Read Prison Ship Online

Authors: Paul Dowswell

Tags: #General Fiction

Prison Ship

BOOK: Prison Ship
9.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Adventures of a Young Sailor


Paul Dowswell



Chapter 1 HMS

Chapter 2 Enter the Admiral

Chapter 3 The Battle of Copenhagen

Chapter 4 Condemned

Chapter 5 Dead Men

Chapter 6 The Unspeakable Hulk

Chapter 7 Over the Dark Blue Ocean

Chapter 8 The Far Distant Land

Chapter 9 On the Rocks

Chapter 10 Friends and Enemies

Chapter 11 Folly and Ruination

Chapter 12 Exile in Exile

Chapter 13 Fugitives

Chapter 14 Friends Reunited

Chapter 15 Who's for Dinner?

Chapter 16 Adam and Eve

Chapter 17 Alone Again

Chapter 18 Separate Ends?

Fact and Fiction

Some Notes on Sources


Also by Paul Dowswell

J & J
the Morpeths
the Catons

I went to sea to find adventure.
I faced storms and battles, but nothing could
prepare me for the journey which followed.
Sent to the far side of the world for a crime
I didn't commit, I became a prisoner,
thousands of miles from everything I knew.
I was only fifteen


Chapter 1

It was half past three in the morning. I was lying in my hammock, gently swaying with the swell of the sea. Coarse woollen blankets kept me warm, as did the stifling fug of two hundred sleeping men, crammed down here on the lower gun deck of HMS
. It reminded me of the clammy warmth of a stable packed with sheep and cattle.

I had slept deeply since midnight; through the snoring, the sleep-talking, the hacking coughs that most of the crew had, even through the half-hourly chime of the ship's bell. I was dreading the four o'clock bell. That
would be when I would have to tear myself away from my comforting cocoon and face the raw, biting cold of the North Sea in winter.

In blizzard and high winds the Navy still requires a man to climb frost-covered rigging, to haul himself above the deck while his hands turn blue and clumsy in front of his eyes, and to scrub the icy deck with the wind whistling through his meagre shirt and trousers. And who in his right mind would look forward to a trip to the heads, to sit in the open air, bare-arsed in a howling gale, as icy waves hurl freezing spray up around the bow of the ship?

In these last calm moments before the day began, my thoughts began to drift. How lucky I had been to escape the wreck of the frigate
when she sank off the Cornish coast by Pentherick. I still had only a hazy idea who had survived and who had perished, although I was grateful to providence for sparing my two great friends on the frigate, Richard Buckley and Robert Neville. I had rescued the ship's cat Bouncer too, but left him with the landlord's wife at the Royal Oak in Pentherick. It was a better life being a pub cat – plenty of fuss from the customers and plenty of scraps from the kitchen.

I travelled to Plymouth with Richard and Robert the next day and we were sent at once by sea to Portsmouth and a new posting on HMS
. As the three of us stood on the forecastle of the Portsmouth tender, a fierce
wind whipped the clothes on our backs. I didn't care. I was enjoying being a passenger and not having to concern myself with sailing the ship. Richard leaned over to Robert and shouted, ‘So tell us about this ship we're heading for.' As a midshipman Robert had been briefed about his new posting. Not us. As ship's boys we were just expected to do what we were told, no questions.

is a 74 – and most of those seventy-four guns are placed over two gun decks. So she's quite a bit bigger than the

‘What size crew do we have?' said Richard. He sounded wary. I knew how he felt. Neither of us had been on a ship bigger than the

‘There'll be around six hundred men aboard,' said Robert. ‘She's a ship of the line. As soon as we reach Portsmouth we're to set sail for the Baltic. I've been informed that the Danes, Swedes, Russians and Prussians have all banded together against us.'

My heart sank. ‘Why's that?' I said. ‘Isn't it enough to be at war with France and Spain?'

‘Bounders are in a bate about our right to search their ships to see if they're carrying goods for our enemies. We're not at war yet,' Robert said gravely, ‘but we might be soon. I wouldn't be too worried about it. None of these fellows are a match for our Navy.'

‘These 74s,' I said. ‘Are they more dangerous than a frigate?'

Robert wondered. ‘I'd say safer. Frigates go looking for trouble on their own. A ship of the line goes out with the fleet, so there's safety in numbers.'

Our conversation was interrupted by another midshipman. ‘What ho,' he said, barging past Richard and me to shake Robert's hand. ‘You must be Neville. I was told you might be aboard. I'm Oliver Pritchard. I'll be serving on the

With that he placed an arm around Robert's shoulder and marched him away. I overheard him sneering loudly about ‘consorting with the lower orders', an observation I'm sure we were intended to hear.

The boy looked a year or so older than Robert, and was both taller and heavier. ‘Don't like the look of that one,' said Richard, as we watched the two midshipmen talking together on the opposite side of the forecastle. I had to agree. This Pritchard had a thin, mean face, and one eyebrow almost constantly raised in a challenge or a sneer. His whole body seemed to coil with a fidgety tension. I don't think Robert liked him much either. He was standing slightly away from him, with a cool expression on his face.

We didn't talk with Robert for the rest of that short voyage to Portsmouth. It was a shame. We three all knew as soon as we reached the
our easy friendship would have to end. He did pass me on the forecastle though. ‘Jumped up little twerp, that
Pritchard,' he said quietly. ‘I'd keep out of his way, if I were you.'

We sailed into Portsmouth early on the morning of 22nd February 1801. It was a fresh winter's dawn and when I first saw the
the rising sun was glistening on the gold-painted figures that embellished the two great cabins at her stern. The Captain's, on the upper deck, had its own balcony. Beneath it were the windows of the officers' gunroom. I could picture their comfortable interiors and felt a twinge of envy when I imagined how our bare quarters would look.

Robert read my mind. ‘We'll make you an officer yet, Witchall,' he said with a grin. ‘And you too, Buckley.' Surnames in company, Christian names in private. It was a curious friendship the three of us had.

‘Not me, Mister Neville,' said Richard. ‘I'll be back in Massachusetts before I'm old enough to be an officer.'

Although he was an American, Richard's family expected the Royal Navy would give him the best apprenticeship for a life at sea. He was destined to command a ship, I was sure. I couldn't imagine I was. Being a grocer's son and a pressed boy, the best I could expect was to get out of the Navy alive.

Close up, I could see how big the
was. She sat high in the water with her two gun decks, and a
quarterdeck raised above the upper deck. She looked like she packed a ferocious punch.

Going aboard I was struck by the smell of the ship. Several days away on land had given my nose a rest from the sharp whiff of tar, pitch and gunpowder, and the low stench of wet wood, rank bilgewater and several hundred seamen. It took me straight back to my first fearful night on the

We went through the ritual of having our names entered into the muster book. The ship's captain, Thomas Foley, oversaw the proceedings. I liked him at once. He was around my father's age and six foot in height.

‘I've heard reports of your gallant actions on the
, Witchall,' he said to me. Turning to one of the ship's lieutenants he remarked, ‘Perhaps we have the makings of a midshipman here, Mr Mayhew.'

‘Carry on as a powder boy for now,' said the Captain, ‘but we shall keep you in mind if a more suitable appointment presents itself. I'm placing you with Thomas Shepherd, James Kettleby and Vincent Thomas on the starboard afterguard watch. You'll know them from your previous posting. Buckley can join you too. You'll all be manning a quarterdeck carronade.'

I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear when I heard Tom and James had survived the shipwreck – although they were years older than me, they had been good
friends on the
. The towering Welshman Vincent Thomas was from that ship too. I didn't know him so well – other than by my nickname for him, ‘Vengeful Tattoos'. His body was covered with fearsome Biblical quotations. It was good to have Richard serving in the same gun crew too. We could keep an eye out for each other. I wasn't sure about being placed on the quarterdeck though. Being out in the open during a battle would leave us dangerously exposed.

BOOK: Prison Ship
9.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Deep Gods by David Mason
Lilli's Quest by Lila Perl
The Power of a Woman: A Mafia Erotic Romance by Gina Whitney, Leddy Harper
The Namesake by Steven Parlato
Killer Knots by Nancy J. Cohen
Shadows at Predator Reef by Franklin W. Dixon