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Letter from Luther1

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 12 Aug 1907
Location: Sidney, N. S. W., Australiamap
Profile manager: J Taylor private message [send private message]
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Dear Brother Jesse,

I shall in this letter tell you only of the voyage of the "Dunearn" from Eureka, Cal., and reserve for another letter the facts I have so shortly learned of Sidney and Australia.

On the day of departure, with all hands at the capstan bars, we merrily heaved up anchor to the tune of an old sea chanty, "We are homeward bound to Sidney town" and many a "bon-voyage" was given us by the fishermen as the tug-boat towed us across the Eureka bar and gave us to the Pacific. Left on the deep water we set our twenty sails to a strong northeast wind and bore away toward the Sandwich Islands. On the third of June we passed them on our starboard at a distance of one hundred and fifty miles. A few days later in latitude 20 degrees north of the equator we saw flying fish in schools flying over the waves like flocks of snow birds. These fish average a half a foot in length and the two fins which enable them to leap over the waves are the size of black birds' wings and as thin as tissue paper.

On the tenth of June we approached the equator and entered the doldrums, where our sails flapped idly for six days, while rain fell continuously and the weather was very hot. During this time we harpooned a shark some six feet in length.

June sixteenth we crossed the equator, and we sailors who had never been to sea before or had never crossed the equator were duly initiated into the deep water service. A myth held by sailors ever since the time of Columbus is that old Father Neptune, ancient god of the sea, comes aboard every vessel as she crosses the equator and examines all the new sailors as to their character, physical condition, etc, as fit travelers of his seas. From this they have a ceremony that is great and seriously prepared for before hand. Old sailors perform the initiation and on the "Dunearn" it was thus: One sailor was Father Neptune, dressed in a great robe, long flowing white beard and high peaked ancient cap. He had three assistants, desperate looking characters of the sea. All preparations had been made secretly and old Neptune came aboard unexpectedly, coming on to the candidates when they were not aware. We were hauled amidships for the examination, three of us, and each took his turn. First our faces were lathered with tar and shaved with a huge wooden razor; next old Neptune wished to see our tongues and no sooner had we opened our mouths than horrible pills of soap were thrown down our throats after which hot pepper were shot up our noses to cure a supposed cold in the head and then with our mouth full of soap oils and tar and our noses bursting with hot pepper we were ducked backwards into a big tank of salt water and held under till very nearly strangled and then fished out like drowned rats and for twenty minutes we could only sneeze and gasp.

June twenty-first we entered among the South Sea islands and on July fourth we were off the Fiji islands. July thirteenth the meridian was crossed and we lost one day; it was Friday and next day became Sunday. Near New Zealand in a heavy northeast gale we lost half our deck cargo, which consisted of red wood lumber. Head winds held us off the Australian coast and made the voyage long.

I will tell you something of the regulations on board ship: When first putting to sea all seamen are mustered amidships and the first and second mates choose their men, which is picking the watches. The mate's watch is the port watch and the second mate's the starboard. I belonged to the starboard. The watches work in shifts of four hours each, night and day. The men sleeping is the watch below, and at the same time the men working while the others are sleeping is the watch on deck.

The system of time on board ship is struck by bells, thus: Beginning at five o'clock in the morning, eight taps, half after, three taps; six o'clock, daylight, four taps and the watch on deck turns to and scrubs deck, a half hour's task, after which comes general labor; seven o'clock, seven taps or bells, the watch below is aroused to eat their breakfast; at eight o'clock eight bells is struck and the watch below having finished their breakfast, relieves the watch on deck. Tow hours then pass, 10 o'clock four bells; 12 o'clock eight bells and the watch, who went below in the morning is called to eat their dinner; half after 12 one bell is struck and the watch eating dinner comes on deck; thus does time pass and at night time is struck regularly every half hour, each watch serving eight bells alternately; at the same time the look-out man, stationed on the forward part of the vessel, cries whether or not all is well concerning the vessel's headlights or the approach of other vessels and danger. All vessels at sea carry on their starboard, or right bow, a green headlight and on their port or left bow, a red light, and if they do not do so a heavy fine is served on the offenders.

The crew of the "Dunearn" was composed of very good fellows and among them was a Bobby Burns, but he was not like "Bob." He was the most kind hearted, wild and reckless fellow there ever was. I have a stamp picture he gave me to remember him by and I will enclose it in this letter to you for safe keeping. Well Jesse you know what a crank I am about writing a letter. I always need hours of time to properly express myself. This letter I am displeased with and I shall now close it and write you a better one later. I may say that Australia is a very pleasant country and does not seem like a foreign land.

Your brother,
Luther Kershner



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