[From Continuation of a Home Tour, 1837]




Steam Communication from Liverpool to Glasgow — Packet Agent at Ramsey — Departure — Boarding a Steamer at Night — Sickness — Mull of Galloway — Ailsa Craig — The Clyde — The Broomielaw — Inland Navigation — The Maid of Morven Steamer — The Vessel en Deshabille — Voyage to Greenock — The Kyles of Bute — Lochgoilhead — Creenin Canal — Korryvrekan — Island of Eisdale — Arrive at Oban.

THE people at Douglas know, or care to know very little of the proceedings of the Liverpool steamers, that, twice a week, wind and weather permitting, call for passengers at the sister port of Ramsey, on their way to Glasgow. Having made up my mind to travel by this conveyance, such were the obstacles thrown in my way with regard to information, when I enquired particulars at Douglas, that I was well nigh dissuaded from undertaking the voyage altogether. However, since contingencies so frequently control our comfort, and combine to retard our progress through life, any thing, to my mind, is better than a retrograde movement ; therefore, I was averse to the counsel of an individual long resident in the island, who anxiously laboured to persuade me to return whence I came, and re-embark at Liverpool. Finally, I resolved to go and wait the arrival of a vessel at Ramsey, under all the chances of meeting with disappointment.

As the hour of arrival of the vessel off the port is usually in the middle of the night, I departed accordingly the preceding day, and took up my quarters under the auspices of the landlord of the inn, who, besides the functions of his hostelry at Ramsey, is entrusted by the steam packet proprietors at Liverpool with the agency of their establishment.

Upon enquiry, I immediately learnt that the packets, with an exception in case of rough weather, are regular and punctual in their visits ; in fact, they arrive usually between the hours of midnight and two in the morning, lay to, fire a gun, hoist a light, and the passengers go on board from the shore in a boat. Five or six other passengers were already waiting in the house, all of whom had received intimation that little time would be allowed for preparation in the morning; however, they were told that a look-out would be had for the vessel, and at least sufficient notice given for departure. it was lucky I paid little heed to the latter comfortable assurance; on the contrary, I disposed of myself and luggage so as to be ready to start on an alarm at five minutes’ warning ; and, after having retired to my apartment at the top of a narrow flight of stairs, where all the doors in the same passage were immediately contiguous to one another, at an early hour all the inmates of the house were silent in repose.

According to appointment, at two o’clock in the morning sure enough, or thereabouts, up stairs hurried the landlord, vociferating all the way, as if the house were on fire, and flames bursting out of the windows. " Get up ! get up ! all of ye," he said; " you’ll be too late — the packet’s come — she has hove to — be down directly, or you’ll lose your passage !" Then, thumping stoutly with his fist at every body’s door, he presented a light to the proffered candle-end of each, ran down stairs again at the risk of breaking his neck, and thence disappeared out of the house, on his way to the beach. Thin partitions now began perpetually to creak, and the barefooted, newly risen from their beds, stamped heavily on the floor : some yawned, — others grumbled ; but almost every one ejaculated either a want or a wish. One had lost a shoe, another had got a wrong boot, and the tallow stump of a third was crackling in the socket. No one was in the way to render assistance, and the landlord’s emphatic injunction rang in the ears of all. For my part, determined to take the best possible care of myself, I locked my door, snuffed my candle, set to work in right earnest, and in five minutes was ready on the landing-place. Thence I strode down stairs, out of doors, and away in the dark to the sea-shore, where, at the end of the jetty, a stiff rowing-boat, manned by three or four stout sailors, lay ready to receive us. In a few minutes the whole of the passengers had arrived ; the rowers had taken their places ; one by one the former stepped in, staggering and tumbling into their seats ; the cockswain held on, tugging hard at the boat hook; and the phosphoric waves splashed heavily, like molten silver, over the boat’s bows. Some people now sat upon wet boards, others on dry ; the luggage was all on board ; the cockswain pushed away from the jetty ; the boat was trimmed ; the oars set to work ; and a dim lanthorn at the end of a boat-hook, a mere glow-worm in the dark, now marked the progress of our skiff through the waves towards the gallant steamer, whose resplendent blue light softly blazed in the distance like a little moon. On approaching the steamer, a hoarse grunting voice from above immediately greeted our arrival; a rope flung on hoard was quickly caught and made fast; hauling lustily thereon, in despite of rolling and heaving and hissing, we swang round against the vessel’s huge black side, mounted the ladder, while the men still held on, and the luggage was taken on board ; and then the toppling boat being again adrift, the steam was set on, and the vessel made progress on her way.

Few locomotive operations are more disagreeable than thus boarding a large steamer at sea in the middle of the night, particularly since the traveller, constrained to passive performance in the drama of life, feels dismally conscious that he no more contributes to the energies that propel him on his way, than one of his own trunks or portrnanteaus. He stands, as it were, an interloper on board among men and things, faces that he never saw before, and whose outline he is unable to distinguish, and even deprived of the privilege of participating on equal terms with the passengers below in comfortable or uncomfortable sleep. Besides, the animal spirits, in despite of the philosophy of the mind, are prone at all times to resent capricious usage, either overflowing by their accelerated torrent the tranquil and pleasing images that fancy before had created, or, like a spent rocket deprived of its projectile force, falling to a lower point than whence they rose. Happy is man at any time to renounce vainglorious notions of self-importance ; and even as a being of the earth is overwhelmed among the magnitudes of creation, so does the landlubber find himself ten times more small when on board a steam-boat.

Hitherto I had not exchanged a word with the captain or any other individual. The former was lonelily pacing the-deck enveloped in a thick cloak and cap, the lappets pulled down over his ears ; the man at the wheel was silent and still, and like myself all the rest had withdrawn to one solitary spot or other. There I sat reclining rather disconsolately upon one of the benches, till the revolving light of the point of Ayre faded away in the distance, the grey tint of the morning began to appear, and finally, the paddles of our steamer thumped the waves of the Mull of Galloway. Here the boisterous hearings of the ocean, counteracted by the stupendous engine’s power, inflicted every plank and beam of the vessel with a vibratory motion, while inexorable old Neptune whispered dismal forebodings in the ear of every fresh-water sailor, doomed now to undergo the worst of mortal trials and suffering. Tickling the inwards with his trident, all intestine matters were forthwith turned directly topsy-turvy, as the little Tritons, claiming the usual tribute for the fishes, remorselessly played their gambols in people’s stomachs, and scampered upwards, and then down again like a riotous regiment of cavalry. In sheer mercy to the victims, kind pity at last, seated on the god’s green locks, accelerated the awful catastrophe; thus hurling the assailants, disgorged pas de charge, helter skelter into their native element.

This troublesome portion of the voyage from Liverpool to Glasgow, where the struggle of conflicting currents torments the waves with perpetual agitation, being once passed, the remainder of the passage may be described as a smooth water excursion ; in fact the sea was as calm all the rest of the way as the Thames at Southend.



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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001