Cracker Hash; a Bank Line Apprenticeship in Sail

Aberdonian
14th February 2012, 23:37
Older hands may have already come across this book, but having read “Cracker Hash” again after an interval of 55 years I feel it worthy of an airing in SN.
Published 1955 by Percival Marshall, “Cracker Hash” by Commander Joseph Russell Stenhouse, DSO, OBE, DSC, (1887-1941) is a factual account of his time in sail from when he began an apprenticeship aboard the barque “Springbank”.
Commander Stenhouse spent time with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South Polar Expedition first as Mate, then later as Master of the Aurora during her epic drift in the ice when with the Ross Sea Party. After an adventurous life, which included a spell in command of the Discovery and naval service in both World Wars, he died whilst in active service in 1941 when his ship exploded and sank in the Red Sea.

The author, son of a Dumbarton shipbuilder, began his sea career with a voyage in the Springbank carrying a consignment of coke and general cargo from South Shields to San Francisco via Cape Horn. A run to Melbourne followed with a cargo of timber that had been loaded at Oakland and Vancouver. Next, grain was loaded at Melbourne for Cardiff.

After three weeks leave Stenhouse rejoined Springbank in Cardiff where she loaded coal for Antofagasta via Cape Horn. From Chile the vessel proceeded in ballast to Sydney then Newcastle, NSW, where coal was loaded for Valparaiso and Antofagasta. The 34 day passage to Chile was a record for many years. Next was a short run to Mejillones where bagged nitrate was loaded. Thereafter it was Falmouth for orders before carrying on to Leith for discharge of the nitrate.

Not yet out of his time, Stenhouse remained in the Springbank for the passage from Leith under tow to Hamburg where coke and patent fuel was loaded for Santa Rosalia, Mexico, in the Gulf of California. Sailing from Hamburg, the Master took the ship north about before heading down towards Cape Horn. It was after rounding the Horn that the Captain’s wife and two crewmen died from natural causes. From Santa Rosalia the ship went in ballast to Royal Roads, Victoria, BC, for orders before loading timber at some port in the Sound for Sydney. The vessel subsequently made for the UK with an unspecified cargo.

During these voyages the author described in detail the working of the ship as well as youthful escapades ashore, particularly in ‘Frisco’s Barbary Coast. There are also numerous descriptive references to other sailing vessels sighted at the time. Crews in Bank Line came from all parts and included many Russian Finns. Jumping ship was commonplace; Masters often had to rely on crimps to provide replacements.

The author’s personal opinion of Bank Line is indicated in the following quote:
“The varied house-flags had a significance to us that was unknown to their owners. The Bank Line ships sported a flag with a blue and red field halved diagonally and crossed by a white bend, which was known as ’the field of misery and the bone of starvation,’”
Then, reflecting on Andrew Weir, the managing owner, in connection with other matters:
“From the foregoing it will be gathered that we had no love or esteem for our owner. This in no way affected his career; he was well thought of by those for whose feeding he was not responsible, and is now a peer of the realm.”

16 ship illustrations in the book include two of Andrew Weir vessels, the barques “Cedarbank” (1892) and “Springbank” (1894), both sold in 1913 to E. Monsen of Norway. See also attached pdf.

Aberdonian

Alan Rawlinson
15th February 2012, 13:21
Older hands may have already come across this book, but having read “Cracker Hash” again after an interval of 55 years I feel it worthy of an airing in SN.
Published 1955 by Percival Marshall, “Cracker Hash” by Commander Joseph Russell Stenhouse, DSO, OBE, DSC, (1887-1941) is a factual account of his time in sail from when he began an apprenticeship aboard the barque “Springbank”.
Commander Stenhouse spent time with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South Polar Expedition first as Mate, then later as Master of the Aurora during her epic drift in the ice when with the Ross Sea Party. After an adventurous life, which included a spell in command of the Discovery and naval service in both World Wars, he died whilst in active service in 1941 when his ship exploded and sank in the Red Sea.

The author, son of a Dumbarton shipbuilder, began his sea career with a voyage in the Springbank carrying a consignment of coke and general cargo from South Shields to San Francisco via Cape Horn. A run to Melbourne followed with a cargo of timber that had been loaded at Oakland and Vancouver. Next, grain was loaded at Melbourne for Cardiff.

After three weeks leave Stenhouse rejoined Springbank in Cardiff where she loaded coal for Antofagasta via Cape Horn. From Chile the vessel proceeded in ballast to Sydney then Newcastle, NSW, where coal was loaded for Valparaiso and Antofagasta. The 34 day passage to Chile was a record for many years. Next was a short run to Mejillones where bagged nitrate was loaded. Thereafter it was Falmouth for orders before carrying on to Leith for discharge of the nitrate.

Not yet out of his time, Stenhouse remained in the Springbank for the passage from Leith under tow to Hamburg where coke and patent fuel was loaded for Santa Rosalia, Mexico, in the Gulf of California. Sailing from Hamburg, the Master took the ship north about before heading down towards Cape Horn. It was after rounding the Horn that the Captain’s wife and two crewmen died from natural causes. From Santa Rosalia the ship went in ballast to Royal Roads, Victoria, BC, for orders before loading timber at some port in the Sound for Sydney. The vessel subsequently made for the UK with an unspecified cargo.

During these voyages the author described in detail the working of the ship as well as youthful escapades ashore, particularly in ‘Frisco’s Barbary Coast. There are also numerous descriptive references to other sailing vessels sighted at the time. Crews in Bank Line came from all parts and included many Russian Finns. Jumping ship was commonplace; Masters often had to rely on crimps to provide replacements.

The author’s personal opinion of Bank Line is indicated in the following quote:
“The varied house-flags had a significance to us that was unknown to their owners. The Bank Line ships sported a flag with a blue and red field halved diagonally and crossed by a white bend, which was known as ’the field of misery and the bone of starvation,’”
Then, reflecting on Andrew Weir, the managing owner, in connection with other matters:
“From the foregoing it will be gathered that we had no love or esteem for our owner. This in no way affected his career; he was well thought of by those for whose feeding he was not responsible, and is now a peer of the realm.”

16 ship illustrations in the book include two of Andrew Weir vessels, the barques “Cedarbank” (1892) and “Springbank” (1894), both sold in 1913 to E. Monsen of Norway. See also attached pdf.

Aberdonian

Thanks for listing this item. - Looks like a good read and will chase down a copy ......

Barrie Youde
15th February 2012, 13:53
My thanks, too!

I love the description "well thought of by those for whose feeding he was not responsible"! I regret that I have known many others who might merit a broadly similar compliment.

Alan Rawlinson
29th February 2012, 13:11
Finished reading " Cracker Hash " - thanks for the recommendation - was a great read, and Stenhouse was gifted with an easy style of writing which could easily conjur up the scene for anyone familiar with life on board. Have just posted the book on to an ex Bank Line chum in Queensland, Steve Cutlack.

Would draw readers attention to a book called Ice Captain, which is the life story of J R Stenhouse. He was Master of " aurora" the second vessel in Shacleton's voyage to the south pole. Was later Master of the "Discovery".

The first chapter of the above book deals with his apprenticeship in Weirs, and the long voyages on the 4 masted Springbank.