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Extract from The Shetland News, May 09, 1896, p. 8.

SHETLAND CAPTAINS.

PART VI.

CAPTAIN JAMES BOLT.


Captain Bolt was born at Gunnista, Bressay, on the 11th November, 1824, and has therefore passed the "three score years and ten." When five years of age he was sent to school in his native place. His parents removed to Lerwick when he was six years old, and hewas then sent to school there, and remained at it until he was nearly 18years of age. In March, 1832, he went to sea, and served histime with Mr George Metcalfe, of South Shields, partly in the coal trade to London, which at this time was perfect slavery. He got drafted into one of their East India going ships, of which there were only six belonging to the Tyne at that time. The vessel sailed on a trading voyage to the East Indies which occupied two years. On returning to Shields he was out of his time; and although there were seven apprentices in the ship, he was the only one that received the usual £5 for serving his time satisfactorily. He then made a few voyages as able seaman, and began to teach himself plain navigation. In 1845 he went to school and learned the higher branches of navigation, and shipped as second officer in a vessel on a voyage to Alexandria. On his return he went chief officer of a fine new ship, in which he made three voyages. He then succeeded in getting command of a barque in the same employ. In a little over nine years after going to sea, Captain Bolt found himself master of one of the largest and best ships belonging to North Shields.

As master, Captain Bolt commanded excellent vessels, and sailed them in the Mediterranean, Black Sea, North and South America, Chili, Peru, and Indian Trades. In 1862 he resigned the command of a fine ship he had sailed for over seven years in the Indian and round the Horn Trades. He then bought his first ship, and sailed her himself for two years in the North West coast of Africa trade. It was a very hazardous trade, but he was very successful throughout. Captain Bolt then retired from sea, and bought his second ship. He now joined a large shipping firm in Newcastle as marine superintendent, being the first one on the Tyne. He remained with this firm for nearly two years, and it will give an idea of the extent of the operations carried on when we state that during this period the firm sent to sea steamships to the value of £1,500,000, all of which were planned and superintended by Captain Bolt. At the same time, he was surveyor for two large steamship Insurance Companies for three years. He was also a director on three Sailing Ship Clubs, and managed his own ships. The amount of work all this involved may be imagined. With hard work, bodily and mentally, Captain Bolt's health gave way, and he was forced to retire from his too active life, and to take rest for a few months. He then bought several sailing ships, the one after the other. He also built a fine iron barque, and named her after himself. Abut twelve years ago, he sold all his sailing and steam shipping property, and joined a ship-building company, being the largest shareholder and one of the directors; but finding it unprofitable at the end of five years he sold out at a great loss. For a number of years he acted at surveyor, estimator, and arbitrator in shipping matters, but he has now retired from that also.

Captain Bolt was for 15 years a member of the Local Marine Board of Tynemouth; and one of the River Tyne-Pilotage Commissioners for 16 years, and of that time he was five years Chairman. He then became disqualified, having sold all his ships and retired. Although he has retired from active business, Captain Bolt still takes a prominent part in the public life of the town in which he resides. He is one of the Trustees of the Tyne Lifeboat Institution, and one of the Finance Committee, which honour he has held for 20 years. He is also one of the Committe of the Tynemouth Dispensary; and for several years he has been a director of the Tynemouth Gas Company. Last year he received the honour of an appointment as Justice of the Peace for the borough of Tynemouth being certainly the first native of the Old Rock that has had such a distinction conferred upon him in that populous seaport.

SOME PERSONAL INCIDENTS,

Capt. Bolt's experiences at sea, and the many stirring advetures he has passed through, would fill a volume. Here are a few personal notes. When a boy he fell overboard at sea, but caught hold of a rope and was saved. One dark night he fell from the bow of the ship feet first, struck "soundings" at the bottom of the Thames, came up, and managed to get hold of a boat at the bow of the ship. He resolved to take no more "soundings" in that manner if he could help it.

On one memorable occasion, when master, he was returning from India. Off the Cape of Good Hope, in a storm, the ship was struck by a tremendous sea, and thrown on her beam ends. Captain Bolt was washed clean overboard, but caught hold of a rope washed overboard at the same time, and by that means gained the deck. He then found that some of his crew had been washed half-way up the main rigging, and some of them jammed in about the pumps.

On another occasion his ship was running before a storm west of Cape Horn. All went well during the night, but at break of day the vessel pooped a sea. The two men were washed away from the wheel, which was broken. One man was washed under the windlass; the other was jammed among the pumps. Captain Bolt was washed along the deck, and dashed against the quarter hatch and partly dislocated his right shoulder, which remainds so to the present day. The taffrail was smashed to pieces, and five planks of the stern were knocked in, making a big hold in the stern. Boards and sails were nailed over the hole, the ship ran the gale out, and soon got into fine weather.

So much for the storm and stress of the sea. But fortunately, the sailor is not always in the midst of storms; but occasionally something happens in the course of a voyage to interest and amuse. Captain Bolt remembers one fine morning, when lying becalmed off Cape Agulhas, South Africa, looking over the side, and to his surprise seeing a sperm whale lying asleep, and three feet from the ship's side and parallel to it. The crew soon disturbed it by throwing coals at it, and it quickly disappeared. The same afternoon a light breeze came off the land, and a very dark cloud appeared to approach the ship from that direction. It soon proved to be a cloud of locusts, which completely hid the sky from people on board the vessel. As soon as they came over the ship they settled down, and entirely covered it, as wellas all the yards, sails, ropes, boats, &c. The ocean was also completely covered with them as far as the eye could see.

Turtle-hunting is a form of sport that does not come in the way of everyone. Lying becalmed once in the Mediterranean, Captain Bolt sighted five turtles lying asleep on the water. He lowered the gig and took two men with him with the intention of catching them. As soon as the boat put off from the ship, which was an iron one, several pilot-fish which had been sucking the sea-weed and grass on the ship's plates under the counter near the water-line-left their enjoyable occupation and came after the boat, close astern, on what proved to be a mission of mercy. To everybody's astonishment, as soon as they came within a boat's length of the first turtle, the pilot-fish went ahead of the boat, jumped out of the water and fell down with a thud on the turtle's back and wakened it. Of course, the turtle immediately went down. Captain Bolt then went towards the second, third, and fourth turtle, with the same result, the pilot-fish acting in the same unaccountable manner. The fifth one was a mile and a half off, with a kittiewake sitting on its back. The captain told his men to pull hard and out-distance the pilot-fish, which they did. But the hunters were still doomed to disappointment, for as soon as they came within 200 yards of the turtle the bird jumped up several times, and came down on the back of the turtle, thus making it aware of the danger it was in. Of course, it went down also, and the bird flew away. On a former occasion, however, Captain Bolt was more fortunate, catching thirteen turtles in one day.

RUNNING THROUGH ICEBERGS

One voyage coming home from Montreal, Captain Bolt's ship came up the Straits of Belle Isle in a thick fog, the wind being fair and strong. He ran through without seeing land on either side. After getting through he shaped his course to pass between Belle Isle and Newfoundland, and when the fog lifted a little he observed several icebergs. It soon came on very thick again, and he put the ship under easy sail, and continued on his course, keeping a good look-out and all hands on deck. How many icebergs werepassed in the fog no one knew; but at daylight in the morning it cleared away. Captain Bolt then counted sixty-two icebergs, some of them of a large size. Some of them were in a field of ice about two miles long. The bergs were on each side of the ship, and she appeared to be passing through a channel as it were well buoyed with icebergs. The first land sighted was Cape Clear.

DANGERS OF NAVIGATING THE BLACK SEA.

The following is an interesting account of one of Captain Bolt's voyages. We shall let him tell the story in his own words.

In November 1859, as I was about to trip my anchor to sail from Odessa homeward bound, the captain of a fine ship belonging to Leith, whose name I forget, came alongside and said his chief officer and one of his men were frequently quarrelling, and he would like if I would change one of my men for his troublesome one. I told him I was similarly situated, as my chief officer and one of my men did not get along pleasantly, and if he cared to change ships I was agreeable. The man was anxious to go, and was written off the Articles and the other man put on. We weighed anchor and proceeded in the company of 25 vessels, the 26 of us leaving Odessa that morning with a fresh wind from north east.

Shortly after leaving, the wind increased to a storm, accompanied with blinding snow. The entrance to the Bosphorous is very narrow, and not easily made out until very near to it, and it is therefore dangerous, and highly imprudent to approach it in a storm blowing on the land, and I may say the sets of currents are uncertain, and therefore you are never sure of your position. I therefore hauled my ship to the wind 120 miles off the Bosphorus under close reefs to wait for he storm abating. On the second day I reached close to Iniada Bay, and the land being covered with snow it was difficult to make out. I saw three vessels under close reefs embayed, and they must have perished that night. In the evening the wind veered to the eastward, and I found myself jammed down on a lee shore, very high land and a rocky coast. I then found that the ship could only lie one point to windward to her course for the Bosphorus, and only half a mile or so from the rocks in passing the projecting points of land.

Out of several evils I decided at all hazards to proceed towards the Bosphorus, and crowded on a great pressure of canvas in hope of reaching the Bosphorus light by six o'clock in the morning. It was an awful night of wind and snow, with a high sea, and the ship did her part splendidly under an extraordinary pressure of sail.

Of course I was on deck all night, and to my great delight at 2 a.m. it ceased snowing for a few minutes, thus enabling me to get an altitude of the North Star and my latitude to a mile. At 6.10 the snow cleared for a short time and I sighted the Bosphorus light on the lee bow, and from its bearings I concluded the ship must have been dangerously close to the rocks several times during the night. At 6.45 just as I entered the Bosphorus, it began to snow again so I stowed all sails and ran up to Constantinople under bare poles, and came to with both anchors off the New Palace.

During this awful night seventy vessels were dashed to pieces on that inhospitable coast, and all hands drowned within 19 miles of each side of the Bosphorus, and the Leith ship, I forget her name, with my poor man on board, drove ashore in Iniada Bay the same night and all were drowned, part of her wreckage and name board being found on the beach. I was the only one of the 26 vessels that left Odessa that morning, that ever arrived at Constantinople. They were all lost with all hands, with the exception of the brig Irene, the master an old friend of mine, who arrived at Constantinople two months afterwards. He got driven into a creek between very high land and let both anchors, but he could not get out for nearly two months. He wrote me a full account of his experience. I had a fine passage of 30 days from Constantinople to Falmouth.

A REMARKABLE VOYAGE.

Here is a record of what is probably the most remarkable series of coincidences that every happened at sea. The story is thus told by Captain Bolt:-

In 1858 I sailed master of the barque Crawfords from Swansea bound to Huasco in Chili. All went well until I nearly got up to Capt Horn, when strong gales began to blow from the westward, which at times increased to hurricane force, and continued for 31 days. On one occasion the wind veered round to S.S.W., and blew fiercely, and it became intensely cold, so much so that the salt water froze on the decks, and was in places several inches thick, and some of the running gear was four or five inches in diameter with ice in a few hours, and five of my crew had some of their fingers and toes frost-bitten. On several occasions I observed a barque similarly situated to myself. We were 35 days in getting round that much dreaded and stormy promontory, Capt Horn. I arrived at Huasco in due course, discharged cargo, sailed for Callao and Chincha Islands. At the latter place I again saw my Cape Horn friend, which proved to be the Sea Mew, Capt. Liddle, of Sunderland. We met here once or twice for a short time, and spoke of the hard times we had off the Horn. He loaded at the South Island, and I loaded at the North one. We got loaded about the same time and arrived at Callao the same day to clear out, and sailed two days afterwards for Queenstown for orders at the same time, and the first night lost sight of each other. The next time we came in sight of each other was at two o'clock one morning, off the Old Head of Kinsale Light. We took our pilots on board from the one cutter, and came to anchor in Queenstown harbour together. Capt. Liddle and I went ashore in the same boat, and sent one telegram to Gibbs Bright and Co., announcing our arrival. On comparing logs, charts, and notes, the following facts were disclosed. I sailed from Swansea five days after Liddle sailed from Sunderland for Iquique, and that we crossed the Equator within two hours of each other, only 14 miles apart. We both came up with Staten Island on the same day, and as already stated, were off the Horn together. On the day I arrived at Huasco the Sea Mew passed that port, and arrived at Iquique three days later.

After leaving Callao the Sea Mew got into a belt of calms, and I having a favourable winds consequently passed the Horn 1300 miles ahead of him, but after that I had scant northerly winds, made slow progress, and passed a lot of icebergs. After the Sea Mew passed the Horn he had strong fair winds until near the Equator, doing a distance of from 170 to 240 miles daily. Therefore he came up with me, and we crossed the Equator within an hour of each other until we arrived off the Old Head of Kinsale as above mentioned.

We received orders at Queenstown by means of one telegram to proceed to Victoria Dock, London. We decided to be towed out by the same tug boat, and tossed up for the first turn. Captain Liddle won the toss, and he thus got fully two hours' start of me with a strong fair wind. I made good distance until nearing Scilly Islands, when the wind veered southward, and it became very foggy. Not with standing this, I carried a very heavy pressure of canvas and weathered the Island, but dangerously near the rocks. We passed so near the beach that the wash from the rocks came over the lee raisl and flooded the decks. Once round I had a fair wind and plenty of it, and towards night it blew quite a gale, so we went flying up channel. In the Downs I got a London pilot on board, and when we rounded the North Foreland I saw the Sea Mew coming to anchor near the Tongue Light. I sailed past him, and a tug came running down, which I engaged to tow me to London. When I reached the Nore Light a very powerful tug came down and was engaged by Captain Liddle to tow the Sea Mew. At Gravesend he passed me, my tug having very little power, but I got up in time for docking, and hauled into dock with the Crawford's bowsprit over the taffrail of the Sea Mew, and we moored at the same buoys alongside of each other. Both ships began to discharge next day, and the following day we paid our crews off, Captain Liddle at one end of the table and I at the other. So ended the race out and home which the Mercantile Gazette at the time pronounced to be a singular coincidence.

I may state that the barque Northumberland's Daughter, Captain Crawford, belonging to the same owner as my ship, sailed from Callao 16 days before me, and I spoke him 200 miles west of the Horn, and arrived at Queenstown 14 days before him.

Next week we shall give some further notes bearing more particularly on Captain Bolt's public life in Tynemouth. Next page