Joseph Emin, 1: the ship sets sail (1751)

Excerpts from
Emin, Joseph. Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, An Armenian, Written in English by Himself. Retrieved from Archive.Org 10/02/2014.

Corrected through comparison with
Emin, Joseph. Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, An Armenian, Written in English by Himself. Amy Apcar, ed. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1918.

Page numbers are from the print copy. In most cases they correspond with the online version, but the latter has some errors and omissions. For this draft I am keeping outdated spellings of some words in the original and also the third-person voice in which Emin narrates his life. These will change for the performance script.

He was then in Calcutta, very cautious not to open his mouth or utter a word of his intention of going to Europe, when, all on a sudden, his father, just at ten o’clock in a propitious morning, asked him if he chose to learn Portuguese? he said, no; the second question was, French? he answered in the negative; after a little pause, the third question was, English? here Emin hesitated a little while, and with a very low voice said, yes, lest the father should suspect his design; and continued writing all the time with a pretended indifference. His father said, “In how many days time can you learn it?” he answered nothing; while his father, standing by the side of the table, began to count from one month till he came to six months; then the son agreed, for fear he should lose the opportunity if his father changed his resolution. But he immediately accompanied Emin to the English school in the Old Court-house, at the age of nineteen; where he no sooner picked up a few words, than he made a shift to ask Mr. Parrent, his schoolmaster, Whether the law of England could stop a person, who should chuse to leave his father and go to a far country? he laughed heartily, saying, “What slaves you are, and how ignorant is your nation, who have resided so many years amongst us without knowing our laws. Provided you will not make any requisition to your father for money — I find your mind is turned towards Europe; and it is your duty to ask your father first for his paternal blessing; but, in case he should not be inclined to consent, then do as you think best; and remember, that you will meet with great difficulty in getting your bread in England.” [Pp 18-19]

This was joyful news to Emin, who, for two years and a half, had pined with grief and loss of appetite, not knowing how to find a vent for his distracted mind. He went home directly, and spoke of it to his father, hoping to gain his consent, and to obtain, if possible, his blessing: finding the old gentleman quite averse to the plan, and very unwilling to part with him, he said nothing, but took the first opportunity to inquire for the houses of India captains; after which, with another Armenian of the same age, a distant relation of his, he went to one captain Williamson, and was introduced by the steward. When they both stood before the captain, his companion, who understood Portuguese better than himself, was frightened and speechless; Emin therefore advanced, and, as well as he could, began to tell his design: the good captain put several questions to him; the first objection he made, was to the Turkish black turban- and long clothes. Emin said, the first might be taken off, and the second cut short; the captain then said, you are not a sailor; he answered, yourself were not one, when first you went on board, we shall learn every thing in good time; upon which the gentleman seemed very much pleased, and told them to call the next morning for a note to go on board. When he returned home, he began to consider the matter more seriously, and said to himself, who knows but my father may petition the governor to bring me back from the ship; I had better wait for another opportunity. He staid therefore with vexation and anxiety a full year, till the next monsoon, passing the time most disagreeably and heavily; went a second time to another captain, whose name is unknown, but who was a very choleric man, hardly heard himself speak a word, and was very near knocking him down, swearing furiously and saying, Do not you like to live well in India? half of my ship’s crew have deserted through the good things in Bengal, and you are fool enough to want to go to England to be starved there; get away, you are mad. Emin would rather have been favoured by the captain with a pair of black eyes and a broken head, than to have had his refusal, and was angry with himself for not venturing the year before with good captain Williamson. However, he did not despair, but went thence to the next door, where lived captain Cash; commander of the Tavistock, which had been before a man of war. This honourable gentleman perceiving a great disorder in his countenance, from an agitated mind, said nothing, till some gentlemen, who were there, went out; he then approached Emin with great mildness, and advising him like a tender father, to be dissuaded from his intention, said, “depend upon it, my friend, you will not be able to go through the laborious work of the ship, nor able to live when you are in London; I know your countrymen here are numerous and very rich, and I dare to say, you have a father; what ails you, that you are so sanguine for going to Europe, without a single rupee in your pocket?”[Pp 19-20]

He went then with redoubled courage to the fourth gentleman, named Thomas Fea, commander of the old Walpole India-man, and begged that he might work for his passage; this captain made more objections than the others, particularly observing him to be so very thin: but the captain rather looked affable in his countenance and conversation, which made the writer imagine his offered service would not be accepted, but would rather raise a laugh, and cause him to be sent about his business. Desponding as he grew, helpless as he felt himself, the Indiamen having all sailed, and the Walpole being the last ship of that season, he thought of no other remedy than to throw himself on his knees at the feet of the captain, like a deplorable captive desirous to be set free. He was ordered by the captain to call again the next morning, and so on every day for a whole week; at last he was advised by the European servants to see the sircar, who no sooner received a couple of rupees, than he immediately spoke to the captain, and obtained a note to go on board. Had he been acquainted before with the nature of the captain’s black ministers, and their effective influence, he might have saved him- self all the time he had lost, and all his vain intreaties, with that insignificant fee; and this shews the great interest of the natives at that time in the employments of many, who depend more on them than on their own excellent sagacity, which might have helped them to discern a man of spirit, in ever so destitute or distressed a situation. But patience was his great comfort, and assisted him to pass over all such trifles. [P 22]

He went home, saw both his grandfather Michael, and David his uncle; took leave of them with their blessing; and after two days was on board at Balasor. The third mate, the captain’s own brother, no sooner read the note, than he began to stamp on the main deck, with such unnatural swearing and cursing, that he thought the vessel would have gone to the bottom, bawling out and calling for the boatswain; upon which, immediately a broom with a swab were ready brought, and trusted to Emin’s hand. “Take care, Mr. Armenian (said the mate,) to keep the main-deck always clean, more especially the hog-stye, and particularly the gallery; you foolish booby, that preferest a cold to a hot country, hell to heaven;” reading the curious note over and over again, while Emin was standing, as he was ordered, at the foot of the gang- way, holding the swab in his right hand, and the broom in the left, to hear the lecture of his most improving commander; who making a second motion, said, “Do you hear me, sirrah?” Yes, please your honour, said the poor boy: “Take very great care then (said he) of those two instruments, to execute the duties of your office, for you are fit for nothing else;” then, with a horse-laugh, he turned his back, and began to walk upon the quarter-deck. Emin cared not a pin for his abusive expressions, saying to himself, “That is all but a puff of wind compared to your brother’s polite smiles, which wanted very little to turn into a dreadful storm, sufficient to wreck the feeble boat of my poor heart.” In short, he did not mind abuse, when his resolution told him, he was going towards a paradise upon earth, to have his eyes opened, and take a view of the world. A fortnight after, the captain, with two English ladies, passengers, came on board: next morning, about the 14th February, 1751, the Walpole sailed. [Pp 22-23]

Though Emin had gained the minds of the ship’s crew, by oversetting the big foreigner mentioned in the preface; yet they were not well enough reconciled to him and his countryman, to let them hang their bag of pudding in the copper. Several times, when they had every second day’s common allowance of flour, and had made it into dough, they hardly approached the kitchen door, when the sailors hooted out, growling like lions, and calling them lousy slavish Armenians; adding, “you are not better than our enemies the French, who in time of war are for conquering us; and in peace, to come to England like beggars, to take the bread out of the mouths of Englishmen.” This obliged them to throw their dough over board. They were advised by some to complain of it to the captain; but Emin thought it a mean way of acting, and began to work his brains how to be even with them. He went to the steward the next flour day, and got their allowance; a potfull of fine hogs-lard was hanging over by the side of the boatswain’s cott, and Emin thinking it no harm or theft, took a good quantity of it, as a thing of no value: behold! it was the boatswain’s own property, and esteemed on board as good as butter! The owner of it came, and taking Emin by the tip of his ear, pinched it with such force, that the blood began to trickle down from it; then gave him a slap on the face, and said to him, in a very friendly manner, “Take care not to learn thieving, for you are going to England, where if you should commit the same fault, you would be hanged for it. I find you are ignorant of the ship’s custom; if you knew it, you would not act so; go, mind your pudding.” Thereupon he, with his messmate Masseh, went to work, mixed the flour, hogs-lard, and some water, together pretty well; then rolled it upon a board as thin as parchment, and folding it from every side, spread each plait with sugar, so that the thickness of it become three quarters of an inch, just big enough for a grid-iron; which the captain’s cook, a good- natured elderly man lent them, seeing that they could not come near the great copper on account of the men. Both the Armenians, very glad of the favour, made a shift in an hour and half to broil their pudding, which they took up, and setting down under the larboard side of the gangway in a princely state, began to make a dinner upon it with all the appetite imaginable, chusing that place on purpose to be in the way of the men, by whom they had been deprived for six weeks on ship-board of eating pudding. As they passed and repassed the curiosity of the men led them to inquire how it was made, every one of them tasting a bit, and, when they were informed of the method, they approved it, and swore that they would follow the example, not considering the ridiculous consequences of it. In a ship’s company among thirty or more messes, allowing only an hour’s time to each grilling with one gridiron, in such hot weather, in the captain’s cook-room, they must of course bid farewell to the ship’s work. [Pp 23-25]

The ship being very old, sprung a great leak below the head five or six feet under water, and three feet to the left of the keel, so that all hands set up plying the chain-pumps all the way to St. Helena Island, and then patched her up. All that he did not mind, nor anything, while the weather was warm; but when the ship began to get under higher latitudes, he recollected the meaning of Mr. Fea, the third mate, at Balasor; each having four shirts and four coarse drawers to wear in all sorts of weather: and sure enough he felt one of the torments of hell, — “gnashing of teeth.” It was beneath his spirit to skulk like other foreign sailors or lascars, who had not coverings sufficient to appear on the deck with good grace. He thought himself in the right of it not to sham sick, but worked on the deck, which kept him warmer, and thus preserved the good opinion of the brave seamen; as for keeping below the main hatchway, which he experienced in the night, every time he went down after his watch was over, slept for an hour comfortably; but the other three hours he was in great misery, shaking and trembling through cold. This happiness he enjoyed in his mind, that his suffering of hardship was for a good cause, and he was never disheartened, since it was his own choice; and thanked God, he was not sick in all the passage. [Pp 26-27]

Exactly in six months the ship completed her troublesome voyage, and arrived at Woolwich on the 14th of September [1751]. Emin was then very happy in the sight of Old England, swelling like a peacock with the bright feathers of his imagination. When reflecting on his empty pocket, he shrank down; but when he remembered God, he was as hopeful as ever, and in good spirits. The captain had the kindness to tell him, that he might stay on board during the time of the unloading, and to get a shilling a day according to custom; then knowing his situation, and that he had no money, nor a friend to go to; but he was foolish enough to stay only ten days. [P 27]

One Sunday morning, while on board, he and his country- man had some beef stakes dressing in the kitchen, when they saw a shortish Englishman come on board, who unluckily passed into the same place, and said very rapidly, “Who are you? I see the people are all gone on shore, you are only left here with the custom house officers; are you the captain’s slaves?” Then he repeated in a teazing manner, “What are you? devils or animals? Oh! I see you are chimney-sweepers come from Bengal, to get your living in our country but I can tell you, you are too old, you wont be received into the service.” No sooner had he heard that they were Armenians, than he threw down the stick he had in his hand, and began to tread upon it, saying “Ay, ay, I know you now; I have seen the Armenians in Constantinople, whose necks, like this stick, were under the feet of the Turks.” When he had finished his speech he took up the stick, and as quick as lightning stepped into the boat and went away. This spoiled the author’s dinner, took away his appetite, and he passed all the day without touching anything. [Pp 27-28]

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