz