On Board s/s Themistocles
(Sunday) 6 October 19121
My darling Dolly
I left Capetown at Thursday noon. In the afternoon I made a few friends & we promenaded the
deserted decks. From five oclock till Saturday morning we will draw a veil over the harrowing
sights. Suffice to say that people who had come out from England were confined to their
cabins. I struggled down to every meal because I didn’t fancy starving myself. On Thursday
night I attempted to play bridge but it was too funny because two of us took it in turns to go &
be sick so we gave it up in disgust.
Saturday morning I felt fit & could let myself go, so I persuaded a lady to come & play some
duets with me. We had two hours at it & we both enjoyed it immensely. In the afternoon I
slept & read & after dinner as the band was so horrible Miss Mercer & I went & played duets for
another two hours much to the astonishment of an admiring crowd.
Sunday morning dawned bright & fair & nearly everybody went to Church. In the afternoon I
had a long conversation with Mr Swinbourne – a Cabinet minister in Queensland - & later read
till dinner. After dinner four of us sat down & played bridge till 12.15 am. Most disgraceful I
think. Anyway I notice there is a big staring placard up this morning that card playing &
gambling on Sundays is strictly prohibited.
This morning we have been arranging sweeps & committees & playing games. It is only with
difficulty one can keep ones balance on the boat as she is rolling & bobbing about like a cork.
It is surprising how many fresh faces you see at each meal. They keep coming out & chancing
things. We have an absolutely full boat. 800 third class & 250 first class. It was pure luck
that I got a berth. Plenty of people booked last April to come out from the Cape on this boat &
if one man hadn’t withdrawn at the last moment I should never have got it unless I had cabled to
the firm to book me one in London. Every boat is chock full at present & there are hundreds of
people waiting to get a berth in the Cape.
Monday afternoon was spent in sleeping & after tea I had a little exercise. At night I persuaded
a few people (about 16 of us altogether) to have a little informal concert. It was very enjoyable.
Then I played bridge till twelve.
Tuesday morning Miss Mercer persuaded me to go & play duets with her & we had nearly two
hours. The afternoon was spent in talking & sleeping till four oclock & after tea I had a good
long skip(?). I played bridge all night. Wednesday morning was glorious. I was on deck by
eight oclock & played quoits & deck golf had a fine time. The afternoon was spent in talking &
playing bridge as it rained so hard. At night I talked business to two or three men & learned a
lot of things & later went & talked to some of the third class passengers. There are some pretty
nice people among them & I admire their sense in not spending more money than is necessary
for their passage.
The text of the letter suggests it was actually written (or started) on a Monday – presumably 7th October
Thursday morning was frightfully rough & it rained as it only can rain in this latitude. Seas
were washing right over the boat deck & it was fine sport dodging them all. After breakfast I
walked about four or five miles with two chaps. Later on Mrs Black & Miss Mercer asked me
to go & have some music to the three of us went down to the dining saloon & had a good time.
Taken on the whole we have a very decent lot of people on board. The fellows are good sports
& five or six of us all about the same age are the liveliest chaps, up to any mischief or fun there
is going. We are continually playing pranks on one another & the fun is fast & furious. I came
on board expecting to have a nice quiet time & recuperate from the arduous life I had in Africa.
Instead, I am having the time of my life & am not quiet from 8.30 am till 12.30 or 1 o’clock or
whatever time we go to bed. The only peaceful time I have is when I am writing my letters & I
am pleased to make the excuse sometimes.
Thursday afternoon was rougher than ever & I tried to take some photos of the smashing seas
we were shipping. I don’t think they will be a success as the light was so bad. After tea we
couldn’t play any games on deck so we played bridge till dinner.
We had a lively time at dinner. The stewards evidently thought it was not necessary to put the
protecting bars round the table but they made a mistake. We got through the soup & the fish
nicely & then would come a sudden lurch & plates would slide off the table & you never heard
such a clatter in your life. A big pile of plates was standing on a sideboard near our table & the
whole lot went smash. While we were all laughing the plates we were using would slide off on
to our knees & the drinks would upset. You never saw such a mess in your life. I don’t think
above one dress was spoiled.
At night I went over to the third class again & talked to some girls. They all have to go to bed
at ten o’clock whether they want to or not. I think it is a rotten system. It was two o’clock
before I went to bed.
Friday morning we played quoits & I have forgotten what I did in the afternoon but I think we
played cricket after four o’clock.
We are not allowed to play any deck games between two and four o’clock because a few elderly
people want to sleep. It is an abominable shame & we have tried to alter it but have had no
luck. You are not allowed to even promenade the deck so there is nothing to do except sleep or
gamble. The majority of us prefer to play cards. Occasionally I have a sleep but not often.
Friday night I assisted at a small concert & talked to two sweet girls. I got to bed at 1.30 am. I
had better state that the bar closes at 10.30. We have an old doctor on board who tries to rule
the ship & on Thursday night the people who had been singing & playing finished up at 10.0
o’clock precisely. The doctor complained to the captain that it was going on till 11.30 & in
consequence he couldn’t sleep. The captain caused a notice to be put up saying that in future
passengers would oblige by closing the concert not later than eleven. We get another hour as
we always tried to finish by ten o’clock.
So on Friday night we went to the full limit & made as much noise as possible & slammed the
door every time someone went out or came in. We all said good night outside his door &
dropped empty chocolate tins by accident. It was surprising how many people had had
chocolates that night. The men adjourned to the smoke room & made as much noise as
possible till 1.30 am.
Saturday morning we all played quoits & other games & arranged matters so that the doctor
couldn’t get a game till 11.30. He likes to start at 9-0 o’clock & expects a court reserved for
him. When he was allowed to play everybody felt tired & made some sort of excuse & two or
three wouldn’t play because they were afraid of of disturbing somebody underneath. By the
end of the voyage he will curse the day he ever complained to the captain. In the afternoon I
flirted with a charming girl but it was very cold. I was rather sorry afterwards as my life has
been teased out & I have not had a moment’s peace since. However these little things are only
sent to try us.
Saturday night I took charge of affairs & had a small informal concert which we kept up till 11
o’clock. The doctor is paying a steward 2/6 a night to stand by the door & prevent it slamming
(one or two m’s?). We have offered him 5/- to have two slams but so far he has resisted
temptation. It was again late, or rather early when I retired.
Sunday morning I played the service & enjoyed it. The afternoon I spent in sleeping & at night
Miss Mercer & I had two hours at the piano. I retired early. 11-0 o’clock.
This morning I was up early & after breakfast walked round the deck & got drenched to the skin
by a big sea that came over. It is bitterly cold & keeps snowing. The windows on the
starboard side were frozen this morning & could not be opened. We are al hoping to get in a
warmer climate be Wednesday or Thursday.
I think you would enjoy this passage & I do wish you were with me. I might possibly get to
bed early with you to watch me. I have a shrewd idea there will be a big surprise for a lot of
people a day or two before we reach Melbourne & the culprit is in my cabin. The other chap &
I have talked matters over but think it better to say nothing at present. More anon.
There is really nothing further to add. This week has been occupied with cricket quoits & other
games. When it has rained we have played bridge & my luck has been marvellous. I could do
nothing wrong whatever I did. In fact I could almost declare hearts on a 2. 3. & 4 & queen &
get three tricks over. On Thursday I won the 2nd prize in the sweep; £2-10-0. I should say I am
well in pocket on the journey.
Last night we had a small concert & gave Miss Mercer a presentation. She has been so good to
everybody by playing & singing nearly every day. She is going out to marry a widower with
eight children. I don’t think you have any cause to be jealous! Mrs Black & Mrs Howell saw
your photograph this morning & were perfectly charmed with it. They think you are full of life
& eagerness & that I am a lucky chap. I agreed. On Friday a little girl was born in the 3rd class
& we collected 10 guineas for the mother.
There have been plenty of minor accidents such as sprained ankles & wrists & bruised eyes
owing to the roll of the boat. I spent the whole of one day going round visiting the patients.
A fellow on board – one of the largest jam makers in Australia wants me to go & stay with him
when I get to Melbourne. He promises me a horse to ride & anything I want I can have. His
brother also wants me to stay with him in Hobart. Mr Crawford who is extremely likely to win
the Melbourne cup with his horse wants me to go & stay at the same hotel with him. I have
refused them all because I do like to have a free hand & do just what I like. Miss Crawford
comes & wakens me up in the afternoon I generally go to sleep in the lounge & when it is time
for tea she comes in & drags me downstairs. I asked her to do as she has some lovely jam & I
can scrape the pots when empty. She is about 38 or 39 & a fine sporting woman.
All the kiddies on board are pals with me except one naughty little rascal & I can’t “stick” him
at any price – altho’ his father has asked me to spend the weekend with him at Brisbane when I
This morning I played the service & enjoyed it. We had quite a good congregation. I felt like
stopping in bed but didn’t. I am afraid the voyage has not been a very good one as far as my
health has benefitted because I have been late nearly every night. Still a sleep in the afternoon
helps you along. We many a time have commenced a rubber of bridge at 11.30 & played till
1.30. The difficulty is we lose ½ an hour each day. Every night the clock is put on form 12.0
o’clock to 12.30. Thank goodness I get to Melbourne on Tuesday & shall be able to go on
shore but it will be too late to catch the Sydney train that day. That I can do on Wednesday &
arrive Sydney Thursday noon.
There will be nothing of any importance happening before we land but will keep the letter open
in case something does come along.
I have been three weeks without news & am burning with impatience to hear something. I shall
have to wait another 10 days for the African mail to come along. I hope everything is good &
satisfactory & that you my dearest sweetheart are not in any way depressed, also that auntie is
I want you so badly dearest & am counting the weeks to when I arrive home. It will not be long
now. I shall hurry as much as possible & not waste a minute anywhere.
We have passed the doctor this morning & I am going to try & get through to Sydney by
tomorrow. The mail is closing now & haven’t time for more.
Your letters will arrive one week on Saturday & the next week on Monday – then Sat again & so
With my whole love sweetheart
Yours for all time