+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

so he sent for it, and put it on, and we drove
him up to London, comfortable."

This reminiscence is in the height of its
success, when a general proposal is made to
the fresh-complexioned, smooth-faced officer,
with the strange air of simplicity, to tell the
"Butcher's story." But we must reserve the
Butcher's story, together with another not
less curious in its way, for a concluding paper.


THE noble ship with her floating battery of
heavy guns, her hundreds of seamen, smart
and brave, her powder, shot, and shell for
destroying an enemy, and her tons of
provender to supply her crew; with her anxious
captain and aspiring lieutenants, mates,
middys, warrant officers, and her pipeclayed
marines are on board. The long pennon whips
the winds; the hurry, bustle, and noise of
preparation has subsided into the quietude of
everything in its place; when the word passes
that she is "Ready for Sea."

Next morning the newspapers find just
a line and a half in their naval corner for
the announcement—"Her Majesty's ship
Unutterable, 120 guns, went out of harbour
yesterday. After she has been swung, and
had her compasses adjusted, she will sail for
the Pacific."

"Swing a hundred and twenty gun ship?"
says the good citizen interrogatively to himself,
as he devours his coffee and his newspaper at
breakfast. He pays his taxes and is proud of
Britannia and the British navy, but his
admiration of the nautical does not help him to a
solution. "After she has been swung!" he
repeats, and then more immediate affairs draw
off his attention, and he leaves the Unutterable
to undergo the mysterious. He turns to the

Naval officers are of course more wise on
the point, and some of them have more
knowledge of the operation than liking for it.
It's apt to spoil the paint now and then, and
gives trouble, and upsets some of their arrangements.
Many, it must be confessed, have
more experience than science in their
composition, and when they let out their true
feeling, indulge, perhaps, in a half growl, in
which the words "new-fangled" and "deal of
trouble" might be heard. But the operation
goes on nevertheless, and little doubt but the
toil is forgotten and the growl repented when
far, far at sea, a murky sky shuts out the
sun and the stars, and forbids heaven to tell
the navigator where he iswith a waste of
waters, hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles
around him, he has nought but his figures and
his little trembling needles of magnetised iron
to guide him on his way; to direct him wide
of the sunken rock and the sandy shoal as he
nears the wished-for coast.

The loss of British ships by wreck has been
stated at between five and six hundred in a
yearor about "a ship and a half-a-day"
This terrible loss has been ascribed to many
causesto the tides and currents of the ocean;
to imperfect logs; inaccurate charts; unsteady
steerage; inattention to the lead; stress of
weather; defective ships, and defective
management; but last, if not greatest, says
Captain Johnson, who gives this catalogue of
sources of disaster, we have the errors of the
compass. These errors were noticednow
nearly a couple of centuries ago, and from
those days to the present time careful mariners
have often called attention to the subject.
"Officers in charge of convoys during the
war," continues Captain Johnson, "will
probably remember the care with which the
general signal was displayed at sunset, to
steer a given course during the night," with
what alacrity that signal was repeated by the
ships of war in their stations, and answered
by every merchant-vessel in the fleet; and
they will also possibly remember with what
surprise,—nay, indignation,—they observed
when daylight came, almost the entire convoy
dispersed over the ocean as far as the eye
could reach, and mayhap a suspicious looking
stranger or two escorting those farthest away,
further astray, in despite of all the shots fired
during a morning watch to recall them. That
such dispersements were in part attributable
to the differences of the compasses in each
ship, there can be no doubt; but the greatest
delinquents in this particular, in all
probability, were not the merchant vessels, but
rather the ships of war; the attractive power
of their guns upon the compasses being now a
well-known and constantly proved fact."

The Apollo frigate, and forty merchantmen
of her convoy, in 1803 were wrecked together
on the coast of Portugal, when they believed
themselves to be two hundred miles to the
westward. The error of the frigate's compasses
is believed to have been the cause of the
disaster; and a similar belief exists with
respect to the dreadful wrecks of our line-of-
battle ships on the coasts of Jutland and
Holland in 1811. The wreck of the Reliance,
Indiaman, on the coast of France, when one
hundred and nine lives were lost, in 1842, is
another painful accident ascribed to errors of
the compasses induced by the presence on
board of a large iron tank forty-six feet long,
the attraction of which had been overlooked
for a hollow tank has a magnetic influence
as great as a solid mass of the same external
dimensionsand such a mass would weigh
four hundred and sixty-eight tons.

These errors in the needle that guides the
ship, so dangerous in their results, at last
attracted official attention in England. Inquiries
were extended in various directions, and it
was found that "in some ships the deviation
was small; in others it was large enough to
cause the loss of a ship, even during a short
run; whilst in others, again, from the position
of some iron stancheon, bolt or bar, or stand