Ships Nostalgia

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Hugh Ferguson 6th January 2008 19:34

The Surgeon's Log.
1 Attachment(s)
The photograph may be of interest to anyone who may have read the book, The Surgeon's Log; written by Dr. James Johnston Abraham who had made a voyage to Japan in a Blue Funnel ship which he had named-in the book- the CLYTEMNESTRA, but which as I (after long research) discovered was in fact the 1906 POLYPHEMUS. The voyage took place from January to June 1907.
In the book the captain was given the name Tucker and the second mate was a Mr Horner. Captain Tucker's real name was Chrimes (he later captained the ULLYSES), the second mate's name was, in reality, William Ambrose Holman and the man seated in the photograph was his son (he died aged 92 in Jan. 2006), his name was the same as his father's.
Note the walking stick which I am holding: I borrowed it from Bill just for the photo. He had inherited it from his father who had bought in Japan on one of his many voyages there.

treeve 6th January 2008 19:48

Excellent and a proud moment. History!!

Hugh Ferguson 6th January 2008 21:29

To see the old plate photograph, taken by the author, of Ponta,, the sweetheart of 2nd mate Horner, walking down a street in Kobe in 1907, try this link.

Sister Eleff 6th January 2008 23:23

Is the book still in print? Or would 2nd hand shops be the only option if you wanted to get a copy?

Hugh Ferguson 7th January 2008 08:17


Originally Posted by Sister Eleff (Post 175351)
Is the book still in print? Or would 2nd hand shops be the only option if you wanted to get a copy?

The book (Surgeon's Log) ran to 31 editions (even had an American edition) and was re. and re-published over some 40 odd years. The last edition was dedicated to the author's daughter whom I had the good fortune to meet when she visited me in 1997. She, whose name was Jill and has since died, came with the very journal her father kept during the voyage and after her return home, had it all photo-copied and sent to me!
If you go to a web-site such as ABE books you will find many copies available from all over the world; there was even a Penguin paperback edition.
It became a mini travel classic and, after 9 rejections by prospective publishers, it became a best seller. It was first published in 1911.
A good read, and was probably responsible for me choosing to go to sea in the Blue Funnel Line.

Hugh Ferguson 7th January 2008 12:33

As there appears to be a modest amount of interest in this story I thought of adding the following:-
It was a letter, published in the Oct.1995 edition of Sea Breezes, written by a retired Glasgow G.P., seeking information about the author of the book, Dr J.Johnston Abraham, that gave me the urge to investigate.
Prior to that I had never given any thought to researching the background to the book despite having owned a copy since my teens.
The very first clue (as to the real name of the ship) arrived with the invoice of a 30th edition I had purchased from an old Blue Funnel hand turned book-seller in 1964. He, Eric Lander, had written that 40 years previously he had sailed in the POLYPHEMUS and it had been commonly thought that she was the ship in which the voyage J.J.A. wrote about had been made.
I rejected that on account of J.J.A. having written in the preface that the ship had been sunk in W.W.1. But the POLYPHEMUS had not been sunk and so I discounted it for consideration.
I received a lot of assistance from a librarian in the Guildhall Library and she eventually suggested that I obtain a copy of Surgeon's Journey. I had not known that J.J.A. had written a biography of himself but, after obtaining a copy of which I read every word I had still drawn a blank-the voyage had been given mention but no disclosure of the name of the ship!
BUT, in the book I found a reference to a daughter and the name of the school she went to. Did the school still exist?! It did and a letter written to that former pupil soon found its way to her followed by a telephone call in which she, Mrs Jill Martin, nee Jill Johnston Abraham, told me the name of the ship, the POLYPHEMUS.
After that, information flowed thick and fast, a crew list, a visit from Jill herself and unbelievably, whilst she was still with us here in Cornwall, a call from Bill Holman, the son of the 2nd mate of that ship, whom the good doctor had befriended and with whom he enjoyed the occasional jaunt ashore in Japan and Java. Bill visited me on two later occasions.
Sadly, since then, all of the people mentioned have died, Jill herself, Marshall Walker (the Glasgow G.P.) and old Bill himself. I miss him greatly. He had started sea-going in the Clan Line, but left and went into the Royal Navy, served during the war in H.M.S. Volunteer and as 1st Lieutenant in the flag cruiser H.M.S. Royalist.

Hugh Ferguson 8th January 2008 20:17

Dr James Johnston Abraham's view of Japanese women:-
-------her presence is so all-pervasive in her own country. Every time one buys a fan or a piece of china she is there. Her presence sends a ray of sunshine into every street. It is impossible to avoid her. As a rule one doesn't try to; for the Japanese woman is the greatest thing in Japan. Her beauty is of a difference-it grows on one day by day; and the longer one stays in the country the more one admires it. Men who have lived there tell me that it slowly permeates till one wakes up suddenly to find some day that the high acquiline Caucasian type has become distasteful to one, when by chance one meets a fellow countrywoman in the streets of a Japanese city.
She is so dainty so fine-lined, so small, so very gorgeous in her dress, so very artificial in her headgear bristling with pins; her smile is so ever-ready, her temper so equable, it is difficult to believe she can be really alive, could ever look cross, or be untidy.
She is inimitable, the apotheosis of Japanese civilisation. There is nothing in Europe at all like her--------------

Anyone go along with this view???

trotterdotpom 9th January 2008 01:52

Very interesting, Hugh, I for one will be keeping an eye out for the book. It must have been very satisfying to come to meet and befriend those people.

Sailing to Japan, it seemed that everyone either hated the place or fell in love with it. I was one of the smitten and agree whole heartedly with Dr Abraham's description of Japanese ladies.

One afternoon, on a visit to Kyoto, I saw what must have been a genuine Geisha walking towards me - white face, zillion Yen kimono, dainty little steps, I was entranced. The spell was broken when she hawked up a big greenie and gobbed it out onto the pavement! Wow, I know they take years to learn the tea ceremony, etc, but she even spat gracefully! I did think that she could have had a tissue tucked into her obi though.

That was over 30 years ago, she'll have no idea of the impact she made on a gauping gai-jin in that bustling little backstreet.

John T.

Hugh Ferguson 9th January 2008 11:39

Here's a piece of pure nostalgia taken from the epilogue, written by Dr. J.J.Abraham, in one of the three editions of the book I've collected over the years. He writes:-
Sometimes a weariness of London comes over me, and I feel that I would give almost anything to be on the high seas again. There are certain days and certain things that cause this feeling.
Sometimes it is only the misery of a cold raw day that sets me thinking. Often I get it crossing one of London's bridges when the tide is in and the salt tang strikes one's nostrils. Sometimes it is casually seeing in the Shipping Intelligence the name of my old ship that sets me off.
As a rule I try to avoid such thoughts. They are disconcerting; they confuse one's issues; they are not part of a well ordered life. But they are difficult to get away from, even when one tries. Once I went into a chemist's shop in Bond Street for something. As I entered the faint odour of "kananga" leaves struck my nostrils; and immediately I was back as in a vision on the ship and saw the low-lying beach of Cheribon, and the lateened praus around the ship, as I lay in my chair listening to the monotonous "amma-ti-ra-ta-huh" of the coolies swinging bales of java sugar in the holds.
Then a suave voice said, "What can I get you, sir?" and I was back again in London.
Once, a year later, I saw the ship's name amongst the arrivals at the Royal Albert Docks, and made a special pilgrimage to see her. I knew the ugly old black hull long before I could read the name. The Chief (engineer) was standing on the saloon-deck as I climbed aboard. "Hullo", he said quite casually, as if I had just come up from my cabin..............................

trotterdotpom 9th January 2008 12:00

Thanks Hugh. The Doctor's trouble was he didn't have the Ships Nostalgia counselling service.

John T.

makko 9th January 2008 15:49

A fascinating thread, Hugh. I remember a 2/E advising me against being seconded to China Navigation. He had fallen "under the spell" - the only problem was that he was already married!


Hugh Ferguson 10th January 2008 19:40

Signing on in 1907
........everyone was now assembled; and at a nod from Mr Thomas (chief officer) he (the clerk) began to read in a monotonous sing-song voice friom the document before him:-
".........s.s. Clytemnestra, bound from Liverpool to Yokohama, and (or) any other port or ports within the limits of 72 degs.N.Latitude, and 65 degs. S.Latitude, trading to or from, as may be required, till the ship arrives at a port, or final port of discharge, in the United Kingdom, or continent of Europe, between the river Elbe and Brest, for a period not exceeding 18 months, as the master may require........."
I was listening intently, but, looking around saw thay no one else was paying the least attention. It was all the same to them whether they "signed on" for San Francisco, Sydney, or Shanghai. It was a twice told tale to them.
And truly it mattered little whether they listened or not; for from the wording it was obvious we could be sent anywhere a ship could sail.
The sing-song voice seemed to act on them like a soporific. It went on indefinitely, reading more and more rapidly and indistinctly.
Suddenly it stopped; and then in a natural voice the clerk said:
"All members of the crew to be on board before mid-night on the 12th Jan."
This seemed to be the part they were waiting for. They all woke up. "get ready to sign now", the clerk said briskly. Then the clerk said, "You, doctor!" and pointed to a column. In five seconds I had signed away my liberty for eighteen months, agreed to abide by a mass of regulations I did not understand, and to sail on a ship I had never seen...................

And from this voyage a book resulted that was so successful that the author was tempted to give up medicine and become an author. Instead, he did both!

Hamish Mackintosh 13th January 2008 01:37


Originally Posted by Sister Eleff (Post 175351)
Is the book still in print? Or would 2nd hand shops be the only option if you wanted to get a copy?

I have the Penguin Books copy, and on a scale of 1 to 10 shape wise I would say it was a 7, I will mail it to the first address I get ,FOB, with the proviso that it be forwarded to the next in line, and so forth untill it falls apart

Hugh Ferguson 13th January 2008 10:37


Originally Posted by Hamish Mackintosh (Post 177237)
I have the Penguin Books copy, and on a scale of 1 to 10 shape wise I would say it was a 7, I will mail it to the first address I get ,FOB, with the proviso that it be forwarded to the next in line, and so forth untill it falls apart

What a brilliant idea! I hope it takes off. I take it FOB stands for Free On Board.

Hamish Mackintosh 13th January 2008 16:52


Originally Posted by Hugh Ferguson (Post 177290)
What a brilliant idea! I hope it takes off. I take it FOB stands for Free On Board.

Thats a Yes Hugh ,but Sister Elef has got on board first

Hugh Ferguson 13th January 2008 20:19

An interesting exercise that needed to be undertaken consequent of my contacting J.Johnston Abraham's daughter Jill, was on discovering that she had never seen a photograph of the ship her father had sailed in.
That lack was easily taken care of, for on p.43 of Clarkson, Harvey & Fenton's excellent book, Ships In Focus, Blue Funnel Line, there is a splendid photograph of that very ship. No sooner had Jill set eyes on that but she was keen to know if it was possible to discover the location of her father's cabin!
I knew from having read the book umpteen times that the engineer officers' accommodation was on the port-side of the centre castle deck, and the deck officers' was on the starboard side. The photograph, fortunately, was stern on on the starboard side, and the row of cabin port-holes was well defined. But, how to discover whose was whose!!
The only thing I could think of doing was to read the book again, which was no hardship, and there on p.273 was the clue. The ship is in Soerabaya and loading leaked from the tubs as it was being hoisted from the lighters and trickled down the ship's side. I (the good doctor writes)
had to screw up my port-holes to keep it out of my cabin.........
So, some 90 years later, the daughter of Dr.James Johnston Abraham knew the ship her father had sailed in and the very cabin he had occupied during the five months long voyage. She was delighted.

(I think this must have been the last class of Blue Funnel ships in which there was crew accommodation in the centre-castle deck with ports situated along the ship's hull. It later became valuable cargo space, especially when there were motor cars to be stowed).

Bill Davies 13th January 2008 20:37


The 'M' Class were configured in this way and carried the Stwds along the port side. What a waste of space!!!!!!


Hamish Mackintosh 17th January 2008 18:38

Surgons Log

Originally Posted by Hamish Mackintosh (Post 177405)
Thats a Yes Hugh ,but Sister Elef has got on board first

Anyone who would like a read should get in touch with Sister Eleff

Sister Eleff 18th January 2008 09:50

Sssh Hamish! Don't tell everyone (Jester)
It hasn't arrived yet but will let you know as soon as it does.

Dampier 12th April 2008 15:51

Thanks everyone for their background on the Surgeons log. I have a holt family connection and was sure it described a blue funnel ship but didn't know which one.

But now have even seen its photo - courtesy of H.M Le Fleming's Ships of the Blue Funnel Line :)

Hugh Ferguson 13th April 2008 20:25

1 Attachment(s)
This is a photograph of the 2nd mate of the 1906 Polyphemus. His name was Wm. Ambrose Holman. He was later master of the same ship. In the book,The Surgeon's Log, he is portrayed as Mr Horner. His son, of the same name is portrayed in post No.1 of this thread. The photograph was given to me by him.

Hugh Ferguson 3rd August 2008 18:14

The Surgeon's Log.
1 Attachment(s)
On one of his three visits to me, here in Cornwall, Bill (Bill Holman, the son of the 2nd mate of the Clytemnestra) real name of the ship was the s.s.Polyphemus-arrived with his daughter and I couldn't resist the temptation to show her the photograph, (see attached thumbnail) taken by the author of the book, of Ponta, her grandfather's Japanese sweetheart.
As far as I can tell, this photo only appears in the first of the thirty one editions the book, The Surgeon's Log, went to. She had never set eyes on it before and I was curious to see her reaction. She gazed at it for a little while and said something under her breath which I didn't catch.
Well, they are all memories now including her father who I miss very much. He went right through the war-as did his father in WW1-serving in the Royal Navy. He was a 2nd Lieut. in H.M.S. Volunteer, escort destroyer in Western Ocean convoys, followed by 1st Lieut. in the flag ship cruiser, H.M.S. Royalist, on service out east. A lovely man and I'm so pleased that my researching of the book brought us into contact before he crossed the bar.

(The photograph was taken in 1907)

Hugh Ferguson 7th August 2008 23:13

The author of the book very evidently had some misgivings about disclosing in the pages some events, taking place during the voyage, that may cause embarrassment, or even worse, to various people and especially the 2nd mate. And it was certainly true that rumours of sacking and even divorce were still going the rounds years after. In his epilogue to the 30th edition the good doctor writes:- 'It was only when the pile of author's copies arrived, and we (his friend the pathogist), that a certain doubt came to me. It must have been more or less in the Pathologist's mind also, for he suddenly said:
"Shall you send copies to your old shipmates?"
'The question somehow seemed to crystalise the doubt in my mind; and I began to wonder, when it was too late, how they might like being thus exhibited before the great unknown public. An uncomfortable feeling that they might not take it as kindly as it was meant assailed me. "I don't know," I said dubiously.
'Hesitating about the matter for some days, I finally came to the conclusion that on the whole it would be better not, comforting myself with the thought that sailors never read expensive books of travel, and that these old comrades of mine were away from England so much they might never hear of the liberties I had taken with their personalities.
'But the success of the book defeated me ; and when I found that the Colonial edition had been issued, I knew it was only a matter of months before I should hear from some of them.
'It was the Chief who, characteristically,broke the silence, set my mind at ease, and gave me all the news. One morning I found a letter with a Japanes postmark awaiting me.'

It's sad to conclude that in 1919, the one time 2nd mate of the Polyphemus had achieved command of the same ship, and in waters so familiar to him was responsible for grounding her on rocks departing Hong Kong. His career in Blue Funnel ended. His son did not follow him into the Blue Funnel Line: he went to sea in the Clan Line instead.

R.J. Jack 18th September 2008 18:27

Hugh, I just found this thread yesterday, topic surfing.
I joined the Forum specifically to thank you for your
research, which is a benefit to all who read old travel
books and wonder at their authenticity. I had done a
similar investigation of another voyage book published
in London, detailing a trip from China to France in 1917, in which all the key figures were given false names and even the author used a pseudonym. So I understand some
of the steps you took. In my case the author was long dead and family could not be located.

I have printed out your entire thread and folded it into the book. I have the first edition which I found in San Diego in 1990 and a later edition picked up here in Vancouver.
I didn't know that the author had also written his autobiography. Can you tell me if he mention a Dr. Thomas Hately Macfie in that memoir of his life? I have
a suspicion that they knew each other pre-WW1.


Hugh Ferguson 18th September 2008 19:37

Ron, Just a year before J.Johnston Abraham's daughter Jill died she presented me with three of her father's books; namely, Surgeon's Journey, A Surgeon's Heritage and 99 Wimpole St. Only the first named has an index with no fewer than 13 Dr. Mac/Mc's listed, but not a Dr. T.H. Macfie. His other book, My Balkan Log (the one he reckoned to be his best) also has no index, but mention is made of many of the doctors he knew during his long and eventful life. In leafing through them should I come across a mention of the afore-named Macfie I'll let you know.
So pleased you found the thread of interest: it was a truly fascinating research into the book that probably enthused me to go to sea in the Blue Funnel Line in 1943, and first read all of those years ago! All the best, Hugh.

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