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From Powder Monkey to Admiral: A Story of Naval Adventure

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  From Powder Monkey to Admiral, a Story of Naval Adventure, by W.H.G.Kingston.


  This book was written for "Boy's Own Paper" shortly after that magazinestarted. The plan was to write a book illustrating how it might bepossible for any very ordinary little boy joining the Navy in the lowestrating--powder monkey--and ascend to the very highest rank--admiral. Ithad been done before, in the separate cases of Benbow and Hopson, andthere was no reason why it shouldn't happen again. A powder monkey wasso called because his job in manning the guns was to run from time totime to fetch more powder whenever it was needed. Since the boys weresmall they afforded little target for the enemy's shot, so they tendedto survive an engagement. Just as well, for their job wasindispensable.

  In this book three boys join up in the same batch. They have the usualKingston-style adventures, but only one of them makes it to the quarterdeck to become a midshipman. This was probably the hardest step for anyof them, but it was his bravery, honesty and good manners that won forhim the necessary attention. At the end of the book there is a patheticscene where we meet again the boy who did least well. This is a goodand enjoyable read or listen, taking about twelve and three quarterhours.




  A book for boys by W.H.G. Kingston needs no introduction. Yet a fewthings may be said about the origin and the purpose of this story.

  When the _Boys' Own Paper_ was first started, Mr Kingston, who showeddeep interest in the project, undertook to write a story of the sea,during the wars, under the title of "From Powder-monkey to Admiral."

  Talking the matter over, it was objected that such a story might offendpeaceable folk, because it must deal too much with blood and gunpowder.Mr Kingston, although famed as a narrator of sea-fights, was a lover ofpeace, and he said that his story would not encourage the war spirit.Those who cared chiefly to read about battles might turn to the pages of"British Naval History." He chose the period of the great war for hisstory, because it was a time of stirring events and adventures. Themain part of the narrative belongs to the early years of life, in whichboys would feel most interest and sympathy. And throughout the tale,not "glory" but "duty" is the object set before the youthful reader.

  It was further objected that the title of the story set before boys animpossible object of ambition. The French have a saying, that "everysoldier carries in his knapsack a marshal's baton," meaning that the wayis open for rising to the very highest rank in their army. But who everheard of a sailor lad rising to be an Admiral in the British Navy?

  Let us see how history answers this question. There was a great seacaptain of other days, whose fame is not eclipsed by the gloriousreputations of later wars, Admiral Benbow. In the reign of Queen Anne,before the great Duke of Marlborough had begun his victorious career,Benbow had broken the power of France on the sea. Rank and routine werepowerful in those days, as now; but when a time of peril comes, the bestman is wanted, and Benbow was promoted out of turn, by royal command, tothe rank of Vice-Admiral, and went after the fleet of Admiral Ducasse tothe West Indies. In the little church of Saint Andrew's, Kingston,Jamaica, his body lies, and the memorial stone speaks of him as "a truepattern of English courage, who lost his life in defence of queen andcountry."

  Like his illustrious French contemporary Jean Bart, John Benbow was ofhumble origin. He entered the merchant service when a boy. He wasunknown till he had reached the age of thirty, when he had risen to thecommand of a merchant vessel. Attacked by a powerful Salee rover, hegallantly repulsed these Moorish pirates, and took his ship safe intoCadiz. The heads of thirteen of the pirates he preserved, and deliveredthem to the magistrates of the town, in presence of the custom-houseofficers. The tidings of this strange incident reached Madrid, and theKing of Spain, Charles the Second, sent for the English captain,received him with great honour, and wrote a letter on his behalf to ourKing James the Second, who on his return to England gave him a ship.This was his introduction to the British Navy, in which he served withdistinction in the reigns of William the Third and Queen Anne. But hisobscure origin is the point here under notice, and the followingtraditional anecdote is preserved in Shropshire:--When a boy he was leftin charge of the house by his mother, who went out marketing. Thedesire to go to sea, long cherished, was irresistible. He stole forth,locking the cottage door after him, and hung the key on a hook in a treein the garden. Many years passed before he returned to the old place.Though now out of his reach, for the tree had grown faster than he, thekey still hung on the hook. He left it there; and there it remainedwhen he came back as Rear-Admiral of the _White_. He then pointed itout to his friends, and told the story. Once more his country requiredhis services, but his fame and the echo of his victories alone came overthe wave. The good town of Shrewsbury is proud to claim him as a son,and remembers the key, hung by the banks of the Severn, near BenbowHouse. Whatever basis of truth the story may have, its being told andbelieved attests the fact of the humble birth and origin of AdmiralBenbow.

  Another sailor boy, Hopson, in the early part of last century, rose tobe Admiral in the British Navy. Born at Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight,of humblest parentage, he was left an orphan, and apprenticed by theparish to a tailor. While sitting one day alone on the shop-board, hewas struck by the sight of the squadron coming round Dunnose. Instantlyquitting his work, he ran to the shore, jumped into a boat, and rowedfor the Admiral's ship. Taken on board, he entered as a volunteer.

  Next morning the English fleet fell in with a French squadron, and awarm action ensued. Young Hopson obeyed every order with the utmostalacrity; but after two or three hours' fighting he became impatient,and asked what they were fighting for. The sailors explained to himthat they must fire away, and the fight go on, till the white rag at theenemy's mast-head was struck. Getting this information, his resolutionwas formed, and he exclaimed, "Oh, if that's all, I'll see what I cando."

  The two ships, with the flags of the commanders on each side, were nowengaged at close quarters, yard-arm and yard-arm, and completelyenveloped in smoke. This proved favourable to the purpose of the braveyouth, who mounted the shrouds through the smoke unobserved, gained theFrench Admiral's main-yard, ascended with agility to the main-topgallantmast-head, and carried off the French flag. It was soon seen that theenemy's colours had disappeared, and the British sailors, thinking theyhad been hauled down, raised a shout of "Victory, victory!" The Frenchwere thrown into confusion by this, and first slackened fire, and thenran from their guns. At this juncture the ship was boarded by theEnglish and taken. Hopson had by this time descended the shrouds withthe French flag wrapped round his arm, which he triumphantly displayed.

  The sailors received the prize with astonishment and cheers of approval.The Admiral being told of the exploit, sent for Hopson and thusaddressed him, "My lad, I believe you to be a brave youth. From thisday I order you to walk the quarter-deck, and if your future conduct isequally meritorious, you shall have my patronage and protection."Hopson made every effort to maintain the good opinion of his patron, andby his conduct and attention to duty gained the respect of the officersof the ship. He afterwards went rapidly through the different ranks ofthe service, till at length he attained that of Admiral.

  We might give not a few instances of more recent date, but the familiesand friends of those "who hav
e risen" do not always feel the same honestpride as the great men themselves in the story of their life. While itis true that no sailor boy may now hope to become "Admiral of theFleet," yet there is room for advancement, in peace as in war, to whatis better than mere rank or title or wealth,--a position of honour andusefulness. Good character and good conduct, pluck and patience,steadiness and application, will win their way, whether on sea or land,and in every calling.

  The inventions of modern science and art are producing a great change inall that pertains to life at sea. The revolution is more apparent inwar than in peace. There is, and always will be, a large proportion ofmerchant ships under sail, even in nations like our own where steam isin most general use. In war, a wooden ship without steam and withoutarmour would be a mere floating coffin. The fighting _Temeraire_, andthe saucy _Arethusa_, and Nelson's _Victory_ itself, would be nothingbut targets for deadly fire from active and irresistible foes. The oddswould be about the same as the odds of javelins and crossbows againstmodern fire-arms. Steam alone had made a revolution in naval warfare;but when we add to this the armour-plating of vessels, and the terribleartillery of modern times, "the wooden walls of old England" are onlyfit to be used as store-ships or hospitals for a few years, and thensent to the ship-yards to be broken up for firewood. But thoughmaterial conditions have changed, the moral forces are the same as ever,and courage, daring, skill, and endurance are the same in ships of oakor of iron:--

  "Yes, the days of our wooden walls are ended, And the days of our iron ones begun; But who cares by what our land's defended, While the hearts that fought and fight are one? 'Twas not the oak that fought each battle, 'Twas not the wood that victory won; 'Twas the hands that made our broadsides rattle, 'Twas the hearts of oak that served each gun."

  These are words from one of the "Songs for Sailors," by W.C. Bennett,who has written better naval poems for popular use than any one sincethe days of Dibdin. The same idea concludes a rattling ballad on oldAdmiral Benbow:--

  "Well, our walls of oak have become just a joke And in tea-kettles we're to fight; It seems a queer dream, all this iron and steam, But I daresay, my lads, it's right. But whether we float in ship or in boat, In iron or oak, we know For old England's right we've hearts that will fight, As of old did the brave Benbow."

  But, after all, even in war, fighting is only a small part of the sum ofany sailor's life, and the British flag floats over ships on every sea,whether under sail or steam, in the peaceful pursuits of commerce. Thesame qualities of heart and mind will have their play, which MrKingston has described in his stirring story,--a story which will beread with profit by the young, and with pleasure by both young and old.




  No steamboats ploughed the ocean, nor were railroads thought of, whenour young friends Jack, Tom, and Bill lived. They first met each otheron board the _Foxhound_ frigate, on the deck of which ship a score ofother lads and some fifty or sixty men were mustered, who had just comeup the side from the _Viper_ tender; she having been on a cruise tocollect such stray hands as could be found; and a curious lot they wereto look at.

  Among them were long-shore fellows in swallow-tails and round hats,fishermen in jerseys and fur-skin caps, smugglers in big boots andflushing coats; and not a few whose whitey-brown faces, andclose-cropped hair, made it no difficult matter to guess that their lastresidence was within the walls of a gaol. There were seamen also,pressed most of them, just come in from a long voyage, many months orperhaps years having passed since they left their native land; that theydid not look especially amiable was not to be wondered at, since theyhad been prevented from going, as they had intended, to visit theirfriends, or maybe, in the case of the careless ones, from enjoying along-expected spree on shore. They were all now waiting to be inspectedby the first lieutenant, before their names were entered on the ship'sbooks.

  The rest of the crew were going about their various duties. Most ofthem were old hands, who had served a year or more on board the gallantfrigate. During that time she had fought two fierce actions, which,though she had come off victorious, had greatly thinned her ship'scompany, and the captain was therefore anxious to make up the complementas fast as possible by every means in his power.

  The seamen took but little notice of the new hands, though some of themhad been much of the same description themselves, but were not very fondof acknowledging this, or of talking of their previous histories; theyhad, however, got worked into shape by degrees: and the newcomers, eventhose with the "long togs," by the time they had gone through the sameprocess would not be distinguished from the older hands, except, maybe,when they came to splice an eye, or turn in a grummet, when their clumsywork would show what they were; few of them either were likely ever tobe the outermost on the yard-arms when sail had suddenly to be shortenedon a dark night, while it was blowing great guns and small arms.

  The frigate lay at Spithead. She had been waiting for these hands toput to sea. Lighters were alongside, and whips were never-ceasinglyhoisting in casks of rum, with bales and cases of all sorts, which itseemed impossible could ever be stowed away. From the first lieutenantto the youngest midshipman, all were bawling at the top of their voices,issuing and repeating orders; but there were two persons who out-roaredall the rest, the boatswain and the boatswain's mate. They were proudof those voices of theirs. Let the hardest gale be blowing, with thewind howling and whistling through the rigging, the canvas flapping likeclaps of thunder, and the seas roaring and dashing against the bows,they could make themselves heard above the loudest sounds of the storm.

  At present the boatswain bawled, or rather roared, because he was soaccustomed to roar that he could speak in no gentler voice whilecarrying on duty on deck; and the boatswain's mate imitated him.

  The first lieutenant had a good voice of his own, though it was not sorough as that of his inferiors. He made it come out with a quick, sharpsound, which could be heard from the poop to the forecastle, even withthe wind ahead.

  Jack, Tom, and Bill looked at each other, wondering what was next goingto happen. They were all three of about the same age, and much of aheight, and somehow, as I have said, they found themselves standingclose together.

  They were too much astonished, not to say frightened, to talk just then,though they all three had tongues in their heads, so they listened tothe conversation going on around them.

  "Why, mate, where do you come from?" asked a long-shore chap of one ofthe whitey-brown-faced gentlemen.

  "Oh, I've jist dropped from the clouds; don't know where else I've comefrom," was the answer.

  "I suppose you got your hair cropped off as you came down?" was the nextquery.

  "Yes! it was the wind did it as I came scuttling down," answered theother, who was evidently never at a loss what to say. "And now, mate,just tell me how did you get on board this craft?" he inquired.

  "I swam off, of course, seized with a fit of patriotism, and determinedto fight for the honour and glory of old England," was the answer.

  It cannot, however, be said that this is a fair specimen of theconversation; indeed, it would benefit no one were what was said to berepeated.

  Jack, Tom, and Bill felt very much as a person might be supposed to dowho had dropped from the moon. Everything around them was so strangeand bewildering, for not one of them had ever before been on board aship, and Bill had never even seen one. Having not been much accustomedto the appearance of trees, he had some idea that the masts grew out ofthe deck, that the yards were branches, and the blocks curious leaves;not that amid the fearful uproar, and what seemed to him the wildestconfusion, he could think of anything clearly.

  Bill Rayner had certainly not been born with a silver spoon in hismouth. His father he had never known. His mother lived in a garret anddied in a garret, although not before, happily for him, he was able todo something for himself, and,
still more happily, not before she hadimpressed right principles on his mind. As the poor woman lay on herdeathbed, taking her boy's hands and looking earnestly into his eyes,she said, "Be honest, Bill, in the sight of God. Never forget that Hesees you, and do your best to please Him. No fear about the rest. I amnot much of a scholar, but I know that's right. If others try topersuade you to do what's wrong, don't listen to them. Promise me,Bill, that you will do as I tell you."

  "I promise, mother, that I will," answered Bill; and, small lad as hewas, meant what he said.

  Poor as she was, being a woman of some education, his mother had taughthim to read and write and cipher--not that he was a great adept at anyof those arts, but he possessed the groundwork, which was an importantmatter; and he did his best to keep up his knowledge by readingsign-boards, looking into book-sellers' windows, and studying any strayleaves he could obtain.

  Bill's mother was buried in a rough shell by the parish, and Bill wentout into the world to seek his fortune. He took to curious ways,--hunting in dust-heaps for anything worth having; running errands when hecould get any one to send him; holding horses for gentlemen, but thatwas not often; doing duty as a link-boy at houses when grand partieswere going forward or during foggy weather; for Bill, though he oftenwent supperless to his nest, either under a market-cart, or in a cask bythe river side, or in some other out-of-the-way place, generally managedto have a little capital with which to buy a link; but the said capitaldid not grow much, for bad times coming swallowed it all up.

  Bill, as are many other London boys, was exposed to temptations of allsorts; often when almost starving, without a roof to sleep under, or afriend to whom he could appeal for help, his shoes worn out, hisclothing too scanty to keep him warm; but, ever recollecting hismother's last words, he resisted them all. One day, having wanderedfarther east than he had ever been before, he found himself in thepresence of a press-gang, who were carrying off a party of men and boysto the river's edge. One of the man-of-war's men seized upon him, andBill, thinking that matters could not be much worse with him than theywere at present, willingly accompanied the party, though he had verylittle notion where they were going. Reaching a boat, they were made totumble in, some resisting and endeavouring to get away; but a gentleprick from the point of a cutlass, or a clout on the head, made themmore reasonable, and most of them sat down resigned to their fate. Oneof them, however, a stout fellow, when the boat had got some distancefrom the shore, striking out right and left at the men nearest him,sprang overboard, and before the boat could be pulled round had alreadygot back nearly half-way to the landing-place.

  One or two of the press-gang, who had muskets, fired, but they were notgood shots. The man looking back as he saw them lifting their weapons,by suddenly diving escaped the first volley, and by the time they hadagain loaded he had gained such a distance that the shot spattered intothe water on either side of him. They were afraid of firing again forfear of hitting some of the people on shore, besides which, darknesscoming on, the gloom concealed him from view.

  They knew, however, that he must have landed in safety from the cheerswhich came from off the quay, uttered by the crowd who had followed thepress-gang, hooting them as they embarked with their captives.

  Bill began to think that he could not be going to a very pleasant place,since, in spite of the risk he ran, the man had been so eager to escape;but being himself unable to swim, he could not follow his example, evenhad he wished it. He judged it wiser, therefore, to stay still, and seewhat would next happen. The boat pulled down the river for some way,till she got alongside a large cutter, up the side of which Bill and hiscompanions were made to climb.

  From what he heard, he found that she was a man-of-war tender, herbusiness being to collect men, by hook or by crook, for the Royal Navy.

  As she was now full--indeed, so crowded that no more men could be stowedon board--she got under way with the first of the ebb, and dropped downthe stream, bound for Spithead.

  As Bill, with most of the pressed men, was kept below during this hisfirst trip to sea, he gained but little nautical experience. He was,however, very sick, while he arrived at the conclusion that the tender'shold, the dark prison in which he found himself, was a most horribleplace.

  Several of his more heartless companions jeered at him in his misery;and, indeed, poor Bill, thin and pale, shoeless and hatless, clad inpatched garments, looked a truly miserable object.

  As the wind was fair, the voyage did not last long, and glad enough hewas when the cutter got alongside the big frigate, and he with the restbeing ordered on board, he could breathe the fresh air which blew acrossher decks.

  Tom Fletcher, who stood next to Bill, had considerably the advantage ofhim in outward appearance. Tom was dressed in somewhat nauticalfashion, though any sailor would have seen with half an eye that hiscostume had been got up by a shore-going tailor.

  Tom had a good-natured but not very sensible-looking countenance. Hewas strongly built, was in good health, and had the making of a sailorin him, though this was the first time that he had even been on board aship.

  He had a short time before come off with a party of men returning on theexpiration of their leave. Telling them that he wished to go to sea, hehad been allowed to enter the boat. From the questions some of them hadput to him, and the answers he gave, they suspected that he was arunaway, and such in fact was the case. Tom was the son of a solicitorin a country town, who had several other boys, he being the fourth, inthe family.

  He had for some time taken to reading the voyages of Drake, Cavendish,and Dampier, and the adventures of celebrated pirates, such as those ofCaptains Kidd, Lowther, Davis, Teach, as also the lives of some ofEngland's naval commanders, Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Benbow, and AdmiralsHawke, Keppel, Rodney, and others, whose gallant actions he fullyintended some day to imitate.

  He had made vain endeavours to induce his father to let him go to sea,but Mr Fletcher, knowing that he was utterly ignorant of a sea life,set his wish down as a mere fancy which it would be folly to indulge.

  Tom, instead of trying to show that he really was in earnest, tookFrench leave one fine morning, and found his way to Portsmouth, withoutbeing traced. Had he waited, he would probably have been sent to sea asa midshipman, and placed on the quarter-deck. He now entered as aship-boy before the mast.

  Tom, as he had made his bed, had to lie on it, as is the case with manyother persons. Even now, had he written home, he might have had hisposition changed, but he thought himself very clever, and had nointention of letting his father know where he had gone. The last of thetrio was far more accustomed to salt water than was either of hiscompanions. Jack Peek was the son of a West country fisherman. He hadcome to sea because he saw that there was little chance of getting breadto put into his mouth if he remained on shore.

  Jack's father had lost his boats and nets the previous winter, and hadshortly afterwards been pressed on board a man-of-war.

  Jack had done his best to support himself without being a burden to hismother, who sold fish in the neighbouring town and country round, andcould do very well for herself; so when he proposed going on board aman-of-war, she, having mended his shirts, bought him a new pair ofshoes, and gave him her blessing. Accordingly, doing up his spareclothes in a bundle, which he carried at the end of a stick, he trudgedoff with a stout heart, resolved to serve His Majesty and fight thebattles of Old England.

  Jack went on board the first man-of-war tender picking up hands he couldfind, and had been transferred that day to the _Foxhound_.

  He told Tom and Bill thus much of his history. The former, however, wasnot very ready to be communicative as to his; while Bill's patchedgarments said as much about him as he was just then willing to narrate.A boy who had spent all his life in the streets of London was not likelyto say more to strangers than was necessary.

  In the meantime the fresh hands had been called up before the firstlieutenant, Mr Saltwell, and their names entered by the purser in theship's book
s, after the ordinary questions had been put to them toascertain for what rating they were qualified.

  Some few, including the smugglers, were entered as able seamen; othersas ordinary seamen; and the larger number, who were unfit to go aloft,or indeed not likely to be of much use in any way for a long time tocome, were rated as landsmen, and would have to do all the dirty workabout the ship.

  The boys were next called up, and each of them gave an account ofhimself.

  Tom dreaded lest he should be asked any questions which he would bepuzzled to answer.

  The first lieutenant glanced at all three, and in spite of his olddress, entered Bill first, Jack next, and Tom, greatly to his surprise,the last. In those days no questions were asked where men or boys camefrom. At the present time, a boy who should thus appear on board aman-of-war would find himself in the wrong box, and be quickly sent onshore again, and home to his friends. None are allowed to enter theNavy until they have gone through a regular course of instruction in atraining ship, and none are received on board her unless they can readand write well, and have a formally signed certificate that they haveobtained permission from their parents or guardians.