A Note on "Starboard Watch, Ahoy!"
James Silk Buckingham (1786–1855), whose song is reproduced on page 43, was one of the pioneers of Anglo-Indian journalism. He came to India in 1815; and three years later he started the Calcutta Journal. His attacks on Government resulted in his deportation in 1823. He became Member of Parliament for Sheffield (1832–37), and successfully conducted a case against the East India Company, compelling the grant of a pension of £200 as compensation for his deportation and the loss of his journal. He began life as a sailor; and when serving on the West Indian route, he had the following curious experience related in his autobiography from which originated his popular song:
"I felt it my duty to remain on deck all night, keeping three watches in succession instead of one, and that too after a most fatiguing day in getting the ship fairly out of port. My fatigue was such as to reduce me almost to a state of insensibility; though, when the morning broke upon us, and I heard the welcome sound of "Starboard watch, ahoy!"—the summons for relief from the duty of the deck—I seemed to feel a thrill of delight which gave me new life, though for a few moments only. And here I must record a singular psychological fact, unique in my own experience, though since appearing to me, from what I have seen in others, to partake of the nature of a short mesmeric trance.
The log slate was brought to me by the boy entrusted with this duty, to enter the course and distance steered, and the usual remarks of the watch for subsequent entry into the regular log book of the ship. I was then seated in my own berth, intending to turn in and get some rest: and I sat with my pea-jacket still on, and wet to the skin from the constant squalls of wind and rain during the night. I made the proper entries with the pencil and fell asleep seated on the chest in my berth, with the slate in my hand: and four hours afterwards, when it was my turn to be on deck, I was found in that position, sleeping almost as heavily as death.