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Going to sea as a cabin boy

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Unique ID:19467
Description:A man describes his first voyages to sea as a cabin boy on board the 'Sudan' to Singapore and Zanzibar and Mauritius. 
Copyright:Southampton City Council
Partner:SCC Oral History Unit
Partner ID:M0013


Question:  To go back to the Sudan, can you tell me something about that, the voyage then, that would be your first experience at sea?

I went to Gibraltar, Malta, through the Suez Canal, Port Said, Aden, Karachi, Bombay, Calcutta and Colombo and then of course to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and up to Shingwan to North China.

Question: Did you manage to get ashore and see many things?

Oh yes, I went ashore, every … every port we could go...except in the Singapore, couldn't go ashore there because we tied up alongside an old bamboo staging and the parakeets and monkeys could come aboard, you know, from the palm trees and that, and we could see Singapore over the top of the palm trees.  'Cos we never went ashore, we only stopped there for about an hour or two to take on some water and put ashore some troops that was stationed there because there was an artillery stationed around on the islands where the guns were.  All round Singapore there was different islands and there was British guns aboard there and they used to man them.

Question:  Does that mean the Sudan was for them for moving troops...

Yes, oh yes, she was a troop ship.

Question:  What were your duties aboard?

Well, looking after the quartermasters, getting their food, clean their cabin out and do all sorts of things, and we used to have to go up on the bridge, you know, and quartermaster was off duty he used to teach us boys knots and splices and how to steer the ship and box the compass and all that sort of business, which was all new to me.  I knew everything by the time I got back.

Question:  How long was the voyage all together?

Three months and a half, come back to Shanghai and Hong Kong, we had to go up to the dry dock up there and we went ashore a lot of times in Hong Kong, up Happy Valley and all that sort of business, up the Mount, lovely lovely views from the Mount down.  There was no skyscrapers or anything that there, and all the Chinamen wore pigtails in those days.

Question:  It must have been quite a thing for you to see China having just come from Wiltshire?

Yeah, not half, of course I...of course that's why I didn't go back home again because (laughing) I was...I knew too much.  And then we went down to Zanzibar, from Zanzibar to Port Louis in Mauritius, and that was where one of the...lamp-trimmer I think he was, he put a meat hook over the side with a leg of pork on it and he caught a great big shark and brought it aboard, ooh about 12 foot long, 12 or 14 foot long and he opened it out and there was a collie dog and a sea boot inside of it.  (laughs)  That … that was in Mauritius, Port Louis.

Question:  So you were telling me about the food thing, you said it was...

Ah the food was all right on the Sudan.  Ooh yes, we had very good food on there.  Because I had what the quartermasters’ used to have because there was only the lamp-trimmer, the storekeeper, the quartermasters, and the officers and us four cabin boys, and the bosun and the two bosun's mates, was the only white men aboard there, all the rest were lascars, crew, and firemen, lascars, and the stewards was all Indian Portuguese.

Question:  So the Sudan wasn't based in Southampton?

Yes it was, oh yes, it was based in Southampton.  Oh yes, there was the Sudan, the Rowella, the Reewah, there was the three boats anyway.  In the summer they used to lay up down the river until September and then they used to take the troops around the different parts of the globe because there was no aeroplanes and that in those days, troop ships used to carry them.

Question:  These foreign seaman wouldn't live in Southampton would they, the lascars and...?

Oh they used to stop aboard the ship.  Their homeport was India. That's where they used to change the crews there if they wanted to.  Karachi they used to change the crews I think.  Indian Portuguese and the stewards, they come...there was a place out in India belonging to the Portuguese and that's where they come from.

Question:  Can you remember how much a cabin boy got paid then?

Yes, £1 a month.  That's all we got paid.  So that wasn't much was it?  (Laughs)  After three months.


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