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.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oropesa Postcard

I've already written about Walter's adventures aboard Pacific Steam Navigation Company's steamer Oropesa. Thanks to the internet, it's easy to track a bit of the ship's history. Here's a bit from the PSNC website:
Orissa (1895-1918)
Oropesa (1) (1895-1914)
Oravia (1897-1912)

These three sisters were built for the Valparaiso service. They were inferior to the ships built for the Australian route which preceded them. They were 5300 gross tons, 421 feet long, and had single funnels. Oravia was wrecked in Port Stanley in 1912. Oropesa became an armed merchant cruiser in 1914, and was passed to the French Navy in 1915. She was sunk by a submarine in 1917. Orissa was lost to a submarine in 1918, having remained in commercial PSNCo service.
According to Walter:

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. . .

At 17, Walter had lived through more adventures than most people can claim in a long lifetime. And his adventures were just beginning.

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posted by MaryB @ 4:47 PM  


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