Reminiscences of Alexander Berry
Early History — Studies Medicine and Surgery — Surgeon on board an East Indiaman — The "Lord Hawkesbury" — Military Floggings in 1803 — Wreck of a Regiment — Quits the East India Service in Disgust — Enters upon Mercantile Life — Voyage to the Cape — Ignorance in the Mercantile Marine Seventy Years Ago — Berry teaches himself Navigation — What made Sir Thomas Brisbane an Astronomer — Berry arrives at the Cape of Good Hope — Blackstone's Commentaries and Conservatism.
I was born (during a terrible snow storm) in Fifeshire, Scotland, on the 30th of November, 1781, and having received my early education at the Grammar School of Cupar, Fife, I afterwards proceeded in due course to the University of St. Andrews. Having determined to adopt the study of medicine, I became, during the vacations, a pupil of Dr. Gowan, the principal physician of Cupar; a gentleman who had an interest in an apothecary's shop, where I first acquired some knowledge of pharmacy, chemistry, and anatomy; but I completed my medical education at the University of Edinburgh.
Delighted with the accounts of the naval victories of Nelson, Duncan, and others, I determined to enter the navy, and therefore only passed for a surgeon. But I requested the examiners to give me a certificate of the status I was qualified to hold in the navy, and they gave me a certificate that I was qualified to hold the office of first surgeon's mate in a first-rate ship of the line. On my return home I found my father rather opposed to my intentions, though he, nevertheless, readily provided the necessary outfit; but, when I was on the point of leaving, he used so many arguments against my views that I reluctantly yielded to his wishes, and for some months devoted myself to private study. By-and-bye the Peace of Amiens took place, and I then renounced for ever my intention of entering the navy.
After some time I was informed that I might be appointed as surgeon's mate of an Indiaman bound to China; and accepting it at once, I immediately proceeded to London, furnished with a few letters of introduction and a letter of credit. Relations of the chief officer of the ship were friends of my father. and that, perhaps, influenced him a good deal on this occasion. The surgeon had already made four voyages to India, and was much respected. To me he always behaved like a brother. In those days the surgeons and officers of the Indiamen were all traders, and were allowed by the company a certain tonnage. Generally speaking, they all became mercantile men. Fortunately for me, I, on this occasion, only availed myself of my credit to a limited extent and merely purchased dollars to take to China. On our arrival in that country the market was found to be very bad, and all those who took out large investments suffered severe losses.
On my return from China I was appointed surgeon of the company's ship "Lord Hawkesbury"; and, on this occasion, I availed myself of my opportunities, and took a considerable investment to India, which I sold to good advantage. The "Lord Hawkesbury" carried out a large detachment of the 17th Regiment; —I think, including women and children, 300 individuals, besides the ship's crew.
At that time I was an enthusiast in my profession as a medical man, although I clearly saw that my success in life must depend on commerce. I had heard of some ships having made a voyage to India and back without any deaths, and I therefore determined, if possible, that the same should be the case with the "Lord Hawkesbury."