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in the days of the Titanic
The Adventures of Greeny,
an apprentice in tall ships 1908 to 1912
by Captain T. B. Greenhalgh

Sons of Gentlemen




The Adventures of Greeny, an apprentice in tall ships 1908 to 1912

By Captain T. B. Greenhalgh

© 2012

Greeny, an apprentice on board the four-masted barque 'Brilliant' in the Java Sea, has swapped a pair of old trousers for a Sumatra monkey. There are about a dozen monkeys on board, but he is the only apprentice to own one...

I tethered him on deck by means of a length of spunyarn. I didn’t give him a name. Indeed, I never heard of a monkey at sea being dignified by an individual name, except ‘Jinny’ or ‘Jacko’ according to sex. Otherwise, each one was simply ‘my monkey’ to the owner.

They would swallow almost everything, edible or not, and were particularly fond of blue putty, some of which Dump had made up to form the sea for a model in a bottle.

Two Java monkeys once invaded the half-deck behind our backs. One got at Dump’s main store of blue putty and, stuffing it into the bag at each side of his mouth, refused with much bad language to disgorge, while the other, finding some in the whisky bottle Dump was preparing, managed to get his hand through the neck and grab a handful. But he couldn’t get his closed fist out again and wouldn’t let go of the putty.

It was near the end of the first dog-watch. Scottie and I were sweeping the quarterdeck but we abandoned the work to slip into the half-deck and watch the performance as Dump tried to part monkey and bottle. He set both on the table and started to squeeze the little limb in the hope of making the monkey let go. The monkey screamed, bit Dump’s hand and held on grimly to the putty.

‘You take the monkey,’ suggested Tommy, ‘and I’ll take the bottle and pull.’

Dump merely growled.

‘You’ll pull its arm off if you do that,’ said Reg.

‘Well, break the bottle,’ suggested Tommy brightly.

‘I’ll break your bloody head if you don’t shut up,’ threatened Dump. ‘I’ll be god-damned if I’m going to be beaten by a bloody monkey.’

‘I know,’ said Reg. ‘Get a taper, light it and stick it in the bottle.’

‘What the hell good’ll that do?’ demanded Scottie.

‘Why, it’ll frighten him, or scorch him. He’ll let go of the putty and we can all stand by to pull the bottle off his arm,’ explained Reg.

‘Oh, yeah?’ I asked Dump. ‘And we might smoke the bottle, or crack it. Anyway, where are we going to get a taper?’

‘Ask Bob, or the Steward. They must have some in the cabin,’ said Reg.

‘If so, I don’t know what for,’ said Dump. ‘But it might be worth trying, if we’re careful.’

Looking into the reason for such an unusual request, Bob appeared in the half-deck. ‘Do you think he would let go if we did something painful to his arse?’ he asked.

‘Not in the way we wish.’ Reg was quick to answer.

‘Well, we haven’t got a taper and, anyway, I don’t think it would be any good. Why not hang the bottle, monkey and all, to that cuphook in the deckhead? He’s bound to let go as soon as he’s tired.’

That seemed a good idea and we promptly suspended the bottle neck downward by means of a ropeyarn, with the monkey hanging from the neck and determined not to let go of the putty.

Glancing towards the door, I saw that Rees and Manning were interested spectators. They came in.

‘If there is to be no more work today, whatever,’ said Rees. ‘We might as well join in the fun.’

‘We’re trying to get the monkey to let go of the putty so he can get his hand out of the bottle,’ explained Tommy brightly but unnecessarily. ‘He’s bound to let go as soon as he’s tired.’

But as soon as the monkey was tired of hanging by his right arm alone he reached up easily to the ropeyarn and hung on with his left as well.

‘Pull his tail,’ suggested Manning.

Dump did so, gently. The monkey merely showed its teeth and used bad language.

‘There’s nothing for it but to break the bottle,’ said Tommy.

‘You shut your trap,’ said Dump. ‘The steward told me he wouldn’t have another bottle for a long time. The Old Man hardly ever drinks anything.’

‘I would, if I could get at the whisky – then you’d have the bottle very quickly,’ said Rees unhelpfully.

‘Me too,’ said Manning. ‘Look here, Dump. You take the monkey, and I’ll take the bottle and pull.’

Dump glared savagely at Tommy, who was choking with suppressed laughter. ‘It’s been thought of before,’ he said. ‘All the same, we’ll try it.’

They tried it and, as soon as the monkey, chattering with rage at the liberties being taken with him, felt the pain in his hand as it was being drawn through the bottleneck by force, he let go.

‘I told you so,’ said Tommy.

It took the combined strength of Scottie and Reg to keep Dump away from him.


Carrying the brooms for’ard I noticed that my monkey was not where I had tethered him. All I found was the leash of spunyarn.

‘I wonder who let him go?’ I said to Scottie.

‘Why, himself, of course. They can undo knots as well as any old jackshite. But now he’s up aloft the only thing to do is wait till he comes down again. He’ll come down when he’s hungry or thirsty and then you might catch him.’

I began to realise the meaning of the phrase ‘monkey business’ and said, ‘I’m going aloft to catch him.’

Scottie laughed. ‘All right, if you want to learn something about climbing. He’ll show you. And you’ll never catch him up aloft. I know; I’ve had some.'

If Scottie couldn’t catch a monkey up aloft, I couldn’t. So that was that.

My monkey came down the following night, looking for something to eat and drink. I had put out lime juice and water, making it very sweet, and caught him while he was drinking. Then I put him on the spunyarn leash and took him down the after hatch into the ’tween decks. I counted on him being too afraid, in a strange dark place, to untie the leash.

I found him still tethered the next morning, but as soon as he was bought into the daylight he started to untie the knot at his neck. Nursing him in one arm I went in search of a length of old small rope. This I spliced round his neck. I secured the other end in such a way that I thought it would defeat any monkey on earth. Then I went in for my breakfast.

When I came out again he was up aloft, having unpicked the splice at his neck.