Tony Henderson dips into a diary of a young man’s voyage of a lifetime.
LITTLE could Arthur McClelland have known that his 21st birthday present would be enjoyed more than a century later by as yet unborn generations.
The present was to be one of two passengers on the 1905 maiden voyage of the Sunderland-built cargo steamer SS Salient.
Leaving from South Shields with a cargo of Tyne coal, the ship travelled almost 8,000 miles to Genoa, Constantinople and Tsarist Russia, returning with grain from the Ukraine.
Arthur obligingly kept a diary and also took his own photographs, which he developed on board, with around 50 surviving.
His words and images portray not only life more than a century ago, but the everyday routine aboard a cargo ship and the excitement of discovering new lands and peoples.
It was a very different world then, and within a few years of Arthur’s visit it was to change dramatically.
He describes Gallipoli as a “very old and quaint Turkish town”.
Only a decade later Gallipoli would be a byword for military disaster and futile slaughter in the First World War.
Arthur also called at Odessa, and just two months later it was to play a key part in the 1905 Russian revolution following a mutiny by sailors in the port as portrayed in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.
Arthur kept his diary in a red leather notebook bought from R Ward and Sons in High Bridge, Newcastle.
It forms the basis for a new book, From Tyne to Tsar, published by the University of Sunderland Press at £7.95. The other passenger was a much older man called Mr Cummings, who eventually had to be put ashore at Constantinople in ill health.
Arthur mixed well with the crew and seems to have been on good terms with the captain, George Nicholson, who had been a Durham Cathedral choirboy.
The diary begins with Arthur and most of the Salient’s crew signing up at the shipping office at the Customs House in Mill Dam, South Shields, now an arts centre. The ship left the Tyne on March 10, reaching Genoa in Italy on March 25. As the Salient’s cargo of coal was unloaded, the crew watched the German Kaiser’s yacht Hohenzollern sailing out of the harbour to a gunfire salute.
Arthur describes taking in a football match between Genoa and Milan, and is surprised to hear English footballing words used. But then Genoa had been formed in 1893 by an Englishman to play the crews of visiting British ships, and Milan was also founded by an Englishman.
The Salient proceeded to the Black Sea, sailing up the Dnieper river to the port of Kherson to load grain. Arthur writes: “The houses are very poor looking. A few thin cows about and bare-legged women lounging about.”
The Salient was joined by another steamer, the Elswick Tower, built on the Tyne in 1901 and presumably named after the landmark tower at Elswick lead works. The crews held a cricket match. The Salient then collided with the Tregarthen, which had been built in South Shields in 1904, causing damage worth £663.
A washerwoman called Fat Mary arrived for the crew’s clothes and Arthur observes that the local people “are very curious about the ship. All sorts come aboard, mothers bring their children and inspect things”.
Exploring the countryside, Arthur notes “the rough carts of the Russians, formed of two unshaped tree trunks on wheels, with lath sides.”
Before leaving Kherson, Arthur went to a hotel and enjoyed a dinner of herring and radishes, caviar and lemon to start. Then came Bortsch, a dark green soup in which floated an egg, meat, and whipped cream, followed by meat on a skewer and rice, finishing with oranges.
The ship’s next call was the Ukranian town of Nicolaieff, where they met the steamer Lavinia Westoll, playing football against her crew.
Arthur took the opportunity to take a boat trip to Odessa, then a cosmopolitan city on the coast of the Black Sea, and booked a room in the Europa Hotel to see the sights.
The Salient discharged its grain in Rotterdam. By June 4 he was sailing up the Tyne to Dunston Staithes in Gateshead. The great adventure was over.