Friday, February 26, 2010

Booty: The Love Boat

Ahoy, Brethren, and welcome to another Friday Booty. And this time, we're actually talking booty.

My First Mate, who seems to have a nose for this sort of thing, sent me a Reuters article via Yahoo! about a very unusual voyage from Deptford port in England to Adelaide, New South Wales. The ship was transporting criminals from England to Australia in 1838, and apparently things got out of hand.

Aboard Planter was James Bell, a gentleman the article calls a "junior officer". From what I can tell in what little research material I could find, he was probably what passed for a midshipman - known as a "ship's boy" aboard merchant vessels - and may have been somewhere between 15 and 18 years old.

Bell kept a diary of his experiences over the course of the voyage. This diary was thought lost to history (it had evidently been mentioned in the letters of the friend for whose edification he was keeping it) but was found last year purely by accident in what the article calls "a market stall".

Evidently there was little or no discipline aboard Planter. The mixed-gender prisoners seem to have had the freedom of the ship and a lot of alcohol was involved in the shenanigans. From the article:

Alcohol-fueled acts of "great violence"involving officers, mates and even the ship's doctor are recounted.

Dr. McGowan, it seems, brought his own form of vice to temp the crew and "passengers" of Planter: his 11 daughters. Quoting from the diary, the article continues:

"...our captain of course could not want a mistress till he returned to his own in England, but made love to two of McGowan's daughters... The Capt was allowed to keep the daughters company at all hours, and during the whole time of our being in warm weather our bed on deck sufficed for all three."

Bell goes on to say that his Captain's lieutenants took up with a group of "...natives of some obscene alley, in some obscene street." Ah yes, the whores being transported were nothing but an invitation to vice on such a ship, and the mates took full advantage.

Finally, the article notes that Bell was writing all this down for a "female friend in England." The writer seems surprised at this, but the date of the diary is telling in my opinion. The rigid morals of the Victorian era had not yet cracked people on both sides of the Pond over the head yet. Even "nice" women could openly understand that people had sex and got drunk, for another few years anyway.

Bell seems to wrap the story up quite nicely with this little bit of insight:

"With all this whoring and drunkenness, it is amazing this ship ever arrived in Australia."

The article indicates that the diary will go up for auction at Bonhams in London on March 23rd. For somewhere between three and six thousand dollars or two to four thousand pounds, you too could own a little slice of (very debauched) nautical history.

And they say pirates were drunk and lewd.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I'm glad you found this story as amusing as I did. I am having difficulty resisting making a Minnesota Vikings joke based on the title of this post, but will try to refrain from doing so... Either way, it's all about the booty, isn't it?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I just love this kind of "report from the scene" history because you really do get a chance to see what life was like (rather than what the author would like you to believe life was like).

But then I wonder how much participation Mr. Bell indulged in without remembering to document that part...

Undine said...

Assuming this diary is authentic (it sounds almost "too good to be true,") I wonder how long it will be before someone snaps up the movie rights?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Undine! I agree that the diary sounds a little bit like a fish story. The only thing the whole tale has against it, as far as movie making goes, is the fact that it's set aboard ship.

Rereading that paragraph I see it is full of puns. I think I'll go with it, though.

Undine said...

Either way, I still think I've found the perfect film project for the Kardashians.