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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

Autumn 2017 issue

Alfred Thomas Osmond’s Diary and Letters

Continuing the series of diaries and letters of Alfred Thomas Osmond, 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.

Wednesday December 8th, 1852

Very sultry today. This evening we got amongst a shoal of porpoises. There must have been some hundreds of them and they accompanied us some miles. We are now approaching the equator and the seamen are preparing for the ceremony of crossing the line. Soon after dark this evening a rocket was sent up from the side of the vessel and a hoarse voice hailed the ship. This was “Neptune’s Secretary” who came to announce that the King of the Sea would pay us a visit tomorrow to ‘christen and shave’ those on board who have not yet crossed the line. The boat which the secretary was supposed to have come in was a tub full of pitch, oil etc. It was set on fire and set adrift – we could see it blazing for a long time in our wake. The secretary handed two letters to the Officer on watch, one to the Captain (which I copied below) and one addressed to Mr Angrove (3rd officer), the Doctor and myself informing us that we can escape the shaving process by paying a fine. This I intend doing as I don’t relish the idea of being tarred and feathered.

Copy of Neptune’s letter

“Dec.7th

On crossing the equatorial Line.

Sir,

      I am given to understand that there are a great many who have not been christened in the name of the God of the Sea. I this evening will pay my addresses to the P&O S.Ship Bentinck and with your permission will christen them in the morning of the crossing.

Names of those in Office:

Neptune: I. Furlong
Secretary of the Ocean: A. Allen}
Wife: I.Ingham
Doctor: W.Sutton
Child: W.Seymour
Doctor’s Mate: J.May
Barber: I.Miller
Barber’s Mate: R.Mills

Police Force: R.Newman – Sergeant    J.Bartlett, Corporal
J.Yeates – No.1     E. Budden  No.2
W.Payne – No.3
Neptune’s Bears:E.Dagwell –
J.Jopp – 2
W.Knapp -3
J.Maby – 4

Names of those who have not crossed – Here followed a list in full of the unfortunates, commencing with our 3rd Officer, the Doctor and myself.

Sir,

With your permission, we will christen your little child in the name of Neptune with a bottle of salt water -. Sir, we can justly and truly say that no violence at all will be used to any one on board.

And now Sir, I beg to remain, Neptune”

This letter was addressed to the Commander of the P&O S.Ship Bentinck from “God of the Ocean”, “with care”. The ceremony is to take place tomorrow, although we shall not cross the line so soon, because it is a convenient day. We shall have some fun as there are more than 30 to be operated upon.

Thursday December 9th.

I have discovered this morning that paying the fine releases us only from the tarring, but not from the ducking etc. Finding preparations going on in earnest after breakfast, I went to my cabin to prepare for the ducking by getting into some dirty white trousers etc. While there Neptune’s police came for me. I was obliged to go with them and was taken below with the Doctor and 3rd Officer and confined in a cabin. All the unfortunates being of a lower grade were stowed away in the fore peak. We remained for some time rather impatiently while the “jolly sea God” and all his attendants paraded the quarter deck in procession and christened the captain’s infant son – as they requested leave in the letter. We were then fetched one at a time by the police and conducted on deck in a most ignominious state, blindfold and handcuffed. Being utterly ignorant of the process, I was considerably astounded at the proceedings, though I enjoyed  it heartily. It was no joke, in the first place, stumbling up the ladder to reach the deck blindfold and handcuffed.

The police of course assisted me up, but I knocked my shins about famously to their great delight. I had scarcely reached the deck when I received as I thought a tremendous blow in the face which nearly stunned me, but which I speedily found to be a heavy discharge of water from the hose of the fire-engine, skilfully directed as I afterwards learned by our chief officer. I then found I was being marched guided by the police, all round the deck, the hose playing upon me most unmercifully and the whole crew, officers included, sousing me with buckets of water every step.

After going round the deck we approached Neptune’s throne, which was raised in front of the bath. The bath was formed of a large sail suspended from sundry ropes and stays. It must have been 18 or 20 feet square and the water from 4 to 5 feet deep. I was requested to step up and pay my respects to Neptune (still blindfold, but without handcuffs) and seated by the side of the Monarch on the timbers supporting one side of the bath, with my back to the water. Though I could not see, I guessed my position pretty well, and what was to follow. Sundry questions were put by his majesty which I answered as well as I could, touching my health and business etc. The barber went through the form of shaving me, but my fine had bought off the tar. The doctor ‘prescribed’ but allowed me to omit taking the medicine. Neptune declared me free to pass the line for ever, and in an instant my heels were in the air and I turned an involuntary somersault backwards into the bath, where 4 of Neptune’s assistants called Bears received me and ducked me again and again to their heart’s content. When I had got enough I was allowed to scramble out the opposite side as well as I could. It was the most complete ducking I ever experienced, but not very unpleasant after the first shock was over. I then joined of course in the fun of ducking the others and for about 3 hours we kept it up in style. It rarely happens that there are so many to be operated on, and the Captain assures me I shall never see a better edition of this time honoured ceremony. The dress of Neptune’s wife (Amphitrite) was capital. The fellow who took the part acted it admirably. He borrowed a gown from a stewardess and had a white bonnet with flowers in abundance, an immense crop of ringlets made, I believe, of rope yarn. The gown was looped up on one side as high as the knee, quite in the Diana style. Neptune himself was in sheep skins, and wore a kind of double crown, manufactured of tin and daubed with red and yellow ochre.

The police had oilskin coats and helmets and their faces, hands and feet (sailors don’t indulge in shoes and stockings) were covered with red Ochre, giving them quite a fiery appearance. The Red Ochre disappeared at a very early stage of the proceedings, for the police, of course, got a sousing themselves with each victim as they led them round the deck. When there were but few remaining to be ducked, a very amusing incident happened. The spar which supported part of the bath and Neptune’s throne, suddenly broke; and the Sea God, Amphitrite, the barber, Doctor and all were precipitated to the deck and about three fourths of the water escaped carrying everything before it. It swept the deck from bow to stern and everybody got a share of the sousing. This caused a deal of amusement. The damage was soon repaired, and the ducking completed. When the last had been polished off Neptune and Co. formed a procession again. Neptune, his wife, child and secretary seated on a gun carriage drawn by sailors, his attendants and all crew following. They stopped at the quarter deck to give three cheers each for the Captain, his wife and son – Amphitrite sang a song. “The flag that’s brave”, - the Captain thanked them and ordered grog all round, and the proceedings terminated by their parading the deck, all singing “Rule Britannia”. We were at least 3 hours in our drenched state, but as we were constantly moving, and giving and receiving fresh duckings every minute it was of little consequence. We drank a little brandy and got into dry suits as quickly as possible and are none the worse for it. Those who made much resistance were punished in proportion. Our doctor objected strongly to the whole proceeding and consequently got a ducking which he will not easily forget. I had a tolerable share, but was not ill used, as I did not rebel. The whole affair passed off well – a few seamen were rather elevated in the evening, and one, who was very pugnacious was put in irons, but on the whole, it passed off as quietly as could be expected.

 I did not forget that it is Harry’s birthday – I drank his health quietly to myself after dinner.