Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rushing through the water

‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse!’ This is Maud Berridge, a Victorian lady, whose diaries of life on board her husband’s clipper sailing to and from Australia, have just been published by Bloomsbury. The vast majority of historical maritime diaries extant today were written by captains or their assistants, so it is refreshing to see life on board from the female perspective for a change. According to Bloomsbury, Maud is ‘an open-minded and engaging companion’, and ‘her resilience, humour and delight in new experiences shines through her writing.’ The Daily Mail judges the diary with a tad more romanticism, seeing Maud’s ‘steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness’ as ‘an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love’.

Maud Berridge was born in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire near the Welsh border, in 1845, into a well-connected family (her mother being a goddaughter of the prime minister Robert Peel). The early 1850s saw her living with her mother in Warwick, this was after her father and two brothers had left to seek their fortunes in Australia. Maud married Henry Berridge, a master mariner, in 1869, who was employed by Greens Blackwall Line. Over 20 years he captained several three-masted clippers, the Walmer Castle, Highflier and Superb, often on voyages to Melbourne. On several occasions, Maud accompanied him. The first time was only a few months after their marriage, but the second was not until 10 years later, when their two sons were also on board. The last trip was probably in 1886-1887. Henry died soon after, in 1991, and Maud survived him for 16 years, living in London. She died in 1907.

During some of Maud’s voyages she kept a diary. Two of these have survived and were deposited at the National Maritime Museum by Maud’s son in 1948: a fragment from the 1880-1881 voyage, and a full account of the 1883-1884 voyage. Maud’s great-granddaughter, Sally Berridge, has edited the two diaries and used them as the core material in a book published earlier this year by Bloomsbury: The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge: The seafaring diaries of a Victorian lady. Although the book feels like a personal project (it includes a letter Maud has composed for her long-gone relative), it is also very well researched with chapters on 19th century sailing ships, Maud’s other voyages (i.e. the ones for which there is no extant diary) and several appendices. There is also a generous collection of photographs and a few of Maud’s own illustrations.

The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge can be previewed at Googlebooks, and Sally Berridge herself has written an article about it for The Sydney Morning Herald (with diary extracts). Elsewhere, a review can be read at the Daily Mail website. It concludes with this: ‘[Maud Berridge’s] steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness remains an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love.’

With thanks to Bloomsbury, here are three extracts from the diaries.

15 February 1883
‘We weighed anchor at about 8 o’clock and proceeded on tow as far as Deal, which we reached at about 3 in the afternoon. The weather still very boisterous, and the tide and wind being against us, we anchored until tomorrow. The first Pilot left us today, taking an immense budget of letters. I am writing in the Saloon at 9 pm. The lamps are lighted and the passengers are nearly all seated round the table with books, work or games. I have just played backgammon with a young fellow who told me he was going to New South Wales to learn sheep farming. The gentleman rejoices in very red hair and moustache, and he has already been christened ‘The Golden Pheasant’. The dwarf has received the name of ‘General’. All jokes at his expense he takes most good-humouredly and joins in the laugh.’

2 April 1883
‘As the ship is steadier and the weather fine, there are preparations going on for theatricals to come tomorrow evening. Bombastes Furioso has been rehearsed for a week or two by four of the gentlemen. All morning I have been at work on a muslin cap for ‘Dastafenia’, making some braids of flax to represent hair and flowing curls. With the aid of a little rouge, my cotton dressing gown, an apron, mittens etc Mr Parkin was a very good ‘get up’.

It is wonderful the resources one has to fly to on board ship for fancy dress. The king’s crown was tin, decorated with little figures, a crimson shirt, white ducks, sea boots turned over with brown paper, and a ladies fur-lined cloak turned inside out made quite a regal-looking personage. The Prime Minister had a wig with a queue, knee breeches, low shoes with large pasteboard buckles. The coat trimmed with ruffles at neck and waist, also an imitation gold lace made out of rope, the effect of which was admirable. I made a bouquet of artificial flowers for a man to give a lady after the singing of ‘For ever and for ever’, which we had a strong suspicion was a burlesque on the young lady who practices [sic] so assiduously. We all enjoyed the play, which went off without a hitch, and was only too short. Lat 17º 35’ Long 29º 45’ Distance 199.’

2 October 1883
‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse! 2.30 the lighthouse is distinctly visible, getting nearer every moment. A range of forbidding-looking rocks with the lighthouse perched on the highest, 350 feet high.

The Pilot cutter sighted about 3.30. The Pilot was watched with the greatest anxiety and curiosity. A square-built, fresh-coloured man with wide-awake hat, goatee beard and square-toed boots, he has not a superfluous word for anyone, while we were brimful of excitement and would like to ask a hundred questions!

Our voyage to ’Frisco is virtually at an end, we are entering the ‘Golden Gate’ after nightfall, a great disappointment, but I must begin a new book with our introduction to California!’

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