November 19th 1802
Journal of Commander Thompson aboard the Han
I attended Captain Mort’s funeral this evening. It was held in his birth town of Deptford, home to the first Royal Navy Dockyard. Mort’s family arrived like dark clouds settling on the grave stones in the cemetery. Each one’s attire was as bleak and desolate as their bereft souls must have been. I’ve heard speculation about our new captain who will be arriving Thursday, in two days time. Amanda Blackwell, the ship’s surgeon, and I have had no inkling about what qualifications our mysterious new captain has to take control over the Han. Commodore Weatherly has so far not been forthcoming in giving the crew or me any information about the new arrival.
Commander Drew Thompson
With my entry complete, I leaned back in the hard, but not totally uncomfortable, oak chair in my room at the local tavern. My stay here would hopefully be short since the environs were not up to my usual standards. My total exhaustion promptly put me to sleep. In the morning I awoke with a disastrous crick in my neck—one so bad I could not reposition my head upwards, so I was stuck with it resting a few centimeters from my shoulder. I also had a huge drool stain on my coat. It was already a bad day, and it hadn’t even begun.
It took me approximately two hours to prepare myself for the public eye so I can attend the appointment with my lieutenant, surgeon, quartermaster, steward, and purser in about three hours, which left me time to break my fast. Breakfast was a disappointment! The servers gave me biscuits as hard as cannon balls, if not quite as large. The beverage I can only describe as looking and tasting as if someone back in the kitchen had urinated in a cup and called it tea! It was an outrage, but I shall put up with it gracefully since I represent his majesty’s Royal Navy.
After my so-called breakfast, a carriage awaited me and conveyed me to the local meeting hall where the engagement had been scheduled. If I thought London’s streets were filled with noisy, jostling people, when I arrived it was as if I had stepped into a realm where chaos and anarchy ruled.
Once inside the meeting room, I was confronted with the sight of my fellow crew members, seated at a round table littered with the detritus of breakfast meals overlaid with scattered papers. They appeared so angry that they were seemingly close to ripping each other’s throats out. While difficult to understand any one conversation, the noise level assaulted my ears and perturbed me greatly. Where had their good form and decency toward each other gone? The unmistakable smell of a brewing storm outside added to the stink of stale food and cold tea inside.
A scene of extreme proportions confronted me. The purser, Jean Monet, a wiry, tall, pale man, usually reticent, was standing at the table, one fist clenched, the other gesturing wildly, as he shouted excitedly. His obvious displeasure seemed to be directed at the steward who was seated opposite Monet, overwhelming his chair with his generous girth. Big, balding, leaning back smugly, Robert Bogg watched his adversary with a self-satisfied expression pasted on his bloated features. James Cawthorn, the lieutenant, maintained his professional demeanor while barking orders at the others, all of whom ignored him. Frustrated with a lack of respect, he teetered on the precipice of anger. The quartermaster, George Bitts, flexed his well-developed muscles, while gritting his teeth and trying to express his feelings to the surgeon, Amanda Blackwell, about the anticipated appearance of a strange captain of whom they knew nothing. Dressed in a gray traveling outfit, Amanda stood, quietly self-possessed as Bitts nattered on. While reminding the quartermaster that none of them is irreplaceable, Amanda tried, for once unsuccessfully, to calm the others, who seemed unwilling to come in out of the storm that they were creating with their words and gestures. The result to my ears was a cacophony of confusion and concern about the unknown now facing them.
Standing in the entryway, which was actually the eye of the storm, I raised my right arm, palm outward, and bellowed, “Cease this incessant jabber immediately.” The room fell silent, and I felt the emotion behind the eyes that now faced me silently.
I walked toward the table trying to maintain a neutral expression on my face. “I don’t know and can’t make out what you are all in a blather about. I assume it’s at least partly because of the arrival we’re awaiting. In fact, this is what we will be discussing today—once I have your attention. If you have other issues, we’ll get to them eventually. For now, as commander, I am in charge. Questions?”
The room was suddenly as silent as Captain Mort’s tomb.
* * *
By late afternoon I was finally back in my quarters at the tavern. After dealing with my crew, the silence in my room was a delightful relief. In evaluating this afternoon’s meeting, I reviewed what we had discussed about the new captain. I had assured my staff that the minute I knew something, they would hear from me. We had also resolved the issue between the purser and the stewart. I reminded them that we are a team. Of course, I mentioned that I am their leader, and that fact should comfort them immensely. Exhausted from all of the turmoil, I collapsed into the oak chair, reached for my whiskey, and relished its strong, sweetly burning journey down my throat.
Captain Marcus Haab
By George, I thought, this has been a ghastly trip. Traveling from Cardiff in Wales to London took many days. At times, the weather seemed unforgiving and bent on keeping me from getting to my date with destiny. Especially with my bad eye. Eventually I arrived, for the most part unscathed. I then went to Commodore Weatherly’s office to set the terms of our agreement. Once I found his office and despite my filthy and destitute-looking appearance from traveling the long country roads, his secretary greeted me as kindly as possible, though from a distance. She led me to see him, the man who would mold my life into one of glory and glamour.
“Hello, Duncan,” I said, taking a seat in front of the desk. The stench of the London streets invaded the room even with all windows tightly shut. Like all big cities, London’s stink was breathtaking.
“Hello Marcus,” he said with a superior smile on his face. “Or should I say Captain Houdin.” He pulled from his desk a paper, a quill, and some ink.
“I’m making the assumption you want me to sign,” I said, pulling the paper toward me.
“Yes, if you would be so kind,” the Commodore replied briskly. He was loathe to acknowledge the deceit in which we were engaged—a captain named for 30 pieces of silver or more.
With a flick of my wrist it was done; I was the new captain of the Han, which in no time would be the vessel used for the greatest crime England would ever see. “What about the crew?” I asked warily.
“The crew are suspicious as they should be; their captain just died, and so soon he’s being replaced by someone of whom they have never heard.
“Very well, I’ll just have to deal with it,” I said angrily. But then, I thought, what could I expect; they don’t know me, and I’m barging into a hierarchy they had created. “Well, thank you, Commodore; I’ll be on my way.”
“Safe travels, my friend,” he said, smiling to himself, it seemed.
Commander Drew Thompson
The two days had passed in a flash. Eat, sleep, repeat … I then met our new captain, the man whom I must serve under, and I was furious. He was disgusting, looking more like a pirate than a captain of the Royal Navy. He wore a stained and wrinkled uniform, he smelled as if someone had made him sleep with the hogs, and his breath reeked of onions and stale ale.
“Hello, commander,” he sneered.
“Good afternoon Captain,” I replied with as much courtesy as I could muster. I will let the crew know that you have arrived, and once you have cleaned up, I will join you in the meeting hall.”
“Very well commander, I shall do that with great haste,” he replied, his tone sarcastic enough to slice through a mooring rope.
So I turned and left to meet my crew. Later that evening the captain graced us with his presence once more. I had warned the crew of what they might see, but he was surprisingly well dressed when he appeared.
Each member of the crew came up to me that night so that we could get acquainted. They all seemed fairly warm and welcoming, but I could tell that they still didn’t trust me—especially the commander. He really doesn’t like me and probably felt as if my position should have gone to him. He may be a problem in the future. Thank goodness I know how to eliminate a problem!
In the morning I broke my fast with my commander and lieutenant while the other members of the crew were preparing the Han for departure. We sailed off at noon, fully stocked with provisions, headed to Canton, China, for a “trading expedition.” The crew did not know my real intentions for going to Canton, for I had a contact within the Co-Hong. I was going to use this guild of Chinese merchants to get what I deserve, what the British took from me!
We set sail a day ago, and I’ve made good headway; however, the captain is nowhere to be seen. So far it has been up to the lieutenant and me to give the orders. The captain has been stuck in his quarters almost since we set sail. I worry how long this will continue. He remains distant and wants nothing to do with the everyday running of this ship. Occasionally, I see him at midnight, limping along the rail and staring into what abyss I do not know. It seems to the crew and myself that he has only focused on getting to Canton and getting there as quickly as possible, no matter the cost to ship or men. I worry what will come of this folly. Tonight I have separate meetings with my lieutenant, surgeon, purser, quartermaster, and stewart to ascertain their needs and address any concerns. I fear it shall be a long night.
The sun was setting when I heard a knock on my door. The lieutenant stood at attention, his blue frock coat and white waistcoat pristine in their appearance. His brow was furrowed with concern, but he smiled nonetheless.
“Lieutenant Cawthron, how are you this evening?”
“I’m well. How are you sir?” he said with his softly accented, deep voice.
“I’m well; thank you for asking. Now let’s get down to business,” I said with a sigh.
“Yes, let’s. The crew have been restless; without any word from the captain, they’re uneasy,” the lieutenant told me.
“Of that, I’m sure; our captain has not been present of late. I worry that without his leadership, this ship may be heading for danger.”
“I agree, sir, but there is nothing I can do about it,” he said sadly, his entire body slumped in a gesture of helpful concern.
I reassured the lieutenant that all would be well. I had a plan. I hope he left reassured. I see great potential in him, but he needs to improve his leadership skills. He does try hard.
Next, Amanda Blackwell, the ship’s surgeon, arrived. As usual, she was dressed unobtrusively but looked beautiful in her understated way. Her demeanor was calm and professional.
“Hello, Commander Thompson, how are you this fine evening?” she asked.
“I’m well, thank you, Amanda. Now, getting down to business … Do you need any new tools or medical supplies when we stop in Spain? I don’t want you to run short of anything. You take such excellent care of the Han’s crew and officers, myself included.”
“No. Thank you, though. I restocked everything in Deptford,” she replied kindly. “You know how much this ship and you mean to me. Why, without your support, I would never have been given this opportunity to be a ship’s surgeon. I would give my life if need be.”
“My dear, you have shown your ability to do this job exceedingly well. All I gave you was a chance, and I have been well rewarded. Your care has kept our crew healthy and able to meet the demands of crewing this ship. I owe you a debt of gratitude. As to your requirements, if your needs change, let me know before we reach port. Hesitant to let my dear Amanda go, nonetheless I asked wearily, “Could you please send in Jean?”
Jean slithered in, as I always think of him being as slow and malicious as a snake, not someone to turn your back on.
“Bonjour, Commander Thompson,” he said, his soft French accent making it difficult to determine whether he was really wishing me a good day.
“Hello, Mr. Monet, are the accounts in order?”
“Yes, of course they are,” Monet responded. “However, I must inform you that our dear cook has been seen lurking around my offices at night. I worry that he might be looking for something that he has no right to,” he leered.
“Are you accusing the steward of something? Because if you are, you might as well come out and say it!” My anger was seeping into my response, and I worked to keep it under control.
“No, no,” he said, backing away. “Just saying that we might want to watch our glorified cook, a little more closely.” He stood as if to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going! Sit back down! Now!” My orders became increasingly loud and direct.
So he did sit down again and fixed a daggered glance straight at me. “I’ll also need five-hundred pounds tomorrow,” I told him.
“Whatever for Commander?” he asked in a spitefully innocent voice.
“No matter,” I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. “Just get it to me by morning. I’m going to retire for the night.”
“Very well sir,” he said, casually moving toward the door but closing it with more vigor than necessary. I let that go for now.
And so I took my leave, scheduling my other meetings for another time.
It’s been twenty long and boring days since we left Deptford. I am anxious to get to Canton. There is nothing to do on this damned boat, and I am filled with impatience and longing. I can see my dreams begin to take shape, and they make me hunger for my destiny. Also, Commander Thompson is really starting to get on my nerves. The man will not stop bothering me. It’s almost as if he expects me to be doing something. I mean who does he think he is. I’m the captain on this ship, not he!
We have reached Spain. All the men have already left the ship, except for Captain Houdon and myself. I started doing my last-minute checks to secure the boat. I came to the Captain’s quarters and thought I’d have a look. I was curious to see what he had been doing enclosed in his cabin all trip. As I opened his creaky wooden door and stepped inside, I found that it was empty of the captain’s haughty presence. Also, I couldn’t help but notice the many documents and ship routes scattered across his desk. I could smell freshly-made ink on these important looking papers. And so, I started looking through them, mostly out of curiosity but also of suspicion. What I found frightened me. They were plans to overthrow the monarchy and replace it with the Qing dynasty of China. Not only was this treason, but it was pure madness! Suddenly, a creak sliced the silent darkness behind me. Then came a bang. Then, blood. I felt myself slipping away and then…
I had returned to my quarters to find Lieutenant Cawthorne snooping through my grand scheme. So, I shot him in the back, tied him to some rocks I rummaged from ballast in the hold, and lugged the dead weight to the port side of the ship. Unceremoniously, I hefted this unfortunate snoop to the edge of the rail and threw him into the ocean, his own personal watery grave although unmarked by marble headstone, which, in any case, he did not deserve. Finally, I scrubbed up the blood, tossed the mop overboard, and went on my way, relieved that I had eliminated a serious threat. Besides, I had a Frenchman to find.
Thankfully, Jean brought me the money as soon as we moored. The cobbled streets teemed with all variety of humanity: tradespeople, merchants, sailors, and the odd assortment of criminals who seek to live off of the wealth that ships provide. I rendezvoused with an old friend who had the means to hire a crew of Spanish Mercenaries for me. I needed a way to get rid of our “good” captain. I had almost convinced myself that I was doing this for the benefit of the crew. But I knew in my heart I was the one who wanted to run the blade through his chest. I needed to feel his blood run hot down my hand and to see the light fade from his eyes because I knew he was bent on bringing devastation to the ship and crew.
I snuck the motley group of mercenaries into the cargo hold. Then I went to check on the captain, and while I walked along the rail and was nearing his quarters, I saw a dark purplish-red stain beginning to form in the water next to the ship. I was worried that one of my crew might have injured himself or even fallen overboard. I spent a moment that seemed an eternity staring into the water, horrified when I turned to find Houdon with my mercenaries, blades drawn, all staring at me. Haan stepped forward sneering.
“I never liked that lieutenant. I don’t like you very much either, commander.”
Houdon turned to my traitorous mercenaries. “Take him down to the hold and secure him in the brig. Once the other crew members are here, take them too, except for the French one; take him to my quarters.”
The brig was basically a long corridor with a creaky wooden staircase leading down to it. It was right above the cargo hold, under the deck. It was a row of rusty iron bars with squeaky doors, running all the way down to the bow of the ship. I was astounded. Not only had Houdon killed Cawthorne, Jean had betrayed me, and Haan now had the ship under his command. I didn’t know what he had planned, but I knew it wasn’t good … I must have fallen asleep, for when I woke, my crew, looking disheveled and hopeless, surrounded me. I stood as all eyes turned to me. The cells were densely packed, all full of my crew who looked morose and terrified of what was to come. The cold and damp of the brig had seeped into the very marrow of my bones. Somehow I had to overcome this lethargy so that my men had someone to believe in—at least a ray of hope.
“I know things look bleak,” I started saying. A noise directed my ears toward the stairwell leading up to the deck. A mass of shapes and color hurdled down the stairs toward us. It was Miss Blackwell; her mangled body and pale visage, streaked with blood, careened violently down toward us. At that moment I felt we were doomed. The best of us all was murdered and treated like rubbage. I threw up, then passed out.
I had done it. I had rid myself of that pathetic commander. I knew that Jean despised him, but when he told me of the commander’s plan, how he had followed him, and learned that Thompson had hired mercenaries, I had to act. So, I enlisted Jean to pay off the hired help to turn on Thompson and the crew. Also, I needed his mercenaries to man the ship in the real crew’s absence. Amanda Blackwell is another story, I saw her as the beacon of hope for the commander, so I decided to extinguish his light by destroying her…
It had been two days since we left Spain. For once, all was well. No pesky crew or commander. Just Jean, the mercenaries, and I. Thankfully, the brig also blocked not only men but most sound from escaping, so all was well.
“Captain,” one the the mercenaries said as he entered.
“What!” I said with a snarl, wondering how he dared bother me.
“It’s a storm, sir” he replied. “Rollin’ in as quick as a cockroach scurrying from light and more gigantic than a sea of whales.”
Sure enough, as I stepped out of my quarters, the winds were howling; and the waves, rising and roiling as they moved toward us.
To set the record straight I had no intention of doing what I did that day. I felt at the time it was what I had to do for my country and myself. But first the storm. It raged on for days. Waves the size of mountains and see-saw winds rocked the ship. The first day we had no choice but to continue through the storm. There was no way around it; it was so massive. As if it were a living beast, we felt its breath from miles away. As the storm closed over us, the creature itself swallowed us. Day two, we were fully submerged in the belly of the beast. Everything and everyone in the brig was drenched. Some of the mercenary group had been swept off the ship while attempting to make headway through the storm. Others, and even myself, tried to reason with the captain, but he would not listen, because he “needed” to get to Canton. I have so many regrets, especially now with old age robbing me slowly of my strength and my faculties. I needed to write this before I passed. Perhaps to repay and do justice to the crew that had served under me. Or maybe for more selfish reasons. I cannot say. However to conclude my ramblings. As I drink my last drink and write my last letter. I must continue, stay focused.
It was many days through the storm; I knew not how many. When the storm was at its worst, an enormous hole was cut through the ship’s side, and I knew we were going down. Sinking, I mean. I could hear the crew, my crew in the brig, screaming for me to free them. I pleaded with the captain. Pleaded to free them to try and save them. He shut me down. Then, a wave struck the ship like a wild animal tearing apart his prey. Splintered and spent, the whole thing was coming apart. Before I knew it, we were all in the water. It was dark and cold. People scrambled madly to stay afloat, searching in vain for something to keep their heads above water. Sinking one by one, surrendering to the waves, they went down.
I don’t know exactly how I survived, but I did. I floated ashore in North Africa where an indigenous man took me to a local British encampment. I was then transferred back to England. I was not greeted with cheers and whelps of joy but rather the opposite. Everyone wanted to know what had happened. And so I told them. At first they didn’t believe me, but with no other witnesses, they had no choice. Now my tale is told; my life coming to an end. I only have one statement: To whom it may concern. Exitus will befall all who are privy to this knowledge. I warn you all, whoever knows the truth written in this book. Exitus, and for those who don’t know the meaning, it means consequences. Finally my name, my true name shall be written one last time. This is Commander Thompson signing off one last time…