Professional California Consensus


Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Correction:-

On re-reading my post of October 19: it could so be I have adversely misinterpreted Mr Robison as to helm orders. He would of course be entirely correct in stating that corrective rudder is implicit in a specific course change whereas I was presuming a non-specific 'hard a-port/starboard'. That being so, I retract the point with due contriteness and promptitude, Mr Robison being over-extended enough as he is.

Noel
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Donkey Engines, Donkey Boilers and Donkeymen:

At risk of going over old ground but in the interests of veracity nevertheless:

On 14 October, 2002 I said:

"The name derived from the utility of the eponymous animal as a draught animal ashore. The donkey engine needed a crew member skilled in boiler maintenance and rudimentary steam engineering. This specialist rating was called – you've guessed it – the Donkeyman.

It has since occurred to me that 'donkey engine' etc. might derive from the name of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne engineering firm of Donkin & Co. This firm was latterly associated with steering engines but might well have made deck machinery (winches, windlasses etc.) at some time in their history. Thus there may have been Donkin's Engines/Boilers installed on the decks of sailing vessels (as far as I can ascertain the firm was extant between 1879 and 1970).

I think you will agree it's a short haul from 'Donkin' to 'donkey' in sailor-speak, sufficient for it to require elimination from enquiries.

Any experts in vernacular etymology out there? Or Geordie industrial archaeology?

Noel
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I gave These Google Links a curosory looksee but couldn't find anything. You might want to try changing the terms of the search and see what you get.

>>I think you will agree it's a short haul from 'Donkin' to 'donkey' in sailor-speak,<<

And one of the tamer ones too. Some of the terms that sailors make up can be a tad racier!
wink.gif
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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I'd say you were right first time, Noel. The term predates Donkin & Co and was in widespread use also by landsmen throughout the English-speaking world, even for small shunting locomotives on the railways. Also the OED includes it as one of many terms derivative of the word donkey and offers no other suggestion of its origin.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Did you have a run-in with some deck machinery at some time, Michael?

Otherwise gentlemen, we may safely conclude that in this context Donkin is no donkey, rather a bum steer...

Noel
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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While completely off topic I have to wonder if any of the sailors paying attention hear have heard the old sea chanty "Donkey Sailing". I ask this having not so found memories of a Chief Mate who would wake us all up with a VERY off key rendition.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Glad to see you back Captain!

I've never heard a chanty called Donkey Sailing, but there's a well-known one called Donkey Riding. It usually starts---

"Were you ever in Quebec
Stowing timber on the deck,
Where you break your bloody neck
Riding on a donkey.

Hey ho, way we go,
Donkey riding, donkey riding.
Hey ho, way we go,
Riding on a donkey.

And so on, with visits to Cape Horn, or wherever the chanty man can dream up.
 

Erik Wood

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I have never heard of Donkey Riding...but I wonder if it is the same tune as some of the phrases are the same. Hmmm....
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The modern legend is that "donkey riding" refers to the dead horse ceremony. This occurred on sailing vessels at the end of the first month when the sailors had finally worked off the advance pay they used to outfit themselves for the voyage.

Stan Hugill was both a deepwater sailor and the dean of sea chanty collectors. In his other book, "Shanties from the Seven Seas," he reproduces the words to "Donkey Riding." However, he does not mention the dead horse buisiness. Instead, he says it was more of a work song for stowing cargo and was also used by work gangs ashore. Sailors considered it very bad luck to sing a sea song on land, so this is probably a dockwalloper song gone to sea. (Stan Hugill, "Shanties from the Seven Seas," page 118-19.)

Often the advance money went to unscrupulous men known as "crimps" who sold shoddy goods. The most famous of these men was a Paddy West after whom another chanty was written.

At the end of the first month the sailors would parade a "dead horse" around the deck to a sort of nonsense dirge named, "The Dead Horse." (Stan Hugill, "Songs of the Sea," page 185.)


A poor old man come riding by
And we say so, and we hope so.
A poor old man come riding by
Oh, poor ol' horse.

For one long month I rode him hard
And we say so, and we hope so.
For one long month we all rode him hard
Oh, poor ol' horse.

He's dead as a nail in the lamp room door
And we say so, and we hope so.
and he won't come worrying us no more
Oh, por ol' horse.

We'll drop him down with a long, long roll
And we say so, and we hope so.
Where the sharks will have 'is body and the
devil take his soul
Oh, poor old horse.


Very early passenger ships allegedly provided the steerage class with mattress covers which they filled with straw. On the last day out, the matted contents of these mattresses was disposed of overboard so that the next group of passengers might enjoy fresh bedding. I've seen these beds referred to as a "donkey's breakfast," but there does not seem to be a connection with the song, "Donkey Riding."

Which is more than anyone actually wanted to know about the subject. However, finding copies of Hugill's books is a worthy task for anyone with an interest in life at sea before donkey engines (about which there do not seem to be any songs) when human muscles were used to harness the wind.

-- David G. Brown
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Insofar as "Donkey Riding" is a genuine sea shanty rather than some latter-day romantic indulgence:

I'd always assumed that it impliedly referred to working cargo with steam-powered deck machinery, in other words, the donkey engine.

One line refers to "screwing cotton". Cotton bales being measurement cargo, I understand it was the practice to press-pack the stow with screw jacks in order to get a more revenue-favourable weight:volume ratio.

I remain sceptical as to the authenticity of the song.

Noel
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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The song Donkey Sailing as is my understanding is sung during rough weather (or at least that is the only time I heard it sung, unless of course it was done to annoy me). I don't recall the entire collection of words.. but emailed the old Chief Mate turned Captain for his input.
 
Jun 10, 2004
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There is a point that may have been made somewhere else on this immense site, but I have not come across it.

The Californian was an obsolescent freighter even in 1912, being clumsy, slow, and above all extremely vulnerable to ice damage. Leslie Reade's book displays a diagramme of the ship, showing that the hull was cavernously open, quite lacking in the subdivision of a liner. Quite a minor collision with a growler could, presumably, be lethal to such a ship. Lord had run into ice steaming in the dark, luckily for him without hitting anything larger than a crust of surface ice. The lesson he must have drawn was that navigation on such a night was out of the question.

Now there is the suspicion of an emergency elsewhere. His officer reports rockets some way off. Put yourself in his shoes a moment. Was it really such a deplorable decision to decide against moving the ship? What are the rules on this? If a captain has good reason to believe he would emperil his ship by going to the rescue of another, is he not entitled to forego action?

All right, the above is conjecture. But it is the case that the ship ran into ice in the dark because it could not stop in time to avoid it, and it is the case that the ship was extremely vulnerable to damage by ice due to its basic design. I've no sea experience beyond humble passenger, but I'm not so ready to assassinate Lord even if he did make the conscious decision not to mount a rescue. His settled mood must have been totally against moving the ship before morning, and that being so, he would have been unreceptive to deal with evidence of an extreme emergency. He was disturbed in the night by a half-hearted attempt to inform him of rockets - he makes a snap decision that it will wait to morning and goes back to sleep. He's humanly fallible. One wonders how enthusiastic any of the watch were to respond.

Perhaps the above will invite accusations of apologising for the inexcusable. But I'm not sure Lord was guilty of being anything worse than an unexceptional guy presented with a situation that demanded heroism.

Still, there are real sea captains on this thread - their views would be really interesting.
 

Henry Loscher

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Mar 6, 2003
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>I think you need to do some further research on what happened that night. Lord knew he had done something wrong. His behavior in Boston upon arriving is testimony to that. No mention of rockets in the log. Trying to keep it a secret just what his position was. He was trying to hide something.

You assume there was ice between the CALIFORNIAN and the TITANIC. Didn't seem to be. Lord never went on deck to have a look for himself to assess what was going on and whether it would have been safe to steam in the direction of the ship firing the rockets. No attempt to rouse the wireless operator to find out what was going on. There is so much to criticize Lord on. Yet he lacks no apologists, but the facts speak loudly against him.

Henry Loscher
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Yet he lacks no apologists, but the facts speak loudly against him."

Conversely he lacks no detractors despite such 'facts' as can be retrospectively determined being equivocal as to allegations of 'culpability'.

Can anybody tell us precisely what was the quality of the w/t subdivision of Californian?

Noel
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>You assume there was ice between the CALIFORNIAN and the TITANIC. Didn't seem to be.<<

Well, maybe and maybe not. Unfortunately, a few partisans in this debate occasionally forget that the key events happened in the dark of the night so there was no way to know one way or the other what was between Californain and Titanic. I can't prove that ice existed between the two ships. Likewise, I can't really prove that there was not. What Lord did know that his progress westward was stopped dead in it's tracks by a dense icefield which he nearly ran into, and he prudently stopped for the night rather then take what would have been an unwarranted gamble in attempting to pass through it.
 
Jun 10, 2004
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>>Can anybody tell us precisely what was the quality of the w/t subdivision of Californian?<<

It had a collision bulkhead in the bow, then it was wide open hold all the way back to the fore bulkhead of the boiler room, it had another bulkhead aft of the engine room, then it was open all the way back to the steering machinery.

The point is that the fore and aft holds were wide open caverns, so even a modest holing would be lethal if it exceeded the capacity of available pumps (probably fairly modest in capacity).
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Thank you Malcolm.

"The point is that the fore and aft holds were wide open caverns, so even a modest holing would be lethal if it exceeded the capacity of available pumps (probably fairly modest in capacity)."

So: if Titanic's damage could be re-scaled to, and superimposed upon, Californian's hull she would have foundered in much shorter a time.

However, we ought to factor in the attribute of permeability and the possible presence of buoyancy cargo.

On the matter of ice interposing, I seem to recall the 'Judas' Gill's affidavit mentioning pack ice noisily impinging against the sides of the vessel; which seems to dismiss any allegation that there was clear water between her and the stricken Titanic.

Noel
 
Mar 22, 2003
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You are correct Noel. There was ice around the Californian. It was described as loose ice. About 10:20 PM Californian time on 14 Apr, Capt. Lord spotted the pack ice about 400 yards ahead and had to put his ship full speed astern. Under the influence of a single screw revolving full astern the ship not only slowed down but also turned to the starboard ending up pointing NE magnetic when she came to a final stop. The heavy pack ice which blocked their way was described as extending approximately N to S. The ship from which they saw the rockets come from was to their SSE magnetic, or almost parallel to the ice field.
 

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