Henry Taylor was born in the year 1737, at Whitby, a sea-port town in the North of England; and as most boys in such situations incline towards a sea-faring life, he always had a strong inclination for it; and notwithstanding the entreaties of atender parent to choose a less dangerous employment, he could not be prevailed on. About the thirteenth year of his age, he was bound an apprentice, for the term of six years. He served his apprenticeship faithfully, chiefly in the coal trade, but made, during the time, two voyages to Stockholm and one to Norway.In one of the Stockholm voyages the ship delivered a cargo of tar in the wet dock or basin at Portsmouth, when on a sudden she began to bounce so that the whole crew were alarmed, they were afraid she would break all her moorings; although it was nearly calm the water in the basin ran about six feet up in the sides; and the ships building near trembled like leaves shaken with the wind.
This proved to be the effect of the earthquake that desolated Lisbon, and buried so many thousands in its ruins.In 1757, he made one coal and one Baltic voyage afore-the-mast, which were the only two he ever made in that capacity.On the vessel arriving at Hull, from the Baltic voyage, the master discharged both chief and second mate, and made the author chief mate; but the old mate,out of revenge, informed the pressgang (for it was then war) that he had not been chief mate the voyage; they therefore took him out of the ship and put him into the hold of a tender, where he lay near a month, and at last was cleared by getting a man in his stead.This voyage was also to Riga; it proved a very severe one. They were near a month in the East Sea, often under reefed courses, long nights, and very cold weather.Late in the year the ship arrived at Hull, and he went to spend the winter with his aged mother.
In the spring of 1753, he went a voyage mate of a ship to Riga,and delivered a cargo at Whitby, his native place. Nothing remarkable happened in this voyage. The captain of this ship and he did not very well agree; he therefore left her, but he did not consider what he had to suffer by being seen on shore in the middle of summer, of whih he soon grew weary; for he was ashamed to be seen by any that knew him, and would have been glad to have gone any where, in any situation. He had not been long on shore, when the owner of a transport engaged him to go second mate, which he thankfully accepted, and went with the owner's son to Portsmouth, where the ship lay. Here the chief mate left her, and he was preferred to that station. In a few days the ship was ordered round to Deptford,and discharged from government service. The captain then left her not choosing to go in the coal trade. The Author was now, in the twenty first year of his age, made master of a large ship; this was highly flattering to his vanity, of which he had a large share, but which he was enabled to sacrifice to prudence and a sense of his inexperience. He therefore wrote to the owner, that he thought himself too young to take charge of so large a ship, and requested that he would procure a master to meet him at Shields, and he would serve him in the capacity of mate.In the early partof 1760, the Mary was again taken into the service of government, and he was again made master of her. In this year he made two trips to the river Weser with troopers' horses. The remainder of the year they lay up the river Thames.Early in 1761, he was ordered from Deptford to Portsmouth, where the Ship was filled with facines and gabions, for the purpose of temporary batteries, with which he sailed to Belisle, on the coast of France, thence to Plymouth, and shortly afterwards from Plymouth to Cork; between which place and Belisle, and Basque Road, he was employed in carrying live bullocks and sheep until the end of the year.In one of the voyages to Belisle, his ship was riding in a clear berth, when a sloop of war came to anchor close under his stern; the captain of which called to him to get out of the way immediately. Piqued at the supercilious pride of this servant of the public, he answered him, perhaps too smartly, "If we should now take up our anchor our ship will fall athwart your hawse; we had a clear berth before you gave us a foul one! but I have more regard for the property committed to my care, than to lay so near any ship, and shall certainly move to a greater distance as soon as the tide makes to windward."Offended at such an answer, the captain sent an officer and boat's crew on board to see the ship got under weigh, and on his getting on the quarter-deck, he took Captain Taylor by the collar. Two or three friends who had come on board to see him, fired at such insolence in the officer, were about to use him ill, which he prevented; but at the same time told his people to take hold of the officer, and turn him over the side into his own boat, which they did, without hurting him. He returned soon after in greater force. By this time the tide was making to windward, and the people were heaving the ship to her anchor. The mate was in his place on the windlass, they took him off, and carried him on board the sloop of war. On getting the ship into a proper berth he went on board to demand his mate, which the captain of the sloop refused to comply with. He then went to the old agent, Captain Randall, (who was a real friend to the masters of transports, and was much respected by them) and told him the case. He bid him go to the captain of the sloop, and tell him, that if he did not immediately liberate his mate, he would report him to Commodore Keppel. On delivering this message the mate was discharged.At the end of the war he was ordered to Deptford, where he arrived safe,and the ship was discharged from the service of government; and he was ordered by the owner to whitby, where she underwent a considerable repair.In 1764, he was master of a ship called the Speedwell, of Whitby, and made that year one voyage to Norway, and one to Wyburg and London.
On his return from Wyburg, it was winter; when he came on this coast, he fell in somewhere between the Dudgeon Light and Cromer, but had not seen either of them, or the land. Night was approaching, and a gale of wind northerly; all the direction they had was from a fishing boat, or smack, that told them how he thought Cromer bore. It was not expected that they could keep to windward until morning; besides the decks were lumbered with deals, and the ship very tender. The crew were in consternation, and he was very thoughtful. He went below a few moments and returned on deck, with a mind impressed with a firm belief that they should pass safely through. He then ordered the helm to be put a-weather, and fixed on such a course as he thought would put the ship through between Hasbro' Sand and the Leman, which they did safely, and for which they were all truly thankful. At daylight in the morning they saw many pieces of wreck, casks, &c., floating in the sea.In the winter of 1767, he sailed from Shields in company with fifteen sail; only six survived a dreadful storm which came on soon after they got over the bar. It was on new year's day; the wind at first was due N. and continued so most of the night. The gale came on so heavy, that they handed all their sails, but the foresail. They attemted to steer an outwardly course, but could not get the ship off from the wind; and therefore set down the fore tack and ran off E.N.E. and E. all night. They could not conveive the reason why the ship would not steer, but in the morning they found that the tiller was broke in the rudder-head, which was a very providential circumstance, as it gave them such an offing that though the gale was excessive, and the wind had veered during the night to N.E. and N.E. by E. they found themselves in the morning abreast of Flambro' Head, distant six miles.During the night the boats and every thing on the deck were washed overboard. The foresail, which had stood fast, now gave way; it was hauled up, and the crew went up to hand it; the mate (Richard Hansell, a young man whom he had recently preferred to that station, and for whom he had a particular respect) was on the weather yard-arm: the sail blew up, and threw him under it, so that he was in imminent danger every minute of dropping into the sea. Captain T. saw from the deck his perilous situation, and that none of the people attempted to sace him; praying in his heart the Almighty would help him to rescue him, he flew up the shrouds, firmly grasping the yard with his right arm, and with the other drew him to the shrouds, when the sailors were ready to receive and hold him fast.With some difficulty they got the broken tiller out, and another put in, and then attempted to get the ship before the wind, to try for Bridlington Bay, in hopes that their anchors would hold, but to no purpose; she would not move off from the wind.They had now little hope of keeping off the land until morning. A dark night was approaching, the wind at N.E. and the storm unabated; however, they did not abandon themselves to despair, but succeeded in getting the mainsail tolerably well set, and by lying in the hollow of the sea, the ship got head-way. At daylight in the morning, they were abreast of Dimlington, and about three miles off. The Humber was now their only hope, which if they missed, they must (as the wind was) in a few hours have inevitable perished.They made every effort in their power to get the ship to veer; as the lee fore-topsail brace was broke, they got a warp from the mainmast head, to the yard arm; got the tattered foretopsail to fill, and with the help of the spritsail got her off from the wind; then steering for the Spurn Point, they crossed the Newcome in broken water, but did not touch, As the ship steered very wide, they got both main tacks to the chess trees; and as the wind was too scant to get into the Hawke, and having a strong ebb tide, they let go their anchor a little above Spurn Point; then letting go the main geers, the main yard came down, for they were so exhausted by hunger and fatigue they could not haul the mainsail up. Two or three days after, they got to Whitebooth Road, from whence they were driven by ice, and forced to sea with a contrary wind.In the winter of 1770, he was master of the Joseph, belonging to Benjamin Chapman, on a passage from Shields to London; they came to anchor in Yarmouth, or rather Corton Road, as did several other ships; at which time there was little or no appearance of a storm. He had laid down to sleep; it was low water in the evening; but was soon awoke by the violent shaking of the mizen staysail, which had been used in swinging the ship. He turned out immediately, went on deck, and seeing a dismal looking sky, in the N. and N.N.E. and the wind changed to that quarter, he knocked all hands out, got the sheet anchor clear, let it go, and bore away both cables to near the ends. By thus bearing away before the whole weight of the gale fell upon them, the anchors did not start: but before they got the cables served the gale came on so heavy that the people were washed from the hawse. During the night, a brig parted, and drove towards them with the masts in one; she fell upon the cables, but they grew out so far and were so tight that she was thereby thrown off; but left part of her jib on their bowsprit end. Another ship cast with her head in, and came stern foremast against the larboard bow, but did them no injury.At daylight in the morning, they found few ships that had rode out the gale. Many were wrecked on Corton Sand, and on the Holm Head they saw several wrecks. This was indeed an afflicting sight!One ship in particular (the Thomas, of Newcastle, John Ash, master) lay near the north end of Corton Sand; the whole crew got into the shrouds of one of the masts, which they saw fall,and they all perished! She lay so far to windward that it was impossible to help them; but a Sunderland brig, called the Chance, lay near abreast, and seemed not likely to break up soon. He was extremely distressed at the sight but durst not propose attempting to save them. The people saw his anxiety and anticipated his wishes. His mate (Robert Dixon, who formerly lived at North Shields) a bold and smart young man, and four apprentices who had been Sunderland keelmen, generously offered to try to save the poor distressed seaman. He gave them leave to make the attempt, chargeing them, that when they came near the wreck, if they found the boat in danger of swamping, that they should be sure to return. He had, however, the pleasure to see them get under the ship's lee, where the sea tolerably smooth, and had also the additional pleasure to see them returning with nine men and boys. There were other nine left on board; for a vessel called the Spirit Brig had drove foul of the Chance, the crew of which had got on board her. His heroic mate and lads would go again, and try to bring off the remainder, in which they succeded, and thus saved seventeenth, which but for them would soon have found a watery grave! (one of the fast nine being dead when they brought him on board). The said seventeen were, it is believed, all that were saved out of the many ships lost in this dreadful storm. No boats could get off from Yarmouth to assist the suffering seamen.If, as history records, the ancient Romans decreed a civic crown to that man who saved the life of one citizen, what reward was not due to these five young men, who at the imminent risk of their own lives saved seventeenth! But they received no reward whatever, either from the public, or from those most interested.It should be impressed on the minds of boys, on their first going to sea, that a strict and prompt obedience to command is so necessary a duty, that if they never know how to obey, they will never know how,nor be fit to command; that nothing but a strict discipline and a generous contempt of danger will make them good seamen.To preserve oreder in a ship, the master should observe a dignified conduct; and in all things set a good example. he should never command his men to do any unnessary work; and he should avoid too much familiarity with them. His mate should be his companion and confidant, in whom if he sees any occasion for reproof, he should take care that he never do it in the hearing of his men and boys, as that would bring him into contempt, and lessen his authority.The mate, also, should observe a prudent reserve with regard to his intercourse with the sailors; remembering the old adage, that, "Too much familiarity breeds contempt."
There is another duty incumbent on both master and mate, which is that of keeping a good look out during night, to prevent those fatal accidents which too often happen at sea, from neglect of this necessary duty. They should not suffer the men in their respective watches to lounge on the windlass or hatchcomings, but oblige two of them to keep a good look out, and mind that they answer the call. But thoughtful masters and mates will not wholly depend on them, but will frequently look under the foot, and to leeward of the leach of the foresail.
In the thirty-fifth year of his age, at the pressing importunity of his wife and friends, the Author left the sea, and settled on shore in the business of ship and insurance broker, in North Shields. he has often, on a comparison between a life of business on shore, and a sea-faring one, given the latter the preference; and with the lnowledge he has of both situations, if he had his time to begin again, he would be a sailor. he knows that a very great majority (especially of religious people) are against him, but very few of that majority are capable of making a true estimate, having knowledge only of one side of the question. The general objections of landsmen to a seafaring life are dangers, corruption of morals, and hardships.
Dangers at sea are certainly more apparent than on land, but wheather really so or not, is a question to be solved by those who are skilled in computing deaths and population. There are probably as many seamen who attain old age (in proportion to their number) as there are manufacturers, miners, men in various sedentary employments, and such as waste their lives in regular sensuality.
As to hardships, they are almost entirely ideal, if we may judge from the lively disposition of sailors. The hardships they suffer do not affect their spirits, for they often sleep on a wet deck, or on a hard chest lid, go to their beds with wet clothes, and turn out to take their four hours watch without receiving theleast injury.
It must be acknowledged, that seamen have often to endure long watchings, and great fatigue in cold and rainy weather, but this serves only to give them a higher relish for ease and sleep than it is possible for those to know whose lives are one continued sameness.
In a commercial country like Great Britain, particular attention should be paid render the navigation on its coasts as safe as possible. There are few so dangerous as the east coast of this kngdom. Sand banks lie a considerable distance from, and others out of sight of land. From the Spurn to the Thames the channel is between sandbanks and the main, and frequently between one sand bank and another.
But the greatest danger to which ships bound from the nothern and eastern ports to London were exposed, was owing to the want of lights to guide them either into Yarmouth Roads, or through the Hasbro' Gatt. This channel, though often made use of with day light, was seldom (and then only with extreme hazard) attemted during the night.
There appeared to many well informedmariners a want of more lights; and about this time there was a project for lighting the Cockle Gatt, but it fell to the ground. The few lights at that time were very bad. The Author has known ships lay to, and fire guns to awaken the drowsy attenders, and oblige them to stir up their fires.
Many years after he first went to sea he has been in ships obliged to lay to at noon off the Dudgeon, with strong notherly winds and high sea, beacause it was impossible in a short winter's day to save day light into Yarmouth Roads: there they lay under no command, and in continual danger of driving foul of each other. These were distressing times.
Towards midnight they would have bore away, but were afraid of falling on the north end of Hasbro' Sand, or on sherringham Shoal, because they could not depend on seeing Cromer Light, it was so bad that it seldom could be seen so far to the eastward as the former, or so far to the northward as the latter; on this account it not unfrequently happened that even the next day could not save daylight into Yarmouth Roads, nor out of Hasbro' Gatt, and were obliged to bring up undeer Winterton, a very hazardous situation. As hinted before, there was a great want of more lights on the coast, and of meeting those that were established; the neglect of doing which drew down great responsibility on those whose proper business it was to remedy the evil.
He had used the sea twenty-two years, twelve of which he commanded ships mostly in the coal trade, and since the year 1772, had been employed on shore as ship and insurance broker. During this time, having occasion to adjust many averages and losses, the hardships and sufferings of seamen, the means of alleviating them, and of preventing the loss of so many valuable lives, became subjects of deep consideration to him. There happened at this period an event which more than ordinary afflicted him; it was that tremendous storm which occurred between the thirty-first of October and the first of November, 1789, when twenty-three ships were lost on the Norfolk coast, and about three hundred seamen perished.
This dreadful event awakened the attention of shipowners in the north, to the consideration of means to prevent the like calamity in future.
At this momentous time he produced a plan for making Hasbro' Gatt a safe night passage, by placing two leading lights near Hasbro' church, and a floating light at the north end of the Newarp Sand, with three lanterns, so that ships from the eastward might not mistake it for the Dudgeon; which scheme he laid before five or six of the most intelligent seamen, his neighbours, and which they very highly approved of. But considering the diversity of opinions that prevailed in Shields, he thought it best to consult seamen at other ports, and get their opinion, before he made it further known among his neighbours. In this his most sanguine expectations were exceeded: he received letters from Stockton, Whithy, Scarborough, Hull, and London, fully approving the plan, without suggesting any alteration; at the same promising to unite in applications to the Trinity-house for the immediate execution of it. When these letters were shewn to the shipowners of the port of Newcastle, all soon united in an application for the Gatt being lighted, conformable to the said plan, which was carried into effect in the autumn of 1790, and the most beneficial consequences have resulted therefrom. Few if any ships have been lost there since; and it is now found to be a wide, clear, and safe night passage, such as he had decribed it to be.
Encouraged by the success of the plan for lighting Hasbro' Gatt, he conceived that similar improvements might be made in other parts of the coast, and it occurred to him, that a floating light at the north end of the Goodwin Sands would be of great utility.
He no sooner communicated this idea (which he did in the year 1791.) that the trade adopted it; and the ports of Newcastle, Sunderland, Scarborough, Burlington, Hull, and Liverpool, petitioned the Trinity-house to place the said light vessel without loss of time, which ultimately was compiled with.
In 1795, the author called the attention of the shipowners to the necessity of a floating light at the cast end of the Sunk Sand, to facilitate the passage up and down the Swin, and through the King's channel; which was petitioned for by those of North Shields, and readily agreed to by the Trinity-house.
In 1806, Henry Taylor observed the bad situation of the leading lights into the harbour of Shields, by which many ships were lost. He called the attention of shipowners to this subject; and on the second of March a meeting was held at the George tavern, when it was unanimously resolved to apply to Parliament, to build two new light houses on the plan proposed by him; which application was complied with, and shortly afterwards carried into effect.
The Author often consoled himself with the pleasing thought, that long after he should have gone to "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest," the generous sailor running through Hasbro' Gatt in a dark night, and northerly wind, will feel thankful to Almighty goodness for making Henry Taylor the instrument of giving him such consoling lights.
Having incurred great expense in the furtherance of his plans, he was, from the commencement of the 1817, allowed £100 per annum from the Trinity-house, London; and the sum of £829, paid to him at different periods by the shipowners of North Shields, Lloyd's Coffee House, Corporation of Newcastle, &c., comparatively a trifling remuneration for services of such great magnitude and lasting utility. Not being of a mercenary disposition, he felt contented, and grateful to Providence for the blessings conferred upon him, and closed his long and useful life on the 20th day of February, 1823, and was buried in the Friends' burying ground, North Shields, regretted and lamented by all.
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius.
Copyright © 1995 Lars Bruzelius.