[From Manx Note Book vol 3]
UGH CROW WAS BORN IN RAMSEY IN
HE LOST HIS RIGHT EYE IN INFANCY; AND NEARLY LOST HIS life by drowning at the age of twelve. He was apprenticed in his native town to the trade of boat building; spent two years at it; and then at the age of seventeen went to Whitehaven, and was apprenticed to the sea. In those days Whitehaven had a great foreign trade; and was as a port relatively of more consequence than at present. Crow's first voyage was to the West Indies. The ship sailed with others under convoy. At Cork, where they joined the convoy, he witnessed the impressment of seamen for the Royal Navy. All his life he nourished hatred, and uttered rough denunciation of the press-gang.
In the West Indies the ship's carpenter deserted; and Crow with his boat-building knowledge took the carpenter's place. He came home to Whitehaven; thence to Memel, and back to Whitehaven, where, through bad fare, he arrived in condition "thin as a lath." His next voyage was to Charleston. He was aloft handling a sail with a fellow apprentice, between whom and himself some words occurred, and the villain letting go the sail exerted his utmost strength to throw Crow off the yard into the sea."Many lives have been lost in the darkness of the night through the malice of villains of the same disposition." These words uttered by an old sea-captain are noticeable. In Charleston he became I a victim to the political jealousies of the times': was thrown by the police into filthy prison, among hundreds even more wretched than himself,-not to be released but by payment of jail fees to the amount of all his voyage wages. There, however, he picked up two choice bits of information about his native Island:, That it turns round every seven years; and that unless a fire be kept burning on it night and day it will certainly sink into the sea.' He was amused to find so romantic an idea entertained.'
'From Charleston he sailed to Liverpool ; thence to the Baltic; back to Whitehaven; away to Drontheim; back to Belfast; and off again to Memel.
At Elsinore the ship was got aground by a drunken captain; and got afloat greatly by Crow's exertions; then she was driven by adverse winds into a Norwegian port, where she lay for eleven weeks. When she got to sea again, captain and crew were drunk, and the ship left to the apprentices, and by their good guidance, and by much good luck, was brought into the port of Stornoway. The voyage was tedious and disastrous : " had the brandy and gin lasted they had never got home at all." Finally the vessel got on Lancaster sands. This voyage completed Crow's apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship completed, he sailed as carpenter to the West Indies; and made some voyages to lreland,-, by which time he had saved enough money to buy himself some articles of clothing and a quadrant.' On the next voyage to the West Indies, the captain placed in promotion over him a second-mate certainly not better qualified than himself.' Sense of injustice wrought in Crow's mind : he determined to leave his captain; and did so at Kingston, by engaging himself as second mate on another ship. But the old captain with bailiff, constables and soldiers boarded his new ship, and soon had Crow into noxious prison; then into the workhouse; and at last had him carried on board his ship by force, his ,articles of clothing and quadrant" lost. He saved the ship from foundering all the same, on the home voyage; and all the same was fairly cut adrift in Lancaster without a farthing in his pocket.'
This was the training of our viking Hugh Crow, rough necessarily to make a viking. In after years he used to console this same brutal captain by telling him it had been perhaps all for the best.'
Bent on recovering his "articles of clothing and quadrant" he went out again to Kingston; by the hardy Norse blood in him, quite cheerful and even joyous. The voyage was stormy,-"a succession of dreadful gales." "Many a stormy night did I endeavour to rally their drooping spirits by singing sea songs."
Ye gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease,
How little do ye think of the dangers of the seas.
At Kingston no "articles of clothing and quadrant" were to be found. But the tide of fortune had turned. Fortune had found him brave, and favoured him. He joined a Liverpool ship as second mate, then in Kingston, Jamaica, 1788. On the voyage home, in a tremendous gale in the night, the water rushed in upon the main deck, and "we had the utmost difficulty and toil to save her from foundering." "I was on the main deck up to the knees in water tolling and cheering on the men, and the chief mate slung in ropes over the bows endeavouring to stuff the hawse holes."
After his return, a ship grounded in the dock mouth at Liverpool. Crow volunteered his services. She was lightened in an incredibly short time ; got afloat and saved. It was considered a "smart achievement." Crow received from the Underwriters a sum of money" with which he bought 'the first respectable suit of clothes he ever possessed.' He was now twenty-four; and at this time had several offers to go as second mate to the coast of Africa. He had what he calls "prejudices"; and went to Jamaica in unexceptionable trade. At sea he had a short effective method with the men, such as were backward to perform hazardous or difficult duty aloft. "I went to the mast-head myself and down by the lift." Of course "lie in ; and no grumbling" was then "the word."
In 1790 his friends overruled his "prejudices" against an African voyage. He was twenty-five; and was appointed chief mate of a beautiful brig. They sailed to Rotterdam to take in spirits as cargo for the Gold Coast. Here begins the second epoch of his life. As mate, he made four African voyages; but on the fourth, was captured by a French ship, and brought to L'Orient. He spent a whole year in France-at L'Orlent, at Quimper, and in the hospital at Pontoise. At Pontoise he improved himself in arithmetic, and acquired a knowledge of logarithms from an English fellow-prisoner. At last, being well again, he contrived to escape; wandered through the country with a tricolor cockade in his hat, answered in Manx to all questions, and passed for a Breton ; at last got to Havre, and thence on a Danish vessel to England.
In Liverpool he met his brother William Crow, who was also mate of a Guineaman. William became a captain in the African trade ; but died soon after.
Crow was at sea again in 1795, as mate in the African trade. but immediately on his return to Liverpool, a mark of high approbation on the part of the employers, he was appointed Captain of the "Will," and in 1798 sailed on his first voyage in that ship.
We have sketched his training, we can picture to our fancy the figure of the man : square-built, solid, of the Manx type ; - of invincible integrity , with open fearless face, beaten by rain and sea-spray; full of experiences. We have one word to say of his character. That too was of the Manx type; a man to be trusted ; and not to be comprehended till trusted. A Liverpool shipowner complained to Mr. Aspinall, owner of the Will":
" I give my Captains very long instructions " said he, yet they can make hardly any money for us . .. what kind of instructions did you give your Captain ? "-" Why . . we had a pint of wine together at Beat's Hotel ...and I told him , "Crow ! mind your eye . . for you will find many ships at Bonity. !' -, "Crow ? - I know the young man well . . he has only one eye.'-,. True! but that's a piercer . My instructions, in effect, were nearly as brief as,, Crow! mind your eye."
Long before the suppression of the African trade, Mr. Wilberforce had obtained from Parliament in 1792, laws for its better regulation. One of his regulations was that a bounty of £100 should be paid to all captains who should land their cargoes without losing more than a certain percentage on the voyage. On his first voyage Crow received his bounty; and again and again on subsequent voyages.
The Guineamen of those days went armed. On his second voyage "a fast sailing schooner brushed up alongside, hoisted French colours and began to fire ;"we cooled his courage with a few broadsides and he sheered off before the wind."
When the "Will" was ready to leave Bonny for the West Indies, Crow's brother arrived in command of the "Charlotte," bringing intelligence that three French frigates were on the coast, and might be expected at Bonny. There were nine Guinearnen in all there.
We ventured to drop down, and come to anchor in a line with- in four or five miles of the Frenchmen. There we lay seven days without their daring to attack us. They at length weighed anchor and stood from the coast, and when I thought all was clear I put to sea."
On the same voyage in the latitude of Tobago, the "Will" fought an action lasting nine hours, with a French privateer brig.
"All our top-gallant masts were shot away, our sails cut up, and our top-masts wounded; three shots in the mizein-mast, four in the mizen-mast, our main-crosstrees shot away, our hull much injured, and our rigging cut up that we had hardly a brace or a stay so much left standing. One of the enemy's nine pound shot went into the men's room below and wounded twelve blacks."
Still he got his bounty of £100 for the condition of his cargo. Two more voyages in the"Will" were is equally successful though less adventurous.
"Crow has come again, and as usual his whites and his blacks are as plump as cotton bags," was a saying in Kingston, when Crow arrived. About this time he received two public presentations :-A piece of plate from the underwriters and merchants of Liverpool, for his meritorious conduct in the river Boriny; and a piece of plate from the underwriters of Lloyd's Coffee House, for his gallant defence of his ship in the action at sea with the French privateer. He had produced a moral effect,-admirable to interested contemporaries; and we hope to disinterested posterity.
In 1803, he sailed in the "Ceres." The "Ceres" was well armed: and Crow by mistake nearly fought an action at sea with an English Indiaman, who had mistaken him for French. On this voyage he fell ill; and at its conclusion spent a year on shore.
In 1806, he was at sea in the "Mary," a fine ship armed with 28 guns, and a crew of 6o seamen. On the middle passage, in the latitude of Tobago, the "Mary" fought a running aalon from ten in the evening till daylight, with two English sloops of war, the Dart and the Wolverine, mistaking them for French privateers from Cayenne.
"The man at the masthead saw two sail a long way ahead; we hauled our wind to southward ; they both tacked . . I distinguished them to be powerful vessels of war. At 6 p.m. night came on, dark, with heavy squalls and rain at 9 p.in., a sail to windward we bore away westward, and made all sail . . he stood after us, and made signals to his consort . . he loomed large in the obscurity, came up astern and hailed us, ordering us to bring to . . well aware that French cruizers had a trick of hailing in English, I replied ' that I would not, and that no one should bring to in those seas, and in the night.' (Admirable and honest Manxman). He fired two shots, and we returned him one . . a few minutes after, I saw a ship close to us with her star-board tacks on board, evidently the consort . . she passed under our stern, and also hailed us . . I answered 'that no strange vessel should bring us to in those seas during the night' . . she held on her course, and spoke the other vessel . they both made sail after us. The first came up very fast she was a large brig . . she again hailed us. . I made the same answer as before. She then rounded to and poured a broadside into our starboard quarter . we returned her fire at close quarters for some time . . she then took her station at some distance, and we fought for an hour .when her consort, the ship, came up, on our larboard side they both closed and simultaneously engaged us. I was employed animating the crew by all the cheering language I could muster, and in giving directions for the elevation of the guns . . while thus engaged I received a violent blow from a splinter on the left arm, near the shoulder, which staggered me a good deal my crew stood boldly to their quarters and fought like heroes it was now past mid night . . no fatality had yet occurred amongst us . . then a large shot took ofr the boatswain's both thighs . . another, entering the men's room below, wounded a great number of blacks, five of whom died . . several of my crew were soon wounded . . we continued to blaze away . . iat length, after nearly six hours, the ship all at once backed her topsails and dropped astern . . but . . she made sail again . . carrle up to us and resumed the action as fiercely as ever : . we engaged them both, tooth and nail, till the grey of the morning . . when I was struck so violently on my left side by a splinter, that I fell breathless and senseless on the deck . . the man at the helm sang out that the Captain was killed . . all began to leave their quarters and gather round me . . before I could recover breath, the chief mate said 'Sir, we have struck the colours !" . . I besought them~ again to hoist the colours . . three or four more broadsides . . we might carry away their masts . . my entreaties were in vain a lantern was hoisted at the peak to signify that we had struck I was carried from the deck and laid on a mattress in the cabin When their boats came alongside, those who boarded us were found to be our own countrymen . . we had been fighting all the while two English men-of-war, the "Dart," sloop of war, 30 guns, and the "Wolverine, " 18 guns. Our main mast was nearly gone, and our bowsprit was in the same state . . three of our guns were dismounted . . our sails and rigging were nearly cut to pieces the lower fore-studding sail was burned to tinder . . ."
He arrived in Liverpool on the 2:nd May, 1807; the African Slave Trade had been abolished the day before his arrival. But on landing he was solicited to take command of the "Kitty's Amelia," which had been cleared out previous to the passing of the Abolition Ad. It was his last voyage, like all the others successful, and even more arduous. He rescued the crew and some of the cargo of another ship that had been wrecked. They brought sickness with them, which attacked Crow's cargo and crew. Fire broke out in the middle passage :-
"A dense cloud of smoke was issuing from below. I found the people in the act of cutting away the stern and quarter boats . . ' Is it possible, my lads! that you can desert me.' . . I was the first man to venture below . the fire was blazing on the starboard side, there were forty-five barrels of gunpowder in the magazine a thrill of despair ran through my whole frame by a strong mental effort I suppressed my feelings . . and only thought of active exertion unconnected with the thought of imminent danger. . Our spare sails were stowed close at hand. These were dragged out, and by extraordinary a&i,vity we succeeded in throwing them over the flames, which they so far checked that we gained time to obtain a good supply of water down the hatchway . . ."
"On our arrival at Kingston I found sixteen sail of African ships, some of which had been there five or six months with the greater part of their cargoes unsold. . . The first thing I saw on landing was an advertisement in both the Kingston papers that 'Captain Crow had arrived with the finest cargo of negroes ever brought to Kingston.' On the fifth day after we began to sell not a single negro was left on board."
It was his last voyage. He sent the "Kitty's Amelia" to Liverpool in charge of another ; and came home as a passenger.
The third epoch of his life remains to be told. He had got his son into the navy,-Dr. Kelly using his influence with his brother-in-law, Admiral Russel, to further his interests. "Tell the warlike Crow to send me his son, that I may train him up to be such a man as hisfather." The boy, however, turned out a disappointment. He died at Lisbon in 1812.
Meanwhile Captain Crow had retired from the sea. He bought a small estate near Ramsey; and set himself to improve it.
In 1812 he was proposed and appointed a member of the House of Keys, but declined that distinaion. " After the melancholy death of my son, I continued to lay off and on, and to wander about seeking to divert my mind."
Like a ship that at anchor rides,
And feels the motion of the tides,
And tugs its anchor tow.
In 1817 he went to Liverpool again, where, among sights and society more congenial, he spent his remaining years. He is buried in Kirk Maughold Churchyard.
---- he whose lot was cast
On the relentless sea, that held him fast
On chance dependant, and that fickle star
Of power, though long and melancholy war.
JOHN QUINE, B.A