Two Years Before the Mast
Richard Henry Dana
Part 1 out of 8
This etext was prepared by Robert E Brewer, San Diego, CA.
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea
By Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
With an introduction and notes by
Homer Eaton Keyes, B.L.
Assistant Professor of Art in Dartmouth College
----Crowded in the rank and narrow ship,--
Housed on the wild sea with wild usages,--
Whate'er in the inland dales the land conceals
Of fair and exquisite, O! nothing, nothing,
Do we behold of that in our rude voyage.
California and her Missions
Diagram of Ships
Explanation of Diagram
Two Years Before the Mast
Twenty-Four Years After
Two years before the mast were but an episode in the life of
Richard Henry Dana, Jr.; yet the narrative in which he details the
experiences of that period is, perhaps, his chief claim to a wide
remembrance. His services in other than literary fields occupied
the greater part of his life, but they brought him comparatively
small recognition and many disappointments. His happiest
associations were literary, his pleasantest acquaintanceships
those which arose through his fame as the author of one book.
The story of his life is one of honest and competent effort,
of sincere purpose, of many thwarted hopes. The traditions
of his family forced him into a profession for which he was
intellectually but not temperamentally fitted: he should have
been a scholar, teacher, and author; instead he became a lawyer.
Born in Cambridge, Mass., August 1, 1815, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.,
came of a line of Colonial ancestors whose legal understanding and
patriotic zeal had won them distinction. His father, if possessed
of less vigor than his predecessors, was yet a man of culture and
ability. He was widely known as poet, critic, and lecturer; and
endowed his son with native qualities of intelligence, good breeding,
After somewhat varied and troublous school days, young Dana entered
Harvard University, where he took high rank in his classes and bid
fair to make a reputation as a scholar. But at the beginning of his
third year of college a severe attack of measles interrupted his
course, and so affected his eyes as to preclude, for a time at least,
all idea of study. The state of the family finances was not such as to
permit of foreign travel in search of health. Accordingly, prompted by
necessity and by a youthful love of adventure, he shipped as a common
sailor in the brig, Pilgrim, bound for the California coast. His
term of service lasted a trifle over two years--from August, 1834,
to September, 1836. The undertaking was one calculated to kill or cure.
Fortunately it had the latter effect; and, upon returning to his native
place, physically vigorous but intellectually starved, he reentered
Harvard and worked with such enthusiasm as to graduate in six months
Then came the question of his life work. Though intensely religious,
he did not feel called to the ministry; business made no appeal;
his ancestors had been lawyers; it seemed best that he should follow
where they had led. Had conditions been those of to-day, he would
naturally have drifted into some field of scholarly research,
--political science or history. As it was, he entered law school,
which, in 1840, he left to take up the practice of his profession.
But Dana had not the tact, the personal magnetism, or the business
sagacity to make a brilliant success before the bar. Despite the
fact that he had become a master of legal theory, an authority upon
international questions, and a counsellor of unimpeachable integrity,
his progress was painfully slow and toilsome. Involved with his lack
of tact and magnetism there was, too, an admirable quality of sturdy
obstinacy that often worked him injury. Though far from sharing the
radical ideas of the Abolitionists, he was ardent in his anti-slavery
ideas and did not hesitate to espouse the unpopular doctrines of the
Free-Soil party of 1848, or to labor for the freedom of those Boston
negroes, who, under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, were in danger
of deportation to the South.
His activity in the latter direction resulted in pecuniary loss,
social ostracism and worse; for upon one occasion he was set upon
and nearly killed by a pair of thugs. But Dana was not a man to be
swerved from his purpose by considerations of policy or of personal
safety. He met his problems as they came to him, took the course
which he believed to be right and then stuck to it with indomitable
tenacity. Yet, curiously enough, with none of the characteristics
of the politician, he longed for political preferment. At the hands
of the people this came to him in smallest measure only. Though at
one time a member of the Massachusetts Legislature, he was defeated
as candidate for the lower house of Congress, and in 1876 suffered
the bitterest disappointment of his life, when the libellous attacks
of enemies prevented the ratification of his nomination as Minister
Previous to this he had served his country as United States
District Attorney during the Civil War, a time when the office
demanded the highest type of ability and uprightness. That the
government appreciated this was shown in 1867 by its choice of
Dana as one of its counsel in the prosecution of Jefferson Davis
for treason. The position of legal representative before the
Halifax tribunal of 1877, which met to discuss fishery questions
at issue between the United States and Canada, was given him no
doubt in part because of his eminent fitness, in part as balm for
the wound of the preceding year.
But whatever satisfaction he may have found in such honors as time
and ripening years brought to him, his chief joy and relaxation lay
in travel. When worry and overwork began to tell upon him, he would
betake himself to shore or mountains. Upon several occasions he
visited Europe, and in 1859 made a tour of the world. At length,
in 1876, he gave up active life and took residence abroad, with
the idea of finding leisure for the preparation of a treatise on
international law. He was still engaged in collecting his material
when, on January 6, 1882, death overtook him. He was buried in Rome
in the Protestant Cemetery, whose cypresses cast their long shadows
over the graves of many distinguished foreigners who have sought a
last refuge of health and peace under the skies of Italy.
Such a career as his would seem far enough from being a failure.
Yet, in retirement, Dana looked back upon it not without regret.
As a lawyer, he had felt a justifiable desire to see his labors
crowned by his elevation to the bench; as an active participant in
public affairs, he had felt that his services and talents rendered
him deserving of a seat in Congress. Lacking these things, he might
have hoped that the practice of his profession would yield him a
fortune. Here again he was disappointed. In seeking the fulfillment
of his ambitions, he was always on the high road to success; he never
It is remarkable that, having written one successful book, Dana did not
seek further reward as a man of letters. Two Years before the Mast
appeared in 1840, while its author was still a law student. Though
at the time it created no great stir in the United States, it was most
favorably received in England, where it paved the way for many pleasant
and valuable acquaintanceships. The following year, Dana produced
a small volume on seamanship, entitled The Seaman's Friend. This,
and a short account of a trip to Cuba in 1859, constitute the sole
additions to his early venture. He was a copious letter-writer and
kept full journals of his various travels; but he never elaborated
them for publication. Yet, long before his death, he had seen the
narrative of his sailor days recognized as an American classic.
Time has not diminished its reputation. We read it to-day not
merely for its simple, unpretentious style; but for its clear
picture of sea life previous to the era of steam navigation, and
for its graphic description of conditions in California before
visions of gold sent the long lines of "prairie schooners" drifting
across the plains to unfold the hidden destiny of the West.
California and her Missions
It is not easy to realize that, during the stirring days when the
eastern coast-line of North America was experiencing the ferment
of revolution, the Pacific seaboard was almost totally unexplored,
its population largely a savage one. But Spain, long established
in Mexico, was slowly pushing northward along the California coast.
Her emissaries were the Franciscan friars; her method the founding
of Indian missions round which, in due course, should arise towns
intended to afford harbor for Spanish ships and to serve as outposts
against the steady encroachments of Russia, who, from Alaska, was
reaching out toward San Francisco Bay.
Thus began the white settlement of California. San Diego Mission
was founded in 1769; San Carlos, at Monterey, in 1770; San Francisco,
in 1776; Santa Barbara, in 1786. For the general guardianship of
these missions a garrison, or presidio, was in each case provided.
It was responsible not only for the protection of the town thus
created, but for all the missions in the district. The presidio of
San Diego, for example, was in charge of the missions of San Diego,
San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Luis Rey. So, likewise,
there were garrisons with extensive jurisdiction at Santa Barbara,
Monterey, and San Francisco.
The Indians in the immediate vicinity of a mission were attached
thereto by a sort of gentle enslavement. They were provided special
quarters, were carefully looked after by the priests, their religious
education fostered, and their innate laziness conquered by specific
requirements of labor in agriculture, cattle raising, and simple
handicrafts. It was an arrangement which worked well for both parties
concerned. The slavery of the Indians was not unlike the obligation
of children to their parents; they were comfortable, well behaved,
and for the most part contented with the rule of the friars, who,
on their side, began to accumulate considerable wealth from the
well-directed efforts of their charges.
The supposition was that in the course of years the Indians might
become so habituated to thrift and industry as to be released from
supervision and safely left to their own devices. But that happy
consummation had not occurred when, in 1826, Mexico succeeded in
separating herself from the mother country and began her career as an
independent republic, of which California was a part. Nevertheless,
the greed of politicians suddenly wrought the change which was to
have come as the slow development of years. By governmental decree,
the Indians were declared free of obligation to the friars; the latter
were stripped of their temporal powers, their funds seized under the
guise of a loan, and their establishments often subjected to what was
little short of pillage. This state of affairs had scarcely begun at
the time of the author's visit to California; still, as he points out
in Chapter XXI, the decline of the missions had already set in.
The final blow to their power and usefulness came, however, with
the upheaval accompanying the Mexican war and the acquisition of
California by the United States. Although this country returned
all mission buildings to the control of the Church, their reason
for being had vanished; they were sold, or destroyed, or feebly
maintained on funds insufficient to forestall dilapidation.
Fortunately the Franciscan friars had built for beauty as well as for
use; the architecture which they devised in skillful adaptation of
their native Spanish type displayed originality and picturesque charm.
Hence, of late years, Californians have come to feel a worthy pride
in the monuments of the early history of their state, and have taken
steps to preserve such of them as survive. No less than twenty-one
are today the goal of the traveller.
The reader who is interested in pursuing the subject thus outlined
will find its satisfactory treatment in George Wharton James's
_In and out of the old Missions of California,_ a book that combines
agreeable reading with excellent illustrations.
The author's life is fully and sympathetically treated in
Charles Francis Adams's Richard Henry Dana. Boston, 1890.
The most exhaustive history of California and the Pacific coast in
general is H. H. Bancroft's History of the Pacific States of North
America. San Francisco, 1882-1888. A briefer work is Josiah Royce's
California. Boston, 1886. Though this book considers mainly the
transition period, 1846-1856, its introduction gives an excellent
survey of earlier years. F. J. Turner's Rise of the New West,
which is volume XIV of the American Nation, New York, 1907, tells the
story of the development of the whole territory west of the Mississippi.
Those who are curious to search out all the items of ship construction
will find them adequately illustrated, under the caption, "ship," in
both Standard and Century dictionaries.
Explanation of Diagram
The following diagram, from which many details have been omitted,
presents sufficient data for an understanding of the more important
nautical terms which occur in the text. A number of other such terms
have been explained in the notes. In omitting reference to many more,
the editor has felt that ovarannotation would turn a straightforward
and interesting narrative into a mere excuse for a nautical dictionary,
and quite defeat the purpose of the book. The author's technical
vocabulary, even when most bewildering, serves to give force and the
vividness of local color to his descriptions. To pause in the midst
of a storm at sea for comment and definition would result merely in
checking the movement of the story and putting a damper upon the
Two Years before the Mast affords the teacher a somewhat unusual
opportunity. Few literary works are better calculated to stimulate
inquiry into the remarkable changes which three-quarters of a century
have wrought in the United States. Much profitable class employment
in the drawing of maps and the writing of brief themes dealing with
various phases of the romantic history of California will suggest
itself. The numerous geographical allusions should be traced with
the aid of an atlas.
--+-- | |j|
/| | --+--
/ |f| | |i|
/ +-- ---+---
/ /|e| | | |
/ / +--- | | h|
/ / | | ----+----
/a / |d | | | |
/__/ b +---- | | g |
/ /_____|c | \__|____\
/__/ |___| |
a. Flying jib.
| | |C2
|A2 6--+-- |
3--+-- | 9--+--
| || |
|| | ||
| 5--+-- |
2---+--- |B1 |C1
E --__ |A1 || 8---+---
--__ || | |
--| 4----+---- ||
1----+---- | 7----+---- G __--
| | | __-- /
|A |B |C F __-- \ /
D | | | __-- H\/
A2. Mizzentopgallant and royalmast.
B2. Maintopgallant and royalmast.
C2. Foretopgallant and royalmast.
D. Spanker boom.
E. Spanker gaff.
G. Jib boom and flying jib boom.
H. Martingale boom.
1. Crossjack yard.
2. Mizzentopsail yard.
3. Mizzentopgallant yard.
4. Main yard.
5. Maintopsail yard.
6. Maintopgallant yard.
7. Fore yard.
8. Foretopsail yard.
9. Foretopgallant yard.
[Editor: Many more numbered lifts, stays, and braces were left out
of these simplified diagrams. They are intended to be viewed using
a fixed-width font.]
Each mast section is joined to the lower one in two places:
\_____/ Mast cap.
| | |
| | |
| | |
Each mast also sports net-like rigging from the lowest
trestletree to the deck. These are called "shrouds".
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
I am unwilling to present this narrative to the public without a
few words in explanation of my reasons for publishing it. Since
Mr. Cooper's Pilot and Red Rover, there have been so many stories
of sea-life written, that I should really think it unjustifiable
in me to add one to the number without being able to give reasons
in some measure warranting me in so doing.
With the single exception, as I am quite confident, of Mr. Ames's
entertaining, but hasty and desultory work, called "Mariner's Sketches,"
all the books professing to give life at sea have been written by persons
who have gained their experience as naval officers, or passengers,
and of these, there are very few which are intended to be taken as
narratives of facts.
Now, in the first place, the whole course of life, and daily duties,
the discipline, habits and customs of a man-of-war are very different
from those of the merchant service; and in the next place, however
entertaining and well written these books may be, and however accurately
they may give sea-life as it appears to their authors, it must still be
plain to every one that a naval officer, who goes to sea as a gentleman,
"with his gloves on," (as the phrase is,) and who associated only with
his fellow-officers, and hardly speaks to a sailor except through a
boatswain's mate, must take a very different view of the whole matter
from that which would be taken by a common sailor.
Besides the interest which every one must feel in exhibitions of
life in those forms in which he himself has never experienced it;
there has been, of late years, a great deal of attention directed
toward common seamen, and a strong sympathy awakened in their behalf.
Yet I believe that, with the single exception which I have mentioned,
there has not been a book written, professing to give their life and
experiences, by one who has been of them, and can know what their
life really is. A voice from the forecastle has hardly yet been
In the following pages I design to give an accurate and authentic
narrative of a little more than two years spent as a common sailor,
before the mast, in the American merchant service. It is written
out from a journal which I kept at the time, and from notes which
I made of most of the events as they happened; and in it I have
adhered closely to fact in every particular, and endeavored to give
each thing its true character. In so doing, I have been obliged
occasionally to use strong and coarse expressions, and in some
instances to give scenes which may be painful to nice feelings;
but I have very carefully avoided doing so, whenever I have not
felt them essential to giving the true character of a scene.
My design is, and it is this which has induced me to publish the
book, to present the life of a common sailor at sea as it really
is,--the light and the dark together.
There may be in some parts a good deal that is unintelligible to
the general reader; but I have found from my own experience, and
from what I have heard from others, that plain matters of fact in
relation to customs and habits of life new to us, and descriptions
of life under new aspects, act upon the inexperienced through the
imagination, so that we are hardly aware of our want of technical
knowledge. Thousands read the escape of the American frigate
through the British channel, and the chase and wreck of the Bristol
trader in the Red Rover, and follow the minute nautical manoeuvres
with breathless interest, who do not know the name of a rope in the
ship; and perhaps with none the less admiration and enthusiasm for
their want of acquaintance with the professional detail.
In preparing this narrative I have carefully avoided incorporating
into it any impressions but those made upon me by the events as
they occurred, leaving to my concluding chapter, to which I shall
respectfully call the reader's attention, those views which have
been suggested to me by subsequent reflection.
These reasons, and the advice of a few friends, have led me to give this
narrative to the press. If it shall interest the general reader, and
call more attention to the welfare of seamen, or give any information
as to their real condition, which may serve to raise them in the rank
of beings, and to promote in any measure their religious and moral
improvement, and diminish the hardships of their daily life, the end
of its publication will be answered.
Boston, July, 1840.
The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of
the brig Pilgrim on her voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to the
western coast of North America. As she was to get under weigh early
in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o'clock,
in full sea-rig, and with my chest, containing an outfit for a two
or three year voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination
to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long
absence from books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had
obliged me to give up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed
likely to cure.
The change from the tight dress coat, silk cap, and kid gloves of an
undergraduate at Cambridge, to the loose duck trowsers, checked shirt
and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, though somewhat of a transformation,
was soon made, and I supposed that I should pass very well for a
jack tar. But it is impossible to deceive the practised eye in
these matters; and while I supposed myself to be looking as salt
as Neptune himself, I was, no doubt, known for a landsman by every
one on board as soon as I hove in sight. A sailor has a peculiar
cut to his clothes, and a way of wearing them which a green hand
can never get. The trowsers, tight round the hips, and thence
hanging long and loose round the feet, a superabundance of checked
shirt, a low-crowned, well varnished black hat, worn on the back of
the head, with half a fathom of black ribbon hanging over the left
eye, and a peculiar tie to the black silk neckerchief, with sundry
other minutiae, are signs, the want of which betray the beginner at
once. Beside the points in my dress which were out of the way,
doubtless my complexion and hands were enough to distinguish me
from the regular salt, who, with a sun-burnt cheek, wide step, and
rolling gait, swings his bronzed and toughened hands athwart-ships,
half open, as though just ready to grasp a rope.
"With all my imperfections on my head," I joined the crew, and we
hauled out into the stream, and came to anchor for the night.
The next day we were employed in preparations for sea, reeving
studding-sail gear, crossing royal yards, putting on chafing gear,
and taking on board our powder. On the following night, I stood
my first watch. I remained awake nearly all the first part of
the night from fear that I might not hear when I was called; and
when I went on deck, so great were my ideas of the importance of
my trust, that I walked regularly fore and aft the whole length
of the vessel, looking out over the bows and taffrail at each turn,
and was not a little surprised at the coolness of the old salt whom
I called to take my place, in stowing himself snugly away under the
long boat, for a nap. That was sufficient lookout, he thought, for
a fine night, at anchor in a safe harbor.
The next morning was Saturday, and a breeze having sprung up from
the southward, we took a pilot on board, hove up our anchor, and
began beating down the bay. I took leave of those of my friends
who came to see me off, and had barely opportunity to take a last
look at the city, and well-known objects, as no time is allowed on
board ship for sentiment. As we drew down into the lower harbor,
we found the wind ahead in the bay, and were obliged to come to
anchor in the roads. We remained there through the day and a part
of the night. My watch began at eleven o'clock at night, and I
received orders to call the captain if the wind came out from the
westward. About midnight the wind became fair, and having called
the captain, I was ordered to call all hands. How I accomplished
this I do not know, but I am quite sure I did not give the true
hoarse, boatswain call of "A-a-ll ha-a-a-nds! up anchor, a-ho-oy!"
In a short time every one was in motion, the sails loosed, the yards
braced, and we began to heave up the anchor, which was our last hold
upon Yankee land. I could take but little part in all these preparations.
My little knowledge of a vessel was all at fault. Unintelligible orders
were so rapidly given and so immediately executed; there was such a
hurrying about, and such an intermingling of strange cries and stranger
actions, that I was completely bewildered. There is not so helpless
and pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor's
life. At length those peculiar, long-drawn sounds, which denote that
the crew are heaving the windlass, began, and in a few moments we were
under weigh. The noise of the water thrown from the bows began to be
heard, the vessel leaned over from the damp night breeze, and rolled
with the heavy ground swell, and we had actually begun our long, long
journey. This was literally bidding "good night" to my native land.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS--"SAIL HO!"
The first day we passed at sea was the Sabbath. As we were just from
port, and there was a great deal to be done on board, we were kept at
work all day, and at night the watches were set, and everything put
into sea order. When we were called aft to be divided into watches,
I had a good specimen of the manner of a sea captain. After the
division had been made, he gave a short characteristic speech,
walking the quarter deck with a cigar in his mouth, and dropping
the words out between the puffs.
"Now, my men, we have begun a long voyage. If we get along well
together, we shall have a comfortable time; if we don't, we shall
have hell afloat.--All you've got to do is to obey your orders and
do your duty like men,--then you'll fare well enough;--if you don't,
you'll fare hard enough,--I can tell you. If we pull together, you'll
find me a clever fellow; if we don't, you'll find me a bloody rascal.
--That's all I've got to say.--Go below, the larboard watch!"
I being in the starboard or second mate's watch, had the opportunity
of keeping the first watch at sea. S-----, a young man, making, like
myself, his first voyage, was in the same watch, and as he was the
son of a professional man, and had been in a counting-room in Boston,
we found that we had many friends and topics in common. We talked
these matters over,--Boston, what our friends were probably doing,
our voyage, etc., until he went to take his turn at the look-out,
and left me to myself. I had now a fine time for reflection. I felt
for the first time the perfect silence of the sea. The officer was
walking the quarter deck, where I had no right to go, one or two men
were talking on the forecastle, whom I had little inclination to join,
so that I was left open to the full impression of everything about me.
However much I was affected by the beauty of the sea, the bright stars,
and the clouds driven swiftly over them, I could not but remember that
I was separating myself from all the social and intellectual enjoyments
of life. Yet, strange as it may seem, I did then and afterwards take
pleasure in these reflections, hoping by them to prevent my becoming
insensible to the value of what I was leaving.
But all my dreams were soon put to flight by an order from the
officer to trim the yards, as the wind was getting ahead; and I
could plainly see by the looks the sailors occasionally cast to
windward, and by the dark clouds that were fast coming up, that we
had bad weather to prepare for, and had heard the captain say that
he expected to be in the Gulf Stream by twelve o'clock. In a few
minutes eight bells were struck, the watch called, and we went below.
I now began to feel the first discomforts of a sailor's life.
The steerage in which I lived was filled with coils of rigging,
spare sails, old junk and ship stores, which had not been stowed
away. Moreover, there had been no berths built for us to sleep in,
and we were not allowed to drive nails to hang our clothes upon.
The sea, too, had risen, the vessel was rolling heavily, and
everything was pitched about in grand confusion. There was a
complete "hurrah's nest," as the sailors say, "everything on top
and nothing at hand." A large hawser had been coiled away upon
my chest; my hats, boots, mattress and blankets had all fetched
away and gone over to leeward, and were jammed and broken under
the boxes and coils of rigging. To crown all, we were allowed
no light to find anything with, and I was just beginning to feel
strong symptoms of sea-sickness, and that listlessness and
inactivity which accompany it. Giving up all attempts to collect
my things together, I lay down upon the sails, expecting every moment
to hear the cry of "all hands, ahoy," which the approaching storm would
soon make necessary. I shortly heard the rain-drops falling on deck,
thick and fast, and the watch evidently had their hands full of work,
for I could hear the loud and repeated orders of the mate, the trampling
of feet, the creaking of blocks, and all the accompaniments of a coming
storm. In a few minutes the slide of the hatch was thrown back, which
let down the noise and tumult of the deck still louder, the loud cry of
"All hands, ahoy! tumble up here and take in sail," saluted our ears,
and the hatch was quickly shut again. When I got upon deck, a new
scene and a new experience were before me. The little brig was close
hauled upon the wind, and lying over, as it then seemed to me, nearly
upon her beam ends. The heavy head sea was beating against her bows
with the noise and force almost of a sledge-hammer, and flying over the
deck, drenching us completely through. The topsail halyards had been
let go, and the great sails filling out and backing against the masts
with a noise like thunder. The wind was whistling through the rigging,
loose ropes flying about; loud and, to me, unintelligible orders constantly
given and rapidly executed, and the sailors "singing out" at the ropes in
their hoarse and peculiar strains. In addition to all this, I had not got
my "sea legs on," was dreadfully sick, with hardly strength enough to hold
on to anything, and it was "pitch dark." This was my state when I was
ordered aloft, for the first time, to reef topsails.
How I got along, I cannot now remember. I "laid out" on the yards and
held on with all my strength. I could not have been of much service,
for I remember having been sick several times before I left the topsail
yard. Soon all was snug aloft, and we were again allowed to go below.
This I did not consider much of a favor, for the confusion of everything
below, and that inexpressible sickening smell, caused by the shaking up
of the bilge-water in the hold, made the steerage but an indifferent
refuge from the cold, wet decks. I had often read of the nautical
experiences of others, but I felt as though there could be none worse
than mine; for in addition to every other evil, I could not but remember
that this was only the first night of a two years' voyage. When we were
on deck we were not much better off, for we were continually ordered
about by the officer, who said that it was good for us to be in motion.
Yet anything was better than the horrible state of things below.
I remember very well going to the hatchway and putting my head down,
when I was oppressed by nausea, and always being relieved immediately.
It was as good as an emetic.
This state of things continued for two days.
Wednesday, Aug. 20th. We had the watch on deck from four till eight,
this morning. When we came on deck at four o'clock, we found things
much changed for the better. The sea and wind had gone down, and the
stars were out bright. I experienced a corresponding change in my
feelings; yet continued extremely weak from my sickness. I stood in
the waist on the weather side, watching the gradual breaking of the
day, and the first streaks of the early light. Much has been said of
the sun-rise at sea; but it will not compare with the sun-rise on shore.
It wants the accompaniments of the songs of birds, the awakening hum
of men, and the glancing of the first beams upon trees, hills, spires,
and house-tops, to give it life and spirit. But though the actual
rise of the sun at sea is not so beautiful, yet nothing will compare
with the early breaking of day upon the wide ocean.
There is something in the first grey streaks stretching along the
eastern horizon and throwing an indistinct light upon the face of
the deep, which combines with the boundlessness and unknown depth
of the sea around you, and gives one a feeling of loneliness,
of dread, and of melancholy foreboding, which nothing else in
nature can give. This gradually passes away as the light grows
brighter, and when the sun comes up, the ordinary monotonous sea
From such reflections as these, I was aroused by the order from
the officer, "Forward there! rig the head-pump!" I found that no
time was allowed for day-dreaming, but that we must "turn-to" at the
first light. Having called up the "idlers," namely carpenter, cook,
steward, etc., and rigged the pump, we commenced washing down the decks.
This operation, which is performed every morning at sea, takes nearly
two hours; and I had hardly strength enough to get through it. After
we had finished, swabbed down, and coiled up the rigging, I sat down
on the spars, waiting for seven bells, which was the sign for breakfast.
The officer, seeing my lazy posture, ordered me to slush the main-mast,
from the royal-mast-head, down. The vessel was then rolling a little,
and I had taken no sustenance for three days, so that I felt tempted to
tell him that I had rather wait till after breakfast; but I knew that
I must "take the bull by the horns," and that if I showed any sign of
want of spirit or of backwardness, that I should be ruined at once.
So I took my bucket of grease and climbed up to the royal-mast-head.
Here the rocking of the vessel, which increases the higher you go
from the foot of the mast, which is the fulcrum of the lever, and the
smell of the grease, which offended my fastidious senses, upset my
stomach again, and I was not a little rejoiced when I got upon the
comparative terra firma of the deck. In a few minutes seven bells
were struck, the log hove, the watch called, and we went to breakfast.
Here I cannot but remember the advice of the cook, a simple-hearted
African. "Now," says he, "my lad, you are well cleaned out; you
haven't got a drop of your 'long-shore swash aboard of you. You
must begin on a new tack,--pitch all your sweetmeats overboard,
and turn-to upon good hearty salt beef and sea bread, and I'll
promise you, you'll have your ribs well sheathed, and be as hearty
as any of 'em, afore you are up to the Horn." This would be good
advice to give to passengers, when they speak of the little niceties
which they have laid in, in case of sea-sickness.
I cannot describe the change which half a pound of cold salt beef
and a biscuit or two produced in me. I was a new being. We had
a watch below until noon, so that I had some time to myself;
and getting a huge piece of strong, cold, salt beef from the cook,
I kept gnawing upon it until twelve o'clock. When we went on deck
I felt somewhat like a man, and could begin to learn my sea duty
with considerable spirit. At about two o'clock we heard the loud
cry of "sail ho!" from aloft, and soon saw two sails to windward,
going directly athwart our hawse. This was the first time that
I had seen a sail at sea. I thought then, and always have since,
that it exceeds every other sight in interest and beauty. They
passed to leeward of us, and out of hailing distance; but the
captain could read the names on their sterns with the glass.
They were the ship Helen Mar, of New York, and the brig Mermaid,
of Boston. They were both steering westward, and were bound in for
our "dear native land."
Thursday, Aug. 21st. This day the sun rose clear, we had a fine
wind, and everything was bright and cheerful. I had now got my
sea legs on, and was beginning to enter upon the regular duties
of a sea-life. About six bells, that is, three o'clock, P.M., we
saw a sail on our larboard bow. I was very anxious, like every new
sailor, to speak her. She came down to us, backed her main-top-sail,
and the two vessels stood "head on," bowing and curvetting at each
other like a couple of war-horses reined in by their riders. It was
the first vessel that I had seen near, and I was surprised to find
how much she rolled and pitched in so quiet a sea. She lunged her
head into the sea, and then, her stern settling gradually down, her
huge bows rose up, showing the bright copper, and her stern, and
bresthooks dripping, like old Neptune's locks, with the brine.
Her decks were filled with passengers who had come up at the cry
of "sail ho," and who by their dress and features appeared to be
Swiss and French emigrants. She hailed us at first in French,
but receiving no answer, she tried us in English. She was the
ship La Carolina, from Havre, for New York. We desired her to
report the brig Pilgrim, from Boston, for the north-west coast
of America, five days out. She then filled away and left us to
plough on through our waste of waters. This day ended pleasantly;
we had got into regular and comfortable weather, and into that
routine of sea-life which is only broken by a storm, a sail,
or the sight of land.
As we had now a long "spell" of fine weather, without any incident
to break the monotony of our lives, there can be no better place to
describe the duties, regulations, and customs of an American merchantman,
of which ours was a fair specimen.
The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount. He stands no watch,
comes and goes when he pleases, and is accountable to no one, and must
be obeyed in everything, without a question, even from his chief officer.
He has the power to turn his officers off duty, and even to break them
and make them do duty as sailors in the forecastle. When there are no
passengers and no supercargo, as in our vessel, he has no companion
but his own dignity, and no pleasures, unless he differs from most
of his kind, but the consciousness of possessing supreme power, and,
occasionally, the exercise of it.
The prime minister, the official organ, and the active and superintending
officer, is the chief mate. He is first lieutenant, boatswain,
sailing-master, and quarter-master. The captain tells him what
he wishes to have done, and leaves to him the care of overseeing,
of allotting the work, and also the responsibility of its being
well done. The mate (as he is always called, par excellence)
also keeps the log-book, for which he is responsible to the owners
and insurers, and has the charge of the stowage, safe keeping, and
delivery of the cargo. He is also, ex-officio, the wit of the crew;
for the captain does not condescend to joke with the men, and the
second mate no one cares for; so that when "the mate" thinks fit to
entertain "the people" with a coarse joke or a little practical wit,
every one feels bound to laugh.
The second mate's is proverbially a dog's berth. He is neither
officer nor man. The men do not respect him as an officer, and he
is obliged to go aloft to reef and furl the topsails, and to put
his hands into the tar and slush, with the rest. The crew call
him the "sailor's waiter," as he has to furnish them with spun-yarn,
marline, and all other stuffs that they need in their work, and has
charge of the boatswain's locker, which includes serving-boards,
marline-spikes, etc. He is expected by the captain to maintain
his dignity and to enforce obedience, and still is kept at a great
distance from the mate, and obliged to work with the crew. He is
one to whom little is given and of whom much is required. His wages
are usually double those of a common sailor, and he eats and sleeps
in the cabin; but he is obliged to be on deck nearly all the time,
and eats at the second table, that is, makes a meal out of what the
captain and chief mate leave.
The steward is the captain's servant, and has charge of the pantry,
from which every one, even the mate himself, is excluded. These
distinctions usually find him an enemy in the mate, who does not
like to have any one on board who is not entirely under his control;
the crew do not consider him as one of their number, so he is left
to the mercy of the captain.
The cook is the patron of the crew, and those who are in his favor
can get their wet mittens and stockings dried, or light their pipes
at the galley on the night watch. These two worthies, together
with the carpenter and sailmaker, if there be one, stand no watch,
but, being employed all day, are allowed to "sleep in" at night,
unless all hands are called.
The crew are divided into two divisions, as equally as may be, called
the watches. Of these the chief mate commands the larboard, and the
second mate the starboard. They divide the time between them, being
on and off duty, or, as it is called, on deck and below, every other
four hours. If, for instance, the chief mate with the larboard watch
have the first night-watch from eight to twelve; at the end of the
four hours, the starboard watch is called, and the second mate takes
the deck, while the larboard watch and the first mate go below until
four in the morning, when they come on deck again and remain until
eight; having what is called the morning watch. As they will have
been on deck eight hours out of the twelve, while those who had the
middle watch--from twelve to four, will only have been up four hours,
they have what is called a "forenoon watch below," that is, from
eight, A.M., till twelve, M. In a man-of-war, and in some merchantmen,
this alteration of watches is kept up throughout the twenty-four hours;
but our ship, like most merchantmen, had "all hands" from twelve o'clock
till dark, except in bad weather, when we had "watch and watch."
An explanation of the "dog watches" may, perhaps, be of use to one
who has never been at sea. They are to shift the watches each
night, so that the same watch need not be on deck at the same hours.
In order to effect this, the watch from four to eight, P.M.,
is divided into two half, or dog watches, one from four to six,
and the other from six to eight. By this means they divide the
twenty-four hours into seven watches instead of six, and thus
shift the hours every night. As the dog watches come during twilight,
after the day's work is done, and before the night watch is set, they
are the watches in which everybody is on deck. The captain is up,
walking on the weather side of the quarter-deck, the chief mate is
on the lee side, and the second mate about the weather gangway.
The steward has finished his work in the cabin, and has come up to
smoke his pipe with the cook in the galley. The crew are sitting on
the windlass or lying on the forecastle, smoking, singing, or telling
long yarns. At eight o'clock, eight bells are struck, the log is hove,
the watch set, the wheel relieved, the galley shut up, and the other
watch goes below.
The morning commences with the watch on deck's "turning-to" at
day-break and washing down, scrubbing, and swabbing the decks.
This, together with filling the "scuttled butt" with fresh water,
and coiling up the rigging, usually occupies the time until seven
bells, (half after seven,) when all hands get breakfast. At eight,
the day's work begins, and lasts until sun-down, with the exception
of an hour for dinner.
Before I end my explanations, it may be well to define a day's work,
and to correct a mistake prevalent among landsmen about a sailor's
life. Nothing is more common than to hear people say--"Are not sailors
very idle at sea?--what can they find to do?" This is a very natural
mistake, and being very frequently made, it is one which every sailor
feels interested in having corrected. In the first place, then, the
discipline of the ship requires every man to be at work upon something
when he is on deck, except at night and on Sundays. Except at these
times, you will never see a man, on board a well-ordered vessel,
standing idle on deck, sitting down, or leaning over the side.
It is the officers' duty to keep every one at work, even if there
is nothing to be done but to scrape the rust from the chain cables.
In no state prison are the convicts more regularly set to work, and
more closely watched. No conversation is allowed among the crew at
their duty, and though they frequently do talk when aloft, or when
near one another, yet they always stop when an officer is nigh.
With regard to the work upon which the men are put, it is a matter
which probably would not be understood by one who has not been at
sea. When I first left port, and found that we were kept regularly
employed for a week or two, I supposed that we were getting the vessel
into sea trim, and that it would soon be over, and we should have
nothing to do but sail the ship; but I found that it continued so
for two years, and at the end of the two years there was as much to
be done as ever. As has often been said, a ship is like a lady's
watch, always out of repair. When first leaving port, studding-sail
gear is to be rove, all the running rigging to be examined, that
which is unfit for use to be got down, and new rigging rove in its
place: then the standing rigging is to be overhauled, replaced,
and repaired, in a thousand different ways; and wherever any of
the numberless ropes or the yards are chafing or wearing upon it,
there "chafing gear," as it is called, must be put on. This chafing
gear consists of worming, parcelling, roundings, battens, and service
of all kinds--both rope-yarns, spun-yarn, marline and seizing-stuffs.
Taking off, putting on, and mending the chafing gear alone, upon a
vessel, would find constant employment for two or three men, during
working hours, for a whole voyage.
The next point to be considered is, that all the "small stuffs" which
are used on board a ship--such as spun-yarn, marline, seizing-stuff,
etc.--are made on board. The owners of a vessel buy up incredible
quantities of "old junk," which the sailors unlay, after drawing out
the yarns, knot them together, and roll them up in balls. These
"rope-yarns" are constantly used for various purposes, but the
greater part is manufactured into spun-yarn. For this purpose
every vessel is furnished with a "spun-yarn winch;" which is very
simple, consisting of a wheel and spindle. This may be heard
constantly going on deck in pleasant weather; and we had employment,
during a great part of the time, for three hands in drawing and
knotting yarns, and making them spun-yarn.
Another method of employing the crew is, "setting up" rigging.
Whenever any of the standing rigging becomes slack, (which is
continually happening), the seizings and coverings must be taken
off, tackles got up, and after the rigging is bowsed well taught,
the seizings and coverings replaced; which is a very nice piece of work.
There is also such a connection between different parts of a vessel,
that one rope can seldom be touched without altering another.
You cannot stay a mast aft by the back stays, without slacking up
the head stays, etc. If we add to this all the tarring, greasing,
oiling, varnishing, painting, scraping, and scrubbing which is
required in the course of a long voyage, and also remember this
is all to be done in addition to watching at night, steering,
reefing, furling, bracing, making and setting sail, and pulling,
hauling, and climbing in every direction, one will hardly ask,
"What can a sailor find to do at sea?"
If, after all this labor--after exposing their lives and limbs in
storms, wet and cold,
"Wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch;
The lion and the belly-pinched wolf
Keep their fur dry;--"
the merchants and captain think that they have not earned their
twelve dollars a month, (out of which they clothe themselves,) and
their salt beef and hard bread, they keep them picking oakum--
ad infinitum. This is the usual resource upon a rainy day, for
then it will not do to work upon rigging; and when it is pouring
down in floods, instead of letting the sailors stand about in
sheltered places, and talk, and keep themselves comfortable,
they are separated to different parts of the ship and kept at
work picking oakum. I have seen oakum stuff placed about in
different parts of the ship, so that the sailors might not be
idle in the snatches between the frequent squalls upon crossing
the equator. Some officers have been so driven to find work for
the crew in a ship ready for sea, that they have set them to
pounding the anchors (often done) and scraping the chain cables.
The "Philadelphia Catechism" is,
"Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
And on the seventh--holystone the decks and scrape the cable."
This kind of work, of course, is not kept up off Cape Horn,
Cape of Good Hope, and in extreme north and south latitudes;
but I have seen the decks washed down and scrubbed, when the
water would have frozen if it had been fresh; and all hands
kept at work upon the rigging, when we had on our pea-jackets,
and our hands so numb that we could hardly hold our marline-spikes.
I have here gone out of my narrative course in order that any who
read this may form as correct an idea of a sailor's life and duty
as possible. I have done it in this place because, for some time,
our life was nothing but the unvarying repetition of these duties,
which can be better described together. Before leaving this
description, however, I would state, in order to show landsmen how
little they know of the nature of a ship, that a ship-carpenter
is kept in constant employ during good weather on board vessels
which are in, what is called, perfect sea order.
A ROGUE--TROUBLE ON BOARD--"LAND HO!"--POMPERO--CAPE HORN
After speaking the Carolina, on the 21st August, nothing occurred
to break the monotony of our life until
Friday, September 5th, when we saw a sail on our weather (starboard)
beam. She proved to be a brig under English colors, and passing
under our stern, reported herself as forty-nine days from Buenos Ayres,
bound to Liverpool. Before she had passed us, "sail ho!" was cried again,
and we made another sail, far on our weather bow, and steering athwart our
hawse. She passed out of hail, but we made her out to be an hermaphrodite
brig, with Brazilian colors in her main rigging. By her course, she must
have been bound from Brazil to the south of Europe, probably Portugal.
Sunday, Sept. 7th. Fell in with the north-east trade winds.
This morning we caught our first dolphin, which I was very eager to see.
I was disappointed in the colors of this fish when dying. They were
certainly very beautiful, but not equal to what has been said of them.
They are too indistinct. To do the fish justice, there is nothing more
beautiful than the dolphin when swimming a few feet below the surface,
on a bright day. It is the most elegantly formed, and also the quickest
fish, in salt water; and the rays of the sun striking upon it, in its
rapid and changing motions, reflected from the water, make it look
like a stray beam from a rainbow.
This day was spent like all pleasant Sabbaths at sea. The decks are
washed down, the rigging coiled up, and everything put in order;
and throughout the day, only one watch is kept on deck at a time.
The men are all dressed in their best white duck trowsers, and red
or checked shirts, and have nothing to do but to make the necessary
changes in the sails. They employ themselves in reading, talking,
smoking, and mending their clothes. If the weather is pleasant,
they bring their work and their books upon deck, and sit down upon
the forecastle and windlass. This is the only day on which these
privileges are allowed them. When Monday comes, they put on their
tarry trowsers again, and prepare for six days of labor.
To enhance the value of the Sabbath to the crew, they are allowed on
that day a pudding, or, as it is called, a "duff." This is nothing
more than flour boiled with water, and eaten with molasses. It is
very heavy, dark, and clammy, yet it is looked upon as a luxury,
and really forms an agreeable variety with salt beef and pork.
Many a rascally captain has made friends of his crew by allowing
them duff twice a week on the passage home.
On board some vessels this is made a day of instruction and of
religious exercises; but we had a crew of swearers, from the
captain to the smallest boy; and a day of rest, and of something
like quiet, social enjoyment, was all that we could expect.
We continued running large before the north-east trade winds for
several days, until Monday--
September 22d; when, upon coming on deck at seven bells in the
morning, we found the other watch aloft throwing water upon the
sails; and looking astern, we saw a small clipper-built brig with
a black hull heading directly after us. We went to work immediately,
and put all the canvas upon the brig which we could get upon her,
rigging out oars for studding-sail yards; and continued wetting
down the sails by buckets of water whipped up to the mast-head,
until about nine o'clock, when there came on a drizzling rain.
The vessel continued in pursuit, changing her course as we changed
ours, to keep before the wind. The captain, who watched her with
his glass, said that she was armed, and full of men, and showed no
colors. We continued running dead before the wind, knowing that
we sailed better so, and that clippers are fastest on the wind.
We had also another advantage. The wind was light, and we spread
more canvas than she did, having royals and sky-sails fore and aft,
and ten studding-sails; while she, being an hermaphrodite brig, had
only a gaff topsail, aft. Early in the morning she was overhauling
us a little, but after the rain came on and the wind grew lighter,
we began to leave her astern. All hands remained on deck throughout
the day, and we got our arms in order; but we were too few to have
done anything with her, if she had proved to be what we feared.
Fortunately there was no moon, and the night which followed was
exceedingly dark, so that by putting out all the lights and altering
our course four points, we hoped to get out of her reach. We had no
light in the binnacle, but steered by the stars, and kept perfect
silence through the night. At daybreak there was no sign of anything
in the horizon, and we kept the vessel off to her course.
Wednesday, October 1st. Crossed the equator in long. 24° 24' W.
I now, for the first time, felt at liberty, according to the old
usage, to call myself a son of Neptune, and was very glad to be
able to claim the title without the disagreeable initiation which
so many have to go through. After once crossing the line you can
never be subjected to the process, but are considered as a son of
Neptune, with full powers to play tricks upon others. This ancient
custom is now seldom allowed, unless there are passengers on board,
in which case there is always a good deal of sport.
It had been obvious to all hands for some time that the second mate,
whose name was F-----, was an idle, careless fellow, and not much of
a sailor, and that the captain was exceedingly dissatisfied with him.
The power of the captain in these cases was well known, and we all
anticipated a difficulty. F----- (called Mr. by virtue of his office)
was but half a sailor, having always been short voyages and remained at
home a long time between them. His father was a man of some property,
and intended to have given his son a liberal education; but he, being
idle and worthless, was sent off to sea, and succeeded no better there;
for, unlike many scamps, he had none of the qualities of a sailor--
he was "not of the stuff that they make sailor of." He was one of that
class of officers who are disliked by their captain and despised by the
crew. He used to hold long yarns with the crew, and talk about the
captain, and play with the boys, and relax discipline in every way.
This kind of conduct always makes the captain suspicious, and is never
pleasant, in the end, to the men; they preferring to have an officer
active, vigilant, and distant as may be, with kindness. Among other bad
practices, he frequently slept on his watch, and having been discovered
asleep by the captain, he was told that he would be turned off duty if
he did it again. To prevent it in every way possible, the hen-coops
were ordered to be knocked up, for the captain never sat down on deck
himself, and never permitted an officer to do so.
The second night after crossing the equator, we had the watch from
eight till twelve, and it was "my helm" for the last two hours.
There had been light squalls through the night, and the captain
told Mr. F-----, who commanded our watch, to keep a bright look-out.
Soon after I came to the helm, I found that he was quite drowsy,
and at last he stretched himself on the companion and went fast asleep.
Soon afterwards, the captain came very quietly on deck, and stood
by me for some time looking at the compass. The officer at length
became aware of the captain's presence, but pretending not to know it,
began humming and whistling to himself, to show that he was not asleep,
and went forward, without looking behind him, and ordered the main
royal to be loosed. On turning round to come aft, he pretended
surprise at seeing the master on deck. This would not do.
The captain was too "wide awake" for him, and beginning upon him
at once, gave him a grand blow-up, in true nautical style--"You're
a lazy, good-for-nothing rascal; you're neither man, boy, soger,
nor sailor! you're no more than a thing aboard a vessel! you don't
earn your salt! you're worse than a Mahon soger!" and other still
more choice extracts from the sailor's vocabulary. After the poor
fellow had taken the harangue, he was sent into his state-room,
and the captain stood the rest of the watch himself.
At seven bells in the morning, all hands were called aft and told
that F----- was no longer an officer on board, and that we might
choose one of our own number for second mate. It is usual for the
captain to make this offer, and it is very good policy, for the
crew think themselves the choosers and are flattered by it, but have
to obey, nevertheless. Our crew, as is usual, refused to take the
responsibility of choosing a man of whom we would never be able
to complain, and left it to the captain. He picked out an active
and intelligent young sailor, born near the Kennebee, who had been
several Canton voyages, and proclaimed him in the following manner:
"I choose Jim Hall--he's your second mate. All you've got to do is,
to obey him as you would me; and remember that he is Mr. Hall."
F----- went forward into the forecastle as a common sailor, and lost
the handle to his name, while young fore-mast Jim became Mr. Hall,
and took up his quarters in the land of knives and forks and tea-cups.
Sunday, October 5th. It was our morning watch; when, soon after the
day began to break, a man on the forecastle called out, "Land ho!"
I had never heard the cry before, and did not know what it meant,
(and few would suspect what the words were, when hearing the strange
sound for the first time,) but I soon found, by the direction of
all eyes, that there was land stretching along our weather beam.
We immediately took in studding-sails and hauled our wind, running in
for the land. This was done to determine our longitude; for by the
captain's chronometer we were in 25º W., but by his observations we
were much farther, and he had been for some time in doubt whether
it was his chronometer or his sextant which was out of order.
This land-fall settled the matter, and the former instrument was
condemned, and becoming still worse, was never afterwards used.
As we ran in towards the coast, we found that we were directly off
the port of Pernambuco, and could see with the telescope the roofs
of the houses, and one large church, and the town of Olinda. We ran
along by the mouth of the harbor, and saw a full-rigged brig going in.
At two, P.M., we again kept off before the wind, leaving the land on
our quarter, and at sun-down, it was out of sight. It was here that
I first saw one of those singular things called catamarans. They are
composed of logs lashed together upon the water; have one large sail,
are quite fast, and, strange as it may seem, are trusted as good
sea boats. We saw several, with from one to three men in each,
boldly putting out to sea, after it had become almost dark.
The Indians go out in them after fish, and as the weather is
regular in certain seasons, they have no fear. After taking a
new departure from Olinda, we kept off on our way to Cape Horn.
We met with nothing remarkable until we were in the latitude of the
river La Plata. Here there are violent gales from the south-west,
called Pomperos, which are very destructive to the shipping in the
river, and are felt for many leagues at sea. They are usually
preceded by lightning. The captain told the mates to keep a bright
look-out, and if they saw lightning at the south-west, to take in
sail at once. We got the first touch of one during my watch on deck.
I was walking in the lee gangway, and thought that I saw lightning
on the lee bow. I told the second mate, who came over and looked
out for some time. It was very black in the south-west, and in
about ten minutes we saw a distinct flash. The wind, which had
been south-east, had now left us, and it was dead calm. We sprang
aloft immediately and furled the royals and top-gallant-sails,
and took in the flying jib, hauled up the mainsail and trysail,
squared the after yards, and awaited the attack. A huge mist
capped with black clouds came driving towards us, extending over
that quarter of the horizon, and covering the stars, which shone
brightly in the other part of the heavens. It came upon us at
once with a blast, and a shower of hail and rain, which almost
took our breath from us. The hardiest was obliged to turn his back.
We let the halyards run, and fortunately were not taken aback.
The little vessel "paid off" from the wind, and ran on for some
time directly before it, tearing through the water with everything
flying. Having called all hands, we close-reefed the topsails and
trysail, furled the courses and job, set the fore-top-mast staysail,
and brought her up nearly to her course, with the weather braces
hauled in a little, to ease her.
This was the first blow, that I had seen, which could really be
called a gale. We had reefed our topsails in the Gulf Stream, and
I thought it something serious, but an older sailor would have thought
nothing of it. As I had now become used to the vessel and to my duty,
I was of some service on a yard, and could knot my reef-point as
well as anybody. I obeyed the order to lay(1) aloft with the rest,
1. This word "lay," which is in such general use on board ship,
being used in giving orders instead of "go"; as "Lay forward!"
"Lay aft!" "Lay aloft!" etc., I do not understand to be the
neuter verb, lie, mispronounced, but to be the active verb lay,
with the objective case understood; as "Lay yourselves forwards!"
"Lay yourselves aft!" etc.
and found the reefing a very exciting scene; for one watch reefed the
fore-topsail, and the other the main, and every one did his utmost to
get his topsail hoisted first. We had a great advantage over the
larboard watch, because the chief mate never goes aloft, while our
new second mate used to jump into the rigging as soon as we began to
haul out the reef-tackle, and have the weather earing passed before
there was a man upon the yard. In this way we were almost always
able to raise the cry of "Haul out to leeward" before them, and having
knotted our points, would slide down the shrouds and back-stays,
and sing out at the topsail halyards to let it be known that we were
ahead of them. Reefing is the most exciting part of a sailor's duty.
All hands are engaged upon it, and after the halyards are let go,
there is no time to be lost--no "sogering," or hanging back, then.
If one is not quick enough, another runs over him. The first on the
yard goes to the weather earing, the second to the lee, and the next
two to the "dog's ears;" while the others lay along into the bunt,
just giving each other elbow-room. In reefing, the yard-arms
(the extremes of the yards) are the posts of honor; but in furling,
the strongest and most experienced stand in the slings, (or, middle
of the yard,) to make up the bunt. If the second mate is a smart
fellow, he will never let any one take either of these posts from him;
but if he is wanting either in seamanship, strength, or activity,
some better man will get the bunt and earings from him; which
immediately brings him into disrepute.
We remained for the rest of the night, and throughout the next day,
under the same close sail, for it continued to blow very fresh;
and though we had no more hail, yet there was a soaking rain,
and it was quite cold and uncomfortable; the more so, because we
were not prepared for cold weather, but had on our thin clothes.
We were glad to get a watch below, and put on our thick clothing,
boots, and south-westers. Towards sun-down the gale moderated
a little, and it began to clear off in the south-west. We shook
our reefs out, one by one, and before midnight had top-gallant
sails upon her.
We had now made up our minds for Cape Horn and cold weather,
and entered upon every necessary preparation.
Tuesday, Nov. 4th. At day-break, saw land upon our larboard quarter.
There were two islands, of different size but of the same shape;
rather high, beginning low at the water's edge, and running with
a curved ascent to the middle. They were so far off as to be of
a deep blue color, and in a few hours we sank them in the north-east.
These were the Falkland Islands. We had run between them and the
main land of Patagonia. At sun-set the second mate, who was at
the masthead, said that he saw land on the starboard bow. This must
have been the island of Staten Land; and we were now in the region
of Cape Horn, with a fine breeze from the northward, top-mast and
top-gallant studding-sails set, and every prospect of a speedy and
pleasant passage round.
CAPE HORN--A VISIT
Wednesday, Nov. 5th. The weather was fine during the previous night,
and we had a clear view of the Magellan Clouds, and of the Southern Cross.
The Magellan Clouds consist of three small nebulae in the southern
part of the heavens,--two bright, like the milky-way, and one dark.
These are first seen, just above the horizon, soon after crossing
the southern tropic. When off Cape Horn, they are nearly overhead.
The cross is composed of four stars in that form, and is said to be
the brightest constellation in the heavens.
During the first part of this day (Wednesday) the wind was light,
but after noon it came on fresh, and we furled the royals. We still
kept the studding-sails out, and the captain said he should go round
with them, if he could. Just before eight o'clock, (then about sun-down,
in that latitude,) the cry of "All hands ahoy!" was sounded down
the fore scuttle and the after hatchway, and hurrying upon deck,
we found a large black cloud rolling on toward us from the south-west,
and blackening the whole heavens. "Here comes the Cape Horn!" said
the chief mate; and we had hardly time to haul down and clew up,
before it was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier sea was raised
than I had ever seen before, and as it was directly ahead, the little
brig, which was no better than a bathing machine, plunged into it,
and all the forward part of her was under water; the sea pouring in
through the bow-ports and hawse-hole and over the knight-heads,
threatening to wash everything overboard. In the lee scuppers it
was up to a man's waist. We sprang aloft and double reefed the
topsails, and furled all the other sails, and made all snug.
But this would not do; the brig was laboring and straining against
the head sea, and the gale was growing worse and worse. At the same
time the sleet and hail were driving with all fury against us.
We clewed down, and hauled out the reef-tackles again, and close-reefed
the fore-topsail, and furled the main, and hove her to on the starboard
tack. Here was an end to our fine prospects. We made up our minds to
head winds and cold weather; sent down the royal yards, and unrove
the gear, but all the rest of the top hamper remained aloft, even to
the sky-sail masts and studding-sail booms.
Throughout the night it stormed violently--rain, hail, snow, and
sleet beating down upon the vessel--the wind continuing to break ahead,
and the sea running high. At daybreak (about three, A.M.) the deck
was covered with snow. The captain sent up the steward with a glass
of grog to each of the watch; and all the time that we were off the Cape,
grog was given to the morning watch, and to all hands whenever we reefed
topsails. The clouds cleared away at sun-rise, and the wind becoming
more fair, we again made sail and stood nearly up to our course.
Thursday, Nov. 6th. It continued more pleasant through the first
part of the day, but at night we had the same scene over again.
This time, we did not heave to, as on the night before, but endeavored
to beat to windward under close-reefed top-sails, balance-reefed trysail,
and fore top-mast stay-sail. This night it was my turn to steer, or,
as the sailors say, my trick at the helm, for two hours. Inexperienced
as I was, I made out to steer to the satisfaction of the officer,
and neither S----- nor myself gave up our tricks, all the time that
we were off the Cape. This was something to boast of, for it requires
a good deal of skill and watchfulness to steer a vessel close hauled,
in a gale of wind, against a heavy head sea. "Ease her when she pitches,"
is the word; and a little carelessness in letting her ship a heavy sea,
might sweep the decks, or knock masts out of her.
Friday, Nov. 7th. Towards morning the wind went down, and during
the whole forenoon we lay tossing about in a dead calm, and in the
midst of a thick fog. The calms here are unlike those in most parts
of the world, for there is always such a high sea running, and the
periods of calm are so short, that it has no time to go down;
and vessels, being under no command of sails or rudder, lie like
logs upon the water. We were obliged to steady the booms and yards
by guys and braces, and to lash everything well below. We now found
our top hamper of some use, for though it is liable to be carried
away or sprung by the sudden "bringing up" of a vessel when pitching
in a chopping sea, yet it is a great help in steadying a vessel when
rolling in a long swell; giving it more slowness, ease, and regularity
to the motion.
The calm of the morning reminds me of a scene which I forgot to
describe at the time of its occurrence, but which I remember from
its being the first time that I had heard the near breathing of whales.
It was on the night that we passed between the Falkland Islands and
Staten Land. We had the watch from twelve to four, and coming upon deck,
found the little brig lying perfectly still, surrounded by a thick fog,
and the sea as smooth as though oil had been poured upon it; yet now
and then a long, low swell rolling over its surface, slightly lifting
the vessel, but without breaking the glassy smoothness of the water.
We were surrounded far and near by shoals of sluggish whales and
grampuses; which the fog prevented our seeing, rising slowly to the
surface, or perhaps lying out at length, heaving out those peculiar
lazy, deep, and long-drawn breathings which give such an impression
of supineness and strength. Some of the watch were asleep, and the
others were perfectly still, so that there was nothing to break the
illusion, and I stood leaning over the bulwarks, listening to the
slow breathing of the mighty creatures--now one breaking the water
just alongside, whose black body I almost fancied that I could see
through the fog; and again another, which I could just hear in the
distance--until the low and regular swell seemed like the heaving
of the ocean's mighty bosom to the sound of its heavy and long-drawn
Towards the evening of this day, (Friday 7th,) the fog cleared off,
and we had every appearance of a cold blow; and soon after sun-down
it came on. Again it was clew up and haul down, reef and furl,
until we had got her down to close-reefed topsails, double-reefed
trysail, and reefed forespenser. Snow, hail, and sleet were driving
upon us most of the night, and the sea was breaking over the bows
and covering the forward part of the little vessel; but as she would
lay her course the captain refused to heave her to.
Saturday, Nov. 8th. This day commenced with calm and thick fog,
and ended with hail, snow, a violent wind, and close-reefed topsails.
Sunday, Nov. 9th. To-day the sun rose clear and continued so until
twelve o'clock, when the captain got an observation. This was very
well for Cape Horn, and we thought it a little remarkable that,
as we had not had one unpleasant Sunday during the whole voyage,
the only tolerable day here should be a Sunday. We got time to
clear up the steerage and forecastle, and set things to rights,
and to overhaul our wet clothes a little. But this did not last
very long. Between five and six--the sun was then nearly three
hours high--the cry of "All starbowlines ahoy!" summoned our watch
on deck; and immediately all hands were called. A true specimen
of Cape Horn was coming upon us. A great cloud of a dark slate-color
was driving on us from the south-west; and we did our best to take
in sail, (for the light sails had been set during the first part of
the day,) before we were in the midst of it. We had got the light
sails furled, the courses hauled up, and the topsail reef-tackles
hauled out, and were just mounting the fore-rigging, when the storm
struck us. In an instant the sea, which had been comparatively quiet,
was running higher and higher; and it became almost as dark as night.
The hail and sleet were harder than I had yet felt them; seeming to
almost pin us down to the rigging. We were longer taking in sail
than ever before; for the sails were stiff and wet, the ropes and
rigging covered with snow and sleet, and we ourselves cold and nearly
blinded with the violence of the storm. By the time we had got down
upon deck again, the little brig was plunging madly into a tremendous
head sea, which at every drive rushed in through the bow-ports and
over the bows, and buried all the forward part of the vessel. At this
instant the chief mate, who was standing on the top of the windlass,
at the foot of the spenser mast, called out, "Lay out there and furl
the jib!" This was no agreeable or safe duty, yet it must be done.
An old Swede, (the best sailor on board,) who belonged on the forecastle,
sprang out upon the bowsprit. Another one must go: I was near the mate,
and sprang forward, threw the down-haul over the windlass, and jumped
between the knight-heads out upon the bowsprit. The crew stood abaft
the windlass and hauled the jib down, while we got out upon the weather
side of the jib-boom, our feet on the foot ropes, holding on by the spar,
the great jib flying off to leeward and slatting so as almost to throw
us off of the boom. For some time we could do nothing but hold on,
and the vessel diving into two huge seas, one after the other, plunged us
twice into the water up to our chins. We hardly knew whether we were
on or off; when coming up, dripping from the water, we were raised high
into the air. John (that was the sailor's name) thought the boom
would go, every moment, and called out to the mate to keep the vessel
off, and haul down the staysail; but the fury of the wind and the
breaking of the seas against the bows defied every attempt to make
ourselves heard, and we were obliged to do the best we could in our
situation. Fortunately, no other seas so heavy struck her, and we
succeeded in furling the jib "after a fashion"; and, coming in over
the staysail nettings, were not a little pleased to find that all
was snug, and the watch gone below; for we were soaked through,
and it was very cold. The weather continued nearly the same
through the night.
Monday, Nov. 10th. During a part of this day we were hove to,
but the rest of the time were driving on, under close-reefed sails,
with a heavy sea, a strong gale, and frequent squalls of hail and snow.
Tuesday, Nov. 11th. The same.
Wednesday, Nov. 12th. The same.
Thursday, Nov. 13th. The same.
We had now got hardened to Cape weather, the vessel was under
reduced sail, and everything secured on deck and below, so that
we had little to do but steer and to stand our watch. Our clothes
were all wet through, and the only change was from wet to more wet.
It was in vain to think of reading or working below, for we were
too tired, the hatchways were closed down, and everything was wet
and uncomfortable, black and dirty, heaving and pitching. We had
only to come below when the watch was out, wring out our wet clothes,
hang them up, and turn in and sleep as soundly as we could, until the
watch was called again. A sailor can sleep anywhere--no sound of
wind, water, wood or iron can keep him awake--and we were always
fast asleep when three blows on the hatchway, and the unwelcome
cry of "All starbowlines ahoy! eight bells there below! do you
hear the news?" (the usual formula of calling the watch), roused us
up from our berths upon the cold, wet decks. The only time when we
could be said to take any pleasure was at night and morning, when we
were allowed a tin pot full of hot tea, (or, as the sailors significantly
call it, "water bewitched,") sweetened with molasses. This, bad as
it was, was still warm and comforting, and, together with our sea
biscuit and cold salt beef, made quite a meal. Yet even this meal
was attended with some uncertainty. We had to go ourselves to the
galley and take our kid of beef and tin pots of tea, and run the
risk of losing them before we could get below. Many a kid of beef
have I seen rolling in the scuppers, and the bearer lying at his
length on the decks. I remember an English lad who was always the
life of the crew, but whom we afterwards lost overboard, standing for
nearly ten minutes at the galley, with this pot of tea in his hand,
waiting for a chance to get down into the forecastle; and seeing
what he thought was a "smooth spell," started to go forward. He had
just got to the end of the windlass, when a great sea broke over the
bows, and for a moment I saw nothing of him but his head and shoulders;
and at the next instant, being taken off of his legs, he was carried
aft with the sea, until her stern lifting up and sending the water
forward, he was left high and dry at the side of the long-boat,
still holding on to his tin pot, which had now nothing in it but
salt water. But nothing could ever daunt him, or overcome, for a
moment, his habitual good humor. Regaining his legs, and shaking
his fist at the man at the wheel, he rolled below, saying, as he
passed, "A man's no sailor, if he can't take a joke." The ducking
was not the worst of such an affair, for, as there was an allowance
of tea, you could get no more from the galley; and though sailors
would never suffer a man to go without, but would always turn in
a little from their own pots to fill up his, yet this was at best
but dividing the loss among all hands.
Something of the same kind befell me a few days after. The cook
had just made for us a mess of hot "scouse"--that is, biscuit pounded
fine, salt beef cut into small pieces, and a few potatoes, boiled up
together and seasoned with pepper. This was a rare treat, and I,
being the last at the galley, had it put in my charge to carry down
for the mess. I got along very well as far as the hatchway, and was
just getting down the steps, when a heavy sea, lifting the stern out
of water, and passing forward, dropping it down again, threw the steps
from their place, and I came down into the steerage a little faster
than I meant to, with the kid on top of me, and the whole precious
mess scattered over the floor. Whatever your feelings may be,
you must make a joke of everything at sea; and if you were to fall
from aloft and be caught in the belly of a sail, and thus saved
from instant death, it would not do to look at all disturbed,
or to make a serious matter of it.
Friday, Nov. 14th. We were now well to the westward of the Cape
and were changing our course to the northward as much as we dared,
since the strong south-west winds, which prevailed then, carried us
in toward Patagonia. At two, P.M., we saw a sail on our larboard beam,
and at four we made it out to be a large ship, steering our course,
under single-reefed topsails. We at that time had shaken the reefs
out of our topsails, as the wind was lighter, and set the main
top-gallant sail. As soon as our captain saw what sail she was under,
he set the fore top-gallant sail and flying jib; and the old whaler--
for such, his boats and short sail showed him to be--felt a little
ashamed, and shook the reefs out of his topsails, but could do no more,
for he had sent down his top-gallant masts off the Cape. He ran down
for us, and answered our hail as the whale-ship, New England,
of Poughkeepsie, one hundred and twenty days from New York.
Our captain gave our name, and added, ninety-two days from Boston.
They then had a little conversation about longitude, in which they
found that they could not agree. The ship fell astern, and continued
in sight during the night. Toward morning, the wind having become
light, we crossed our royal and skysail yards, and at daylight we
were seen under a cloud of sail, having royal and skysails fore
and aft. The "spouter," as the sailors call a whaleman, had sent
up his main top-gallant mast and set the sail, and made signal for
us to heave to. About half-past seven their whale-boat came alongside,
and Captain Job Terry sprang on board, a man known in every port and
by every vessel in the Pacific ocean. "Don't you know Job Terry?
I thought everybody knew Job Terry," said a green-hand, who came in
the boat, to me, when I asked him about his captain. He was indeed
a singular man. He was six feet high, wore thick, cowhide boots,
and brown coat and trowsers, and, except a sun-burnt complexion,
had not the slightest appearance of a sailor; yet he had been forty
years in the whale trade, and, as he said himself, had owned ships,
built ships, and sailed ships. His boat's crew were a pretty raw set,
just out of the bush, and as the sailor's phrase is, "hadn't got the
hayseed out of their hair." Captain Terry convinced our captain that
our reckoning was a little out, and, having spent the day on board,
put off in his boat at sunset for his ship, which was now six or
eight miles astern. He began a "yarn" when he came on board,
which lasted, with but little intermission, for four hours.
It was all about himself, and the Peruvian government, and the
Dublin frigate, and Lord James Townshend, and President Jackson,
and the ship Ann M'Kim of Baltimore. It would probably never have
come to an end, had not a good breeze sprung up, which sent him off
to his own vessel. One of the lads who came in his boat, a thoroughly
countrified-looking fellow, seemed to care very little about the vessel,
rigging, or anything else, but went round looking at the live stock,
and leaned over the pig-sty, and said he wished he was back again
tending his father's pigs.
At eight o'clock we altered our course to the northward, bound for
This day we saw the last of the albatrosses, which had been our
companions a great part of the time off the Cape. I had been
interested in the bird from descriptions which I had read of it,
and was not at all disappointed. We caught one or two with a
baited hook which we floated astern upon a shingle. Their long,
flapping wings, long legs, and large, staring eyes, give them a
very peculiar appearance. They look well on the wing; but one
of the finest sights that I have ever seen, was an albatross
asleep upon the water, during a calm, off Cape Horn, when a heavy
sea was running. There being no breeze, the surface of the water
was unbroken, but a long, heavy swell was rolling, and we saw the
fellow, all white, directly ahead of us, asleep upon the waves,
with his head under his wing; now rising on the top of a huge billow,
and then falling slowly until he was lost in the hollow between.
He was undisturbed for some time, until the noise of our bows,
gradually approaching, roused him, when, lifting his head, he stared
upon us for a moment, and then spread his wide wings and took his flight.
LOSS OF A MAN--SUPERSTITION
Monday, Nov. 19th. This was a black day in our calendar. At seven
o'clock in the morning, it being our watch below, we were aroused
from a sound sleep by the cry of "All hands ahoy! a man overboard!"
This unwonted cry sent a thrill through the heart of every one,
and hurrying on deck we found the vessel hove flat aback, with all
her studding-sails set; for the boy who was at the helm left it to
throw something overboard, and the carpenter, who was an old sailor,
knowing that the wind was light, put the helm down and hove her aback.
The watch on deck were lowering away the quarter-boat, and I got on
deck just in time to heave myself into her as she was leaving the side;
but it was not until out upon the wide Pacific, in our little boat,
that I knew whom we had lost. It was George Ballmer, a young English
sailor, who was prized by the officers as an active lad and willing
seaman, and by the crew as a lively, hearty fellow, and a good shipmate.
He was going aloft to fit a strap round the main top-mast-head,
for ringtail halyards, and had the strap and block, a coil of halyards
and a marline-spike about his neck. He fell from the starboard futtock
shrouds, and not knowing how to swim, and being heavily dressed, with all
those things round his neck, he probably sank immediately. We pulled
astern, in the direction in which he fell, and though we knew that there
was no hope of saving him, yet no one wished to speak of returning, and we
rowed about for nearly an hour, without the hope of doing anything,
but unwilling to acknowledge to ourselves that we must give him up.
At length we turned the boat's head and made towards the vessel.
Death is at all times solemn, but never so much so as at sea. A man
dies on shore; his body remains with his friends, and "the mourners go
about the streets;" but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost,
there is a suddenness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it,
which give to it an air of awful mystery. A man dies on shore--you
follow his body to the grave, and a stone marks the spot. You are
often prepared for the event. There is always something which helps
you to realize it when it happens, and to recall it when it has passed.
A man is shot down by your side in battle, and the mangled body remains
an object, and a real evidence; but at sea, the man is near you--
at your side--you hear his voice, and in an instant he is gone, and
nothing but a vacancy shows his loss. Then, too, at sea--to use
a homely but expressive phrase--you miss a man so much. A dozen
men are shut up together in a little bark, upon the wide, wide sea,
and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their
own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him
at every turn. It is like losing a limb. There are no new faces
or new scenes to fill up the gap. There is always an empty berth
in the forecastle, and one man wanting when the small night watch
is mustered. There is one less to take the wheel, and one less to
lay out with you upon the yard. You miss his form, and the sound
of his voice, for habit had made them almost necessary to you, and
each of your senses feels the loss.
All these things make such a death peculiarly solemn, and the effect
of it remains upon the crew for some time. There is more kindness
shown by the officers to the crew, and by the crew to one another.
There is more quietness and seriousness. The oath and the loud
laugh are gone. The officers are more watchful, and the crew go
more carefully aloft. The lost man is seldom mentioned, or is
dismissed with a sailor's rude eulogy--"Well, poor George is gone!
His cruise is up soon! He knew his work, and did his duty, and was
a good shipmate." Then usually follows some allusion to another world,
for sailors are almost all believers; but their notions and opinions
are unfixed and at loose ends. They say,--"God won't be hard upon
the poor fellow," and seldom get beyond the common phrase which seems
to imply that their sufferings and hard treatment here will excuse
them hereafter,--"To work hard, live hard, die hard, and go to hell
after all, would be hard indeed!" Our cook, a simple-hearted old
African, who had been through a good deal in his day, and was rather
seriously inclined, always going to church twice a day when on shore,
and reading his Bible on a Sunday in the galley, talked to the crew
about spending their Sabbaths badly, and told them that they might
go as suddenly as George had, and be as little prepared.
Yet a sailor's life is at best, but a mixture of a little good with
much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is
linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the
solemn with the ludicrous.
We had hardly returned on board with our sad report, before an
auction was held of the poor man's clothes. The captain had first,
however, called all hands aft and asked them if they were satisfied
that everything had been done to save the man, and if they thought
there was any use in remaining there longer. The crew all said that
it was in vain, for the man did not know how to swim, and was very
heavily dressed. So we then filled away and kept her off to her course.
The laws regulating navigation make the captain answerable for the
effects of a sailor who dies during the voyage, and it is either a law
or a universal custom, established for convenience, that the captain
should immediately hold an auction of his things, in which they are
bid off by the sailors, and the sums which they give are deducted from
their wages at the end of the voyage. In this way the trouble and
risk of keeping his things through the voyage are avoided, and the
clothes are usually sold for more than they would be worth on shore.
Accordingly, we had no sooner got the ship before the wind, than
his chest was brought up upon the forecastle, and the sale began.
The jackets and trowsers in which we had seen him dressed but a few
days before, were exposed and bid off while the life was hardly out
of his body, and his chest was taken aft and used as a store-chest,
so that there was nothing left which could be called his. Sailors have
an unwillingness to wear a dead man's clothes during the same voyage,
and they seldom do so unless they are in absolute want.
As is usual after a death, many stories were told about George.
Some had heard him say that he repented never having learned to swim,
and that he knew that he should meet his death by drowning. Another
said that he never knew any good to come of a voyage made against
the will, and the deceased man shipped and spent his advance and
was afterwards very unwilling to go, but not being able to refund,
was obliged to sail with us. A boy, too, who had become quite
attached to him, said that George talked to him during most of
the watch on the night before, about his mother and family at home,
and this was the first time that he had mentioned the subject during
The night after this event, when I went to the galley to get a light,
I found the cook inclined to be talkative, so I sat down on the spars,
and gave him an opportunity to hold a yarn. I was the more inclined
to do so, as I found that he was full of the superstitions once more
common among seamen, and which the recent death had waked up in his mind.
He talked about George's having spoken of his friends, and said he
believed few men died without having a warning of it, which he supported
by a great many stories of dreams, and the unusual behavior of men before
death. From this he went on to other superstitions, the Flying Dutchman,
etc., and talked rather mysteriously, having something evidently on his mind.
At length he put his head out of the galley and looked carefully about to
see if any one was within hearing, and being satisfied on that point, asked
me in a low tone--
"I say! you know what countryman 'e carpenter be?"
"Yes," said I; "he's a German."
"What kind of a German?" said the cook.
"He belongs to Bremen," said I.
"Are you sure o' dat?" said he.
I satisfied him on that point by saying that he could speak no
language but the German and English.
"I'm plaguy glad o' dat," said the cook. "I was mighty 'fraid he was a
Fin. I tell you what, I been plaguy civil to that man all the voyage."
I asked him the reason of this, and found that he was fully possessed
with the notion that Fins are wizards, and especially have power over
winds and storms. I tried to reason with him about it, but he had the
best of all arguments, that from experience, at hand, and was not to
be moved. He had been in a vessel at the Sandwich Islands, in which
the sail-maker was a Fin, and could do anything he was of a mind to.
This sail-maker kept a junk bottle in his berth, which was always just
half full of rum, though he got drunk upon it nearly every day. He had
seen him sit for hours together, talking to this bottle, which he stood
up before him on the table. The same man cut his throat in his berth,
and everybody said he was possessed.
He had heard of ships, too, beating up the gulf of Finland against
a head wind, and having a ship heave in sight astern, overhaul and
pass them, with as fair a wind as could blow, and all studding-sails
out, and find she was from Finland.
"Oh ho!" said he; "I've seen too much of them men to want to see 'em
'board a ship. If they can't have their own way, they'll play the
d---l with you."
As I still doubted, he said he would leave it to John, who was the
oldest seaman aboard, and would know, if anybody did. John, to be
sure, was the oldest, and at the same time the most ignorant, man
in the ship; but I consented to have him called. The cook stated
the matter to him, and John, as I anticipated, sided with the cook,
and said that he himself had been in a ship where they had a head
wind for a fortnight, and the captain found out at last that one
of the men, whom he had had some hard words with a short time before,
was a Fin, and immediately told him if he didn't stop the head wind
he would shut him down in the fore peak, and would not give him
anything to eat. The Fin held out for a day and a half, when he
could not stand it any longer, and did something or other which
brought the wind round again, and they let him up.
"There," said the cook, "what do you think o' dat?"
I told him I had no doubt it was true, and that it would have been
odd if the wind had not changed in fifteen days, Fin or no Fin.
"Oh," says he, "go 'way! You think, 'cause you been to college,
you know better than anybody. You know better than them as 'as
seen it with their own eyes. You wait till you've been to sea as
long as I have, and you'll know."
JUAN FERNANDEZ--THE PACIFIC
We continued sailing along with a fair wind and fine weather until
Tuesday, Nov. 25th, when at daylight we saw the island of
Juan Fernandez, directly ahead, rising like a deep blue cloud out
of the sea. We were then probably nearly seventy miles from it;
and so high and so blue did it appear, that I mistook it for a cloud,
resting over the island, and looked for the island under it, until it
gradually turned to a deader and greener color, and I could mark the
inequalities upon its surface. At length we could distinguish trees
and rocks; and by the afternoon, this beautiful island lay fairly
before us, and we directed our course to the only harbor. Arriving at
the entrance soon after sun-down, we found a Chilian man-of-war brig,
the only vessel, coming out. She hailed us, and an officer on board,
whom we supposed to be an American, advised us to run in before night,
and said that they were bound to Valparaiso. We ran immediately for
the anchorage, but, owing to the winds which drew about the mountains
and came to us in flaws from every point of the compass, we did not
come to an anchor until nearly midnight. We had a boat ahead all the
time that we were working in, and those aboard were continually bracing
the yards about for every puff that struck us, until about 12 o'clock,
when we came-to in 40 fathoms water, and our anchor struck bottom
for the first time since we left Boston--one hundred and three days.
We were then divided into three watches, and thus stood out the remainder
of the night.
I was called on deck to stand my watch at about three in the morning,
and I shall never forget the peculiar sensation which I experienced
on finding myself once more surrounded by land, feeling the night
breeze coming from off shore, and hearing the frogs and crickets.
The mountains seemed almost to hang over us, and apparently from the
very heart there came out, at regular intervals, a loud echoing sound,
which affected me as hardly human. We saw no lights, and could hardly
account for the sound, until the mate, who had been there before, told
us that it was the "Alerta" of the Spanish soldiers, who were stationed
over some convicts confined in caves nearly halfway up the mountain.
At the expiration of my watch I went below, feeling not a little anxious
for the day, that I might see more nearly, and perhaps tread upon,
this romantic, I may almost say, classic island.
When all hands were called it was nearly sunrise, and between that time
and breakfast, although quite busy on board in getting up water-casks,
etc., I had a good view of the objects about me. The harbor was nearly
land-locked, and at the head of it was a landing-place, protected by a
small breakwater of stones, upon which two large boats were hauled up,
with a sentry standing over them. Near this was a variety of huts or
cottages, nearly an hundred in number, the best of them built of mud
and white washed, but the greater part only Robinson Crusoe like--
of posts and branches of trees. The governor's house, as it is called,
was the most conspicuous, being large, with grated windows, plastered
walls, and roof of red tiles; yet, like all the rest, only of one story.
Near it was a small chapel, distinguished by a cross; and a long, low
brown-looking building, surrounded by something like a palisade, from
which an old and dingy-looking Chilian flag was flying. This, of course,
was dignified by the title of Presidio. A sentinel was stationed at
the chapel, another at the governor's house, and a few soldiers armed
with bayonets, looking rather ragged, with shoes out at the toes, were
strolling about among the houses, or waiting at the landing-place for
our boat to come ashore.
The mountains were high, but not so overhanging as they appeared
to be by starlight. They seemed to bear off towards the centre of
the island, and were green and well wooded, with some large, and,
I am told, exceedingly fertile valleys, with mule-tracks leading
to different parts of the island.
I cannot forget how my friend S----- and myself got the laugh of
the crew upon us for our eagerness to get on shore. The captain
having ordered the quarter-boat to be lowered, we both sprang down
into the forecastle, filled our jacket pockets with tobacco to barter
with the people ashore, and when the officer called for "four hands
in the boat," nearly broke our necks in our haste to be first over
the side, and had the pleasure of pulling ahead of the brig with a
tow-line for a half an hour, and coming on board again to be laughed
at by the crew, who had seen our manoeuvre.
After breakfast the second mate was ordered ashore with five hands
to fill the water-casks, and to my joy I was among the number.
We pulled ashore with the empty casks; and here again fortune
favored me, for the water was too thick and muddy to be put into
the casks, and the governor had sent men up to the head of the
stream to clear it out for us, which gave us nearly two hours of
leisure. This leisure we employed in wandering about among the
houses, and eating a little fruit which was offered to us.
Ground apples, melons, grapes, strawberries of an enormous size,
and cherries, abounded here. The latter are said to have been
planted by Lord Anson. The soldiers were miserably clad, and
asked with some interest whether we had any shoes to sell on board.
I doubt very much if they had the means of buying them. They were
very eager to get tobacco, for which they gave shells, fruits, etc.
Knives also were in demand, but we were forbidden by the governor
to let any one have them, as he told us that all the people there,
except the soldiers and a few officers, were convicts sent from
Valparaiso, and that it was necessary to keep all weapons from
their hands. The island, it seems, belongs to Chili, and had been
used by the government as a sort of Botany Bay for nearly two years;
and the governor--an Englishman who had entered the Chilian navy--
with a priest, half a dozen task-masters, and a body of soldiers,
were stationed there to keep them in order. This was no easy task;
and only a few months before our arrival, a few of them had stolen a
boat at night, boarded a brig lying in the harbor, sent the captain
and crew ashore in their boat, and gone off to sea. We were informed
of this, and loaded our arms and kept strict watch on board through
the night, and were careful not to let the convicts get our knives
from us when on shore. The worst part of the convicts, I found, were
locked up under sentry in caves dug into the side of the mountain,
nearly halfway up, with mule-tracks leading to them, whence they
were taken by day and set to work under task-masters upon building
an aqueduct, a wharf, and other public works; while the rest lived
in the houses which they put up for themselves, had their families
with them, and seemed to me to be the laziest people on the face
of the earth. They did nothing but take a paseo into the woods,
a paseo among the houses, a paseo at the landing-place, looking at
us and our vessel, and too lazy to speak fast; while the others were
driving--or rather, driven--about, at a rapid trot, in single file,
with burdens on their shoulders, and followed up by their task-masters,
with long rods in their hands, and broadbrimmed straw hats upon their
heads. Upon what precise grounds this great distinction was made,
I do not know, and I could not very well know, for the governor was the
only man who spoke English upon the island, and he was out of my walk.
Having filled our casks, we returned on board, and soon after,
the governor, dressed in a uniform like that of an American militia
officer, the Padre, in the dress of the grey friars, with hood
and all complete, and the Capitan, with big whiskers and dirty
regimentals, came on board to dine. While at dinner, a large
ship appeared in the offing, and soon afterwards we saw a light
whale-boat pulling into the harbor. The ship lay off and on,
and a boat came alongside of us, and put on board the captain,
a plain young Quaker, dressed all in brown. The ship was the
Cortes, whaleman, of New Bedford, and had put in to see if there
were any vessels from round the Horn, and to hear the latest news
from America. They remained aboard a short time and had a little
talk with the crew, when they left us and pulled off to their ship,
which, having filled away, was soon out of sight.
A small boat which came from the shore to take away the governor
and suite--as they styled themselves--brought, as a present to the
crew, a large pail of milk, a few shells, and a block of sandal wood.
The milk, which was the first we had tasted since leaving Boston,
we soon despatched; a piece of the sandal wood I obtained, and
learned that it grew on the hills in the centre of the island.
I have always regretted that I did not bring away other specimens
of the products of the island, having afterwards lost all that I
had with me--the piece of sandal wood, and a small flower which I
plucked and brought on board in the crown of my tarpaulin,
and carefully pressed between the leaves of a book.
About an hour before sun-down, having stowed our water casks, we
commenced getting under weigh, and were not a little while about it;
for we were in thirty fathoms water, and in one of the gusts which
came off shore had let go our other bow anchor; and as the southerly
wind draws round the mountains and comes off in uncertain flaws,
we were continually swinging round, and had thus got a very foul hawse.
We hove in upon our chain, and after stoppering and unshackling it
again and again, and hoisting and hauling down sail, we at length
tipped our anchor and stood out to sea. It was bright starlight
when we were clear of the bay, and the lofty island lay behind us,
in its still beauty, and I gave a parting look, and bid farewell,
to the most romantic spot of earth that my eyes had ever seen.
I did then, and have ever since, felt an attachment for that island,
altogether peculiar. It was partly, no doubt, from its having been
the first land that I had seen since leaving home, and still more
from the associations which every one has connected with it in their
childhood from reading Robinson Crusoe. To this I may add the height
and romantic outline of its mountains, the beauty and freshness of
its verdure, and the extreme fertility of its soil, and its solitary
position in the midst of the wide expanse of the South Pacific,
as all concurring to give it its peculiar charm.
When thoughts of this place have occurred to me at different times,
I have endeavored to recall more particulars with regard to it.
It is situated in about 33º 30' S., and is distant a little more than
three hundred miles from Valparaiso, on the coast of Chili, which is
in the same latitude. It is about fifteen miles in length and five
in breadth. The harbor in which we anchored (called by Lord Anson,
Cumberland bay) is the only one in the island; two small bights of
land on each side of the main bay (sometimes dignified by the name
of bays) being little more than landing-places for boats. The best
anchorage is at the western side of the bay, where we lay at about
three cables' lengths from the shore, in a little more than thirty
fathoms water. This harbor is open to the N.N.E., and in fact nearly
from N. to E., but the only dangerous winds being the south-west,
on which side are the highest mountains, it is considered very safe.
The most remarkable thing perhaps about it is the fish with which it
abounds. Two of our crew, who remained on board, caught in a few
minutes enough to last us for several days, and one of the men,
who was a Marblehead man, said that he never saw or heard of such
an abundance. There were cod, breams, silver-fish, and other kinds
whose names they did not know, or which I have forgotten.
There is an abundance of the best of water upon the island, small
streams running through every valley, and leaping down from the
sides of the hills. One stream of considerable size flows through
the centre of the lawn upon which the houses are built, and furnishes
an easy and abundant supply to the inhabitants. This, by means
of a short wooden aqueduct, was brought quite down to our boats.
The convicts had also built something in the way of a breakwater,
and were to build a landing-place for boats and goods, after which
the Chilian government intended to lay port charges.
Of the wood I can only say, that it appeared to be abundant; the
island in the month of November, when we were there, being in all
the freshness and beauty of spring, appeared covered with trees.
These were chiefly aromatic, and the largest was the myrtle.
The soil is very loose and rich, and wherever it is broken up,
there spring up immediately radishes, turnips, ground apples,
and other garden fruits. Goats, we were told, were not abundant,
and we saw none, though it was said we might, if we had gone into
the interior. We saw a few bullocks winding about in the narrow
tracks upon the sides of the mountains, and the settlement was
completely overrun with dogs of every nation, kindred, and degree.
Hens and chickens were also abundant, and seemed to be taken good
care of by the women. The men appeared to be the laziest people
upon the face of the earth; and indeed, as far as my observation goes,
there are no people to whom the newly-invented Yankee word of "loafer"
is more applicable than to the Spanish Americans. These men stood
about doing nothing, with their cloaks, little better in texture
than an Indian's blanket, but of rich colors, thrown over their
shoulders with an air which it is said that a Spanish beggar can
always give to his rags; and with great politeness and courtesy
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