Christmas at Sea (Christmas History 6)

christmas ship


Robert Ogden Tyler was the commander of the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac, at the Battle of Gettysburg.  After the Civil War he receive a brevet rank of Major-General (‘brevet’ ranks were honorary promotions that lacked the same pay and authority).  His autobiography, Memoir of Brevet Major-General Robert Ogden Tyler was publised posthumously in 1878, and included a journal of two months’ travel in and around India, just two years before his death.  On Christmas Day, 1872, he was at sea on a steamer.

We turned out to rather a rainy, thick morning. The Apgar steamer, having the start as well as the advantage of us in speed, was so far ahead that we could barely discern her smoke between the showers. About noon, however, it cleared up, and we discovered that our rival and companion had slowed down and was evidently waiting for us. Through our glasses we saw that she was decked with flags in honor of the day. Not to be outdone, the captain of the Statesman set his house and national colors, and in compliment to us sent up the stars and stripes. We got out Marryatt’s Code, and finding two sets of signals which read “Christmas compliments”, they were also hoisted. As we neared the Hindostan, she answered our signals and fired a salute, while some missionaries on board waved the small banner of our country, which we Americans usually carry with us in lieu of a pocket-handkerchief. As the firing was somewhat unexpected, and our carronades had fallen into disuse, we could not reply immediately; but I offered to superintend the artillery, and by means of a kitchen skewer, which I found, made an excellent priming wire; we cleared the vents, and were soon ourselves blazing away. As neither ship could go into Penang before morning, and it was of no use to hurry, we continued in company, exchanged cheers, and drank champagne to each other’s health. Our steward gave us as a rare Christmas treat “mangosteens” for dessert. After some discussion as to whether they should be cut lengthwise or across, we agreed that either way they were a delicious fruit. After dark they lit up the other ship with Chinese lanterns, and, as we could hear the scraping of a fiddle, we surmised that they were getting up a dance with the ladies among their passengers. We lone bachelors amused ourselves by firing our guns, rockets, and blue-lights, and making night hideous by sounding a fog-horn. About eleven o’clock, when everybody had pretty well burned their fingers with the fireworks, we let off a “feu-de-joie” of everything we had left, and relapsed into silence and darkness, after spending an odd, and not unmerry, Christmas.

From 1st to 24th December there will be a “Christmas History” article on Windows into History every day, exploring how people spent Christmas in the past through first-hand accounts in forgotten books.  Please come back tomorrow for the next article!

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This entry was posted in 19th Century, Books, Christmas, Christmas History, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Christmas at Sea (Christmas History 6)

  1. roberthorvat says:

    I’m really enjoying the series thus far! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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