“The Luck Of The HMS Bulldog” Part I

“The Luck Of The HMS Bulldog” was first published in the February 5, 1906 issue of “The People’s Friend”.

It is one entry in a long-running series named “Tales Of A Tar By Jack King, Quartermaster”, which was written as if it were a series of tales “told” to author Alfred Spencer, then recounted to the reader.

It’s a great little naval adventure. Though we must warn you: the dialogue here can be a little hard to follow!

This is part one of the story. Part two will appear in next week’s Fiction newsletter.

There ain’t no such thing as luck? You tell that to th’ Marines, sonny; I know better.

There’s both good luck and bad luck, an’ though it’s been mostly good luck that’s fallen to me, I’ve seen plenty in my time to prove that there’s both kinds in this world, whatever there may be in any other.

No such thing as luck! Why, I’ve happened hundreds of things myself to prove different.

When I was a nipper, on my first voyage, I went aloft in a squall one night to take in th’ mizzen royal. Like the innocent little fool I was, I was tuggin’ away at th’ gasket with both hands, instead of one for myself an’ the other for the King, when It broke, an’ I fell backwards.

Quick as th’ thing was done, I had time to remember that there was a hundred feet clear between me an’ th’ poop without so much as a rope yarn in th’ way.

But I didn’t fall, because at the very instant th’ gasket broke th’ ship rolled in such a way that my back came against th’ royal stay, an’ my hands went up over my head an’ caught it before you could wink.

It was just that lucky roll of th’ ship at th’ right moment that saved me.

Once when it was blowin’ fresh I was aloft helpin’ to take in th’ for’-t’-gal’n’ sail. As we gathered it in there came an extra puff of wind an’ blew it out like a balloon. All th’ fellows let go but me, an’ before I knew what was th’ matter I was dragged over th’ yard, turned a somersault as clean as any clown, an’ dropped plump on th’ belly of th’ for’torpsa’l, right side up, as easy an’ as comfortable as sittin’ down in an easy chair.

I slid down th’ torpsa’l nice an’ easy an’ dropped on to th’ belly of th’ forsa’l in th’ same way; an’ at that very minnit th’ mat at th’ helm happened to luff, an’ eased th’ stretch of th’ sail, so that I slid odwn an’ was dropped on th’ deck, feet first, without a scratch.

That sounds like slingin’ th’ hatchet, I know, but it’s a fact for all that. The First Luff was in charge on th’ fo’c’sle at th’ time. He had a habit of standin’ with his hands on his hips, fingers behind him an’ the thumbs in front, an’, of course, this made his elbows stick out at each side like catheads.

He was lookin’ round at somethin’ or other when I came down, an’ I fell on his right elbow an’ nearly stove his ribs in. He looked round at me standin’ beside him, an’ he says —

“Damme, sir, what do mean by that?”

“Please, sir, it warn’t my fault; I —”

“Not your fault, sir,” says he, interruptin’ me: “do you mean to say it’s my fault? Where th’ devil have you come from, anyway?”

“Off the for’-t’-gal’n yard, sir,” says I. “I dropped over th’ front of the yard.”

“An’ what th’ devil business have you to come down that way? Ain’t th’ rattlin’s good enough to come down by?” says he, just as though I’d done th’ thing for amusement.

But he was hurt an’ out of temper, an’ so th’ wonder of th’ thing didn’t strike him at first.

Luck! Why, look at Billy Spriggit, the only man in a jolly boat’s crew as couldn’t swim, an’ the’ only one as was saved. Run down, she was, by a Revenue cutter, smashed up like tinder.

By good luck a block an’ tackle was hangin’ over th’ bows, an’ at th’ very moment of strikin’ th’ boat th’ ship dipped, an’ th’ hook of th’ block caught Billy under his jumper, lifted him out an’ kep’ him up till he turned round an’ swarmed up th’ fall.

Take a look at this video of Illustrations Editor Manon creating the fantastic design for this story!


An’ as for bad luck, I could tell you hundreds of yarns.

When I was a maintopman on board th’ “Phoebe” frigate, Jim Turner an’ Bully Brailsford, two of my topmates, worried all th’ time from th’ day we was put in commission to get into th’ foretop. At the end of six months they managed it. They changed one day at dinner time, an’ th’ first pipe after dinner was “Watch, shorten sail!”

Bully an’ Jim skipped aloft to th’ for’-t’-gal’n’ yard, an’ they’d hardly got on th’ foot ropes when th’ sail blew up an’ knocked Jim Turner backwards. He grabbed at his chum, Bully, an’ down they both come, over an’ over like a couple of shot seagulls, an’ was smashed to pieces in th’ hammock nettings, which happened to be empty at th’ time.

Yes, an’ you’d ha’ found it a tough job to convince Dick Hutchinson, ashipmate of mine on th’ China Station, that there ain’t such a thing as bad luck.

We fetched up off Swatlow one Christmas Eve, an’ Dick got permission, along with a dozen more, to go ashore for some green stuff to decorate th’ ship with.

Dick, who was thinkin’ more of how he could smuggle some grog aboard than about decoratin’ th’ ship, managed to get hold of a big bamboo, an’ he bored a hole in one of th’ sections, poured in about two gallons of rum, an’ plugged th’ hole up again.

The corporal of th’ watched inspected ‘em an’ searched ‘em when they came off, an’ dismissed ‘em as all right.

But there was only one gratin’ off’ th’ main hatchway, an’ Dick couldn’t get his big bamboo down. While he was strugglin’ with it up comes the officer of th’ watch, an’ he says —

“What’s th’ matter here? What in th’ name of common sense did you bring a thing like that aboard for anyway? We have plenty of spare spars aboard. Here, corporal, pass th’ word for th’ carpenter, an’ tell him to bring his saw.”

“Please, sir, I can manage it all right, sir,” says Dick, tuggin’ away at it, for it had got foul somewhere.

“Manage it be hanged!” says the officer. “Let it alone! You’d no business to bring such a monstrosity aboard. Here, carpenter, saw this thing in two just here!”

Well, you may say there ain’t such a thing as luck, but when Chips began to saw at th’ wrong side of th’ join where th’ rum was, an’ it run out an’ wetted him through, while th’ Lieutenant looked on pretty nigh paralysed with astonishment, Dick felt there was such a thing as bad luck, an’ he was getting’ a pretty big slice of it.

What’d they do to him? Oh, I forget now; it was nothing much. He was put under arrest, but, it bein’ Christmas time, he was let off lightly. What he thought most about was th’ loss of th’ rum.

To be continued . . .

Keep an eye out for part two of this story next week.

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Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.