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The Transatlantic Steamship Captains - 1886 Article by Charles Algernon Dougherty

Liferaft Frontpiece

One sees so little of the sailor that it is only natural one knows so little of him. He is here today, on the raging main tomorrow, and a short time afterward in a distant part of the world. And yet, regarding the master-sailors as a class, there are few sets of men to be found more worthy of admiration and esteem. They are emphatically Duty's children, and whenever she commands they obey, even if obedience be at the expense, not only of great personal comfort, but almost of life itself.

A terrible affliction in the domestic circle is often obliged to restrain its claims that the tide which waits for no man may carry out to the sea him who has devoted his life in its service. They are brave men, and the record of an ocean disaster often ends thus: " The captain went down with the ship."

The Captain's Post on the Bridge of the S.S. Oregon

The Captain's Post on the Bridge of the S.S. Oregon. From a photograph by W. Oakley, Liverpool.

The mythical halo that has long encircled the sea-captain is evaporating in these days when the steam-ship service between Europe and America is developing so rapidly as to make the journey seem little longer than an ordinary land trip, and when so many persons from both sides of the sea make themselves personally acquainted with a character who may long have been the subject of their wonderment. As he is divested of his mysterious functions, however, he loses nothing of his strong individuality, and gains in the esteem of those who have met him. So true is this that the officers of the different steam-ship companies will tell you that the name of the captain almost invariably influences the passengers' choice of the ship in which they are to make the voyage.

As a consequence of this these transatlantic captains are becoming widely known in two continents, although Fame never praises them in her pages as she does their brethren of the navies. But they are the heroes of many anecdotes-so many, indeed, that a volume might be filled with the tales of their prowess and their bravery, but more than all of their personal peculiarities. It is by their respective dispositions and manners that the landsman measures them, and by these traits is he prepossessed or prejudiced.

" What captain sails on Tuesday?" asks a lady passenger at the Liverpool office of one of the companies. " What! that horrid Captain Dash. I would rather swim it than cross with him again. And who leaves next week ? Captain Blank ? Oh, that's splendid ! I'll wait and sail with him."

This illustrates the case precisely. They may all be excellent sailors and brave men, but something more than that is generally required—yes, and remembered too. The captains are by no means all of a piece as regards popularity.

Brief Biographies Of Sea Captains

Besides the lines named above there are several others running between European and United States ports. Among their respective staffs of commanders may be found several who in recent years have proved themselves made of the metal of which Fate moulds heroes.

It is impossible, however, in the limited space of a magazine sketch to speak separately of all the Atlantic's great sons, brave men and true, whose sunshiny days and blackest nights will come and go like so many waves of the ocean, whose billows to come will rush after those that have passed, and from whose life wind and wave will never vanish until the old tar has finished his last round voyage, and anchored his ancient craft in a tempestless port.

Source: Article "The Transatlantic Captains" by Charles Algernon Dougherty. 1886, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXXIII.—No. 435.-26. Pages 375-391

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