Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jim Turk and God

What I hope my readers will find as fascinating as I did is this, another first hand report of Jim Turk boarding a ship on its arrival in Portland. The incident takes place around 1880 and the teller of the tale is Frank Thomas Bullen, a British sailor who later became a famous writer of sea stories.

At the beginning of the 20th century Frank Bullen was as famous as any other writer of his day. He wrote about the two things that mattered to him most: the sea and God. He went to sea at the age of 12 and over the years he rose to the rank of first mate. His first book, The Cruise of the Cachalot: Around the Word After Sperm Whales, was first published in 1898 by Smith, Elder & Company. In a world where the works of Melville were devoured by an adventure-craving public Frank Bullen’s semi autobiographical works found high favor.

In the new world of the American west it was a time when the “sons of perdition” had run their course. The era of unbridled vice had enriched many powerful men, and enraged many other powerful men. Repentance and reform was in the air, pushing forward politicians bent on eliminating the evil of liquor, and bringing to the forefront of politics the suffrage of women, many of whom were pro-prohibition as well. Frank Bullen wrote for these types of people, bringing them with him into the wild seas and a world where sailors who managed to escape shipwreck at the hands of the raging waves would find shipwreck in the Devil’s snares, the dens of iniquity lining the waterfronts of the world. The only escape, Bullen prophesied, was to find strength and solace in faith.

Bullen is an easy read—a  sort of guilty pleasure. His books are the kind of books I would have enjoyed as a young boy, lying in my sleeping bag, on vacation in some forest campground.

The Cruise of the Cachalot received the enthusiastic endorsement of one of the stellar writers of the day, Rudyard Kipling, whose note to Frank Bullen is quoted here in its entirety:  

Dear Mr. Bullen,
It is immense—there is no other word. I've never read anything that equals it in its deep sea wonder and mystery; nor do I think that any book before has so completely covered the whole business of whale-fishing, and at the same time given such real and new sea pictures. You have thrown away material enough to make five books, and I congratulate you most heartily. It's a new world that you've opened the door to.
Very sincerely,
Rudyard Kipling

The Cruise of the Cachalot, and most of Bullen’s other books can be downloaded at no charge from Google Books. Here is an except describing the trip upstream and the visit of sailor’s boardinghouse master, Jim Turk.

At last, with the usual amount of excitement, as none of us had been there before, we made the bar of the Columbia River, and far inland saw the snowy peak of Mount St. Helena towering purely skyward like a conical stationary cloud, being only about ninety miles away. We took steam and towed in across the bar, learning with a good deal of satisfaction that we were shortly to proceed up the noble river before us to the city of
Mount Saint Helens of old

Satisfaction for two reasons: we wanted to see the river scenery, and we did not fancy the loneliness of Astoria, the port at the river's mouth, where one large ship, the ' Desdemona,' was lying loading. It may seem strange that a sailor should talk about the loneliness of a harbour after the vast solitudes of the ocean, but it is so. The privacy of the sea he takes for granted—it must be so ; but an unpeopled harbour he resents—it is as if he were being defrauded of his right to company after being so long away from any other than that of his shipmates.

For myself, I longed more than anything else to view the scenery of this wonderful part of the world. It was new to me, and I was told that it was very beautiful. And ever since the awakening of my soul I had grown more and more in love with the beautiful things of earth, and sea, and sky. What people call the aesthetic sense of beauty in its true light is, I believe, more strongly fostered by the knowledge of the love of God than anything else. I know of people whose religion is of that gloomy, distorted, God-dishonouring kind that almost looks upon enthusiastic admiration for the work of God in creation as sin. Poor souls, they mean well, but what envious spirit can have bewitched them into the appalling belief that He who considered the lilies and the sunset glow, spread the world with beauty indescribable, enriching every nook of earth with loveliness for His own delight, should desire His dear children to blind themselves for His pleasure! No, I do not believe that there is any education in a love of the beautiful so thorough, so effective, as that gained by an acquaintance with Jesus Christ.
Willamette Chief
In due time we left our moorings, and in tow of one of the stately, towering river-steamers that Americans delight in, we departed. The Willamette Chief our imposing motor—it seemed almost irreverent to speak of her as a tug, so splendid did she appear by our side—glided up stream against the considerable current with great ease, at no time exerting all her power. That great stern-wheel of hers seemed irresistible.

The view as we turned bend after bend was truly enchanting, especially to me, whose opportunities of looking upon inland scenery had been so small. Those solemn, endless avenues of pines coming right down to the water's edge and reflecting the tall pillars of their stems in the placid surface of the river, especially appealed to me—I could not help comparing them with the vastly different vegetation on the banks of the Clarence, in New South Wales, up which I so often steamed when lamp-trimmer in the Helen McGregor.

I do not remember how long we were towing up: I only know that the time seemed very short, and before we could realize that the long upward tow was nearly at an end, Portland, with its rows of double-tiered wharves, its fine buildings and clusters of shipping,
Jim Turk rows out to drum up business
burst into view. But who is this coming off in a four-oared boat, bumping alongside, and climbing over the rail with a strange air of proprietorship? Without taking any notice of the after-guard, he strolls forward and introduces himself to us as we all stand grouped together staring at the city. He is, it appears, one James Turk, who keeps a respectable boarding-house for seamen, to which he has come to invite us. He informs us casually that wages for A.B.'s are at present forty dollars a month, and that the paltry formality of getting a legal discharge need not trouble us. It appears they don't go much on discharges here.
Jim Turk

“An' ye'll git tew mont's' advance, y'know, 'fore ever ye go aboard,”he adds.

This last is rather much for me to listen to silently, so I say, with the utmost politeness;

“Who'll get two months' advance, did you say?”

“Anybody as ships here,” he replied excitedly; ”you ef ye like ter be man enough t' git yer dunnage an' stip into my boat thet's 'long side.”

“Thanks,” I murmured, “I thought the boarding master usually got the advance, and the sailor that was fool enough to have anything to do with him got a broken head and a few bruises if he ventured to ask for what belonged to him.”

Swift as thought the wild-beast stood revealed—man-stealer, murderer, criminal of loathliest shape. Can any term of opprobrium be too severe to apply to these demons of the American ports, whose awful trade has been a blot upon the fair fame of the great Republic for so many years. This particular devil burst forth into a flood of flaming blasphemies against us all, and myself in particular, lurid language to which none of us answered a word. Until presently big Jem stepped forward quietly and said:

 “My vrient, jou vants de crace of Gott fery batt.” (My friend, you want the grace of God very bad.)

Shall I ever again see such a transformation? The truculent villain looked stupidly first at Jem, then at us all, one after the other, and then wearily turned away, ejaculating his formula:

“Well, God damn my soul t' hell.”

So he passed from our ken and we saw him no more. But afterwards we heard that this particular specimen of the Pacific Coast boarding master had a reputation for evildoing second to none in all that foul fraternity. And we were assured that we might be exceedingly grateful that none of us had been waylaid by his orders and brutally done to death. But I do not know. It has been my experience that in most cases where sailors have been thus evilly treated it has been because they themselves have been consenting parties in a measure, that they have willingly gone to those places where they were most easily trapped. Poor brother seamen! as if you had not sufficient enemies without you yourselves giving those enemies all the facilities they require to work you harm.

Vessel on its way to sea