Rear Admiral George Campbell Read had a distinguished naval career including service on the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) in the War of 1812, in the Barbary Wars, and in this Sumatra expedition as Commodore of the Columbia. I assume this is his book (OCLC catalogues it as his), but it is hard to tell since the author refers to Read in the third person, and to himself as one of the Professors. Whoever the author, he is a thoughtful, even elegant writer with a self-deprecating impulse not common among admirals or explorers.
Another book about this voyage by the chaplain of the squadron, Fitch W. Taylor, may be found here: https://polar-reading.mysticseaport.org/item/m088/.
p. 21-27, whoever the author, he reads as if he is having the reading experience. Here is a lengthy early passage on their departure from Hampton Roads (Norfolk, VA), not too relevant to our theme of reading, but a fascinating glimpse into the would-be upper-crust life on a man-of-war.
p. 21: But I must initiate the reader a little farther into the recesses of the frigate; and although it may appear somewhat egotistical, I cannot better convey an idea of incidents and peculiarities, than by relating impressions that most affected myself. Certainly, of all my impressions, the most lasting were made by the circumstances which I am about to narrate; and I think, moreover, they involve a little of naval principle, — otherwise, for certain good reasons, I would let them rest, and veil my name, and every sign that might betray my identity as the writer.
There were three Professors of Mathematics in the squadron, one a passenger, and. the other two regularly attached to the respective ships;
among whom, as the old codger remarked, who gave the famous toast,” to those who fought, bled, and died on Bunker’s height,” I myself was one. Now the grade of Professors in the sea service was adopted as an experiment only about five years previous, and up to that time, although few of them had been at sea, they had invariably messed and occupied commodious apartments with the ward-room officers.
p. 21-22: So it was with the Professors in our squadron, till within a few days of our departure, and every provision was made accordingly, when to our surprise and confusion, we were graciously informed that a letter had been received from the Board of Commissioners, declaring that Professors had no right to mess in the ward-room. This was indeed astounding, since we had been assured by the Hon. Secretary of the Navy, by our friends in the service, and by every legitimate precedent, that we were individually entitled to a state room, and to the privileges of the ward-room. But it appeared to us, that there was a prevalent jealousy among those naval officers, against all civilians in the service; and that besides this, the lieutenants of our two ships, as a body, were unusually young, and knew not well how to wear their thickening honours without arrogance. It occurred to them, however, that they were unjustly crowded; that the department had thrust in upon them unswabbed, unhonoured, non-militant spies, without regard to their comfort; and they considered the act, as an innovation — an incubus, that must be thrown off; and they accordingly determined at least to reject the Professors, and if possible, to run them out of the ships. But how was this to be done? Why, nothing so easy to their minds. They could see no difference in rank between Professors, and the old grade of dissipated, worthless scapegoats, ycleped the unexamined, unqualified, temporary teachers: and they were very sure that none of that grade ever messed in a wardroom: ergo, there was precedent enough for their purpose. So thereupon, a joint letter to that effect was sent to the Secretary of the Navy; by him it was referred to the Board of Commissioners, instead of the Attorney General, and the obnoxious letter of ejectment was returned in answer.
p. 22-23: The Professors were told of the decision, without being allowed to see either letter; but they sent a remonstrance, though of course too late for redress, to the following purport: that the subscribers regarded the decision of the Hon. Navy Board, as a hasty one, both illegal, and unnecessarily militating with the rights and usefulness of Professors. They had understood that the office to which they were appointed, had been purposely elevated in rank, and encircled with extra privileges, conditions, and honours, in order to induce gentlemen of known ability and refinement to enter the profession. It was feared, with all deference and respect, that the Hon. Board had not duly considered the fact, that by their decision they had placed the Professors in the same irresponsible, inefficient position, which was held by the temporary teachers — a position that in every instance, made that disrespected office almost a sinecure, and was the basis of the argument for trying the experiment of a higher grade, having superior rights and authority. It was presumed that the Hon. Board knew very well, that officers who mess in any lower degree than the wardroom, in our ships of war, are indiscriminately treated like striplings at a boarding-school; and if a teacher be upon the same subordinate level with such, he can of course have little more influence over them than one of themselves ; or at best, act as a servile usher to officers who may know nothing of his business.
p. 23-25: It is expected of a Professor that he shall have spent his youth and much money in his education; that he should be a man grown — having experience in the art of teaching—with habits fixed as a man, and with the refinements of a gentleman : and can such expectations be answered, when the Professor is placed beyond the pale of manly privileges and associations — when the door to common courtesies is closed upon him, and he is forced back into the frolics of youth, and made to jostle constantly with those, among whom many are just acquiring the proper sobriety and deference that become a manly intercourse? For the young gentlemen, the “sky-larking,” laughter-loving middies, such a condition is not only tolerable, but agreeable; particularly since they are in the line of promotion, and can anticipate the day when they shall enjoy the exclusive comforts of the ward-room and cabin. But for the Professors, with no chance of improvement in rank or pay, however low may be his position, and with a mere competence at best for a respectable person, and yet subject to the orders of the Department on shore, without pay, it is intolerable, it is more than the government intended, and more than a gentleman should suffer with patience. Thus indeed it was with myself; but what could I do? I could not get detached — my resignation could not be accepted — there was no time to go to Washington for a release, and to desert was dishonourable. Go then I must; but how or where to mess I knew not. In this dilemma, there came to me “a comely youth—neat, trimly dressed”—with classic head, balanced a little aft with self-esteem, and an air so recherche, that I was prepossessed.
He represented that he was a caterer on board the Columbia, and one of their assistant surgeons, who, with two others, composed the cockpit mess. They had made their arrangements without expecting an addition to their number — and all the rooms of their apartment excepting two, were occupied by the stores of different messes; but, if I would accept of a privilege in the country of the cockpit and join his mess, he assured me, that my society would certainly be a great pleasure to them, and I should be fully welcome to a share of their rights and accommodations. I did not hesitate to accept this offer, and, having despatched my boxes of instruments and books, which I was told could not be allowed a place in the ship, I repaired with the doctor on board, to take possession of my new allotment.
Down, down, down, I went, through three hatch-ways of that deep frigate, to the veriest submarine cellar that ever a landsman beheld. There, amid thick darkness, and thicker filth and dampness, there was the abode in which I was invited to spend three years. The open area, called “the country” was about twenty feet square — lumbered with the mess and personal chattels, including those of the boys, of eight persons. About the sides opened the store and bread rooms of every mess in the ship, excepting that of the cockpit, which was unfortunately in the vocative: then, beneath was the spirit-room, which, when opened, as it was thrice a day, and often all the day — required us to have our light doused or extinguished — our only light — for the light of day was shut out effectually by many a beam and plank, opaque and thick. The two state rooms, indeed, afforded a screen of privacy to two assistant surgeons; but, the refuse of us had not even the chalked lines of an Irish colony in a city garret, nothing to distinguish the premises of meum et tuum. In that dark, dolorous hole, which was aptly called by “a reefer,” the “lower regions,” we were to make our home, to live and move by day and night. Then each second day we were to have the place flooded and swabbed; each other day to have the wet or dry holy-stoneing; and, occasionally, a boat’s crew let loose upon us, armed, cap a pied, with brushes and buckets of white wash to enlighten our apartment; and, indirectly, ourselves and clothes also.
Of course, we soon became very indifferent about our personal pulchritude, and although every morning at six-bells, we might be seen groping about, by a taper light, or “purser’s moon,” hitting our sconces against staunchions and low beams, and raising many an organ not contemplated by Spurzheim, before we could complete our daily ablutions and toilette, yet we seldom attempted any extraordinary touches excepting on Sunday, or in port.
p. 28-29, in a subtle but snarky attack on ship’s surgeons as undesirable literary companions in the wardroom: “It is admitted,” says this journal, “that great changes have been effected since the administration of the great Lord Melville, who was truly the father and benefactor of the British navy, and the signal transition from the illiterate ‘doctor’s mate’ to the ‘assistant surgeon’ is, especially, an honour to the service. … His examinations show him to be proficient in his profession, yet he is still doomed to associate with boys, many in the first years of their career, too juvenile for companions—too old to be treated as boys—too little trained to discipline to respect others. Moreover, the assistant surgeon is cut off from all professional reading, which we all know to be impracticable in a cockpit. Further, the modernized pay of this class of officers is adequate to maintain the expenses of the wardroom: his reading, his habits, his generally mature age, fit him for an associate with the higher grade; and it is hoped that this boon will be conceded. …” . It has occurred to me, and I would therefore suggest, from my brief observations, that, if it be practicable, it would certainly be more congenial to all, for the educated civilians, and other idlers of similar rank, including the first lieutenant, to mess together in some appropriate apartment, as a kind of scientific corps. I might dwell upon the advantages thence to be derived, but they may occur as readily to others. Whether applied or not, this suggestion is at least worthy of consideration; for the wise despise nothing, and it is a sound philosophy, approved by Paul long before it was introduced by Lord Bacon, “to prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good.”
p. 52, on meeting a fellow vessel on entering a foreign port; She was just then heaving in sight. Where had she been? what had she met? and how happy the meeting of the ships at sea, to sail together into a foreign port, as they came from home! Such thoughts rushed through the mind of each observer; and undoubtedly the reader too has a like curiosity to know what she had met with since we parted.
As to what she met, why truly one answer might suffice for the entire voyage of either ship. When Hamlet was asked what he was reading, he answered, ” Words! words! words!” which is all that one can properly say of most books where in there is nothing new — naught
“But matter newly dress’d,
What oft was thought, though never so express’d.”
p. 127, in Rio di Janiero: On our way thither we had an opportunity of noticing the National Library, once a valuable collection of thirty thousand volumes established by the liberal and tasteful, though absolute and irresolute Don Pedro 1st; but now dwindled to about ten thousand neglected, dust-covered books, which are soon to be taken from a careless illiterate community, and deposited in the palace. The English and Americans have a respectable library of their own; though at present it is of little interest.
p. 154-55, a good description of the shipboard school for apprentices and cabin boys: A part of these young gentlemen had refused to attend school at all where the noisy, indecent apprentices were; but of those present, two or three are writing letters or journals, others reading novels or drawing, while the remainder are restless and impatient, or half dozing over the worn but unstudied pages of Bowditch. “Is there any need,” says one, “of studying all this Geometry in Bowditch?” “Certainly,” says the teacher, “and it were better for you to study a complete course of Geometry.” “But I can’t fix my mind to such dry stuff in a wet noisy place like this; besides I’ve got to muster my division, and fill out my quarter-bill directly, so I must quit now at any rate” Directly another breaks out in the same strain, “Well its no use, I can’t study here; but I know how to keep the dead reckoning, and I can take the meridian altitude, and work chronometer sights already; and is’nt that all I need to get excepting to work a lunar sir?”
“Why I presume you know nothing of the principles involved in those problems. Perhaps you cannot even tell me the difference between the azimuth and the amplitude of the sun; nor what is meant by the arithmetic complement of any number?”
“No sir, I cannot.”
“Do you understand the difference between Mercator’s, and middle latitude sailing?”
“I think I understand it, though I can’t exactly explain it. But I can learn all those things better on shore at the naval school.”
So this student also escapes to seek a seat in pleasanter company. Directly a messenger comes in inquiring for Mr. R.
“What now?” says Mr. R.
“The officer of the deck wants you, sir,” and Mr. R. goes.
[Several more pages follow on the ignorance and foolery of the apprentices, the inadequacies of the surgeons, how Crusoe wrote every word of his book, and other drooleries of the school hours at the beginning of the cruise.]
p. 170: By Sunday, the second of September, we began to get beyond the influence of the dauphin winds, although squalls and rains, and light breezes still annoyed us. This bustling, dull, depressing kind of weather had gradually subsided, and the comparatively idle crew were once more resorting to the books of the General Library for recreation. I think, by the by, I have not before alluded to this source of amusement provided for the sailors, and all hands. There was on board, a library of three hundred and sixty volumes, purchased by a general subscription among the crew and officers, but whether it was any benefit to them, remains to be told. While it was a novelty in the ship, the books were taken out often by the men, and well used; but they must have a grumble about
the library, as well as everything else. The murmurers complained that the wardroom officers used their library as an ornament for their apartment, where the sailors seldom could see it; and that in some instances, those officers monopolized the best books. But a far worse fate seemed to attend the books in their own hands when coming around the Cape. Many were taken by the winds from the tops, others were neglected, and floated into the dirty scuppers, and more of them were torn or dropped overboard. Nevertheless, as we coursed quietly along toward the east, the readers who were not on the watch, were idling over the remaining books—the thrifty being seated about the decks a la Turque, busily plying the needle, or braiding sinnet hats for themselves and others, while the more careless and improvident were playing drafts or whackets.
p. 189, Sabbath Schools at sea: I was on the forecastle one evening, and heard one of the scandalous tirades of old Fry and his gang against all that is sacred and good. Old Fry was our armourer, but in figure and stature as fit for a Hercules as a Vulcan. He was such a libidinous, yarn-spinning old talker, that he always had a crowd of laughing, encouraging listeners about the anvil where he was wont to sit, when the fire was put out for the night, ready prepared to rivet the hearts of his auditors. Fry had evidently vented a long volley of vituperation against priest-craft and bigotry, before I was within hearing; but the subject was turning upon Sunday schools, when I sat down near by upon a gun slide to hear what old Nicholson had to say, who was an occasional competitor with old Fry, and that night was posted on the tool chest with his chin between his knees. “Why old Nic,” said Fry, “did you know they had a hypocritical d—d Sunday school screen around them after guns last Sunday?” “Yes, I did so,” said Nic, “and it isn’t the first time they have taken the shine off o’ them guns, in that same way too, with their cursed saint palavers; but I shall be glad if they don’t convart the guns into ‘quakers‘ before they’re done.” “I expect,” said Fry, “that the next time that after gun is touched off, she’ll roar out the Lord’s prayer, and all the hills will answer back in reg’lar church fashion. But that wouldn’t be a bad plan though, would it? If we could just get that gun to go through the prayer business, we could set the chaplain adrift; and have no black coats in the service.”
p. 190-91, another rant about book learning: “It’s my opinion,” said old Jeffrey, another railer in the party, “that those religionists intend to keep the men’s library to themselves, and barter it away for bibles. Then you may be sure that every one will have to read a varse or two at quarters night and morning.” The library had been so used and managed in the wardroom, that it had been left for many days before in their hands, and none had been issued to the men. The men easily turned their thoughts to other things, and resorted to playing, yarning, and even to gambling, till whipped for it; but on all sly occasions, they ventured complaints about the deprivation of the library. “Well,” said old Fry, “I’m glad the library is stopt; what the devil has a sailor to do with books? If Jack gets ashore, he never thinks of a book, not he! Let him alone, and he’ll make a straight wake for some old silly Sally—spend his money in a day or two, get drunk, and ship again. And then he wants a book, does he? I never knew one of these soft, sappy, readin’ sailors, that was not a shirk. They are never ready to strike while the iron is hot.”
“No, that’s true,” said old Nic, “they must always be finishing a chapter or a sentence, if they are out of the way, before they go to work. If I had my way, or if I only was a skipper, and mounted two swabs, which thank God I don’t, and I had to take a ship’s library along, I’d tow it astern ready preserved in good brine for them that likes em.” “That’ll do for you to say,” said a young parsnip marine, “but if you knew how to read your name, you’d go as strong for a library as any body.”
“Shut your clam shell, you foul-mouthed tadpole,” said Fry, “If you knew a truck from a kelson, or a bow-line from a gaff, you’d have no time for books, and might earn your grub, you lazy lubber. Now belay that, and swallow your white livered words, if you’ve got any more coming up.”
Such are the associates and conversations to which school apprentices are exposed; and can it be expected that any wholesome, religious influence will be extended among boys where such blasphemers as these are in constant juxtaposition?
p. 291, the town hall in Mombai: We entered through the paled enclosure at one end, and, while looking at various antiques, that lay in the vestibule—idols of different shapes—stone tablets with Sanscrit inscriptions and a skeleton found in a cave—one of the civilian officers invited us into the reading and library rooms of the Bombay branch of the Asiatic Society. These rooms occupy the breadth of the building upon the second floor, at the eastern end: where, besides the oriental literature with which it is richly supplied, is an embryo museum recently attached.
p. 28, the Governor’s House in Ceylon, Columbo?): The governor’s house occupies a corner where two principal streets intersect and divide the city, within the fort, nearly into four quarters. It extends with its wings and gardens over a wide space on both streets, and has a pretty colonnade and verandah in front. Upon an opposite corner stands a long building surrounded with an elevated piazza or colonnade, having deep windows, and the evident aspect of a public hall. This contains the reading and assembly rooms, with a select library of ten thousand volumes, and tables covered with the most interesting periodicals of England and India; to which the officers of our squadron were politely offered a free access at all times.
p. 126, at the school of the Raffles Institute in Singapore: It has a library of four hundred volumes, and a reading room connected with it, besides other appurtenances, which make it attractive to youth. In the sanguine anticipations of Sir Stamford Raffles, this institution was destined to become a grand central college, at which all the princes of the eastern Archipelago, could be educated, and thence return to disseminate the
seeds of knowledge to their people.
p. 307, the Honolulu Institute in Oahu: The basement of the chapel is happily occupied by the Honolulu Institute for their library and cabinet of curiosities, and as a lecture room. This institute illicits the hearty accordance of any intelligent visitor. It is designed for the mutual improvement of its members, and to gather, and to diffuse information concerning every part of Polynesia. Though it is in infancy, it already promises to be extensively useful to the world, while at the same time it serves to divert many residents from dissipations and from the petty, embittering jealousies, which infect the community.