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Mutiny, mutiny, they've all got it mutiny


I am not very sure where sea travel sits in the world's imagination nowadays, or for that matter what role it once played. The age of the sailing ship is now part of a romantic past and sailing through space is part of a romantic future. Right now ships seem to be rusting monsters filled with all manner of cargo, crewed by a small band of professionals where the only true danger is sheer boredom.

You could hardly spin a 'Boys Own' yarn about a modern tanker and if you did it would hardly make eyes sparkle.

Star Trek is a neat example. For some reason the Captain of the Enterprise is always blathering on about the romance of the sailing ship, even stuck on DS9 they dream about 'sailing' the stars. Picard does not go misty-eyed at the thought of commanding a 1990's super-tanker.

A big part of the appeal has to be the adventure, in the good old days of sail crews were not sure where they were going and not sure they were going to get there. Few stories were spun about setting sail from Southampton docks and striking out for the Isle of Wight.

Bad temper or not he surely could spin a yarn

Then there was the mysteries surrounding what happens to the old vessels when disaster struck. Survivors could get to a nearby island and live on it for the rest of their natural without anyone else being any the wiser. I suppose it is possible today but rather than having no way of communicating to the outside world what has happened it is now a supreme effort trying to stop the outside world knowing your every move.

I have long wanted to extend the number of sets which deal with sailing and the like because I like them and Hignetts, Sea Adventure [1939] seems to fit so many roles it is time it gets a mention.

A 50 card series which you can see by the issue date is quite late on the greatest period of cigarette card production. There is so much ground covered (you can decide for yourself if boats cover ground) it is difficult to know where to begin but at the beginning.

Well nearly, card 2, Erik the Red, he is seen striking out for Greenland in his square sailed Longboat. The back of the card explains he was outlwaed from the Iceland colony because of his temper (imagine how bad that must have been then) and off he went. He found Greenland and returned to tell his friends what a wonderful place it was. Bad temper or not he surely could spin a yarn because 25 boats set sail for this wonderland. A number perished along the way and only 14 boat loads actually set foot on Greenland. Which although the card does not say I am assured was a bit better place than it is today although I am struggling to understand how the worlds climate ever changed until we invented CFC's and all manner of pollution, but it seems it did.

The card might not mention climate change but it does mention this bad tempered fellow was also the traditional discoverer of America. It makes you wonder what sort of horror this fellow was.

There are a number of examples of quarrelsome types dotted about the set but it seems they had rather less success at persuading people to sail about the globe with them. Card 9 is 'The Original Robinson Crusoe.' Alexander Selkirk no less.

The story is so ingrained in my mind that I was surprised to discover the illustration on the front of the card. A well dressed 'Crusoe' is watching the arrival of a rowing boat having struck out from the vessel anchored off his island.

Surely I thought 'Crusoe' would not have been so well attired upon being discovered but the reverse of the card tells the true tale. Selkirk had managed to fall out with all his crew members and at his own request was left on the island of Juan Fernandez. There he lived for four years before he was 'rescued'. Now I have been known to have the odd bad mood but having to be abandoned on an island for over 4 years to cool down has to be some sort of record.

Card 10; Anson in the 'Centurion.'

Here is clearly another madman but he gets here because it mentions 'red' 'Juan Fernandez' and the 'Isle of Wight.'

This red-faced man (Anson) determined to attack the Spanish ships and settlements in the Pacific (1740, things change, now the English fleet fight over Cod with the Spanish and manage to be defeated) He was a laughing stock (perhaps the reason for the red-face) as he set sail with six ships and two store ships. The vessels were falling apart before they set sail and were manned by all manner of dross. The card claims he proved them all wrong but when you read of the 8 vessels only the Centurion returned it makes you wonder quite how wrong they were.

Card 16 represents an event which must rate on a top ten list of famous things which happened at sea; 'The Mutiny on the Bounty.' The card notes Bligh was a bully and managed to antagonise a poor crew into turfing him off the boat. There mistake was to set him adrift in an open boat with a few loyal followers. In a feat of seamanship which has to be admired Bligh got the small boat 3,618 miles to safety. The card notes many a mutineer was put to death but that a number set up a 'model' colony in the Pitcairns.

Pitcairn:
It would seem, like a good many things, the truth of the Pitcairn colony and its success has been somewhat embellished, more recent historical examination would suggest it was more like something Golding imagined in Lord of the Flies. Still it only adds to the incredible story and I found it a most rewarding few days getting up to speed on the real deal. Especially true for me as all I could remember was Laughton as Bligh and the cartoon character 'Droopy' doing an excellent impression of Laughton as Bligh.

Well Bligh deserved it and Selkirk asked for it but it seems Samuel Samuels didn't. Card 32, 'The Mutiny of the 'Dreadnought'. This was a clipper plying its trade across the Atlantic in the 19th century. Crews for these vessels were not exactly high calibre and Samuels was having problems so he 'hammered' these hooligans. Their friends vowed vegence and on the next voyage packed the crew with like minded individuals. Mutiny duly took place but Samuels was not giving up easily and gathered all the food and loyal men onto the poop. His men were armed and with the aid of his Newfoundland dog help the deck long enough to starve the mutineers out.

Even more unlikely is card 31, Mrs Patten. Forgive me if you know this story but its the first time I have heard the like. We have moved the calender to 1856 and are afloat in the American clipper, Neptune's Car. A simple enough journey is being undertaken from New York to the Californian gold fields. All was going well but for mutinous and useless First Mate. It would seem this fellow was a right royal pain and gave the Captain much worry. In fact so much worry the card announces it gave him 'brain fever which left him stone blind' The second mate had never really thought he needed to learn navigation but Mrs Patten (the Captains 24 year old wife) had 'amused herself taking sights on previous voyages' decided this was qualification enough under the circumstances and took command of the ship. The journey was dogged by poor weather but the destination was in fact reached.

Of course sailing about the globe was not all about falling out with one another, a great deal of it was too do with falling out with foreigners. Lucky then the world seems to be full of foreign types and they all seem to want each others land. For quite some time we did not know exactly how much land there was or where it was but the likes of Colombus (card 3) soon had us going in the right direction. Actually he was heading in the wrong direction and that was what all the fuss was about. He set of West to find the East. The card notes the crew was mutinous, but we've come to expect that now.

He landed on Japan and did not seem at all surprised he was met by West Indians. He had rather miscalculated and ended up at Watling Island West Indies.

Of course not everything went that smoothly. Card 13 has Captain Cook taking a well earnt rest in Resolution Cove. Having landed and not able to see any Europeans stepping about he thought it would be a good idea to claim the land for jolly old England. On this occasion though he rather slipped up and claimed an island rather missing the big prize of the New World. Still never mind, he did his fair share of Empire expansion you can allow a chap the odd off day. Eventually though we managed to stumble upon the rest of the globe.

Everybody knows the British Empire as built and maintained because of the ability to command the sea but it was a pretty close run thing at times. Perhaps no closer than in the reign of Elizabeth I when the Spanish rather felt England needed teaching a lesson. Card 5 shows the moment when English fireships are driven into the Spanish Armarda, then anchored at Calais and cause a goodly deal of mischief.

Card 6 proves the English did not get it their own way. Although it has to be said in this set it seems we only fail to win because the odds are so stacked against the brave chaps. 'The Last fight of the 'Revenge'. Lord Thomas Howard found his squadron of 7 ships were greatly out-numbered by a fleet of 53 vessels. Now clearly 53 against 7 are poor odds so he did what any self-respecting Englishman would do and set the other six ships packing, afterall he wanted to give the Spanish a chance. He then charged in to the 57 and faught with them for 16 hours. More precisely his vessel was pounded but failed to sink for 16 hours. He was mortally wounded and taken below and the floating hulk had to surrender but it allowed the other 6 to make their heroic escape.

By card 19 there was a combination of events which might have been a bit tricky if it were not for Admiral Duncan. The year is 1797 the British fleet are in home waters and rather than small scale mutiny the whole lot of them are in rebellion. This trouble spread and Admiral Duncan found his fleet in a state of mutiny also. This was something of a problem as he was blockading a large Dutch fleet at Texel.

If the Dutch got wind of the fact the English fleet had basically gone on strike it would have been grim so the quick thinking Admiral kept 'signalling' ships below the horzion which had the Dutch holed up for weeks under the mistaken belief the English fleet was still blockading them.

Its even more English than that. Admiral Duncan was no fool and knew at any moment the Dutch would get wind of his game and come out and blast him from the water. He therefore moved into shallow waters so if this happened at least the British flag would remain flying. Its like the joke about the bloke that although dead refuses to lie down; he's English you know.

Card 22 is another very English story, The Windsor Castle, is a tail from Boys Own. This was a Post Office packet ship and lightly armed in an effort to stop the crew trying to pick fights. The idea was the mail was meant to get through. Of course this had the rather unfortunate side effect they were pretty easy game for the enemy. A French privateer thought the Windsor Castle was fair game but as the card puts it 'had caught a tartar' Despite the mail ship being out-manned and out-gunned those French weasels had no chance against some true English stiff-upper lips and before you knew it the English had boarded the French vessel and captured it.

Imagine how pleased the Europeans were to find the New World and what was more it seemed to be packed full of gold as well as people that had no immunity to common colds (although the natives immeadiate problem was a lack of immunity to being shot, something they failed to grow out of). There was even less reason to let a Spanish ship float about un-molested and given there was half a chance there was treasure on board the Brits were keen as mustard to privatise the whole business of attacking them.

Before you knew it though America was breaking free of the old Country and card 14 has got Paul Jones, the first man to hoist an American flag in a man-of-war says the card. The man of war was something of a tub, having been basically put out to grass by the French Eas India Company. This did not stop Paul from taking on the 50 gun British warship Serapis.

Paul Jones in the Bon Homme Richard only had 40 guns and this was further reduced when a number exploded on the first salvo. Paul did have an ally in the engagement but it would seem he soon wished he had not because his ally was just as likely to shell him as he was the British such was the skill of the fellow.

Undaunted but pounded Paul Jones refused to surrender when given the option, announcing he had not yet begun to fight. Jones was actually victorious in the engagement but it was rather hollow as his own ship foundered also.

I can go on and on with this set and although the page is very tongue in cheek I very much like it and have a good deal more respect for the deeds depicted in the set than I am letting on.

Two cards before I go though.

One in passing, card 34: 'The Mary Celeste' the most famous of the mystery ships although I have a vague memory about the story we know having been somewhat 'enhanced' by the writing skills of a one Arthur Conan Doyle. This 'fact' is only half remembered it is in a magazine in this room somewhere and if that is the case locating it might prove more difficult than solving the mystery of the 'Mary Celeste'.

The next card though I've illustrated. It is card 26, 'The Carolina Affair' Now the illustration is the sort of thing which really grabs the attention. In 1837 part of Canada was in a state of rebellion and the Carolina (some say Caroline) was engaged in gun running operations. There was a need to stop this but no real desire to do so. Eventually though in a 'dashing' action the vessel was cut from its moorings and set ablaze as it went over the Niagara falls.