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MUTINY, MURDER AND PIRACY,
A WEIRD SERIES OF
Tales of Shipwreck and Disaster,
FROM THE EARLIEST PART OF THE CENTURY TO THE PRESENT TIME,
WITH ACCOUNTS OF
NEW YORK: HURST & CO., PUBLISHERS, 122 NASSAU ST.
Shipwreck may be ranked among the greatest evils which man can experience. It is never void of danger, frequently of fatal issue, and invariably productive of regret. It is one against which there is the least resource, where patience, fortitude and ingenuity are in most cases, unavailing, except to protract a struggle with destiny, which, at length, proves irresistible.
But amidst the myriads unceasingly swallowed up by the deep, it is not by the numbers that we are to judge of the miseries endured. Hundreds may at once meet an instantaneous fate, hardly conscious of its approach, while a few individuals may linger out existence, daily in hope of succor, and at length be compelled to the horrible alternative of preying on each other for the support of life. Neither is it by the Narratives about to be given that we are to calculate on the frequency of shipwreck. It is an event that has been of constant occurrence since a period long anterior to what the earliest records can reach. In England it is calculated that about 5000 natives of the British Isles yearly perish at sea.
This perpetual exposure to peril, however, materially contributes to the formation of character, and hence are sailors preeminently distinguished by courage, endurance, and ready invention. Habituated to the instability of the ocean, they make little account of danger, and are invariably the first in matters of the most daring enterprise. Incessantly subjected to toil, they labor long and patiently without murmur, and the prompt and vigorous measures which are indispensable to their security, teach them the immediate application of whatever means are within their power.
A natural desire to know the fate of their fellow creatures seems implanted in the breast of mankind, and the most powerful sympathies are excited by listening to the misfortunes of the innocent. To record some impressive examples of calamity, or unlooked for deliverance, is the object of these pages; and it will be seen of what astonishing advantage are the virtues of decision, temperance, perseverance and unwavering hope in moments of extreme peril and despair.
Adventures of Capt. Woodward and Five Seamen in the island of Celebes, 7
An Occurrence at sea, 14
Loss of H. B. M ship Phoenix, off Cuba, 16
An account of the Whale Fishery, with anecdotes of the dangers attending it, 30
Loss of the Brig Tyrrel, 49
Loss of the Peggy, 58
Loss of H. B. M. ship Litchfield, 64
Wreck of the Rothsay Castle Steamer, 74
Loss of the French ship Droits de L'Homme, 78
Loss of H. B. M. ship Queen Charlotte, 82
A Scene on the Atlantic Ocean, 84
Wreck of the French Frigate Medusa, on the Arguin Bank, 87
Loss of the Royal George, 146
Loss of the AEneas, transport, 148
The Absent Ship, 152
Loss of the Halsewell, East Indiaman, 155
An account of Four Russians, abandoned on the Island of East Spitzbergen, 166
Loss of the Amphitrite, Female Convict Ship, 173
The Mutineers, a Tale of the Sea, 176
Fate of Seven Sailors, left on the island of St. Maurice, 182
Seamen wintering in Spitzbergen, 185
A Man Overboard, 190
An Escape through the Cabin-Windows, 192
Tom Cringle's Log, 197
Loss of the Nautilus, Sloop of War, 201
Wreck of a Slave Ship, 212
The Wrecked Seamen, 213
Adventures of Philip Ashton, 219
Explosion of H. B. M. ship Amphion, 220
Loss of H. B. M. ship La Tribune, 245
Burning of the Prince, a French East Indiaman, 250
Wreck of the Schooner Betsey, 259
Early American Heroism, 262
Fingal's Cave, 264
Loss of H. B. M. ship Ramillies, 267
Preservation of Nine Seamen, 276
Capt. Ross's Expedition, 281
Loss of the Catharine, Venus, and Piedmont, transports, and three Merchant Ships, 288
Wreck of the Ship Sidney, 298
Loss of the Duke William, transport, 303
Commodore Barney, 320
Naval Battles of the United States, 324
Address to the Ocean, 336
BOOK OF THE OCEAN.
ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN WOODWARD AND FIVE SEAMEN IN THE ISLAND OF CELEBES.
In the year 1791, Woodward sailed from Boston in the ship Robert Morris, Captain Hay, for the East Indies. On his arrival there he was employed in making country voyages until the 20th of January, when he sailed as chief-mate in an American ship from Batavia bound to Manilla.
In passing through the straits of Macassar, they found the wind and current both against them, and after beating up for six weeks they fell short of provision. Captain Woodward and five seamen were sent to purchase some from a vessel about four leagues distant. They were without water, provisions, or compass,—having on board only an axe, a boat hook, two penknives, a useless gun and forty dollars in cash.
They reached the ship at sunset, and were told by the captain that he had no provision to spare as he was bound to China and was victualled for only one month. He advised them to stay until morning, which they did. But when morning dawned, their own ship was out of sight even from the mast head, and with a fair wind for her to go through the straits of Macassar. Being treated coolly by the captain, they agreed with one voice to leave the ship in search of their own. On leaving the vessel, the captain gave them twelve musket cartridges and a round bottle of brandy, but neither water nor provision of any sort.
They rowed till twelve o'clock at night, in hopes of seeing their own vessel, and then drawing near an island they thought it prudent to go there to get some fresh water.—They landed and made a large fire in hopes their ship might see it. But not being able to see any thing of her in the morning and finding no water or provisions on the island, they continued their course in the middle of the straits six days longer, without going on shore or tasting of any thing but brandy. They soon had the shore of Celebes in sight, where they determined to go in search of provisions and then to proceed to Macassar.
As they approached the shore they saw two proas full of natives, who immediately put themselves in a posture of defence. The sailors made signs to them that they wanted provisions, but instead of giving it the Malays began to brandish their cresses or steel daggers. Three of the men jumped on board a proa to beg some Indian corn, and got three or four small ears. The chief seemed quite friendly and agreed to sell captain Woodward two cocoa nuts for a dollar, but as soon as he had received the money, he immediately began to strip him in search of more. Captain Woodward defended himself with a hatchet and ordered the boat to be shoved off, the chief levelled a musket at him, but fortunately it missed him.
They then stood off, went round a point of land and landed out of sight of the proas, when they found a plenty of cocoa nut trees. Captain Woodward while engaged in cutting them down, heard the man whom he had left to take care of the boat, scream out in a most bitter manner. He ran immediately to the beach where he saw his own boat off at some distance full of Malays and the poor fellow who guarded it lying on his back with his throat cut, and his body stabbed in several places.
They now fled immediately to the mountains, and finding that they had lost their boat, money, and most of their clothes, they concluded that their only chance of escape was to get to Macassar by land. Being afraid to travel in the day time they set out in the evening, taking a star for their guide bearing south. But they soon lost sight of the star and at daylight found themselves within a few rods of the place, where they had set out. They had travelled on the side of a mountain, and had gone quite round it instead of going straight over it. They started again and travelled by the sea shore six nights successively, living on berries and water found in the hollows of trees.
On the sixth they arrived at a bay where they saw a party of the Malays fishing. Here Captain Woodward found some yellowish berries which were to him quite palatable, but his men not liking them eat some of the leaves. On the next day they concluded to make a raft and go to the small island on which they first landed, thinking that they might be taken off from it by some ship passing that way. But they were obliged to abandon this project, for in the evening the men who had eaten the leaves, were attacked with violent pains and were crying out in torture during the whole night.—Although they got better towards evening yet they were so weak and dejected that Captain Woodward was convinced that they could not reach the island and asked them if they were willing to surrender themselves to the Malays. On reflection they all thought this the best course which they could take; and forthwith proceeded to the bay where they had seen the Malays in the morning, in order at once either to find friends or to meet their fate. At first they saw no one, but Captain Woodward soon saw three of the natives approaching him; and ordering his men to keep quiet, he advanced alone until he had come within a short distance of them, where they stopped and drew out their cresses or knives.—Captain Woodward fell on his knees and begged for mercy. The Malays looked at him for about ten minutes with their knives drawn, when one of them came towards him, knelt in the same manner and offered both his hands. More natives now came up and stripped them of their hats and handkerchiefs and even the buttons on their jackets, which they took for money.
They were now taken to Travalla and carried to the court-house or judgment hall, accompanied by a great concourse of people, including women and children who made a circle at some distance from them. The chief soon entered, looking as wild as a madman, carrying in his hand a large drawn cress or knife, the blade of which was two feet and half long and very bright. Captain Woodward approached so near to him as to place the foot of the chief on his own head, as a token that he was completely under his power and direction. The chief after holding a short consultation, returned to his house and brought out five pieces of betel nut, which he gave to the sailors as a token of friendship.
They were now permitted to rest until about eight o'clock when they were carried to the Rajah's house, where they found a supper provided for them of sago-bread and peas, but in all hardly enough for one man. Their allowance afterwards was for each man a cocoa nut and an ear of Indian corn at noon, and the same at night. In this manner they lived about twenty days, but were not allowed to go out except to the water to bathe. The natives soon began to relax their vigilance over them, and in about four months, they were conveyed to the head Rajah of Parlow. They had not been there long when the head Rajah sent to a Dutch port called Priggia, which is at the head of a deep bay on the east side of the island and which is under the care of a commandant who was a Frenchman, and had been thirty years in the Dutch service. He arrived at Parlow and sent for Capt. Woodward. He wished him to go with him to Priggia where he resided, but Captain Woodward refused, being apprehensive that he should be forced into the Dutch service. The commandant then enquired where he intended to go. He answered to Batavia or Macassar and thence to Bengal. He did not offer Captain Woodward or his people either money, assistance, or clothes, but seemed quite affronted.
The Rajah now gave him the liberty of returning to Travalla, taking care, however, to send him in the night for fear that he should get sight of Dungally, where there lived a Mahomedan priest called Juan Hadgee. This priest had been at Travalla, and offered a ransom for Captain Woodward and his men, but the natives were unwilling to take it, and were fearful that their captives would try to escape to the town where the priest lived. It happened however, that they were becalmed off Dungally, so that Captain Woodward could observe its situation. On arriving at Travalla, he attempted to escape alone by water, but the canoe being leaky, he came very near losing his life. But not discouraged, he started immediately for Dungally by land, and reached it just as the day dawned.
Juan Hadgee received him kindly and provided him with food and clothing. In the course of three days the chief of Travalla learning that he had gone to Dungally, sent after him, but the old priest and the Rajah of Dungally refused to let him go. They told him that in the course of three months they would convey him to Batavia or Macassar, and also desired him to send for the four men he had left at Travalla.—This he did by means of a letter which he wrote with a pen of bamboo, and sent by the captain of a proa, who delivered it secretly. The men made their escape from Parlow at the time of a feast, early in the evening, and arrived at Dungally at twelve o'clock the next day. They were received with great rejoicing by the natives, who immediately brought them plenty of victuals. And this fortunate circumstance revived their hopes of reaching some European settlement, after many narrow escapes and difficulties.
Juan Hadgee now informed Capt. Woodward that he should set off in about two months, but that he must first make a short voyage for provisions, which he did, leaving Captain Woodward in his house with his wife and two servants.
They soon began to suffer exceedingly for the want of provisions, so that the natives were obliged to convey them up the country, there to be supplied by some of the same tribe, who regularly went from the village into the country at a certain season to cultivate rice and Indian corn. But the Rajah of Parlow making war on the Rajah of Dungally, because the latter would not deliver them up, they were soon brought back to Dungally. There was but one engagement, and then the men of Parlow were beaten and driven back to their own town.
Provisions again growing scarce, Juan Hadgee was bound for another port called Sawyah, situated about two degrees north of the line. He gave Captain Woodward permission to accompany him, provided the Rajah was willing, but the latter refused, saying that he must stay there and keep guard. Captain Woodward now mustered his men, and taking their guns they went to the house of the Rajah and told him they would stand guard no longer for they wished to go to Macassar. He immediately replied that they should not. Being determined not to live longer in this manner, and finding no other means of escaping, Captain Woodward came to the resolution of stealing a canoe, to which all the men agreed. They were lucky enough to obtain one and seemed in a fair way to make their escape, but just as they were getting into it they were surrounded by about twenty natives and carried before the Rajah, who ordered them to account for their conduct. They told him that they could get nothing to eat, and were determined to quit the place on the first opportunity that offered. Nothing of consequence resulted from this.—Knowing the language and people they had now become fearless of danger.
The Rajah refusing to let them go with Juan Hadgee they determined to run away with him, which they were enabled to do, as the old man set out at twelve o'clock at night, and there happened luckily to be a canoe on the beach near his own.—This they took and followed him as well as they could, but they soon parted from him, and in the morning discovered a proa close by them filled with Malays. They told them that they were bound with the old man to Sawyah. The Malays took them at their word and carried them there instead of to Dungally, which was a lucky escape to them for that time.—Whilst residing at Sawyah the old priest carried Captain Woodward to an island in the bay of Sawyah, which he granted to him, and in compliment called it Steersman's Island, steersman being the appellation by which Captain Woodward was distinguished by the natives. After staying some time in Sawyah and making sago, which they bartered for fish and cocoa-nuts, they left the place and proceeded to Dumpolis, a little to the southward of Sawyah. Juan Hadgee soon left the place for Tomboo about a day's sail south, where he had business. Here Captain Woodward and his men also followed him. The old priest was willing to assist them to escape from here, but was evidently unable to do it. Tomboo being under the direction of the Rajah of Dungally.
Fortunately they succeeded in stealing a canoe in the night, and once more shoving off, they directed their course to a small island in the bay, where they landed at daybreak. Not being able to find water here as they expected, they landed at another point of land, which they knew to be uninhabited.—Having obtained water and repaired their canoe, they directed their course to Macassar, which was then about five degrees to the southward. After coasting along the island for the space of eight days, during which time they were twice very nearly taken by the Malays, they arrived at a part of the island of Celebes, which was very thickly inhabited.
They passed many towns and saw many proas within the harbors. Having observed a retired place, they landed to procure some fresh water, but they had hardly got a draught each, when two canoes were seen coming to the very place where they were. They immediately shoved off and kept on their course all day. Just as the sun went down they discovered two canoes not far from them fishing. As soon as the natives saw them they made the best of their way to the shore. Captain Woodward wished to inquire the distance to Macassar, but not being able to stop them he made for one of two canoes which he saw at a distance lying at anchor. Being told that the captain was below and asleep he went down and awakened him. He came on deck with three or four men all armed with spears, and inquired where they were going. Captain Woodward told him to Macassar and inquired of him the distance to that place. He answered that it would take a month and a day to reach it. Captain Woodward told him it was not true and made the best of his way off. The Malays however made chase, but Captain Woodward and his men by putting out to sea and making great exertion, soon lost sight of them and were able again to stand in towards the land.
At daylight they discovered a number of fishing canoes, two of which made towards them. They let them come alongside as there was only one man in each. One of them came on board and Captain Woodward put the same question to him respecting Macassar. He first said it would take thirty days to reach there and asked them to go on shore and see the Rajah. But they declined doing this, and he afterwards acknowledged that a proa could go there in two days.
They then left the canoe and sailed along the coast. At evening they perceived a proa full of Malay men set off from the shore. It was soon along side, and four of them jumping into the boat nearly upset her, and thus Captain Woodward and his men were again prisoners of the Malays. They were carried to a town called Pamboon and then conducted to the Rajah's house. The Rajah demanded of them whence they came and whither they were going. Captain Woodward answered the same as before; he also told him that they must go immediately, and must not be stopped. They had now become so familiar with dangers and with captures, and were also so much nearer Macassar, than they could have expected after so many narrow escapes, that they became more and more desperate and confident, from the persuasion that they should at last reach their destined port.
In the morning Captain Woodward again waited on the Rajah, and begged to be sent to Macassar; telling him that the Governor had sent for them, who would stop all his proas at Macassar if he detained them. After thinking on it a short time, he called the captain of a proa, and delivered the prisoners to him, telling him to carry them to Macassar, and if he could get anything for them to take it, but if not to let them go. The proa not being ready they stayed in the canoe three days, quite overcome by their many hardships and fatigues. Captain Woodward having had no shirt, the sun had burnt his shoulder so as to lay it quite bare and produce a bad sore. Here he caught cold, and was attacked with a violent fever, so that by the time the proa was ready to sail he was unable to stand. He was carried and laid on the deck without a mat or any kind of clothing. The cold nights and frequent showers of rain would without doubt have killed him, had he not been kept alive by the hopes of reaching Macassar, the thoughts of which kept up all their spirits.
They landed at Macassar on the 15th of June 1795, after a voyage of about nineteen days from Tomboo, and after having been two years and five months in captivity; the reckoning which Captain Woodward kept during that time, being wrong only one day.
AN OCCURRENCE AT SEA.
In June, 1824, I embarked at Liverpool on board the Vibelia transport with the head-quarters of my regiment, which was proceeding to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our passage across the Atlantic was smooth, though long and tedious. After passing over the great bank of Newfoundland, catching large quantities of codfish and halibut, and encountering the usual fogs, we were one morning, about the end of July, completely becalmed. All who have performed a voyage, know the feeling of listlessness to which a landsman abandons himself during a calm. The morning was slowly passed in looking for appearances of a breeze—whistling for a wind, and the other idle pursuits usual on such occasions. Towards noon, a sailor from aloft pointed out to our observation a vessel at a distance, also, of course, becalmed. All eyes and glasses were immediately directed towards her, but she was too far off for the most experienced to determine whether she was English or foreign, man-of-war or merchantman. After a time it occurred to me, that it was a favorable opportunity for breaking in upon the monotony of the day. My influence with our captain obtained permission for the small cutter to be lowered, but he would not allow a single seaman to leave the ship. I therefore became coxswain of the boat, and, accompanied by four of my brother officers as rowers, we pushed off, determined to pay a visit to the strange sail. To our landsmen's eyes and judgment, she had appeared to be about four miles from us, but we found ourselves very much out in our calculation—it was more than double that distance. The rowers, however, pulled on bravely—we neared the stranger, making her out to be a large American merchantman, and as he was approached, we observed a number of persons on deck reconnoitring us through glasses. At length we were alongside, and I passed on board, followed by three of my companions, one remaining in charge of the boat. On reaching the deck, we found it crowded with men, who seemed to regard us with wondering looks. I stepped forward and was received by the Captain, who acquainted me that his vessel was the American ship Cadmus, on her passage from Havre-de-grace to New York, with General the Marquis de Lafayette and suite as passengers. A noble, venerable looking veteran advanced from the poop towards us, and offered his greetings with the courtesy of the old French school. He was Lafayette. My explanation of who we were, and the motive of our visit, appeared to excite his surprise. That five officers of the land service, unaccompanied by a single sailor, should leave their vessel on the open ocean, and from mere curiosity, visit a strange sail at such a distance, was, he declared, most extraordinary. He said they had observed our ship early in the morning—had been occupied (like ourselves) in vain endeavors to make us out—had remarked an object, a mere speck upon the sea, leave the vessel and move towards them, and when at length it was made out to be a boat, the probable cause of such a circumstance had given rise to many surmises. I told him in mitigation of what he deemed our rashness, that we were, as a nation, so essentially maritime, that every man in England was more or less a sailor. At all events, I ventured to add if we had encountered some little risk, we had been amply repaid in seeing a man so celebrated, and of whom we had all heard and read. Our comrade being relieved by an American sailor in the care of the boat, we accepted the General's offer of refreshment, proceeded to the cabin, and passed a most agreeable hour. The fast approach of evening and appearances of a breeze springing up induced us to take leave. We separated from the old chief, not as the acquaintance of an hour, but with all the warmth—the grasp and pressure of hand—of old friends. As I parted from him at the gangway, he mentioned having caused a case of claret to be lowered into our boat, which he begged us to present to our Colonel and the other officers of our mess. We pulled cheerily back, but it was not until long after dark that we reached the 'Vibelia,' and which we perhaps could not have accomplished, but for their having exhibited blue lights every few minutes to point out her position. We found our comrades had been in great alarm for our safety. Various had been the surmises. That we had boarded a pirate, and been sacrificed, or made prisoners, was most prevalent, and a breeze was anxiously prayed for, that they might bear down, and release or revenge us. Half an hour after we returned to our ship, a light wind sprang up, which very shortly freshened into a gale, so that in the morning we had completely lost sight of the 'Cadmus.'
ACCOUNT OF THE LOSS OF HIS MAJESTY'S SHIP PHOENIX.
The Phoenix of 44 guns, Capt. Sir Hyde Parker was lost in a hurricane, off Cuba, in the West Indies, in the year 1780. The same hurricane destroyed the Thunderer, 74; Stirling Castle, 64; La Blanche, 42; Laurel, 28; Andromeda, 28; Deas Castle, 24; Scarborough, 20; Beaver's Prize, 16; Barbadoes, 14; Cameleon, 14; Endeavour, 14; and Victor, 10 guns. Lieut. Archer was first-lieutenant of the Phoenix at the time she was lost. His narrative in a letter to his mother, contains a most correct and animated account of one of the most awful events in the service. It is so simple and natural as to make the reader feel himself as on board the Phoenix. Every circumstance is detailed with feeling, and powerful appeals are continually made to the heart. It must likewise afford considerable pleasure to observe the devout spirit of a seaman frequently bursting forth, and imparting sublimity to the relation.
At Sea, June 30, 1781.
MY DEAR MOTHER,
I am now going to give you an account of our last cruise in the Phoenix; and must premise, that should any one see it besides yourself, they must put this construction on it—that it was originally intended for the eyes of a mother, and a mother only—as, upon that supposition, my feelings may be tolerated. You will also meet with a number of sea-terms, which, if you don't understand, why, I cannot help you, as I am unable to give a sea description in any other words.
To begin then:—On the 2d of August, 1780, we weighed and sailed for Port Royal, bound for Pensacola, having two store-ships under convoy, and to see safe in; then cruise off the Havana, and in the gulf of Mexico, for six weeks. In a few days we made the two sandy islands, that look as if they had just risen out of the sea, or fallen from the sky; inhabited, nevertheless, by upwards of three hundred English, who get their bread by catching turtle and parrots, and raising vegetables, which they exchange with ships that pass, for clothing and a few of the luxuries of life, as rum, &c.
About the 12th we arrived at Pensacola, without any thing remarkable happening except our catching a vast quantity of fish, sharks, dolphins, and bonettos. On the 13th sailed singly, and on the 14th had a very heavy gale of wind at north, right off the land, so that we soon left the sweet place, Pensacola, at a distance astern. We then looked into the Havana, saw a number of ships there, and knowing that some of them were bound round the bay, we cruised in the track: a fortnight, however, passed, and not a single ship hove in sight to cheer our spirits. We then took a turn or two round the gulf, but not near enough to be seen from the shore. Vera Cruz we expected would have made us happy, but the same luck still continued; day followed day, and no sail. The dollar bag began to grow a little bulky, for every one had lost two or three times, and no one had won: this was a small gambling party entered into by Sir Hyde and ourselves; every one put a dollar into a bag, and fixed on a day when we should see a sail, but no two persons were to name the same day, and whoever guessed right first was to have the bag.
Being now tired of our situation, and glad the cruise was almost out, for we found the navigation very dangerous, owing to unaccountable currents; we shaped our course for Cape Antonio. The next day the man at the mast head, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, called out: "A sail upon the weather bow! Ha! Ha! Mr. Spaniard, I think we have you at last. Turn out all hands! make sail! All hands give chase!" There was scarcely any occasion for this order, for the sound of a sail being in sight flew like wild fire through the ship and every sail was set in an instant almost before the orders were given. A lieutenant at the mast head, with a spy glass, "What is she?" "A large ship studding athwart right before the wind. P-o-r-t! Keep her away! set the studding sails ready!" Up comes the little doctor, rubbing his hands; "Ha! ha! I have won the bag." "The devil take you and the bag; look, what 's ahead will fill all our bags." Mast head again: "Two more sail on the larboard beam!" "Archer, go up, and see what you can make of them." "Upon deck there; I see a whole fleet of twenty sail coming right before the wind." "Confound the luck of it, this is some convoy or other, but we must try if we can pick some of them out." "Haul down the studding-sails! Luff! bring her to the wind! Let us see what we can make of them."
About five we got pretty near them, and found them to be twenty-six sail of Spanish merchantmen, under convoy of three line of battle ships, one of which chased us; but when she found we were playing with her (for the old Phoenix had heels) she left chase, and joined the convoy; which they drew up into a lump, and placed themselves at the outside; but we still kept smelling about till after dark. O, for the Hector, the Albion, and a frigate, and we should take the whole fleet and convoy, worth some millions! About eight o'clock perceived three sail at some distance from the fleet; dashed in between them, and gave chase, and were happy to find they steered from the fleet. About twelve came up with a large ship of twenty-six guns. "Archer, every man to his quarters! run the lower deck guns out, and light the ship up; show this fellow our force; it may prevent his firing into us and killing a man or two." No sooner said than done. "Hoa, the ship ahoy, lower all your sails down, and bring to instantly, or I'll sink you." Clatter, clatter, went the blocks, and away flew all their sails in proper confusion. "What ship is that?" "The Polly." "Whence came you?" "From Jamaica." "Where are you bound?" "To New York." "What ship is that?" "The Phoenix." Huzza, three times by the whole ship's company. An old grum fellow of a sailor standing close by me: "O, d—m your three cheers, we took you to be something else." Upon examination we found it to be as he reported, and that they had fallen in with the Spanish fleet that morning, and were chased the whole day, and that nothing saved them but our stepping in between; for the Spaniards took us for three consorts, and the Polly took the Phoenix for a Spanish frigate, till we hailed them. The other vessel in company was likewise bound to New York. Thus was I, from being worth thousands in idea, reduced to the old 4s. 6d. a day again: for the little doctor made the most prize money of us all that day, by winning the bag, which contained between thirty and forty dollars; but this is nothing to what we sailors sometimes undergo.
After parting company, we steered south-south-east, to go round Antonio, and so to Jamaica, (our cruise being out) with our fingers in our mouths, and all of us as green as you please. It happened to be my middle watch, and about three o'clock, when a man upon the forecastle bawls out: "Breakers ahead, and land upon the lee-bow;" I looked out, and it was so sure enough. "Ready about! put the helm down! Helm a lee!" Sir Hyde hearing me put the ship about, jumped upon deck. "Archer, what 's the matter? you are putting the ship about without my orders!" "Sir, 'tis time to go about! the ship is almost ashore, there 's the land." "Good God so it is! Will the ship stay?" "Yes, Sir, I believe she will, if we don't make any confusion; she's all aback—forward now?"—"Well," says he, "work the ship, I will not speak a single word." The ship stayed very well. "Then, heave the lead! see what water we have!" "Three fathom." "Keep the ship away, west-north-west."—"By the mark three." "This won't do, Archer." "No, Sir, we had better haul more to the northward; we came south-south-east, and had better steer north-north-west." "Steady, and a quarter three." "This may do, as we deepen a little." "By the deep four." "Very well, my lad, heave quick." "Five Fathom." "That 's a fine fellow! another cast nimbly." "Quarter less eight." "That will do, come, we shall get clear by and by."—"Mark under water five." "What 's that?" "Only five fathom, Sir." "Turn all hands up, bring the ship to an anchor, boy!" "Are the anchors clear!" "In a moment, Sir." "All clear!" "What water have you in the chains now!" "Eight, half nine." "Keep fast the anchors till I call you." "Ay, ay, Sir, all fast!" "I have no ground with this line." "How many fathoms have you out? pass along the deep-sea line!" "Ay, ay, Sir." "Come are you all ready?" "All ready, Sir." "Heave away, watch! watch! bear away, veer away, no ground Sir, with a hundred fathom." "That 's clever, come, Madam Phoenix, there is another squeak in you yet—all down but the watch; secure the anchors again; heave the main-top-sail to the mast; luff, and bring her to the wind!"
I told you, Madam, you should have a little sea-jargon: if you can understand half of what is already said, I wonder at it, though it is nothing to what is to come yet, when the old hurricane begins. As soon as the ship was a little to rights, and all quiet again, Sir Hyde came to me in the most friendly manner, the tears almost starting from his eyes—"Archer, we ought all, to be much obliged to you for the safety of the ship, and perhaps of ourselves. I am particularly so; nothing but that instantaneous presence of mind and calmness saved her; another ship's length and we should have been fast on shore; had you been the least diffident, or made the least confusion, so as to make the ship baulk in her stays, she must have been inevitably lost." "Sir, you are very good, but I have done nothing that I suppose any body else would not have done, in the same situation. I did not turn all the hands up, knowing the watch able to work the ship; besides, had it spread immediately about the ship, that she was almost ashore, it might have created a confusion that was better avoided." "Well," says he, "'t is well indeed."
At daylight we found that the current had set us between the Collarado rocks and Cape Antonio, and that we could not have got out any other way than we did; there was a chance, but Providence is the best pilot. We had sunset that day twenty leagues to the south-east of our reckoning by the current.
After getting clear of this scrape, we thought ourselves fortunate, and made sail for Jamaica, but misfortune seemed to follow misfortune. The next night, my watch upon deck too, we were overtaken by a squall, like a hurricane while it lasted; for though I saw it coming, and prepared for it, yet, when it took the ship, it roared, and laid her down so, that I thought she would never get up again. However, by keeping her away, and clewing up every thing, she righted. The remainder of the night we had very heavy squalls, and in the morning found the mainmast sprung half the way through: one hundred and twenty-three leagues to the leeward of Jamaica, the hurricane months coming on, the head of the mainmast almost off, and at short allowance; well, we must make the best of it. The mainmast was well fished, but we were obliged to be very tender of carrying sail.
Nothing remarkable happened for ten days afterwards, when we chased a Yankee man of war for six hours, but could not get near enough to her before it was dark, to keep sight of her; so that we lost her because unable to carry any sail on the mainmast. In about twelve days more made the island of Jamaica, having weathered all the squalls, and put into Montego Bay for water; so that we had a strong party for kicking up a dust on shore, having found three men of war lying there. Dancing, &c. &c. till two o'clock every morning; little thinking what was to happen in four days' time: for out of the four men of war that were there, not one was in being at the end of that time, and not a soul alive but those left of our crew. Many of the houses, where we had been so merry, were so completely destroyed, that scarcely a vestige remained to mark where they stood. Thy works are wonderful, O God! praised be thy holy Name!
September the 30th weighed; bound for Port Royal, round the eastward of the island; the Bardadoes and Victor had sailed the day before, and the Scarborough was to sail the next. Moderate weather until October the 2d. Spoke to the Barbadoes off Port Antonio in the evening. At eleven at night it began to snuffle, with a monstrous heavy appearance from the eastward. Close reefed the top-sails. Sir Hyde sent for me: "What sort of weather have we, Archer!" "It blows a little, and has a very ugly look: if in any other quarter but this, I should say we were going to have a gale of wind." "Ay, it looks so very often here when there is no wind at all; however, don't hoist the top-sails till it clears a little, there is no trusting any country." At twelve I was relieved; the weather had the same rough look: however, they made sail upon her, but had a very dirty night. At eight in the morning I came up again, found it blowing hard from the east-north-east, with close-reefed top-sails upon the ship, and heavy squalls at times. Sir Hyde came upon deck: "Well, Archer, what do you think of it?" "O, Sir, 't is only a touch of the times, we shall have an observation at twelve o'clock; the clouds are beginning to break; it will clear up at noon, or else—blow very hard afterwards." "I wish it would clear up, but I doubt it much. I was once in a hurricane in the East Indies, and the beginning of it had much the same appearance as this. So take in the top-sails, we have plenty of sea-room."
At twelve, the gale still increasing, wore ship, to keep as near mid-channel between Jamaica and Cuba, as possible; at one the gale increasing still; at two, harder yet, it still blows harder! Reefed the courses, and furled them; brought to under a foul mizen stay-sail, head to the northward. In the evening no sign of the weather taking off, but every appearance of the storm increasing, prepared for a proper gale of wind; secured all the sails with spare gaskets; good rolling tackles upon the yards; squared the booms; saw the boats all made fast; new lashed the guns; double breeched the lower deckers; saw that the carpenters had the tarpawlings and battens all ready for hatchways; got the top-gallant-mast down upon the deck; jib-boom and sprit-sail-yard fore and aft; in fact every thing we could think of to make a snug ship.
The poor devils of birds now began to find the uproar in the elements, for numbers, both of sea and land kinds, came on board of us. I took notice of some, which happening to be to leeward, turned to windward, like a ship, tack and tack; for they could not fly against it. When they came over the ship they dashed themselves down upon the deck, without attempting to stir till picked up, and when let go again, they would not leave the ship, but endeavoured to hide themselves from the wind.
At eight o'clock a hurricane; the sea roaring, but the wind still steady to a point; did not ship a spoonful of water. However, got the hatchways all secured, expecting what would be the consequence, should the wind shift; placed the carpenters by the mainmast, with broad axes, knowing, from experience, that at the moment you may want to cut it away to save the ship, an axe may not be found. Went to supper: bread, cheese, and porter. The purser frightened out of his wits about his bread bags; the two marine officers as white as sheets, not understanding the ship's working so much, and the noise of the lower deck guns; which, by this time, made a pretty screeching to people not used to it; it seemed as if the whole ship's side was going at each roll. Wooden, our carpenter, was all this time smoking his pipe and laughing at the doctor; the second lieutenant upon deck, and the third in his hammock.
At ten o'clock I thought to get a little sleep; came to look into my cot; it was full of water; for every seam, by the straining of the ship, had began to leak. Stretched myself, therefore, upon deck between two chests, and left orders to be called, should the least thing happen. At twelve a midshipman came to me: "Mr. Archer, we are just going to wear ship, Sir!" "O, very well, I'll be up directly, what sort of weather have you got?" "It blows a hurricane." Went upon deck, found Sir Hyde there. "It blows damned hard Archer." "It does indeed, Sir." "I don't know that I ever remember its blowing so hard before, but the ship makes a good weather of it upon this tack as she bows the sea; but we must wear her, as the wind has shifted to the south-east, and we were drawing right upon Cuba; so do you go forward, and have some hands stand by; loose the lee yard-arm of the fore-sail, and when she is right before the wind, whip the clue-garnet close up, and roll up the sail." "Sir! there is no canvass can stand against this a moment; if we attempt to loose him he will fly into ribands in an instant, and we may lose three or four of our people; she'll wear by manning the fore shrouds." "No, I don't think she will." "I'll answer for it, Sir; I have seen it tried several times on the coast of America with success." "Well, try it; if she does not wear, we can only loose the fore-sail afterwards." This was a great condescension from such a man as Sir Hyde. However, by sending about two hundred people into the fore-rigging, after a hard struggle, she wore; found she did not make so good weather on this tack as on the other; for as the sea began to run across, she had not time to rise from one sea before another lashed against her. Began to think we should lose our masts, as the ship lay very much along, by the pressure of the wind constantly upon the yards and masts alone: for the poor mizen-stay-sail had gone in shreds long before, and the sails began to fly from the yards through the gaskets into coach whips. My God! to think that the wind could have such force!
Sir Hyde now sent me to see what was the matter between decks, as there was a good deal of noise. As soon as I was below, one of the Marine officers calls out: "Good God Mr. Archer, we are sinking, the water is up to the bottom of my cot." "Pooh, pooh! as long as it is not over your mouth, you are well off; what the devil do you make this noise for?" I found there was some water between decks, but nothing to be alarmed at; scuttled the deck, and let it run into the well—found she made a good deal of water through the sides and decks; turned the watch below to the pumps, though only two feet of water in the well; but expected to be kept constantly at work now, as the ship labored much, with scarcely a part of her above water but the quarter-deck, and that but seldom "Come, pump away, my boys. Carpenters, get the weather chain-pump rigged." "All ready, Sir." "Then man it and keep both pumps going."
At two o'clock the chain-pump was choked; set the carpenters at work to clear it; the two head pumps at work upon deck; the ship gained on us while our chain-pumps were idle; in a quarter of an hour they were at work again, and we began to gain upon her. While I was standing at the pumps, cheering the people, the carpenter's mate came running to me with a face as long as my arm: "O, Sir! the ship has sprang a leak in the gunner's room." "Go, then, and tell the carpenter to come to me, but don't speak a word to any one else." "Mr. Goodinoh, I am told there is a leak in the gunner's room; go and see what is the matter, but don't alarm any body, and come and make your report privately to me." In a short time he returned: "Sir, there 's nothing there, 'tis only the water washing up between the timbers that this booby has taken for a leak." "O, very well; go upon deck and see if you can keep any of the water from washing down below." "Sir, I have had four people constantly keeping the hatchways secure, but there is such a weight of water upon the deck that nobody can stand it when the ship rolls." The gunner soon afterwards came to me: "Mr. Archer, I should be glad if you would step this way into the magazine for a moment:" I thought some damned thing was the matter, and ran directly: "Well, what is the matter here?" "The ground-tier of powder is spoiled, and I want to show you that it is not out of carelessness in stowing it, for no powder in the world could be better stowed. Now, Sir, what am I to do? if you don't speak to Sir Hyde, he will be angry with me." I could not forbear smiling to see how easy he took the danger of the ship, and said to him: "Let us shake off this gale of wind first, and talk of the damaged powder afterwards."
At four we had gained upon the ship a little, and I went upon deck, it being my watch. The second lieutenant relieved me at the pumps. Who can attempt to describe the appearance of things upon deck? If I was to write for ever I could not give you an idea of it—a total darkness all above, the sea on fire, running as it were in Alps, or Peaks of Teneriffe; (mountains are too common an idea); the wind roaring louder than thunder, (absolutely no flight of imagination), the whole made more terrible, if possible, by a very uncommon kind of blue lightning; the poor ship very much pressed, yet doing what she could, shaking her sides, and groaning at every stroke. Sir Hyde upon deck lashed to windward! I soon lashed myself alongside of him, and told him the situation of things below, saying the ship did not make more water than might be expected in such weather, and that I was only afraid of a gun breaking loose. "I am not in the least afraid of that; I have commanded her six years, and have had many a gale of wind in her; so that her iron work, which always gives way first, is pretty well tried. Hold fast! that was an ugly sea; we must lower the yards, I believe, Archer; the ship is much pressed." "If we attempt it, Sir, we shall lose them, for a man aloft can do nothing; besides their being down would ease the ship very little; the mainmast is a sprung mast; I wish it was overboard without carrying any thing else along with it; but that can soon be done, the gale cannot last for ever; 'twill soon be daylight now." Found by the master's watch that it was five o'clock, though but a little after four by ours; glad it was so near daylight, and looked for it with much anxiety. Cuba, thou art much in our way! Another ugly sea: sent a midshipman to bring news from the pumps: the ship was gaining on them very much, for they had broken one of their chains, but it was almost mended again. News from the pump again. "She still gains! a heavy lee!" Back-water from leeward, half-way up the quarter-deck; filled one of the cutters upon the booms, and tore her all to pieces; the ship lying almost on her beam ends, and not attempting to right again. Word from below that the ship still gained on them, as they could not stand to the pumps, she lay so much along. I said to Sir Hyde: "This is no time, Sir, to think of saving the masts, shall we cut the mainmast away?" "Ay! as fast as you can." I accordingly went into the weather chains with a pole-axe, to cut away the lanyards; the boatswain went to leeward, and the carpenters stood by the mast. We were all ready, when a very violent sea broke right on board of us, carried every thing upon deck away, filled the ship with water, the main and mizen masts went, the ship righted, but was in the last struggle of sinking under us.
As soon as we could shake our heads above water, Sir Hyde exclaimed: "We are gone, at last, Archer! foundered at sea!" "Yes, Sir, farewell, and the Lord have mercy upon us!" I then turned about to look forward at the ship; and thought she was struggling to get rid of some of the water; but all in vain, she was almost full below "Almighty God! I thank thee, that now I am leaving this world, which I have always considered as only a passage to a better, I die with a full hope of the mercies, through the merits of Jesus Christ, thy son, our Saviour!"
I then felt sorry that I could swim, as by that means I might be a quarter of an hour longer dying than a man who could not, and it is impossible to divest ourselves of a wish to preserve life. At the end of these reflections I thought I heard the ship thump and grinding under our feet; it was so. "Sir, the ship is ashore!" "What do you say?" "The ship is ashore, and we may save ourselves yet!" By this time the quarter-deck was full of men who had come up from below; and 'the Lord have mercy upon us,' flying about from all quarters. The ship now made every body sensible that she was ashore, for every stroke threatened a total dissolution of her whole frame; found she was stern ashore, and the bow broke the sea a good deal, though it was washing clean over at every stroke. Sir Hyde cried out: "Keep to the quarter-deck, my lads, when she goes to pieces, 't is your best chance!" Providentially got the foremast cut away, that she might not pay round broad-side. Lost five men cutting away the foremast, by the breaking of a sea on board just as the mast went. That was nothing; every one expected it would be his own fate next; looked for daybreak with the greatest impatience. At last it came; but what a scene did it show us! The ship upon a bed of rocks, mountains of them on one side, and Cordilleras of water on the other; our poor ship grinding and crying out at every stroke between them; going away by piecemeal. However, to show the unaccountable workings of Providence, that which often appears to be the greatest evil, proved to be the greatest good! That unmerciful sea lifted and beat us up so high among the rocks, that at last the ship scarcely moved. She was very strong, and did not go to pieces at the first thumping, though her decks tumbled in. We found afterwards that she had beat over a ledge of rocks, almost a quarter of a mile in extent beyond us, where, if she had struck, every soul of us must have perished.
I now began to think of getting on shore, so stripped off my coat and shoes for a swim, and looked for a line to carry the end with me. Luckily could not find one, which gave me time for recollection. "This won't do for me, to be the first man out of the ship, and first lieutenant; we may get to England again, and people may think I paid a great deal of attention to myself and did not care for any body else. No, that won't do; instead of being the first, I'll see every man, sick and well, out of her before me."
I now thought there was no probability of the ship's soon going to pieces, therefore had not a thought of instant death: took a look round with a kind of philosophic eye, to see how the same situation affected my companions, and was surprised to find the most swaggering, swearing bullies in fine weather, now the most pitiful wretches on earth, when death appeared before them. However, two got safe; by which means, with a line, we got a hawser on shore, and made fast to the rocks, upon which many ventured and arrived safe. There were some sick and wounded on board, who could not avail themselves of this method; we, therefore, got a spare top-sail-yard from the chains and placed one end ashore and the other on the cabin-window, so that most of the sick got ashore this way.
As I had determined, so I was the last man out of the ship; this was about ten o'clock. The gale now began to break. Sir Hyde came to me, and taking me by the hand was so affected that he was scarcely able to speak "Archer, I am happy beyond expression, to see you on shore, but look at our poor Phoenix!" I turned about, but could not say a single word, being too full: my mind had been too intensely occupied before; but every thing now rushed upon me at once, so that I could not contain myself, and I indulged for a full quarter of an hour in tears.
By twelve it was pretty moderate; got some nails on shore and made tents; found great quantities of fish driven up by the sea into the holes of the rocks; knocked up a fire, and had a most comfortable dinner. In the afternoon made a stage from the cabin-windows to the rocks, and got out some provisions and water, lest the ship should go to pieces, in which case we must all have perished of hunger and thirst; for we were upon a desolate part of the coast, and under a rocky mountain, that could not supply us with a single drop of water.
Slept comfortably this night and the next day, the idea of death vanishing by degrees, the prospect of being prisoners, during the war, at the Havana, and walking three hundred miles to it through the woods, was rather unpleasant. However, to save life for the present, we employed this day in getting more provisions and water on shore, which was not an easy matter, on account of decks, guns and rubbish, and ten feet water that lay over them. In the evening I proposed to Sir Hyde to repair the remains of the only boat left, and to venture in her to Jamaica myself; and in case I arrived safe, to bring vessels to take them all off; a proposal worthy of consideration. It was, next day, agreed to; therefore got the cutter on shore, and set the carpenters to work on her; in two days she was ready, and at four o'clock in the afternoon I embarked with four volunteers and a fortnight's provision, hoisted English colors as we put off from the shore, and received three cheers from the lads left behind, which we returned, and set sail with a light heart; having not the least doubt, that, with God's assistance, we should come and bring them all off. Had a very squally night, and a very leaky boat, so as to keep two buckets constantly bailing. Steered her myself the whole night by the stars, and in the morning saw the coast of Jamaica distant twelve leagues. At eight in the evening arrived at Montego Bay.
I must now begin to leave off, particularly as I have but half an hour to conclude; else my pretty little short letter will lose its passage, which I should not like, after being ten days, at different times, writing it, beating up with the convoy to the northward, which is a reason that this epistle will never read well; as I never set down with a proper disposition to go on with it; but as I knew something of the kind would please you, I was resolved to finish it; yet it will not bear an overhaul; so don't expose your son's nonsense.
But to proceed—I instantly sent off an express to the admiral, another to the Porcupine man of war, and went myself to Martha Bray to get vessels; for all their vessels here, as well as many of their houses, were gone to Moco. Got three small vessels, and set out back again to Cuba, where I arrived the fourth day after leaving my companions. I thought the ship's crew would have devoured me on my landing; they presently whisked me up on their shoulders and carried me to the tent where Sir Hyde was.
I must omit many little occurrences that happened on shore, for want of time; but I shall have a number of stories to tell when I get alongside of you; and the next time I visit you I shall not be in such a hurry to quit you as I was the last, for then I hoped my nest would have been pretty well feathered:—But my tale is forgotten.
I found the Porcupine had arrived that day, and the lads had built a boat almost ready for launching, that would hold fifty of them, which was intended for another trial, in case I had foundered. Next day embarked all our people that were left, amounting to two hundred and fifty; for some had died of their wounds they received in getting on shore; others of drinking rum, and others had straggled into the country.—All our vessels were so full of people, that we could not take away the few clothes that were saved from the wreck; but that was a trifle since we had preserved our lives and liberty. To make short of my story, we all arrived safe at Montego Bay, and shortly after at Port Royal, in the Janus, which was sent on purpose for us, and were all honorably acquitted for the loss of the ship. I was made admiral's aid-de-camp, and a little time afterwards sent down to St. Juan's as captain of the Resource, to bring what were left of the poor devils to Blue Fields, on the Musquito shore, and then to Jamaica, where they arrived after three month's absence, and without a prize, though I looked out hard off Porto Bello and Carthagena. Found in my absence that I had been appointed captain of the Tobago, where I remain his majesty's most true and faithful servant, and my dear mother's most dutiful son,
AN ACCOUNT OF THE WHALE FISHERY
WITH ANECDOTES OF THE DANGERS ATTENDING IT.
Historians, in general, have given to the Biscayans the credit of having first practiced the fishery for the Whale; the English, and afterwards the Dutch are supposed to have followed in the pursuit. It was prosecuted by the Norwegians so early as the ninth century, and by the Icelanders about the eleventh. It was not till the seventeenth century however, that the whale fishery was engaged in by the maritime nations of Europe as an important branch of commerce.
The crew of a whale ship usually consists of forty to fifty men, comprising several classes of officers, such as harpooners, boat-steerers, line-managers, &c. together with fore-mastmen, landmen and apprentices. As a stimulus to the crew in the fishery, every individual, from the master down to the boys, besides his monthly pay, receives either a gratuity for every size fish caught during the voyage, or a certain sum for every ton of oil which the cargo produces. Masters and harpooners receive a small sum before sailing, in place of monthly wages; and if they procure no cargo whatever, they receive nothing more for their voyage; but in the event of a successful fishing, their advantages are considerable.
The crow's nest is an apparatus placed on the main-top-mast, or top-gallant-mast head, as a watch tower for the officer on the lookout. It is closely defended from the wind and cold, and is furnished with a speaking trumpet, a telescope and rifle. The most favorable opportunity for prosecuting the fishery in the Greenland seas, commonly occurs with north, north-west or west winds. At such times the sea is smooth, and the atmosphere, though cloudy and dark, is generally free from fog and snow. The fishers prefer a cloudy to a clear sky; because in very bright weather, the sea becomes illuminated, and the shadows of the whale-boats are so deeply impressed in the water by the beams of the sun that the whales are apt to take the alarm. Fogs are only so far unfavorable as being liable to endanger the boats by shutting out the sight of the ship.—A well constructed whale-boat floats lightly and safely on the water,—is capable of being rowed with great speed, and readily turned round,—it is of such capacity that it carries six or seven men, seven or eight hundred weight of whale-lines, and various other materials, and yet retains the necessary properties of safety and speed. Whale-boats being very liable to receive damage, both from whales and ice, are always carver-built,—a structure which is easily repaired. The instruments of general use in the capture of the whale, are the harpoon and lance. There is, moreover, a kind of harpoon which is shot from a gun, but being difficult to adjust, it is seldom used. Each boat is likewise furnished with a "jack" or flag fastened to a pole, intended to be displayed as a signal whenever a whale is harpooned. The crew of a whale-ship are separated in divisions, equal in number to the number of the boats. Each division, consisting of a harpooner, a boat-steerer, and a line-manager, together with three or four rowers, constitutes a "boats crew."
On fishing stations, when the weather is such as to render the fishery practicable, the boats are always ready for instant service. The crow's nest is generally occupied by one of the officers, who keeps an anxious watch for the appearance of a whale. The moment that a fish is seen, he gives notice to the "watch upon deck," part of whom leap into a boat, are lowered down, and push off towards the place. If the fish be large, a second boat is despatched to the support of the other; and when the whole of the boats are sent out, the ship is said to have "a loose fall." There are several rules observed in approaching a whale to prevent the animal from taking the alarm. As the whale is dull of hearing, but quick of sight, the boat-steerer always endeavors to get behind it; and, in accomplishing this, he is sometimes justified in taking a circuitous rout. In calm weather, where guns are not used, the greatest caution is necessary before a whale can be reached; smooth careful rowing is always requisite, and sometimes sculling is practiced. It is a primary consideration with the harpooner, always to place his boat as near as possible to the spot in which he expects the fish to rise, and he conceives himself successful in the attempt when the fish "comes up within a start," that is, within the distance of about two hundred yards.
Whenever a whale lies on the surface of the water, unconscious of the approach of its enemies, the hardy fisher rows directly upon it; and an instant before the boat touches it, buries his harpoon in his back. The wounded whale, in the surprise and agony of the moment, makes a convulsive effort to escape. Then is the moment of danger. The boat is subjected to the most violent blows from its head, or its fins, but particularly from its ponderous tail, which sometimes sweeps the air with such tremendous fury, that boat and men are exposed to one common destruction.
The head of the whale is avoided, because it cannot be penetrated with the harpoon; but any part of the body, between the head and the tail, will admit of the full length of the instrument, without danger of obstruction. The moment that the wounded whale disappears, a flag is displayed; on sight of which, those on watch in the ship, give the alarm, by stamping on the deck, accompanied by shouts of "a fall."—At the sound of this, the sleeping crew are roused, jump from their beds, rush upon deck, and crowd into the boats. The alarm of "a fall," has a singular effect on the feelings of a sleeping person, unaccustomed to hearing it. It has often been mistaken as a cry of distress. A landsman, seeing the crew, on an occasion of a fall, leap into the boats in their shirts, imagined that the ship was sinking. He therefore tried to get into a boat himself, but every one of them being fully manned, he was refused. After several fruitless endeavors to gain a place among his comrades, he cried out, in evident distress, "What shall I do?—Will none of you take me in?"
The first effort of a "fast-fish," or whale that has been struck, is to escape from the boat by sinking under water. After this, it pursues its course downward, or reappears at a little distance, and swims with great celerity, near the surface of the water. It sometimes returns instantly to the surface, and gives evidence of its agony by the most convulsive throes. The downward course of a whale is, however, the most common. A whale, struck near the edge of any large sheet of ice, and passing underneath it, will sometimes run the whole of the lines out of one boat. The approaching distress of a boat, for want of line, is indicated by the elevation of an oar, to which is added a second, a third, or even a fourth, in proportion to the nature of the exigence. The utmost care and attention are requisite, on the part of every person in the boat, when the lines are running out; fatal consequences having been sometimes produced by the most trifling neglect.—When the line happens to "run foul," and cannot be cleared on the instant, it sometimes draws the boat under water; on which, if no auxiliary boat, or convenient piece of ice, be at hand, the crew are plunged into the sea, and are obliged to trust to their oars or their skill in swimming, for supporting themselves on the surface.
Captain Scoresby relates an accident of this kind, which happened on his first voyage to the whale fishery. A thousand fathoms of line were already out, and the fast-boat was forcibly pressed against the side of a piece of ice. The harpooner, in his anxiety to retard the flight of the whale, applied too many turns of the line round the bollard, which, getting entangled, drew the boat beneath the ice. Another boat, providentially was at hand, into which the crew had just time to escape. The whale, with near two miles length of line, was, in consequence of the accident, lost, but the boat was recovered.
The average stay under water of a wounded whale is about thirty minutes. When it reappears, the assisting boats make for the place with their utmost speed, and as they reach it, each harpooner plunges his harpoon into its back, to the amount of three, four, or more, according to the size of the whale. It is then actively plied with lances, which are thrust into its body, aiming at its vitals. The sea to a great extent around is dyed with its blood, and the noise made by its tail in its dying struggle, may be heard several miles. In dying, it turns on its back or on its side; which circumstance is announced by the capturers with the striking of their flags, accompanied with three lively huzzas!
Whales are sometimes captured, with a single harpoon, in the space of fifteen minutes. Sometimes they resist forty or fifty hours, and at times they will break three or four lines at once, or tear themselves clear off the harpoons, by the violence of their struggles. Generally the capture of a whale depends on the activity of the harpooner, the state of the wind and weather, or the peculiar conduct of the animal itself. Under the most favourable circumstances, the length of time does not exceed an hour. The general average may be stated at two hours. Instances have occurred where whales have been taken without being struck at all, simply by entangling themselves in the lines that had been used to destroy others, and struggling till they were drowned or died of exhaustion.
The fishery for whales, when conducted at the margin of those wonderful sheets of ice, called fields, is, when the weather is fine, and the refuge for ships secure, the most agreeable, and sometimes the most productive of all other ways. When the fish can be observed "blowing" in any of the holes of a field, the men travel over the ice and attack it with lances to turn it back. As connected with this subject, Captain Scoresby relates the following circumstance, which occurred under his own observation.
On the eighth of July, 1813, the ship Esk lay by the edge of a large sheet of ice, in which there were several thin parts, and some holes. Here a whale being heard blowing, a harpoon, with a line fastened to it, was conveyed across the ice, from a boat on guard, and the harpooner succeeded in striking the whale, at the distance of three hundred and fifty yards from the verge. It dragged out ten lines, (2400 yards,) and was supposed to be seen blowing in different holes in the ice. After some time it made its appearance on the exterior, and was again struck, at the moment it was about to go under the second time. About an hundred yards from the edge, it broke the ice where it was a foot thick, with its head, and respired through the opening. It then pushed forward, breaking the ice as it advanced, in spite of the lances constantly directed against it. At last it reached a kind of basin in the field, where it floated on the surface without any incumbrance from ice. Its back being fairly exposed, the harpoon struck from the boat on the outside, was observed to be so slightly entangled, that it was ready to drop out. Some of the officers lamented this circumstance, and wished that the harpoon might be better fast; at the same time observing that if it should slip out, either the fish would be lost, or they should be under the necessity of flensing it where it lay, and of dragging the blubber over the ice to the ship; a kind and degree of labor every one was anxious to avoid. No sooner was the wish expressed, and its importance explained, than a young and daring sailor stepped forward, and offered to strike the harpoon deeper. Not at all intimidated by the surprise manifested on every countenance at such a bold proposal, he leaped on the back of the living whale, and cut the harpoon out with his pocket knife. Stimulated by his gallant example, one of his companions proceeded to his assistance. While one of them hauled upon the line and held it in his hands, the other set his shoulder against the end of the harpoon, and though it was without a stock, contrived to strike it again into the fish more effectually than at first! The whale was in motion before they had finished. After they got off its back, it advanced a considerable distance, breaking the ice all the way, and survived this novel treatment ten or fifteen minutes. This daring deed was of essential service. The whale fortunately sunk spontaneously after it expired; on which it was hauled out under the ice by the line and secured without farther trouble. It proved a mighty whale; a very considerable prize.
When engaged in the pursuit of a large whale, it is a necessary precaution for two boats at all times to proceed in company, that the one may be able to assist the other, on any emergency. With this principle in view, two boats from the Esk were sent out in chase of some large whales, on the 13th of June 1814. No ice was within sight. The boats had proceeded some time together, when they separated in pursuit of two whales, not far distant from each other; when, by a singular coincidence, the harpooners each struck his fish at the same moment. They were a mile from the ship. Urgent signals for assistance were displayed by each boat, and in a few minutes one of the harpooners was obliged to slip the end of his line. Fortunately the other fish did not descend so deep, and the lines in the boat proved adequate for the occasion. One of the fish being then supposed to be lost, five of the boats out of seven attended on the fish which yet remained entangled, and speedily killed it. A short time afterwards, the other fish supposed to be lost, was descried at a little distance from the place where it was struck;—three boats proceeded against it;—it was immediately struck, and in twenty minutes also killed. Thus were fortunately captured two whales, both of which had been despaired of. They produced near forty tons of oil, value, at that time L1400. The lines attached to the last fish were recovered with it.
Before a whale can be flensed, as the operation of taking off the fat and whalebone is called, some preliminary measures are requisite. These consist in securing the whale to the boat, cutting away the attached whale-lines, lashing the fins together, and towing it to the ship. Some curious circumstances connected with these operations may be mentioned here.
In the year 1816, a fish was to all appearance killed by the crew of the Esk. The fins were partly lashed, and the tail on the point of being secured, and all the lines excepting one, were cut away, the fish meanwhile lying as if dead. To the alarm, however, of the sailors, it revived, began to move, and pressed forward in a convulsive agitation; soon after it sunk in the water to some depth, and then died. One line fortunately remained attached to it, by which it was drawn to the surface and secured.
A suspension of labor is generally allowed after the whale has been secured aside of the ship, and before the commencement of the operation of flensing. An unlucky circumstance once occurred in an interval of this kind. At that period of the fishery, (forty or fifty years ago,) when a single stout whale together with the bounty, was found sufficient to remunerate the owners of a ship for the expenses of the voyage, great joy was exhibited on the capture of a whale, by the fishers. They were not only cheered by a dram of spirits, but sometimes provided with some favorite "mess," on which to regale themselves, before they commenced the arduous task of flensing. At such a period, the crew of an English vessel had captured their first whale. It was taken to the ship, placed on the lee-side, and though the wind blew a strong breeze, it was fastened only by a small rope attached to the fin. In this state of supposed security, all hands retired to regale themselves, the captain himself not excepted. The ship being at a distance from any ice, and the fish believed to be fast, they made no great haste in their enjoyment. At length, the specksioneer, or chief harpooner, having spent sufficient time in indulgence and equipment, with an air of importance and self-confidence, proceeded on deck, and naturally turned to look on the whale. To his astonishment it was not to be seen. In some alarm he looked a-stern, a-head, on the other side, but his search was useless; the ship drifting fast, had pressed forcibly upon the whale, the rope broke, the fish sunk and was lost. The mortification of this event may be conceived, but the termination of their vexation will not easily be imagined, when it is known, that no other opportunity of procuring a whale occurred during the voyage. The ship returned home clean.
Flensing in a swell is a most difficult and dangerous undertaking; and when the swell is at all considerable, it is commonly impracticable. No ropes or blocks are capable of bearing the jerk of the sea. The harpooners are annoyed by the surge, and repeatedly drenched in water; and are likewise subject to be wounded by the breaking of ropes or hooks of tackles, and even by strokes from each other's knives. Hence accidents in this kind of flensing are not uncommon. The harpooners not unfrequently fall into the whale's mouth, when it is exposed by the removal of a surface of blubber; where they might easily be drowned, but for the prompt assistance which is always at hand.
One of the laws of the fishery universally adhered to, is, that whenever a whale is loose, whatever may be the case or circumstances, it becomes a free prize to the first person who gets hold of it. Thus, when a whale is killed, and the flensing is prevented by a storm, it is usually taken in tow; if the rope by which it is connected with the ship should happen to break, and the people of another ship should seize upon it while disengaged, it becomes their prize. The following circumstance, which occurred a good many years ago, has a tendency to illustrate the existing Greenland laws.
During a storm of wind and snow several ships were beating to windward, under easy sail, along the edge of a pack. When the storm abated and the weather cleared, the ships steered towards the ice. Two of the fleet approached it, about a mile assunder, abreast of each other, when the crews of each ship accidentally got sight of a dead fish at a little distance, within some loose ice. Each ship now made sail, to endeavor to reach the fish before the other; which fish being loose, would be a prize to the first who could get possession of it. Neither ship could out sail the other, but each contrived to press forward towards the prize. The little advantage one of them had in distance, the other compensated with velocity. On each bow of the two ships, was stationed a principal officer, armed with a harpoon in readiness to discharge. But it so happened that the ships came in contact with each other, when within a few yards of the fish, and in consequence of the shock with which their bows met, they rebounded to a considerable distance. The officers at the same moment discharged their harpoons, but all of them fell short of the fish. A hardy fellow who was second mate of the leeward ship immediately leaped overboard and with great dexterity swam to the whale, seized it by the fin, and proclaimed it his prize. It was, however, so swollen, that he was unable to climb upon it, but was obliged to remain shivering in the water until assistance should be sent. His captain elated with his good luck, forgot, or at least neglected his brave second mate; and before he thought of sending a boat to release him from his disagreeable situation, prepared to moor his ship to an adjoining piece of ice. Meanwhile the other ship tacked, and the master himself stepped into a boat, pushed off and rowed deliberately towards the dead fish. Observing the trembling seaman still in the water holding by the fin, he addressed him with, "Well my lad, you have got a fine fish here,"—to which after a natural reply in the affirmative, he added, "but don't you find it very cold?"—"Yes," replied the shivering sailor, "I'm almost starved. I wish you would allow me to come into your boat until ours arrives." This favor needed no second solicitation; the boat approached the man and he was assisted into it. The fish being again loose and out of possession, the captain instantly struck his harpoon into it, hoisted his flag, and claimed his prize! Mortified and displeased as the other master felt at this trick, for so it certainly was, he had nevertheless no redress, but was obliged to permit the fish to be taken on board of his competitor's ship, and to content himself with abusing the second mate for want of discretion, and condemning himself for not having more compassion on the poor fellow's feeling, which would have prevented the disagreeable misadventure.
Those employed in the occupation of killing whales, are, when actually engaged, exposed to danger from three sources, viz. from the ice, from the climate, and from the whales themselves. The ice is a source of danger to the fishers, from overhanging masses falling upon them,—from the approximation of large sheets of ice to each other, which are apt to crush or upset the boats,—from their boats being stove or sunk by large masses of ice, agitated by a swell,—and from the boats being enclosed and beset in a pack of ice, and their crews thus prevented from joining their ships.
On the commencement of a heavy gale of wind, May 11th, 1813, fourteen men put off in a boat from the Volunteer of Whitby, with the view of setting an anchor in a large piece of ice, to which it was their intention of mooring the ship.—The ship approached on a signal being made, the sails were clewed up, and a rope fixed to the anchor; but the ice shivering with the violence of the strain when the ship fell astern, the anchor flew out and the ship went adrift. The sails being again set, the ship was reached to the eastward (wind at north,) the distance of about two miles; but in attempting to wear and return, the ship, instead of performing the evolution, scudded a considerable distance to the leeward, and was then reaching out to sea; thus leaving fourteen of her crew to a fate most dreadful, the fulfilment of which seemed almost inevitable. The temperature of the air was 15 or 16 of Fahr. when these poor wretches were left upon a detached piece of ice, of no considerable magnitude, without food, without shelter from the inclement storm, deprived of every means of refuge except in a single boat, which, on account of the number of men, and the violence of the storm, was incapable of conveying them to their ship. Death stared them in the face whichever way they turned, and a division in opinion ensued. Some were wishful to remain on the ice, but the ice could afford them no shelter to the piercing wind, and would probably be broken to pieces by the increasing swell: others were anxious to attempt to join their ship while she was yet in sight, but the force of the wind, the violence of the sea, the smallness of the boat in comparison to the number of men to be conveyed, were objections which would have appeared insurmountable to any person but men in a state of despair.—Judging, that by remaining on the ice, death was but retarded for a few hours, as the extreme cold must eventually benumb their faculties, and invite a sleep which would overcome the remains of animation,—they determined on making the attempt of rowing to their ship. Poor souls, what must have been their sensations at that moment,—when the spark of hope yet remaining was so feeble, that a premature death even to themselves seemed inevitable. They made the daring experiment, when a few minutes' trial convinced them, that the attempt was utterly impracticable. They then with longing eyes, turned their efforts towards recovering the ice they had left, but their utmost exertions were unavailing. Every one now viewed his situation as desperate; and anticipated, as certain, the fatal event which was to put a period to his life. How great must have been their delight, and how overpowering their sensations, when at this most critical juncture a ship appeared in sight! She was advancing directly towards them; their voices were extended and their flag displayed.—But although it was impossible they should be heard, it was not impossible they should be seen. Their flag was descried by the people on board the ship, their mutual courses were so directed as to form the speediest union, and in a few minutes they found themselves on the deck of the Lively of Whitby, under circumstances of safety! They received from their townsmen the warmest congratulations; and while each individual was forward in contributing his assistance towards the restoration of their benumbed bodies, each appeared sensible that their narrow escape from death was highly providential. The forbearance of God is wonderful. Perhaps these very men a few hours before, were impiously invoking their own destruction, or venting imprecations upon their fellow beings! True it is that the goodness of the Almighty extendeth over all his works, and that while 'Mercy is his darling attribute,'—'Judgment is his strange work.'
The most extensive source of danger to the whale-fisher, when actively engaged in his occupation, arises from the object of his pursuit. Excepting when it has young under its protection, the whale generally exhibits remarkable timidity of character. A bird perching on its back alarms it; hence, the greater part of the accidents which happen in the course of its capture, must be attributed to adventitious circumstances on the part of the whale, or to mismanagement or foolhardiness on the part of the fishers.
A harpooner belonging to the Henrietta of Whitby, when engaged in lancing a whale, into which he had previously struck a harpoon, incautiously cast a little line under his feet that he had just hauled into the boat, after it had been drawn out by the fish. A painful stroke of his lance induced the whale to dart suddenly downward; his line began to run out from beneath his feet, and in an instant caught him by a turn round his body. He had but just time to cry out, "clear away the line,"—"O dear!" when he was almost cut assunder, dragged overboard and never seen afterwards. The line was cut at the moment, but without avail. The fish descended a considerable depth, and died; from whence it was drawn to the surface by the lines connected with it, and secured.
While the ship Resolution navigated an open lake of water, in the 81st degree of north latitude, during a keen frost and strong north wind, on the 2d of June 1806, a whale appeared, and a boat put off in pursuit. On its second visit to the surface of the sea, it was harpooned. A convulsive heave of the tail, which succeeded the wound, struck the boat at the stern; and by its reaction, projected the boat-steerer overboard. As the line in a moment dragged the boat beyond his reach, the crew threw some of their oars towards him for his support, one of which he fortunately seized. The ship and boats being at a considerable distance, and the fast-boat being rapidly drawn away from him, the harpooner cut the line with the view of rescuing him from his dangerous situation. But no sooner was this act performed, than to their extreme mortification they discovered, that in consequence of some oars being thrown towards their floating comrade, and others being broken or unshipped by the blow from the fish, one oar only remained; with which, owing to the force of the wind, they tried in vain to approach him. A considerable period elapsed, before any boat from the ship could afford him assistance, though the men strained every nerve for the purpose. At length, when they reached him, he was found with his arms stretched over an oar, almost deprived of sensation.—On his arrival at the ship, he was in a deplorable condition. His clothes were frozen like mail, and his hair constituted a helmet of ice. He was immediately conveyed into the cabin, his clothes taken off, his limbs and body dried and well rubbed, and a cordial administered which he drank. A dry shirt and stockings were then put upon him, and he was laid in the captain's bed. After a few hours sleep he awoke, and appeared considerably restored, but complained of a painful sensation of cold. He was, therefore, removed to his own birth, and one of his messmates ordered to lie on each side of him, whereby the diminished circulation of the blood was accelerated, and the animal heat restored. The shock on his constitution, however, was greater than was anticipated.—He recovered in the course of a few days, so as to be able to engage in his ordinary pursuits; but many months elapsed before his countenance exhibited its usual appearance of health.