“To-morrow, at the turn of the tide, the brig Forward, K. Z.,
captain, Richard Shandon, mate, will clear from New Prince's
Docks; destination unknown.”
This announcement appeared in the Liverpool Herald of April
5, 1860.
The sailing of a brig is not a matter of great importance for
the chief commercial city of England. Who would take notice
of it in so great a throng of ships of all sizes and of every country,
that dry-docks covering two leagues scarcely contain them?
Nevertheless, from early morning on the 6th of April, a large
crowd collected on the quays of the New Prince's Docks; all the
sailors of the place seemed to have assembled there. The workingmen
of the neighboring wharves had abandoned their tasks,
tradesmen had left their gloomy shops, and the merchants their
empty warehouses. The many-colored omnibuses which pass outside
of the docks were discharging, every minute, their load of
sight-seers; the whole city seemed to care for nothing except
watching the departure of the Forward.
The Forward was a vessel of one hundred and seventy tons,
rigged as a brig, and carrying a screw and a steam-engine of one
hundred and twenty horse-power. One would have very easily
confounded it with the other brigs in the harbor. But if it presented
no especial difference to the eye of the public, yet those
who were familiar with ships noticed certain peculiarities which
could not escape a sailor's keen glance.
Thus, on the Nautilus, which was lying at anchor near her, a
group of sailors were trying to make out the probable destination
of the Forward.
“What do you say to her masts?” said one; “steamers don't
usually carry so much sail.”
“It must be,” answered a red-faced quartermaster, “that she
relies more on her sails than on her engine; and if her topsails are
of that size, it's probably because the lower sails are to be laid
back. So I'm sure the Forward is going either to the Arctic or
Antarctic Ocean, where the icebergs stop the wind more than suits
a solid ship.”
“You must be right, Mr. Comhill,” said a third sailor. “Do
you notice how straight her stem is?”
“Besides,” said Mr. Cornhill, “she carries a steel ram forward,
as sharp as a razor; if the Forward, going at full speed, should
run into a three-decker, she would cut her in two.”
“That's true,” answered a Mersey pilot, “for that brig can
easily run fourteen knots under steam. She was a sight to see on
her trial trip. On my word, she's a swift boat.”
“And she goes well, too, under sail,” continued the quartermaster;
“close to the wind, and she's easily steered. Now that
ship is going to the polar seas, or my name is not Cornhill. And
then, see there! Do you notice that large helm-port over the
head of her rudder?”
“That's so,” said some of the sailors; “but what does that
“That proves, my men,” replied the quartermaster with a
scornful smile, “that you can neither see nor think; it proves
that they wanted to leave the head of the rudder free, so that it
might be unshipped and shipped again easily. Don't you know
that's what they have to do very often in the ice?”
“You are right,” answered the sailors of the Nautilus.
“And besides,” said one, “the lading of the brig goes to prove
what Mr. Cornhill has said. I heard it from Clifton, who has
shipped on her. The Forward carries provisions for five or six
years, and coal in proportion. Coal and provisions are all she
carries, and a quantity of woollen and sealskin clothing.”
“Well,” said Mr. Cornhill, “there's no doubt about it. But,
my friend, since you know Clifton, has n't he told you where
she's bound?”
“He could n't tell me, for he did n't know; the whole crew
was shipped in that way. Where is he going? He won't know
till he gets there.”
“Nor yet if they are going to Davy Jones's locker,” said one
scoffer, “as it seems to me they are.”
“But then, their pay,” continued the friend of Clifton enthusiastically,—“their pay! it's five times what a sailor usually gets. If it had not been for that, Richard Shandon would not have got a man. A strangely shaped boat, going no one knows where, and as if it never intended coming back! As for me, I should not have cared to ship in her.”
“Whether you would or not,” answered Mr. Cornhill, “you
could never have shipped in the Forward.”
“Why not?”
“Because you would not have answered the conditions. I
heard that married men were not taken. Now you belong to
that class. So you need not say what you would or would not
do, since it's all breath thrown away.”
The sailor who was thus snubbed burst out laughing, as did
his companions, showing in this way that Mr. Cornhill's remarks
were true.
“There's nothing but boldness about the ship,” continued Cornhill, well pleased with himself. “The Forward,—forward to what? Without saying that nobody knows who her captain is.”
“O, yes, they do!” said a young
sailor, evidently a green-hand.
“What! They do know?”
“Of course.”
“My young friend,” said Cornhill,
“do you think Shandon is the captain of the Forward?”
“Why—” answered the boy.
“Shandon is only the mate, nothing else; he's a good and
brave sailor, an old whaler, a good fellow, able to take command,
but he's not the captain; he's no more captain than you or I.
And who, under God, is going to have charge of the ship, he
does not know in the least. At the proper time the captain will
come aboard, I don't know how, and I don't know where; for
Richard Shandon did n't tell me, nor has he leave to tell me in
what direction he was first to sail.”
“Still, Mr. Cornhill,” said the young sailor, “I can tell you
that there's some one on board, some one who was spoken of in
the letter in which Mr. Shandon was offered the place of mate.”
“What!” answered Cornhill, “do you mean to tell me that
the Forward has a captain on board?”
“Yes, Mr. Cornhill.”
“You tell me that?”
“Certainly, for I heard it from Johnson, the boatswain.”
“Boatswain Johnson?”
“Yes, he told me himself.”
“Johnson told you?”
“Not only did he tell me, but he showed him to me.”
“He showed him to you!” answered Cornhill in amazement.
“He showed him to me.”
“And you saw him?”
“I saw him with my own eyes.”
“And who is it?”
“It's a dog.”
“A dog?”
“A four-footed dog?”
The surprise of the sailors of the Nautilus was great. Under
any other circumstances they would have burst out laughing.
A dog captain of a one hundred and seventy ton brig! It was
certainly amusing enough. But the Forward was such an extraordinary
ship, that one thought twice before laughing, and before
contradicting it. Besides, Quartermaster Cornhill showed no signs
of laughing.
“And Johnson showed you that new sort of captain, a dog?”
he said to the young sailor. “And you saw him?”
“As plainly as I see you, with all respect.”
“Well, what do you think of that?” asked the sailors, turning
to Cornhill.
“I don't think anything,” he answered curtly, “except that
the Forward is a ship of the Devil, or of fools fit for Bedlam.”
Without saying more, the sailors continued to gaze at the Forward,
which was now almost ready to depart; and there was no
one of them who presumed to say that Johnson, the boatswain,
had been making fun of the young sailor.
This story of the dog had already spread through the city, and
in the crowd of sight-seers there were many looking for the captain-dog,
who were inclined to believe that he was some supernatural
Besides, for many months the Forward had been attracting
the public attention; the singularity of its build, the mystery
which enshrouded it, the incognito maintained by the captain,
the manner in which Richard Shandon received the proposition
of superintending its outfit, the careful selection of the crew, its
unknown destination, scarcely conjectured by any,—all combined
to give this brig a reputation of something more than
For a thoughtful, dreamy mind, for a philosopher, there is
hardly anything more touching than the departure of a ship; the
imagination is ready to follow her in her struggles with the
waves, her contests with the winds, in her perilous course, which
does not always end in port; and if only there is something
unusual about her, the ship appears like something fantastic, even
to the least imaginative minds.
So it was with the Forward. And if most of the spectators
were unable to make the ingenious remarks of Quartermaster
Cornhill, the rumors which had been prevailing for three months
were enough to keep all the tongues of Liverpool busy.
The brig had been built at Birkenhead, a suburb of the city on
the left bank of the Mersey, and connected with it by numerous
The builders, Scott & Co., as skilful as any in England, had
received from Richard Shandon careful plans and drawings, in
which the tonnage, dimensions, and model of the brig were given
with the utmost exactness. They bore proof of the work of an
experienced sailor. Since Shandon had ample means at his command,
the work began, and, in accordance with the orders of the
unknown owner, proceeded rapidly.
Every care was taken to have the brig made exceedingly
strong; it was evidently intended to withstand enormous pressure,
for its ribs of teak, an East Indian wood remarkable for its
solidity, were further strengthened by thick iron braces. The
sailors used to ask why the hull of a ship, which was intended to
be so strong, was not made of iron like other steamers. But
they were told that the mysterious designer had his own reasons
for having it built in that way.
Gradually the shape of the brig on the stocks could be clearly
made out, and the strength and beauty of her model were clear
to the eye of all competent judges. As the sailors of the Nautilus
had said, her stem formed a right angle with the keel, and
she carried, not a ram, but a steel cutter from the foundry of
R. Hawthorn, of Newcastle. This metallic prow, glistening in the
sun, gave a singular appearance to the brig, although there was
nothing warlike about it. However, a sixteen-pound gun was
placed on her forecastle; its carriage was so arranged that it
could be pointed in any direction. The same thing can be said
of the cannon as of her bows, neither were positively warlike.
On the 5th of February, 1860, this strange vessel was successfully
launched in the sight of an immense number of spectators,
But if the brig was not a man-of-war, nor a merchant-vessel,
nor a pleasure-yacht, for no one takes a pleasure trip with provisions
for six years in the hold, what could she be?
A ship intended for the search of the Erebus and the Terror
and of Sir John Franklin? No; for in 1859, the previous year
Captain MacClintock had returned from the Arctic Ocean, with
convincing proof of the loss of that ill-fated expedition.
Did the Forward want to try again the famous Northwest
Passage? What for? Captain MacClure had discovered it in
1853, and his lieutenant, Cresswell, had the honor of first skirting
the American continent from Behring Strait to Davis Strait.
It was nevertheless absolutely certain to all competent observers
that the Forward was preparing for a voyage to icy regions.
Was it going to push towards the South Pole, farther than the
whaler Wedell, farther than Captain James Ross? But what was
the use, and with what intention?
It is easy to see that, although the field for conjecture was
very limited, the imagination could easily lose itself.
The day after the launching of the brig her machinery arrived
from the foundry of R. Hawthorn at Newcastle.
The engine, of one hundred and twenty horse-power, with
oscillating cylinders, took up but little space; its force was large
for a vessel of one hundred and seventy tons, which carried a
great deal of sail, and was, besides, remarkably swift. Of her
speed the trial trips left no doubt, and even the boatswain, Johnson,
had seen fit to express his opinion to the friend of Clifton in
these terms,—
“When the Forward is under both steam and sail, she gets
the most speed from her sails.”
Clifton's friend had not understood this proposition, but he considered
anything possible in a ship commanded by a dog.
After the engines had been placed on board, the stowage of
provisions began; and that was no light task, for she carried
enough for six years. They consisted of salted and dried meats,
smoked fish, biscuit, and flour; mountains of coffee and tea were
deposited in the store-room. Richard Shandon superintended
the arrangement of this precious cargo with the air of a man
who perfectly understood his business; everything was put in its
place, labelled, and numbered with perfect precision; at the same
time there was stowed away a large quantity of pemmican, an
Indian preparation, which contains a great deal of nutriment in a
small compass.
This sort of supply left no doubt as to the length of the cruise; but an experienced observer would have known at once that the Forward was to sail in polar waters, from the barrels of lime-juice, of lime lozenges, of bundles of mustard, sorrel, and of cochlearia,—in a word, from the abundance of powerful antiscorbutics, which are so necessary in journeys in the regions of the far north and south. Shandon had doubtless received word to take particular care about this part of the cargo, for he gave to it especial
attention, as well as to the ship's medicine-chest.
If the armament of the vessel
was small enough to calm
the timid souls, on the other
hand, the magazine was filled
with enough powder to inspire
some uneasiness. The single
gun on the forecastle could not pretend to require so large a
supply. This excited curiosity. There were, besides, enormous
saws and strong machinery, such as levers, masses of lead, handsaws,
huge axes, etc., without counting a respectable number
of blasting-cylinders, which might have blown up the Liverpool
custom-house. All this was strange, if not alarming, not to mention
the rockets, signals, lights, and lanterns of every sort.
Then, too, the numerous spectators on the quays of the New
Prince's Docks gazed with admiration at a long mahogany whale-boat,
a tin canoe covered with gutta-percha, and a number of halkett-boats,
which are a sort of india-rubber cloaks, which can be
inflated and thereby turned into canoes. Every one felt more
and more puzzled, and even excited, for with the turn of the tide
the Forward was to set sail for its unknown destination.




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