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Bill Thayer

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The Galley Marauders

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

a Fore‑top-man

published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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The Jockey Afloat
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p181  New Year's Day

"Come, chaunt the song and trowl the bowl,

Let revelry draw near;

And with a merry heart and soul

All hail the good New Year."

There is nothing that awakens with so much force in the bosom of the hardy tar, when wandering in far distant climes, the recollection of those endearments that bind him to his home, as the annual return of those festival days which he was wont to celebrate with the companions of his infancy in joyous pastime. New Year's day — the glorious Fourth of July, or the anniversary of the birth of the immortal Washington, are therefore hailed with rapturous delight by the son of Columbia whose home is upon the mighty deep; and though thousands of miles of a wide waste of unfathomable waters intervene between him and the happy land wherein he has many a time and oft joined in all the various festivities the return of those days bring about, yet still they are revered and held sacred by him as ever; and celebrated by every means within his reach, without lacking one jot of that ardour and patriotism which fired his bosom when in the land of liberty.

What remembrances do not those days bring with them to the hardy sailor, when braving the icy perils of the poles or the scorching influence of the tropics? The happy fireside — the table spread with its good cheer — the smiling faces of youthful companions — the mild looks of fond sisters and doating mothers, as well as the arch-playfulness, beaming eyes, and silvery tongue of the heart's first choice, are all conjured up in glowing colours, and brought before the "mind's eye" with such forcible reality, as to make him feel with a double pang his isolated condition and the distance that severs him from the joys and comforts of his happy home. On the thirty-first day of December, eighteen hundred and forty, we let go our anchor in the harbour of Valparaiso, having had a tedious time beating up from Callao. As soon as the sails were furled, the caterers  p182 of the several messes flocked into the bum‑boats, with anxious haste, to procure some little delicacies to regale their messmates with upon the approaching New Year's day, and legs of mutton, geese, turkeys, roasting-pigs, &c., became quickly in high demand; and every culinary article that could possibly be procured around the environs of the galley, were forthwith set to work towards cooking the viands that were to grace to‑morrow's dinner.

As soon as the hammocks had been piped up on New Year's morn, it was soothing to hear the congratulations pass between the rough sons of Neptune; and "I wish you a happy New Year" might be heard bandied about in audible voice throughout every part of the ship. "Two years ago to‑day," cried old Grummet the mastman, as he passed his hammock to the quarter-gunner, who stood in the waist-netting ready to stow it, "two years ago to‑day, I was doing the genteel thing amongst the country folks in New Jersey; and if I did'nt sit down to a dinner, I wonder at it." "If that's the case then, Grummet," cried that inveterate wag Flukes, "You must have had the most difficult job that ever came your way in the whole course of your life. Doing the genteel thing, eh! I'd like to know how you made a beginning; — you don't appear now as if you had gentility enough about you to pick up a lady's handkerchief that she might chance to drop on the side-walk, and present it to her without first bringing it in contact with that pretty carbuncle conch of yours." "You mus'nt take a fellow by his looks on board ship," replied the hoary mastman; "when I get my long togs bent, I'm there, I tell you." "Yes," returned Bill Garnet, who at that moment made his appearance, "I have no doubt but what you are there as you say sure enough, in your old resting place, flat in the mud, with your sombrero for a pillow."

"You are too hard upon Grummet altogether, maties," remarked Bowser, "and as for talking about his gentility and all that, I can say that he's as polite an old customer as you'll find here and there; — why, man, as he walks along the streets he bows and nods his head to every one that comes in his way." "A precious good reason, I expect," chimed in Flukes, "he's generally so top‑heavy with  p183 liquor, that his head is continually bobbing up and down like a dog‑vane in a light baffling wind." The conversation was here interrupted by a fellow coming hastily up the ladder leading from the main-deck, exclaiming, "Come, boys, 'tis worth your while to step down to the barber's shop, and see Patterson's address." "Patterson's what?" exclaimed a dozen voices at the same time. "Why, his New Year's address," replied our tar; "something like what the newspaper carriers send round every year. This was sufficient — the group quickly repaired to the barber's shop, where sure enough a no small congregation was already assembled, reading aloud the following, which was pendent from one of the beams:

Patterson's New Year's Address to his Friends and Patrons

"My Patrons, shipmates, friends and all

This morn I'm glad to meet you here,

I wish you with a fervent heart

A pleasant, prosperous, happy year;

And may the present forty‑one

Pass calm and smooth as did the last,

And may the balance of our cruise

By no dark clouds be overcast.

For your support the year that's gone

I thank you kindly every one;

For since my little shop I started

I found you generous and kind-hearted,

And ready to pardon with good grace

Whatever faux pauxº might take place;

For which I will exert each nerve

The present year your wants to serve;

And if my razors won't cut keen,

If every towel is not clean,

My looking glasses ' 'bout the border,'

And brushes, combs, and all, in order,

And if my lather will not cope

In smell with Windsor scented soap,

In fact if you don't chance to find

Each item suited to your mind,

Each scissors sharpened with great care,

Ready to clip your curling hair, —

You may proclaim the ship around

That I am an ungrateful hound. —


As our main-deck has got fresh painted,

And all our guns have got acquainted

With the French polisha which we use

Each morning with a hand profuse,

And as we got them by this knack

To look a shining jetty black,

And as we don't at quarters use them

We should not otherwise abuse them;

I therefore wish that you'll attend

To this advice from me your friend: —

When you on shaving days should pop

Into my little barber's shop,

Pray have a care you Neptune's sons,

Be sure and do not touch the guns:

Lay nothing on them for your life,

Or else 'twill cause a bitter strife;

For they've been polished up so much

They will not bear the slightest touch.

The white paint, too, of that keep clear,

Do not abuse it whilst you're here;

And when around this place you sit,

Be sure and in the boxes spit;

For if within my little shop

The master's mate should chance to drop

And find the paint work or the deck

Defiled by any filthy speck,

I guess there'd be a glorious squall, —

Poor Strap would have to pay for all.

All you who wish the present year

With fancy whiskers to appear,

Take my advice and start them soon,

They say we'll leave for home next June;

And I will promise great and small

Old men and smooth-faced boys and all

That with my skill I will produce

A growth as solid and profuse

As ever on board a ship did grace

A Yankee sailor's honest face.

So come, all you with faces bare,

Of homeward-bounders raise a pair;

And when amongst your friends at home

From scene to scene you idly roam,

They should admire in every place

The hair that then adorns your face;


And should some flippant, brainless spark,

Perhaps to raise a foolish lark,

'Mongst other matters but enquire

Who raised those things that all admire,

Just tell him, to his damn'd confusion,

' 'Twas Patterson, of the Constitution.'

So, shipmates, these few hints I give

I hope with kindness you'll receive;

And when another year flies by

I hope you'll not have cause to cry

That 'Patterson, the lazy curse,

Is getting daily worse and worse.'

No! — I'll exercise each muscle still

To gain your favour and good-will;

My razors they will be as keen

As any you on shore have seen;

My brushes, glasses, towels, soap,

With any others they will cope;

I'm sure when things are in this style,

Your patronage on me will smile.

So, hoping our old Frigate's sails

Will soon be spread to favouring gales,

Wafting us swift the waters o'er

Towards Columbia's happy shore;

And that we all our friends may find

In perfect health we've left behind,

Is my fond wish; — I also hope

That all on board in spirits gay,

May live to taste the pleasant joys

Of many a happy New Year's Day."

"Bravo, Strap," cried Bill Garnet; "who ever thought you had so much poetry in that woolly nut of yours; now if you only keep things in the same order you mention here in this address, your old customers won't desert you, depend upon it." "I think you'll find I'll be a man of my word," replied the knight of the razor; "only give me half a chance, shipmates, and attend to the little directions laid down in that paper, and if I don't scrape your countenances on a plan superior to that of any other aquatic razor-stropper that ever graced the gun‑deck of a Yankee man-of‑war, say I don't know soap-suds from bear's grease, that's all."

"But about those whiskers you make mention of, do you think  p186 you can raise a purchase upon my chops before we reach home?" enquired an effeminate, smooth-face mizen-topman, placing his hand upon that part of his physiognomy which is generally the site of those bushy articles. "Why don't you try some of that elixir old Joe Millet, the boatswain's mate, brought from Lima the other day?" remarked Flukes; "that's the stuff will fit you out with a pair of homeward-bounders in short order I warrant." "What sort of stuff is it?" enquired our mizen-topman; "do you think it will have any effect on my face?" "Well, I don't know about your face," continued the facetious wag with a serious look, "but last night it chanced to get capsized in my ditty‑bag, where I had stowed away, amongst other things, some nice clamps already bored to fill with coir the first opportunity, and curse me if it did'nt convert one of them into as pretty a soft hair-brush as the purser has got in his store-room." "I suppose then," chimed in the pragmatical Garnet, with a knowing leer, "if a fellow was unlucky to spill any of that precious article upon one of our mess-chests over night, 'twould be changed into a hair-trunk before morning, only lacking the brass nails." "By golly, I should like to get some of that ere stuff most cursedly," remarked Dobbs, the Vermonter, who gulped down all Flukes' flummery as complete gospel: — "I wonder if Millet has any to spare?" "I reckon he has," rejoined Flukes, "for as I came from the spar-deck, I saw him as busy as the devil in a gale of wind, applying some of it to that old rum‑beaver of the boatswain's that is so chafed about the rim; he says he can fetch the fur on it before they pipe dinner."

Thus throughout the day were the jokes and witticisms bandied about amongst the various groups whom the novelty of the barber's address had caused to congregate around the shaving establishment; and it was not until the drum had beat to evening quarters that the man of soap-suds was left to his own solitary cogitations; when he took advantage of the opportunity that then offered, of putting out of sight the little affair that had furnished our tars such an interesting topic for conversation and remark upon this New‑Year's day.

Thayer's Note:

a "French Polish", pp171‑174.

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Page updated: 5 Oct 21