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Townsend's Tale - Part 1
An account of the voyage of the York from Gravesend to New South Wales via Rio de Janeiro
submitted by Dione Coumbe of Dover, Kent, England,

This account was transcribed by Dione from original writings in her possession and was written by Henry Shepherd TOWNSEND, the son of William Townsend 1770-1836, Freeman and Liveryman of the City of London. Henry was the brother of Dione's 3 x grandmother, Hope Morley Townsend who obviously was the daughter of William.  

In June 1825 Henry took a position as Captain's Clerk on THE YORK and in this letter describes conditions on board, names some crew and passengers and vessels he encounters.  Also described are a stand off  with pirates, the brutality in some graphic detail of the crew on crossing the Line; the Australian Company; dissatisfaction of crew and Passengers; the slave trade and his first sight and taste of a banana. 


A note from Dione: Similarly to "The Voyage of Thomas Lyle"   I have no objections to all or any part of "Townsend's Tale" or my notes or subscription of his letter being used as articles in family history society  magazines,   on web sites or placed in any suitable archive with the proviso that none of any extract or whole used be commercially exploited. 

I hope everyone will enjoy this as much as The Voyage of Thomas Lyle,

Regards to all,

I believe I have not previously mentioned the Vessell (sic) which left England in Company with us called THE BROTHERS arrived here 2 days after us all well with the loss of 4 Sheep we have lost 3 - some of our Passengers have gone aboard THE BROTHERS today and others have gone on Shore.  The Captain, Mr. DAWSON, his Clerk, Mr HALL and the Doctor spend most of their time on Shore and generally return to the Sip in the evening pretty merry.

There appears to be a great many Negroes here - in fact most of the boats here are worked by them.  Canoes are also in general use amongst them.  Thur/ 3 or 4 English / 74 Guns / Men of War here as also several Gun Brigs belonging to the English and a small number of English Merchant Vessells (sic) outward or homeward bound also a similar number of French Hurricane Vessells (sic). There are a great many vessells (sic) of war belonging to the Government some day hundreds of them, but we are not far enough in the Harbour to have a view of them.  The Meat is not good for much here nor is the Bread which is made from Indian Corn but they have Plaintain here in abundance - Sugar is also very plentiful as is a very strong spirit called Casash which is more than three to four shillings a gallon English Money.  Wine something of a pretty good port, wine at about 1/- a bottle English Money.  The Rate of Exchange is here very high, you get for 1 shilling 8 Vintons each of which are about the weight and size of an English Halfpenny consequently all articles when purchased in the Coin of the country are very cheap.  I understand all articles of Travelling are remarkably reasonable and of exquisite workmanship. I mean those trinkets manufactured of gold which is plentiful in some parts of this country - if my pocket stood high I should purchase some little articles of the description and send them to you but as it is you must take the Will for the deed.

We have 2 soldiers always on hand and a Customs Officer who examines seriously every thing that comes on board the Ship and leaves it and if any thing contraband should appear they would undoubtedly seize it.

We had nothing but quarrelling and fighting the whole of this evening.  The sailors drunk and fighting amongst themselves one swearing he will murder another for Stealing and the Captain his adversary had stolen some cheese after a great disturbance between the Carpenter  and the Steward with some heavy blows passing between them. The Steward using gross language and blackguarding the Captain Carpenter and whole Ship's Company.  The Sailors coming foreward and laying heavy charges of Roguery against the Steward and the Captain intends to have him before the British Consul about it tomorrow.

Tuesday 30th. August / I must now bring my letter to a close as I must entrust it to Mr. ALLEN who leaves the Ship this day - he goes on board THE SISTERS a brig bound direct for England and will it is supposed sail tomorrow. I have the Captain's leave to go on Shore I went on Shore yesterday afternoon I was then 2 or 3 Hours and had some slight opportunity of noticing a little of the Portuguese who are the natives and Inhabitants of this place.  Upon landing I was informed I was in the Palace Square and of all the dirty holes I ever saw I do not remember  seeing its equal.  I think the noted WEBB SQUARE in the vicinity of SHOREDITCH is about such another place the Palace standing on the left side as you enter is a building not half so good or grand as the Poor House School situated in the Back Road at ISLINGTON.  There is also a large building opposite you as you land I do not know what it is called but there is a large Copper Bell in the centre of it painted green.  I am told their Churches are grand and as I shall most likely be on Shore tomorrow I shall endeavour to get a sight of one.  The Streets like the Square are miserable dirty places but so much alike that if you ever got in amongst them you will hardly find your way back again.  They are swarming with slaves both Male and Female most of them employed fetching Water from a fountain in the Palace Square you will also see 10 or 12 Slaves every here and there chained together carrying large buckets of water on their heads and guarded by a soldier.  These men have committed crimes and are working this instead of transportation.  The Portuguese Women dress without Stockings but have large folds of Black Cloth over their Head and Shoulders you will also see those of higher rank in kind of grand sedan or palanguean dressed in white.  They seem fond of Jewellery and wear plenty of it.  The Slaves wear neither shoes nor stockings and many of them are in a state of nudity and almost in fact some are quite so.  There appears to be a great many soldiers about but their
accoutrements are not very splendid - Officers excepted - but our Naval Captains, Lieutenants and Officers seem to make a grand appearance amongst them - it seems LORD COCHRAN has turned tail upon them for a short time ago he left with a large sum of their money in his possession and we understand he has arrived in England but they swear vengeance against him if he should fall into their hands but yet they acknowledge he has done much for them and had it not been for him they would not have gained their independence because as they did  not pay him properly for his services he has taken the liberty of paying himself.  I expect we shall not leave RIO this Week or 9 days as we have not taken in any Water yet and besides as there seems so much dissatisfaction among the Crew it would not be safe to sail with such a Set and we shall most likely have a new Ship's Company or partly so - Some have left already and others about going - The Boatswain will I think leave us and you may be sure I shall not be sorry for that as he messes with us and is a low drunken filthy Man and quite a disgrace to an Englishman. This place is very dangerous for an Englishman for as soon as it is dark and the Portuguese can do it conveniently they glory in whipping a knife into a Christian and if they do not choose to do it themselves - a Slave will do it for them for the value of 2 or 3 Vintons or 6d - Repeated instances of this continually occur and it is a Mercy our Boatswain did not get murdered.

I have not time to read and correct this long letter as Mr. ALLEN has just told me to be quick,
Your affectionate Son
Henry Shepherd Townsend

I fear you will never be able to decipher the following-
Boatswain has left us and entered as volunteer on board THE BLANCH Man of War - The Steward is about to leave in consequence of charges of roguery brought against him - Another of the Men had left for fear of being murdered by his
messmates for stating their (sic) having stolen cheese and other things.  Mr. Allen is going on to NEW SOUTH WALES therefore this letter will reach you by post - Dissatisfaction still reigns on board but I hope all will be settled before we leave the place.

Copy of a Letter sent to Captain MONCRIEFF
August 21 1825
Dr. Sir,

I beg leave to trouble you upon a subject which I supposed the "brutal treatment" I received upon crossing the line would have entirely set at rest. I mean the threats held out against me by the Sailors.  These menaces have been renewed, and the cause is it seems, they have taken up the mistaken idea, that I am here in the room of another Sailor I ought consequently to work as they do.

I believe I need not state to you that Mr. MOATES did not put me on board his vessel as a "Sailor before the Mast" on the contrary he never hinted in the slightest degree, either to myself or friends, that I was to give the least
assistance in way of working Ship - nor is it at all likely, that I should leave a home where I enjoyed the comforts of life and an improving mercantile situation to enter as a Sailor on board the YORK.

It is true hitherto I have given some assistance in working the vessell (sic), but it has been voluntary and not from a supposition that it was my duty.

I must now beg leave to decline giving any assistance in future in working Ship - My real capacity being that of Captain's Clerk, I am ready and willing to act up to it as far as I am able, but as to manual labour it is quite out of the question except for self preservation should the vessell (sic) be in danger.

I do not request any favour, but am desirous of remaining unmolested by the Crew - I therefore most respectfully beg you will desire them not to interfere with me in any way - I cannot conclude without mentioning another subject - I am extremely sorry to find I have from some unknown cause incurred your displeasure, your pointed silence to me upon all occasions and several combined circumstances make it apparent to others as well as myself - Several persons have said your displeasure is created by my associating with Mr. ALLEN - this I cannot credit, because I made a point of speaking to you about it in a conversation I had with you some time ago, when you told me you could have no objection to my associating with him whatever.

My intercourse with |Mr. ALLEN has been very limited and principly (sic) extends to playing a Game of Chess.  I have always avoided as much as possible entering into any argument with him about his disagreement between Mr DAWSON and yourself, and though, I could not at times avoid hearing what he had to I cannot help lamenting having given you cause for displeasure, but yet, I am at a loss to know what the real cause is.

I am aware I have no friend in Mr DAWSON, yet, I am sure you cannot be prejudiced by him against me, particularly, as I am not in any way concerned with him, but wholly under your protection.

The peculiar manner in which I am now situated has emboldened me to speak plainly but I fully rely upon your giving consideration to the above

and am Dr Sir
Yours Most Respectfully
H. S. Townsend

To Captain JOHN MONCRIEFF, delivered 22nd. August 1825


I believe I did not state who we had on board in fact I hardly knew at that time.  There are as follows -

Mr. DAWSON Chief Agent to the Australian Company.
Mr. EBSWORTH, his clerk
Mr. HALL, Woolsorter
Mr. HOLLANDE, Surgeon
Mr. SMITH, Chief Mate
Mr. WRIGHT, Second Mate

these all Mess and live in the principle Cabins on Deck beside which there are in the Cabins below a Mr. ALLEN, wife and family consisting of 6 children and 11 Men, 8 Women and 19 Children sent out by the Company.  Our crew consists of 27 Captain MONCRIEFF included, so that we altogether number about 80 living persons.  We have also on board 340 Sheep, 8 Head of Cattle, 10 Dogs, so many Pigs, Dozens of Geese, Ducks and Fowls.  We are now crossing the Bay of Biscay and I assure you I have seen as much motion in the Thames as there is here at present.  We have but little Wind - and this may account for it in some measure.

A Short Divine Service was performed in board this Morning / Sunday June 20th / by Mr. DAWSON, it consisted of a Prayer, a Chapter and a Short Discourse which Mr. DAWSON read from a Book of Sermons.

A circumstance occurred yesterday / July 1st. / which might have proved fatal to us all in about two o'clock in the afternoon we discerned a Sail some distance to the Windward of us, She seemed endeavouring to near us, our Captain thought her action strange and Kept on Deck in the pouring rain till 10 o'clock.  About this time She came near enough for the Captain to hail her which he did and She returned answer she was bound for Madeira but she still continued to bear down upon us and soon came near enough for us to have a moonlight view and our Captain immediately perceived her to be an Algerian Piratical Schooner and appeared to be preparing to board us.

All hands were immediately called up and armed, some Muskets were discharged as a signal to THE BROTHERS the vessel that sailed from Cowes in company with us which She "though at some distance" heard and made the best of her way to us.  In the mean time there appeared to be a great bustle on board the Pirate, when she suddenly crossed our Bows, and having laid to a short time as if reconnoitring us, she shipped off again to the Starboard of us and went away making all sail.

It is generally supposed on board of us that she must have imagined we were transports with Cavalry on board, as We were so expeditious in firing and more particularly as she must have had an indistinct view of the HAY in our Chains. However she must have been intimidated as we have seen nothing more of her. It is quite impossible to describe the consternation that reigned on board during the late transaction.  I mean among the Women and Children and it will no doubt be some time before they regain their accustomed composure.  For my own part I did not feel alarmed for I thought it would come to nothing.

Came in sight of Teneriffe this day / July 5 / had an indistinct view of the Peak which is amazing high.

I forgot to mention we passed Madeira on the 3rd of this month.  We had a very poor view of the Western side of it which is a rock very hight but quite inaccessible.  It was the intention of our Agent to put in there at first for a supply of water and fruit, but by the time we reached it he determined to pass and will probably let us put in at Rio Janario (sic) a Spanish Port in South America.  If that should be the Case, I shall endeavour to forward this letter from thence.  The Day we passed Madeira THE BROTHERS came alongside and our Agent went on board and the Captain and found all well.

This morning / 11 July / The Boatswain got his Jaw Bone broken in consequence of fighting with another Man.  The Boatswain gave the provocation and also struck the first blow therefore has nobody but himself to thank for his pain. 15th.  We had this day the first breeze we have had since we have been on board it frightened the Women and Children a little and made them sick.  The heat is very powerful hereabouts the thermometer stands between 80 and 90.  We are about 12 Degrees from the Equinoctial line.

/ Aug 1 / We have had fine weather for the last three weeks but in consequence of contrary winds we have made but small progress.  We are about 5 degrees from the Equinoctial  Line.  A great deal is said by the Sailors about Shaving on crossing the line, they swear they will serve me out and hold out many threats against me.  The reason is I have to serve them out Water every other day and in consequence of refusing to give them 2 or 3 Gallons over and above their allowance they swear vengeance against me.   I have offered to pay the fine but they refuse.  I desired Mr WILSON to offer a gallon of rum if they would not molest me, this they refused.  I hardly knew how to act however before the time comes I will make the Captain acquainted with their threats and desire his protection though he behaves so strangely to me I fear I shall only receive some evasive reply.  If this should be the case I must hit upon some plan to defend myself from the violence is I can though I fear it will be useless they are such a set of desperate chaps.

/Sunday 7th August / We shall cross the line this night and the Sailors intend to shave tomorrow   I have spoken to the Captain this day about the threats held out to me but he does not seem to pay much attention to it the only answer I got from him was "Sailors say more (than) they mean but I will see about it"   from the careless way in which he said it I much doubt whether he will notice it at all however if I should hear more about it from him I have determined to barricade myself in our Cabin and prevent the entrance of any one  I have borrowed a Pistol  this I shall load with powder and threaten to shoot the first that enters and provided they are sober when they come to me and endeavour to break down the door I will fire it to awe them and they will most likely desist but should they be drunk resistance will be vain and I will give myself up to them they will not I think hurt me then as I do not resist.

/Tuesday 9th August / A have been most brutally used my life has been endangered but I must state the thing as it occurred.  Yesterday the Sailors prepared to Shave as we had crossed the line the preceding night.  The Passengers had all determined to make assistance and as they had plenty of fire some mischief might have ensued.  The Captain therefore ordered the Sailors to leave them alone and only Shave the Ships Company.  Unfortunately for me I am marked as  one of them, in fact myself and the Doctor were the only 2 respectable parties belonging to the Ship who hadn't been Shaved there was also 3 Sailors and 4 Boys to Shave.  The Doctor had the Captain's protection and was of course not shaved.

About 2 o'clock in the day understanding they were just beginning I barricaded the door of our Cabin with Chests Boxes etc., and loaded a Pistol with powder about 3 o'clock they began and as I was afterwards told nearly drunk I heard them beating one of their own men terribly and began to anticipate what I should receive but I thought it possible they might overlook me.

They did not come near me till about 4 o'clock when one of the named EVANS came and tried to open the door, he looked through the Doorblinds and saw me he then went away and returned immediately with 2 more named MATTHIAS and BRYAN they began immediately to smash the Door.  I had now a glimpse of them and I do not remember ever having seen such a set of incarnate Devils before. Picture to yourself a set of men dressed in canvas frocks and trousers black with tar and with their faces painted with white and yellow paint and coal tar and beastly drunk though not sufficiently so to incapacitate them from carrying any mischief into effect.  To make resistance I saw would be useless. I said "wait a minute and I will clear the boxes from the door and come out to you," they desired me with dreadful imprecations to be quick.

I had removed one box and was endeavouring to remove the rest thought they still continued to demolish the door I told them it was impossible for me to remove the chests while they pressed against the door so hard at this moment one of them saw the Pistol on a chest, with horrible threats desired me to fire that Pistol out of the Scuttle.  Knowing the Pistol as it was useless to me I complied with his desire and endeavoured to fire it into the Sea but it missed fire they now renewed their exertions to break open the door and I did also, the clear the chests away in about 2 minutes I got the boxes away but not before they had burst a panel of the Door in.  I now came out to them when they began to use me very roughly one of them struck at my head with a staff his name was MATTHIAS I bobbed my head forward and received the blow on my shoulder another named EVANS gave me a hard blow on my side with the end of his Staff which forced one with no small violence against the Wainscot of our Cabins.  They were swearing at me in a dreadful way all the time I now threw myself forward toward a corner when I had seen a stave in the Morning with the intention of seizing it and selling my life as dearly as possible for they were bent upon severely injuring me but it was not there.  The Carpenter now joined them in abusing me though he did not strike me I rushed upon Deck the whole of this had been the work of 5 minutes or less from the time I left my Cabin.  They followed me upon Deck and were joined by several others of the same description.  I was now handled roughly again some heavy blows were struck at me.  The Carpenter endeavoured now to protect me as also the Third Mate  Mr. WILSON came forward to interfere I got several blows about the head and ribs at last one of them named BLAKE gave me a violent blow between the eyes which laid me senseless on Deck.  I remained so for a few minutes, in the mean time the Captain came forward he had witnessed the whole scene upon Deck, they told him a most infamous lie they said I had fired a Pistol at them I was just recovering when I heard the Captain say "Shave him, shave him by all means".

I was then hurried forward to the shaving place the Captain was near and I appealed to him but he took no notice of what I said.  The place where they shaved was in fore part of the vessel, the four corners of a sail were supported on 4 poles, bound together by cross poles, in front of this some poles were laced up like steps.  I was put on one of the supper Rounds with my back to the sail which was about half full of water.  I was now saluted by Mrs Neptune by one of the sailors dressed like a Woman he gave me a few hard Gripes (sic) on my cheek.  My "face"eyes"nose"mouth" even my hair was covered with coal tar by a Man named SIMMONS who was Neptune for the time but acted as barber lathered my with Coal Tar himself in consideration of serving me out well, he asked some of the foolish customary questions which the state I was in made me incapable of noticing.  The Razor was now produced to shave me / it was a Copper one about a foot long with teeth regular cut in it like a saw / preparatory to ducking but some of them were so anxious to see me ducked that before the Razor could reach my face they tipped me heels over head backwards into the Sail, this I was very glad of for I felt very faint but the water revived me but I could not remove any of the Coal Tar from my face with it then.  I rose in the water they set up a shout of derision and though I was extremely mortified I would not show it but though half chocked with the tar I shouted also to show the Captain I was not mortified by his spite.

When I got out of the Sail BLAKE the same man who struck me senseless on Deck kicked me and dragged me down under him three or four others throwing themselves on him and thereby pressing me with no small violence but they got off directly to make room for some one to throw water over me which they did BLAKE holding me the whole time.  I then got away half choked with the Tar and fainting with the blows I had received.

When I came below to my Cabin one of the Passengers named CARTER gave me about quarter of a pint of run which I drank off directly and felt somewhat better.  I then changed my clothes and wiped as much of the tar off as I could from my face.  I went upon Deck and remonstrated with the Captain upon the treatment I had received but all I could get from him was that I was shaved and he had been shaved before me "very consoling truly I had been in danger of having a broken head" he seemed I thought afraid of being called to account for the treatment I have received, he asked particularly who saw the Cabin broken open and also who saw me maltreated below and I am telling him several women saw the transaction he said rather exaltingly "A Woman's evidence will not I think be taken in Court under the existing circumstances" however there was one man present who offered to make a deposition before any magisterial party in my favour.  I am told in confidence by the Chief Mate that if my friends desire to take the late transaction into consideration upon my arrival in England damages to no small amount would undoubtedly be recovered and he says he has known some similar instances where Captains have been ruined in cases where parties have not been as ill treated as myself.  I am told generally that no law is in existence allowing the brutal custom of Shaving and that, combined with injury sustained from blows particularly the Captain being previously made acquainted with the Men's intention of maltreating me under the circumstances doubly recoverable.  I have been very particular in no allowing the least sentiment of remedy on my part against the Captain escape me but on the contrary when spoken to about it I generally say if I could make the Men smart for their brutality I would do it but the Captain is quite out of the question.

I assure you I had no small difficulty in removing the tar from my face I accomplished this however by using no small quantity of grease but could not remove it from my eyes.  I forgot to mention the custom adopted by the Sailors the night before Shaving.  A tar barrel is filled with old canvas, tar wood and other inflammable articles and set fire to after which it is lowered into the water, in the mean time A sailor climbs to the end of the bowsprit and hails the Ship in a gruff  stifled voice as though a speaking trumpet at some distance.  The Captain answers him through a speaking trumpet asking "What Ship that is" the Man answers "I am Neptune and understanding you have some of my children on board who have not crossed the Equinoctial Line before I shall pay you a visit and shave them tomorrow" The Captain answers "Very well Mr. Neptune, very well I shall be happy to see you" Neptune them says "good night Captain, good night my Sons" upon which the barrel is let down and the ceremony ends.

I think upon the whole I never witnessed such a foolish brutal piece of business as this shaving in my whole life.  After the Shaving was over on Monday last the men got comfortably drunk and began fighting among themselves and the Captain interfered and was abused in the most gross and unpardonable manner.  So this is the best he got for allowing the men to make brutes of themselves and injure other people.  The Agent was also abused in no  slight degree.

I have had a bad nights rest during the preceding one from the pain in my eyes head and  side my face is also a good deal swelled and my eyes both blackened from the blows received on my nose.  I have applied to the Doctor for something to relieve the pain in my head and he has given me some medicine to take every 3 hours in case I do not find relief by morning I am to apply to him again.

I have been obliged to give up my nightly watch in fact am not in a fit state for duty.

/ Wednesday 10th. August / I am somewhat better today the pain is not so violent in my head but the most pain I feel in my right side enjoyed a good nights rest last night.

/Sunday 14th August / I am now quite recovered from the injury I sustained on shaving day and think myself fortunate that I was not more severely hurt.

I believe I have previously given you some idea of the Passengers.  I will now endeavour to give you some idea of their Characters as far however as I am concerned with them.  I will begin with our Captain T (I?) MONCRIEFF.  I am unable to form an opinion of this party as he had acted so strangely to me - he may be a very good man but his behaviour to me has not been what I expected I know no just cause or reason why or wherefore I have displeased him I have always treated him with great respect and have never yet refused doing anything he requested me.  I can only assume his motive of treatment to 2 Causes and perhaps I judge erroneously in both.

The first is I fancy he expects me to work among the rest of the Sailors for taking the Rigging down, Viz now you know well I did not accept any Situation under the Supposition that I was to work as a common sailor and though I certainly did work very hard in our passage from GRAVESEND to COWES, yet upon signing Articles before leaving there I explained to the Captain it was not my intention to work the Ship and he seemed satisfied with what I said upon it I shall instantly refuse to do any duty hard work he may chose to set me about yet I shall give assistance at time in hauling on ropes.

The second cause for the Captain's displeasure I ascribe to the following circumstance.  On board the vessel there is a person of the name of ALLEN whom I shall hereafter mention more largely, from the party I have received many little attention which I have of course returned.  Unfortunately he has quarrelled with the Agent of the Australian Company who is very bitter against him and finding I am in the habit of playing Chess now and then with Mr. A the Agent supposes or chooses to suppose from that circumstance that I am upon intimate terms with Mr. ALLEN and consequently he has doubtless prejudiced the Captain against me in fact every thing I observe confirms the supposition now I am rather surprised at this for some time ago when I had conversation with the Captain I mentioned to him that it had been said to me he did not approve my associating with Mr. ALLEN.   I told him if he certainly disapproved Mr ALLEN and myself holding conversation together I would undoubtedly refrain from saying any thing to him the Captain stated he could have no objection whatever to my being on friendly terms with Mr. A and I was quite at liberty to associate with whom I pleased after this I felt no hesitation in playing Chess or otherwise with Mr ALLEN.  The Captain appears to constantly avoid me and never passes a word with me neither do I receive any orders or communications from him whatever.

Townsend's Tale Part 2

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