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Crossing the line

Monday 15 Sept.r 1828 - crossed the Equator at 7 oClock this morning, when our ship was hailed by old Neptune, the monarch of the deep – and the names of those; who entered his dominions for the first time, were intimated to him. During the morning the note of preparation sounded loud and long – the sailors and minions, were all eager and animated in debating – and in fact a new spirit of activity and bustle seemed to be infused into them. In the forenoon some of the Tars were busily occupied in preparing the ceremonial dress for Neptune, Amphitrite his wife and his young son. At ½ past 3 oClock in the afternoon when seated at table, enjoying our wine the Packet was again hailed by Neptune and answered by M.r Geach. Shortly after our ears were almost stunned by a loud noise resembling thunder, which was produced by the manner in which the old sea god moved heavily along. When this horrible din had ceased – M.r Geach came down with the compliments of Neptune to Captain Snell – which procured an invitation for him from our Capt.n to pay a visit with his wife and child.

Dress of Old Neptune

The invitation being accepted, we were soon almost convulsed with laughter at the old and ridiculous figure which the trio cut. First came his majesty dressed in all the regal state his majesty could muster. His head was crowned with one of those large fig baskets so common in the Shops, each end of which was sewed together, while an opening was left in the centre for the royal head. In this way a cocked hat was formed, which was ornamented with various fanciful devices made with red paint & from both extremities were appended two bunches of unravelled rope in imitation of tassels, while in front a tuft of hen’s feathers arose. From the back of the Sacred caput was fastened a long piece of cable bound thro’ out its whole length with some black stuff, and having the end of made to imitate hair. Nor were the ornaments of his majesty’s face less grotesque – The upper part of it was concealed by a masque, with a huge red nose and goggle eyes – the lower part was graced with a venerable beard and full grown whiskers, formed of sheep skin with the woolly part turned out. His back was covered with a large old fashioned coat, which had a star in front and a party coloured cover, covered all deficiencies in his Majesty’s apparel – on the lower front. A huge and thick wooden sword attached to an old piece of leather and an enormous pair of boots completed the equipment of the briny tyrant.

Immediately after Neptune came his wife Amphitrite who made a tolerable curtsey, upon her entrance into the cabin. Her dress, altho’ not so antic as her spouse’s, was still “bein drol.” On her head was a cap – her face was painted black – her breasts were rendered sufficiently prominent – and as she is always represented as being in that state in which ladies wish to be who love their Lords, her abdomen had a reasonably large protuberance. Her legs and arms were black with here and there a circle of red.

The son of this amiable couple now requires to be described. He seemed to be a young beardless lad – and very modest. His head was surmounted with a white beaver hat. The colour of his legs and arms were, as was natural, the same as that of his Mothers. The superior part of his body was encased in a large sheep skin with the hair outmost.

These three having come into the presence of the Captain a conversation took place between them and him. He told Neptune that is was exactly 32 years since he had first entered his dominions – and enquired at him, if many ships had passed lately. The Son then presented a paper saying that he had been ordered to deliver it to Capt.n Snell by his father. The Capt.n received and opening it read the names of those who had never crossed the line before – Among the first was D.r Williamson and M.r E. Williams – Capt.n Martyn Williams, the annunciation of whose names excited much laughter – indeed more so to the rest of the Company than to the parties themselves. After reading, the Captain addressing Neptune said he trusted that he would treat the new-comers in a proper manner – to which the answer was “never fear it”

A bottle of rum was then ordered to be given by the Steward to his majesty for the purpose of drinking the King’s health. In doing this they shewed their good will to the captain, by drinking his health along with the King’s, and saying that he ought by this time to have been an admiral. All having drunk the parties retired to prepare for the initiation of the Johnny Newcomers into this dominion.

As soon as they were gone, those in the Cabin began to turn upon us – joking and laughing at us who were threatened with a hearty dunking, besides paying the fee usual on such occasions. As I was the very first on the list I felt of course rather anxious as to what measures would next be taken – And when I heard my [name] called out with the voice of a ‘Stentor,’ I made no effort at first to obey, but awaited patiently what was to follow. After Little [break ?] however, being apprehensive lest they should think I was shirking I went on deck, and made my excuses to Neptune by greasing his fist with a little silver – and a promise of some spirits which I had put into the hands of the steward for the use of his Majesty and his attendants.

Initiation of a Johnny Newcomer

I ought not it-seems to have gone up so soon lest I should have been ducked – but it was well as it was.

Soon after I came upon deck, the Son of Neptune with a large copper water strainer, somewhat in shape like a trumpet, “sang out” the name of one of the Miners called Cockayne [2] who was forthwith produced before his Majesty blindfolded in the charge of two Constables with enormous batons: The appearance of this ‘Neovite,’ was hailed with buckets full of nice swab (alias dirty water), so that he was like a drowning cat, gasping for breath. By the proper Officers he was next conducted to a low stool, where stood Neptune with a large rusty knife ready to act as Barber. When he was properly seated two large swabs (i.e. 2 large coils of rope divided into many piles and used for cleaning and drying the deck – were forcibly placed on his shoulders – and a pan of black paint having been brought, Neptune with a large brush lather his chin well – and then shaved (i.e. scraped) the stuff off with his razor. But before the whole was shaved off buckets of water were occasionally poured over the head and face, to render the operation more easy and pleasant. The next step was to apply the small end of the above mentioned strainer to the mouth of the operatee, while some of the sailors poured oceans not of wine but of pure muddy water at the other and wide end, this done a few questions were asked as was also done when he first came upon deck – and the ceremony concluded with the person swearing allegiance to Neptune forcibly kissing a large pole covered with black paint & having numerous buckets – jugs – and basins full of water rained upon him.

The same or nearly the same ceremonies were performed only on ten of the miners – as one of them was excused on account of his bad state of health. All of them were prepared for the ducking – having only a pair of trousers and a shirt on. It was also remarkable that as each of the miners were shaved, they were much more active than the sailors themselves in dashing the water upon those who came after them. It was really a comical scene to see the various demeanour of those who presented themselves for the operation – some shy & timid – others bold and courageous –

At the conclusion of each shaving a general and indiscriminate splashing of water took place – and such quantities of water were pumped up that the poultry incurred some risk of being drowned.

The ceremonies of the day concluded with three cheers from the whole of the performers in this nautical drama – and in half an hour afterwards matters were carried on as quietly, and orderly, as if no thing particular had happened.

To day we sailed 138 miles.

Tuesday 16th Sept.r - fine breezes, for we have fallen in with the South East trade Winds, which will probably carry us speedily forward. Day clear & cool - Sailed 147 miles.

Portuguese Men-of-War, a kind of fish – Mother Carys Chickens

Wednesday 17th - fine day 172 Miles. Saw to day great numbers of Portuguese Men-o-War as these are called. This is a fish, the upper part of which is seen constantly above the water – and it seems like a fin about the size & shape of a Cox-combe. There appear to be two kinds – the one smaller and without any colour – the other 5 or 6 times larger and ornamented with most beautiful and vivid colours. The former are the common Men of War – while the latter may be called the Admirals or Commodores ships.

Thursday 18th - beautiful day – sailed 168 miles. Saw several of Mother Careys Chickens, which are Sea-birds nearly the size of a pigeon. Such is the particular veneration of the sailors for them, that to describe or even to enquire one of them would irritate them against you. These three past nights have been delightful – from their pleasant coolness & from having the clear Moons rays glancing upon the rippling Seas.

Friday 19th - fine morning but cloudy in the afternoon. Sailed 160 miles. 4 oClock P.M. seeing land – viz. the coast of America. More than one alarm was given that Sails were seen which were at first mistaken for the “announcement” of land. However at 6 oClock, the man at the Mast head cried out “Land a-head”; and at 7 we see land by the moon light and hailed several fishing boats called “Junggardas,” which had their decks almost level with the water. At 10 oClock I went to bed just as the light-breeze of Pernambuco, so much &.c anxiously looked for appeared.