Sunday, July 1, 2012

EUTERPE: FUN AND GAMES

Five months at sea, no radio or television – what did a couple of hundred people do for fun on the sailing ship Euterpe in 1879? They made their own fun, and everybody joined in, including the crew.


A band was formed – the Tin Plate Band. There were even some proper instruments. The first officer, Algernon Back, played the violin and so did the chief steward, Mr Chapman. A passenger, Mr Plant, played the piccolo; he was "a gentleman of diminutive stature" according to the ship's newspaper, so small that for one concert he was carefully helped on to a stool to general amusement. Mr Tichbon played something but we don't know what, there was more than one concertina, and it's a fairly safe bet that somebody had a harmonica.

For the rest, they improvised and made their own music. They hooted and tooted, drummed, blew and banged anything that made a satisfactory noise: platters, preserved meat tins and tin reflectors, fiddles and fifes, and "at night soft strains of music / woo Somnus with their tones / Tones distilled and sweetly culled / from hook-pots and pork bones" as the ship's poet described it. There was dancing every evening when weather permitted – country dances, waltzes, schottische and Sir Roger de Coverley.

During the day there were athletics, and games such as deck quoits, with rings of rope tossed at a small post.  Bossy Mr Ellis conducted a drill parade one afternoon, and races of all kinds were enjoyed by men and children of both sexes, the women probably acting only as spectators. Once round the deck measured 150 yards (135 metres) and on one occasion Duff, "an old man about fifty," and a young Irishman, Whisky O'Hanlon, ran five times around the deck – 750 yards (675 metres). Duff stripped off and went first and finished in 1.48, followed by Whisky, who amused the spectators by appearing in "a pair of tight skins and a black belt" and beat the old man by 22 seconds, "so two got him on their shoulders and carried him round the deck" to celebrate.

The fixtures were far from elitist. Everyone, including children, enjoyed sack races, three-legged races, hurdling over the yard-arms, hand-over-hand on a tightrope (the sailors excelled at that, not surprisingly) and a race with contestants carrying buckets of water on their heads, the winner being the one whose bucket contained the most water on reaching the winning post. There were modest prizes for nearly everything – the most was six shillings (won by the tug-o-war team) but usually pennies or a shilling.

The ship's Doctor Davies no doubt watched all this approvingly, given his strong opinions on the value of exercise "to aid blood circulation, call the abdominal muscles into play, and promote the action of the bowels, thus counteracting "any tendency to gastric derangements and intestinal torpidity".

Photo courtesy of Mike Wood Photography, with grateful thanks

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