The Captain's wife has always been an important personage. A few years ago there was a lengthened discussion in the newspapers about her. She was the subject of many letters; the object of praise on one hand, of blame on the other, as great people generally are. Was it well that she left her home and set up throne, Empress-like, on board ship? Yes said some; No said others. According to the former she was an angel; her hands were laden with blessings; her one purpose was to make everyone smile. Was one of the crew sick, she at once busied herself in his behalf; the daintiest morsel - the nicest cup of tea - were for him; whilst from out her treasures she drew forth the softest wraps to make him warm and comfortable. In stormy weather blessed were her toils; blowing winds and roaring waves lost half their terrors; wet and cold on their dreary watch, she provided for the sailors such alleviations as only the tender heart of a mother could devise, or the loving hand of a sister could prepare. The ship became a home; the sea as a dwelling place excelled the land beneath the mild and gracious influence of the Captain's Wife.
But there was a different picture painted by others. In their estimation she was a nuisance on board; she was crabby and crafty; she was hasty and haughty; to the cook and steward she was unbearable; whatever he made ready was scorned; he could never please a tyrant who had made up her mind never to be pleased. Moreover he was a victim of her unceasing whims and fancies; meal times were nothing to her; she always contrived to want something at the most inconvenient hour; whilst in port, no matter how late her return from her trips on shore, it must be followed by a feast fit for a prince. Of course this was nothing but ill-natured slander; we cannot doubt that the Captain's Wife is worthy of all the praise that her warmest admirers have bestowed upon her.
The Captain's Wife is always a great traveller. She will go at a moments notice, in any kind of weather, and to any distance to find the port of arrival. The most remotest point in England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland will not seem far; you will fall in were her every train, you will see her at every station; well may proprietors of railway stock pray for her long life and prosperity. For her Rotterdam is but a skip, and Hamburg but a skip and a jump. We remember once a long way on the other side of Paris travelling with a lady who had journeyed from London to Venice on this errand. Whether the husbands would be at so much trouble to see their wives has sometimes been doubted; but this, too, must be set down as the ill-natured sneer of foolish people who know nothing about it.
This spirit of adventure was seen in olden days. A hundred years ago the Captain's Wife did her duty just as cheerfully as now. It is true she was not often called upon to venture on journeys so long as which her daughters undertake. Occasionally she would go as far as London, and beyond this, in the stage coach, braving all the discomforts of bad weather, or of still more disagreeable companions - fearing not the dangerous accidents which were of more frequent occurence than many people think, or that terror of the traveller, the highwayman with his masked face, his pistols, and his dreadful demand
"You dogs, your lives or your purses!"
Nevertheless the distances were not so great as now-a-days, while the Captian's voyage was itself often not longer than the Captain's Wife in our time.
Now here before us are the notes of good Mrs Chilton, who, in the year 1803, on the 18th August, reached Hull from Whitby in company with Mr Langbourne and Mr Benson. On the following day she called upon her friend Mrs Kirkham, and she was very likely invited to dine with her, for there she was again on the 21st, partaking of her hospitality. How careful she was to observe well the dinner table, what was on it and how arranged. At Mrs Kirkham's she notes there were - at the top of the table plum dumplings, at the bottom a nice 'loyn' of veal with ham sliced (broiled), potatoes, cucumbers, etc. After dinner they returned to the ship, and the regulating-Captain drank tea with them. Next day also they had company on board, when Mr and Mrs Richardson joined them at tea. On the 23rd the Captain's Wife did not go ashore, but next day she and Mrs Langbourne drank tea at Mrs Fletcher's. On the 25th Mr and Mrs Benson had tea with them on board, and next day Mr and Mrs Chilton and Mr and Mrs Langbourne dined with Mr Hopwood. Again the Captain's Wife writes down the arrangement of the dinner table:- Top, white fricassee of rabbit, white gravy cullis - very nice; bottom, fore-quarter lamb; one side, kidney Beans, the other, potatoes, hot apple pie, etc. On the 28th they had dinner with Mr Todd of Wincolmlee. Did Mrs Todd know how closely one of her guests was spying the land? Here is the bill of fare that day:- Top, cod's head and shoulders - fillet of veal stuffed in the middle, and bone taken out; sides, cauliflowers and potatoes, anchovey sauce, pickles, preserve-tarts, etc. Next day they shared the hospitality of Mrs Clifford. That lady provided for them - Top, broiled neck of mutton; bottom, couple of ducks, nice black cap pudding, green peas and potatoes , caper sauce, plain butter ditto, hot apple pie.
On the 30th they were the guests of Mr H Hall Junr. His table had, on the top, a nice piece of ling; at the bottom, a loin of veal, potatoes, kidney-beans, crab sauce, plum pie. The following day they favoured the Mrs Fletcher with their company, and well she treated them. At the top of the table their was calf's head hashed, balls, and brain cakes fried; bottom, nice crop of beef roasted; next the hash at the top, roast pig, next the beef at the bottom, couple of ducks; on one side ham, on the other pidgeon pie; opposite sides and corners, kidney-beans, peas, French beans, currants, etc. In the middle a nice silver stand with with a nice lemon pudding upon it; on each side of it, or rather above it, were toasts; below, custards in glasses, various fruits, wines, etc. etc. Sothey went on visiting and feasting until the 16th September, when the vessel sailed at 6 o'clock in the morning with a fair wind.
We hope that the good lady did not forget to pay careful attention to the order given by Jacob Perlooking for a good watch for himself; for Mrs Perlooking two gowns of different colours; a few parcels of pins and needles, and, for the boys, two waistcoats. Who in the world was Jacob Perlooking? Was he somebody in the Baltic port to which Mr Chilton was trading who desired these goods from England? Whoever he was, we trust he had his wish, and especially it is hoped that Mrs Perlooking's gowns were to her taste, and that the two lads were well set up with their English waistcoats.
A pleasant enough picture this that is brought to our view of life in Hull a hundred years ago. The well-to-do hospitable homes, the friendly greetings of people united by common tastes, and a common interest in seafaring pursuits! How much they would have to talk about! The state of the Baltic trade; the dangers of the passage; the risk of insurers. They would drink to the health of their good patriotic King, George the Third, and confusion to Bonny; Mrs Chilton could tell of the exciting scene in Whitby but a few weeks before, when in the harbour, the ship's crew refused to yield themselves to the hated press-gang, fought for their liberty and drove them away. No doubt the times were critical, but she was careful to note down that:
"We can send two millions of fighting men into the field; that being so , let us trust to them and to brave Nelson."
"No reason whatever, dear Mrs Fletcher,"
she may have said,
"why should we not make the best of things as we find them; your dinner now is excellent, let us drink, and be merry."
So we may imagine these worthy people, while the clang of arms was alarming the world, enjoying heartily their hashed calf's head, their nice crop of beef, and looking with beaming eyes upon
"the handsome silver stand with a nice lemon pudding upon it."
As for Mrs Chilton, she left Hull on the 21st September in the "dilly," and reached Whitby the very next day in very stormy weather. When winter came, and the husband of the Captain's Wife arrived safe at home, we maybe sure that in her own house in St Hilda's, with the Longbourne's or the Bensons, or others of her particular friends gathered around her table, she would consult her little note-book, and by its help seek to emulate the generous hospitality she herself had so much enjoyed.