Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell



Our ship of twelve thousand tons, R.M.S. _Orsova_, was more like a floating hotel than a sea-going vessel, and the passengers living in bright, comfortable cabins with a fine dining saloon and first-rate food, could hardly imagine the work that was going on in other parts of the ship to insure their travelling with such ease and speed and safety.

A tour round the ship, such as we made one day, is full of interest and wonder. The second-class passengers are housed and fed just as well as those in the first-class, and there is accommodation for 230 of them.

In the third-class, again, they are wonderfully comfortable in cabins for two or for four people each, with nice dining and sitting-saloons, and a roomy, roofed-in deck where they can enjoy the fresh air in all weathers. There is room for 800 of these, and the cost of the journey from England to Australia is only 17 Pounds, which means board and lodging of the best description for six weeks while doing the journey out.

The crew, of course, live forward, and, including seamen, stokers, engineers, stewards, etc., they number about 300 men. On the navigating staff of officers, quartermasters, and look-out men depends much of our safety at sea.

Then down in the depths of the ship are the engineers and stokers, who make the ship go. Our chief engineer, like all chief engineers, is a Scotsman, and he loves and takes a pride in his engines, and is glad to show them.

In Rudyard Kipling's song of the chief engineer, he describes him as looking upon his engines as almost the work of God, in their wonderful power and intricate working.

* * * * *


And it is indeed an impressive sight to stand below these great monsters of steel and watch them faithfully and untiringly pounding at their work, all in order, and exactly in agreement with each other, taking no notice of night or day, of storm or calm, but slinging along at all times, doing their duty with an energetic goodwill which makes them seem almost human--almost like gigantic Boy Scouts!

The great steel shaft which the four pistons keep driving round is nearly 100 yards in length, and carries the big bronze screw propeller at its end, which thrusts the ship along. There are two of these, one on each side of the ship, which is therefore called a twin-screw vessel.

There are four cylinders to each shaft, and the same lot of steam is used, passing from one cylinder to the other, beginning with the small high-pressure cylinder, which it enters at its highest strength, something like 250 lb. to the square inch, and ending with the big low-pressure cylinder, where the pressure is only about 5 lb.

Then there are numbers of other engines. One for condensing the salt water from the sea and making it into fresh water for the boilers. This is done by boiling up the salt water so that the watery part of it becomes steam, while the salty part remains behind as salt; the steam, when cooled, becomes fresh water, and is then fit to be used in the boilers to make steam.

* * * * *


Then we go into the stokehold among the mighty boilers. Here are powerful, grimy men at work getting coal out of the coal bunkers, and shovelling it into the furnaces.

It sounds easy to shovel coal on to a fire, but it takes a lot of practice to get the knack of stoking a fire properly, and a lot of strength and skill to throw great shovelfuls quickly and well into the right part of the furnace.

The stokers work in gangs for four hours at a time, under "leading stokers," whose duty it is to see that the proper pressure of steam is kept up in the boilers by the heat of the fires.

Anyone who has travelled on an ocean-going steamer will know the sound which comes up from the interior of the ship every twenty minutes or so, which sounds like a rataplan being hammered by someone for his own amusement.

This is in reality the signal which is given by striking iron with a shovel, and can be heard by the men all over the stokehold, telling them to stoke up their various fires.

Besides the main engines there are pumping engines for supplying water to the boilers and to the various parts of the ship. Then there are ice-making machines for keeping the food-storage rooms cold, and electric dynamos for supplying electric light all over the vessel, and for use in the laundry.

* * * * *


This is an interesting department. Here all the bed sheets, towels, tablecloths of the ship, and the linen of passengers are washed, dried, and ironed by machinery.

The linen is put into a circular "drum" full of soapy water and whirled round and round till well washed.

It is then partly dried by being put into another metal tub, which is whirled round by electricity at such a pace that the water flies out of the clothes. These are then put into a kind of mangle between hot steel rollers, which squeeze out any water that remains, and at the same time so heats the things that they come out quite dry and ironed into the airing-room, where they receive a final drying in hot air.

The ironing of small articles like shirts and blouses is done by a few laundrymaids using flat-irons heated by electricity.

* * * * *


While on board we celebrated our birthday--that is, my wife's birthday and my own (for by a curious chance we were both born on the same day, though not in the same year!)--and at tea-time a beautiful birthday cake appeared upon the scene, beautifully sugared and decorated with our names and appropriate inscriptions, just as if it had been made ashore.

I do not know how the knowledge of the birthday got about, but I do know that the cake was a most excellent one, and the kind thought of the baker in making it was greatly appreciated by both of us.

* * * * *


After seeing the stokehold, the engines, and the laundry, we visited the kitchens. The feeding of the passengers is an important point, for on board are no fewer than 200 first-class, 230 second-class, 800 third-class passengers, and over 300 officers and crew--more than 1500 people altogether.

The voyage to Australia takes nearly six weeks, so you can imagine that a pretty large amount of food has to be carried on board to take the ship out and home again.

Tons of fresh meat and vegetables, butter, and eggs are stored in ice-cold cellars. Each day a supply is brought up and put into iced larders for that day's issue.

Here are some of the amounts taken in the ship for one voyage: 5 tons bacon, 50,000 eggs, 6 1/2 tons butter, 45,000 oranges, 9000 lb. jam.

In the great kitchen are a dozen cooks at work preparing the meals for all classes--the cooking is exactly the same for all. Also the quality of food is the same, except that the first-class get more variety and choice of different dishes. In the bakery is made the daily supply of bread for the whole ship, and also baked puddings, cakes, and sweetmeats.

* * * * *


There were lots of interesting machines used in the kitchen to save time and labour.

For instance, there was a machine for peeling potatoes; a round metal tub in which the potatoes were rushed round and round until their skins were rubbed off, and they were ready for the cooking-pot.

There were egg-boiling machines, which, working by clockwork, kept the eggs in boiling water for whatever time was desired, and then took them out without any attention on the part of the cook.

There was a bread-slicing machine and a plate-washing machine, the dirty plates being placed in iron racks and lowered into a tank where boiling water is dashed on to them from both sides, so that they clean themselves in no time. There was also a machine for kneading the dough for making bread.

In fact, the whole place was a marvel of work and organisation all compressed into a very small space, and yet done most successfully and cleanly.

* * * * *


Here is one day's bill of fare for the third-class passengers, which shows that they do not fare badly. I had some of it myself, and it was excellent.


Porridge with Milk
Yarmouth Bloaters
Hashed Meat
Cold Corned Pork
Marmalade Tea


Mulligatawny Soup
Roast Mutton
Mashed Pumpkin
Suet Pudding with Syrup
Children--Milk Pudding Bread


Lancashire Hot-Pot
Cold Meat Salad
Pickles Bread
Butter Jam
Marmalade Currant Cake


Biscuits and Cheese
Gruel for Infants if required
Cocoa or Coffee with Biscuits at 6.30 a.m.

* * * * *


Of two of the cooks with whom I talked, one had been twenty-three years in the service of the Orient Company and the other twenty-six years: and nearly all the ship's company had been in this ship four years, though their engagement only lasts for one voyage. So it looks as though the Orient were a satisfactory line to serve with.

One of the cooks had been a soldier in the Wiltshire Regiment, and had served in the Zulu War of 1879. He had been in the siege and defence of Etshowe.

This place was surrounded by the Zulus, and another British force tried to get into signalling communication with it by means of the heliograph, which at that time was quite a new invention.

I reminded my cook friend of this, and he told me this little yarn about it. He said:

"I was walking out on the ridge there close to the camp with a corporal in my company when we noticed a light flickering on a hill in the distance. He had been through a course of signalling, and said it looked as if somebody were trying to flash a signal to us, so we got a bit of looking-glass and flashed it in their direction.

"Suddenly he said to me:

"'Write down what I tell you.'

"I got out a piece of paper and a pencil, and he spelt out a message which was meant for Colonel Pearson, our commanding officer. It was to say that if we sent a signaller on to the church steeple in Etshowe they could signal direct to him.

"I took the message to the colonel, and soon after a sailor managed to get up somehow or other, and we very quickly had messages going and coming."

Valid HTML 4.01!