Captain W. H. P. Hains, SS Campania, Cunard Line
When it comes to personal experience, however, one meets with the greatest possible difference. One man, before reaching command, has boxed the compass of adventures; another seems to step with the regularity of a minuet from one grade to another.
All, however, are obliged to go through the mill to gain their experience before they can be intrusted with the command of a liner, with its valuable freight and hundreds of lives—and the experience has to be a very wide and a very thorough one, too. This is exemplified in the case of Captain W. H. P. Hains, up to within a few months ago Commodore of the Cunard Company's service, who counts 592 trips across the Atlantic—a record not to be beaten every day.
Captain Hains is of a race of sailors, both his father and his grandfather before him being in the seafaring line. He was born at Plymouth, and entered upon his salt-water career in 1838, when he joined the City of Adelaide, of London, as an apprentice, and continued in her, stepping up grade by grade, until he became master of the same vessel. Between that time and joining the Cunard service, in 1857, he went through a varied experience, coming out a thorough master of his profession. It is on record that he was once asked to describe a shipwreck, when he replied, "Bah ! What do I know about shipwrecks?"
Fortunately, his experience has fallen short of that, though he did on one occasion come very near suffering such a collapse. It happened in 1850. He was master of the Lalla Rookh, barque, which during a terrific gale had all her sails blown away and ran a narrow risk of going ashore off Worthing. However, his anchors held, and with some help from shore, Captain Hains was able to rig up some fresh canvas on his two remaining masts — he having had to cut away the main-stick—and so get into the Thames.
The unfortunate part of the affair was that a boat that went out from Worthing to his assistance was capsized and every man in it drowned—sixteen in all. " I started to send a boat to their assistance," said Captain Hains, speaking of the disaster; " but I saw that I should lose my men and do no good, and so I ordered them in again." An hour or two Liter another boat put off, and succeeded in rendering him assistance.
That is about the only " hair - breadth escape" in his experience that Captain Hains will own to—not, of course, that he has not had his adventures, but all risk was taken away or minimized by his caution. He once said that whatever temptation there might be to make a fast passage he would never neglect to take soundings, or rely upon any patent apparatus, without repeatedly fortifying its results by absolutely stopping his ship to get up and down casts with the ordinary lead. Notwithstanding this caution-perhaps, indeed, by reason of it— he was one of the most go-ahead commanders of the Atlantic "ferry " service.
On one occasion, when in command of the Abyssinia, he was beset with one of the densest fogs that he had ever experienced, while trying to make the port of New York. He brought his ship to anchor, as in foggy weather he would never take his ship nearer in shore than twelve fathoms without sounding. Hearing a steamer whistle, he hailed her, and inquired as to the bearings she had got, and the course and distance she had travelled since then. From that basis he was enabled to approximate his own position, and reasoned that if he steamed a certain course he would be able to pick up the necessary " holes," as they are called, which stretch along the Jersey coast, and thereby find his way into port.
Accordingly, the Abyssinia was gradually got under way, and picking up the first hole by dropping suddenly from nineteen to thirty-six fathoms, he felt his way to the next, and from that to others, and thus gradually reached Sandy Hook and brought his vessel safely into port.
It is this combination of caution and daring in its captains that has made the Cunard the safest and most successful of the Atlantic steamship companies. The first in the field, it has ever held, and still holds, the premier position, both by the speed of its passages and the number and size of its ships. In the latter respect the twin steamers Campania and Lucania still bear the palm, though it is doubtful how long they may continue to do so, with such competition on every hand. However, the company will be hard to beat.
The Campania was Captain Hains's ship until his retirement. and it is inspiring to hear his eulogy of her. But she only needs to be seen—and stepped upon —to win anybody's confidence. Indeed, after listening to the worthy captain's praise and that of his one-time bar-tender, one feels that if any cataclysm were to happen on land, we should be sure to fly to this or one of the same company's other ships for safety. Apropos of the bar-tender, I may say that while chatting one day with Captain Hains. the former made his appearance, and was introduced to me as the " old man of the sea."
Like the needy knife-grinder, he has no story to tell, and yet his record is one that it would be very hard to beat. His name is George Paynter, he is eighty-five years of age, he entered the Cunard service in 185t, has sailed in 3o of the company's ships, made 804 trips across the Atlantic, and travelled in all 2,931,912 statute miles.selling drinks all the time when not sleeping.
To make the record complete, we seem only to want to know how many drinks he sold in the time, and how many of the company's ships they would have floated if thrown together in one basin. It speaks well, too, for the Cunard liners, as well as for his trade, that Paynter can boast never having had a day's sickness during all his passagings to and fro across the Atlantic, never had an accident worth speaking of, and never missed work a single day.
After such a long and successful practice at the bar, one would think he ought to be made a judge.
But he has so much of the gravity and reticence of the judge that, after half an hour's talk with him, one finds one's-self speculating as to how strong a dose of old Scotch it would take to unlock the gates of his memory, and get at some of the stores of incident and amusement locked up there during those millions of miles of drink. What bets he must have witnessed as to the time of reaching New York, or vice-versa, as to whether they would sight a whale or an iceberg, and so forth ! Many an ocean race, too, he must have participated in, some against time for the securing or making of a record, others against the vessels of rival lines. Possibly he may have been in the Etruria when Captain Hains raced her across the herring pond for a more substantial reason than the mere making or breaking of a record, and could tell the yarn better than it is here prosily set down.
It was in the year 1890, when the McKinley tariff law was about to come into effect. It became operative at midnight on the 4th of October. The cargoes of vessels entered at the Custom House before that hour were not affected by the new Act, but after that hour they would be liable to double, or perhaps more than double, duty. The Etruria, heavily freighted with goods, was on her way to New York, and was making all the speed she could to escape the higher tariff. She reached and passed the bar at 9.35 on the night of the 4th; she sped past Sandy Hook, followed by a swell that looked like a tidal wave, so swiftly were her throbbing engines driving her huge hull through the water.
The news of the exciting race was flashed to the city, and crowds of people hurried down to the harbour to see the fun. Others —those more deeply interested, perhaps—made their way to the Custom House to see which would win, time or the ship.
As the hour neared midnight, the excitement became intense. People could hardly talk, so absorbed were they in the result—watching the clock on the one hand, and listening for news on the other. At length the report arrived that the Etruria was at the quay, and there was an excited shout. But now the question was : Would the captain arrive in time to declare his Cargo ?
Midnight approached, and still Captain Haim did not appear. Five minutes to the hour, and still no captain — four minutes—three minutes ! Ah ! the sound of wheels ! It is a hack furiously driven—it brings up at the Custom House—out jumps a man with gold lace on his cap—it is Captain Haim ! " Hurrah ! " comes from a hundred lusty throats- the throats of bankers and brokers interested in the cargo—as the captain rushes up the steps with the papers of the Etruria in his hand and delivers them to the clerk, who has just time to enter the vessel before the stroke of twelve. Thus the tariff race was won.
" Yes," says Captain Hairs, " it was a close shave, and rather exciting while it lasted. But for the most part running a liner is prosy enough." At the same time, and while he is saying so, he turns up from among a lot of papers a small photograph. " The skeleton of a whale, surely ? "
" Any story attached ?"
" We struck it in July, 1875, on our way to Queenstown in the Scythia. It happened between Ballycotton Island and Roches Point, about three miles from land. We were going along in a smooth sea when the ship struck something which caused her to vibrate all over. Several of the passengers felt the shock, and on looking overboard, they saw a huge whale rise at the stern and leap over loft. out of the water. The sea round about the propeller was seen to be stained with blood, and a gash l eft. in length noticed in the side of the whale before it disappeared.
" On arriving at Queenstown I found that a blade of the propeller was broken, in consequence of which' we were ordered to transfer our mails and passengers to another of our ships and return to Liverpool. The news, of course, got out before we arrived, and the papers made a great deal of fun about what they called the very like a whale story. But, as it happened, we fell in with the carcass of the animal on our way back, and we towed it with us. It proved to be a sperm whale, 56ft. in length. It took forty men two days to cut it up; the skeleton weighed three tons, and the blubber filled 65 casks." This is the worst accident that ever happened to Captain Hains, who is proud to be able to say that otherwise he never had Z5 worth of damage to a ship under his charge.
Every captain of an Atlantic liner you meet will tell you that he not only has to know how to navigate his ship, but he has also to learn to steer with safety among the human craft committed to his charge. In other words, he must be something of a diplomat. Sometimes both his wit and his patience are tried in the effort to circumvent the humours and jealousies of passengers- -especially those of the fair sex, who are apt to bridle up if more attention appears to be paid to one than another. Captain Hains tells an amusing story illustrative of this trait of ocean-travelling human nature.
On one of his trips he had Nilsson as a passenger, and as she was the most distinguished lady on board, he had her on his right hand at table, and otherwise gave her much attention. This occasioned the usual heartburning among the lesser feminine lights, and the captain was reproached with the slights put upon them. It was a trying position; but Captain Haim proved himself equal to the occasion. He got up a had storm—at least, there was a storm, and the captain possibly made it a little worse—when speaking of it afterwards, that is.
Anyway, there was the storm, and while it lasted he had to be lashed to the bridge—seven long hours he was lashed there without a break. Rut he did not mind, for just beneath him, in his cabin, which was immediately below the bridge, there sat the fair cantatrice, singing her best and most inspiring songs; and the sound of her divine voice came up to him, amid the howling of the storm, through a convenient port - hole. So long as the storm lasted Nilsson sang.
Then, in the morning, when the sun shone once more, and ere the jealous ladies had got their courage up to complaining pitch again, the captain told them about the storm, and how they owed their safety as much to the divine Nilsson as to himself. For without her singing he could not so well have sustained the fatigue, etc. Whereupon it was universally voted that the cantatrice had deserved the place of honour at the commander's right hand for the rest of the voyage, and that place she enjoyed. Which shows that he is a poor captain who is not an adept in diplomacy as well as in navigation.
Captain Hains is an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve, as are most of, if not all, the Cunard commanders. It may not be generally known that four of the company's fastest steamers can be requisitioned at any time by the Admiralty for conversion into armed cruisers. These are the Etruria, Umbria, Campania, and Lucania. Most of the principal steamship lines stand in the same position in respect to the Navy, several of their vessels being on the Admiralty list for service as cruisers, if needed : but I believe only two ships have been so called upon.
One was the Oregon, belonging to the Cunard Company, which during the Russian scare of 1885 was in the hands of the Government, and cruised for three months on the south-west coast of Ireland. At the same time the Umbria of that day was armed, coaled, and provisioned, and lay for three months in dock at Liverpool, waiting eventualities.