Seven Years in a Sailing Ship

By Bridget Gillen

I was married on August 21, 1888 and went from Sligo to Cardiff to sail on the British Barque William Duthie to Port Elizabeth on the South African Coast with a cargo of coal. Visited Casey's grave, the informer, and visited the prison where O'Donnell was hanged. Casey is buried among the Kaffers. Loaded from there to Chittagong, India. Loaded a cargo of jute for Boston in the United States.

The night before we were to sail the ship took fire and burned for four days. After being towed to the beach a British regiment stationed at Chittagong fired another ship but took no effect. All hands were called. We in the cabin quarters lost everything except my dog. We escaped in our nightclothes. My husband grabbed the ship's papers but the cash box was lost along with a sum of money I had and valuable cups and china which I had collected. I was loaded into a boat and was landed ashore with my dog. We remained in Chittagong for three weeks until the ship's affairs were settled up, then we came to Calcutta and remained a fortnight, awaiting a mail boat, and then started home to London. We sailed through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, called at Columbo and visited Lipton's Tea Gardens. We also visited Saint John's Church in Madras and called at Aden and Malta We arrived in London and came home to Rosses Point after two weeks.

After remaining at home for eleven months I sailed from Liverpool on the City of Paris passenger ship to New York to join my husband in Boston. He was now master of the James Livesey.

We sailed to Bangor, Port of Maine, and loaded goods for Port Glasgow. We met with bad weather and the ship was top heavy and was in danger of capsizing and one night the storm was awful and the Chief Officer had to almost swim onto the main deck with a hatchet in his hand and cut the ropes to let go the main sail.

We again loaded a cargo of coal for Rangoon and took a cargo of tea to Santos in Brazil. We had to wait three months to get discharged. The yellow fever epidemic was at its height, There were about five hundred vessels in the River and not one soul aboard of them, all dead from the fever. We lost five of our crew with it. My husband and his nephew took it and I nursed them in a hotel where we got rooms. I helped to nurse several Captains that were there. I took it on Christmas Eve and my brother also took it. The death rate at the time was one hundred and fifty a day. It lasted for five days. They could not get enough coffins to bury them and they had to bring the corpses, five or six at a time, and just dig a grave and put them all in together.

We sailed in ballast to New Zealand to Olafo Heads. I was one hundred and fifty days on that voyage. We sailed from there to Littleton, New Zealand, and loaded a general cargo for London. Twenty-one days after leaving Littleton we met with bad weather. We were coming near the Horn and one day the gale was that bad that one sea came over the poop and broke the wheel in two. There were two men at the wheel when it was broken. They were carried along the poop and got jammed between two skylights and were saved from being swept overboard. My husband had to swing to a rope. The sea washed under him. The ventilators on the decks carried away and the waters came down into the cabin. The water in my room was edge to edge with my bed. My husband came down to see me and he was up to his knees in water. The vessel shipped another sea and carried away the bulwarks on the main deck and broke ten stanchions on one side and eight on the other side, so there was no protection on the main decks. We had to turn tapes along from one stanchion to the other and the few that were left to protect the men going back and forward to the wheel. The galley was smashed so we couldn't cook. No food, only boiling some water in a little fireplace in the cabin to make some coffee. We had to live on that for four days. After a week we got the wheel mended and while it was broken we had to steer the ship with ropes tied onto the rudder and four men had to do it, two each side, and when it got wild we had to clear up all the sails and let her drift with the wind.

We sailed one hundred and fifty days to London and when we arrived there came crowds to the dock to see the ship and I wondered how we managed to get home safe.

Bridget Gillen was married to Captain Michael Gillen. They lived in Crescent Lodge.