As for Captain Saris, he had sailed to Japan in98 order to establish a factory. Notwithstanding the opposition of the Dutch, who were as jealous of his arrival in the Far East as the Portuguese had been in India, the Emperor received him favourably and the seeds were sown for future trade with England which, to change the metaphor, were to prepare the way for the adoption of Western ideas by the Japanese during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Strictly speaking, Japan and China have nothing to do with India. But historically, so far as our present subject is concerned, they are to an extent bound together. Not merely did these first captains of the English East India Company sail thither, but, as the reader will see further on in this volume, a great deal of trade was done with those parts by the Company’s servants: and at least one interesting engagement took place on sea near by, in which the Company’s merchant ships distinguished themselves.

Notwithstanding the sad loss of the costly Trade’s Increase, Middleton’s voyage had yielded to the Company a profit of 121 per cent. Captain Saris’s voyage had done even better still, earning 218 per cent.; but, as we have shown, this was not all earned by legitimate trade.

The journal of Captain Nicholas Downton of the homeward voyage of the Peppercorn (which you will remember had been built at the Deptford yard and went out in company with the Trade’s Increase) shows the kind of hardships which our sailors had to endure whilst earning such handsome profits for their owners. With thankful hearts this craft started back from Bantam, though it was to be no pleasant voyage. On getting under way Downton saluted the admiral by way of farewell. “I gave him 599 shot,” he writes, “having no more pieces out nor ports uncaulked”—that is to say, he had prepared his ship for sea, having run inboard most of his guns and caulked up the ports. The ship had previously had her sheathing attended to, and all the stores were aboard. The meat was kept in casks, while the bread and corn were kept in a “tight room” in order to avoid the ravages of the cacara—“a most devouring worm,” as Downton quaintly calls it, “with which this ship doth abound to our great disturbance.” The drinking-water to the extent of twenty-six tons had also been brought aboard, where it was kept in casks. But as these were decayed, weak, rotten and leaky the crew were bound to suffer before they reached home. He did his best to make her what he calls “a pridie ship”—that is, a trim ship—but though this was her first homeward voyage she leaked like a basket through the trenail holes in the stern, owing to the negligence of the wicked Deptford carpenters, who had scamped their work. The result was that there were soon twenty inches of water “on our lower orlop.” Certainly the Company’s yard had not earned much real credit for the way they had designed and built the Peppercorn and the Trade’s Increase.

And so this leaky, crank, badly built ship came fighting her way along over the trackless ocean, a continuous source of anxiety to her commander. Troubles often enough come not singly, and the Peppercorn was another unlucky ship. By sheer carelessness she and all hands barely escaped ending all things by fire at sea. “At noon,” says Downton, “our ship came afire by the cook his negligence, o’erguzzled with drink, digged a hole through the100 brick back of the furnace and gave the fire passage to the ship’s side, which led to much trouble besides spoil to our ship.” The punctuation of this sentence needs no modification to show the short, sharp impressions jotted down by a choleric captain. The name of this “o’erguzzled” cook was Richard Hancock, and no doubt he had so undermined his health with drink, or had been so severely punished by his commander that he could not long survive, for he died shortly after one day at noon and was buried at sea.

But he was not the only careless member of the ship’s company. At least one of the watch-keeping officers was just as bad in his own sphere. “The 27th at 2 after noon we were suddenly taken short with a gust from the SE, which by neglect of the principal of the watch not setting in time, not only put us to much present trouble but also split us two topsails at once, and blew a third clean away.” The following month on the eleventh the Peppercorn was at midnight overwhelmed by heavy squalls which “split our main bonnet and fore course, whereby we were forced to lie a try with mainsail, the sea very violent, we mending our sail.”

The meaning of this may not be quite apparent to those unfamiliar with the ships of those days. The “bonnet” was an additional piece of canvas laced on to the foot of these square-sails. It had been long in use by the ships of the Vikings and the English craft of the Middle Ages, and continued to be used during the Tudor period and the seventeenth century. Even in the twentieth century it is not quite obsolete, and is still used on the Norfolk wherries and on some of the North Sea fishing101 vessels. It was such a canvas as certainly ought to have been taken in quickly if the Peppercorn was likely to be struck by a heavy squall, being essentially a fine-weather addition. And whenever it was unlaced the equivalent was obtained of putting a reef in the sail. To “lie a try” was a well-known expression used by the Elizabethan seamen and their successors: it meant simply what we mean to-day when we speak of heaving-to. The ship would just forge ahead very slowly under her mainsail only, being under command but making good weather of the violent sea of which Downton speaks, and allowing most of the hands to get busy with the sails, which had to be sent down and repaired.