Thursday, November 15, 2012
From Forecastle to Cabin Captain Samuel Samuels
9781848321267 Seaforth Publishing 2012
This is the autobiography of an American who ran away to sea at the age of 11 and charts his rise from the lowliest seaman (berthed under the forecastle) to the command of his own ship and the occupation of the luxurious after cabin. In the course of an action-packed career spanning half a century, he experienced almost all of the vicissitudes of life in the nineteenth-century merchant service: storm and shipwreck, famine and disease, press-gangs and desertion, piracy, violence and mutiny – this last, at different times, as both mutineer and victim. Like many a sailor he was often in more danger ashore than afloat, but many of his adventures make excellent stories – not least his romantic, but foolhardy rescue of a Christian woman from the harem in Constantinople. In this case the story did not quite follow the script, as she married his accomplice in the rescue. Samuels is best known for his later career, as captain of the packet ship Dreadnought, a ship built especially for him and under his direction. Known as ‘The Wild Boat of the Atlantic’ in the 1850s this ship was reckoned the fastest vessel on the New York–Liverpool service, and regularly beat even the steamers on this route. This success was largely down to Samuels’ hard-driving style as master, and much of the latter part of the book is taken up with the resulting crew troubles, culminating in a full-blown mutiny that he put down with characteristic forcefulness.
This work is a revamped and abridged version of a book first published in 1877. The result results in what was apparently a tedious tome in its original guise into something eminently readable. The late 19th century was indeed the ultimate age of the sailing ship as they were rapidly being replaced by steam powered vessels in both mercantile and military service. For fans of sailing ships and life at sea, this book would make a fine addition to their collection.