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Bill Thayer

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New Year's Day

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 Afflicting Bereavement
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p187  The Jockey Afloat

Bob Snaffles was a jolly soul,

Loved brandy, rum, and gin;

Indeed, he thought like many more,

That drinking was no sin.

He was a dapper little blade,

Of height about five‑foot three

And for to try a horse's speed,

His like you'd seldom see.

Yes, Bob he was a jockey,

And he rode at many races;

And who so well as he, could put

A horse through all his paces.

In fact he was so great a "whip,"

And strode a horse so well,

From every rider round about

Bob Snaffles bore the bell.

But Bob, as I have said before,

Was very fond of liquor;

For show him but a glass of grog,

And he would bolt it "quicker."

This habit he could ne'er give o'er,

It grew with him apace,

And very often was the cause

Of losing many a race.

But yet he did'nt dare a cent

As long as he was mellow;

He gloried in the epithet

Of rum and jolly fellow.

And spite of all his friends' advice,

He'd still the ardent drink,

Although he knew 'twas bringing him

With speed to ruin's brink.

 p188  One luckless day, a heavy sum

Was staked upon a race

Between two "bits of blood," which on

The Union Course took place.

Now Bob, he rode the favourite horse;

This pleased the gaping crowd, —

And "ten to one on Snaffles' head,"

Re‑echoed long and loud.

But oh! the ever-cursed rum,

Bob drank too deep that morn,

And just before he backed his horse,

He took another horn.

He mounted, wildly gazed around,

With fierceness clutched the rein,

But ere he reached the starting post

The liquor fired his brain.

The signal's given: away! away!

The horses onward flee,

Just like an arrow from a bow;

But Snaffles, where is he?

Behold him stretched upon the earth,

Quite dizzy from his fall;

He lost three teeth; he lost the race,

His character and all.

He left the course in foul disgrace

With sore and aching bones,

And e'en his friends, as he withdrew,

Assailed him with their groans.

And finding that his patron's smiles

He could no longer win,

To help to keep his spirits up

He had recourse to gin.

But soon (to use a seaman's phrase)

He was on his beam-ends,

With not a stiver in his purse,

Not one of his old friends,

 p189  To give him e'en a cheering word,

Or yet one fault excuse;

So with a heavy heart and sad,

He sought the rendezvous.

"I want to join a man-of‑war,"

Our hero anxious cried;

"Indeed, what trade are you, my man?"

The officer replied.

"I am a rider," spoke up Bob,

"But I've given up that notion;

I wish to try my luck upon

The wide expansive Ocean."

"We'll ship you then," the other cries,

"Here's a glorious chance for you:

The Constitution's waiting now, —

She has not all her crew.

"So I will send you straight aboard, —

Next week I think she sails;

And that's the frigate, believe me,

That can weather well the gales."

Bob heard this, and signed his name

As pleased as pleased could be: —

The crimp now came, took him in tow

To fit him out for sea.

He soon was rigged a la Jack Tar,

Black hat and jacket blue,

And went on boat "Old Ironsides"

As landsman 'mongst her crew.

As soon as Bob stepped on the deck,

He opened wide his eyes;

The ponderous guns, the stately masts,

All filled him with surprise.

An eager crowd soon flocked around,

And twigged our hero's mien,

For though he was dressed up in blue

They knew that he was green.

 p190  "I guess," cried Bob, "I'll like this life;

Have they horses here-about?"

"Why no," cries one, "but plenty colts,

And that you'll soon find out."

"Colts!" cried our hero, "I'm at home,

I'll tame them critters quick:"

"I reckon," cried a tar, "of that

You'll precious soon get sick."

"What, are they restive?" Snaffles asked —

"Then I must whip them well:"

"They're whipped already," one replied,

"And that my back can tell."

The boatswain now came up to Bob

With a piece of nine-thread stuff,

Saying, "this will lash your hammock up,

You'll find it long enough."

Says Snaffles to the boatswain,

"You'll excuse me sir, of course,

For I never lashed a thing before

Except it was a horse."

"You're a jockey then," old Pipes replied,

"A pretty thing to ship;

But come, I'll suit you in a trice,

Lay aft, clap on that whip;

"And when the beef is hoisted in,

Just step you down below

And holy-stone them forward bitts

'Till they're as white as snow."

The captain of the mizen‑top

Came up with manner soft,

Saying to our hero, "come old boy,

I want you up aloft.

"You're stationed on the topsail-yard,

So marvleº now up there;

I've got a little job or two

Will suit you to a hair.

 p191  "There's the flemish horse wants tarring —

Besides the stirrups too;

You need'nt mind the foot-ropes,

For I guess them ere'll do.

"And tell the topkeeper to send

On deck that bowline bridle,

I want to get it put to rights;

Move quick — we can't be idle."

Now Bob he stared with open eyes,

He thought (as well he might,)

That he had got amongst those things

In which he took delight.

And hearing talk of bridles, bitts

And horses, and such stuff;

He chuckled with delight, and thought

That he was right enough.

But he was quickly undeceived;

Before three days flew o'er,

He found the bitts was quite a bite —

The colt was quite a bore.

The horses to our hero proved

A precious sight too high,

For Bob could never mount them,

Though he often times did try.

Their stirrups and their bridles too,

They puzzled sore his nob;

And often to clap on the whip,

They had to whip poor Bob.

In fact, the cats and colts so plagued

Our hero, that he swore

Such scratching, kicking critters, he

Had never seen before:

And growing sick and tired out,

He said aloud one night:

He'd run a race against the ship,

And leave her out of sight. —

 p192  One day to dig a messmate's grave,

Our hero he was sent;

Not one of his companions was

Aware of his intent.

As soon as he completed it,

He cried, "my lads, adieu!

I'm sorry that I cannot be

One of your jolly crew.

"But I'm something like a rat,

I hate them cats I swear;

And though brought up amongst horses,

Your colts I cannot bear.

"So tell them, though their boatswain's mates

Have cut me to the quick;

I'll not exactly cut my throat,

But I will cut my stick.

"And when to‑night an anxious group

Shall stand around the galley,

And laugh within their sleeves, to think

They soon will make my tally,

"Just tell them that I think I've done

The thing complete and neatly;

And say that Bob, the jockey man,

Has jockeyed them completely."

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Page updated: 1 Sep 21