EARLY DAYS IN THE NAVY.
Young Aldridge had just attained his 14th birthday when he first answered the call of the sea. Oft had he read of Nelson's famous signal from the deck of the Victory; the battle of Trafalgar had made his young heart proud at the thought that he too might some day be a member of the great British navy, and now the day had arrived when he was to take his place on Nelson's own flagship, the "Victory." So it was that in 1850, young George Aldridge joined that famous training ship as a cadet, at the rate of 6d. a day. In "December of the same year he was drafted to the Asia, a receiving ship for stokers, but not before he had celebrated the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar aboard the Victory. His chief recollection of the celebration, however, is confined to the fact that, whereas the 'prentices got plum pudding added to their ration, the supernumeraries, of which he was one, got none.
In 1864 young Aldridge was drafted to 'the Falcon-a 17 gun corvette-in which he came to join the British squadron serving in the Australian station. He soon saw active service, for hardly had the Falcon reached Sydney than she was refitted and sent to New Zealand, carrying troops in the Maori war. "Those were stirring days," recalls Mr. Aldridge, now a pioneer of 74, en joying the latter years of his life in the quietness of his home at Williamstown. "I well remember an en gagement with the rebels at Makatoo, near White Island, -where we ran aground when landing marines at Taranga," the old man added.
Vessels of the British Navy on the Australian station in those days, so far as he can, remember, were the Curacoa, Harrier, Moranlda, Esk, Brisk, Eclipse and Falcon. After about 12 months service in. connection with the Maori war and subsequently lighthouse surveying round the Southern coast, the Falcon returned to Melbourne, where shore leave was granted. The lure of the diggings proved too strong for Aldridge and a mate, and the substance of the Navy was sacrificed for the shadow of the nugget. With ohly the clothes they stood up in, the two lads made for the diggings, walking from Geelong to Ballarat. They found both gold and work more elusive than they had expected, and were soon glad of a temporary job at the blacksmithing forge of John James (afterwards Speaker of the House), situated in those days on the White Flat, opposite the Golden Lion Hotel. Out of work again, the duo trecked, through the Bulla Forest, and on one occasion "dossed" in a pig sty, the only shelter offering. Finding they could not make tucker by grubbing at 1d. an inch, they made for the sea once more, though on a subsequent occasion Aldridge was more successful in mining ventures at the Defiance mine, Sebastapol, The Cosmopolitan (now defunct) and the Band of Hope, on the Sebastapol Road. To one who has spent so much of his life on the ocean wave, it is, perhaps, not sunprisisg that the perils, as well as the fascination of the sea should be encountered, and Mr. Aldridge is the survivor of two ship wrecks, in both of which the vessels were 'lost.
The first was the sailing ship "Golden Sea," which he joined at Melbourne. The vessel was visiting Lady Elliott Island off the Queensland coast, for a cargo of guano when heavy gales were encountered the ship was blown off the island and dragged her anchor for miles, finally being precipitated on to the rocks, where she became a total wreck. The crew, including Mr. Aldridge, were picked up and brought to Sydney by the Belclutha. On the same morning the Cowarra was lost with all hands when trying to make Newcastle Harbor. After a trip to England, Mr. Aldridge joined the Gothenberg, but fortunately transferred to the Coorong before the former vessel was lost on the Great Barrier Reef. He was not as fortunate when he signed on with the Otago, on which he, sailed from Port Chalmers on a Sunday afternoon, and left the vessel a total wreck at 2 a.m. the next morning. She passed too close to the Nugget light, off the New Zealand coast, and struck lard soon afterwards. A member of the crew who could not speak English saw land ahead, but was unable to make the officer understand byr his gesticulations in time to avoid the disaster. Fortunately no lives were lost, though one man was left on board for some days, but eventually rescued.
When the Victoria and Albert came out, Aldridge cherished a wish to join the Australian Navy, and was not long before he carried it out. The Victoria carried a 10 in. gun (25 tons), then the biggest in Australian waters. He was later transferred to the Cerberus, on which he served 14 years. 'Of course," he explains, "the vessel had to be specially built up to undergo the voyage to Australia, and the Gothenberg was subsequently rebuilt from the superstructure removed from the Cerberus, which, of course had to be done before the guns could be fired." The old vessel, whose rusted hulk now lies by the dock pier at Williamstown, and whose fittings were recently sold by action, brings back memories of her bygone glory to the old sailor whose home she was for so long. She seems to have posessed many peculiarities, and was equiped with valves and watertight longitudinals, by wh:ch she could be converted so as to submerfge, but it is doubtful if the experiment was eve tried. Mr. Aldidge does not know of any such test. "All I know is that I wouldn't have carerd to be aboard when she went under" was his comment. She was a poor steamer in shallow waters, he says, had a speed of seven knots and a gun range of about 3,000 yards. When her muizzle loading gun opened fire a deluge of large fire sparks belched forth from the powder, of which there was 60 lbs. behind a 400 lb. shot. On one occasion, the ex-stoker remembers, a shell burst when leaving the gin. which was badly fractured. An enquiry was held, but failed to elciit the cause. However, anxiety for her crew and for the enemy is now at an end -the original Cerberus is no more.
Williamstown Chronicle, 6 September 1924