To hide initially the reason for bringing the crew to their stations, and to give an impression of another type of emergency, Plumridge sent a hand aloft to see if a ship was visible to leeward. When the man shouted down that he did not, the captain called back “You do, sir! I can see her!” He turned to the helmsman and asked him also “Do you see that ship, sir?”, apparently so peremptorily that the man said he did and was then told to put the helm over and steer for the fictional ship.
Only when every man was at his station – including armed sentries to guard the boats – was the word given as to fire above the magazine. Only those responsible for fighting the blaze were released from their stations and the remainder were forbidden to look round, to speak, or to whisper to his neighbour. So strictly was this enforced that crew members in the after quarter did not know of the fire until danger was passed, and thought instead that they were participating in an emergency drill. Pumps and buckets were used to pour water into the burning compartment and the fire-fighting party penetrated to the burning sail room where only three inches of wooden deck separated them from the magazine beneath. All this time Magicienne was ploughing onwards under full sail and Captain Plumridge was calmly pacing the open deck in his night attire. So effective were the measures undertaken that the fire, the origin of which was never determined, was extinguished in a mere ten minutes between marine corporal’s warning and the end of the emergency.
Cool heads, iron discipline and well-drilled men had saved Magicienne and over two hundred men.
Naval fiction enters the Age of Fighting Steam
The seven books of the Dawlish Chronicles series published so far deal with the 1870s and 1880s. These were the decades of massive technological change and of bitter conflicts on the margins of empire.
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