Sunday, 25 March 2018

#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 11: 'Lucky'

Week 11 Prompt: 'LUCKY'

Mum’s Uncle Claude had a ‘boy’s adventure’ life and many lucky escapes. 
Claude Laidlaw PALMER born 04 Feb 1880 in Jindivick, Gippsland, Victoria. Australia.  
However, he must have been born with a rambling spirit.
When his mother died in 1898, Claude was 18 and he went to work with a baker to learn the trade - but Claude had his eyes set on seeing the world. 

Whilst the Boer War was on over in Africa, Claude signed on as a deckhand on the ‘Thetis’ of Dundee, Scotland,  a sailing ship loaded with wheat, bound for Valparaiso, Chile, South America.  As Claude said: “My first time on salt water.”

After a rough trip, they arrived and then had the slow work of unloading using hand winches causing blisters, cuts and bleeding.  In off times they were lowered down in the punt/barge to clean, chip and scrape the iron rust off the ship.  Here Claude met Jack, another Australian lad of similar age and together they plotted to get away from the ship.  The Ship steward overheard them and demanded they include him too.  So on Sunday morning they lowered the punt and landed safely.  However, as soon as they beached they were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.  They were freed and a West Indian Negro rushed them out into his cab and whipped the horses to go fast.  He explained that the court could change its mind quickly and they needed to get away to somewhere safe.  They arrived at a sailor’s boarding house and had a good sleep.  The Boarding Master was impressed with the two young sailors behaviour and shouted them attendance at a bullfight and all meals.  Claude said he enjoyed it although it was a cruel sport. 

There was a search on to find the boys and take them back to the ‘Thetis’ as Jack had been signed on by his mother and father and the Captain was responsible for him.  But the Boarding Master had arranged for them to join the ‘Holt Hill’ of Liverpool, a 4-masted barge and work there with the crew until the ‘Thetis’ had sailed.  Their pay had risen from $2.50 per month to $2.50 per day.  Claude learnt all about shipping in Valparaiso, as the other men were keen to teach him and he was very keen to learn. 

Claude had a fear of climbing the rigging which he overcame slowly.  Each evening he pushed himself to tackle the high climb and beat his fears.  After a couple of weeks, he was able to go up and down the mast as well as the yardarms and loved the exhilaration.  He was always first from then on to go aloft when the order was given which brought him an upgrade from ordinary seaman to able-bodied seaman. 
His next trip was on the full-rigged ‘Hollyrood” which travelled around Cape Horn on a slow journey to Rotterdam carrying saltpetre.  Claude enjoyed the sightseeing in Holland. 
He then boarded a small steamboat to London and on to Cardiff in Wales.  From there he joined the ‘Falls of Holladay’  and rounded Cape Horn again.  Claude deserted ship in Iquique, Chile, and later shipped out on the ‘Country Anglesea’ and returned to Rotterdam, and back to London and Wales on the Channel boats.

Next big trip was on the ship ‘Scerra Cadena’ bound for the Indian Ocean, East of Africa.  They had a gas blow up in the hatches to deal with and not long after, were almost hit by a typhoon.  Still, they landed safely at the island of Marrich out in the Indian Ocean and took down all the sails and some yards.  

Here again, Claude deserted ship along with three other men. They hid out in the hills and ate fruit, mostly bananas.  For three weeks they would sneak down to town at night to Abdul the storekeeper, and swap some of their clothes for bread, but one night they were caught. The court ordered they help the Captain till the ship was ready for sea, which took about a month.  The ship was filthy from unloading Welsh coal, and the next day the Captain told them they were bound for Rangoon, India to pick up a cargo of rice and he would cut a deal with them   If they cleaned the ship up to A-1 standard for the rice - he would not dock their pay from being onshore, and pay them off at the next port if they wanted. 

After a month’s rest, it took two more months at Rangoon to load 100 lb bags of rice to take to Rio de Janeiro, South America. Claude spent all his spare time watching the elephants at the teakwood sawmill ashore from the ship.  The elephants rolled the logs out of the river and up to the sawmill.  

Whilst at Rio de Janeiro they heard cannon fire and thought there was a war - but apparently, Yellow Fever had broken out and all the nations ships were leaving with the fort guns saluting them.   Whilst ashore one day Claude and three mates found they couldn’t get back to their ship as the warehouse access was locked.  A fight broke out locally and some the natives attacked Claude’s group.  They had to jump off the pier and swim from dock to dock, a block apart. Arriving at their ships dock they found the ship was gone and the dogs were released. So they had to fight off the dogs as they climbed up. One of the men drove a sheaf knife into Claude’s leg. Luckily some of the crew on board saw them and they lowered a boat and pulled them up. 

Leaving Rangoon they could see the reflections of the volcano at Sumatra and passing the island of Celone they saw the wreck of their sister ship ‘Cerra Cadena’ lost on a coral reef a year ago.   

In Brazil, they were all quarantined against Bubonic Plague. They struck rocks going into Rio as they passed a French warship.  Claude couldn’t do much for a week or so with his injured leg and was soon fed up. So come Saturday night, Claude lowered himself down a rope into a rowboat and deserted ship once more. At the sailors Boarding House he was hired by the Red Cross to drive a team of horses drawing a large wagon to collect the dead from the Yellow Fever Plague. He had 11 days work and chose not to be paid for it at the end. He was given quinine medicine.  Claude’s limp was much better so he took on the job of house runner. This entailed finding sailors and getting rid of sailors for the ships lists.  It was a hard time as so many men had died from the plague.

After a few months, Claude shipped out on a Nova Scotia barge - the ‘Austria’ for Barbados and eventually on to Pascagoula, USA.  Claude then picked up different jobs to pay for feed and accommodation as he worked his way around. He spent some time on a shrimp boat in the marshes, before heading off to New Orleans and joining a Spanish barge loaded with lumber for Argentina.  

Claude was offered a job as captain of a lumber barge and worked at that for a few weeks before realizing it was a con. So moving on quickly he got work building a small gauge rail line and then worked in Alabama in lumber yards and as a fireman on a locomotive until he went back to Biloxi, Mississippi for the shrimp.

On 16th April 1910, Claude married Theodora Celeste Desporte and they had a family of four boys and two girls. 

Claude finished up as a Paddle Boat Steamer captain on the Mississippi River.


Reference: 'Some of The Life of Claude L Palmer' autobiography.


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