We’re jumping to 1816 this time, and a diary documenting William Porden’s travels in France (archive ref D3311/4/7). The crossing (his first sea voyage) is described in detail.
In early August, William Porden and his daughter Eleanor embarked for France on the ‘Eliza’ packet (a ‘packet’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a ship travelling at regular intervals between two ports, originally for the conveyance of mail’). Mr Porden has conveniently drawn us a little diagram to show how the ship was arranged:
The journey took about 18 hours and just getting to and from the ship wasn’t easy:
About 8 o’clock in the Evening we embarked in a large row boat and were pushed into the water by the sailors as usual. … There was little wind but a very considerable Swell & when we arrived at the Vessel Eleanor was much disordered. With the assistance of the Gentlemen present she was got into the Packet and I deposited her in a Cot on the floor of one of the Inner Cabins in which there were four of these Catacombs or Cabinettes, two on each side one over the other. I took my birth in the Cabinett over Eleanor. Opposite to me was another young Lady and the Stewards Wife on the Ground floor below.
I found my situation comfortable and notwithstanding the motion of the ship and the noise of working the Vessel I should have slept very well if the Steward’s Children and Friends had not been perpetually in and out to relate the State of their friends and the other passengers for it seems all were ill except myself. We had a brisk breeze till two o Clock when the wind fell and we were becalmed at the distance of 20 miles from Dieppe.
At 10 o’clock we were approached by a Clumsy Sailing boat from the Shore, manned by 4 Rowers and a Steersman. Into this we entered and were rowed toward the Shore; but our Seamen were so awkward and lazy, as well as too few in number that we were four hours before we arrived at the Beach before Dieppe on which the boat was run aground and the passengers carried to shore on the Shoulders of men that waded from the Beach.
If you’re wondering about the practicalities of the accommodations and being sea sick on a vessel like this, then wonder no longer. I can’t help feeling sorry for the cabin boys:
All the business of the Cabins was conducted with decency and though men and women were in the same apartment and within reach of one another All were in their cloaths and shut up by Curtains in their Cabinetts. Even the disagreeable circumstances attending Sea Sickness was very little offensive as it was managed. The Cabin Boys attended and removed the Basons in silence and returned clean ones so that nothing was left of Annoyance. Eleanor was sick every half hour; but slept well in the Intervals.
Eleanor, though, doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as another passenger, Miss Elizabeth Appleton:
She was dreadfully ill from the Moment she entered the Row boat at Brighton to her landing at Dieppe. She was so unable to assist herself that she was left in the packet (I know not whether by neglect or no) when all the other passengers got into the french boat and followed us in the ships boat. We received her and placed her as well as we could but she lay helpless and almost insensible till we reached Dieppe and scarcely knew herself how she got into the Inn or any thing that had passed.
Miss Appleton was certainly an intrepid young woman to be travelling alone on the continent in the early 19th century. Mr Porden describes her thus:
She is a tall and Elegant figure, not unhandsome – well-bred, sensible, speaks French fluently and has a literary turn. She is active, courageous as appears by her venturing alone on such a journey and fully adequate to take care of herself on land. I have found her very useful from her knowledge of the French language and my daughter has found in her a very agreeable companion.
After passing through customs, the travellers were collected by Mr Taylor of the English Hotel, where they subsequently stayed and “dined in the English way for which we paid English prices, though our dinner was far from having the English elegance of a Good Inn”.