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Francis Bergh

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Bergh, Francis I Francis Bergh, Francis Berg l, b. 1777, sailor. Born at sea aboard a brig belonging to Hull, of which his father was master. Learned to read and write. In 1790, as apprentice on a brig, began his fifty years of sea-faring life. Four times pressed between 1798 and 1807; served on British men-of-war that convoyed merchant ships, captured French and Spanish prizes, and gave chase to American vessels. After "the Peace," shipped on a cargo boat sailing to Riga, on a South Seas whaler, on a cargo boat in Mediterranean trade, and on other vessels. Shipwrecked in 1820; lived a solitary castaway on an island for 270 days before being rescued by American schooner. In later life again served in the navy, this time of his own volition. Received honourable discharge, 1844; settled in Gosport. There, related to be written down the story of his life, intended to show the Lord's "wonderful mercies" to him in his providential escapes from death on land and sea, and to admonish readers to have trust in the Almighty. 




      H. W. prefaced Bergh's life story with the explanation that it was "the real autobiography of an Ancient Mariner still living," given in the old man's own words. "We may sometimes omit a few passages, and may sometimes alter his orthography, but we shall in no other respect interpose between him and the homely truth of his narrative." In book form, the autobiography was brought out for Bergh's benefit "by his friends and employers." 
      A statement in the autobiography that reflected on the business dealings of a reputable wharfinger led to Wills's insertion of the "chip" "Another Leaf from the Story of a Sailor's Life," July 5, 1851. In it, Wills explained that the statement had been made by mistake; he stated also that Bergh was the author of the autobiography – one of the few instances in which H.W. made public the name of a contributor. 
      At the standard rate, payment for Bergh's contribution would have amounted to about twenty-six pounds; Bergh was paid fifteen. A third of the sum was handed to him by Wills; the remainder was sent to Elizabeth Bergh. Elizabeth was probably Bergh's fourth wife. Bergh had been three times a widower. 
      Mrs. Gaskell apparently knew Bergh – or at least knew of him. In a letter of May 1851 to her daughter Marianne, she wrote: "I never see the Household Words, do you? Tell me if my dear old sailor's narrative is appearing yet. You'll know it by the old spelling if by nothing else" (Letters, No. 97).

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971. 

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