The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sailing the world at 17

Walter saw more of the world before his 18th birthday than most people could see in several lifetimes. I've already posted his account of leaving the training ship to live at the Clio Boys' Home in Liverpool until he could find suitable employment aboard a merchant ship. Walter was 17 years old. His story continues as he and a friend look for work:

I had a friend call Joe Freeman and he, too, was like me on the same quest. He was older than I was. We went one morning to the docks, and we saw a lovely three-masted schooner, moored up, and Joe and I went on board to have a look. A grizzly head popped out of the hatch, and asked us, did we want anything? “We are just looking around.” We want some cabin boys he said, and will be sailing in four days time, and will be away for three years. “Come on, Joe, let us go – that is not for us.” Nevertheless, Joe got a ship called the Ortega, and I was lucky the following week at the same docks a ship called the Oropesa, and this is where my new adventures began.

I sailed from Liverpool one cold, misty and drizzly morning. I was shewn where I was to work and where I was to sleep. I had to look after the Quarter Master, the Baggage Master, the Lamp Trimmer, the Donkey man (who looked after all the winches), the Boatswain Mates. I had to see to their meals, and to clean the cabin after that, I would then report to the Bo’sun for any work I had to do (which was plenty). First trip at sea was awful. I was seasick what with the smell of the newly-painted ship, and the rolling of the ship, I was proper groggy. We sailed to France, picking up emigrants, then we crossed the Bay of Biscay to Spain and Portugal, collecting more emigrants going to South America. We finally called at Lisbon and then we made the eight days’ sail to the Falkland Islands. It was very cold now, and we had to put warm clothes on.

We passed on to the Tierra Del Fuego and the Straits of Magellan. This southernmost part of South America was bitterly cold. While passing through the Straits, the albatross used to gracefully alight on the deck for a rest, and as usual for a feed from the cook. There are many incidents I could enlarge upon but on to the progress of the voyage. We rounded the Straits and called in at a port called Sandy Point, then on to Coronel and Talaquanha, finally to Valparaiso. We stayed here for two weeks for unloading and loading, as we boys were not allowed to go ashore but was employed working the winches on the ship, for which we received 4d and hour overtime.

We returned the same route, back to Liverpool, and the voyage lasted three months. I completed four trips, and then I decided I would like to come home and see my mother, who had married again in 1906 to a Staff sergeant in the Detention barracks in Aldershot.

So, three years aboard the training ship, then another 6-8 months as a cabin boy on the Pacific Steam Navigation Company's Oropesa (see above). There are a couple of good websites about PSNC, one here and one here, that have been helpful in my research.

Walter once wrote me that "you young people sure travel around a lot these days." I had to laugh. He must've written that with a twinkle in his eye and a large splash of cheekiness!
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 2:12 PM  


  • At 3:38 PM , Blogger greenheavens said...

    My name is carla ,I found the story of walter because my greatgrandfather went to chili in 1903 on the same ship.Thank you for that
    greetings from holland

  • At 7:12 AM , Anonymous said...

    I really wish I had started sailing at an earlier age, it would of really let me see more of the world.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home