The duty of the landing-master's crew had, upon the whole, been easy of late; for though the work was occasionally irregular, yet the stones being lighter, they were more speedily lifted from the hold of the stone vessel to the deck of the praam-boat, and again to the waggons on the railway, after which they came properly under the charge of the foreman builder. It is, however, a strange, though not an uncommon, feature in the human character, that, when people have least to complain of, they are most apt to become dissatisfied, as was now the case with the seamen employed in the Bell Rock service about their rations of beer. Indeed, ever since the carpenter of the floating light, formerly noticed, had been brought to the rock, expressions of discontent had been manifested upon various occasions. This being represented to the writer, he sent for Captain Wilson, the landing-master, and Mr. Taylor, commander of the tender, with whom he talked over the subject. They stated that they considered the daily allowance of the seamen in every respect ample, and that, the work being now much lighter than formerly, they had no just ground for complaint; Mr. Taylor adding that, if those who now complained 'were even to be fed upon soft bread and turkeys, they would not think themselves right.' At twelve noon the work of the landing-master's crew was completed for the day; but at four o'clock, while the rock was under water, those on the beacon were surprised by the arrival of a boat from the tender without any signal having been made from the beacon. It brought the following note to the writer from the landing-master's crew:-

'Sir Joseph Banks Tender.

'SIR,--We are informed by our masters that our allowance is to be as before, and it is not sufficient to serve us, for we have been at work since four o'clock this morning, and we have come on board to dinner, and there is no beer for us before to-morrow morning, to which a sufficient answer is required before we go from the beacon; and we are, Sir, your most obedient servants.'

On reading this, the writer returned a verbal message, intimating that an answer would be sent on board of the tender, at the same time ordering the boat instantly to quit the beacon. He then addressed the following note to the landing-master:-

'Beacon-house, 22nd June 1810, Five o'clock p.m.

'SIR,--I have just now received a letter purporting to be from the landing-master's crew and seamen on board of the Sir Joseph Banks, though without either date or signature; in answer to which I enclose a statement of the daily allowance of provisions for the seamen in this service, which you will post up in the ship's galley, and at seven o'clock this evening I will come on board to inquire into this unexpected and most unnecessary demand for an additional allowance of beer. In the enclosed you will not find any alteration from the original statement, fixed in the galley at the beginning of the season. I have, however, judged this mode of giving your people an answer preferable to that of conversing with them on the beacon. --I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, ROBERT STEVENSON.


'Beacon House, 22nd June 1810.--Schedule of the daily allowance of provisions to be served out on board of the Sir Joseph Banks tender: "1.5 lb. beef; 1 lb. bread; 8 oz. oatmeal; 2 oz. barley; 2 oz. butter; 3 quarts beer; vegetables and salt no stated allowance. When the seamen are employed in unloading the Smeaton and Patriot, a draught of beer is, as formerly, to be allowed from the stock of these vessels. Further, in wet and stormy weather, or when the work commences very early in the morning, or continues till a late hour at night, a glass of spirits will also be served out to the crew as heretofore, on the requisition of the landing-master." ROBERT STEVENSON.'

On writing this letter and schedule, a signal was made on the beacon for the landing-master's boat, which immediately came to the rock, and the schedule was afterwards stuck up in the tender's galley.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book