Ran Away to Sea

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Log In. Hitherto the punishment has usually either failed altogether, or has been so disproportioned to the crime, as to be of no service for example to others. On the contrary, it has only encouraged them in their absolute ideas, by proving almost their complete irresponsibility.

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Often too the wearied sufferer, on getting once more to land — to his home, and among his friends — is so joyed at the termination of his torments, that he loses all thoughts of justice or redress, and leaves his tyrant to depart without punishment. The history of emigration would furnish many a sad tale of petty tyranny and spite, practised on the poor exile on the way to his wilderness home.

There are chapters that might be written of bullyism and brutality — thousands of chapters — that would touch the chords of sympathy to the very core of the heart. Many a poor child of destitution — prostrated by the sickness of the sea — has submitted to the direst tyranny and most fiendish abuse on the part of those who should have cheered and protected him, and many a one has carried to his far forest home a breast filled with resentment against the mariner of the ocean.

It is a matter of great regret, that the governments of migrating nations will not act with more energy in this matter, and give better protection to the exile, oft driven by misfortune in search of a new home.


A pity it is that better laws are not made for the guidance and restraint of merchant captains, who, taking them altogether, are naturally as honest, and perhaps not less humane, than any other class of men; but who thus entrusted with unbridled will and ill-defined powers, but follow the common fashion of human nature, and become tyrants of the very worst kind.

These remarks are hardly applicable to my own particular case, for the fiends who tortured me would have done so all the same if the best laws in the world had existed. They had no fear even to take my life, as will be proved by the incidents I am about to relate. It is usual then for masters, who are humane, to permit boys to become somewhat accustomed to the handling of ropes before sending them into the highest rigging.

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But, alas! Not unfrequent have been the instances in which the lives of boys have been sacrificed in this very way. Now it so happened that for two weeks after I had set foot upon board the Pandora I had never been ordered aloft. I had not even had occasion to ascend the lower shrouds, though I had done so of my own will, as I was desirous of learning to climb.

In all my life I had never been higher than the branches of an apple-tree; and since I had now chosen the sea for my profession — though I sadly repented my choice — I felt that the sooner I learnt to move about among the rigging the better.

Hollow Coves - Ran Away (Lyrics in CC)

But, singular to say, for the first two weeks after embarking myself on the Pandora I found but little opportunity of practising. I would have extended my enterprise by an attempt to ascend the topmast shrouds, but I was never allowed time, as the voice of either captain or mate would reach me from below, usually summoning me with an oath, and ordering me upon some other business, such as to mop out the cabin, swab the quarter-deck, black their boots, or perform some other menial act of service. That this was in reality his design became every day more evident to me, and caused me disappointment and chagrin.

Not that I was any longer ambitious of being a sailor, and could I have transported myself safely home again at that moment, it is not likely I should ever afterwards have set foot upon a ratline. In a foreign land, without friends, without money, without the knowledge of a trade, how was I to exist, even if I could escape from the bondage of my apprenticeship?

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In all likelihood I should starve. This was just what I wanted, and it was on this account I felt so much aggrieved at finding it was the very thing I was not to be taught. I made it in the most delicate manner I could. I would soon have learnt to climb had I been left to myself, but I was not allowed even to practise that. Snatching an interval when I thought both mate and master were asleep, I had gone up to the maintop.

July/August 2012 Issue 203: I ran away to sea at fifty

Every one who has looked upon a full-rigged ship must have noticed some distance up the main-mast a frame-wood or platform, like a little scaffold. A similar construction may be observed on the fore and mizen-mast, if the ship be a large one. You'll get this book and many others when you join Bible Gateway Plus. Learn more. Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy.

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