Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLVI, No. 4 (Oct 1877)
pp. 360-364.

360 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.



      My neighbor, old Captain Crosby, has in the attic of his house a motley array of curious things, mostly collected by himself during his numerous voyages to sea. He took me one day up into his museum, as he called it, where I spent an hour in examining, with much interest, such curiosities as shells, marine birds stuffed and embalmed with skill worthy of a professional, miniature canoes and paddles from various islands in the Pacific, and barbaric costumes and weapons in great variety. But one thing which specially excited my curiosity was a half-worn pair of shoes, which had a special place assigned to them at one end of a long shelf. They were brogans of immense size, indicating that the wearer, whoever he was, must have been a man of large understanding. They were apparently made of coarse, half-tanned hide, and had very heavy soles, thickly studded with nails.

      "What's the history of those shoes?" I inquired. "Surely you never wore them yourself."

      "No, not I," answered the jolly old salt. "I have had them among my collection these thirty years and more, but I shouldn't care to lug such a clumsy load about on my feet. They look very strange to you, of course, but they are the sort of shoes that are worn, or were formerly worn, by the convicts in Australia, who worked in the stone quarries. There's a story connected with those brogans, which I will tell you if you care to listen to it."

      Of course I did, and Captain Crosby, who was always ready with a story, proceeded to relate how the queer shoes came into his possession.

      When I was mate of the Ambuscade, we made our last port at Sydney, before starting for home. It was rather an uncommon thing at that date for American whalers to visit that place, as the port charges and other expenses were high, and ours was the only American ship in the port. Nearly all our crew, being men who had shipped with us by the cruise, took their discharge here, and went ashore to squander their hard earnings as rapidly as might be. The third mate was the only officer beside myself belonging to the ship, and he and I had the whole care upon us, one of us going ashore every night, while the other staid on board, thus attending to the duty alternately, and doing what little was to be done with the help of the four or five voyagers who had stuck by the ship and meant to go home in her. The captain of course took a roving commission as soon as the anchor was down, and went and came us he chose, spending most of his time on shore.

      There were several large English vessels lying at anchor in the port, loading wool and hides, and of course I formed acquaintance with the officers of these ships, for want of any suitable companions from my own country. One evening, when it was my turn on shore, I fell in with Broughton, the mate of the St. George, and we went to take a drink together at a little public house near the landing.

      This, like all English public houses, had a sign, representing in this instance a sailor throwing his hat aloft, and kicking up his heels in a highly enviable state of merriment, and was known as "The Jolly Tar." It was kept by one Hiram Levy, a lean and hungry-looking Jew, who bore as much resemblance to the regular typical or ideal landlord as he did to the jolly mariner painted on his sign. However, the stand was a good one, and, from its situation at the head of navigation, the house appeared to do a good business.

      We were received with a grinning welcome by the obsequious Hiram, and, as neither of us cared to indulge much in fiery liquors, we ordered a bottle of light wine, which was brought to us in a little apartment just off the bar-room. The door of this side room stood open, but curiosity was baffled by a hanging screen of cloth, to be easily pushed aside in passing through, and which hung down to within about two feet of the floor. While we sat at the little table, chatting and drinking our wine, some one came into the bar, and called for a glass of rum in a gruff voice. I glanced toward the screened door, and saw below the screen this pair of brogans, and a few inches of

A Pair of Brogans. 361

legs clothed in thick woollen trousers, such as any sailor might be likely to wear. But the brogans were something quite out of the common course. Their size was remarkable, and their build peculiar. Then, too, the brogans themselves were the picture which nearly filled the frame. Had I seen the whole man, I might not have noticed any one part in particular.

      "Good stuff that," said the owner of the gruff voice, as he threw the coin on the counter in payment.

      "Yes," assented Hiram. "We calls it preety goot."

      "I want a bit of tobacky," said the rough voice again.

      "Here you are – very nice. I s'pose you be good judge. Come from American ship?"

      "No, I belong to the wool-drougher, the St. George."

      "He lies," whispered Broughton to me. "There's no such voice as that among my crew."

      He took one step from his chair, and pulled aside the screen with his hand, but the brogans were clumping across the floor, and we had only a rear view of the stranger, going out at the street door.

      "Hiram, who is that chap?" he asked, abruptly.

      "I don't know," answered the landlord. "He says he belongs to the St. George."

      "Well, he doesn't, for I ought to know all my own crew, I suppose."

      "Vell, I don't know. It's none of mine pizness. He took his drink, and paid his monish like a man."

      We returned to our wine, but Broughton declared that he thought he had seen the same man once before at work quarrying stone, dressed in the regular convict's uniform. But he now had on the woollen trousers, as before mentioned, a blue flannel shirt such as most British sailors wore, and a Scotch cap. But the brogans! there they were, and they spoiled his whole makeup.

      "He's a runaway convict," said the English mate, summing up the case, "and the Jew behind the bar knows him, too. But be won't let on; he says it's none of his business, and really I think it's none of ours, either. It wasn't good manners perhaps to pull away the curtain as I did, but I couldn't help it when I heard him claim to be a shipmate of mine, for I knew he was sailing under false colors."

      A back door was opened at this moment, and two police officers, with their weapons and badges of authority, entered the room where we were sitting, with the air of men who had a right anywhere, and stood not upon ceremony. They scrutinized us closely, but, saying nothing, passed on into the bar.

      "Why, Broughton," said I, "I've always heard your countrymen boast that every Englishman's house is his castle."

      "Well, we do boast that," he returned, "but I suppose we refer to private dwellings only. It would seem that this is not the case when one keeps a public 'ouse."

      "Landlord," said the taller officer of the two, "you've had a customer in here within the last five minutes?"

      "N – no, sir. I don't remember," said the Jew. "There's two zhentlemens in the side room, drinking vine."

      "Yes, yes," returned the policeman, impatiently, "but there has been another man here, I think, within a few minutes. Come, sharpen your memory, or you may get into trouble yourself."

      "There was a man here just now, and took a drink," interposed Broughton, pushing aside the screen. "He has just gone from here not two minutes ago."

      "Which way did he go?"

      "I did not see him after he passed the door, and I only had a glimpse of him for a single instant, and then his back was towards me."

      "Well, what was he like?" inquired the shorter officer, in a sharp tone. "It's useless to ask this Jew publican, but I can tell him his house is spotted, and we shall soon find a way to make him speak the truth, or break up his business."

      "Well, sir," said Broughton, "I didn't see the strange man's face at all, but he was a stout fellow, in a common English sailor's dress. I should say the principal feature about him was his shoes."

      "That's our man! the very point we wanted to get at. He's probably on board one of the ships in the harbor by this time, and our game is up for the night."

      "But who is he?" asked the English mate."

      "Who is he? Why, Dick Dyer, alias Joe Johnson, the greatest cut-throat in this colony, and that's saying a great deal. He escaped from the guard day before yesterday. Nobody knows how or where he got the change of clothing. But he couldn't

362 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

change his shoes, for no ordinary size will fit him; they always had to be made on purpose for him. He killed a native Australian this morning, out back here on the Paramatta road, to get a little money. We have the full evidence of this from a man who saw the deed, but we are just too late to catch our man tonight. Tomorrow morning we shall begin a regular system, and if he is in Sydney harbor we'll have him."

      All this time the Jew had stood scraping his lantern jaws, and looking as stupid as if he did not even understand what was being said. I had followed my English friend into the bar, but I now stepped back to the table to finish my glass of wine. At this moment the back door, by which the officers had entered, opened softly a little way, and one of those brogans stepped in upon the threshold. Then a head was thrust in, a close-cropped head with the Scotch cap topping it, – with a villanous, ugly mouth, and a square, ponderous jaw, and a pair of small, evil eyes looked directly into mine.

      "Here he is! here, at the back door!" These words seemed to escape me involuntarily. I was answered with a look of the most deadly hatred and malice, and a long knife was raised and made a fierce stab in the air, and then knife, head, and brogan all vanished. The policemen dashed through the room at my outcry, and Broughton and I, without even waiting to pay our bill, joined in the hunt. We heard the heavy iron-clad shoes go clumping down the pier ahead of us, but on reaching the water-side all was still, and in the profound darkness nothing was to be seen. A single wherry was rowing out, having pulled only a few strokes on her way, but it seemed hardly possible that the convict could have had time to get into her.

      "Boat ahoy!" hailed one of the officers. "Who's your passenger?"

      "The second mate of the Orpheus," answered a clear, manly voice, but the boat did not stop, she kept on rowing the faster.

      The policemen seemed satisfied with the answer, and asked no more questions.

      We all looked about, up and down the wharf, and peered into every wherry that was lying idle, but were compelled to admit to each other that we had lost the scent and were all astray. Broughton and I went back to the Jolly Tar and paid our scot, much to the relief of Hiram. We tried to pump a little concerning his acquaintance with the strange man, but he declined all such knowledge, and his stolid face revealed no more expression than a turnip. I most confess that I felt uneasy in mind about our adventure with this desperado, who seemed to have a mania for crime, and would as soon murder a man as look at him. I recalled that strange, vindictive look which he had given me when he flashed the long knife before my eyes, and felt that I was especially marked as a victim for his vengeance. When Broughton and I left the Jolly Tar, I pretended that it was necessary to go on board early, and thus we parted. I called a water-man, and stepping into his boat, was rowed off into the darkness.

      I don't know why I had such a dread – nay, I must call it downright fear – of that particular man, for I was not usually timid, but still I could not get his terrible look out of my mind, do what I would. I did not believe that he had left the pier in the boat that we had hailed, but rather believed that he was still lurking somewhere on shore. And I felt so anxious that I resolved to be very careful about going ashore at night, until I should hear that he had been recaptured and secured. I should be safe enough on board the Ambuscade, for it was not likely that this man knew what ship I belonged to. But then I thought again, if Hiram the Jew was in his confidence, as I feared, he could find my track easily enough. All this may have been very foolish, but I am telling you truly just what my feelings were, and I resolved from that time to go constantly armed, and not to suffer myself to be taken unawares.

      Just before I arrived alongside my ship, I saw a wherry drop out from under her quarter, with no one in her but the man who was rowing. But she passed swiftly away into the gloom, and my own waterman soon followed, as I paid him and climbed on board. All was still, and our own boat, which was usually hauled out to the swinging-boom end at night, was now absent. I concluded, as I saw no one, that Mr. Randall, the third mate, had gone to yarn with some crony on board one of the English ships, and, going forward, found there was only one of the boys on board, and he was nodding in the forecastle, and didn't know of my coming until I woke him.

A Pair of Brogans. 363

      I walked aft again, intending to descend into the cabin, where there was a hanging lamp lighted, and its rays streaming up through the skylight threw some light upon the objects in the other end of the ship. My heart came up into my throat as my eyes rested upon – the brogans!

      Like most ships of her class, the Ambuscade had a round-house built over the rudder-port, close up to the taffrail, with lockers on each side.

      The front of the round-house was necessarily cut away at the bottom to allow the tiller to play clear from side to side. And there at the bottom of the paint-locker I gazed upon those everlasting brogans, exactly as I had seen them looking under the screen in the bar-room of the Jolly Tar!

      I gathered my thoughts in an instant, and the convict's being so near me must be purely accidental. He was dodging his pursuers, and had come off in a wherry, had seen that all was quiet on board our ship, and had returned to take refuge where he was for the present, intending to shift his quarters when he saw the right opportunity. He felt safe enough from observation for the present, but he had forgotten the opening at the bottom – and his ominous brogans!

      The door was closed, and he was probably holding it, as there was no fastening on the inside. I passed carelessly aft, whistling as I went – really to keep my courage up – and stood looking out astern, leaning my body against the door as I did so, and took the opportunity to slip the little hasp softly into the staple, thus securing the door on the outer side.

      I had already decided upon my plan of action, for I was determined to make a desperate attempt to capture the fellow, and I was actually alone in the ship with him, if I except the sleepy boy in the forecastle. It was quite uncertain how long before Mr. Randall and the others would return, and I did not dare to wait. If by any chance the outlaw should see and recognize me, there must be a death-struggle at once, and I meant to act while I had him at a disadvantage. I went round to the other closet on the starboard side of the round-house, where I kept some miscellaneous articles on a shelf, and took down a pair of handcuffs, which I put in my pocket. At the same time I silently cut the seizing of the lashing which held the house in its place. Thus having cleared the way, I went forward and roused the boy Jake, giving him in a few words some idea of what I meant to do. and thus re-enforced, returned to make the final movement. As I came aft again, with my gaze riveted by a sort of fascination upon the brogans, I saw a brawny hand pulling on one of them, while the other lay empty on the deck.

      My friend was taking off his shoes, intending to come out and move about without betraying himself by the noise of the hob-nails.

      No more time was to be lost. I rushed to the starboard side of the little house, and bracing my shoulder firmly against it, signalled Jake to take his stand at my side and do the same.

      "Now!" I whispered; and as our combined strength was brought to bear, the round-house tipped a little.

      "Now. Jake!" I cried, this time aloud, and away went the whole structure with a crash over upon its broadside!

      "Here, boy, help!" We seized those immense feet and dragged the crippled desperado out from among the wreck, about as wretched looking a specimen of rough humanity as we could hope to see in a day's sail. He was nearly smothered with the contents of the locker, white lead, lampblack, and verdigris being the principal component parts, for we had lately been painting the ship, and had set all the remnants away on the shelves, while the fall of one heavy paint keg upon him had broken his right arm. He was completely at our mercy, and meaning to keep him so, I had the handcuffs upon him before we went to work to clear the poisonous paint from his head and eyes.

      "Ah! it's you, is it?" he said, grinding his teeth with rage as soon as he recognized me. "You're the man I want to be even with some time or other, but I little thought I was so near to you. I see how it was. Curse on those infernal brogans!"

      As soon as Mr. Randall returned, we sent word to the chief of police, and before we slept we had the satisfaction of knowing that the notorious felon Dick Dyer, alias Joe Johnson, was safe inside of stone walls.

      We had a bit of general average next morning, clearing up the messes of paint and repairing the damages of our battered round-house, but all that was a trifle.

      The smeared brogans were left behind,

364 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and as nobody ever called for them, I have taken good care of them ever since as a kind of trophy.

      Dick Dyer, as I learned at a later visit to Sydney, was soon executed after he had been thus captured through my means.

      Hiram Levy, for harboring him and other runaway convicts, was set to work in the stone quarries, but the Jolly Tar still swung over the door and kicked up his heels for the benefit of a new landlord, who looked as jolly as the sign itself.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Pair of Brogans.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct 1877)
Pages: 360-364