A copy of this letter was given to each Midshipman before he joined his first ship:-
The Ocean Steamship Co., Ltd.
The China Mutual Steam Navigation Co., Ltd.
Glen Line Limited ...............................1947
Alfred Holt & Co.
On your appointment as a Midshipman in the Company's service it is well that you should understand what is expected of you. The managers have accordingly set down the following outline of your duties and recommendations as to your general conduct, which they expect you to remember. You should, therefore, keep this letter carefully and re-read it at the beginning of each voyage.
Yours very truly,
The master of your ship will give you such duties to perform as, in his opinion, will provide you with the best training for the profession of an officer in the Mercantile Marine. Every kind of duty will be given you for the purpose of instilling knowledge and experience of a ship's work, and no such duty must be regarded by you as beneath your dignity. It is imperative that you should have a thorough practical knowledge, or you will never have full confidence in yourself, or be able to inspire others with confidence in you. An officer should always be able to shew the man how the job should be done; also it is necessary to know how much work may rightly be expected of a man. It is a good rule never to tell a man to do anything which you could not, or would not, do yourself. You are, therefore, expected to obey all orders given to you with alacrity. You have no right to spoil the life of your shipmates by grumbling, and you are lacking in manhood if you do not try honestly to enter into every duty with zeal and cheerfulness.
Take a pride in your uniform and do not allow yourself to acquire slovenly habits in your dress or person. Let your bearing on duty be always smart and attentive. Always address the officers of your ship with respect, asking questions at seasonable moments and without impertinence. Remember that your best chance of learning is from what others tell you of the work and of their experience and that, if you shew yourself troublesome or ungrateful for their help, they are hardly likely to take much interest in you. Above all, be truthful and straightforward.
In your dealings with the sailors and all other non-commissioned ratings be always civil and friendly but without unseemly familiarity. They can often teach you much, and it is part of your duty to learn by sympathetic understanding of their lives how to obtain from those under you willing and efficient service. Moreover the happiness of life aboard ship depends upon a healthy and natural comradeship all round and the managers will expect your conduct among yourselves and towards the ship's company to shew that this is realised by you. Remember that natives do not understand skylarking and resent deeply being struck or otherwise ill-treated. Be careful, therefore, that your conduct towards them, whether on board ship or ashore, is never familiar and always dignified.
Do not imagine that it is enough for you to learn the routine of a deck officer's work. If you desire a successful career, you must have a thorough knowledge of all things relating to the care of the ship and her cargo. The carriage of goods between different parts of the world is the first and foremost function of the Mercantile Marine, and the managers attach the highest importance to the skill and care shewn by their officers in the safe and efficient performance of this duty. Omit no opportunity of learning all you can about naval architecture, not only from books but from a study of your own ship, the running of the engine-room and stokehold, and the operation of the wireless installation. If you really mean to reach the top of your profession, you should take care not to waste your spare time in reading trash but form a taste for scientific knowledge of the sea, of its living animals and plants, of meteorology and astronomy, and of good literature generally. All these pursuits will add to your prospects of success in your career and will, at the same time, render more interesting your life both to yourself and to those with whom you come into contact. Form the habit of keeping a notebook of your own.
Be careful to report promptly any symptoms of ill health to the doctor or master. Do not try to doctor yourself and do not try to conceal any ailment. In hot climates it is unwise to take ice-cold drinks or to purchase fruit, etc., from native hawkers. When wet, or after heavy perspiration, in the tropics it is most important to change completely your clothing. Make a rule of washing your whole body every day and be careful to have always at hand a change of clean clothing. You can easily make sure of this by learning to do a little washing yourself when on long passages. Abundant physical exercise of all kinds will not only help to give you a manly bearing, but by keeping you free from illness will help you in your studies and in your enjoyment of a sailor's life.
Perfect eyesight is essential to a sailor. You will be unwise if you endanger it by excessive smoking. Avoid forming the habit of taking alcohol. No officer has the right to risk the safety of his ship and the lives of her crew and passengers by going on duty with faculties in the least impaired by drink. You cannot take too firm a resolve to avoid this risk. Your own self respect and regard for your future health and happiness will prevent you like wise from becoming stained with other degrading vices which will cross your path in the low resorts of every great seaport. The managers expect you to have a high ideal of pure and upright manhood.
Certain studies will be set for you to do during each voyage, but this does not mean that you are not expected to do more if you can. A log book has been prepared for the use of the Midshipmen, and a copy will be given to you at the beginning of each voyage. In this book you are expected to note down your daily observations throughout the voyage, whether at sea or in port, of the state of the sky, of the force and direction (relative and actual) of the wind, of the barometer, of the temperature (sea and air), and of any other natural phenomena which your own observation or the instruction of the master may cause you to study. The purpose of this record is to train you in the habit of observation. It must be sent in to the office at the end of each voyage, together with your report, and the amount of care and intelligence shewn therein will be duly recognized by the managers. They desire you to give free play to your originality in the manner of arranging your record, and they encourage you to include in it any considered deductions which your observations may suggest to you. Do not collaborate with your comrades, but make and keep your own independent record.
At the conclusion of each voyage the managers wish you to report to them in writing what duties you have performed on board ship and how your time has been occupied in port. You should select each voyage for study one or more of the scientific books in your library (for the care of which the midshipmen will be held responsible) and mention the choice in your report to the managers. You will be expected to answer questions on your work and studies if desired. The managers expect this report to be truthful in every particular and will take a grave view of any discovery to the contrary. At some time between the time of arrival in the United Kingdom and of sailing on the next voyage the managers will require you to report in person at this office. If the managers do not consider that your conduct has been satisfactory or that you possess aptitude for the profession, they will not hesitate to ask your father (or guardian) to withdraw you from their service.
You must always wear uniform when ashore, unless on home leave. Holidays will be given to you, as far as possible, at the conclusion of each voyage, and arrangements will be notified to you on arrival at one of the ports of discharge in the United Kingdom.
Finally, never forget that the secret of happiness is a free and enthusiastic interest in your life's work. Have a pride, therefore, in your work and in the Company, specially if it is your intention to throw in your life's lot with us. By so doing you will help best to make the Company's service acceptable to yourself and to all others who seek their livelihood in it. The managers desire most earnestly that every loyal worker should find lasting satisfaction and happiness in his connection with the Company, and they expect you to contribute loyally to the attainment of this end.
Wishing you a very successful career, we are,
ALFRED HOLT & CO.
per Brian Heathcote
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