Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Sailor's Life — 1904

My post has an excerpt from my grandfather's Navy journal. He started the journal when he joined the Navy in 1901, but most of the entries are from 1904 near the end of his service. I am using some WWI era Sailor Comics postcards as illustrations. These are the only four cards that I have from a No. 684 set of 12 designs. I never actually saw this journal, but my sister did and transcribed it. If you are interested, you can read more of the journal on a web page I made, Navy Journal of Frank J. Brennan — 1901-1905.


The cruise of the U.S.S. Annapolis from the Philippines to Frisco.

USS Annapolis (Source: Wikipedia)

I will try and keep a diary of my cruise on the gunboat Annapolis, but this is about my third attempt and I don’t know how I will succeed.

May 16. Transferred to U.S.S. Annapolis from the U.S.S. Wisconsin. This ship is a gunboat of brigantine rig, and it is a great change from a big battleship. Everything is so small and no room to speak of. She has the navy record for gunboats in target practice, the same as the Wisconsin had the record for her class. Just think of making nine hits out of ten shots in five minutes and forty seconds and each projectile weighting eleven hundred and fifty pounds. That was done on the Wisconsin. This ship’s battery consists of six six-inch, four six-pounders, two one-pounders and two Colts automatic. We were transferred at 6 o’clock of this day, and they were making handclasps when we left our old shipmates. The whole ship company manned the rail and gave three cheers for the homeward bounders, which we returned, and they was many a sigh when we seen the last of the Wisconsin.

May 21. Vicksburg, a sister ship of this, left today in company of the Wisconsin and Frolic for Hong Kong. The Frolic used to be Mark Hanna’s yacht, but is now a gunboat. The Vicksburg had her homeward pennant flying, we are also flying a homeward bounder.

May 22. Pumps broke down and we lay here two weeks longer. We should have went with the Vicksburg, but we will meet her at Yokohama, and there we will both leave for home. Got a new first luff (?) today, Miller by name. He relieved Cristy who used to be executive officer, who is now on the Rainbow.

May 23. Rainbow left for Hong Kong. We have plenty work. We took down a sail today and get plenty running boats to man, but we don’t care. We are all short timers aboard, the longest timer has only eleven months to do.

May 24. Steam launch broke down more ____ boats, all kinds of calls, but we don’t have much quarters, plenty of bright work to shine though.

May 25. Been on the Asiatic Station a little over a year, and I am mighty glad we are to leave it, but some of my shipmates has been here for three years. But what do we care, we are all homeward bound, and before many months are up we shall be in Gods Country, my own United States.

Five o'clock is reveille and all hands get up, get some coffee, have a smoke then it is three bells. Three bells is turn to, scrub, and wash clothes, scrub-down your ____, scrub all paint work, 4 bells stop, all scrub and wash clothes on the line, wash down the decks, shine your bright work, and at six bells draw water and wash, and at seven bells all hands are piped to breakfast. This is an every day occurrence, and I only mentioned it in case any one should try to peruse these lines, they will know what happens in the morning

May 27. Steam launch broke down again, and we get plenty of pulling boats, today especially as we are guard ship and I’ve been pulling since this morning in guard boat. Got the phonograph going, whenever we get a chance. Plum duff for dinner: you get very good chow aboard here, better than the flagship.

May 28. Answered a call ashore getting oil, and we all got our feet blistered from the sun being so hot. We of course were barefooted. Got back in time for dinner. Afternoon rigged our main trysail gaff and row (???) in boat . Drill today was aboard our ship.

May 29. Got a very sore leg and a slight fever, feel pretty bad, but we are used to that. Leg all swollen, had it cut in by the doctor, excused from heavy duty.

May 30. Coaled ship and it was so hot we could hardly work, we actually got dizzy so you know it was warm. But we had to knock off at ten, we could hardly stand. We then had lunch, then a little rest, and we went at it again. But we managed to finish, and have the ship cleaned by night.

May 31. Sent (??? Bent? Went???) all sail.

June 1. Got all the sail and sailing gear ready for sea. In the evening, we gave a farewell entertainment to all the ships now laying here. We had a band, plenty of dancing and refreshments, and whoever knew how to dance or sing had to do their turn., And the farewell was voted by everyone to be a thorough success and as each boat, with the men left us, they gave us three rousing cheers which we returned heartily. I forgot to mention that we also took on stores today.

June 2. Secured all boats for sea, got everything ready, and at 4 P.M. the boats’n’s mates piped, all hands up anchor for home. We then weighed anchor, sent a man to the wheel and chains. It reminded me of a little poem, you see it was 8 bells when we got up anchor, here it is
Strikes 8 bells
Relieve the wheel and chains
Oh, won’t we have a jolly time
When we get home again.
We broke our homeward bound pennant, and steamed slowly by the cruiser Frisco and as we did, they manned the rail and gave three hearty cheers for the homeward bounder. Then we manned the rigging, and we returned them as heartily as they were given, for every man aboard here is glad to leave the dust of the Philippines behind him, where you get weather that would kill a horse but not a blue jacket.

For More Vintage Images



  1. It certainly wasn't an easy life aboard ship back then! How fortuitous your Grandfather kept a journal to tell it like it was!

  2. Wow! That is interesting to have this history from someone of your own family.

  3. Very interesting to read a journal like this. The dates you've picked are also appropriate for the date of this SS post.

  4. Those postcards make it all look like fun and games - but, as expected, your diary entries say different. Still, your grandfather sounds so matter of fact about it all. Very interesting to read his entries.

  5. It makes history much more interesting when it's written by a relative.

  6. Godd to read your grandfather's seafaring diary excerpts and an ideal choice of postcards.

  7. A nice collection of cards making life aboard ship appear a lot jollier than it probably was.Your grandfather’s journal at least describes some of the hardships.

  8. Your grandfather's navy service came during the last days of sail and coal powered steam ships. His last remark about leaving the Philippines "where you get weather that would kill a horse but not a blue jacket" is the voice of a proud sailor.

  9. The words 'Plum Duf'f made me smile. My Dad was in the Royal Navy for 22 years, and was renowned for exactly that, when it was his turn to cook something for his mess mates. He was a stoker PO, so even your mention of shovelling coal rang some bells. LOL

  10. Your grandfather certainly wrote well. It really brought their daily doings to life. Thanks for sharing.

  11. What a treasure from your grand father...the post cards supplement this perfectly.

  12. Oh my gosh, this was wonderful. Wanted to read more! Such a privilege for you to have this personal record of your ancestor -- and rather "get to know him!" I agree that the postcards were the perfect accompaniment! And now am heading over to Google to find out what a "plum duff" is!

    1. I had to look up "plum duff" too. I'm still not quite sure. Recipes vary a lot.

  13. I always wonder how sailor lives on ship. And this somehow gave me a general picture of it. And the images of the cartoon sailor are very nice.

  14. I enjoy reading such journals -- just everyday stuff usually, seldom anything dramatic, but always an interesting insight into a person's real life.


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