Alfred Basil Lubbock was a maritime author who fought in the Boer War, and wrote about his experiences in Round the Horn Before the Mast, published in 1902. However, before being sent to the war, his ship was heading to England during the winter of 1899, and talk turned from the end of October onwards as to whether the crew would be able to spend Christmas Day on dry land.
[Sunday 29th October 1899]
There has been a lot of betting lately as to whether we shall be home for Christmas. It is odds on at present…
[Sunday 5th November]
The odds about getting home for Christmas are getting worse.
[Saturday 11th November]
Hopes of getting in by Christmas are fast fading away. The dead muzzier, and his companion the pouring rain, continue to harass us.
[Friday 17th November]
Alas! of all our chickens there are only two left, and if these don’t die of old age, they will be kept for the cabin Christmas dinner.
[Friday 8th December]
Seventeen more days to Christmas, and the great question is, Shall we get home in time?
[Friday 22nd December]
During my wheel in the afternoon I brought her up to N.N.E., but in the dog watch she broke off to E. by N. again. Alas! again this head wind destroys all hopes of Christmas on dry land.
Higgins, Mac, and I have been busy all day in the captain’s cabin polishing the woodwork with a concoction of oil and mustard.
[Monday 25th December]
Truly Christmas day dawned a merry one for us Royalshires.
Soon after four this morning a light gleamed on the blackness of the horizon, and we knew that we were being welcomed by the “Coastwise Lights of England,” as Kipling so graphically puts it…
It was my wheel from 6 to 8, and as it got lighter, the rugged, forbidding coast of Ireland showed itself on our port bow.
Day broke clear and frosty, with a fresh whole sail breeze, and the way we smoked through it showed that the girls had got hold of the towrope…
There was a small pilot cutter bobbing about to leeward of us, and soon after we got going she sent a boat alongside with a pilot.
“Merry Christmas, cap’n,” were the first words he said, and down below the pair of them went, whilst we interrogated the crew and asked eagerly for papers…
Loring and the steward are at a loss what to give us for our Christmas dinner, as all the stores have run out, even the cabin ones, and there is not much left but flour and hard-tack. They had, however, some mouldy old dried apples, and these did the trick.
We did not even get pea-soup, only our ordinary allowance of salt horse, and a small pie for each watch, composed of break-jaw crust and stewed apples.
I don’t believe anybody got through his go of pie. I made a valiant attempt, but failed. The nipper lost a couple of teeth over the job, the crust was too much for him. Mac as usual kept some on his plate for tea; he was not particular, and ate alternate mouthfuls of apple pie, salt horse, and all manner of queer tit-bits on his plate, which always reminded me of the queer things Chinamen eat on the top of their little heaps of rice — rats’ tails, snails, slugs, etc. I believe they are eaten by the Chinese chiefly as appetisers.
The apple pie worked havoc with the insides of most of the crew during the afternoon, and men were to be seen lying about the decks in all directions in all the contortions of cramp in the stomach. It truly was a fine Christmas dinner.
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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