For this week’s highlight, we are pleased to offer an excerpt from award-winning children’s writer Diana Menefy. This is the opening chapter of Shadow of the Boyd, HarperCollins 2010
They are all dead. All the crew are dead except for me.
And I’d probably be dead too if it wasn’t for Mr Berry rescuing us – Mrs Morley, baby Mary, little Betsy and me. We’re safe now on the City of Edinburgh and soon we’ll sail for home.
The City of Edinburgh is a barque and smaller than the Boyd – a lot older too and not in such good condition – before the fire that was. There are already two apprentices on board: Mr Berry says I’m to share their duties, but he also said that whenever things are quiet he expected me to report to the great cabin and write my account of what happened.
I don’t like writing, but he wants my story for Mr Brown, the owner the Boyd. Mr Berry writes every day and he reckons if I do it like that, a bit at a time, it will be easier. I wrote those two sentences – and then I couldn’t think what to say next. I was still staring at the blank page an hour later when Mr Berry came back.
‘Start at the beginning with your name,’ he said. ‘Tell me about the voyage – just the important bits until you get to when the trouble started.’
So that’s what I’m doing.
My name is Thomas Davidson. I come from Romford, London. I went to sea as an apprentiss on the brigantine Boyd early in the summer of 1809. Da paid my indenture to the Boyd’s owner, Mr George Brown, and I promised to faithfully serve him while being taught the business of a seaman. I was proud to belong to the Boyd. She was a fine ship, a three-decker with two masts, Thames built and top rated.
There were three of us apprentices, John Bowen who was in his second year and Will Green new like me. John took us down to the fo’c’sle to stow our sea-chests. The air was musty, the light dim and I was to share a hammock with John who was on the opposite watch. He must have noticed the dismayed expression on my face because he laughed. Then John showed us around the ship, starting with the empty hold and finishing on the quarterdeck where we were put to work caulking the deck.
We sailed from London on the full tide early on March 3rd 1809. Will and I were on the larboard watch under Mr Strunk the first mate. As the ship moved down the river I stopped work to watch the buildings slip by.
‘Stop slackin’ there.’ Bosun’s voice caught me by surprise. I dropped back down to the deck and carried on pounding the caulking cotton into the seams between the deck and hull with the iron. Will was using the mallet not far from me. As Bosun moved away Will looked up and grinned.
‘Do you think we’ll ever get the tar off our fingers?’
‘Better tar than ink. I’d hate to be cooped up inside all day like Da is.’
‘Yeh. Me too. I want to see the world.’ Will looked up at the sailors on the foot ropes by the yards. ‘I wonder how long it’ll be before we get up there,’ he said.
I caught the words drifting down: ‘Yo! Ho! Away to sea we’ll go…’ and with the wind flicking my hair, the slap of the water against the hull the adventure started.
My good mood lasted until we hit open waters, when the heave of the ocean had me clinging to the side.
Over the next two days I reached until my throat was raw and my ribs ached. Between watches I lay on my hammock longing for the quiet comfort of my own bed. The ship never stopped shouting – creaking timbers, the wind booming in the canvas and the rattle of the blocks from the deck. On top of that the bell rang every half hour, even through the night, starting at the beginning of the watch with one ding and building to eight at the end. I would doze off, then jerk awake with the ring. At eight bells when the watch changed I’d stagger up on deck while John headed for the hammock. He slapped me on my shoulder as he passed, told me the sickness would go and I’d get my sea legs soon. I didn’t believe him.
By the time we dropped anchor at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight two days later I was ready to abandon ship. Will insisted that I’d feel better once I’d eaten. He was right. We’d stopped at Yarmouth to load a contingent of soldiers with their gear and supplies. Will and I watched as they marched on board – thirty-three of them, their buttons shining, all wearing tall black hats and long grey coats and carrying knap sacks. Will sniggered and the soldier at the back turned to glare at us. He didn’t look much older than me. The officer in front bellowed orders and the soldiers halted on the quarterdeck and stood at ease.
‘Looks like a stove-pipe to me,’ Will said, as some of the men removed their hats.
‘With a feather on top.’ I grinned, happy to be feeling better. We were close to the young soldier and he obviously heard our comments. He swung around to face us.
‘Awa’ an’ bile yer heid, Sassenach!’
‘Just jokin’,’ Will said, taking a step back.
‘Good to see you lads making friends.’ Mr Strunk had come up behind us. “Green, Davidson, you can give a hand to stow some of this gear. Captain Cameron and Lieutenants Pike and Wright will be in the spare cabin below the quarterdeck. You can deliver the trunks there.’
It took a day to load and store all the supplies. The rank and file soldiers were bunked ‘tween decks, their equipment stashed in every available space there. I thought it was strange that the hold was left empty until John told me our next stop would be to pick up a load of convicts.
By the time we sailed again my stomach had settled and the weaving of the ship, the noise, even the ship’s bell had dropped into the background. Walking around the capstan singing a shanty as we weighed the anchor I felt like part of the crew for the first time.
‘This is the life,’ I said to Will who was next to me. Will nodded. His face was red with exertion, his black hair blowing to the side in the breeze. That evening while we sat on our sea-chests in the fo’c’sle, eating a boiled mush of beef, potatoes and turnips, we found out that the soldiers were there to act as guards, to keep us sailors safe.
Diana Menefy was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, but has lived in rural Northland for the last forty years. She started writing and was first published in the late 1970s. Since then, Diana has had stories and articles for both children and adults published in magazines and newspapers. Her major work has been seven non-fiction books and two junior novels. The last novel Shadow of the Boyd (HarperCollins, 2010) was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2011 and won the prestigious LIANZA Esther Glen Medal that year.
Diana has her master’s degree in education (specialising in children’s literature) and tutors part-time on the online applied writing programme at NorthTec. She is a member of the New Zealand Book Council’s Writers in Schools programme, the Northland delegate on the national council of NZSA(PEN Inc) and the Northland representative of Storylines CLFNZ.
A farmer’s wife, mother and grandmother, Diana enjoys researching history and then bringing it alive for readers. She is currently working on a children’s novel set in the old silver mines at Puhipuhi in the early 1890s.