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From Dudley Colliery to Borneo - 1858

From Dudley Colliery to Borneo - 1858

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Published by Martin Laverty
A coal miner from Newcastle describes life in and around coal and antimony mines in Sarawak in 1858-9.
A coal miner from Newcastle describes life in and around coal and antimony mines in Sarawak in 1858-9.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Martin Laverty on Nov 22, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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03/19/2013

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as serialised in the Newcastle Courant, 18
th
January - 12
th
April, 1878
1
From Dudley Colliery to Borneo
 by
Marshall Cresswell
2
18
th
JanuaryIn the latter part of December, 1856, while working at a pit in the course of sinking near Sherburn Station
3
, in the County of Durham, I heard of my employer (the late Wm.Coulson
4
)wanting three or four sinkers
5
to go to Borneo on an engagement for three years. Not knowingwhether it was east, west, north, or south, nor even caring a great deal, I resolved to apply for thesituation, and after two or three interviews with our junior employer, I was duly engaged to go onan expedition in a land I had never even heard of before. When the first week in January had passed, I learned that the vessel I was to go with was chartered to sail from London about 1
st
or 2
nd
of February, and in the interval I made all sorts of inquiries about the distance it was, and how longit would take us to go, and what sort of clothes we would need, and several similar matters which Ithought might be of interest to me. As January was drawing to a close, I left Sherburn to spend afew days with my father and mother, who were living at Dudley Colliery
6
,leaving my address withMr Coulson, who arranged to send me word when I was to proceed to London. The 1
st
of February passed and the 2
nd
came, but with no word for me to take my departure.Impatiently I waited till the 6
th
, when I received a letter stating that I was to go to Durham, andthence to London. After bidding my father and mother adieu, and shaking hands with my brothers,sisters, and neighbours, I left Dudley as though I had been going to a neighbouring colliery to work.I reached Durham at five o'clock in the evening and saw Mr Coulson, who supplied me with moneyto pay my fare to London, and wishing me God speed in my journey, and every success on arrivingat my destination, I thanked him kindly and bid him good bye. I left Durham at 7.40 P.M. Byexpress, changing at Belmont, and was comfortably seated in a second-class carriage till I reachedYork. There I again changed carriages, and was told that I would change no more till I arrived atKing's Cross. On our arrival at Peterborough, the guard told us there would be ten minute's stay for the engine to get water and passengers refreshment. I thereupon entered the refreshment room,where a young lady was in attendance. Taking up a small orange I asked the price, “Twopence, sir,”was the reply. I laid down the money, and at the same time said, “Wey, hinney, aw cud a'bowt fivelike that in Newcassel for tuppence.”
7
We were soon all reseated, and a shriek from the engine'swhistle announced we were again in motion for the great Metropolis.At times I had the compartment to myself, and at other times a half-dozen or eight fellow passengers. I did not care to talk to any of them, as few of them seemed to understand the Tynesidevernacular; so I now and again let a little spirits down to keep my spirits up, often wondering howmuch further I had to go before I reached London. As my watch indicated the hour of five A.M. Ifound I had safely arrived at King's Cross. On walking outside the station I engaged a cab to driveme to No. 9. Mincing Lane, and in less than half an hour I was standing at the office door of theBorneo Company (Limited)
8
.All being shut up, and being rather weary, I went to an inn close byand got a bed, and after having four hours' rest I went to the company's office, and met with two of my fellow-passengers, who had been sent by Mr Coulson, and who were then arranging with thecompany's secretary for lodgings till the vessel was ready to sail. He gave us a note to go to theLondon Dock eating house, where we had everything we could wish for; and, after doing ample justice to the good things offered us, we spent the most of the day on board the Gwalior 
9
, the shipwe were to go with, which was lying in London Dock, taking in stores, water, &c., and making preparations to sail. After purchasing various articles that were necessary for the passage, such assoap, bed, bed-clothes, and a few light clothes for tropical wear, we finished the day in theenjoyment of the social glass. Next morning being Sunday, after breakfast the three of us from Durham engaged a man to take
 
us up to the West End; and, taking a boat at London Bridge, we were soon at Westminster, viewingfrom the river the dome of St.Paul's, Barclay and Perkins's Brewery, and several other places whichwere interesting to see. On getting our feet again on
terra firma
, we proceeded to view the Housesof Lords and Commons, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey, where we heard a portion of an excellent sermon. On leaving there we wended our way into Pall Mall, where our guide pointedout the residence of the Duke of Cambridge, Northumberland House, and several residences of some of the highest gentlemen in our land. Trafalgar Square was the next place which was mostinteresting to us – to look at the monuments in commemoration of the greatest warriors Englandever produced. The remainder of the day was spent in roving anywhere our guide chose to take us;and towards night we landed back at our lodgings weary and fatigued.On the Monday morning we all met at the company's office, and found there were two minersfrom Airdrie, and a lawyer belonging London, in addition to the three of us from Durham, whichmade six passengers altogether. We all got our agreements signed and stamped, and were informedthat the vessel was then on her way to Gravesend, and we were to go by train, and enter into our new floating place of abode, where we were told she would be lying at anchor. The six of us walkedover London Bridge, and booked for Gravesend, where, on our arrival, as we walked out the station,we were accosted by six or eights stalwart-looking watermen with, “What vessel do you want?” Iwhispered to one of our party, “They've shoorly nawn we were comin'.” On replying we wanted theGwalior, they all with one voice said they knew where she was lying.We bargained with two of them (who were mates, and most likely to take care of us) to givethem 6s. to carry us safe on board. Our party now consisted of eight, and the hours of postmeridiannot being far spent, we went to a respectable hotel to have a drop of that which cheers as well asinebriates, as we thought it would be some time before another similar opportunity was offered tous. Although we all indulged rather freely, the watermen did not render themselves incapable of  performing the duty they had taken in hand, and at seven o'clock we were all safe on board theGwalior, there to stay until we reached some foreign land we knew not whither.25
th
January. From London to Rio de Janeiro – IIThe next morning we expected to weigh anchor and set sail, but were detained in consequence of some slight mistake in our captain's manifest, but enjoyed ourselves very much all day looking atthe number of ships and steamboats that passed up and down the river. Our bill of fare being freshmeat and soft bread, with other things to correspond, we thought if that was to be our diet we should be the happiest men alive. The following morning, at daybreak, our captain came on board, and brought with him a strong, robust, weather beaten, respectable-looking man, who seemed to haveweathered the gales of fifty winters. We soon learned he was the pilot, and after partaking of  breakfast he took his stand on the break of the poop, and with a voice that might terrify a nervousman, exclaimed, “All hands at the windlass.” I looked at him with amazement and said to one of mymates, “Aw say, Jerry, what dis he say?” He replied, “Noo, how is aw te knaw; aw understand nowt but English.” However, we soon found out what he had said, for in less than a minute every one of the sailors were on the forecastle, and dividing themselves equally at two handles, commenced tosing a song which was really delightful to hear, and might be heard a mile distant. After ten minutessinging and clanking of the windlass our vessel was floating down the river with the stream, andsoon they had the anchor hanging at the bow of the ship.Then was the time confusion commenced, and we passengers were glad to keep out of the way.The pilot certainly tested the strength of his lungs, and all hands seemed anxious to obey his orders. Not one of us landsmen understood a single word he said, and we were astonished to see thedexterous manner they spread the sails and put the yards in a position to suit the wind. As we glideddown the river all hands seemed to be busy, and appeared to know their work. The first and secondmates working as energetic as any man on board, the captain at the same time, remaining in hiscabin, and did not appear to take any acting part whatever. I asked the steward the reason of the
 
captain's absence, and he said we should not hear the captain give a single order while the pilotremained on board. Towards noon we were out of the Thames, and at night dropped anchor inMargate Roads where we lay till daybreak next morning, the clanking of the windlass and the sweetvoices of the sailors again indicated preparations being made to resume our journey, and at eighto'clock A.M. We were gliding along before a steady breeze.The steward brought us a list of our rations, which showed our allowance of porter was a quart per diem for each man, and two bottles of grog per week for the six of us. Dover soon appeared insight, and the day being rather cloudy we could not see the coast of France, which we all had adesire to do. As we passed Dover and got into the English Channel, the pilot shouted from the poop,“Get your letters ready.” Being anxious to send another letter home, all of us that could write werehard at work till he was ready to leave us. As we one by one handed him our letters, his two menhad his boat already alongside, and, wishing us a hearty good-bye, he stepped down a rope ladder into his boat, and on us giving him three cheers, he left us in charge of our captain and crew.Brighton was then in sight, but in less than an hour we lost sight of land entirely. By this time wefound out the real nature of our diet, and our Cockney companion (William Baulsam), whoappeared to have never had any hardships to encounter, exclaimed in a very serious manner, “I can'ttackle that there junk” (salt beef). My Durham mate (George Noble) said, “When thoo com here didthoo expect thoo wis comin tiy a London eating hoose?” “If I did, I'm suck'd in,” was the reply.As we left the land of our birth behind us, we ceased to see ships, and our vessel soon began toship seas, which made us remember the old adage, “It is not all plain sailing;” and we were told thatwe were in the Bay of Biscay, I could not conceive how they knew, as I saw nothing to indicate a bay at all, only a mountainous sea before us and an angry threatening sky above us. I thought if wewere then in a bay, I did not care much about bays. On the 21
st
of the month a French vessel hovedin sight, and the weather being a deal more favourable, our chief mate with four of his men lowereda boat and told us if we had letters ready he would try to get them sent home for us. We each sent anote with him only to be brought back and given to us, as the Frenchman would not take them. The25
th
brought the islands Porto Santo and Madeira in sight, and at either we could have comfortablyspent a few days had we been permitted to do so. On passing the Canary Islands we began to behighly interested in seeing large numbers of porpoises, dolphins, bonetas, and flying fish. The lastseemed to be pursued by the dolphin and boneta, and would rise up in shoals like a flock of sparrows from a stackyard. On hearing the report of a gun, several of the fish flew on board our vessel, and were a dainty morsel to those who had the good fortune to pick them up. As we drewnear the Equator, we were several days without having a breath of wind, and only at intervals onother days, when we had squalls, accompanied with heavy rain and terrific thunder and lightning, sothat we had the disagreeable misfortune of being nearly three weeks in making a hundred milesadvance, which certainly made it a weary, tedious passage.On the 1
st
of April we crossed the equator, and had winds more favourable. On the 15
th
we passedthe Island of Trinidad, and were spoken with by a vessel called the Emerald, bound for Falmouth,which our captain told to report us well. On the forenoon of the 19
th
, while we were enjoying the pleasure of a fresh breeze, and imagining everything was in our favour, the captain came on to the poop and called out, “Take in all stud sails and furl the royals.” This order had scarcely been obeyedwhen foretopmast, maintopmast, mizentopmast, and flying jibboom were all carried away with atremendous crash. At that moment I thought destruction was to be our doom as I looked at the bulwark broken away by the fall of the huge heavy masts and the vessel nearly on her beam ends.This incident made me imagine I should never have any desire to be a sailor, as all the poor fellowswere harassed till sunset in clearing away; and our captain decided that we should go to a portcalled Rio de Janeiro to get our vessel repaired. We were then 1,400 miles from it, and from the ratewe were sailing at, minus our masts, we knew that it would be some time before we reached that place of refuge. On the 2
nd
of May, while at our dinners, we heard the joyful shout of “Land ahead.”We all rushed to the forecastle, and what we were told was land seemed to be be a mere speck onthe water. As we got nearer it appeared larger, and at six o'clock, P.M., we were abreast Cape Frio.

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