PortCities London

Joseph Conrad


Conrad's novel Chance (1913) was very successful in the United States and brought him wider fame for the first time. In these extracts, the central character Charles Powell describes some early episodes in his seafaring career. Conrad was familiar with the procedure - as the seaman Korzeniowski, he had sat several Marine Board examinations in London.

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At that time the Marine Board examinations took place at the St Katherine's Dock House on Tower Hill, and he informed us that he had a special affection for the view of that historic locality, with the Gardens to the left, the front of the Mint to the right, the miserable tumble-down little houses farther away, a cabstand, boot-blacks squatting on the edge of the pavement and a pair of big policemen gazing with an air of superiority at the doors of the Black Horse
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public-house across the road.
St Katharine's Dock House.
View full size imageThe St Katharine Dock House. © NMM

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This was the part of the world, he said, his eyes first took notice of, on the finest day of his life. He had emerged from the main entrance of St Katherine's Dock House a full-fledged second mate after the hottest time of his life with Captain R-, the most dreaded of the three seamanship Examiners who at the time were responsible for the merchant service
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officers qualifying in the Port of London.
Tower and roofs, by W.L. Wyllie.
View full size imageTower and roofs, by W.L. Wyllie.

Audio File 'At that time'.
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