Friday, October 12, 2007



Miss Emily Hensley
In grateful remembrance of thirty years' constant friendship and
practical help this work is affectionately dedicated by her
humble pupil.
In the following pages an attempt has been made--it is believed
for the first time--to give an account of the cruise of a South
Sea whaler from the seaman's standpoint. Two very useful books
have been published--both of them over half a century ago--on
the same subject; but, being written by the surgeons of whaleships
for scientific purposes, neither of them was interesting
to the general reader. ["Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round
the Globe," by F Debell Bennett, F.R.C.S. (2 vols). Bentley,
London (1840). "The Sperm Whale Fishery," by Thomas Beale,
M.R.C.S. London (1835).] They have both been long out of print;
but their value to the student of natural history has been, and
still is, very great, Dr. Beale's book, in particular, being
still the authority on the sperm whale.
This book does not pretend to compete with either of the above
valuable works. Its aims is to present to the general reader a
simple account of the methods employed, and the dangers met
with, in a calling about which the great mass of the public
knows absolutely nothing. Pending the advent of some great
writer who shall see the wonderful possibilities for literature
contained in the world-wide wanderings of the South Sea whalefishers,
the author has endeavoured to summarize his experiences
so that they may be read without weariness, and, it is hoped,
with profit.
The manifold shortcomings of the work will not, it is trusted,
be laid to the account of the subject, than which none more
interesting could well be imagined, but to the limitations of
the writer, whose long experience of sea life has done little to
foster the literary faculty.
One claim may be made with perfect confidence--that if the
manner be not all that could be wished, the matter is entirely
trustworthy, being compiled from actual observation and
experience, and in no case at second-hand. An endeavour has
also been made to exclude such matter as is easily obtainable
elsewhere--matters of common knowledge and "padding" of any
sort--the object not being simply the making of a book, but the
record of little-known facts.
Great care has been taken to use no names either of ships or
persons, which could, by being identified, give annoyance or
pain to any one, as in many cases strong language has been
necessary for the expression of opinions.
Finally, the author hopes that, although in no sense exclusively
a book for boys, the coming generation may find this volume
readable and interesting; and with that desire he offers it
confidently, though in all humility, to that great impartial
jury, the public.
F.T.B. Dulwich, July, 1897.
Adrift in New Bedford--I get a ship--A motley crowd--"Built by
the mile, and cut off as you want 'em"--Mistah Jones--
Greenies--Off to sea.
Primitive steering-gear--Strange drill--Misery below--Short
commons--Goliath rigs the "crow's-nest"--Useful information
--Preparing for war--Strange weapons--A boat-load.
The cleanliness of a whale-ship--No skulking--Porpoise-fishing
--Cannibals--Cooking operations--Boat-drill--A good look-out--
"Black-fishing"--Roguery in all trades--Plenty of fresh beef--
The nursery of American whalemen.
Nautical routine--The first gale--Comfort versus speed--A grand
sea-boat--The Sargasso Sea--Natural history pursuits--
Dolphin--Unconventional fishing--Rumours of a visit to the
Cape Verdes--Babel below--No allowance, but not "full and plenty"
--Queer washing--Method of sharing rations--The "slop-shop"
opened--Our prospects.
Premonitions--Discussion on whaling from unknown premisses--
I wake in a fright--Sperm whales at last--The war begins
--Warning--We get fast--and get loose--In trouble--an
uncomfortable situation--No Pity-Only one whale--Rigging
the "cutting-stage"--Securing the whale alongside.
Goliath in trouble--Commence "cutting-in"--A heavy head--
A tank of spermaceti--Decks running with oil--A "Patent"
mincing-machine--Extensive cooking--Dangerous work--
Three tuns of oil--A horrible mess--A thin-skinned monster
--A fine mouth of teeth.
Captain Slocum's amenities--Expensive beer--St. Paul's Rocks--
"Bonito"--"Showery" weather--Waterspouts--Calms--
A friendly finback--A disquisition on whales by Mistah
Abner in luck--A big "fish" at last--A feat of endurance--
A fighting whale--The sperm whale's food--Ambergris
--A good reception--Hard labour--Abner's reward--
A forced march--Tristan d'Acunha--Visitors--Fresh provisions
--A warm welcome--Goliath's turn--a feathered host--
Good gear--A rough time--Creeping north--Uncertainty--
"Rule of thumb"--navigation--The Mozambique Channel.
Tropical thunderstorms--A "record" day's fishing--Cetacean
frivolities--Mistah Jones moralizes--A snug harbour--
Wooding and watering--Catching a turtle--Catching a
"Tartar"--A violent death--A crooked jaw--Aldabra Island
--Primeval inhabitants--A strange steed--"Pirate" birds--
Good eggs--Green cocoa-nuts--More turtle--A school of
We encounter a "cyclone"--A tremendous gust--a foundering
ship--To anchor for repairs--The Cocos--Repairing damages
--Around the Seychelles--A "milk" sea--A derelict prahu
--A ghastly freight--A stagnant sea.
"Eyes and no eyes" at sea--Of big mollusca--The origin of seaserpent
stories--Rediscovery of the "Kraken"--A conflict
of monsters--"The insatiable nightmares of the sea"--
Spermaceti running to waste--The East Indian maze
A whale off Hong Kong--The skipper and his "'bomb-gun"--
Injury to the captain--Unwelcome visitors--The heathen
Chinee--We get safe off--"Death of Portagee Jim"--The
Funeral--The Coast of Japan--Port Lloyd--Meeting of
Liberty day--I foregather with a "beach-comber"--A big fight
--Goliath on the war-path--A court-martial--Wholesale
flogging--a miserable crowd--Quite a fleet of whale-ships
--I "raise" a sperm whale--Severe competition--An
unfortunate stroke--The skipper distinguishes himself.
I come to grief--Emulating Jonah--Sharing a flurry--A long
spell of sick-leave--The whale's "sixth sense"--Off to the
Kuriles--Prepare for "bowhead" fishing--The Sea of
Okhotsk--Abundant salmon--The "daintiness" of seamen.
Difference between whales--Popular ideas exploded--The gentle
mysticetus--Very tame work--Fond of tongue--Goliath
confides in me--An awful affair--Captain Slocum's death--
"Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds"--I am promoted.
Towards Honolulu--Missionaries and their critics--The happy
Kanaka--Honolulu--A pleasant holiday.
I get my opportunity--A new harpooner--Feats under the
skipper's eye--Two whales on one line--Compliments
Heavy towage--A grand haul.
Monotony--A school of blackfish--A boat ripped in half--A
multitude of sharks--A curious backbone--Christmas Day--
A novel Christmas dinner--A find of ambergris.
"Gamming" again--a Whitechapel rover--arrive at Vau Vau
--Valuable friends--a Sunday ashore--"Hollingside"--
The natives at church--Full-dress--Very "mishnally"--
Idyllic cruising--Wonderful mother-love--A mighty feast.
A fruitless chase--Placid times--a stirring adventure--a vast
cave--Unforeseen company--A night of terror--We provide
a feast for the sharks--the death of Abner--An impressive
ceremony--an invitation to dinner--Kanaka cookery.
Ignorance of the habits of whales--A terrific encounter--
VAE VICTIS--Rewarding our "flems"--We leave Van Vau--The
Outward bounder--Sailors' "homes"--A night of horror--
Sudden death--Futuna.
A fleet of nondescripts--"Tui Tongoa" otherwise Sam--Eager
recruits--Devout Catholics--A visit to Sunday Island--A
Crusoe family--Their eviction--Maori cabbage--Fine fishing
--Away for New Zealand--Sight the "Three Kings"--
The Bay of Islands.
Sleepy hollow--Wood and water--liberty day--A plea for the
sailors' recreation--Our picnic--A a whiff of "May"--A
delightful excursion--To the southward again--Wintry
weather--Enter Foveaux Straits.
Firstfruits of the Solander--An easy catch--Delights of the
Solander--Port William--The old CHANCE--"Paddy Gilroy"
--Barbarians from the East End--Barracouta-Fishing--
Wind-bound--An enormous school of cachalots--Misfortune--
A bursting whale--Back on the Solander again--Cutting-in
at Port William--Studying anatomy--Badly battered Yankees
--Paddy in luck again.
We try Preservation Inlet--An astounding feat of Paddy Gilroy's.
Port Pegasus--Among old acquaintances--"Mutton birds"--
Skilled auxiliaries--A gratifying catch--Leave port again
--Back to the Solander--A grim escape--Our last whales
--Into Port William again--Paddy's assistance--We part
with our Kanakas--Sam's plans of conquest.
And last--In high-toned company--Another picnic--Depart from
the Bluff--Hey for the Horn!--Among the icebergs--
"Scudding"--Favouring trades--A narrow escape from
collision--Home at last.
Without attempting the ambitious task of presenting a
comprehensive sketch of the origin, rise, and fall of whalefishing
as a whole, it seems necessary to give a brief outline
of that portion of the subject bearing upon the theme of the
present book before plunging into the first chapter.
This preliminary is the more needed for the reason alluded to in
the Preface--the want of knowledge of the subject that is
apparent everywhere. The Greenland whale fishery has been so
popularized that most people know something about it; the sperm
whale fishery still awaits its Scoresby and a like train of
imitators and borrowers.
Cachalots, or sperm whales, must have been captured on the
coasts of Europe in a desultory way from a very early date, by
the incidental allusions to the prime products spermaceti and
ambergris which are found in so many ancient writers,
Shakespeare's reference--"The sovereign'st thing on earth was
parmaceti for an inward bruise"--will be familiar to most
people, as well as Milton's mention of the delicacies at Satan's
feast--"Grisamber steamed"--not to carry quotation any further.
But in the year 1690 the brave and hardy fishermen of the northeast
coasts of North America established that systematic pursuit
of the cachalot which has thriven so wonderfully ever since,
although it must be confessed that the last few years have
witnessed a serious decline in this great branch of trade.
For many years the American colonists completely engrossed this
branch of the whale fishery, contentedly leaving to Great
Britain and the continental nations the monopoly of the northern
or Arctic fisheries, while they cruised the stormy, if milder,
seas around their own shores.
For the resultant products, their best customer was the mother
country, and a lucrative commerce steadily grew up between the
two countries. But when the march of events brought the
unfortunate and wholly unnecessary War of Independence, this
flourishing trade was the first to suffer, and many of the
daring fishermen became our fiercest foes on board their own
The total stoppage of the importation of sperm oil and
spermaceti was naturally severely felt in England, for time had
not permitted the invention of substitutes. In consequence of
this, ten ships were equipped and sent out to the sperm whale
fishery from England in 1776, most of them owned by one London
firm, the Messrs. Enderby. The next year, in order to encourage
the infant enterprise, a Government bounty, graduated from L500
to L1000 per ship, was granted. Under this fostering care the
number of ships engaged in the sperm whale fishery progressively
increased until 1791, when it attained its maximum.
This method of whaling being quite new to our whalemen, it was
necessary, at great cost, to hire American officers and
harpooners to instruct them in the ways of dealing with these
highly active and dangerous cetacea. Naturally, it was by-andby
found possible to dispense with the services of these
auxiliaries; but it must be confessed that the business never
seems to have found such favour, or to have been prosecuted with
such smartness, among our whalemen as it has by the Americans.
Something of an exotic the trade always was among us, although
it did attain considerable proportions at one time. At first
the fishing was confined to the Atlantic Ocean; nor for many
years was it necessary to go farther afield, as abundance of
whales could easily be found.
As, however, the number of ships engaged increased, it was
inevitable that the known grounds should become exhausted, and
in 1788 Messrs. Enderby's ship, the EMILIA, first ventured round
Cape Horn, as the pioneer of a greater trade than ever. The way
once pointed out, other ships were not slow to follow, until, in
1819, the British whale-ship SYREN opened up the till then
unexplored tract of ocean in the western part of the North
Pacific, afterwards familiarly known as the "Coast of Japan."
From these teeming waters alone, for many years an average
annual catch of 40,000 barrels of oil was taken, which, at the
average price of L8 per barrel, will give some idea of the value
of the trade generally.
The Australian colonists, early in their career, found the sperm
whale fishery easy of access from all their coasts, and
especially lucrative. At one time they bade fair to establish a
whale fishery that should rival the splendid trade of the
Americans; but, like the mother country, they permitted the
fishery to decline, so that even bounties could not keep it
Meanwhile, the Americans added to their fleet continually,
prospering amazingly. But suddenly the advent of the civil war
let loose among those peaceable cruisers the devastating
ALABAMA, whose course was marked in some parts of the world by
the fires of blazing whale-ships. A great part, of the Geneva
award was on this account, although it must be acknowledged that
many pseudo-owners were enriched who never owned aught but
brazen impudence and influential friends to push their
fictitious claims. The real sufferers, seamen especially, in
most cases never received any redress whatever.
From this crushing blow the American sperm whale fishery has
never fully recovered. When the writer was in the trade, some
twenty-two years ago, it was credited with a fleet of between
three and four hundred sail; now it may be doubted whether the
numbers reach an eighth of that amount. A rigid conservatism of
method hinders any revival of the industry, which is practically
conducted to-day as it was fifty, or even a hundred years ago;
and it is probable that another decade will witness the final
extinction of what was once one of the most important maritime
industries in the world.
At the age of eighteen, after a sea-experience of six years from
the time when I dodged about London streets, a ragged Arab, with
wits sharpened by the constant fight for food, I found myself
roaming the streets of New Bedford, Massachusetts. How I came
to be there, of all places in the world, does not concern this
story at all, so I am not going to trouble my readers with it;
enough to say that I WAS there, and mighty anxious to get away.
Sailor Jack is always hankering for shore when he is at sea, but
when he is "outward bound"--that is, when his money is all gone
--he is like a cat in the rain there.
So as MY money was all gone, I was hungry for a ship; and when a
long, keen-looking man with a goat-like beard, and mouth stained
with dry tobacco-juice, hailed me one afternoon at the streetcorner,
I answered very promptly, scenting a berth. "Lookin'
fer a ship, stranger?" said he. "Yes; do you want a hand?" said
I, anxiously. He made a funny little sound something like a
pony's whinny, then answered, "Wall, I should surmise that I
want between fifty and sixty hands, ef yew kin lay me onto 'em;
but, kem along, every dreep's a drop, an' yew seem likely
enough." With that he turned and led the way until we reached a
building around which were gathered one of the most nondescript
crowds I had ever seen. There certainly did not appear to be a
sailor among them. Not so much by their rig, though that is not
a great deal to go by, but by their actions and speech. One
thing they all had in common, tobacco chewing but as nearly
every male I met with in America did that, it was not much to be
noticed. I had hardly done reckoning them up when two or three
bustling men came out and shepherded us all energetically into a
long, low room, where some form of agreement was read out to us.
Sailors are naturally and usually careless about the nature of
the "articles" they sign, their chief anxiety being to get to
sea, and under somebody's charge. But had I been ever so
anxious to know what I was going to sign this time, I could not,
for the language might as well have been Chinese for all I
understood of it. However, I signed and passed on, engaged to
go I knew not where, in some ship I did not know even the name
of, in which I was to receive I did not know how much, or how
little, for my labour, nor how long I was going to be away.
"What a young fool!" I hear somebody say. I quite agree, but
there were a good many more in that ship, as in most ships that
I have ever sailed in.
From the time we signed the articles, we were never left to
ourselves. Truculent-looking men accompanied us to our several
boarding-houses, paid our debts for us, finally bringing us by
boat to a ship lying out in the bay. As we passed under her
stern, I read the name CACHALOT, of New Bedford; but as soon as
we ranged alongside, I realized that I was booked for the
sailor's horror--a cruise in a whaler. Badly as I wanted to get
to sea, I had not bargained for this, and would have run some
risks to get ashore again; but they took no chances, so we were
all soon aboard. Before going forward, I took a comprehensive
glance around, and saw that I was on board of a vessel belonging
to a type which has almost disappeared off the face of the
waters. A more perfect contrast to the trim-built English
clipper-ships that I had been accustomed to I could hardly
imagine. She was one of a class characterized by sailors as
"built by the mile, and cut off in lengths as you want 'em," Bow
and stern almost alike masts standing straight as broomsticks,
and bowsprit soaring upwards at an angle of about forty-five
degrees. She was as old-fashioned in her rig as in her hull;
but I must not go into the technical differences between rigs,
for fear of making myself tedious. Right in the centre of the
deck, occupying a space of about ten feet by eight, was a square
erection of brickwork, upon which my wondering gaze rested
longest, for I had not the slightest idea what it could be. But
I was rudely roused from my meditations by the harsh voice of
one of the officers, who shouted, "Naow then, git below an' stow
yer dunnage, 'n look lively up agin." I took the, broad hint,
and shouldering my traps, hurried forward to the fo'lk'sle,
which was below deck. Tumbling down the steep ladder, I entered
the gloomy den which was to be for so long my home, finding it
fairly packed with my shipmates. A motley crowd they were. I
had been used in English ships to considerable variety of
nationality; but here were gathered, not only the
representatives of five or six nations, but 'long-shoremen of
all kinds, half of whom had hardly ever set eyes on a ship
before! The whole space was undivided by partition, but I saw
at once that black men and white had separated themselves, the
blacks taking the port side and the whites the starboard.
Finding a vacant bunk by the dim glimmer of the ancient teapot
lamp that hung amidships, giving out as much smoke as light, I
hurriedly shifted my coat for a "jumper" or blouse, put on an
old cap, and climbed into the fresh air again. For a double
reason, even MY seasoned head was feeling bad with the
villainous reek of the place, and I did not want any of those
hard-featured officers on deck to have any cause to complain of
my "hanging back." On board ship, especially American ships, the
first requisite for a sailor who wants to be treated properly is
to "show willing," any suspicion of slackness being noted
immediately, and the backward one marked accordingly. I had
hardly reached the deck when I was confronted by a negro, the
biggest I ever saw in, my life. He looked me up and down for a
moment, then opening his ebony features in a wide smile, he
said, "Great snakes! why, here's a sailor man for sure! Guess
thet's so, ain't it, Johnny?" I said "yes" very curtly, for I
hardly liked his patronizing air; but he snapped me up short
with "yes, SIR, when yew speak to me, yew blank lime-juicer.
I'se de fourf mate ob dis yar ship, en my name's Mistah Jones,
'n yew, jest freeze on to dat ar, ef yew want ter lib long'n die
happy. See, sonny." I SAW, and answered promptly, "I beg your
pardon, sir, I didn't know." Ob cawse yew didn't know, dat's
all right, little Britisher; naow jest skip aloft 'n loose dat
fore-taupsle." "Aye, aye, sir," I answered cheerily, springing
at once into the fore-rigging and up the ratlines like a monkey,
but not too fast to hear him chuckle, "Dat's a smart kiddy, I
bet." I had the big sail loose in double quick time, and sung
out "All gone, the fore-taupsle," before any of the other sails
were adrift. "Loose the to-gantsle and staysles" came up from
below in a voice like thunder, and I bounded up higher to my
task. On deck I could see a crowd at the windlass heaving up
anchor. I said to myself, "They don't waste any time getting
this packet away." Evidently they were not anxious to test any
of the crew's swimming powers. They were wise, for had she
remained at anchor that night I verily believe some of the poor
wretches would have tried to escape.
The anchor came aweigh, the sails were sheeted home, and I
returned on deck to find the ship gathering way for the heads,
fairly started on her long voyage.
What a bear-garden the deck was, to be sure! The black portion
of the crew--Portuguese natives from the Western and Canary
Islands--were doing their work all right in a clumsy fashion;
but the farmers, and bakers, and draymen were being driven about
mercilessly amid a perfect hurricane of profanity and blows. And
right here I must say that, accustomed as I had always been to
bad language all my life, what I now heard was a revelation to
me. I would not, if I could, attempt to give a sample of it,
but it must be understood that it was incessant throughout the
voyage. No order could be given without it, under the
impression, apparently, that the more curses the more speed.
Before nightfall we were fairly out to sea, and the ceremony of
dividing the crew into watches was gone through. I found myself
in the chief mate's or "port" watch (they called it "larboard,"
a term I had never heard used before, it having long been
obsolete in merchant ships), though the huge negro fourth mate
seemed none too well pleased that I was not under his command,
his being the starboard watch under the second mate.
As night fell, the condition of the "greenies," or non-sailor
portion of the crew, was pitiable. Helpless from sea-sickness,
not knowing where to go or what to do, bullied relentlessly by
the ruthless petty officers--well, I never felt so sorry for a
lot of men in my life. Glad enough I was to get below into the
fo'lk'sle for supper, and a brief rest and respite from that
cruelty on deck. A bit of salt junk and a piece of bread, i.e.
biscuit, flinty as a pantile, with a pot of something sweetened
with "longlick" (molasses), made an apology for a meal, and I
turned in. In a very few minutes oblivion came, making me as
happy as any man can be in this world.
The hideous noise always considered necessary in those ships
when calling the watch, roused me effectively at midnight,
"eight bells." I hurried on deck, fully aware that no leisurely
ten minutes would be allowed here. "Lay aft the watch," saluted
me as I emerged into the keen strong air, quickening my pace
according to where the mate stood waiting to muster his men. As
soon as he saw me, he said, "Can you steer?" in a mocking tone;
but when I quietly answered, "Yes, sir," his look of
astonishment was delightful to see. He choked it down, however,
and merely telling me to take the wheel, turned forrard roaring
frantically for his watch. I had no time to chuckle over what I
knew was in store for him, getting those poor greenies collected
from their several holes and corners, for on taking the wheel I
found a machine under my hands such as I never even heard of
The wheel was fixed upon the tiller in such a manner that the
whole concern travelled backwards and forwards across the deck
in the maddest kind of way. For the first quarter of an hour,
in spite of the September chill, the sweat poured off me in
streams. And the course--well, if was not steering, it was
sculling; the old bumboat was wobbling all around like a drunken
tailor with two left legs. I fairly shook with apprehension
lest the mate should come and look in the compass. I had been
accustomed to hard words if I did not steer within half a point
each way; but here was a "gadget" that worked me to death, the
result being a wake like a letter S. Gradually I got the hang
of the thing, becoming easier in my mind on my own account.
Even that was not an unmixed blessing, for I had now some
leisure to listen to the goings-on around the deck.
Such brutality I never witnessed before. On board of English
ships (except men-of-war) there is practically no discipline,
which is bad, but this sort of thing was maddening. I knew how
desperately ill all those poor wretches were, how helpless and
awkward they would be if quite hale and hearty; but there was
absolutely no pity for them, the officers seemed to be incapable
of any feelings of compassion whatever. My heart sank within me
as I thought of what lay before me, although I did not fear that
their treatment would also be mine, since I was at least able to
do my duty, and willing to work hard to keep out of trouble.
Then I began to wonder what sort of voyage I was in for, how
long it would last, and what my earnings were likely to be, none
of which things I had the faintest idea of.
Fortunately, I was alone in the world. No one, as far as I
knew, cared a straw what became of me; so that I was spared any
worry on that head. And I had also a very definite and wellestablished
trust in God, which I can now look back and see was
as fully justified as I then believed it to be. So, as I could
not shut my ears to the cruelties being carried on, nor banish
thought by hard work, I looked up to the stately stars, thinking
of things not to be talked about without being suspected of
cant. So swiftly passed the time that when four bells struck:
(two o'clock)I could hardly believe my ears.
I was relieved by one of the Portuguese, and went forward to
witness a curious scene. Seven stalwart men were being
compelled to march up and down on that tumbling deck, men who
had never before trodden anything less solid than the earth.
The third mate, a waspish, spiteful little Yankee with a face
like an angry cat, strolled about among them, a strand of ropeyarns
in his hand, which he wielded constantly, regardless where
he struck a man. They fell about, sometimes four or five at
once, and his blows flew thick and fast, yet he never seemed to
weary of his ill-doing. It made me quite sick, and I longed to
be aft at the wheel again. Catching sight of me standing
irresolute as to what I had better do, he ordered me on the
"look-out," a tiny platform between the "knight heads," just
where the bowsprit joins the ship. Gladly I obeyed him, and
perched up there looking over the wide sea, the time passed
quickly away until eight bells (four o'clock) terminated my
watch. I must pass rapidly over the condition of things in the
fo'lk'sle, where all the greenies that were allowed below, were
groaning in misery from the stifling atmosphere which made their
sickness so much worse, while even that dreadful place was
preferable to what awaited them on deck. There was a rainbowcoloured
halo round the flame of the lamp, showing how very bad
the air was; but in spite of that I turned in and slept soundly
till seven bells (7.20 a.m.) roused us to breakfast.
American ships generally have an excellent name for the way they
feed their crews, but the whalers are a notable exception to
that good rule. The food was really worse than that on board
any English ship I have ever sailed in, so scanty also in
quantity that it kept all the foremast hands at starvation
point. But grumbling was dangerous, so I gulped down the dirty
mixture mis-named coffee, ate a few fragments of biscuit, and
filled up (?) with a smoke, as many better men are doing this
morning. As the bell struck I hurried on deck--not one moment
too soon--for as I stepped out of the scuttle I saw the third
mate coming forward with a glitter in his eye that boded no good
to laggards.
Before going any farther I must apologize for using so many
capital I's, but up till the present I had been the only
available white member of the crew forrard.
The decks were scrubbed spotlessly clean, and everything was
neat and tidy as on board a man-of-war, contrary to all usual
notions of the condition of a whaler. The mate was in a state of
high activity, so I soon found myself very busily engaged in
getting up whale-lines, harpoons, and all the varied equipment
for the pursuit of whales. The number of officers carried would
have been a good crew for the ship, the complete afterguard
comprising captain, four mates, four harpooners or boatsteerers,
carpenter, cooper, steward and cook. All these
worthies were on deck and working with might and main at the
preparations, so that the incompetence of the crowd forrard was
little hindrance. I was pounced upon by "Mistah" Jones, the
fourth mate, whom I heard addressed familiarly as "Goliath" and
"Anak" by his brother officers, and ordered to assist him in
rigging the "crow's-nest" at the main royal-mast head. It was a
simple affair. There were a pair of cross-trees fitted to the
mast, upon which was secured a tiny platform about a foot wide
on each side of the mast, while above this foothold a couple of
padded hoops like a pair of giant spectacles were secured At a
little higher than a man's waist. When all was fast one could
creep up on the platform, through the hoop, and, resting his
arms upon the latter, stand comfortably and gaze around, no
matter how vigorously the old barky plunged and kicked beneath
him. From that lofty eyrie I had a comprehensive view of the
vessel. She was about 350 tons and full ship-rigged, that is to
say, she carried square sails on all three masts. Her deck was
flush fore and aft, the only obstructions being the brick-built
"try-works" in the waist, the galley, and cabin skylight right
aft by the taffrail. Her bulwarks were set thickly round with
clumsy looking wooden cranes, from which depended five boats.
Two more boats were secured bottom up upon a gallows aft, so she
seemed to be well supplied in that direction. Mistah Jones,
finding I did not presume upon his condescension, gradually
unbent and furnished me with many interesting facts about the
officers. Captain Slocum, he said, was "de debbil hisself, so
jess yew keeps yer lamps trim' fer him, sonny, taint helthy ter
rile him." The first officer, or the mate as he is always called
PAR EXCELLENCE, was an older man than the captain, but a good
seaman, a good whaleman, and a gentleman. Which combination I
found to be a fact, although hard to believe possible at the
time. The second mate was a Portuguese about forty years of
age, with a face like one of Vandyke's cavaliers, but as I now
learned, a perfect fiend when angered. He also was a firstclass
whaleman, but an indifferent seaman. The third mate was
nothing much but bad temper--not much sailor, nor much whaler,
generally in hot water with the skipper, who hated him because
he was an "owner's man." "An de fourf mate," wound up the
narrator, straightening his huge bulk,"am de bes' man in de
ship, and de bigges'. Dey aint no whalemen in Noo Bedford
caynt teach ME nuffin, en ef it comes ter man-handlin'; w'y I
jes' pick 'em two't a time 'n crack 'em togerrer like so, see!"
and he smote the palms of his great paws against each other,
while I nodded complete assent.
The weather being fine, with a steady N.E. wind blowing, so that
the sails required no attention, work proceeded steadily all the
morning. The oars were sorted, examined for flaws, and placed
in the boats; the whale-line, manilla rope like yellow silk,
1 1/2 inch round, was brought on deck, stretched and coiled down
with the greatest care into tubs, holding, some 200 fathoms, and
others 100 fathoms each. New harpoons were fitted to poles of
rough but heavy wood, without any attempt at neatness, but every
attention to strength. The shape of these weapons was not, as
is generally thought, that of an arrow, but rather like an arrow
with one huge barb, the upper part of which curved out from the
shaft. The whole of the barb turned on a stout pivot of steel,
but was kept in line with the shaft by a tiny wooden peg which
passed through barb and shaft, being then cut off smoothly on
both sides. The point of the harpoon had at one side a wedgeshaped
edge, ground to razor keenness, the other side was flat.
The shaft, about thirty inches long, was of the best malleable
iron, so soft that it would tie into a knot and straighten out
again without fracture. Three harpoons, or "irons" as they were
always called, were placed in each boat, fitted one above the
other in the starboard bow, the first for use being always one
unused before, Opposite to them in the boat were fitted three
lances for the purpose of KILLING whales, the harpoons being
only the means by which the boat was attached to a fish, and
quite useless to inflict a fatal wound. These lances were
slender spears of malleable iron about four feet long, with oval
or heart-shaped points of fine steel about two inches broad,
their edges kept keen as a surgeon's lancet. By means of a
socket at the other end they were attached to neat handles, or
"lance-poles," about as long again, the whole weapon being thus
about eight feet in length, and furnished with a light line, or
"lance-warp," for the purpose of drawing it back again when it
had been darted at a whale.
Each boat was fitted with a centre-board, or sliding keel, which
was drawn up, when not in use, into a case standing in the
boat's middle, very much in the way. But the American whalemen
regard these clumsy contrivances as indispensable, so there's an
end on't. The other furniture of a boat comprised five oars of
varying lengths from sixteen to nine feet, one great steering
oar of nineteen feet, a mast and two sails of great area for so
small a craft, spritsail shape; two tubs of whale-line
containing together 1800 feet, a keg of drinking water, and
another long narrow one with a few biscuits, a lantern, candles
and matches therein; a bucket and "piggin" for baling, a small
spade, a flag or "wheft," a shoulder bomb-gun and ammunition,
two knives and two small axes. A rudder hung outside by the
With all this gear, although snugly stowed, a boat looked so
loaded that I could not help wondering how six men would be able
to work in her; but like most "deep-water" sailors, I knew very
little about boating. I was going to learn.
All this work and bustle of preparation was so rapidly carried
on, and so interesting, that before supper-time everything was
in readiness to commence operations, the time having gone so
swiftly that I could hardly believe the bell when it sounded
four times, six o'clock.
During all the bustle of warlike preparation that had been going
on, the greenhorns had not suffered from inattention on the part
of those appointed to look after them. Happily for them, the
wind blew steadily, and the weather, thanks to the balmy
influence of the Gulf Stream, was quite mild and genial. The
ship was undoubtedly lively, as all good sea-boats are, but her
motions were by no means so detestable to a sea-sick man as those
of a driving steamer. So, in spite of their treatment, perhaps
because of it, some of the poor fellows were beginning to take
hold of things "man-fashion," although of course sea, legs they
had none, their getting about being indeed a pilgrimage of pain.
Some of them were beginning to try the dreadful "grub" (I cannot
libel "food" by using it in such a connection), thereby showing
that their interest in life, even such a life as was now before
them, was returning. They had all been allotted places in the
various boats, intermixed with the seasoned Portuguese in such
a way that the officer and harpooner in charge would not be
dependant upon them entirely in case of a sudden emergency.
Every endeavour was undoubtedly made to instruct them in their
duties, albeit the teachers were all too apt to beat their
information in with anything that came to hand, and persuasion
found no place in their methods.
The reports I had always heard of the laziness prevailing on
board whale-ships were now abundantly falsified. From dawn to
dark work went on without cessation. Everything was rubbed and
scrubbed and scoured until no speck or soil could be found;
indeed, no gentleman's yacht or man-of-war is kept more
spotlessly clean than was the CACHALOT.
A regular and severe routine of labour was kept up; and, what was
most galling to me, instead of a regular four hours' watch on and
off, night and day, all hands were kept on deck the whole day
long, doing quite unnecessary tasks, apparently with the object
of preventing too much leisure and consequent brooding over their
unhappy lot. One result of this continual drive and tear was
that all these landsmen became rapidly imbued with the virtues of
cleanliness, which was extended to the den in which we lived, or
I verily believe sickness would have soon thinned us out.
On the fourth day after leaving port we were all busy as usual
except the four men in the "crow's-nests," when a sudden cry of
"Porps! porps!" brought everything to a standstill. A large
school of porpoises had just joined us, in their usual clownish
fashion, rolling and tumbling around the bows as the old barky
wallowed along, surrounded by a wide ellipse of snowy foam. All
work was instantly suspended, and active preparations made for
securing a few of these frolicsome fellows. A "block," or
pulley, was hung out at the bowsprit end, a whale-line passed
through it and "bent" (fastened) on to a harpoon. Another line
with a running "bowline," or slip-noose, was also passed out to
the bowsprit end, being held there by one man in readiness. Then
one of the harpooners ran out along the backropes, which keep the
jib-boom down, taking his stand beneath the bowsprit with the
harpoon ready. Presently he raised his iron and followed the
track of a rising porpoise with its point until the creature
broke water. At the same instant the weapon left his grasp,
apparently without any force behind it; but we on deck, holding
the line, soon found that our excited hauling lifted a big
vibrating body clean out of the smother beneath. "'Vast
hauling!" shouted the mate, while as the porpoise hung dangling,
the harpooner slipped the ready bowline over his body, gently
closing its grip round the "small" by the broad tail. Then we
hauled on the noose-line, slacking away the harpoon, and in a
minute had our prize on deck. He was dragged away at once and
the operation repeated. Again and again we hauled them in, until
the fore part of the deck was alive with the kicking, writhing
sea-pigs, at least twenty of them. I had seen an occasional
porpoise caught at sea before, but never more than one at a time.
Here, however, was a wholesale catch. At last one of the
harpooned ones plunged so furiously while being hauled up that he
literally tore himself off the iron, falling, streaming with
blood, back into the sea.
Away went all the school after him, tearing at him with their
long well-toothed jaws, some of them leaping high in the air in
their eagerness to get their due share of the cannibal feast.
Our fishing was over for that time. Meanwhile one of the
harpooners had brought out a number of knives, with which all
hands were soon busy skinning the blubber from the bodies.
Porpoises have no skin, that is hide, the blubber or coating of
lard which encases them being covered by a black substance as
thin as tissue paper. The porpoise hide of the boot maker is
really leather, made from the skin of the BELUGA, or "white
whale," which is found only in the far north. The cover was
removed from the "tryworks" amidships, revealing two gigantic
pots set in a frame of brickwork side by side, capable of holding
200 gallons each. Such a cooking apparatus as might have graced
a Brobdingnagian kitchen. Beneath the pots was the very simplest
of furnaces, hardly as elaborate as the familiar copper-hole
sacred to washing day. Square funnels of sheet-iron were loosely
fitted to the flues, more as a protection against the oil boiling
over into the fire than to carry away the smoke, of which from
the peculiar nature of the fuel there was very little, At one
side of the try-works was a large wooden vessel, or "hopper," to
contain the raw blubber; at the other, a copper cistern or cooler
of about 300 gallons capacity, into which the prepared oil was
baled to cool off, preliminary to its being poured into the
casks. Beneath the furnaces was a space as large as the whole
area of the try-works, about a foot deep, which, when the fires
were lighted, was filled with water to prevent the deck from
It may be imagined that the blubber from our twenty porpoises
made but a poor show in one of the pots; nevertheless, we got a
barrel of very excellent oil from them. The fires were fed with
"scrap," or pieces of blubber from which the oil had been boiled,
some of which had been reserved from the previous voyage. They
burnt with a fierce and steady blaze, leaving but a trace of ash.
I was then informed by one of the harpooners that no other fuel
was ever used for boiling blubber at any time, there being always
amply sufficient for the purpose.
The most interesting part of the whole business, though, to us
poor half-starved wretches, was the plentiful supply of fresh
meat. Porpoise beef is, when decently cooked, fairly good eating
to a landsman; judge, then, what it must have been to us. Of
course the tit-bits, such as the liver, kidneys, brains, etc.,
could not possibly fall to our lot; but we did not complain, we
were too thankful to get something eatable, and enough of it.
Moreover, although few sailors in English ships know it, porpoise
beef improves vastly by keeping, getting tenderer every day the
longer it hangs, until at last it becomes as tasty a viand as one
could wish to dine upon. It was a good job for us that this was
the case, for while the porpoises lasted the "harness casks," or
salt beef receptacles, were kept locked; so if any man had felt
unable to eat porpoise--well, there was no compulsion, he could
go hungry.
We were now in the haunts of the Sperm Whale, or "Cachalot," a
brilliant look-out being continually kept for any signs of their
appearing. One officer and a foremast hand were continually on
watch during the day in the main crow's-nest, one harpooner and a
seaman in the fore one. A bounty of ten pounds of tobacco was
offered to whoever should first report a whale, should it be
secured, consequently there were no sleepy eyes up there. Of
course none of those who were inexperienced stood much chance
against the eagle-eyed Portuguese; but all tried their best, in
the hope of perhaps winning some little favour from their hard
taskmasters. Every evening at sunset it was "all hands shorten
sail," the constant drill rapidly teaching even these clumsy
landsmen how to find their way aloft, and do something else
besides hold on to anything like grim death when they got there.
At last, one beautiful day, the boats were lowered and manned,
and away went the greenies on their first practical lesson in the
business of the voyage. As before noticed, there were two
greenies in each boat, they being so arranged that whenever one
of them "caught a crab," which of course was about every other
stroke, his failure made little difference to the boat's
progress. They learned very fast under the terrible imprecations
and storm of blows from the iron-fisted and iron-hearted
officers, so that before the day was out the skipper was
satisfied of our ability to deal With a "fish" should he be lucky
enough to "raise" one. I was, in virtue of my experience, placed
at the after-oar in the mate's boat, where it was my duty to
attend to the "main sheet" when the sail was set, where also I
had the benefit of the lightest oar except the small one used by
the harpooner in the bow.
The very next day after our first exhaustive boat drill, a school
of "Black Fish" was reported from aloft, with great glee the
officers prepared for what they considered a rattling day's fun.
The Black Fish (PHOCAENA SP.) is a small toothed whale, not at
all unlike a miniature cachalot, except that its head is rounded
at the front, while its jaw is not long and straight, but bowed.
It is as frolicsome as the porpoise, gambolling about in schools
of from twenty to fifty or more, as if really delighted to be
alive. Its average size is from ten to twenty feet long, and
seven or eight feet in grirth, weight from one to three tons.
Blubber about three inches thick, while the head is almost all
oil, so that a good rich specimen will make between one and two
barrels of oil of medium quality.
The school we were now in sight of was of middling size and about
average weight of individuals, and the officers esteemed it a
fortunate circumstance that we should happen across them as a
sort of preliminary to our tackling the monarchs of the deep.
All the new harpoons were unshipped from the boats, and a couple
of extra "second" irons, as those that have been used are called,
were put into each boat for use if wanted. The sails were also
left on board. We lowered and left the ship, pulling right
towards the school, the noise they were making in their fun
effectually preventing them from hearing our approach. It is
etiquette to allow the mate's boat first place, unless his crew
is so weak as to be unable to hold their own; but as the mate
always has first pick of the men this seldom happens. So, as
usual, we were first, and soon I heard the order given, "Stand
up, Louey, and let 'em have it!" Sure enough, here we were right
among them. Louis let, drive, "fastening" a whopper about twenty
feet long. The injured animal plunged madly forward, accompanied
by his fellows, while Louis calmly bent another iron to a "short
warp," or piece of whale-line, the loose end of which he made a
bowline with around the main line which was fast to the "fish."
Then he fastened another "fish," and the queer sight was seen of
these two monsters each trying to flee in opposite directions,
while the second one ranged about alarmingly as his "bridle" ran
along the main line. another one was secured in the same way,
then the game was indeed great. The school had by this time
taken the alarm and cleared out, but the other boats were all
fast to fish, so that didn't matter. Now, at the rate our "game"
were going it would evidently be a long while before they died,
although, being so much smaller than a whale proper, a harpoon
will often kill them at a stroke. Yet they were now so tangled
or "snarled erp," as the mate said, that it was no easy matter to
lance them without great danger of cutting the line. However, we
hauled up as close to them as we dared, and the harpooner got a
good blow in, which gave the biggest of the three "Jesse," as he
said, though why "Jesse" was a stumper. Anyhow, it killed him
promptly, while almost directly after another one saved further
trouble by passing in his own checks. But he sank at the same
time, drawing the first one down with him, so that we were in
considerable danger of having to cut them adrift or be swamped.
The "wheft " was waved thrice as an urgent signal to the ship to
come to our assistance with all speed, but in the meantime our
interest lay in the surviving Black Fish keeping alive. Should
HE die, and, as was most probable, sink, we should certainly have
to cut and lose the lot, tools included.
We waited in grim silence while the ship came up, so slowly,
apparently, that she hardly seemed to move, but really at a good
pace of about four knots an hour, which for her was not at all
bad. She got alongside of us at last, and we passed up the bight
of our line, our fish all safe, very much pleased with ourselves,
especially when we found that the other boats had only five
between the three of them.
The fish secured to the ship, all the boats were hoisted except
one, which remained alongside to sling the bodies. During our
absence the ship-keepers had been busy rigging one of the cutting
falls, an immense fourfold tackle from the main lowermast-head,
of four-inch rope through great double blocks, large as those
used at dockyards for lifting ships' masts and boilers. Chainslings
were passed around the carcases, which gripped the animal
at the "small," being prevented from slipping off by the broad
spread of the tail. The end of the "fall," or tackle-rope, was
then taken to the windlass, and we hove away cheerily, lifting
the monsters right on deck. A mountainous pile they made. A
short spell was allowed, when the whole eight were on board, for
dinner; then all hands turned to again to "flench" the blubber,
and prepare for trying-out. This was a heavy job, keeping all
hands busy until it was quite dark, the latter part of the work
being carried on by the light of a "cresset," the flames of which
were fed with "scrap," which blazed brilliantly, throwing a big
glare over all the ship. The last of the carcases was launched
overboard by about eight o'clock that evening, but not before
some vast junks of beef had been cut off and hung up in the
rigging for our food supply.
The try-works were started again, "trying-out" going on busily
all night, watch and watch taking their turn at keeping the pots
supplied with minced blubber. The work was heavy, while the
energetic way in which it was carried on made us all glad to take
what rest was allowed us, which was scanty enough, as usual.
By nightfall the next day the ship had resumed her normal
appearance, and we were a tun and a quarter of oil to the good.
Black Fish oil is of medium quality, but I learned that,
according to the rule of "roguery in all trades," it was the
custom to mix quantities such as we had just obtained with better
class whale-oil, and thus get a much higher price than it was
really worth.
Up till this time we had no sort of an idea as to where our first
objective might be, but from scraps of conversation I had
overheard among the harpooners, I gathered that we were making
for the Cape Verde Islands or the Acores, in the vicinity of
which a good number of moderate-sized sperm whales are often to
be found. In fact, these islands have long been a nursery for
whale-fishers, because the cachalot loves their steep-to shores,
and the hardy natives, whenever and wherever they can muster a
boat and a little gear, are always ready to sally forth and
attack the unwary whale that ventures within their ken.
Consequently more than half of the total crews of the American
whaling fleet are composed of these islanders. Many of them have
risen to the position of captain, and still more are officers and
harpooners; but though undoubtedly brave and enterprising, they
are cruel and treacherous, and in positions of authority over men
of Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon origin, are apt to treat their
subordinates with great cruelty.
Nautical routine in its essential details is much the same in all
ships, whether naval, merchant, or whaling vessels. But while in
the ordinary merchantman there are decidedly "no more cats than
can catch mice," hardly, indeed, sufficient for all the mousing
that should be done, in men-of-war and whaleships the number of
hands carried, being far more than are wanted for everyday work,
must needs be kept at unnecessary duties in order that they may
not grow lazy and discontented.
For instance, in the CACHALOT we carried a crew of thirty-seven
all told, of which twenty-four were men before the mast, or
common seamen, our tonnage being under 400 tons. Many a splendid
clipper-ship carrying an enormous spread of canvas on four masts,
and not overloaded with 2500 tons of cargo on board, carries
twenty-eight or thirty all told, or even less than that. As far
as we were concerned, the result of this was that our landsmen
got so thoroughly drilled, that within a week of leaving port
they hardly knew themselves for the clumsy clodhoppers they at
first appeared to be.
We had now been eight days out, and in our leisurely way were
making fair progress across the Atlantic, having had nothing, so
far, but steady breezes and fine weather. As it was late autumn
the first week in October--I rather wondered at this, for even in
my brief experience I had learned to dread a "fall" voyage across
the "Western Ocean."
Gradually the face of the sky changed, and the feel of the air,
from balmy and genial, became raw and cheerless. The little wave
tops broke short off and blew backwards, apparently against the
wind, while the old vessel had an uneasy, unnatural motion,
caused by a long, new swell rolling athwart the existing set of
the sea. Then the wind became fitful and changeable, backing
half round the compass, and veering forward again as much in an
hour, until at last in one tremendous squall it settled in the
N.W. for a business-like blow, Unlike the hurried merchantman who
must needs "hang on" till the last minute, only shortening the
sail when absolutely compelled to do so, and at the first sign of
the gales relenting, piling it on again, we were all snug long
before the storm burst upon us, and now rode comfortably under
the tiniest of storm staysails.
We were evidently in for a fair specimen of Western Ocean
weather, but the clumsy-looking, old-fashioned CACHALOT made no
more fuss over it than one of the long-winged sea-birds that
floated around, intent only upon snapping up any stray scraps
that might escape from us. Higher rose the wind, heavier rolled
the sea, yet never a drop of water did we ship, nor did anything
about the deck betoken what, a heavy gale was blowing. During
the worst of the weather, and just after the wind had shifted
back into the N.E., making an uglier cross sea than ever get up,
along comes an immense four-masted iron ship homeward bound. She
was staggering under a veritable mountain of canvas, fairly
burying her bows in the foam at every forward drive, and actually
wetting the clews of the upper topsails in the smothering masses
of spray, that every few minutes almost hid her hull from sight.
It was a splendid picture; but--for the time--I felt glad I was
not on board of her. In a very few minutes she was out of our
ken, followed by the admiration of all. Then came, from the
other direction, a huge steamship, taking no more notice of the
gale than as if it were calm. Straight through the sea she
rushed, dividing the mighty rollers to the heart, and often
bestriding three seas at once, the centre one spreading its many
tons of foaming water fore and aft, so that from every orifice
spouted the seething brine. Compared with these greyhounds of the
wave, we resembled nothing so much as some old lightship bobbing
serenely around, as if part and parcel of the mid-Atlantic.
Our greenies were getting so well seasoned by this time that even
this rough weather did not knock any of them over, and from that
time forward they had no more trouble from sea-sickness.
The gale gradually blew itself out, leaving behind only a long
and very heavy swell to denote the deep-reaching disturbance that
the ocean had endured. And now we were within the range of the
Sargasso Weed, that mysterious FUCUS that makes the ocean look.
like some vast hayfield, and keeps the sea from rising, no matter
how high the wind. It fell a dead calm, and the harpooners
amused themselves by dredging up great masses of the weed, and
turning out the many strange creatures abiding therein. What a
world of wonderful life the weed is, to be sure! In it the
flying fish spawn and the tiny cuttle-fish breed, both of them
preparing bounteous provision for the larger denizens of the deep
that have no other food. Myriads of tiny crabs and innumerable
specimens of less-known shell-fish, small fish of species as yet
unclassified in any work on natural history, with jelly-fish of
every conceivable and inconceivable shape, form part of this
great and populous country in the sea. At one haul there was
brought on board a mass of flying-fish spawn, about ten pounds in
weight, looking like nothing so much as a pile of ripe white
currants, and clinging together in a very similar manner.
Such masses of ova I had often seen cast up among the outlying
rocks on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, when as a shipwrecked
lad I wandered idly about unburying turtle eggs from their snug
beds in the warm sand, and chasing the many-hued coral fish from
one hiding-place to another.
While loitering in these smooth waters, waiting for the laggard
wind, up came a shoal of dolphin, ready as at all times to attach
themselves for awhile to the ship. Nothing is more singular than
the manner in which deep-sea fish will accompany a vessel that is
not going too fast--sometimes for days at a time. Most
convenient too, and providing hungry Jack with many a fresh mess
he would otherwise have missed. Of all these friendly fish, none
is better known than the "dolphin," as from long usage sailors
persist in calling them, and will doubtless do so until the end
of the chapter. For the true dolphin (DELPHINIDAE) is not a fish
at all, but a mammal a warm-blooded creature that suckles its
young, and in its most familiar form is known to most people as
the porpoise. The sailor's "dolphin," on the other hand, is a
veritable fish, with vertical tail fin instead of the horizontal
one which distinguishes all the whale family, scales and gills.
It is well known to literature, under its sea-name, for its
marvellous brilliancy of colour, and there are few objects more
dazzling than a dolphin leaping out of a calm sea into the
sunshine. The beauty of a dying dolphin, however, though
sanctioned by many generations of writers, is a delusion, all the
glory of the fish departing as soon as he is withdrawn from his
native element.
But this habit of digression grows upon one, and I must do my
best to check it, or I shall never get through my task.
To resume then: when this school of dolphin (I can't for the life
of me call them CORIPHAENA HIPPURIS) came alongside, a rush was
made for the "granes"--a sort of five-pronged trident, if I may
be allowed a baby bull. It was universally agreed among the
fishermen that trying a hook and line was only waste of time and
provocative of profanity! since every sailor knows that all the
deep-water big fish require a living or apparently living bait.
The fish, however, sheered off, and would not be tempted within
reach of that deadly fork by any lure. Then did I cover myself
with glory. For he who can fish cleverly and luckily may be sure
of fairly good times in a whaler, although he may be no great
things at any other work. I had a line of my own, and begging
one of the small fish that had been hauled up in the Gulf weed, I
got permission to go aft and fish over the taffrail. The little
fish was carefully secured on the hook, the point of which just
protruded near his tail. Then I lowered him into the calm blue
waters beneath, and paid out line very gently, until my bait was
a silvery spot about a hundred feet astern. Only a very short
time, and my hopes rose as I saw one bright gleam after another
glide past the keel, heading aft. Then came a gentle drawing at
the line, which I suffered to slip slowly through my fingers
until I judged it time to try whether I was right or wrong, A
long hard pull, and my heart beat fast as I felt the thrill along
the line that fishermen love. None of your high art here, but
haul in hand over hand, the line being strong enough to land a
250 pound fish. Up he came, the beauty, all silver and scarlet
and blue, five feet long if an inch, and weighing 35 pounds.
Well, such a lot of astonished men I never saw. They could
hardly believe their eyes. That such a daring innovation should
be successful was hardly to be believed, even with the vigorous
evidence before them. Even grim Captain Slocum came to look and
turned upon me as I thought a less lowering brow than usual,
while Mr. Count, the mate, fairly chuckled again at the thought
of how the little Britisher had wiped the eyes of these veteran
fishermen. The captive was cut open, and two recent flying-fish
found in his maw, which were utilized for new bait, with the
result that there was a cheerful noise of hissing and spluttering
in the galley soon after, and a mess of fish for all hands.
Shortly afterwards a fresh breeze sprang up, which proved to be
the beginning of the N.E. trades, and fairly guaranteed us
against any very bad weather for some time to come.
Somehow or other it had leaked out that we were to cruise the
Cape Verd Islands for a spell before working south, and the
knowledge seemed to have quite an enlivening effect upon our
Portuguese shipmates.
Most of them belonged there, and although there was but the
faintest prospect of their getting ashore upon any pretext
whatever, the possibility of seeing their island homes again
seemed to quite transform them. Hitherto they had been very
moody and exclusive, never associating with us on the white side,
or attempting to be at all familiar. A mutual atmosphere of
suspicion, in fact, seemed to pervade our quarters, making things
already uncomfortable enough, still more so. Now, however, they
fraternized with us, and in a variety of uncouth ways made havoc
of the English tongue, as they tried to impress us with the
beauty, fertility and general incomparability of their beloved
Cape Verds. Of the eleven white men besides myself in the
forecastle, there were a middle-aged German baker, who had bolted
from Buffalo; two Hungarians, who looked like noblemen disguised
--in dirt; two slab-sided Yankees of about 22 from farms in
Vermont; a drayman from New York; a French Canadian from the
neighbourhood of Quebec; two Italians from Genoa; and two
nondescripts that I never found out the origin of. Imagine,
then, the babel of sound, and think--but no, it is impossible to
think, what sort of a jargon was compounded of all these varying
elements of language.
One fortunate thing, there was peace below. Indeed, the spirit
seemed completely taken out of all of them, and by some devilish
ingenuity the afterguard had been able to sow distrust between
them all, while treating them like dogs, so that the miseries of
their life were never openly discussed. My position among them
gave me at times some uneasiness. Though I tried to be helpful
to all, and was full of sympathy for their undeserved sufferings,
I could not but feel that they would have been more than human
had they not envied me my immunity from the kicks and blows they
all shared so impartially. However, there was no help for it, so
I went on as cheerily as I could.
A peculiarity of all these vessels, as I afterwards learned, was
that no stated allowance of anything was made. Even the water
was not served out to us, but was kept in a great scuttle-butt by
the cabin door, to which every one who needed a drink had to go,
and from which none might be carried away. No water was allowed
for washing except from the sea; and every one knows, or should
know, that neither flesh nor clothes can be cleansed with that.
But a cask with a perforated top was lashed by the bowsprit and
kept filled with urine, which I was solemnly assured by Goliath
was the finest dirt-extractor in the world for clothes. The
officers did not avail themselves of its virtues though, but were
content with ley, which was furnished in plenty by the ashes from
the galley fire, where nothing but wood was used as fuel. Of
course when rain fell we might have a good wash, if it was night
and no other work was toward; but we were not allowed to store
any for washing purposes. Another curious but absolutely
necessary custom prevailed in consequence of the short commons
under which we lived. When the portion of meat was brought down
in its wooden kid, or tub, at dinner-time, it was duly divided as
fairly as possible into as many parts as there were mouths. Then
one man turned his back on the carver, who holding up each
portion, called out, "Who's this for?" Whatever name was
mentioned by the arbitrator, that man owning it received the
piece, and had perforce to be satisfied therewith. Thus justice
was done to all in the only way possible, and without any
friction whatever.
As some of us were without clothes except what we stood upright
in, when we joined, the "slop chest" was opened, and every
applicant received from the steward what Captain Slocum thought
fit to let him have, being debited with the cost against such
wages as he might afterwards earn. The clothes were certainly of
fairly good quality, if the price was high, and exactly suited to
our requirements. Soap, matches, and tobacco were likewise
supplied on the same terms, but at higher prices than I had ever
heard of before for these necessaries. After much careful inquiry
I ascertained what, in the event of a successful voyage, we were
likely to earn. Each of us were on the two hundredth "lay" or
share at $200 per tun, which meant that for every two hundred
barrels of oil taken on board, we were entitled to one, which we
must sell to the ship at the rate of L40 per tun or L4 per
barrel. Truly a magnificent outlook for young men bound to such
a business for three or four years.
Simultaneous ideas occurring to several people, or thought
transference, whatever one likes to call the phenomenon is too
frequent an occurrence in most of our experience to occasion much
surprise. Yet on the occasion to which I am about to refer, the
matter was so very marked that few of us who took part in the
day's proceedings are ever likely to forget it.
We were all gathered about the fo'lk'sle scuttle one evening, a
few days after the gale referred to in the previous chapter, and
the question of whale-fishing came up for discussion. Until that
time, strange as it may seem, no word of this, the central idea
of all our minds, had been mooted. Every man seemed to shun the
subject, although we were in daily expectation of being called
upon to take an active part in whale-fighting. Once the ice was
broken, nearly all had something to say about it, and very nearly
as many addle-headed opinions were ventilated as at a Colney
Hatch debating society. For we none of us KNEW anything about
it. I was appealed to continually to support this or that theory,
but as far as whaling went I could only, like the rest of them,
draw upon my imagination for details. How did a whale act, what
were the first steps taken, what chance was there of being saved
if your boat got smashed, and so on unto infinity. At last,
getting very tired of this "Portugee Parliament" of all talkers
and no listeners, I went aft to get a drink of water before
turning in. The harpooners and other petty officers were grouped
in the waist, earnestly discussing the pros and cons of attack
upon whales. As I passed I heard the mate's harpooner say,
"Feels like whale about. I bet a plug (of tobacco) we raise
sperm whale to-morrow." Nobody took his bet, for it appeared that
they were mostly of the same mind, and while I was drinking I
heard the officers in dignified conclave talking over the same
thing. It was Saturday evening, and while at home people were
looking forward to a day's respite from work and care, I felt
that the coming day, though never taken much notice of on board,
was big with the probabilities of strife such as I at least had
at present no idea of. So firmly was I possessed by the
prevailing feeling.
The night was very quiet. A gentle breeze was blowing, and the
sky was of the usual "Trade" character, that is, a dome of dark
blue fringed at the horizon with peaceful cumulus clouds, almost
motionless. I turned in at four a.m. from the middle watch and,
as usual, slept like a babe. Suddenly I started wide awake, a
long mournful sound sending a thrill to my very heart. As I
listened breathlessly other sounds of the same character but in
different tones joined in, human voices monotonously intoning in
long drawn-out expirations the single word "bl-o-o-o-o-w." Then
came a hurricane of noise overhead, and adjurations in no gentle
language to the sleepers to "tumble up lively there, no skulking,
sperm whales." At last, then, fulfilling all the presentiments of
yesterday, the long dreaded moment had arrived. Happily there
was no time for hesitation, in less than two minutes we were all
on deck, and hurrying to our respective boats. There was no
flurry or confusion, and except that orders were given more
quietly than usual, with a manifest air of suppressed excitement,
there was nothing to show that we were not going for an ordinary
course of boat drill. The skipper was in the main crow's-nest
with his binoculars presently he shouted, "Naow then, Mr. Count,
lower away soon's y'like. Small pod o'cows, an' one'r two bulls
layin' off to west'ard of 'em." Down went the boats into the
water quietly enough, we all scrambled in and shoved off. A
stroke or two of the oars were given to get clear of the ship,
and one another, then oars were shipped and up went the sails.
As I took my allotted place at the main-sheet, and the beautiful
craft started off like some big bird, Mr. Count leant forward,
saying impressively to me, "Y'r a smart youngster, an' I've
kinder took t'yer; but don't ye look ahead an' get gallied, 'r
I'll knock ye stiff wi' th' tiller; y'hear me? N' don't ye dare
to make thet sheet fast, 'r ye'll die so sudden y' won't know
whar y'r hurted." I said as cheerfully as I could, "All right,
sir," trying to look unconcerned, telling myself not to be a
coward, and all sorts of things; but the cold truth is that I was
scared almost to death because I didn't know what was coming.
However, I did the best thing under the circumstances, obeyed
orders and looked steadily astern, or up into the bronzed
impassive face of my chief, who towered above me, scanning with
eagle eyes the sea ahead. The other boats were coming flying
along behind us, spreading wider apart as they came, while in the
bows of each stood the harpooner with his right hand on his first
iron, which lay ready, pointing over the bow in a raised fork of
wood called the "crutch."
All of a sudden, at a motion of the chief's hand, the peak of our
mainsail was dropped, and the boat swung up into the wind, laying
"hove to," almost stationary. The centre-board was lowered to
stop her drifting to leeward, although I cannot say it made much
difference that ever I saw. NOW what's the matter, I thought,
when to my amazement the chief addressing me said, "Wonder why
we've hauled up, don't ye?" "Yes, sir, I do," said I. "Wall,"
said he, "the fish hev sounded, an' 'ef we run over 'em, we've
seen the last ov'em. So we wait awhile till they rise agin, 'n
then we'll prob'ly git thar' 'r thareabonts before they sound
agin." With this explanation I had to be content, although if it
be no clearer to my readers than it then was to me, I shall have
to explain myself more fully later on. Silently we lay, rocking
lazily upon the gentle swell, no other word being spoken by any
one. At last Louis, the harpooner, gently breathed "blo-o-o-w;"
and there, sure enough, not half a mile away on the lee beam, was
a little bushy cloud of steam apparently rising from the sea. At
almost the same time as we kept away all the other boats did
likewise, and just then, catching sight of the ship, the reason
for this apparently concerted action was explained. At the mainmast
head of the ship was a square blue flag, and the ensign at
the peak was being dipped. These were signals well understood
and promptly acted upon by those in charge of the boats, who were
thus guided from a point of view at least one hundred feet above
the sea.
"Stand up, Louey," the mate murmured softly. I only just stopped
myself in time from turning my head to see why the order was
given. Suddenly there was a bump, at the same moment the mate
yelled, "Give't to him, Louey, give't to him!" and to me, "Haul
that main sheet, naow haul, why don't ye?" I hauled it flat aft,
and the boat shot up into the wind, rubbing sides as she did so
with what to my troubled sight seemed an enormous mass of black
india-rubber floating. As we CRAWLED up into the wind, the whale
went into convulsions befitting his size and energy. He raised a
gigantic tail on high, threshing the water with deafening blows,
rolling at the same time from side to side until the surrounding
sea was white with froth. I felt in an agony lest we should be
crushed under one of those fearful strokes, for Mr. Count
appeared to be oblivious of possible danger, although we seemed
to be now drifting back on to the writhing leviathan. In the
agitated condition of the sea, it was a task of no ordinary
difficulty to unship the tall mast, which was of course the first
thing to be done. After a desperate struggle, and a narrow
escape from falling overboard of one of the men, we got the lone
"stick," with the sail bundled around it, down and "fleeted" aft,
where it was secured by the simple means of sticking the "heel"
under the after thwart, two-thirds of the mast extending out over
the stern. Meanwhile, we had certainly been in a position of the
greatest danger, our immunity from damage being unquestionably
due to anything but precaution taken to avoid it.
By the time the oars were handled, and the mate had exchanged
places with the harpooner, our friend the enemy had "sounded,"
that is, he had gone below for a change of scene, marvelling no
doubt what strange thing had befallen him. Agreeably to the
accounts which I, like most boys, had read of the whale fishery,
I looked for the rushing of the line round the logger-head (a
stout wooden post built into the boat aft), to raise a cloud of
smoke with occasional bursts of flame; so as it began to slowly
surge round the post, I timidly asked the harpooner whether I
should throw any water on it. "Wot for?" growled he, as he took
a couple more turns with it. Not knowing "what for," and hardly
liking to quote my authorities here, I said no more, but waited
events. "Hold him up, Louey, bold him up, cain't ye?" shouted
the mate, and to my horror, down went the nose of the boat almost
under water, while at the mate's order everybody scrambled aft
into the elevated stern sheets.
The line sang quite a tune as it was grudgingly allowed to surge
round the loggerhead, filling one with admiration at the strength
shown by such a small rope. This sort of thing went on for about
twenty minutes, in which time we quite emptied the large tub and
began on the small one. As there was nothing whatever for us to
do while this was going on, I had ample leisure for observing the
little game that was being played about a quarter of a mile away.
Mr. Cruce, the second mate, had got a whale and was doing his
best to kill it; but he was severely handicapped by his crew, or
rather had been, for two of them were now temporarily incapable
of either good or harm. They had gone quite "batchy" with
fright, requiring a not too gentle application of the tiller to
their heads in order to keep them quiet. The remedy, if rough,
was effectual, for "the subsequent proceedings interested them no
more." Consequently his manoeuvres were not so well or rapidly
executed as he, doubtless, could have wished, although his energy
in lancing that whale was something to admire and remember.
Hatless, his shirt tail out of the waist of his trousers
streaming behind him like a banner, he lunged and thrust at the
whale alongside of him, as if possessed of a destroying devil,
while his half articulate yells of rage and blasphemy were
audible even to us.
Suddenly our boat fell backward from her "slantindicular"
position with a jerk, and the mate immediately shouted, "Haul
line, there! look lively, now, you--so on, etcetera, etcetera"
(he seemed to invent new epithets on every occasion). The line
came in hand over hand, and was coiled in a wide heap in the
stern sheets, for silky as it was, it could not be expected in
its wet state to lie very close. As it came flying in the mate
kept a close gaze upon the water immediately beneath us,
apparently for the first glimpse of our antagonist. When the
whale broke water, however, he was some distance off, and
apparently as quiet as a lamb. Now, had Mr. Count been a prudent
or less ambitious man, our task would doubtless have been an easy
one, or comparatively so; but, being a little over-grasping, he
got us all into serious trouble. We were hauling up to our whale
in order to lance it, and the mate was standing, lance in hand,
only waiting to get near enough, when up comes a large whale
right alongside of our boat, so close, indeed, that I might have
poked my finger in his little eye, if I had chosen. The sight of
that whale at liberty, and calmly taking stock of us like that,
was too much for the mate. He lifted his lance and hurled it at
the visitor, in whose broad flank it sank, like a knife into
butter, right up to the pole-hitches. The recipient disappeared
like a flash, but before one had time to think, there was an
awful crash beneath us, and the mate shot up into the air like a
bomb from a mortar. He came down in a sitting posture on the
mast-thwart; but as he fell, the whole framework of the boat
collapsed like a derelict umbrella. Louis quietly chopped the
line and severed our connection with the other whale, while in
accordance with our instructions we drew each man his oar across
the boat and lashed it firmly down with a piece of line spliced
to each thwart for the purpose. This simple operation took but a
minute, but before it was completed we were all up to our necks
in the sea. Still in the boat, it is true, and therefore not in
such danger of drowning as if we were quite adrift; but,
considering that the boat was reduced to a mere bundle of loose
planks, I, at any rate, was none too comfortable. Now, had he
known it, was the whale's golden opportunity; but he, poor
wretch, had had quite enough of our company, and cleared off
without any delay, wondering, no doubt, what fortunate accident
had rid him of our very unpleasant attentions.
I was assured that we were all as safe as if we were on board the
ship, to which I answered nothing; but, like Jack's parrot, I did
some powerful thinking. Every little wave that came along swept
clean over our heads, sometimes coming so suddenly as to cut a
breath in half. If the wind should increase--but no--I wouldn't
face the possibility of such a disagreeable thing. I was cool
enough now in a double sense, for although we were in the
tropics, we soon got thoroughly chilled.
By the position of the sun it must have been between ten a.m. and
noon, and we, of the crew, had eaten nothing since the previous
day at supper, when, as usual, the meal was very light.
Therefore, I suppose we felt the chill sooner than the betternourished
mate and harpooner, who looked rather scornfully at our
blue faces and chattering teeth.
In spite of all assurances to the contrary, I have not the least
doubt in my own mind that a very little longer would have
relieved us of ALL our burdens finally. Because the heave of the
sea had so loosened the shattered planks upon which we stood that
they were on the verge of falling all asunder. Had they done so
we must have drowned, for we were cramped and stiff with cold and
our constrained position. However, unknown to us, a bright lookout
upon our movements had been kept from the crow's-nest the
whole time. We should have been relieved long before, but that
the whale killed by the second mate was being secured, and
another boat, the fourth mate's, being picked up, having a hole
in her bilge you could put you head through. With all these
hindrances, especially securing the whale, we were fortunate to
be rescued as soon as we were, since it is well known that whales
are of much higher commercial value than men.
However, help came at last, and we were hauled alongside. Long
exposure had weakened us to such an extent that it was necessary
to hoist us on board, especially the mate, whose "sudden stop,"
when he returned to us after his little aerial excursion, had
shaken his sturdy frame considerably, a state of body which the
subsequent soaking had by no means improved. In my innocence I
imagined that we should be commiserated for our misfortunes by
Captain Slocum, and certainly be relieved from further duties
until we were a little recovered from the rough treatment we had
just undergone. But I never made a greater mistake. The skipper
cursed us all (except the mate, whoso sole fault the accident
undoubtedly was) with a fluency and vigour that was, to put it
mildly, discouraging. Moreover, we were informed that he
"wouldn't have no adjective skulking;" we must "turn to" and do
something after wasting the ship's time and property in such a
blanked manner. There was a limit, however, to our obedience, so
although we could not move at all for awhile, his threats were
not proceeded with farther than theory.
A couple of slings were passed around the boat, by means of which
she was carefully hoisted on board, a mere dilapidated bundle of
sticks and raffle of gear. She was at once removed aft out of
the way, the business of cutting in the whale claiming precedence
over everything else just then. The preliminary proceedings
consisted of rigging the "cutting stage." This was composed of
two stout planks a foot wide and ten feet long, the inner ends of
which were suspended by strong ropes over the ship's side about
four feet from the water, while the outer extremities were upheld
by tackles from the main rigging, and a small crane abreast the
These planks were about thirty feet apart, their two outer ends
being connected by a massive plank which was securely bolted to
them. A handrail about as high as a man's waist, supported by
light iron stanchions, ran the full length of this plank on the
side nearest the ship, the whole fabric forming an admirable
standing-place from whence the officers might, standing in
comparative comfort, cut and carve at the great mass below to
their hearts' content.
So far the prize had been simply held alongside by the whaleline,
which at death had been "rove" through a hole cut in the
solid gristle of the tail; but now it became necessary to secure
the carcase to the ship in some more permanent fashion.
Therefore, a massive chain like a small ship's cable was brought
forward, and in a very ingenious way, by means of a tiny buoy and
a hand-lead, passed round the body, one end brought through a
ring in the other, and hauled upon until it fitted tight round
the "small" or part of the whale next the broad spread of the
tail. The free end of the fluke-chain was then passed in through
a mooring-pipe forward, firmly secured to a massive bitt at the
heel of the bowsprit (the fluke-chain-bitt), and all was ready.
But the subsequent proceedings were sufficiently complicated to
demand a fresh chapter.
If in the preceding chapter too much stress has been laid upon
the smashing of our own boat and consequent sufferings, while
little or no notice was taken of the kindred disaster to Mistah
Jones' vessel, my excuse must be that the experience "filled me
right up to the chin," as the mate concisely, if inelegantly, put
it. Poor Goliath was indeed to be pitied, for his well-known luck
and capacity as a whaleman seemed on this occasion to have quite
deserted him. Not only had his boat been stove upon first
getting on to the whale, but he hadn't even had a run for his
money. It appeared that upon striking his whale, a small, lively
cow, she had at once "settled," allowing the boat to run over
her; but just as they were passing, she rose, gently enough, her
pointed hump piercing the thin skin of half-inch cedar as if it
had been cardboard. She settled again immediately, leaving a
hole behind her a foot long by six inches wide, which effectually
put a stop to all further fishing operations on the part of
Goliath and his merry men for that day, at any rate. It was all
so quiet, and so tame and so stupid, no wonder Mistah Jones felt
savage. When Captain Slocum's fluent profanity flickered around
him, including vehemently all he might be supposed to have any
respect for, he did not even LOOK as if he would like to talk
back; he only looked sick and tired of being himself.
The third mate, again, was of a different category altogether.
He had distinguished himself by missing every opportunity of
getting near a whale while there was a "loose" one about, and
then "saving" the crew of Goliath's boat, who were really in no
danger whatever. His iniquity was too great to be dealt with by
mere bad language. He crept about like a homeless dog--much, I
am afraid, to my secret glee, for I couldn't help remembering his
untiring cruelty to the green hands on first leaving port.
In consequence of these little drawbacks we were not a very
jovial crowd forrard or aft. Not that hilarity was ever
particularly noticeable among us, but just now there was a very
decided sense of wrong-doing over us all, and a general fear that
each of us was about to pay the penalty due to some other
delinquent. But fortunately there was work to be done. Oh,
blessed work! how many awkward situations you have extricated
people from! How many distracted brains have you soothed and
restored, by your steady irresistible pressure of duty to be done
and brooking of no delay!
The first thing to be done was to cut the whale's head off. This
operation, involving the greatest amount of labour in the whole
of the cutting in, was taken in hand by the first and second
mates, who, armed with twelve-feet spades, took their station
upon the stage, leaned over the handrail to steady themselves,
and plunged their weapons vigorously down through the massive
neck of the animal--if neck it could be said to have--following a
well-defined crease in the blubber. At the same time the other
officers passed a heavy chain sling around the long, narrow lower
jaw, hooking one of the big cutting tackles into it, the "fall"
of which was then taken to the windlass and hove tight, turning
the whale on her back. A deep cut was then made on both sides of
the rising jaw, the windlass was kept going, and gradually the
whole of the throat was raised high enough for a hole to be cut
through its mass, into which the strap of the second cutting
tackle was inserted and secured by passing a huge toggle of oak
through its eye. The second tackle was then hove taut, and the
jaw, with a large piece of blubber attached, was cut off from the
body with a boarding-knife, a tool not unlike a cutlass blade set
into a three-foot-long wooden handle.
Upon being severed the whole piece swung easily inboard and was
lowered on deck. The fast tackle was now hove upon while the
third mate on the stage cut down diagonally into the blubber on
the body, which the purchase ripped off in a broad strip or
"blanket" about five feet wide and a foot thick. Meanwhile the
other two officers carved away vigorously at the head, varying
their labours by cutting a hole right through the snout. This
when completed received a heavy chain for the purpose of securing
the head. When the blubber had been about half stripped off the
body, a halt was called in order that the work of cutting off the
head might be finished, for it was a task of incredible
difficulty. It was accomplished at last, and the mass floated
astern by a stout rope, after which the windlass pawls clattered
merrily, the "blankets " rose in quick succession, and were cut
off and lowered into the square of the main batch or "blubberroom."
A short time sufficed to strip off the whole of the bodyblubber,
and when at last the tail was reached, the backbone was
cut through, the huge mass of flesh floating away to feed the
innumerable scavengers of the sea. No sooner was the last of the
blubber lowered into the hold than the hatches were put on and
the head hauled up alongside. Both tackles were secured to it
and all hands took to the windlass levers. This was a small cow
whale of about thirty barrels, that is, yielding that amount of
oil, so it was just possible to lift the entire head on board;
but as it weighed as much as three full-grown elephants, it was
indeed a heavy lift for even our united forces, trying our tackle
to the utmost. The weather was very fine, and the ship rolled
but little; even then, the strain upon the mast was terrific, and
right glad was I when at last the immense cube of fat, flesh, and
bone was eased inboard and gently lowered on deck.
As soon as it was secured the work of dividing it began. From
the snout a triangular mass was cut, which was more than half
pure spermaceti. This substance was contained in spongy cells
held together by layers of dense white fibre, exceedingly tough
and elastic, and called by the whalers "white-horse." The whole
mass, or "junk" as it is called, was hauled away to the ship's
side and firmly lashed to the bulwarks for the time being, so
that it might not "take charge" of the deck during the rest of
the operations.
The upper part of the head was now slit open lengthwise,
disclosing an oblong cistern or "case" full of liquid spermaceti,
clear as water. This was baled out with buckets into a tank,
concreting as it cooled into a wax-like substance, bland and
tasteless. There being now nothing more remaining about the
skull of any value, the lashings were loosed, and the first
leeward roll sent the great mass plunging overboard with a mighty
splash. It sank like a stone, eagerly followed by a few small
sharks that were hovering near.
As may be imagined, much oil was running about the deck, for so
saturated was every part of the creature with it that it really
gushed like water during the cutting-up process. None of it was
allowed to run to waste, though, for the scupper-holes which
drain the deck were all carefully plugged, and as soon as the
"junk" had been dissected all the oil was carefully "squeegeed"
up and poured into the try-pots.
Two men were now told off as "blubber-room men," whose duty it
became to go below, and squeezing themselves in as best they
could between the greasy masses of fat, cut it up into "horsepieces"
about eighteen inches long and six inches square. Doing
this they became perfectly saturated with oil, as if they had
taken a bath in a tank of it; for as the vessel rolled it was
impossible to maintain a footing, and every fall was upon blubber
running with oil. A machine of wonderful construction had been
erected on deck in a kind of shallow trough about six feet long
by four feet wide and a foot deep. At some remote period of time
it had no doubt been looked upon as a triumph of ingenuity, a
patent mincing machine. Its action was somewhat like that of a
chaff-cutter, except that the knife was not attached to the
wheel, and only rose and fell, since it was not required to cut
right through the "horse-pieces" with which it was fed. It will
be readily understood that in order to get the oil quickly out of
the blubber, it needs to be sliced as thin as possible, but for
convenience in handling the refuse (which is the only fuel used)
it is not chopped up in small pieces, but every "horse-piece" is
very deeply scored as it were, leaving a thin strip to hold the
slices together. This then was the order of work. Two
harpooners attended the try-pots, replenishing them with minced
blubber from the hopper at the port side, and baling out the
sufficiently boiled oil into the great cooling tank on the
starboard. One officer superintended the mincing, another
exercised a general supervision over all. There was no man at
the wheel and no look-out, for the vessel was "hove-to" under two
close-reefed topsails and fore-topmast-staysail, with the wheel
lashed hard down. A look-out man was unnecessary, since we could
not run, anybody down, and if anybody ran us down, it would only
be because all hands were asleep, for the glare of our try-works
fire, to say nothing of the blazing cresset before mentioned,
could have been seen for many miles. So we toiled watch and
watch, six hours on and six off, the work never ceasing for an
instant night or day. Though the work was hard and dirty, and
the discomfort of being so continually wet through with oil
great, there was only one thing dangerous about the whole
business. That was the job of filling and shifting the huge
casks of oil. Some of these were of enormous size, containing
350 gallons when full, and the work of moving them about the
greasy deck of a rolling ship was attended with a terrible amount
of risk. For only four men at most could get fair hold of a
cask, and when she took it into her silly old hull to start
rolling, just as we had got one half-way across the deck, with
nothing to grip your feet, and the knowledge that one stumbling
man would mean a sudden slide of the ton and a half weight, and
a little heap of mangled corpses somewhere in the lee scuppers--
well one always wanted to be very thankful when the lashings were
safely passed.
The whale being a small one, as before noted, the whole business
was over within three days, and the decks scrubbed and rescrubbed
until they had quite regained their normal whiteness.
The oil was poured by means of a funnel and long canvas hose into
the casks stowed in the ground tier at the bottom of the ship,
and the gear, all carefully cleaned and neatly "stopped up,"
stowed snugly away below again.
This long and elaborate process is quite different from that
followed on board the Arctic whaleships, whose voyages are of
short duration, and who content themselves with merely cutting
the blubber up small and bringing it home to have the oil
expressed. But the awful putrid mass discharged from a
Greenlander's hold is of very different quality and value, apart
from the nature of the substance, to the clear and sweet oil,
which after three years in cask is landed from a south-seaman as
inoffensive in smell and flavour as the day it was shipped. No
attempt is made to separate the oil and spermaceti beyond boiling
the "head matter," as it is called, by itself first, and putting
it into casks which are not filled up with the body oil.
Spermaceti exists in all the oil, especially that from the dorsal
hump; but it is left for the refiners ashore to extract and leave
the oil quite free from any admixture of the wax-like substance,
which causes it to become solid at temperatures considerably
above the freezing-point.
Uninteresting as the preceding description may be, it is
impossible to understand anything of the economy of a south-sea
whaler without giving it, and I have felt it the more necessary
because of the scanty notice given to it in the only two works
published on the subject, both of them highly technical, and
written for scientific purposes by medical men. Therefore I hope
to be forgiven if I have tried the patience of my readers by any
It will not, of course, have escaped the reader's notice that I
have not hitherto attempted to give any details concerning the
structure of the whale just dealt with. The omission is
intentional. During this, our first attempt at real whaling, my
mind was far too disturbed by the novelty and danger of the
position in which I found myself for the first time, for me to
pay any intelligent attention to the party of the second part.
But I may safely promise that from the workman's point of view,
the habits, manners, and build of the whales shall be faithfully
described as I saw them during my long acquaintance with them,
earnestly hoping that if my story be not as technical or
scientific as that of Drs. Bennett and Beale, it may be found
fully as accurate and reliable; and perhaps the reader, being
like myself a mere layman, so to speak, may be better able to
appreciate description free from scientific formula and ninejointed
Two things I did notice on this occasion which I will briefly
allude to before closing this chapter. One was the peculiar skin
of the whale. It was a bluish-black, and as thin as goldbeater's
skin. So thin, indeed, and tender, that it was easily
scraped off with the finger-nail. Immediately beneath it, upon
the surface of the blubber, was a layer or coating of what for
want of a better simile I must call fine short fur, although
unlike fur it had no roots or apparently any hold upon the
blubber. Neither was it attached to the skin which covered it;
in fact, it seemed merely a sort of packing between the skin and
the surface of the thick layer of solid fat which covered the
whole area of the whale's body. The other matter which impressed
me was the peculiarity of the teeth. For up till that time I had
held, in common with most seamen, and landsmen, too, for that
matter, the prevailing idea that a "whale" lived by "suction"
(although I did not at all know what that meant), and that it was
impossible for him to swallow a herring. Yet here was a mouth
manifestly intended for greater things in the way of gastronomy
than herrings; nor did it require more than the most casual
glances to satisfy one of so obvious a fact. Then the teeth were
heroic in size, protruding some four or five inches from the gum,
and solidly set more than that into its firm and compact
substance. They were certainly not intended for mastication,
being, where thickest, three inches apart, and tapering to a
short point, curving slightly backwards. In this specimen, a
female, and therefore small as I have said, there were twenty of
them on each side, the last three or four near the gullet being
barely visible above the gum.
Another most convincing reason why no mastication could have been
possible was that there were no teeth visible in the upper jaw.
Opposed to each of the teeth was a socket where a tooth should
apparently have been, and this was conclusive evidence of the
soft and yielding nature of the great creature's food. But there
were signs that at some period of the development of the whale it
had possessed a double row of teeth, because at the bottom of
these upper sockets we found in a few cases what seemed to be an
abortive tooth, not one that was growing, because they had no
roots, but a survival of teeth that had once been perfect and
useful, but from disuse, or lack of necessity for them, had
gradually ceased to come to maturity. The interior of the mouth
and throat was of a livid white, and the tongue was quite small
for so large an animal. It was almost incapable of movement,
being somewhat like a fowl's. Certainly it could not have been
protruded even from the angle of the mouth, much less have
extended along the parapet of that lower mandible, which reminded
one of the beak of some mighty albatross or stork.
Whether our recent experience had altered the captain's plans or
not I do not know, but much to the dismay of the Portuguese
portion of the crew, we did but sight, dimly and afar off, the
outline of the Cape Verde Islands before our course was altered,
and we bore away for the southward like any other outwardbounder.
That is, as far as our course went; but as to the speed,
we still retained the leisurely tactics hitherto pursued,
shortening sail every night, and, if the weather was very fine,
setting it all again at daybreak.
The morose and sullen temper of the captain had been, if
anything, made worse by recent events, and we were worked as hard
as if the success of the voyage depended upon our ceaseless toil
of scrubbing, scraping, and polishing. Discipline was indeed
maintained at a high pitch of perfection, no man daring to look
awry, much less complain of any hardship, however great. Even
this humble submissiveness did not satisfy our tyrant, and at
last his cruelty took a more active shape. One of the long
Yankee farmers from Vermont, Abner Cushing by name, with the
ingenuity which seems inbred in his 'cute countrymen, must needs
try his hand at making a villainous decoction which he called
"beer," the principal ingredients in which were potatoes and
molasses. Now potatoes formed no part of our dietary, so Abner
set his wits to work to steal sufficient for his purpose, and
succeeded so far that he obtained half a dozen. I have very
little doubt that one of the Portuguese in the forecastle
conveyed the information aft for some reason best known to
himself, any more than we white men all had that in a similar
manner all our sayings and doings, however trivial, became at
once known to the officers. However, the fact that the theft was
discovered soon became painfully evident, for we had a visit from
the afterguard in force one afternoon, and Abner with his brewage
was haled to the quarter-deck. There, in the presence of all
hands, he was arraigned, found guilty of stealing the ship's
stores, and sentence passed upon him. By means of two small
pieces of fishing line he was suspended by his thumbs in the
weather rigging, in such a manner that when the ship was upright
his toes touched the deck, but when she rolled his whole weight
hung from his thumbs. This of itself one would have thought
sufficient torture for almost any offence, but in addition to it
he received two dozen lashes with an improvised cat-o'-ninetails,
laid on by the brawny arm of one of the harpooners. We
were all compelled to witness this, and our feelings may be
imagined. When, after what seemed a terribly long time to me
(Heaven knows what it must have been to him!), he fainted,
although no chicken I nearly fainted too, from conflicting
emotions of sympathy and impotent rage.
He was then released in leisurely fashion, and we were permitted
to take him forward and revive him. As soon as he was able to
stand on his feet, he was called on deck again, and not allowed
to go below till his watch was over. Meanwhile Captain Slocum
improved the occasion by giving us a short harangue, the burden
of which was that we had now seen a LITTLE of what any of us
might expect if we played any "dog's tricks" on him. But you can
get used to anything, I suppose: so after the first shock of the
atrocity was over, things went on again pretty much as usual.
For the first and only time in my experience, we sighted St.
Paul's Rocks, a tiny group of jagged peaks protruding from the
Atlantic nearly on the Equator. Stupendous mountains they must
be, rising almost sheer for about four and a half miles from the
ocean bed. Although they appear quite insignificant specks upon
the vast expanse of water, one could not help thinking how
sublime their appearance would be were they visible from the
plateau whence they spring. Their chief interest to us at the
time arose from the fact that, when within about three miles of
them, we were suddenly surrounded by a vast school of bonito,
These fish, so-named by the Spaniards from their handsome
appearance, are a species of mackerel, a branch of the SCOMBRIDAE
family, and attain a size of about two feet long and forty pounds
weight, though their average dimensions are somewhat less than
half that. They feed entirely upon flying-fish and the small
leaping squid or cuttle-fish, but love to follow a ship, playing
around her, if her pace be not too great, for days together.
Their flesh resembles beef in appearance, and they are warmblooded;
but, from their habitat being mid-ocean, nothing is
known with any certainty of their habits of breeding.
The orthodox method of catching them on board ship is to cover a
suitable hook with a piece of white rag a couple of inches long,
and attach it to a stout line. The fisherman then takes his seat
upon the jibboom end, having first, if he is prudent, secured a
sack to the jibstay in such a manner that its mouth gapes wide.
Then he unrolls his line, and as the ship forges ahead the line,
blowing out, describes a curve, at the end of which the bait,
dipping to--the water occasionally, roughly represents a flyingfish.
Of course, the faster the ship is going, the better the
chance of deceiving the fish, since they have less time to study
the appearance of the bait. It is really an exaggerated and
clumsy form of fly-fishing, and, as with that elegant pastime,
much is due to the skill of the fisherman.
As the bait leaps from crest to crest of the wavelets thrust
aside by the advancing ship, a fish more adventurous or hungrier
than the rest will leap at it, and in an instant there is a dead,
dangling weight of from ten to forty pounds hanging at the end of
your line thirty feet below. You haul frantically, for he may
be poorly hooked, and you cannot play him. In a minute or two,
if all goes well, he is plunged in the sack, and safe. But woe
unto you if you have allowed the jeers of your shipmates to
dissuade you from taking a sack out with you.
The struggles of these fish are marvellous, and a man runs great
risk of being shaken off the boom, unless his legs are firmly
locked in between the guys. Such is the tremendous vibration that
a twenty-pound bonito makes in a man's grip, that it can be felt
in the cabin at the other and of the ship; and I have often come
in triumphantly with one, having lost all feeling in my arms and
a goodly portion of skin off my breast and side, where I have
embraced the prize in a grim determination to hold him at all
hazards, besides being literally drenched with his blood.
Like all our fishing operations on board the CACHALOT, this day's
fishing was conducted on scientific principles, and resulted in
twenty-five fine fish being shipped, which were a welcome
addition to our scanty allowance. Happily for us, they would not
take the salt in that sultry latitude soon enough to preserve
them; for, when they can be salted, they become like brine
itself, and are quite unfit for food. Yet we should have been
compelled to eat salt bonito, or go without meat altogether, if
it had been possible to cure them.
We were now fairly in the "horse latitudes," and, much to our
relief, the rain came down in occasional deluges, permitting us
to wash well and often. I suppose the rains of the tropics have
been often enough described to need no meagre attempts of mine to
convey an idea of them; yet I have often wished I could make
home-keeping friends understand how far short what they often
speak of as a "tropical shower" falls of the genuine article.
The nearest I can get to it is the idea of an ocean suspended
overhead, out, of which the bottom occasionally falls. Nothing
is visible or audible but the glare and roar of falling water,
and a ship's deck, despite the many outlets, is full enough to
swim about in in a very few minutes. At such times the whole
celestial machinery of rain-making may be seen in full working
order. Five or six mighty waterspouts in various stages of
development were often within easy distance of us; once, indeed,
we watched the birth, growth, and death of one less than a mile
away. First, a big, black cloud, even among that great
assemblage of NIMBI, began to belly downward, until the centre of
it tapered into a stem, and the whole mass looked like a vast,
irregularly-moulded funnel. Lower and lower it reached, as if
feeling for a soil in which to grow, until the sea beneath was
agitated sympathetically, rising at last in a sort of pointed
mound to meet the descending column. Our nearness enabled us to
see that both descending and rising parts were whirling violently
in obedience to some invisible force, and when they had joined
each other, although the spiral motion did not appear to
continue, the upward rush of the water through what was now a
long elastic tube was very plainly to be seen. The cloud
overhead grew blacker and bigger, until its gloom was terrible.
The pipe, or stem, got thinner gradually, until it became a mere
thread; nor, although watching closely, could we determine when
the connection between sea and sky ceased--one could not call it
severed. The point rising from the sea settled almost
immediately amidst a small commotion, as of a whirlpool. The
tail depending from the cloud slowly shortened, and the mighty
reservoir lost the vast bulge which had hung so threateningly
above. Just before the final disappearance of the last portion of
the tube, a fragment of cloud appeared to break off. It fell
near enough to show by its thundering roar what a body of water
it must have been, although it looked like a saturated piece of
dirty rag in its descent.
For whole days and nights together we sometimes lay almost "as
idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean," when the deep blue
dome above matched the deep blue plain below, and never a fleck
of white appeared in sky or sea. This perfect stop to our
progress troubled none, although it aggravates a merchant skipper
terribly. As for the objects of our search, they had apparently
all migrated other-whither, for never a sign of them did we see.
Finbacks, a species of rorqual, were always pretty numerous, and
as if they knew how useless they were to us, came and played
around like exaggerated porpoises. One in particular kept us
company for several days and nights. We knew him well, from a
great triangular scar on his right side, near the dorsal fin.
Sometimes be would remain motionless by the side of the ship, a
few feet below the surface, as distinctly in our sight as a goldfish
in a parlour globe; or he would go under the keel, and
gently chafe his broad back to and fro along it, making queer
tremors run through the vessel, as if she were scraping over a
reef. Whether from superstition or not I cannot tell, but I
never saw any creature injured out of pure wantonness, except
sharks, while I was on board the CACHALOT. Of course, injuries
to men do not count. Had that finback attempted to play about a
passenger ship in such a fashion, all the loungers on board would
have been popping at him with their revolvers and rifles without
ever a thought of compunction; yet here, in a vessel whose errand
was whale-fishing, a whale enjoyed perfect immunity. It was very
puzzling. At last my curiosity became too great to hear any
longer, and I sought my friend Mistah Jones at what I considered
a favourable opportunity. I found him very gracious and
communicative, and I got such a lecture on the natural history of
the cetacea as I have never forgotten--the outcome of a quartercentury's
experience of them, and afterwards proved by me to be
correct in every detail, which latter is a great deal more than
can be said of any written natural history that ever I came
across. But I will not go into that now. Leaning over the rail,
with the great rorqual laying perfectly still a few feet below, I
was told to mark how slender and elegant were his proportions.
"Clipper-built," my Mentor termed him. He was full seventy feet
long, but his greatest diameter would not reach ten feet. His
snout was long and pointed, while both top and bottom of his head
were nearly flat. When he came up to breathe, which he did out
of the top of his head, he showed us that, instead of teeth, he
had a narrow fringe of baleen (whalebone) all around his upper
jaws, although "I kaint see whyfor, kase he lib on all sort er
fish, s'long's dey ain't too big. I serpose w'en he kaint get
nary fish he do de same ez de 'bowhead'--go er siftin eout dem
little tings we calls whale-feed wiv dat ar' rangement he carry
in his mouf." "But why don't we harpoon him?" I asked. Goliath
turned on me a pitying look, as he replied, "Sonny, ef yew wuz
ter go on stick iron inter dat ar fish, yew'd fink de hole bottom
fell eout kerblunk. W'en I uz young 'n foolish, a finback range
'longside me one day, off de Seychelles. I just done gone miss'
a spam whale, and I was kiender mad,--muss ha' bin. Wall, I let
him hab it blam 'tween de ribs. If I lib ten tousan year, ain't
gwine ter fergit dat ar. Wa'nt no time ter spit, tell ye;
eberybody hang ober de side ob de boat. Wiz--poof!--de line all
gone. Clar to glory, I neber see it go. Ef it hab ketch
anywhar, nobody eber see US too. Fus, I t'ought I jump ober de
side--neber face de skipper any mo'. But he uz er good ole man,
en he only say, 'Don't be sech blame jackass any more.' En I
don't." From which lucid narration I gathered that the finback
had himself to thank for his immunity from pursuit. "'Sides,"
persisted Goliath, "wa' yew gwine do wiv' him? Ain't six inch
uv blubber anywhere 'bout his long ugly carkiss; en dat, dirty
lill' rag 'er whalebone he got in his mouf, 'taint worf fifty
cents. En mor'n dat, we pick up, a dead one when I uz in de ole
RAINBOW--done choke hisself, I spec, en we cut him in. He stink
fit ter pison de debbil, en, after all, we get eighteen bar'l ob
dirty oil out ob him. Wa'nt worf de clean sparm scrap we use ter
bile him. G' 'way!" Which emphatic adjuration, addressed not to
me, but to the unconscious monster below, closed the lesson for
the time.
The calm still persisted, and, as usual, fish began to abound,
especially flying-fish. At times, disturbed by some hungry
bonito or dolphin, a shoal of them would rise--a great wave of
silver--and skim through the air, rising and falling for perhaps
a couple of hundred yards before they again took to the water; or
a solitary one of larger size than usual would suddenly soar into
the air, a heavy splash behind him showing by how few inches he
had missed the jaws of his pursuer. Away he would go in a long,
long curve, and, meeting the ship in his flight, would rise in
the air, turn off at right angles to his former direction, and
spin away again, the whir of his wing-fins distinctly visible as
well as audible. At last he would incline to the water, but just
as he was about to enter it there would be an eddy--the enemy was
there waiting--and he would rise twenty, thirty feet, almost
perpendicularly, and dart away fully a hundred yards on a fresh
course before the drying of his wing membranes compelled him to
drop. In the face of such a sight as this, which is of everyday
occurrence in these latitudes, how trivial and misleading the
statements made by the natural history books seem.
They tell their readers that the EXOCETUS VOLITANS "does not fly;
does not flutter its wings; can only take a prolonged leap," and
so on. The misfortune attendant upon such books seems, to an
unlearned sailor like myself, to be that, although posing as
authorities, most of the authors are content to take their facts
not simply at second-hand, but even unto twenty-second-hand. So
the old fables get repeated, and brought up to date, and it is
nobody's business to take the trouble to correct them.
The weather continued calm and clear, and as the flying-fish were
about in such immense numbers, I ventured to suggest to Goliath
that we might have a try for some of them. I verily believe he
thought I was mad. He stared at me for a minute, and then, with
an indescribable intonation, said, "How de ol' Satan yew fink yew
gwain ter get'm, hey? Ef yew spects ter fool dis chile wiv any
dem lime-juice yarns, 'bout lanterns 'n boats at night-time,
yew's 'way off." I guessed he meant the fable current among
English sailors, that if you hoist a sail on a calm night in a
boat where flying-fish abound, and hang a lantern in the middle
of it, the fish will fly in shoals at the lantern, strike against
the sail, and fall in heaps in the boat. It MAY be true, but I
never spoke to anybody who has seen it done, nor is it the method
practised in the only place in the world where flying-fishing is
followed for a living. So I told Mr. Jones that if we had some
circular nets of small mesh made and stretched on wooden hoops, I
was sure we should be able to catch some. He caught at the idea,
and mentioned it to the mate, who readily gave his permission to
use a boat. A couple of "Guineamen" (a very large kind of
flying-fish, having four wings) flew on board that night, as if
purposely to provide us with the necessary bait.
Next morning, about four bells, the sea being like: a mirror,
unruffled by a breath of wind, we lowered and paddled off from
the ship about a mile. When far enough away, we commenced
operations by squeezing in the water some pieces of fish that had
been kept for the purpose until they were rather high-flavoured.
The exuding oil from this fish spread a thin film for some
distance around the boat, through which, as through a sheet of
glass, we could see a long way down. Minute specks of the bait
sank slowly through the limpid blue, but for at least an hour
there was no sign of life. I was beginning to fear that I should
be called to account for misleading all hands, when, to my
unbounded delight, an immense shoal of flying-fish came swimming
round the boat, eagerly picking up the savoury morsels. We
grasped our nets, and, leaning over the gunwale, placed them
silently in the water, pressing them downward and in towards the
boat at the same time. Our success was great and immediate. We
lifted the wanderers by scores, while I whispered imploringly,
"Be careful not to scare them; don't make a sound." All hands
entered into the spirit of the thing with great eagerness. As
for Mistah Jones, his delight was almost more than he could bear.
Suddenly one of the men, in lifting his net, slipped on the
smooth bottom of the boat, jolting one of the oars. There was a
gleam of light below as the school turned--they had all
disappeared instanter. We had been so busy that we had not
noticed the dimensions of our catch; but now, to our great joy,
we found that we had at least eight hundred fish nearly as large
as herrings. We at once returned to the ship, having been absent
only two hours, during which we had caught sufficient to provide
all hands with three good meals. Not one of the crew had ever
seen or heard of such fishing before, so my pride and pleasure
may he imagined. A little learning may be a dangerous thing at
times, but it certainly is often handy to have about you. The
habit of taking notice and remembering has often been the means
of saving many lives in suddenly-met situations of emergency, at
sea perhaps more than anywhere else, and nothing can be more
useful to a sailor than the practice of keeping his weather-eye
In Barbadoes there is established the only regular flying-fishery
in the world, and in just the manner I have described, except
that the boats are considerably larger, is the whole town
supplied with delicious fish at so trifling a cost as to make it
a staple food among all classes.
But I find that I am letting this chapter run to an
unconscionable length, and it does not appear as if we were
getting at the southward very fast either. Truth to tell, our
progress was mighty slow; but we gradually crept across the belt
of calms, and a week after our never-to-be-forgotten haul of
flying-fish we got the first of the south-east trades, and went
away south at a good pace--for us. We made the Island of
Trinidada with its strange conical-topped pillar, the Ninepin
Rock, but did not make a call, as the skipper was beginning to
get fidgety at not seeing any whales, and anxious to get down to
where he felt reasonably certain of falling in with them. Life
had been very monotonous of late, and much as we dreaded still
the prospect of whale-fighting (by "we," of course, I mean the
chaps forward), it began to lose much of its terror for us, so
greatly did we long for a little change. Keeping, as we did, out
of the ordinary track of ships, we hardly ever saw a sail. We had
no recreations; fun was out of the question; and had it not been
for a Bible, a copy of Shakespeare, and a couple of cheap copies
of "David Copperfield" and "Bleak House," all of which were mine,
we should have had no books.
In a previous chapter I have referred to the fact of a bounty
being offered to whoever should first sight a useful whale,
payable only in the event of the prize being secured by the ship.
In consequence of our ill-success, and to stimulate the
watchfulness of all, that bounty was now increased from ten
pounds of tobacco to twenty, or fifteen dollars, whichever the
winner chose to have. Most of us whites regarded this as quite
out of the question for us, whose untrained vision was as the
naked eye to a telescope when pitted against the eagle-like sight
of the Portuguese. Nevertheless, we all did our little best, and
I know, for one, that when I descended from my lofty perch, after
a two hours' vigil, my eyes often ached and burned for an hour
afterwards from the intensity of my gaze across the shining waste
of waters.
Judge, then, of the surprise of everybody, when one forenoon
watch, three days after we had lost sight of Trinidada, a most
extraordinary sound was heard from the fore crow's-nest. I was,
at the time, up at the main, in company with Louis, the mate's
harpooner, and we stared across to see whatever was the matter,
The watchman was unfortunate Abner Cushing, whose trivial offence
had been so severely punished a short time before, and he was
gesticulating and howling like a madman. Up from below came the
deep growl of the skipper, "Foremast head, there, what d'ye say?"
"B-b-b-blow, s-s-sir," stammered Abner; "a big whale right in the
way of the sun, sir." "See anythin', Louey?" roared the skipper
to my companion, just as we had both "raised" the spout almost in
the glare cast by the sun. "Yessir," answered Louis; "but I
kaint make him eout yet, sir." "All right; keep yer eye on him,
and lemme know sharp;" and away he went aft for his glasses.
The course was slightly altered, so that we headed direct for the
whale, and in less than a minute afterwards we saw distinctly the
great black column of a sperm whale's head rise well above the
sea, scattering a circuit of foam before it, and emitting a
bushy, tufted burst of vapour into the clear air. "There she
white-waters! Ah bl-o-o-o-o-o-w, blow, blow!" sang Louis; and
then, in another tone, "Sperm whale, sir; big, 'lone fish,
headin' 'beout east-by-nothe." "All right. 'Way down from
aloft," answered the skipper, who was already half-way up the
main-rigging; and like squirrels we slipped out of our hoops and
down the backstays, passing the skipper like a flash as he toiled
upwards, bellowing orders as he went. Short as our journey down
had been, when we arrived on deck we found all ready for a start.
But as the whale was at least seven miles away, and we had a fair
wind for him, there was no hurry to lower, so we all stood at
attention by our respective boats, waiting for the signal. I
found, to my surprise, that, although I was conscious of a much
more rapid heart-beat than usual, I was not half so scared as I
expected to be--that the excitement was rather pleasant than
otherwise. There were a few traces of funk about some of the
others still; but as for Abner, he was fairly transformed; I
hardly knew the man. He was one of Goliath's boat's crew, and
the big darkey was quite proud of him. His eyes sparkled, and he
chuckled and smiled constantly, as one who is conscious of having
done a grand stroke of business, not only for himself, but for
all hands. "Lower away boats!" came pealing down from the
skipper's lofty perch, succeeded instantly by the rattle of the
patent blocks as the falls flew through them, while the four
beautiful craft took the water with an almost simultaneous
splash. The ship-keepers had trimmed the yards to the wind and
hauled up the courses, so that simply putting the helm down
deadened our way, and allowed the boats to run clear without
danger of fouling one another. To shove off and hoist sail was
the work of a few moments, and with a fine working breeze away we
went. As before, our boat, being the chief's, had the post of
honour; but there was now only one whale, and I rather wondered
why we had all left the ship. According to expectations, down he
went when we were within a couple of miles of him, but quietly
and with great dignity, elevating his tail perpendicularly in the
air, and sinking slowly from our view. Again I found Mr. Count
"Thet whale 'll stay down fifty minutes, I guess," said he, "fer
he's every gill ov a hundred en twenty bar'l; and don't yew
fergit it." "Do the big whales give much more trouble than the
little ones?" I asked, seeing him thus chatty. "Wall, it's jest
ez it happens, boy--just ez it happens. I've seen a fifty-bar'l
bull make the purtiest fight I ever hearn tell ov--a fight thet
lasted twenty hours, stove three boats, 'n killed two men. Then,
again, I've seen a hundred 'n fifty bar'l whale lay 'n take his
grooel 'thout hardly wunkin 'n eyelid--never moved ten fathom
from fust iron till fin eout. So yew may say, boy, that they're
like peepul--got thair iudividooal pekyewlyarities, an' thars no
countin' on 'em for sartin nary time." I was in great hopes of
getting some useful information while his mood lasted; but it was
over, and silence reigned. Nor did I dare to ask any more
questions; he looked so stern and fierce. The scene was very
striking. Overhead, a bright blue sky just fringed with fleecy
little clouds; beneath, a deep blue sea with innumerable tiny
wavelets dancing and glittering in the blaze of the sun; but all
swayed in one direction by a great, solemn swell that slowly
rolled from east to west, like the measured breathing of some
world-supporting monster. Four little craft in a group, with
twenty-four men in them, silently waiting for battle with one of
the mightiest of God's creatures--one that was indeed a terrible
foe to encounter were he but wise enough to make the best use of
his opportunities. Against him we came with our puny weapons, of
which I could not help reminding myself that "he laugheth at the
shaking of a spear." But when the man's brain was thrown into
the scale against the instinct of the brute, the contest looked
less unequal than at first sight, for THERE is the secret of
success. My musings were very suddenly interrupted. Whether we
had overrun our distance, or the whale, who was not "making a
passage," but feeding, had changed his course, I do not know;
but, anyhow, he broke water close ahead, coming straight for our
boat. His great black head, like the broad bow of a dumb barge,
driving the waves before it, loomed high and menacing to me, for
I was not forbidden to look ahead now. But coolly, as if coming
alongside the ship, the mate bent to the big steer-oar, and swung
the boat off at right angles to her course, bringing her back
again with another broad sheer as the whale passed foaming. This
manoeuvre brought us side by side with him before he had time to
realize that we were there. Up till that instant he had
evidently not seen us, and his surprise was correspondingly
great. To see Louis raise his harpoon high above his head, and
with a hoarse grunt of satisfaction plunge it into the black,
shining mass beside him up to the hitches, was indeed a sight to
be remembered. Quick as thought he snatched up a second harpoon,
and as the whale rolled from us it flew from his hands, burying
itself like the former one, but lower down the body. The great
impetus we had when we reached the whale carried us a long way
past him, out of all danger from his struggles. No hindrance was
experienced from the line by which we were connected with the
whale, for it was loosely coiled in a space for the purpose in
the boat's bow to the extent of two hundred feet, and this was
cast overboard by the harpooner as soon as the fish was fast. He
made a fearful. to-do over it, rolling completely over several
times backward and forward, at the same time smiting the sea with
his mighty tail, making an almost deafening noise and pother.
But we were comfortable enough, while we unshipped the mast and
made ready for action, being sufficiently far away from him to
escape the full effect of his gambols. It was impossible to
avoid reflecting, however, upon what WOULD happen if, in our
unprepared and so far helpless state, he were, instead of simply
tumbling about in an aimless, blind sort of fury, to rush at the
boat and try to destroy it. Very few indeed would survive such
an attack, unless the tactics were radically altered. No doubt
they would be, for practices grow up in consequence of the
circumstances with which they have to deal.
After the usual time spent in furious attempts to free himself
from our annoyance, he betook himself below, leaving us to await
his return, and hasten it as much as possible by keeping a severe
strain upon the line. Our efforts in this direction, however,
did not seem to have any effect upon him at all. Flake after
flake ran out of the tubs, until we were compelled to hand the
end of our line to the second mate to splice his own on to.
Still it slipped away, and at last it was handed to the third
mate, whose two tubs met the same fate. It was now Mistah Jones'
turn to "bend on," which he did with many chuckles as of a man
who was the last resource of the unfortunate. But his face grew
longer and longer as the never-resting line continued to
disappear. Soon he signalled us that he was nearly out of line,
and two or three minutes after he bent on his "drogue" (a square
piece of plank with a rope tail spliced into its centre, and
considered to hinder a whale's progress at least as much as four
boats), and let go the end. We had each bent on our drogues in
the same way, when we passed our ends to one another. So now our
friend was getting along somewhere below with 7200 feet of
l 1/2-inch rope, and weight additional equal to the drag of
sixteen 30-feet boats.
Of course we knew that, unless he were dead and sinking, he could
not possibly remain much longer beneath the surface. The
exhibition of endurance we had just been favoured with was a very
unusual one, I was told, it being a rare thing for a cachalot to
take out two boats' lines before returning to the surface to
Therefore, we separated as widely as was thought necessary, in
order to be near him on his arrival. It was, as might be
imagined, some time before we saw the light of his countenance;
but when we did, we had no difficulty in getting alongside of him
again. My friend Goliath, much to my delight, got there first,
and succeeded in picking up the bight of the line. But having
done so, his chance of distinguishing himself was gone. Hampered
by the immense quantity of sunken line which was attached to the
whale, he could do nothing, and soon received orders to cut the
bight of the line and pass the whale's end to us. He had hardly
obeyed, with a very bad grace, when the whale started off to
windward with us at a tremendous rate. The other boats, having
no line, could do nothing to help, so away we went alone, with
barely a hundred fathoms of line, in case he should take it into
his head to sound again. The speed at which he went made it
appear as if a gale of wind was blowing and we flew along the sea
surface, leaping from crest to crest of the waves with an
incessant succession of cracks like pistol-shots. The flying
spray drenched us and prevented us from seeing him, but I fully
realized that it was nothing to what we should have to put up
with if the wind freshened much. One hand was kept bailing the
water out which came so freely over the bows, but all the rest
hauled with all their might upon the line, hoping to get a little
closer to the flying monster. Inch by inch we gained on him,
encouraged by the hoarse objurgations of the mate, whose
excitement was intense. After what seemed a terribly long chase,
we found his speed slackening, and we redoubled our efforts. Now
we were close upon him; now, in obedience to the steersman, the
boat sheered out a bit, and we were abreast of his labouring
flukes; now the mate hurls his quivering lance with such hearty
good-will that every inch of its slender shaft disappears within
the huge body. "Layoff! Off with her, Louey!" screamed the
mate; and she gave a wide sheer away from the whale, not a second
too soon. Up flew that awful tail, descending with a crash upon
the water not two feet from us. "Out oars! Pull, two! starn,
three!" shouted the mate; and as we obeyed our foe turned to
fight. Then might one see how courage and skill were such mighty
factors in the apparently unequal contest. The whale's great
length made it no easy job for him to turn, while our boat, with
two oars a-side, and the great leverage at the stern supplied by
the nineteen-foot steer-oar circled, backed, and darted ahead
like a living thing animated by the mind of our commander. When
the leviathan settled, we gave a wide berth to his probable place
of ascent; when he rushed at us, we dodged him; when he paused,
if only momentarily, in we flew, and got home a fearful thrust of
the deadly lance.
All fear was forgotten now--I panted, thirsted for his life.
Once, indeed, in a sort of frenzy, when for an instant we lay
side by side with him, I drew my sheath-knife, and plunged it
repeatedly into the blubber, as if I were assisting is his
destruction. Suddenly the mate gave a howl: "Starn all--starn
all! oh, starn!" and the oars bent like canes as we obeyed.
There was an upheaval of the sea just ahead; then slowly,
majestically, the vast body of our foe rose into the air. Up, up
it went, while my heart stood still, until the whole of that
immense creature hung on high, apparently motionless, and then
fell--a hundred tons of solid flesh--back into the sea. On
either side of that mountainous mass the waters rose in shining
towers of snowy foam, which fell in their turn, whirling and
eddying around us as we tossed and fell like a chip in a
whirlpool. Blinded by the flying spray, baling for very life to
free the boat from the water with which she was nearly full, it
was some minutes before I was able to decide whether we were
still uninjured or not. Then I saw, at a little distance, the
whale lying quietly. As I looked he spouted, and the vapour was
red with his blood. "Starn all!" again cried our chief, and we
retreated to a considerable distance. The old warrior's
practised eye had detected the coming climax of our efforts, the
dying agony or "furry" of the great mammal. Turning upon his
side, be began to move in a circular direction, slowly at first,
then faster and faster, until he was rushing round at tremendous
speed, his great head raised quite out of water at times,
clashing his enormous jaws. Torrents of blood poured from his
spout-hole, accompanied by hoarse bellowings, as of some gigantic
bull, but really caused by the labouring breath trying to pass
through the clogged air passages. The utmost caution and
rapidity of manipulation of the boat was necessary to avoid his
maddened rush, but this gigantic energy was short-lived. In a
few minutes he subsided slowly in death, his mighty body reclined
on one side, the fin uppermost waving limply as he rolled to the
swell, while the small waves broke gently over the carcass in a
low, monotonous surf, intensifying the profound silence that had
succeeded the tumult of our conflict with the late monarch of the
deep. Hardly had the flurry ceased, when we hauled up alongside
of our hard-won prize, in order to secure a line to him in a
better manner than at present for hauling him to the ship. This
was effected by cutting a hole through the tough, gristly
substance of the flukes with the short "boat-spade," carried for
the purpose. The end of the line, cut off from the faithful
harpoon that had held it so long, was then passed through this
hole and made fast. This done, it was "Smoke-oh!" The luxury of
that rest and refreshment was something to be grateful for,
coming, as it did, in such complete contrast to our recent
violent exertions.
The ship was some three or four miles off to leeward, so we
reckoned she would take at least an hour and a half to work up to
us. Meanwhile, our part of the performance being over, and well
over, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, lazily rocking on the
gentle swell by the side of a catch worth at least L800. During
the conflict I had not noticed what now claimed attention--
several great masses of white, semi-transparent-looking substance
floating about, of huge size and irregular shape. But one of
these curious lumps came floating by as we lay, tugged at by
several fish, and I immediately asked the mate if he could tell
me what it was and where it came from. He told me that, when
dying, the cachalot always ejected the contents of his stomach,
which were invariably composed of such masses as we saw before
us; that he believed the stuff to be portions of big cuttle-fish,
bitten off by the whale for the purpose of swallowing, but he
wasn't sure. Anyhow, I could haul this piece alongside now, if I
liked, and see. Secretly wondering at the indifference shown by
this officer of forty years' whaling experience to such a
wonderful fact as appeared to be here presented, I thanked him,
and, sticking the boat-hook into the lump, drew it alongside. It
was at once evident that it was a massive fragment of cuttlefish--
tentacle or arm--as thick as a stout man's body, and with
six or seven sucking-discs or ACETABULA on it. These were about
as large as a saucer, and on their inner edge were thickly set
with hooks or claws all round the rim, sharp as needles, and
almost the shape and size of a tiger's.
To what manner of awful monster this portion of limb belonged, I
could only faintly imagine; but of course I remembered, as any
sailor would, that from my earliest sea-going I had been told
that the cuttle-fish was the biggest in the sea, although I never
even began to think it might be true until now. I asked the mate
if he had ever seen such creatures as this piece belonged to
alive and kicking. He answered, languidly, "Wall, I guess so;
but I don't take any stock in fish, 'cept for provisions er
ile--en that's a fact." It will be readily believed that I
vividly recalled this conversation when, many years after, I read
an account by the Prince of Monaco of HIS discovery of a gigantic
squid, to which his naturalist gave the name of LEPIDOTEUTHIS
GRIMALDII! Truly the indifference and apathy manifested by
whalers generally to everything except commercial matters is
wonderful--hardly to be credited. However, this was a mighty
revelation to me. For the first time, it was possible to
understand that, contrary to the usual notion of a whale's being
unable to swallow a herring, here was a kind of whale that could
swallow-well, a block four or five feet square apparently; who
lived upon creatures as large as himself, if one might judge of
their bulk by the sample to hand; but being unable, from only
possessing teeth in one jaw, to masticate his food, was compelled
to tear it in sizable pieces, bolt it whole, and leave his
commissariat department to do the rest.
While thus ruminating, the mate and Louis began a desultory
conversation concerning what they termed "ambergrease." I had
never even heard the word before, although I had a notion that
Milton, in "Paradise Regained," describing the Satanic banquet,
had spoken of something being "gris-amber steamed." They could
by no means agree as to what this mysterious substance was, how
it was produced, or under what conditions. They knew that it was
sometimes found floating near the dead body of a sperm whale--the
mate, in fact, stated that he had taken it once from the rectum
of a cachalot--and they were certain that it was of great value
--from one to three guineas per ounce. When I got to know more
of the natural history of the sperm whale, and had studied the
literature of the subject, I was so longer surprised at their
want of agreement, since the learned doctors who have written
upon the subject do not seem to have come to definite conclusions
By some it is supposed to be the product of a diseased condition
of the creature; others consider that it is merely the excreta,
which, normally fluid, has by some means become concreted. It is
nearly always found with cuttle-fish beaks imbedded in its
substance, showing that these indigestible portions of the sperm
whale's food have in some manner become mixed with it during its
formation in the bowel. Chemists have analyzed it with scanty
results. Its great value is due to its property of intensifying
the power of perfumes, although, strange to say, it has little or
no odour of its own, a faint trace of musk being perhaps
detectable in some cases. The Turks are said to use it for a
truly Turkish purpose, which need not be explained here, while
the Moors are credited with a taste for it in their cookery.
About both these latter statements there is considerable doubt; I
only give them for what they are worth, without, committing
myself to any definite belief in them.
The ship now neared us fast, and as soon as she rounded-to, we
left the whale and pulled towards her, paying out line as we
went. Arriving alongside, the line was handed on board, and in a
short time the prize was hauled to the gangway. We met with a
very different reception this time. The skipper's grim face
actually looked almost pleasant as he contemplated the colossal
proportions of the latest addition to our stock. He was indeed a
fine catch, being at least seventy feet long, and in splendid
condition. As soon as he was secured alongside in the orthodox
fashion, all hands were sent to dinner, with an intimation to
look sharp over it. Judging from our slight previous experience,
there was some heavy labour before us, for this whale was nearly
four times as large as the one caught off the Cape Verds. And it
was so. Verily those officers toiled like Titans to get that
tremendous head off even the skipper taking a hand. In spite of
their efforts, it was dark before the heavy job was done. As we
were in no danger of bad weather, the head was dropped astern by
a hawser until morning, when it would be safer to dissect it.
All that night we worked incessantly, ready to drop with fatigue,
but not daring to suggest, the possibility of such a thing.
Several of the officers and harpooners were allowed a few hours
off, as their special duty of dealing with the head at daylight
would be so arduous as to need all their energies. When day
dawned we were allowed a short rest, while the work of cutting up
the head was undertaken by the rested men. At seven bells (7.30)
it was "turn to" all hands again. The "junk " was hooked on to
both cutting tackles, and the windlass manned by everybody who
could get hold. Slowly the enormous mass rose, canting the ship
heavily as it came, while every stick and rope aloft complained
of the great strain upon them. When at last it was safely
shipped, and the tackles cast off, the size of this small portion
of a full-grown cachalot's body could be realized, not before.
It was hauled from the gangway by tackles, and securely lashed to
the rail running round beneath the top of the bulwarks for that
purpose--the "lash-rail"--where the top of it towered up as high
as the third ratline of the main-rigging. Then there was another
spell, while the "case" was separated from the skull. This was
too large to get on board, so it was lifted half-way out of water
by the tackles, one hooked on each side; then they were made
fast, and a spar rigged across them at a good height above the
top of the case. A small Block was lashed to this spar, through
which a line was rove. A long, narrow bucket was attached to one
end of this rope; the other end on deck was attended by two men.
One unfortunate beggar was perched aloft on the above-mentioned
spar, where his position, like the main-yard of Marryatt's
verbose carpenter was "precarious and not at all permanent." He
was provided with a pole, with which he pushed the bucket down
through a hole cut in the upper end of the "case," whence it was
drawn out by the chaps on deck full of spermaceti. It was a
weary, unsatisfactory process, wasting a great deal of the
substance being baled out; but no other way was apparently
possible. The grease blew about, drenching most of us engaged in
an altogether unpleasant fashion, while, to mend matters, the old
barky began to roll and tumble about in an aimless, drunken sort
of way, the result of a new cross swell rolling up from the
south-westward. As the stuff was gained, it was poured into
large tanks in the blubber-room, the quantity being too great to
be held by the try-pots at once. Twenty-five barrels of this
clear, wax-like substance were baled from that case; and when at
last it was lowered a little, and cut away from its supports, it
was impossible to help thinking that much was still remaining
within which we, with such rude means, were unable to save. Then
came the task of cutting up the junk. Layer after layer, eight
to ten inches thick, was sliced off, cut into suitable pieces,
and passed into the tanks. So full was the matter of spermaceti
that one could take a piece as large as one's head in the hands,
and squeeze it like a sponge, expressing the spermaceti in
showers, until nothing remained But a tiny ball of fibre. All
this soft, pulpy mass was held together by walls of exceedingly
tough, gristly integrument ("white horse"), which was as
difficult to cut as gutta-percha, and, but for the peculiar
texture, not at all unlike it.
When we had finished separating the junk, there was nearly a foot
of oil on deck in the waist, and uproarious was the laughter when
some hapless individual, losing his balance, slid across the deck
and sat down with a loud splash in the deepest part of the
The lower jaw of this whale measured exactly nineteen feet in
length from the opening of the mouth, or, say the last of the
teeth, to the point, and carried twenty-eight teeth on each side.
For the time, it was hauled aft out of the way, and secured to
the lash-rail. The subsequent proceedings were just the same as
before described, only more so. For a whole week our labours
continued, and when they were over we had stowed below a hundred
and forty-six barrels of mingled oil and spermaceti, or fourteen
and a half tuns.
It was really a pleasant sight to see Abner receiving as if being
invested with an order of merit, the twenty pounds of tobacco to
which he was entitled. Poor fellow! he felt as if at last he
were going to be thought a little of, and treated a little
better. He brought his bounty forrard, and shared it out as far
as it would go with the greatest delight and good nature
possible. Whatever he might have been thought of aft, certainly,
for the time, he was a very important personage forrard; even the
Portuguese, who were inclined to be jealous of what they
considered an infringement of their rights, were mollified by the
generosity shown.
After every sign of the operations had been cleared away, the jaw
was brought out, and the teeth extracted with a small tackle.
They were set solidly into a hard white gum, which had to be cut
away all around them before they would come out. When cleaned of
the gum, they were headed up in a small barrel of brine. The
great jaw-pans were sawn off, and placed at the disposal of
anybody who wanted pieces of bone for "scrimshaw," or carved
work. This is a very favourite pastime on board whalers, though,
in ships such as ours, the crew have little opportunity for doing
anything, hardly any leisure during daylight being allowed. But
our carpenter was a famous workman at "scrimshaw," and he started
half a dozen walking-sticks forthwith. A favourite design is to
carve the bone into the similitude of a rope, with "worming" of
smaller line along its lays. A handle is carved out of a whale's
tooth, and insets of baleen, silver, cocoa-tree, or ebony, give
variety and finish. The tools used are of the roughest. Some
old files, softened in the fire, and filed into grooves something
like saw-teeth, are most used; but old knives, sail-needles, and
chisels are pressed into service. The work turned out would, in
many cases, take a very high place in an exhibition of turnery,
though never a lathe was near it. Of course, a long time is
taken over it, especially the polishing, which is done with oil
and whiting, if it can be got--powdered pumice if it cannot. I
once had an elaborate pastry-cutter carved out of six whale's
teeth, which I purchased for a pound of tobacco from a seaman of
the CORAL whaler, and afterwards sold in Dunedin, New Zealand,
for L2 10s., the purchaser being decidedly of opinion that he had
a bargain.
Perhaps it may hastily be assumed, from the large space already
devoted to fishing operations of various kinds, that the subject
will not bear much more dealing with, if my story is to avoid
being monotonous. But I beg to assure you, dear reader, that
while of course I have most to say in connection with the
business of the voyage, nothing is farther from my plan than to
neglect the very interesting portion of our cruise which relates
to visiting strange, out-of-the-way corners of the world. If
--which I earnestly deprecate--the description hitherto given of
sperm whale-fishing and its adjuncts be found not so interesting
as could be wished, I cry you mercy. I have been induced to give
more space to it because it has been systematically avoided in
the works upon whale-fishing before mentioned, which, as I have
said, were not intended for popular reading. True, neither may
my humble tome become popular either; but, if it does not, no one
will be so disappointed as the author.
We had made but little progress during the week of oil
manufacture, very little attention being paid to the sails while
that work was about; but, as the south-east trades blew steadily,
we did not remain stationary altogether. So that the following
week saw us on the south side of the tropic of Capricorn, the
south-east trade done, and the dirty weather and variable
squalls, which nearly always precede the "westerlies," making our
lives a burden to us. Here, however, we were better off than in
an ordinary merchantman, where doldrums are enough to drive you
mad. The one object being to get along, it is incessant "pullyhauly,"
setting and taking in sail, in order, on the one hand, to
lose no time, and, on the other, to lose no sails. Now, with us,
whenever the weather was doubtful or squally-looking, we
shortened sail, and kept it fast till better weather came along,
being quite careless whether we made one mile a day or one
hundred. But just because nobody took any notice of our progress
as the days passed, we were occasionally startled to find how far
we had really got. This was certainly the case with all of us
forward, even to me who had some experience, so well used had I
now become to the leisurely way of getting along. To the laziest
of ships, however, there comes occasionally a time when the
bustling, hurrying wind will take no denial, and you've got to
"git up an' git," as the Yanks put it. Such a time succeeded our
"batterfanging" about, after losing the trades. We got hold of a
westerly wind that, commencing quietly, gently, steadily, taking
two or three days before it gathered force and volume,
strengthened at last into a stern, settled gale that would brook
no denial, to face which would have been misery indeed. To
vessels bound east it came as a boon and blessing, for it would
be a crawler that could not reel off her two hundred and fifty
miles a day before the push of such a breeze. Even the CACHALOT
did her one hundred and fifty, pounding and bruising the ill-used
sea in her path, and spreading before her broad bows a farreaching
area of snowy foam, while her wake was as wide as any
two ordinary ships ought to make. Five or six times a day the
flying East India or colonial-bound English ships, under every
stitch of square sail, would appear as tiny specks on the horizon
astern, come up with us, pass like a flash, and fade away ahead,
going at least two knots to our one. I could not help feeling a
bit, home-sick and tired of my present surroundings, in spite of
their interest, when I saw those beautiful ocean-flyers devouring
the distance which lay before them, and reflected that in little
more than one month most of them would be discharging in
Melbourne, Sydney, Calcutta, or some other equally distant port,
while we should probably be dodging about in our present latitude
a little farther east.
After a few days of our present furious rate of speed, I came on
deck one morning, and instantly recognized an old acquaintance.
Right ahead, looking nearer than I had ever seen it before, rose
the towering mass of Tristan d'Acunha, while farther away, but
still visible, lay Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. Their
aspect was familiar, for I had sighted them on nearly every
voyage I had made round the Cape, but I had never seen them so
near as this. There was a good deal of excitement among us, and
no wonder. Such a break in the monotony of our lives as we were
about to have was enough to turn our heads. Afterwards, we
learned to view these matters in a more philosophic light; but
now, being new and galled by the yoke, it was a different thing.
Near as the island seemed, it was six hours before we got near
enough to distinguish objects on shore. I have seen the top of
Tristan peeping through a cloud nearly a hundred miles away, for
its height is tremendous. St. Helena looks a towering, scowling
mass when you approach it closely but Tristan d'Acunha is far
more imposing, its savage-looking cliffs seeming to sternly
forbid the venturesome voyager any nearer familiarity with their
frowning fastnesses. Long before we came within working distance
of the settlement, we were continually passing broad patches of
kelp (FUCUS GIGANTEA), whose great leaves and cable-laid stems
made quite reef-like breaks in the heaving waste of restless sea.
Very different indeed were these patches of marine growth from
the elegant wreaths of the Gulf-weed with which parts of the
North Atlantic are so thickly covered. Their colour was deep
brown, almost black is some cases, and the size of many of the
leaves amazing, being four to five feet long, by a foot wide,
with stalks as thick as one's arm. They have their origin around
these storm-beaten rocks, which lie scattered thinly over the
immense area of the Southern Ocean, whence they are torn, in
masses like those we saw, by every gale, and sent wandering round
the world.
When we arrived within about three miles of the landing-place, we
saw a boat coming off, so we immediately hove-to and awaited her
arrival. There was no question of anchoring; indeed, there
seldom is in these vessels, unless they are going to make a long
stay, for they are past masters in the art of "standing off and
on." "The boat came alongside--a big, substantially-built craft
of the whale-boat type, but twice the size--manned by ten sturdylooking
fellows, as unkempt and wild-looking as any pirates.
They were evidently put to great straits for clothes, many
curious makeshifts being noticeable in their rig, while it was so
patched with every conceivable kind of material that it was
impossible to say which was the original or "standing part."
They brought with them potatoes, onions, a few stunted cabbages,
some fowls, and a couple of good-sized pigs, at the sight of
which good things our eyes glistened and our mouths watered.
Alas! none of the cargo of that boat ever reached OUR hungry
stomachs. We were not surprised, having anticipated that every
bit of provision would be monopolized by our masters; but of
course we had no means of altering such a state of things.
The visitors had the same tale to tell that seems universal--bad
trade, hard times, nothing doing. How very familiar it seemed,
to be sure. Nevertheless, it could not be denied that their sole
means of communication with the outer world, as well as market
for their goods, the calling whale-ships, were getting fewer and
fewer every year; so that their outlook was not, it must be
confessed, particularly bright. But their wants are few, beyond
such as they can themselves supply. Groceries and clothes, the
latter especially, as the winters are very severe, are almost the
only needs they require to be supplied with from without. They
spoke of the "Cape" as if it were only across the way, the
distance separating them from that wonderful place being over
thirteen hundred miles in reality. Very occasionally a schooner
from Capetown does visit them; but, as the seals are almost
exterminated, there is less and less inducement to make the
Like almost all the southern islets, this group has been in its
time the scene of a wonderfully productive seal-fishery. It used
to be customary for whaling and sealing vessels to land a portion
of their crews, and leave them to accumulate a store of sealskins
and oil, while the ships cruised the surrounding seas for
whales, which were exceedingly numerous, both "right" and sperm
varieties. In those days there was no monotony of existence in
these islands, ships were continually coming and going, and the
islanders prospered exceedingly. When they increased beyond the
capacity of the islands to entertain them, a portion migrated to
the Cape, while many of the men took service in the whale-ships,
for which they were eminently suited.
They are, as might be expected, a hybrid lot, the women all
mulattoes, but intensely English in their views and loyalty.
Since the visit of H.M.S. GALATEA, in August, 1867, with the Duke
of Edinburgh on board, this sentiment had been intensified, and
the little collection of thatched cottages, nameless till then,
was called Edinburgh, in honour of the illustrious voyager. They
breed cattle, a few sheep, and pigs, although the sheep thrive
but indifferently for some reason or another. Poultry they have
in large numbers, so that, could they commend a market, they
would do very well.
The steep cliffs, rising from the sea for nearly a thousand feet,
often keep their vicinity in absolute calm, although a heavy gale
may be raging on the other side of the island, and it would be
highly dangerous for any navigator not accustomed to such a
neighbourhood to get too near them. The immense rollers setting
inshore, and the absence of wind combined, would soon carry a
vessel up against the beetling crags, and letting go an anchor
would not be of the slightest use, since the bottom, being of
massive boulders, affords no holding ground at all. All round
the island the kelp grows thickly, so thickly indeed as to make a
boat's progress through it difficult. This, however, is very
useful in one way here, as we found. Wanting more supplies,
which were to be had cheap, we lowered a couple of boats, and
went ashore after them. On approaching the black, pebbly beach
which formed the only landing-place, it appeared as if getting
ashore would be a task of no ordinary danger and difficulty. The
swell seemed to culminate as we neared the beach, lifting the
boats at one moment high in air, and at the next lowering them
into a green valley, from whence nothing could be seen but the
surrounding watery summits. Suddenly we entered the belt of
kelp, which extended for perhaps a quarter of a mile seaward,
and, lo! a transformation indeed. Those loose, waving fronds of
flexible weed, though swayed hither and thither by every ripple,
were able to arrest the devastating rush of the gigantic swell,
so that the task of landing, which had looked so terrible, was
one of the easiest. Once in among the kelp, although we could
hardly use the oars, the water was quite smooth and tranquil.
The islanders collected on the beach, and guided us to the best
spot for landing, the huge boulders, heaped in many places, being
ugly impediments to a boat.
We were as warmly welcomed as if we had been old friends, and
hospitable attentions were showered upon us from every side. The
people were noticeably well-behaved, and, although there was
something Crusoe-like in their way of living, their manners and
conversation were distinctly good. A rude plenty was evident,
there being no lack of good food--fish, fowl, and vegetables. The
grassy plateau on which the village stands is a sort of shelf
jutting out from the mountain-side, the mountain being really the
whole island. Steep roads were hewn out of the solid rock,
leading, as we were told, to the cultivated terraces above.
These reached an elevation of about a thousand feet. Above all
towered the great, dominating peak, the summit lost in the clouds
eight or nine thousand feet above. The rock-hewn roads and
cultivated land certainly gave the settlement an old-established
appearance, which was not surprising seeing that it has been
inhabited for more than a hundred years. I shall always bear a
grateful recollection of the place, because my host gave me what
I had long been a stranger to--a good, old-fashioned English
dinner of roast beef and baked potatoes. He apologized for
having no plum-pudding to crown the feast. "But, you see," he
said, "we kaint grow no corn hyar, and we'm clean run out ov
flour; hev ter make out on taters 's best we kin." I sincerely
sympathized with him on the lack of bread-stuff among them, and
wondered no longer at the avidity with which they had munched our
flinty biscuits on first coming aboard. His wife, a buxom,
motherly woman of about fifty, of dark, olive complexion, but
good features, was kindness itself; and their three youngest
children, who were at home, could not, in spite of repeated
warnings and threats, keep their eyes off me, as if I had been
some strange animal dropped from the moon. I felt very unwilling
to leave them so soon, but time was pressing, the stores we had
come for were all ready to ship, and I had to tear myself away
from these kindly entertainers. I declare, it seemed like
parting with old friends; yet our acquaintance might have been
measured by minutes, so brief it had been. The mate had
purchased a fine bullock, which had been slaughtered and cut up
for us with great celerity, four or five dozen fowls (alive),
four or five sacks of potatoes, eggs, etc., so that we were
heavily laden for the return journey to the ship. My friend had
kindly given me a large piece of splendid cheese, for which I was
unable to make him any return, being simply clad in a shirt and
pair of trousers, neither of which necessary garments could be
With hearty cheers from the whole population, we shoved off and
ploughed through the kelp seaweed again. When we got clear of
it, we found the swell heavier than when we had come, and a rough
journey back to the ship was the result. But, to such boatmen as
we were, that was a trifle hardly worth mentioning, and after an
hour's hard pull we got alongside again, and transhipped our
precious cargo. The weather being threatening, we at once hauled
off the land and out to sea, as night was falling and we did not
wish to be in so dangerous a vicinity any longer than could be
helped in stormy weather. Altogether, a most enjoyable day, and
one that I have ever since had a pleasant recollection of.
By daybreak next morning the islands were out of sight, for the
wind had risen to a gale, which, although we carried little sail,
drove us along before it some seven or eight knots an hour.
Two days afterwards we caught another whale of medium size,
making us fifty-four barrels of oil. As nothing out of the
ordinary course marked the capture, it is unnecessary to do more
than allude to it in passing, except to note that the honours
were all with Goliath. He happened to be close to the whale when
it rose, and immediately got fast. So dexterous and swift were
his actions that before any of the other boats could "chip in" he
had his fish "fin out," the whole affair from start to finish
only occupying a couple of hours. We were now in the chosen
haunts of the great albatross, Cape pigeons, and Cape hens, but
never in my life had I imagined such a concourse of them as now
gathered around us. When we lowered there might have been
perhaps a couple of dozen birds in sight, but no sooner was the
whale dead than from out of the great void around they began to
drift towards us. Before we had got him fast alongside, the
numbers of that feathered host were incalculable. They
surrounded us until the sea surface was like a plain of snow, and
their discordant cries were deafening. With the exception of one
peculiar-looking bird, which has received from whalemen the
inelegant name of "stinker," none of them attempted to alight
upon the body of the dead monster. This bird, however, somewhat
like a small albatross, but of dirty-grey colour, and with a
peculiar excrescence on his beak, boldly took his precarious
place upon the carcase, and at once began to dig into the
blubber. He did not seem to make much impression, but he
certainly tried hard.
It was dark before we got our prize secured by the fluke-chain,
so that we could not commence operations before morning. That
night it blew hard, and we got an idea of the strain these
vessels are sometimes subjected to. Sometimes the ship rolled
one way and the whale another, being divided by a big sea, the
wrench at the fluke-chain, as the two masses fell apart down
different hollows, making the vessel quiver from truck to keelson
as if she was being torn asunder. Then we would come together
again with a crash and a shock that almost threw everybody out of
their bunks. Many an earnest prayer did I breathe that the chain
would prove staunch, for what sort of a job it would be to go
after that whale during the night, should he break loose, I could
only faintly imagine. But all our gear was of the very best; no
thieving ship-chandler had any band in supplying our outfit with
shoddy rope and faulty chain, only made to sell, and ready at the
first call made upon it to carry away and destroy half a dozen
valuable lives. There was one coil of rope on board which the
skipper had bought for cordage on the previous voyage from a
homeward-bound English ship, and it was the butt of all the
officers' scurrilous remarks about Britishers and their gear. It
was never used but for rope-yarns, being cut up in lengths, and
untwisted for the ignominious purpose of tying things up
--"hardly good enough for that," was the verdict upon it.
Tired as we all were, very little sleep came to us that night--we
were barely seasoned yet to the exigencies of a whaler's life
--but afterwards I believe nothing short of dismasting or running
the ship ashore would wake us, once we got to sleep. In the
morning we commenced operations in a howling gale of wind, which
placed the lives of the officers on the "cutting in" stage in
great danger. The wonderful seaworthy qualities of our old ship
shone brilliantly now. When an ordinary modern-built sailingship
would have been making such weather of it as not only to
drown anybody about the deck, but making it impossible to keep
your footing anywhere without holding on, we were enabled to cut
in this whale. True, the work was terribly exhausting and
decidedly dangerous, but it was not impossible, for it was done.
By great care and constant attention, the whole work of cutting
in and trying out was got through without a single accident; but
had another whale turned up to continue the trying time, I am
fully persuaded that some of us would have gone under from sheer
fatigue. For there was no mercy shown. All that I have ever
read of "putting the slaves through for all they were worth" on
the plantations was fully realized here, and our worthy skipper
must have been a lineal descendent of the doughty Simon Legree.
The men were afraid to go on to the sick-list. Nothing short of
total inability to continue would have prevented them from
working, such was the terror with which that man had inspired us
all. It may be said that we were a pack of cowards, who, without
the courage to demand better treatment, deserved all we got.
While admitting that such a conclusion is quite a natural one at
which to arrive, I must deny its truth. There were men in that
forecastle as good citizens and as brave fellows as you would
wish to meet--men who in their own sphere would have commanded
and obtained respect. But under the painful and abnormal
circumstances in which they found themselves--beaten and driven
like dogs while in the throes of sea-sickness, half starved and
hopeless, their spirit had been so broken, and they were so kept
down to that sad level by the display of force, aided by deadly
weapons aft, that no other condition could be expected for them
but that of broken-hearted slaves. My own case was many degrees
better than that of the other whites, as I have before noted; but
I was perfectly well aware that the slightest attempt on my part
to show that I resented our common treatment would meet with the
most brutal repression, and, in addition, I might look for a
dreadful time of it for the rest of the voyage.
The memory of that week of misery is so strong upon me even now
that my hand trembles almost to preventing me from writing about
it. Weak and feeble do the words seem as I look at them, making
me wish for the fire and force of Carlyle or Macaulay to portray
our unnecessary sufferings.
Like all other earthly ills, however, they came to an end, at
least for a time, and I was delighted to note that we were
getting to the northward again. In making the outward passage
round the Cape, it is necessary to go well south, in order to
avoid the great westerly set of the Agulhas current, which for
ever sweeps steadily round the southern extremity of the African
continent at an average rate of three or four miles an hour. To
homeward-bound ships this is a great boon. No matter what the
weather may be--a stark calm or a gale of wind right on end in
your teeth--that vast, silent river in the sea steadily bears you
on at the same rate in the direction of home. It is perfectly
true that with a gale blowing across the set of this great
current, one of the very ugliest combinations of broken waves is
raised; but who cares for that, when he knows that, as long as
the ship holds together, some seventy or eighty miles per day
nearer home must be placed to her credit? In like manner, it is
of the deepest comfort to know that, storm or calm, fair or foul,
the current of time, unhasting, unresting, bears us on to the
goal that we shall surely reach--the haven of unbroken rest.
Not the least of the minor troubles on board the CACHALOT was the
uncertainty of our destination; we never knew where we were
going. It may seem a small point, but it is really not so
unimportant as a landsman might imagine. On an ordinary passage,
certain well-known signs are as easily read by the seaman as if
the ship's position were given out to him every day. Every
alteration of the course signifies some point of the journey
reached, some well-known track entered upon, and every landfall
made becomes a new departure from whence to base one's
calculations, which, rough as they are, rarely err more than a
few days.
Say, for instance, you are bound for Calcutta. The first of the
north-east trades will give a fair idea of your latitude being
about the edge of the tropics somewhere, or say from 20deg. to
25deg. N., whether you have sighted any of the islands or not.
Then away you go before the wind down towards the Equator, the
approach to which is notified by the loss of the trade and the
dirty, changeable weather of the "doldrums." That weary bit of
work over, along come the south-east trades, making you brace
"sharp up," and sometimes driving you uncomfortably near the
Brazilian coast. Presently more "doldrums," with a good deal
more wind in them than in the "wariables" of the line latitude.
The brave "westerly" will come along by-and-by and release you,
and, with a staggering press of sail carried to the reliable
gale, away you go for the long stretch of a hundred degrees or so
eastward. You will very likely sight Tristan d'Acunha or Gough
lsland; but, if not, the course will keep you fairly well
informed of your longitude, since most ships make more or less of
a great circle track. Instead of steering due East for the whole
distance, they make for some southerly latitude by running along
the arc of a great circle, THEN run due east for a thousand miles
or so before gradually working north again. These alterations in
the courses tell the foremast hand nearly all he wants to know,
slight as they are. You will most probably sight Amsterdam
Island or St. Paul's in about 77deg. E.; but whether you do or
not, the big change made in the course, to say nothing of the
difference in the weather and temperature, say loudly that your
long easterly run is over, and you are bound to the northward
again, Soon the south-east trades will take you gently in hand,
and waft you pleasurably upward to the line again, unless you
should be so unfortunate as to meet one of the devastating
meteors known as "cyclones" in its gyration across the Indian
Ocean. After losing the trade, which signals your approach to
the line once more, your guides fluctuate muchly with the time of
year. But it may he broadly put that the change of the monsoon
in the Bay of Bengal is beastliness unadulterated, and the southwest
monsoon itself, though a fair wind for getting to your
destination, is worse, if possible. Still, having got that far,
you are able to judge pretty nearly when, in the ordinary course
of events, you will arrive at Saugor, and get a tug for the rest
of the journey.
But on this strange voyage I was quite as much in the dark
concerning our approximate position as any of the chaps who had
never seen salt water before they viewed it from the bad eminence
of the CACHALOT's deck. Of course, it was evident that we were
bound eastward, but whether to the Indian seas or to the South
Pacific, none knew but the skipper, and perhaps the mate. I say
"perhaps" advisedly. In any well-regulated merchant ship there
is an invariable routine of observations performed by both
captain and chief officer, except in very big vessels, where the
second mate is appointed navigating officer. The two men work
out their reckoning independently of each other, and compare the
result, so that an excellent check upon the accuracy of the
positions found is thereby afforded. Here, however, there might
not have been, as far as appearances went, a navigator in the
ship except the captain, if it be not a misuse of terms to call
him a navigator. If the test be ability to take a ship round the
world, poking into every undescribed, out-of-the-way corner you
can think of, and return home again without damage to the ship of
any kind except by the unavoidable perils of the sea, then
doubtless he WAS a navigator, and a ripe, good one. But anything
cruder than the "rule-of-thumb" way in which he found his
positions, or more out of date than his "hog-yoke," or quadrant,
I have never seen. I suppose we carried a chronometer, though I
never saw it or heard the cry of "stop," which usually
accompanies a.m. or p.m. "sights" taken for longitude. He used
sometimes to make a deliberate sort of haste below after taking a
sight, when he may have been looking at a chronometer perhaps.
What I do know about his procedure is, that he always used a very
rough method of equal altitudes, which would make a mathematician
stare and gasp; that his nautical almanac was a ten-cent one
published by some speculative optician is New York; that he never
worked up a "dead reckoning;" and that the extreme limit of time
that he took to work out his observations was ten minutes. In
fact, all our operations in seamanship or navigation were run on
the same happy-go-lucky principle. If it was required to "tack"
ship, there was no formal parade and preparation for the
manoeuvre, not even as much as would be made in a Goole billyboy.
Without any previous intimation, the helm would be put
down, and round she would come, the yards being trimmed by
whoever happened to be nearest to the braces. The old tub seemed
to like it that way, for she never missed stays or exhibited any
of that unwillingness to do what she was required that is such a
frequent characteristic of merchantmen. Even getting under way
or coming to an anchor was unattended by any of the fuss and
bother from which those important evolutions ordinarily appear
To my great relief we saw no more whales of the kind we were
after during our passage round the Cape. The weather we were
having was splendid for making a passage, but to be dodging about
among those immense rollers, or towed athwart them by a wounded
whale in so small a craft as one of our whale-boats, did not have
any attractions for me. There was little doubt in any of our
minds that, if whales were seen, off we must go while daylight
lasted, let the weather be what it might. So when one morning I
went to the wheel, to find the course N.N.E. instead of E. by N.,
it may be taken for granted that the change was a considerable
relief to me. It was now manifest that we were bound up into the
Indian Ocean, although of course I knew nothing of the position
of the districts where whales were to be looked for. Gradually
we crept northward, the weather improving every day as we left
the "roaring forties" astern. While thus making northing we had
several fine catches of porpoises, and saw many rorquals, but
sperm whales appeared to have left the locality. However, the
"old man" evidently knew what he was about, as we were not now
cruising, but making a direct passage for some definite place.
At last we sighted land, which, from the course which we had been
steering, might have been somewhere on the east coast of Africa,
but for the fact that it was right ahead, while we were pointing
at the time about N.N.W. By-and-by I came to the conclusion that
it must be the southern extremity of Madagascar, Cape St. Mary,
and, by dint of the closest, attention to every word I heard
uttered while at the wheel by the officers, found that my surmise
was correct. We skirted this point pretty closely, heading to
the westward, and, when well clear of it, bore up to the
northward, again for the Mozambique Channel. Another surprise.
The very idea of WHALING in the Mozambique Channel seemed too
ridiculous to mention; yet here we were, guided by a commander
who, whatever his faults, was certainly most keen in his
attention to business, and the unlikeliest man imaginable to take
the ship anywhere unless he anticipated a profitable return for
his visit.
We had now entered upon what promised to be the most interesting
part of our voyage. As a commercial speculation, I have to admit
that the voyage was to me a matter of absolute indifference.
Never, from the first week of my being on board, had I cherished
any illusions upon that score, for it was most forcibly impressed
on my mind that, whatever might be the measure of success
attending our operations, no one of the crew forward could hope
to benefit by it. The share of profits was so small, and the
time taken to earn it so long, such a number of clothes were worn
out and destroyed by us, only to be replaced from the ship's
slop-chest at high prices, that I had quite resigned myself to
the prospect of leaving the vessel in debt, whenever that
desirable event might happen. Since, therefore, I had never made
it a practice to repine at the inevitable, and make myself
unhappy by the contemplation of misfortunes I was powerless to
prevent, I tried to interest myself as far as was possible in
gathering information, although at that time I had no idea,
beyond a general thirst for knowledge, that what I was now
learning would ever he of any service to me. Yet I had been dull
indeed not to have seen how unique were the opportunities I was
now enjoying for observation of some of the least known and
understood aspects of the ocean world and its wonderful
inhabitants, to say nothing of visits to places unvisited, except
by such free lances as we were, and about which so little is
really known.
The weather of the Mozambique Channel was fairly good, although
subject to electric storms of the most terrible aspect, but
perfectly harmless. On the second evening after rounding Cape
St. Mary, we were proceeding, as usual, under very scanty sail,
rather enjoying the mild, balmy air, scent-laden, from
Madagascar. The moon was shining in tropical splendour, paling
the lustre of the attendant stars, and making the glorious Milky
Way but a faint shadow of its usual resplendent road. Gradually
from the westward there arose a murky mass of cloud, fringed at
its upper edges with curious tinted tufts of violet, orange, and
crimson. These colours were not brilliant, but plainly visible
against the deep blue sky. Slowly and solemnly the intruding
gloom overspread the sweet splendour of the shining sky, creeping
like a death-shadow over a dear face, and making the most
talkative feel strangely quiet and ill at ease. As the pall of
thick darkness blotted out the cool light, it seemed to descend
until at last we were completely over-canopied by a dome of
velvety black, seemingly low enough to touch the mast-heads. A
belated sea-bird's shrill scream but emphasized the deep silence
which lent itself befittingly to the solemnity of nature.
Presently thin suggestions of light, variously tinted, began to
thread the inky mass. These grew brighter and more vivid, until
at last, in fantastic contortions, they appeared to rend the
swart concave asunder, revealing through the jagged clefts a
lurid waste of the most intensely glowing fire. The coming and
going of these amazing brightnesses, combined with the Egyptian
dark between, was completely blinding. So loaded was the still
air with electricity that from every point aloft pale flames
streamed upward, giving the ship the appearance of a huge
candelabrum with innumerable branches. One of the hands, who
had been ordered aloft on some errand of securing a loose end,
presented a curious sight. He was bareheaded, and from his hair
the all pervading fluid arose, lighting up his features, which
were ghastly beyond description. When he lifted his hand, each
separate finger became at once an additional point from which
light streamed. There was no thunder, but a low hissing and a
crackling which did not amount to noise, although distinctly
audible to all. Sensations most unpleasant of pricking and
general irritation were felt by every one, according to their
degree of susceptibility.
After about an hour of this state of things, a low moaning of
thunder was heard, immediately followed by a few drops of rain
large as dollars. The mutterings and grumblings increased until,
with one peal that made the ship tremble as though she had just
struck a rock at full speed, down came the rain. The windows of
heaven were opened, and no man might stand against the steaming
flood that descended by thousands of tons per minute. How long
it continued, I cannot say; probably, in its utmost fierceness,
not more than half an hour. Then it slowly abated, clearing away
as it did so the accumulation of gloom overhead, until, before
midnight had struck, all the heavenly host were shedding their
beautiful brilliancy upon us again with apparently increased
glory, while the freshness and invigorating feel of the air was
inexpressibly delightful.
We did not court danger by hugging too closely any of the ugly
reefs and banks that abound in this notably difficult strait, but
gave them all a respectfully wide birth. It was a feature of our
navigation that, unless we had occasion to go near any island or
reef for fishing or landing purposes, we always kept a safe
margin of distance away, which probably accounts for our
continued immunity from accident while in tortuous waters. Our
anchors and cables were, however, always kept ready for use now,
in case of an unsuspected current or sudden storm; but beyond
that precaution, I could see little or no difference in the
manner of our primitive navigation.
We met with no "luck" for some time, and the faces of the
harpooners grew daily longer, the great heat of those sultry
waters trying all tempers sorely. But Captain Slocum knew his
business, and his scowling, impassive face showed no signs of
disappointment, or indeed any other emotion, as day by day we
crept farther north. At last we sighted the stupendous peak of
Comoro mountain, which towers to nearly nine thousand feet from
the little island which gives its name to the Comoro group of
four. On that same day a school of medium-sized sperm whales
were sighted, which appeared to be almost of a different race to
those with which we had hitherto had dealings. They were
exceedingly fat and lazy, moving with the greatest deliberation,
and, when we rushed in among them, appeared utterly bewildered
and panic-stricken, knowing not which way to flee. Like a flock
of frightened sheep they huddled together, aimlessly wallowing in
each other's way, while we harpooned them with the greatest ease
and impunity. Even the "old man" himself lowered the fifth boat,
leaving the ship to the carpenter, cooper, cook, and steward, and
coming on the scene as if determined to make a field-day of the
occasion. He was no "slouch" at the business either. Not that
there was much occasion or opportunity to exhibit any prowess.
The record of the day's proceedings would be as tame as to read
of a day's work in a slaughter-house. Suffice it to say, that we
actually killed six whales, none of whom were less than fifty
barrels, no boat ran out more than one hundred fathoms of line,
neither was a bomb-lance used. Not the slightest casualty
occurred to any of the boats, and the whole work of destruction
was over in less than four hours.
Then came the trouble. The fish were, of course somewhat widely
separated when they died, and the task of collecting all those
immense carcasses was one of no ordinary magnitude. Had it not
been for the wonderfully skilful handling of the ship, the task
would, I should think, have been impossible, but the way in which
she was worked compelled the admiration of anybody who knew what
handling a ship meant. Still, with all the ability manifested,
it was five hours after the last whale died before we had
gathered them all alongside, bringing us to four o'clock in the
A complete day under that fierce blaze of the tropical sun,
without other refreshment than an occasional furtive drink of
tepid water, had reduced us to a pitiable condition of weakness,
so much so that the skipper judged it prudent, as soon as the
fluke-chains were passed, to give us a couple of hours' rest. As
soon as the sun had set we were all turned to again, three
cressets were prepared, and by their blaze we toiled the whole
night through. Truth compels me to state, though, that none of
us foremast hands had nearly such heavy work as the officers on
the stage. What they had to do demanded special knowledge and
skill; but it was also terribly hard work, constant and
unremitting, while we at the windlass had many a short spell
between the lifting of the pieces. Even the skipper took a hand,
for the first time, and right manfully did be do his share,
By the first streak of dawn, three of the whales had been
stripped of their blubber, and five heads were bobbing astern at
the ends of as many hawsers. The sea all round presented a
wonderful sight. There must have been thousands of sharks
gathered to the feast, and their incessant incursions through the
phosphorescent water wove a dazzling network of brilliant tracks
which made the eyes ache to look upon. A short halt was called
for breakfast, which was greatly needed, and, thanks to the cook,
was a thoroughly good one. He--blessings on him!--had been busy
fishing, as we drifted slowly, with savoury pieces of whale-beef
for bait, and the result was a mess of fish which would have
gladdened the heart of an epicure. Our hunger appeased, it was
"turn to" again, for there was now no time to be lost. The
fierce heat soon acts upon the carcass of a dead whale,
generating an immense volume of gas within it, which, in a
wonderfully short space of time, turns the flesh putrid and
renders the blubber so rotten that it cannot be lifted, nor, if
it could, would it be of any value. So it was no wonder that our
haste was great, or that the august arbiter of our destinies
himself condescended to take his place among the toilers. By
nightfall the whole of our catch was on board, excepting such
toll as the hungry hordes of sharks had levied upon it in
transit. A goodly number of them had paid the penalty of their
rapacity with their lives, for often one would wriggle his way
right up on to the reeking carcass, and, seizing a huge fragment
of blubber, strive with might and main to tear it away. Then the
lethal spade would drop upon his soft crown, cleaving it to the
jaws, and with one flap of his big tail he would loose his grip,
roll over and over, and sink, surrounded by a writhing crowd of
his fellows, by whom he was speedily reduced into digestible
The condition of the CACHALOT's deck was now somewhat akin to
chaos. From the cabin door to the tryworks there was hardly an
inch of available space, and the oozing oil kept some of us
continually baling it up, lest it should leak out through the
interstices in the bulwarks. In order to avoid a breakdown, it
became necessary to divide the crew into six-hour watches, as
although the work was exceedingly urgent on account of the
weather, there were evident signs that some of the crew were
perilously near giving in. So we got rest none too soon, and the
good effects of it were soon apparent. The work went on with
much more celerity than one would have thought possible, and soon
the lumbered-up decks began to resume their normal appearance.
As if to exasperate the "old man" beyond measure on the third day
of our operations a great school of sperm whales appeared,
disporting all around the ship, apparently conscious of our
helplessness to interfere with them. Notwithstanding our
extraordinary haul, Captain Slocum went black with impotent rage,
and, after glowering at the sportive monsters, beat a retreat
below, unable to bear the sight any longer. During his absence
we had a rare treat. The whole school surrounded the ship, and
performed some of the strangest evolutions imaginable. As if
instigated by one common impulse, they all elevated their massive
heads above the surface of the sea, and remained for some time in
that position, solemnly bobbing up and down amid the glittering
wavelets like movable boulders of black rock. Then, all suddenly
reversed themselves, and, elevating their broad flukes in the
air, commenced to beat them slowly and rhythmically upon the
water, like so many machines. Being almost a perfect calm, every
movement of the great mammals could be plainly seen; some of
them even passed so near to us that we could see how the lower
jaw hung down, while the animal was swimming in a normal
For over an hour they thus paraded around us, and then, as if
startled by some hidden danger, suddenly headed off to the
westward, and in a few minutes were out of our sight.
We cruised in the vicinity of the Comoro Islands for two months,
never quite out of sight of the mountain while the weather was
clear. During the whole of that time we were never clear of oil
on deck, one catch always succeeding another before there had
been time to get cleared up. Eight hundred barrels of oil were
added to our cargo, making the undisciplined hearts of all to
whom whaling was a novel employment beat high with hopes of a
speedy completion of the cargo, and consequent return. Poor
innocents that we were! How could we know any better? According
to Goliath, with whom I often had a friendly chat, this was quite
out of the ordinary run to have such luck in the "Channel."
"'Way back in de dark ages, w'en de whaleships war de pi'neers ob
commerce, 'n day wan't no worryin', poofity-plukity steamboats apoundin'
along, 'nough ter galley ebery whale clean eout ob dere
skin, dey war plenty whaleships fill up in twelve, fifteen,
twenty monf' after leabin' home. 'N er man bed his pick er
places, too--didn' hab ter go moseyin erroun' like some ol' hobo
lookin' fer day's work, 'n prayin' de good Lord not ter let um
fine it. No, sah; roun yer China Sea, coas' Japan, on de line,
off shore, Vasquez, 'mong de islan's, ohmos' anywhar, you couldn'
hardly git way from 'em. Neow, I clar ter glory I kaint imagine
WAR dey all gone ter, dough we bin eout only six seven monf' 'n
got over tousan bar'l below. But I bin two year on er voy'ge and
doan hardly SEE a sparm while, much less catch one. But"--and
here he whispered mysteriously--"dish yer ole man's de bery
debbil's own chile, 'n his farder lookin' after him well--dat's
my 'pinion. Only yew keep yer head tight shut, an' nebber say er
word, but keep er lookin', 'n sure's death you'll see." This
conversation made a deep and lasting impression upon me, for I
had not before heard even so much as a murmur from an officer
against the tyranny of the skipper. Some of the harpooners were
fluent enough, too.
Yet I had often thought that his treatment of them, considering
the strenuous nature of their toil, and the willingness with
which they worked as long as they had an ounce of energy left,
was worth at least a little kindness and courtesy on his part.
What the period may have been during which whales were plentiful
here, I do not know, but it was now May, and for the last few
days we had not seen a solitary spout of any kind. Preparations,
very slight it is true, were made for departure; but before we
left those parts we made an interesting call for water at
Mohilla, one of the Comoro group, which brought out, in
unmistakable fashion, the wonderful fund of local knowledge
possessed by these men. At the larger ports of Johanna and
Mayotte there is a regular tariff of port charges, which are
somewhat heavy, and no whaleman would be so reckless as to incur
these unless driven thereto by the necessity of obtaining
provisions; otherwise, the islands offer great inducements to
whaling captains to call, since none but men hopelessly mad would
venture to desert in such places. That qualification is the
chief one for any port to possess in the eyes of a whaling
Our skipper, however, saw no necessity for entering any port.
Running up under the lee of Mohilla, we followed the land along
until we came to a tiny bight on the western side of the island,
an insignificant inlet which no mariner in charge of a vessel
like ours could be expected even to notice, unless he were
surveying. The approaches to this tiny harbour (save the mark)
were very forbidding. Ugly-looking rocks showed up here and
there, the surf over them frequently blinding the whole entry.
But we came along, in our usual leisurely fashion, under two
topsails, spanker, and fore-topmast staysail, and took that ugly
passage like a sailing barge entering the Medway. There was
barely room to turn round when we got inside, but all sail had
been taken off her except the spanker, so that her way was almost
stopped by the time she was fairly within the harbour. Down went
the anchor, and she was fast--anchored for the first time since
leaving New Bedford seven months before. Here we were shut out
entirely from the outer world, for I doubt greatly whether even a
passing dhow could have seen us from seaward. We were not here
for rest, however, but wood and water; so while one party was
supplied with well-sharpened axes, and sent on shore to cut down
such small trees as would serve our turn, another party was
busily employed getting out a number of big casks for the
serious business of watering. The cooper knocked off the second
or quarter hoops from each of these casks, and drove them on
again with two "beckets" or loops of rope firmly jammed under
each of them in such a manner that the loops were in line with
each other on each side of the bunghole. They were then lowered
overboard, and a long rope rove through all the beckets. When
this was done, the whole number of casks floated end to end,
upright and secure. We towed them ashore to where, by the
skipper's directions, at about fifty yards from high-water mark,
a spring of beautiful water bubbled out of the side of a mass of
rock, losing itself in a deep crevice below. Lovely ferns, rare
orchids, and trailing plants of many kinds surrounded this fairylike
spot in the wildest profusion, making a tangle of greenery
that we had considerable trouble to clear away. Having done so,
we led a long canvas hose from the spot whence the water flowed
down to the shore where the casks floated. The chief officer,
with great ingenuity, rigged up an arrangement whereby the hose,
which had a square month about a foot wide, was held up to the
rock, saving us the labour of bailing and filling by hand. So we
were able to rest and admire at our ease the wonderful variety of
beautiful plants which grew here so lavishly, unseen by mortal
eye from one year's end to another. I have somewhere read that
the Creator has delight in the beautiful work of His will,
wherever it may be; and that while our egotism wonders at the
waste of beauty, as we call it, there is no waste at all, since
the Infinite Intelligence can dwell with complacency upon the
glories of His handiwork, perfectly fulfilling their appointed
All too soon the pleasant occupation came to an end. The long
row of casks, filled to the brim and tightly bunged, were towed
off by us to the ship, and ranged alongside. A tackle and pair
of "can-hooks " was overhauled to the water and hooked to a cask.
"Hoist away!" And as the cask rose, the beckets that had held it
to the mother-rope were cut, setting it quite free to come on
board, but leaving all the others still secure. In this way we
took in several thousand gallons of water in a few hours, with a
small expenditure of labour, free of cost; whereas, had we gone
into Mayotte or Johanna, the water would have been bad, the price
high, the labour great, with the chances of a bad visitation of
fever in the bargain.
The woodmen had a much more arduous task. The only wood they
could find, without cutting down big trees, which would have
involved far too much labour in cutting up, was a kind of ironwood,
which, besides being very heavy, was so hard as to take
pieces clean out of their axe-edges, when a blow was struck
directly across the grain. As none of them were experts, the
condition of their tools soon made their work very hard. But
that they had taken several axes in reserve, it is doubtful
whether they would have been able to get sufficient fuel for our
purpose. When they pitched the wood off the rocks into the
harbour, it sank immediately, giving them a great deal of trouble
to fish it up again. Neither could they raft it as intended, but
were compelled to lend it into the boats and make several
journeys to and fro before all they had cut was shipped.
Altogether, I was glad that the wooding had not fallen to my
share. On board the ship fishing had been going on steadily most
of the day by a few hands told off for the purpose. The result
of their sport was splendid, over two hundred-weight of fine fish
of various sorts, but all eatable, having been gathered in.
We lay snugly anchored all night, keeping a bright look-out for
any unwelcome visitors either from land or sea, for the natives
are not to be trusted, neither do the Arab mongrels who cruise
about those waters in their dhows bear any too good a reputation.
We saw none, however, and at daylight we weighed and towed the
ship out to sea with the boats, there being no wind. While busy
at this uninteresting pastime, one of the boats slipped away,
returning presently with a fine turtle, which they had surprised
during his morning's nap. One of the amphibious Portuguese
slipped over the boat's side as she neared the sleeping SPHARGA,
and, diving deep, came up underneath him, seizing with crossed
hands the two hind flippers, and, with a sudden, dexterous twist,
turned the astonished creature over on his back. Thus rendered
helpless, the turtle lay on the surface feebly waving his
flippers, while his captor, gently treading water, held him in
that position till the boat reached the pair and took them on
board. It was a clever feat, neatly executed, as unlike the
clumsy efforts I had before seen made with the same object as
anything could possibly be.
After an hour's tow, we had got a good offing, and a light air
springing up, we returned on board, hoisted the boats, and made
sail to the northward again.
With the exception of the numerous native dhows that crept lazily
about, we saw no vessels as we gradually drew out of the
Mozambique Channel and stood away towards the Line. The part of
the Indian Ocean in which we now found ourselves is much dreaded
by merchantmen, who give it a wide berth on account of the
numerous banks, islets, and dangerous currents with which it
abounds. We, however, seemed quite at home here, pursuing the
even tenor of our usual way without any special precautions being
taken. A bright look-out, we always kept, of course--none of
your drowsy lolling about such as is all too common on the
"fo'lk'sle head" of many a fine ship, when, with lights half
trimmed or not shown at all, she is ploughing along blindly at
twelve knots or so an hour. No; while we were under way during
daylight, four pairs of keen eyes kept incessant vigil a hundred
feet above the deck, noting everything, even to a shoal of small
fish, that crossed within the range of vision. At night we
scarcely moved, but still a vigilant lookout was always kept both
fore and aft, so that it would have been difficult for us to
drift upon a reef unknowingly.
Creeping steadily northward, we passed the Cosmoledo group of
atolls without paying them a visit, which was strange, as, from
their appearance, no better fishing-ground would be likely to
come in our way. They are little known, except to the wandering
fishermen from Reunion and Rodriguez, who roam about these islets
and reefs, seeking anything that may be turned into coin, from
wrecks to turtle, and in nowise particular as to rights of
ownership. When between the Cosmoledos and Astove, the next
island to the northward, we sighted a "solitary" cachalot one
morning just as the day dawned. It was the first for some time
--nearly three weeks--and being all well seasoned to the work
now, we obeyed the call to arms with great alacrity. Our friend
was making a passage, turning neither to the right hand nor the
left as he went. His risings and number of spouts while up, as
well as the time he remained below, were as regular as the
progress of a clock, and could be counted upon with quite as much
Bearing in mind, I suppose, the general character of the whales
we had recently met with, only two boats were lowered to attack
the new-comer, who, all unconscious of our coming, pursued his
leisurely course unheeding.
We got a good weather gage of him, and came flying on as usual
getting two irons planted in fine style. But a surprise awaited
us. As we sheered up into the wind away from him, Louis shouted,
"Fightin' whale, sir; look out for de rush!" Look out, indeed?
Small use in looking out when, hampered as we always were at
first with the unshipping of the mast, we could do next to
nothing to avoid him. Without any of the desperate flounderings
generally indulged in on first feeling the iron, he turned upon
us, and had it not been that he caught sight of the second mate's
boat, which had just arrived, and turned his attentions to her,
there would have been scant chance of any escape for us. Leaping
half out of water, he made direct for our comrades with a vigour
and ferocity marvellous to see, making it a no easy matter for
them to avoid his tremendous rush. Our actions, at no time slow,
were considerably hastened by this display of valour, so that
before he could turn his attentions in our direction we were
ready for him. Then ensued a really big fight, the first, in
fact, of my experience, for none of the other whales had shown
any serious determination to do us an injury, but had devoted all
their energies to attempts at escape. So quick were the
evolutions, and so savage the appearance of this fellow, that
even our veteran mate looked anxious as to the possible result.
Without attempting to "sound," the furious monster kept mostly
below the surface; but whenever he rose, it was either to deliver
a fearful blow with his tail, or, with jaws widespread, to try
and bite one of our boats in half. Well was it for us that he
was severely handicapped by a malformation of the lower jaw. At
a short distance from the throat it turned off nearly at right
angles to his body, the part that thus protruded sideways being
deeply fringed with barnacles, and plated with big limpets.
Had it not been for this impediment, I verily believe he would
have beaten us altogether. As it was, he worked us nearly to
death with his ugly rushes. Once he delivered a sidelong blow
with his tail, which, as we spun round, shore off the two oars on
that side as if they had been carrots. At last the second mate
got fast to him, and then the character of the game changed
again. Apparently unwearied by his previous exertions, he now
started off to windward at top speed, with the two boats sheering
broadly out upon either side of his foaming wake. Doubtless
because he himself was much fatigued, the mate allowed him to run
at his will, without for the time attempting to haul any closer
to him, and very grateful the short rest was to us. But he had
not gone a couple of miles before he turned a complete somersault
in the water, coming up BEHIND us to rush off again in the
opposite direction at undiminished speed. This move was a
startler. For the moment it seemed as if both boats would be
smashed like egg-shells against each other, or else that some of
us would be impaled upon the long lances with which each boat's
bow bristled. By what looked like a handbreadth, we cleared each
other, and the race continued. Up till now we had not succeeded
in getting home a single lance, the foe was becoming warier,
while the strain was certainly telling upon our nerves. So Mr.
Count got out his bomb-gun, shouting at the same time to Mr.
Cruce to do the same. They both hated these weapons, nor ever
used them if they could help it; but what was to be done?
Our chief had hardly got his gun ready, before we came to almost
a dead stop. All, was silent for just a moment; then, with a
roar like a cataract, up sprang the huge creature, head out, jaw
wide open, coming direct for us. As coolly as if on the quarterdeck,
the mate raised his gun, firing the bomb directly down the
great livid cavern of a throat fronting him. Down went that
mountainous head not six inches from us, but with a perfectly
indescribable motion, a tremendous writhe, in fact; up flew the
broad tail in air, and a blow which might have sufficed to stave
in the side of the ship struck the second mate's boat fairly
amidships. It was right before my eyes, not sixty feet away, and
the sight will haunt me to my death. The tub oarsman was the
poor German baker, about whom I have hitherto said nothing,
except to note that he was one of the crew. That awful blow put
an end summarily to all his earthly anxieties. As it shore
obliquely through the centre of the boat, it drove his poor body
right through her timbers--an undistinguishable bundle of what
was an instant before a human being. The other members of the
crew escaped the blow, and the harpooner managed to cut the line,
so that for the present they were safe enough, clinging to the
remains of their boat, unless the whale should choose to rush
across them.
Happily, his rushing was almost over. The bomb fired by Mr.
Count, with such fatal result to poor Bamberger, must have
exploded right in the whale's throat. Whether his previous
titanic efforts had completely exhausted him, or whether the bomb
had broken his massive backbone, I do not know, of course, but he
went into no flurry, dying as peacefully as his course had been
furious. For the first time in my life, I had been face to face
with a violent death, and I was quite stunned with the awfulness
of the experience. Mechanically, as it seemed to me, we obeyed
such orders as were given, but every man's thoughts were with the
shipmate so suddenly dashed from amongst us. We never saw sign
of him again.
While the ship was running down to us, another boat had gone to
rescue the clinging crew of the shattered boat, for the whole
drama had been witnessed from the ship, although they were not
aware of the death of the poor German. When the sad news was
told on board, there was a deep silence, all work being carried
on so quietly that we seemed like a crew of dumb men. With a
sentiment for which I should not have given our grim skipper
credit, the stars and stripes were hoisted half-mast, telling the
silent sky and moaning sea, sole witnesses besides ourselves, of
the sudden departure from among us of our poor shipmate.
We got the whale cut in as usual without any incident worth
mentioning, except that the peculiar shape of the jaw made it an
object of great curiosity to all of us who were new to the whalefishing.
Such malformations are not very rare. They are
generally thought to occur when the animal is young, and its
bones soft; but whether done in fighting with one another, or in
some more mysterious way, nobody knows. Cases have been known, I
believe, where the deformed whale does not appear to have
suffered from lack of food in consequence of his disability; but
in each of the three instances which have come under my own
notice, such was certainly not the case. These whales were what
is termed by the whalers "dry-skins;" that is, they were in poor
condition, the blubber yielding less than half the usual quantity
of oil. The absence of oil makes it very hard to cut up, and
there is more work in one whale of this kind than in two whose
blubber is rich and soft. Another thing which I have also
noticed is, that these whales were much more difficult to tackle
than others, for each of them gave us something special to
remember them by. But I must not get ahead of my yarn.
The end of the week brought us up to the Aldabra Islands, one of
the puzzles of the world. For here, in these tiny pieces of
earth, surrounded by thousands of miles of sea, the nearest land
a group of islets like unto them, is found the gigantic tortoise,
and in only one other place in the wide world, the Galapagos
group of islands in the South Pacific. How, or by what strange
freak of Dame Nature these curious reptiles, sole survivals of
another age, should come to be found in this lonely spot, is a
deep mystery, and one not likely to he unfolded now. At any
rate, there they are, looking as if some of them might be coeval
with Noah, so venerable and storm-beaten do they appear.
We made the island early on a Sunday morning, and, with the usual
celerity, worked the vessel into the fine harbour, called, from
one of the exploring ships, Euphrates Bay or Harbour. The anchor
down, and everything made snug below and aloft, we were actually
allowed a run ashore free from restraint. I could hardly believe
my ears. We had got so accustomed to our slavery that liberty
was become a mere name; we hardly knew what to do with it when we
got it. However, we soon got used (in a very limited sense) to
being our own masters, and, each following the bent of his
inclinations, set out for a ramble. My companion and I had not
gone far, when we thought we saw one of the boulders, with which
the island was liberally besprinkled, on the move. Running up to
examine it with all the eagerness of children let out of school,
we found it to be one of the inhabitants, a monstrous tortoise.
I had some big turtle around the cays of the Gulf of Mexico, but
this creature dwarfed them all. We had no means of actually
measuring him, and had to keep clear of his formidable-looking
jaws, but roughly, and within the mark, he was four feet long by
two feet six inches wide. Of course he was much more dome-shaped
than the turtle are, and consequently looked a great deal bigger
than a turtle of the same measurement would, besides being much
thicker through. As he was loth to stay with us, we made up our
minds to go with him, for he was evidently making for some
definite spot, by the tracks he was following, which showed
plainly how many years that same road had been used. Well, I
mounted on his back, keeping well astern, out of the reach of
that serious-looking head, which having rather a long neck,
looked as if it might be able to reach round and take a piece out
of a fellow without any trouble. He was perfectly amicable,
continuing his journey as if nothing had happened, and really
getting over the ground at a good rate, considering the bulk and
shape of him. Except for the novelty of the thing, this sort of
ride had nothing to recommend it; so I soon tired of it, and let
him waddle along in peace. By following the tracks aforesaid, we
arrived at a fine stream of water sparkling out of a hillside,
and running down a little ravine. The sides of this gully were
worn quite smooth by the innumerable feet of the tortoises, about
a dozen of which were now quietly crouching at the water's edge,
filling themselves up with the cooling fluid. I did not see the
patriarch upon whom a sailor once reported that he had read the
legend carved, "The Ark, Captain Noah, Ararat for orders";
perhaps he had at last closed his peaceful career. But strange,
and quaint as this exhibition of ancient reptiles was, we had
other and better employment for the limited time at our disposal.
There were innumerable curious things to see, and, unless we were
to run the risk of going on board again and stopping there,
dinner must be obtained. Eggs of various kinds were exceedingly
plentiful; in many places the flats were almost impassable for
sitting birds, mostly "boobies."
But previous experience of boobies' eggs in other places had not
disposed me to seek them where others were to be obtained, and as
I had seen many of the well-known frigate or man-o'-war birds
hovering about, we set out to the other side of the island in
search of the breeding-place.
These peculiar birds are, I think, misnamed. They should be
called pirate or buccaneer birds, from their marauding habits.
Seldom or never do they condescend to fish for themselves,
preferring to hover high in the blue, their tails opening and
closing like a pair of scissors as they hang poised above the
sea. Presently booby--like some honest housewife who has been amarketing--
comes flapping noisily home, her maw laden with fish
for the chicks. Down comes the black watcher from above with a
swoop like an eagle. Booby puts all she knows into her flight,
but vainly; escape is impossible, so with a despairing shriek she
drops her load. Before it has touched the water the graceful
thief has intercepted it, and soared slowly aloft again, to
repeat the performance as occasion serves.
When we arrived on the outer shore of the island, we found a
large breeding-place of these birds, but totally different to the
haunt of the boobies. The nests, if they might be so called,
being at best a few twigs, were mostly in the hollows of the
rocks, the number of eggs being two to a nest, on an average. The
eggs were nearly as large as a turkey's. But I am reminded of
the range of size among turkeys' eggs, so I must say they were
considerably larger than a small turkey's egg. Their flavour was
most delicate, as much so as the eggs of a moor-fed fowl. We saw
no birds sitting, but here and there the gaunt skeleton forms of
birds, who by reason of sickness or old age were unable to
provide for themselves, and so sat waiting for death, appealed
most mournfully to us. We went up to some of these poor
creatures, and ended their long agony; but there were many of
them that we were obliged to leave to Nature.
We saw no animals larger than a rat, but there were a great many
of those eerie-looking land-crabs, that seemed as if almost
humanly intelligent as they scampered about over the sand or
through the undergrowth, busy about goodness knows what. The
beautiful cocoa-nut palm was plentiful, so much so that I
wondered why there were no settlers to collect "copra," or dried
cocoa-nut, for oil. My West Indian experience came in handy now,
for I was able to climb a lofty tree in native fashion, and cut
down a grand bunch of green nuts, which form one of the most
refreshing and nutritious of foods, as well as a cool and
delicious drink. We had no line with us, so we took off our
belts, which, securely joined together, answered my purpose very
well. With them I made a loop round the tree and myself; then as
I climbed I pushed the loop up with me, so that whenever I wanted
a rest, I had only to lean back in it, keeping my knees against
the trunk, and I was almost as comfortable as if on the ground.
After getting the nuts, we made a fire and roasted some of our
eggs, which, with a biscuit or two, made a delightful meal. Then
we fell asleep under a shady tree, upon some soft moss; nor did
we wake again until nearly time to go on board. A most enjoyable
swim terminated our day's outing, and we returned to the beach
abreast of the ship very pleased with the excursion.
We had no adventures, found no hidden treasure or ferocious
animals, but none the less we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
While we sat waiting for the boat to come and fetch us off, we
saw a couple of good-sized turtle come ashore quite close to us.
We kept perfectly still until we were sure of being able to
intercept them. As soon as they had got far enough away from
their native element, we rushed upon them, and captured them
both, so that when the boat arrived we were not empty-handed. We
had also a "jumper," or blouse, full of eggs, and a couple of
immense bunches of cocoa-nuts. When we got on board we felt quite
happy, and, for the first time since leaving America, we had a
little singing. Shall I be laughed at when I confess that our
musical efforts were confined to Sankey's hymns? Maybe, but I do
not care. Cheap and clap-trap as the music may be, it tasted
"real good," as Abner said, and I am quite sure that that Sunday
night was the best that any of us had spent for a very long time.
A long, sound sleep was terminated at dawn, when we weighed and
stood out through a narrow passage by East Island, which was
quite covered with fine trees--of what kind I do not know, but
they presented a beautiful sight. Myriads of birds hovered
about, busy fishing from the countless schools that rippled the
placid sea. Beneath us, at twenty fathoms, the wonderful
architecture of the coral was plainly visible through the
brilliantly-clear sea, while, wherever the tiny builders had
raised their fairy domain near the surface, an occasional roller
would crown it with a snowy garland of foam--a dazzling patch of
white against the sapphire sea. Altogether, such a panorama was
spread out at our feet, as we stood gazing from the lofty crow'snest,
as was worth a year or two of city life to witness. I
could not help pitying my companion, one of the Portuguese
harpooners, who stolidly munched his quid with no eyes for any of
these glorious pictures, no thought of anything but a possible
whale in sight.
My silent rhapsodies were rudely interrupted by something far
away on the horizon. Hardly daring to breathe, I strained my
eyes, and--yes, it was--"Ah blow-w-w-w!" I bellowed at the top
of my lung-power, never before had I had the opportunity of thus
distinguishing myself, and I felt a bit sore about it.
There was a little obliquity about the direction of the spout
that made me hopeful, for the cachalot alone sends his spout
diagonally upward, all the others spout vertically. It was but a
school of kogia, or "short-headed" cachalots; but as we secured
five of them, averaging seven barrels each, with scarcely any
trouble, I felt quite pleased with myself. We had quite an
exciting bit of sport with them, they were so lively; but as for
danger--well, they only seemed like big "black fish" to us now,
and we quite enjoyed the fun. They were, in all respects,
miniature sperm whales, except that the head was much shorter and
smaller in proportion to the body than their big relations.
Hitherto, with the exception of a couple of gales in the North
and South Atlantic, we had been singularly fortunate in our
weather. It does happen so sometimes.
I remember once making a round voyage from Cardiff to Hong Kong
and the Philippines, back to London, in ten months, and during
the whole of that time we did not have a downright gale. The
worst weather we encountered was between Beachy Head and
Portland, going round from London to Cardiff.
And I once spoke the barque LUTTERWORTH, a companion ship to us
from Portland, Oregon to Falmouth, whose mate informed me that
they carried their royals from port to port without ever furling
them once, except to shift the suit of sails. But now a change
was evidently imminent. Of course, we forward had no access to
the barometer; not that we should have understood its indications
if we had seen it, but we all knew that something was going to be
radically wrong with the weather. For instead of the lovely blue
of the sky we had been so long accustomed to by day and night, a
nasty, greasy shade had come over the heavens, which, reflected
in the sea, made that look dirty and stale also. That well-known
appearance of the waves before a storm was also very marked,
which consists of an undecided sort of break in their tops.
Instead of running regularly, they seemed to hunch themselves up
in little heaps, and throw off a tiny flutter of spray, which
generally fell in the opposite direction to what little wind
there was. The pigs and fowls felt the approaching change
keenly, and manifested the greatest uneasiness, leaving their
food and acting strangely. We were making scarcely any headway,
so that the storm was longer making its appearance than it would
have been had we been a swift clipper ship running down the
Indian Ocean. For two days we were kept in suspense; but on the
second night the gloom began to deepen, the wind to moan, and a
very uncomfortable "jobble" of a sea got up. Extra, "gaskets"
were put upon the sails, and everything movable about the decks
was made as secure as it could be. Only the two close-reefed
topsails and two storm stay-sails were carried, so that we were
in excellent trim for fighting the bad weather when it did come.
The sky gradually darkened and assumed a livid green tint, the
effect of which was most peculiar.
The wind blew fitfully in short, gusts, veering continually back
and forth over about a quarter of the compass. Although it was
still light, it kept up an incessant mournful moan not to be
accounted for in any way. Darker and darker grew the heavens,
although no clouds were visible, only a general pall of darkness.
Glimmering lightnings played continually about the eastern
horizon, but not brilliant enough to show us the approaching
storm-cloud. And so came the morning of the third day from the
beginning of the change. But for the clock we should hardly have
known that day had broken, so gloomy and dark was the sky. At
last light came in the east, but such a light as no one would
wish to see. It was a lurid glare, such as may be seen playing
over a cupola of Bessemer steel when the speigeleisen is added,
only on such an extensive scale that its brilliancy was dulled
into horror. Then, beneath it we saw the mountainous clouds
fringed with dull violet and with jagged sabres of lightning
darting from their solid black bosoms. The wind began to rise
steadily but rapidly, so that by eight a.m. it was blowing a
furious gale from E.N.E. In direction it was still unsteady, the
ship coming up and falling off to it several points. Now, great
masses of torn, ragged cloud hurtled past us above, so low down
as almost to touch the mastheads. Still the wind increased,
still the sea rose, till at last the skipper judged it well to
haul down the tiny triangle of storm stay-sail still set (the
topsail and fore stay-sail had been furled long before), and let
her drift under bare poles, except for three square feet of stout
canvas in the weather mizen-rigging. The roar of the wind now
dominated every sound, so that it might have been thundering
furiously, but we should not have heard it. The ship still
maintained her splendid character as a sea-boat, hardly shipping
a drop of water; but she lay over at a most distressing angle,
her deck sloping off fully thirty-five to forty degrees.
Fortunately she did not roll to windward. It may have been
raining in perfect torrents, but the tempest tore off the surface
of the sea, and sent it in massive sheets continually flying over
us, so that we could not possibly have distinguished between
fresh water and salt.
The chief anxiety was for the safety of the boats. Early on the
second day of warning they had been hoisted to the topmost notch
of the cranes, and secured as thoroughly as experience could
suggest; but at every lee lurch we gave it seemed as if we must
dip them under water, while the wind threatened to stave the
weather ones in by its actual solid weight. It was now blowing a
furious cyclone, the force of which has never been accurately
gauged (even by the present elaborate instruments of various
kinds in use). That force is, however, not to be imagined by any
one who has not witnessed it, except that one notable instance is
on record by which mathematicians may get an approximate
Captain Toynbee, the late highly respected and admired Marine
Superintendent of the British Meteorological Office, has told us
how, during a cyclone which he rode out in the HOTSPUR at
Sandheads, the mouth of the Hooghly, the three naked topgallantmasts
of his ship, though of well-tested timber a foot in
diameter, and supported by all the usual network of stays, and
without the yards, were snapped off and carried away solely by
the violence of the wind. It must, of course, have been an
extreme gust, which did not last many seconds, for no cable that
was ever forged would have held the ship against such a
cataclysm as that. This gentleman's integrity is above
suspicion, so that no exaggeration could be charged against him,
and he had the additional testimony of his officers and men to
this otherwise incredible fact.
The terrible day wore on, without any lightening of the tempest,
till noon, when the wind suddenly fell to a calm. Until that
time, the sea, although heavy, was not vicious or irregular, and
we had not shipped any heavy water at all. But when the force of
the wind was suddenly withdrawn, such a sea arose as I have never
seen before or since. Inky mountains of water raised their
savage heads in wildest confusion, smashing one another in
whirlpools of foam. It was like a picture of the primeval deep
out of which arose the new-born world. Suddenly out of the
whirling blackness overhead the moon appeared, nearly in the
zenith, sending down through the apex of a dome of torn and madly
gyrating cloud a flood of brilliant light. Illumined by that
startling radiance, our staunch and seaworthy ship was tossed and
twirled in the hideous vortex of mad sea until her motion was
distracting. It was quite impossible to loose one's hold and
attempt to do anything without running the imminent risk of being
dashed to pieces. Our decks were full of water now, for it
tumbled on board at all points; but as yet no serious weight of a
sea had fallen upon us, nor had any damage been done. Such a
miracle as that could not be expected to continue for long.
Suddenly a warning shout rang out from somewhere--"Hold on all,
for your lives!" Out of the hideous turmoil around arose, like
some black, fantastic ruin, an awful heap of water. Higher and
higher it towered, until it was level with our lower yards, then
it broke and fell upon us. All was blank. Beneath that mass
every thought, every feeling, fled but one--"How long shall I be
able to hold my breath?" After what seemed a never-ending time,
we emerged from the wave more dead than alive, but with the good
ship still staunch underneath us, and Hope's lamp burning
brightly. The moon had been momentarily obscured, but now shone
out again, lighting up brilliantly our bravely-battling ship.
But, alas for others!--men, like ourselves, whose hopes were
gone. Quite near us was the battered remainder of what had been
a splendid ship. Her masts were gone, not even the stumps being
visible, and it seemed to our eager eyes as if she was settling
down. It was even so, for as we looked, unmindful of our own
danger, she quietly disappeared--swallowed up with her human
freight in a moment, like a pebble dropped into a pond.
While we looked with hardly beating hearts at the place where she
had sunk, all was blotted out in thick darkness again. With a
roar, as of a thousand thunders, the tempest came once more, but
from the opposite direction now. As we were under no sail, we
ran little risk of being caught aback; but, even had we, nothing
could have been done, the vessel being utterly out of control,
besides the impossibility of getting about. It so happened,
however, that when the storm burst upon us again, we were stern
on to it, and we drove steadily for a few moments until we had
time to haul to the wind again. Great heavens! how it blew!
Surely, I thought, this cannot last long--just as we sometimes
say of the rain when it is extra heavy. It did last, however,
for what seemed an interminable time, although any one could see
that the sky was getting kindlier. Gradually, imperceptibly, it
took off, the sky cleared, and the tumult ceased, until a new day
broke in untellable beauty over a revivified world.
Years afterwards I read, in one of the hand-books treating of
hurricanes and cyclones, that "in the centre of these revolving
storms the sea is so violent that few ships can pass through it
and live." That is true talk. I have been there, and bear
witness that but for the build and sea-kindliness of the
CACHALOT, she could not have come out of that horrible cauldron
again, but would have joined that nameless unfortunate whom we
saw succumb, "never again heard of." As it was, we found two of
the boats stove in, whether by breaking sea or crushing wind
nobody knows. Most of the planking of the bulwarks was also
gone, burst outward by the weight of the water on deck. Only the
normal quantity of water was found in the well on sounding, and
not even a rope-yarn was gone from aloft. Altogether, we came
out of the ordeal triumphantly, where many a gallant vessel met
her fate, and the behaviour of the grand old tub gave me a
positive affection for her, such as I have never felt for a ship
before or since.
There was now a big heap of work for the carpenter, so the
skipper decided to run in for the Cocos or Keeling islands, in
order to lay quietly and refit. We had now only three boats
sound, the one smashed when poor Bamberger died being still
unfinished--of course, the repairs had practically amounted to
rebuilding. Therefore we kept away for this strange assemblage
of reefs and islets, arriving off them early the next day.
They consist of a true "atoll," or basin, whose rim is of coral
reefs, culminating occasionally in sandy islands or cays formed
by the accumulated debris washed up from the reef below, and then
clothed upon with all sorts of plants by the agency of birds and
These islands have lately been so fully described in many
different journals, that I shall not burden the reader with any
twice-told tales about them, but merely chronicle the fact that
for a week we lay at anchor off one of the outlying cays, toiling
continuously to get the vessel again in fighting trim.
At last the overworked carpenter and his crew got through their
heavy task, and the order was given to "man the windlass." Up
came the anchor, and away we went again towards what used to be a
noted haunt of the sperm whale, the Seychelle Archipelego.
Before the French, whose flag flies over these islands, had with
their usual short-sighted policy, clapped on prohibitive port
charges, Mahe was a specially favoured place of call for the
whalers. But when whale-ships find that it does not pay to visit
a place, being under no compulsion as regards time, they soon
find other harbours that serve their turn. We, of course, had no
need to visit any port for some time to come, having made such
good use of our opportunities at the Cocos.
We found whales scarce and small, so, although we cruised in this
vicinity for nearly two months, six small cow cachalots were all
we were able to add to our stock, representing less then two
hundred barrels of oil. This was hardly good enough for Captain
Slocum. Therefore, we gradually drew away from this beautiful
cluster of islands, and crept across the Indian Ocean towards the
Straits of Malacca. On the way, we one night encountered that
strange phenomenon, a "milk" sea. It was a lovely night, with
scarcely any wind, the stars trying to make up for the absence of
the moon by shining with intense brightness. The water had been
more phosphorescent than usual, so that every little fish left a
track of light behind him, greatly disproportionate to his size.
As the night wore on, the sea grew brighter and brighter, until
by midnight we appeared to be sailing on an ocean of lambent
flames. Every little wave that broke against the ship's side
sent up a shower of diamond-like spray, wonderfully beautiful to
see, while a passing school of porpoises fairly set the sea
blazing as they leaped and gambolled in its glowing waters.
Looking up from sea to sky, the latter seemed quite black instead
of blue, and the lustre of the stars was diminished till they
only looked like points of polished steel, having quite lost for
the time their radiant sparkle. In that shining flood the
blackness of the ship stood out in startling contrast, and when
we looked over the side our faces were strangely lit up by the
brilliant glow.
For several hours this beautiful appearance persisted, fading
away at last as gradually as it came. No satisfactory explanation
of this curious phenomenon has ever been given, nor does it
appear to portend any change of weather. It cannot be called a
rare occurrence, although I have only seen it thrice myself--
once in the Bay of Cavite, in the Philippine Islands; once in the
Pacific, near the Solomon Islands; and on this occasion of which
I now write. But no one who had ever witnessed it could forget
so wonderful a sight.
One morning, a week after are had taken our departure from the
Seychelles, the officer at the main crow's-nest reported a vessel
of some sort about five miles to the windward. Something strange
in her appearance made the skipper haul up to intercept her. As
we drew nearer, we made her out to be a Malay "prahu;" but, by
the look of her, she was deserted. The big three-cornered sail
that had been set, hung in tattered festoons from the long,
slender yard, which, without any gear to steady it, swung heavily
to and fro as the vessel rolled to the long swell. We drew
closer and closer, but no sign of life was visible on board, so
the captain ordered a boat to go and investigate.
In two minutes we were speeding away towards her, and, making a
sweep round her stern, prepared to board her. But we were met by
a stench so awful that Mr. Count would not proceed, and at once
returned to the ship. The boat was quickly hoisted again, and
the ship manoeuvred to pass close to windward of the derelict.
Then, from our mast-head, a horrible sight became visible. Lying
about the weather-beaten deck, in various postures, were thirteen
corpses, all far advanced in decay, which horrible fact fully
accounted for the intolerable stench that had driven us away. It
is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that we promptly hauled our
wind, and placed a good distance between us and that awful load
of death as soon as possible. Poor wretches! What terrible
calamity had befallen them, we could not guess; whatever it was,
it had been complete; nor would any sane man falling across them
run the risk of closer examination into details than we had done.
It was a great pity that we were not able to sink the prahu with
her ghastly cargo, and so free the air from that poisonous foetor
that was a deadly danger to any vessel getting under her lee.
Next day, and for a whole week after, we had a stark calm such a
calm as one realizes who reads sympathetically that magical piece
of work, the "Ancient Mariner." What an amazing instance of the
triumph of the human imagination! For Coleridge certainly never
witnessed such a scene as he there describes with an accuracy of
detail that is astounding. Very few sailors have noticed the
sickening condition of the ocean when the life-giving breeze
totally fails for any length of time, or, if they have, they have
said but little about it. Of course, some parts of the sea show
the evil effects of stagnation much sooner than others; but,
generally speaking, want of wind at sea, if long continued,
produces a condition of things dangerous to the health of any
land near by. Whale-ships, penetrating as they do to parts
carefully avoided by ordinary trading vessels, often afford their
crews an opportunity of seeing things mostly hidden from the
sight of man, when, actuated by some mysterious impulse, the
uncanny denizens of the middle depths of the ocean rise to higher
levels, and show their weird shapes to the sun.
It has often been a matter for considerable surprise to me, that
while the urban population of Great Britain is periodically
agitated over the great sea-serpent question, sailors, as a
class, have very little to say on the subject. During a
considerable sea experience in all classes of vessels, except
men-of-war, and in most positions, I have heard a fairly
comprehensive catalogue of subjects brought under dog-watch
discussion; but the sea-serpent has never, within my
recollection, been one of them.
The reasons for this abstinence may vary a great deal, but chief
among them is--sailors, as a class, "don't believe in no such a
pusson." More than that, they do believe that the mythical seaserpent
is "boomed" at certain periods, in the lack of other
subjects, which may not be far from the fact. But there is also
another reason, involving a disagreeable, although strictly
accurate, statement. Sailors are, again taken as a class, the
least observant of men. They will talk by the hour of
trivialities about which they know nothing; they will spin
interminable "cuffers" of debaucheries ashore all over the world;
pick to pieces the reputation of all the officers with whom they
have ever sailed; but of the glories, marvels, and mysteries of
the mighty deep you will hear not a word. I can never forget
when on my first voyage to the West Indies, at the age of twelve,
I was one night smitten with awe and wonder at the sight of a
vast halo round the moon, some thirty or forty degrees in
diameter. Turning to the man at the wheel, I asked him earnestly
"what THAT was." He looked up with an uninterested eye for an
instant in the direction of my finger, then listlessly informed
me, "That's what they call a sarcle." For a long time I wondered
what he could mean, but it gradually dawned upon me that it was
his Norfolk pronunciation of the word "circle." The definition
was a typical one, no worse than would be given by the great
majority of seamen of most of the natural phenomena they witness
daily. Very few seamen could distinguish between one whale and
another of a different species, or give an intelligible account
of the most ordinary and often-seen denizens of the sea. Whalers
are especially to be blamed for their blindness. "Eyes and no
Eyes; or the Art of Seeing" has evidently been little heard of
among them. To this day I can conceive of no more delightful
journey for a naturalist to take than a voyage in a southern
whaler, especially if he were allowed to examine at his leisure
such creatures as were caught. But on board the CACHALOT I could
get no information at all upon the habits of the strange
creatures we met with, except whales, and very little about them.
I have before referred to the great molluscs upon which the sperm
whale feeds, portions of which I so frequently saw ejected from
the stomach of dying whales. Great as my curiosity naturally was
to know more of these immense organisms, all my inquiries on the
subject were fruitless. These veterans of the whale-fishery knew
that the sperm whale lived on big cuttlefish; but they neither
knew, nor cared to know, anything more about these marvellous
molluscs. Yet, from the earliest dawn of history, observant men
have been striving to learn something definite about the marine
monsters of which all old legends of the sea have something to
As I mentioned in the last chapter, we were gradually edging
across the Indian Ocean towards Sumatra, but had been checked in
our course by a calm lasting a whole week. A light breeze then
sprang up, aided by which we crept around Achin Head, the
northern point of the great island of Sumatra. Like some
gigantic beacon, the enormous mass of the Golden Mountain
dominated the peaceful scene. Pulo Way, or Water Island, looked
very inviting, and I should have been glad to visit a place so
well known to seamen by sight, but so little known by actual
touching at. Our recent stay at the Cocos, however, had settled
the question of our calling anywhere else for some time decidedly
in the negative, unless we might be compelled by accident;
moreover, even in these days of law and order, it is not wise to
go poking about among the islands of the Malayan seas unless you
are prepared to fight. Our mission being to fight whales, we
were averse to running any risks, except in the lawful and
necessary exercise of our calling.
It would at first sight appear strange that, in view of the
enormous traffic of steamships through the Malacca Straits, so
easily "gallied" a creature as the cachalot should care to
frequent its waters; indeed, I should certainly think that a
great reduction in the numbers of whales found there must have
taken place. But it must also be remembered, that in modern
steam navigation certain well-defined courses are laid down,
which vessels follow from point to point with hardly any
deviation therefrom, and that consequently little disturbance of
the sea by their panting propellers takes place, except upon
these marine pathways; as, for instance, in the Red Sea, where
the examination of thousands of log-books proved conclusively
that, except upon straight lines drawn from point to point
between Suez to Perim, the sea is practically unused to-day.
The few Arab dhows and loitering surveying ships hardly count in
this connection, of course. At any rate, we had not entered the
straits, but were cruising between Car Nicobar and Junkseylon,
when we "met up" with a full-grown cachalot, as ugly a customer
as one could wish. From nine a.m. till dusk the battle raged
--for I have often noticed that unless you kill your whale pretty
soon, he gets so wary, as well as fierce, that you stand a gaudy
chance of being worn down yourselves before you settle accounts
with your adversary. This affair certainly looked at one time as
if such would be the case with us; but along about five p.m., to
our great joy, we got him killed. The ejected food was in masses
of enormous size, larger than any we had yet seen on the voyage,
some of them being estimated to be of the size of our hatchhouse,
viz. 8 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet. The whale having been
secured alongside, all hands were sent below, as they were worn
out with the day's work. The third mate being ill, I had been
invested with the questionable honour of standing his watch, on
account of my sea experience and growing favour with the chief.
Very bitterly did I resent the privilege at the time, I remember,
being so tired and sleepy that I knew not how to keep awake. I
did not imagine that anything would happen to make me prize that
night's experience for the rest of my life, or I should have
taken matters with a far better grace.
At about eleven p.m. I was leaning over the lee rail, grazing
steadily at the bright surface of the sea, where the intense
radiance of the tropical moon made a broad path like a pavement
of burnished silver. Eyes that saw not, mind only confusedly
conscious of my surroundings, were mine; but suddenly I started
to my feet with an exclamation, and stared with all my might at
the strangest sight I ever saw. There was a violent commotion in
the sea right where the moon's rays were concentrated, so great
that, remembering our position, I was at first inclined to alarm
all hands; for I had often heard of volcanic islands suddenly
lifting their heads from the depths below, or disappearing in a
moment, and, with Sumatra's chain of active volcanoes so near, I
felt doubtful indeed of what was now happening. Getting the
night-glasses out of the cabin scuttle, where they were always
hung in readiness, I focussed them on the troubled spot,
perfectly satisfied by a short examination that neither volcano
nor earthquake had anything to do with what was going on; yet so
vast were the forces engaged that I might well have been excused
for my first supposition. A very large sperm whale was locked in
deadly conflict with a cuttle-fish or squid, almost as large as
himself, whose interminable tentacles seemed to enlace the whole
of his great body. The head of the whale especially seemed a
perfect net-work of writhing arms--naturally I suppose, for it
appeared as if the whale had the tail part of the mollusc in his
jaws, and, in a business-like, methodical way, was sawing through
it. By the side of the black columnar head of the whale appeared
the head of the great squid, as awful an object as one could well
imagine even in a fevered dream. Judging as carefully as
possible, I estimated it to be at least as large as one of our
pipes, which contained three hundred and fifty gallons; but it
may have been, and probably was, a good deal larger. The eyes
were very remarkable from their size and blackness, which,
contrasted with the livid whiteness of the head, made their
appearance all the more striking. They were, at least, a foot in
diameter, and, seen under such conditions, looked decidedly eerie
and hubgoblin-like. All around the combatants were numerous
sharks, like jackals round a lion, ready to share the feast, and
apparently assisting in the destruction of the huge cephalopod.
So the titanic struggle went on, in perfect silence as far as we
were concerned, because, even had there been any noise, our
distance from the scene of conflict would not have permitted us
to hear it.
Thinking that such a sight ought not to be missed by the captain,
I overcame my dread of him sufficiently to call him, and tell him
of what was taking place. He met my remarks with such a furious
burst of anger at my daring to disturb him for such a cause, that
I fled precipitately on deck again, having the remainder of the
vision to myself, for none of the others cared sufficiently for
such things to lose five minutes' sleep in witnessing them. The
conflict ceased, the sea resumed its placid calm, and nothing
remained to tell of the fight but a strong odour of fish, as of a
bank of seaweed left by the tide in the blazing sun. Eight bells
struck, and I went below to a troubled sleep, wherein all the
awful monsters that an over-excited brain could conjure up
pursued me through the gloomy caves of ocean, or mocked my pigmy
efforts to escape.
The occasions upon which these gigantic cuttle-fish appear at the
sea surface must, I think, be very rare. From their construction,
they appear fitted only to grope among the rocks at the bottom of
the ocean. Their mode of progression is backward, by the
forcible ejection of a jet of water from an orifice in the neck,
besides the rectum or cloaca. Consequently their normal position
is head-downward, and with tentacles spread out like the ribs of
an umbrella--eight of them at least; the two long ones, like the
antennae of an insect, rove unceasingly around, seeking prey.
The imagination can hardly picture a more terrible object than
one of these huge monsters brooding in the ocean depths, the
gloom of his surroundings increased by the inky fluid (sepia)
which he secretes in copious quantities, every cup-shaped disc,
of the hundreds with which the restless tentacles are furnished,
ready at the slightest touch to grip whatever is near, not only
by suction, but by the great claws set all round within its
circle. And in the centre of this net-work of living traps is
the chasm-like mouth, with its enormous parrot-beak, ready to
rend piecemeal whatever is held by the tentaculae. The very
thought of it makes one's flesh crawl. Well did Michelet term
them "the insatiable nightmares of the sea."
Yet, but for them, how would such great creatures as the sperm
whale be fed? Unable, from their bulk, to capture small fish
except by accident, and, by the absence of a sieve of baleen,
precluded from subsisting upon the tiny crustacea, which support
the MYSTICETAE, the cachalots seem to be confined for their diet
to cuttle-fish, and, from their point of view, the bigger the
latter are the better. How big they may become in the depths of
the sea, no man knoweth; but it is unlikely that even the vast
specimens seen are full-sized, since they have only come to the
surface under abnormal conditions, like the one I have attempted
to describe, who had evidently been dragged up by his relentless
Creatures like these, who inhabit deep waters, and do not need to
come to the surface by the exigencies of their existence,
necessarily present many obstacles to accurate investigation of
their structure and habits; but, from the few specimens that have
been obtained of late years, fairly comprehensive details have
been compiled, and may be studied in various French and German
works, of which the Natural History Museum at South Kensington
possesses copies. These, through the courtesy of the authorities
in charge, are easily accessible to students who wish to
prosecute the study of this wonderful branch of the great
mollusca family.
When we commenced to cut in our whale next morning, the sea was
fairly alive with fish of innumerable kinds, while a vast host of
sea-birds, as usual, waited impatiently for the breaking-up of
the huge carcass, which they knew would afford them no end of a
feast. An untoward accident, which happened soon after the work
was started, gave the waiting myriads immense satisfaction,
although the unfortunate second mate, whose slip of the spade was
responsible, came in for a hurricane of vituperation from the
enraged skipper. It was in detaching the case from the head
--always a work of difficulty, and requiring great precision of
aim. Just as Mr. Cruce made a powerful thrust with his keen t
ool, the vessel rolled, and the blow, missing the score in which
he was cutting, fell upon the case instead, piercing its side.
For a few minutes the result was unnoticed amidst the wash of the
ragged edges of the cut, but presently a long streak of white,
wax-like pieces floating astern, and a tremendous commotion among
the birds, told the story. The liquid spermaceti was leaking
rapidly from the case, turning solid as it got into the cool
water. Nothing could be done to stop the waste, which, as it was
a large whale, was not less than twenty barrels, or about two
tuns of pure spermaceti. An accident of this kind never failed
to make our skipper almost unbearable in his temper for some days
afterwards; and, to do him justice, he did not discriminate very
carefully as to who felt his resentment besides its immediate
Therefore we had all a rough time of it while his angry fit
lasted, which was a whole week, or until all was shipshape again.
Meanwhile we were edging gradually through the Malacca Straits
and around the big island of Borneo, never going very near the
land on account of the great and numerous dangers attendant upon
coasting in those localities to any but those continually engaged
in such a business.
Indeed, all navigation in those seas to sailing vessels is
dangerous, and requires the greatest care. Often we were obliged
at a minute's notice to let go the anchor, although out of sight
of land, some rapid current being found carrying us swiftly
towards a shoal or race, where we might come to grief. Yet there
was no fuss or hurry, the same leisurely old system was
continued, and worked as well as ever. But it was not apparent
why we were threading the tortuous and difficult waters of the
Indian Archipelago. No whales of any kind were seen for at least
a month, although, from our leisurely mode of sailing, it was
evident that they were looked for.
An occasional native craft came alongside, desirous of bartering
fish, which we did not want, being able to catch all we needed as
readily almost as they were. Fruit and vegetables we could not
get at such distances from land, for the small canoes that lie in
wait for passing ships do not of course venture far from home.
Very tedious and trying was our passage northward, although every
effort was made by the skipper to expedite it. Nothing of
advantage to our cargo was seen for a long time, which, although
apparently what was to be expected, did not improve Captain
Slocum's temper. But, to the surprise of all, when we had
arrived off the beautiful island of Hong Kong, to which we
approached closely, we "raised" a grand sperm whale.
Many fishing-junks were in sight, busily plying their trade, and
at any other time we should have been much interested in the
quaint and cunning devices by which the patient, wily Chinaman
succeeds so admirably as a fisherman. Our own fishing, for the
time being, absorbed all our attention--the more, perhaps, that
we had for so long been unable to do anything in that line.
After the usual preliminaries, we were successful in getting fast
to the great creature, who immediately showed fight. So skilful
and wary did he prove that Captain Slocum, growing impatient at
our manoeuvring with no result, himself took the field, arriving
on the scene with the air of one who comes to see and conquer
without more delay. He brought with him a weapon which I have
not hitherto mentioned, because none of the harpooners could be
induced to use it, and consequently it had not been much in
evidence. Theoretically, it was as ideal tool for such work, its
chief drawback being its cumbrousness. It was known as "Pierce's
darting gun," being a combination of bomb-gun and harpoon,
capable of being darted at the whale like a plain harpoon. Its
construction was simple; indeed, the patent was a very old one.
A tube of brass, thickening towards the butt, at which was a
square chamber firmly welded to a socket for receiving the pole,
formed the gun itself. Within the chamber aforesaid a nipple
protruded from the base of the tube, and in line with it. The
trigger was simply a flat bit of steel, like a piece of clock
spring, which was held down by the hooked end of a steel rod long
enough to stick out beyond the muzzle of the gun three or four
inches, and held in position by two flanges at the butt and
muzzle of the barrel. On the opposite side of the tube were two
more flanges, close together, into the holes of which was
inserted the end of a specially made harpoon, having an eye
twisted in its shank through which the whale line was spliced.
The whole machine was fitted to a neat pole, and strongly secured
to it by means of a "gun warp," or short piece of thin line, by
which it could be hauled back into the boat after being darted at
a whale. To prepare this weapon for use, the barrel was loaded
with a charge of powder and a bomb similar to those used in the
shoulder-guns, the point of which just protruded from the muzzle.
An ordinary percussion cap was placed upon the nipple, and the
trigger cocked by placing the trigger-rod in position. The
harpoon, with the line attached, was firmly set into the socketed
flanges prepared for it, and the whole arrangement was then ready
to be darted at the whale in the usual way.
Supposing the aim to be good and the force sufficient, the
harpoon would penetrate the blubber until the end of the triggerrod
was driven backwards by striking the blubber, releasing the
trigger and firing the gun. Thus the whale would be harpooned
and bomb-lanced at the same time, and, supposing everything to
work satisfactorily, very little more could be needed to finish
him. But the weapon was so cumbersome and awkward, and the
harpooners stood in such awe of it, that in the majority of cases
the whale was either missed altogether or the harpoon got such
slight hold that the gun did not go off, the result being
generally disastrous.
In the present case, however, the "Pierce" gun was in the hands
of a man by no means nervous, and above criticism or blame in
case of failure. So when he sailed in to the attack, and
delivered his "swashing blow," the report of the gun was
immediately heard, proving conclusively that a successful stroke
had been made.
It had an instantaneous and astonishing effect. The sorely
wounded monster, with one tremendous expiration, rolled over and
over swift as thought towards his aggressor, literally burying
the boat beneath his vast bulk. Now, one would have thought
surely, upon seeing this, that none of that boat's crew would
ever have been seen again. Nevertheless, strange as it may
appear, out of that seething lather of foam, all six heads
emerged again in an instant, but on the OTHER side of the great
creature. How any of them escaped instant violent death was, and
from the nature of the case must, ever remain, an unravelled
mystery, for the boat was crumbled into innumerable fragments,
and the three hundred fathoms of line, in a perfect maze of
entanglement, appeared to be wrapped about the writhing trunk of
the whale. Happily, there were two boats disengaged, so that
they were able very promptly to rescue the sufferers from their
perilous position in the boiling vortex of foam by which they
were surrounded. Meanwhile, the remaining boat had an easy task.
The shot delivered by the captain had taken deadly effect, the
bomb having entered the creature's side low down, directly abaft
the pectoral fin. It must have exploded within the cavity of the
bowels, from its position, causing such extensive injuries as to
make even that vast animal's death but a matter of a few moments.
Therefore, we did not run any unnecessary risks, but hauled off
to a safe distance and quietly watched the death-throes. They
were so brief, that in less than ten minutes from the time of the
accident we were busy securing the line through the flukes of our
The vessel was an unusually long time working up to us, so slow,
in fact, that Mr Count remarked, critically, "Shouldn't wonder if
th' ole man ain't hurt; they're taking things so all-fired easy."
By the time she had reached us, we had a good few visitors around
us from the fishing fleet, who caused us no little anxiety, The
Chinese have no prejudices; they would just as soon steal a whale
as a herring, if the conveyance could be effected without, more
trouble or risk to their own yellow skins. If it involved the
killing of a few foreign devils--well, so much to the good. The
ship, however, arrived before the fishermen had decided upon any
active steps, and we got our catch alongside without any delay.
The truth of Mr. Count's forecast was verified to the hilt, for
we found that the captain was so badly bruised about, the body
that he was unable to move, while one of the hands, a Portuguese,
was injured internally, and seemed very bad indeed. Had any one
told us that morning that we should be sorry to see Captain
Slocum with sore bones, we should have scoffed at the notion, and
some of us would probably have said that we should like to have
the opportunity of making him smart. But under the present
circumstances, with some hundreds of perfectly ruthless wretches
hovering around us, looking with longing eyes at the treasure we
had alongside, we could not help remembering the courage and
resource so often shown by the skipper, and wished with all our
hearts that we could have the benefit of them now. As soon as
dinner was over, we all "turned to" with a will to get the whale
cut in. None of us required to be told that to lay all night
with that whale alongside would be extremely unhealthy for us,
great doubt existing as to whether any of us would see morning
dawn again. There was, too, just a possibility that when the
carcass, stripped of its blubber, was cut adrift, those ravenous
crowds would fasten upon it, and let us go in peace.
All hands, therefore, worked like Trojans. There was no need to
drive us, nor was a single harsh word spoken. Nothing was heard
but the almost incessant clatter of the windlass pawls, abrupt
monosyllabic orders, and the occasional melancholy wail of a
gannet overhead. No word had been spoken on the subject among
us, yet somehow we all realized that we were working for a large
stake no less than our lives. What! says somebody, within a few
miles of Hong Kong? Oh yes; and even within Hong Kong harbour
itself, if opportunity offers. Let any man go down the wharf at
Hong Kong after sunset, and hail a sampan from the hundreds there
that are waiting to be hired. Hardly will the summons have left
his lips before a white policeman will be at his side, note-book
in hand, inquiring his name and ship, and taking a note of the
sampan's number, with the time of his leaving the wharf. Nothing
perfunctory about the job either. Let but these precautions be
omitted, and the chances that the passenger (if he have aught of
value about him) will ever arrive at his destination are almost
So good was the progress made that by five p.m. we were busy at
the head, while the last few turns of the windlass were being
taken to complete the skinning of the body. With a long pent-up
shout that last piece was severed and swung inboard, as the huge
mass of reeking flesh floated slowly astern. As it drifted away
we saw the patient watchers who had been waiting converging upon
it from all quarters, and our hopes rose high. But there was no
slackening of our efforts to get in the head. By the time it was
dark we managed to get the junk on board, and by the most
extraordinary efforts lifted the whole remainder of the head high
enough to make sail and stand off to sea. The wind was off the
land, the water smooth, and no swell on, so we took no damage
from that tremendous weight surging by our side, though, had the
worst come to the worst, we could have cut it adrift.
When morning dawned we hove-to, the land being only dimly visible
astern, and finished taking on board our "head matter" without
further incident. The danger past, we were all well pleased that
the captain was below, for the work proceeded quite pleasantly
under the genial rule of the mate. Since leaving port we had not
felt so comfortable, the work, with all its disagreeables,
seeming as nothing now that we could do it without fear and
trembling. Alas for poor Jemmy!--as we always persisted in
calling him from inability to pronounce his proper name--his case
was evidently hopeless. His fellows did their poor best to
comfort his fast-fleeting hours, one after another murmuring to
him the prayers of the Church, which, although they did not
understand them, they evidently believed most firmly to have some
marvellous power to open the gates of paradise and cleanse the
sinner. Notwithstanding the grim fact that their worship was
almost pure superstition, it was far more in accordance with the
fitness of things for a dying man's surroundings than such scenes
as I have witnessed in the forecastles of merchant ships when
poor sailors lay a-dying. I remember well once, when I was
second officer of a large passenger ship, going in the forecastle
as she lay at anchor at St. Helena, to see a sick man. Half the
crew were drunk, and the beastly kennel in which they lived was
in a thick fog of tobacco-smoke and the stale stench of rum.
Ribald songs, quarrelling, and blasphemy made a veritable
pandemonium of the place. I passed quietly through it to the
sick man's bunk, and found him--dead! He had passed away in the
midst of that, but the horror of it did not seem to impress his
bemused shipmates much.
Here, at any rate, there was quiet and decorum, while all that
could be done for the poor sufferer (not much, from ignorance of
how he was injured) was done. He was released from his pain in
the afternoon of the second day after the accident, the end
coming suddenly and peacefully. The same evening, at sunset, the
body, neatly sewn up in canvas, with a big lump of sandstone
secured to the feet, was brought on deck, laid on a hatch at the
gangway, and covered with the blue, star-spangled American Jack.
Then all hands were mustered in the waist, the ship's bell was
tolled, and the ensign run up halfway.
The captain was still too ill to be moved, so the mate stepped
forward with a rusty old Common Prayer-book in his hands, whereon
my vagrant fancy immediately fastened in frantic endeavour to
imagine how it came to be there. The silence of death was over
all. True, the man was but a unit of no special note among us,
but death had conferred upon him a brevet rank, in virtue of
which be dominated every thought. It seemed strange to me that
we who faced death so often and variously, until natural fear had
become deadened by custom, should, now that one of our number lay
a rapidly-corrupting husk before us, be so tremendously impressed
by the simple, inevitable fact. I suppose it was because none of
us were able to realize the immanence of Death until we saw his
handiwork. Mr. Count opened the book, fumbling nervously among
the unfamiliar leaves. Then he suddenly looked up, his weatherscarred
face glowing a dull brick-red, and said, in a low voice,
"This thing's too many fer me; kin any of ye do it? Ef not, I
guess we'll hev ter take it as read." There was no response for
a moment; then I stepped forward, reaching out my hand for the
book. Its contents were familiar enough to me, for in happy prearab
days I had been a chorister in the old Lock Chapel, Harrow
Road, and had borne my part in the service so often that I think
even now I could repeat the greater part of it MEMORITER. Mr.
Count gave it me without a word, and, trembling like a leaf, I
turned to the "Burial Service," and began the majestic sentences,
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord." I did not
know my own voice as the wonderful words sounded clearly in the
still air; but if ever a small body of soul-hardened men FELT the
power of God, it was then. At the words, "We therefore commit
his body to the deep," I paused, and, the mate making a sign, two
of the harpooners tilted the hatch, from which the remains slid
off into the unknown depths with a dull splash. Several of the
dead man's compatriots covered their faces, and murmured prayers
for the repose of his soul, while the tears trickled through
their horny fingers. But matters soon resumed their normal
course; the tension over, back came the strings of life into
position again, to play the same old tunes and discords once
The captured whale made an addition to our cargo of one hundred
and ten barrels--a very fair haul indeed. The harpooners were
disposed to regard this capture as auspicious upon opening the
North Pacific, where, in spite of the time we had spent, and the
fair luck we had experienced in the Indian Ocean, we expected to
make the chief portion of our cargo.
Our next cruising-ground is known to whalemen as the "Coast of
Japan" ground, and has certainly proved in the past the most
prolific fishery of sperm whales in the whole world. I am
inclined now to believe that there are more and larger cachalots
to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, between the parallels of
33deg. and 50deg. South; but there the drawback of heavy weather
and mountainous seas severely handicaps the fishermen.
It is somewhat of a misnomer to call the Coast of Japan ground by
that name, since to be successful you should not sight Japan at
all, but keep out of range of the cold current that sweeps right
across the Pacific, skirting the Philippines, along the coasts of
the Japanese islands as far as the Kuriles, and then returns to
the eastward again to the southward of the Aleutian Archipelago.
The greatest number of whales are always found in the vicinity of
the Bonin and Volcano groups of islands, which lie in the eddy
formed by the northward bend of the mighty current before
mentioned. This wonderful ground was first cruised by a London
whale-ship, the SYREN, in 1819, when the English branch of the
sperm whale-fishery was in its prime, and London skippers were
proud of the fact that one of their number, in the EMILIA, had
thirty-one years before first ventured around Cape Horn in
pursuit of the cachalot.
After the advent of the SYREN, the Bonins became the favourite
fishing-ground for both Americans and British, and for many years
the catch of oil taken from these teeming waters averaged four
thousand tuns annually. That the value of the fishery was
maintained at so high a level for over a quarter of a century was
doubtless due to the fact that there was a long, self-imposed
close season, during which the whales were quite unmolested.
Nothing in the migratory habits of this whale, so far as has ever
been observed, would have prevented a profitable fishing all the
year round; but custom, stronger even than profit, ordained that
whale-ships should never stay too long upon one fishing-ground,
but move on farther until the usual round had been made, unless
the vessel were filled in the mean time.
Of course, there are whales whose habits lead them at certain
seasons, for breeding purposes, to frequent various groups of
islands, but the cachalot seems to be quite impartial in his
preferences; if he "uses" around certain waters, he is just as
likely to be found there in July as January.
The Bonins, too, form an ideal calling-place, from the whaling
captain's point of view. Peel Island, the principal one of the
cluster, has a perfect harbour in Port Lloyd, where a vessel can
not only lie in comfort, sheltered from almost every wind that
blows, but where provisions, wood, and water are plentiful.
There is no inducement, or indeed room, for desertion, and the
place is healthy. It is colonized by Japs from the kingdom so
easily reached to the westward, and the busy little people, after
their manner, make a short stay very agreeable.
Once clear of the southern end of Formosa we had quite a rapid
run to the Bonins, carrying a press of sail day and night, as the
skipper was anxious to arrive there on account of his recent
injuries. He was still very lame, and he feared that some damage
might have been done to him of which he was ignorant. Besides,
it was easy to see that he did not altogether like anybody else
being in charge of his ship, no matter how good they were. Such
was the expedition we made that we arrived at Port Lloyd twelve
days after clearing up our last whale. Very beautiful indeed the
islands, appeared, with their bold, steep sides clad in richest
green, or, where no vegetation appeared, worn into a thousand
fantastic shapes by the sea, or the mountain torrents carving
away the lava of which they were all composed. For the whole of
the islands were volcanic, and Port Lloyd itself is nothing more
than the crater of a vast volcano, which in some tremendous
convulsion of nature has sunk from its former high estate low
enough to become a haven for ships.
I have said that it was a perfect harbour, but there is no doubt
that getting in or out requires plenty of nerve as well as
seamanship. There was so little room, and the eddying flaws of
wind under the high land were so baffling, that at various times
during our passage in it appeared as if nothing could prevent us
from getting stuck upon some of the adjacent hungry-looking coral
reefs. Nothing of the kind happened, however, and we came
comfortably to an anchor near three other whale-ships which were
already there. They were the DIEGO RAMIREZ, of Nantucket; the
CORONEL, of Providence, Rhode Island; and the GRAMPUS, of New
Bedford. These were the first whale-ships we had yet seen, and
it may be imagined how anxious we felt to meet men with whom we
could compare notes and exchange yarns. It might be, too, that
we should get some news of that world which, as far as we were
concerned, might as well have been at the other extremity of the
solar system for the last year, so completely isolated had we
The sails were hardly fast before a boat from each of the ships
was alongside with their respective skippers on board. The extra
exertion necessary to pilot the ship in had knocked the old man
up, in his present weak state, and he had gone below for a short
rest; so the three visitors dived down into the stuffy cabin, all
anxious to interview the latest comer. Considerate always, Mr.
Count allowed us to have the remainder of the day to ourselves,
so we set about entertaining our company. It was no joke twelve
of them coming upon us all at once, and babel ensued for a short
time. They knew the system too well to expect refreshments, so
we had not to apologize for having nothing to set before them.
They had not come, however, for meat and drink, but for talk.
And talk we did, sometimes altogether, sometimes rationally; but
I doubt whether any of us had ever enjoyed talking so much
There is generally current among seamen a notion that all masters
of ships are bound by law to give their crews twenty-four hours'
liberty and a portion of their wages to spend every three months,
if they are in port. I have never heard any authority quoted for
this, and do not know what foundation there is for such a belief,
although the practice is usually adhered to in English ships.
But American whale-ships apparently know no law, except the will
of their commanders, whose convenience is always the first
consideration. Thus, we had now been afloat for well over a
year, during which time, except for our foraging excursions at
the Cocos and Aldabra, we had certainly known no liberty for a
whole day.
Our present port being one where it was impossible to desert
without the certainty of prompt recapture, with subsequent
suffering altogether disproportionate to the offence, we were
told that one watch at a time would be allowed their liberty for
a day. So we of the port watch made our simple preparations,
received twenty-five cents each, and were turned adrift on the
beach to enjoy ourselves. We had our liberty, but we didn't know
what to do with it. There was a native town and a couple of low
groggeries kept by Chinamen, where some of my shipmates promptly
invested a portion of their wealth in some horrible liquor, the
smell of which was enough to make an ordinary individual sick.
There was no place apparently where one could get a meal, so that
the prospect of our stay ashore lasting a day did not seem very
great. I was fortunate enough, however, to foregather with a
Scotchman who was a beach-comber, and consequently "knew the
ropes." I dare say he was an unmitigated blackguard whenever he
got the chance, but he was certainly on his best behaviour with
me. He took me into the country a bit to see the sights, which
were such as most of the Pacific islands afford. Wonderful
indeed were the fantastic rocks, twisted into innumerable
grotesque shapes, and, along the shores, hollowed out into
caverns of all sizes, some large enough to shelter an army. He
was quite familiar with the natives, understanding enough of
their queer lingo to get along. By his friendly aid we got some
food-- yams, and fish cooked in native fashion, i.e. in heated
holes in the ground, for which the friendly Kanakas would take no
payment, although they looked murderous enough to be cannibals.
It does not do to go by looks always.
Well, after a long ramble, the Scotchman and I laid our weary
bodies down in the shade of a big rock, and had a grand sleep,
waking up again a little before sunset. We hastened down to the
beach off the town, where all my watchmates were sitting in a
row, like lost sheep, waiting to be taken on board again. They
had had enough of liberty; indeed, such liberty as that was
hardly worth having. It seems hardly credible, but we were
actually glad to get on board again, it was so miserable ashore,
The natives were most unsociable at the port, and we could not
make ourselves understood, so there was not much fun to be had.
Even those who were inclined to drink had too little for a spree,
which I was not sorry for, since doubtless a very unpleasant
reception would have awaited them had they come on board drunk.
Next day the starboard watch west on liberty, while we who had
received our share were told off to spend the day wooding and
watering. In this most pleasant of occupations (when the weather
is fine) I passed a much more satisfactory time than when
wandering about with no objective, an empty pocket, and a hungry
belly. No foremast hand has ever enjoyed his opportunities of
making the acquaintance of his various visiting places more than
I have; but the circumstances attendant upon one's leave must be
a little favourable, or I would much rather stay aboard and fish.
Our task was over for the day, a goodly store of wood and casks
of water having been shipped. We were sitting down to supper,
when, in answer to a hail from the beach, we were ordered to
fetch the liberty men. When we got to them, there was a pretty
how-d'ye-do. All of them were more or less drunk, some
exceedingly quarrelsome. Now, Mistah Jones was steering our
boat, looking as little like a man to take sauce from a drunken
sailor as you could imagine. Most of the transformed crowd yahooing
on the beach had felt the weight of his shoulder-of-mutton
fist, yet so utterly had prudence forsaken them that, before we
came near them, they were abusing him through all the varied
gamut of filthy language they possessed. My democratic
sentiments are deeply seated, but I do believe in authority, and
respect for it being rigidly enforced, so this uncalled-for scene
upset me, making me feel anxious that the gibbering fools might
get a lesson. They got one.
Goliath stood like a tower, his eyes alone betraying the fierce
anger boiling within. When we touched the beach, his voice was
mild end gentle as a child's, his movements calm and deliberate.
As soon as we had beached the boat he stepped ashore, and in two
strides was in the middle of the snarling group. Further parley
ceased at once. Snatching the loudest of them by the breast of
his shirt with his right hand, another one by the collar with his
left, he flung himself backwards towards the boat, knocking the
interveners right and left. But a protruding fragment of rock
caught his heel, bringing him with his captives to the ground in
a writhing mass. The rest, maddened beyond restraint of fear,
flung themselves upon the prostrate man, the glimmer of more than
one knife-blade appearing. Two of us from the boat--one with the
tiller, the other brandishing a paddle--rushed to the rescue; but
before we arrived the giant had heaved off his assailants, and,
with no other weapons than his bare hands, was doing terrific
execution among them. Not knowing, I suppose, whether we were
friendly to him or not, he shouted to us to keep away, nor dare
to interfere. There was no need. Disregarding such trifles as
a few superficial cuts--not feeling them perhaps--he so
unmercifully mauled that crowd that they howled again for mercy.
The battle was brief and bloody. Before hostilities had lasted
five minutes, six of the aggressors were stretched insensible;
the rest, comprising as many more, were pleading for mercy,
completely sober. Such prowess on the part of one man against
twelve seems hardly credible; but it must be remembered that
Goliath fought, with all the moral force of the ship's officers
behind him, against a disorganized crowd without backbone, who
would never have dared to face him but for the temporary mania
induced by the stuff they had drunk. It was a conflict between a
lion and a troop of jackals, whereof the issue was never in doubt
as long as lethal weapons were wanting.
Standing erect among the cowering creatures, the great negro
looked every inch a mediaeval hero. In a stern voice he bade his
subjugated enemies to get into the boat, assisting those to do so
who were too badly hurt to rise. Then we shoved off for the
ship--a sorrowful gang indeed.
As I bent to my oar, I felt very sorry for what had happened.
Here were half the crew guilty of an act of violence upon an
officer, which, according to the severe code under which we
lived, merited punishment as painful as could be inflicted, and
lasting for the rest of the voyage. Whatever form that
punishment might take, those of us who were innocent would be
almost equal sufferers with the others, because discrimination in
the treatment between watch and watch is always difficult, and in
our case it was certain that it would not be attempted. Except
as regarded physical violence, we might all expect to share
alike. Undoubtedly things looked very unpleasant. My gloomy
cogitations were abruptly terminated by the order to "unrow"--we
were alongside. Somehow or other all hands managed to scramble
on board, and assist in hoisting the boat up.
As soon as she was secured we slunk away forward, but we had
hardly got below before a tremendous summons from Goliath
brought us all aft again at the double quick. Most of the fracas
had been witnessed from the ship, so that but a minute or two was
needed to explain how or why it begun. Directly that explanation
had been supplied by Mistah Jones, the order was issued for the
culprits to appear.
I have before noticed how little love was lost between the
skipper and his officers, Goliath having even once gone so far as
to give me a very emphatic opinion of his about the "old man" of
a most unflattering nature. And had such a state of things
existed on board an English ship, the crew would simply have
taken charge, for they would have seen the junior officers
flouted, snubbed, and jeered at; and, of course, what they saw
the captain do, they would not be slow to improve on. Many a
promising young officer's career has been blighted in this way by
the feminine spite of a foolish man unable to see that if the
captain shows no respect to his officers, neither will the crew,
nor obedience either.
But in an American ship, so long as an officer remains an
officer, he must be treated as such by every man, under pain of
prompt punishment. Yankee skippers have far too much NOUS to
allow their hands to grow saucy in consequence of division among
the after-guard. So now a sort of court-martial was held upon
the unfortunates who had dared to attack Goliath, at which that
sable hero might have been the apple of Captain Slocum's eye, so
solicitous was he of Mistah Jones' honour and the reparation to
be made.
This sort of thing was right in his line. Naturally cruel, he
seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself in the prospect of making
human beings twist and writhe in pain. Nor would he be baulked
of a jot of his pleasure.
Goliath approached him, and muttered a few words, meant, I felt
sure, to appease him by letting him know how much they had
suffered at his strong hands; but he turned upon the negro with a
savage curse, bidding him be silent. Then every one of the
culprits was stripped, and secured to the lash-rail by the
wrists; scourges were made of cotton fish-line, knotted at
intervals, and secured to a stout handle; the harpooners were
told off as executioners, and the flogging began. Perhaps it was
necessary for the maintenance of discipline--certainly it was
trivial compared with the practice, till recently, in our own
army and navy; but I am glad to say that, compelled to witness
it, I felt quite sick--physically sick--trembling so in every
limb that my legs would not support me. It was not fear, for I
had nothing to fear had I been ever such a coward. Whatever it
was, I am not sorry either to have felt it or to own it, even
while I fully admit that for some forms of wickedness nothing but
the lash seems adequate punishment.
Some of the victims fainted, not being in the best condition at
the outset for undergoing so severe a trial; but all were treated
alike, buckets of salt water being flung over them. This drastic
reviver, while adding to their pain, brought them all into a
state of sufficient activity to get forward when they were
released. Smarting and degraded, all their temporary bravado
effectually banished, they were indeed pitiable objects, their
deplorable state all the harder to bear from its contrast to our
recent pleasure when we entertained the visiting crews.
Having completed our quantum of wood, water, and fresh provisions
for the officers, we got under way again for the fishing grounds.
I did not see how we could hope for a successful season, knowing
the utterly despondent state of the crew, which even affected the
officers, who, not so callous or cruel as the skipper, seemed to
be getting rather tired of the constant drive and kick, now the
normal condition of affairs. But the skipper's vigilance was
great. Whether he noted any sign of slackness or indifference on
the part of his coadjutors or not, of course I cannot say, but he
certainly seemed to put more vigour into his attentions than had
been his wont, and so kept everybody up to the mark.
Hitherto we had always had our fishing to ourselves; we were now
to see something of the ways of other men employed in the same
manner. For though the general idea or plan of campaign against
the whales is the same in all American whalers, every ship has
some individual peculiarity of tactics, which, needless to say,
are always far superior to those of any other ship. When we
commenced our cruise on this new ground, there were seven whalers
in sight, all quite as keen on the chase as ourselves, so that I
anticipated considerable sport of the liveliest kind should we
"raise" whales with such a fleet close at hand.
But for a whole week we saw nothing but a grampus or so, a few
loitering finbacks, and an occasional lean humpback bull
certainly not worth chasing. On the seventh afternoon, however, I
was in the main crow's-nest with the chief, when I noticed a ship
to windward of us alter her course, keeping away three or four
points on an angle that would presently bring her across our bows
a good way ahead. I was getting pretty well versed in the tricks
of the trade now, so I kept mum, but strained my eyes in the
direction for which the other ship was steering. The chief was
looking astern at some finbacks, the look-out men forward were
both staring to leeward, thus for a minute or so I had a small
arc of the horizon to myself. The time was short, but it
sufficed, and for the first time that voyage I had the privilege
of "raising" a sperm whale. My voice quivered with excitement as
I uttered the war-whoop, "Ah blo-o-o-o-w!" Round spun the mate on
his heel, while the hands clustered like bees roused from their
hive. "Where away--where?" gasped the mate. And I pointed to a
spot about half a point on the lee bow, at the same time calling
his attention to the fact that the stranger to windward was
keeping away. In answer to the skipper's hurried queries from
below Mr. Count gave him the general outline of affairs, to which
he replied by crowding every stitch of canvas on the vessel that
was available.
The spout I had seen was a good ten miles off, and, for the
present, seemed to belong to a "lone" whale, as it was the only
one visible. There was a good breeze blowing, as much, in fact,
as we could carry all sail to, the old barky making a tremendous
commotion as she blundered along under the unusual press of
canvas. In the excitement of the race all our woes were
forgotten; we only thought of the possibility of the ship getting
there first. We drew gradually nearer to the stranger, who, like
us, was carrying all the sail he had got, but, being able to go a
point or two free, was outsailing us.
It was anybody's race as yet, though, when we heard the skipper's
hail, "'Way down from aloft!" as he came up to take our place,
The whale had sounded, apparently heading to leeward, so that the
weather-gage held by our rival was not much advantage to him now.
We ran on for another two miles, then shortened sail, and stood
by to lower away the moment he should re-appear, Meanwhile
another ship was working up from to leeward, having evidently
noted our movements, or else, like the albatross, "smelt whale,"
no great distance to windward of him. Waiting for that whale to
rise was one of the most exciting experiences we had gone through
as yet, with two other ships so near. Everybody's nerves seemed
strung up to concert pitch, and it was quite a relief when from
half a dozen throats at once burst the cry, "There she whitewaters!
Ah blo-o-o-o-w!" Not a mile away, dead to leeward of
us, quietly beating the water with the flat of his flukes, as if
there was no such thing in the watery world as a whale-ship.
Splash! almost simultaneously went the four boats. Out we shot
from the ship, all on our mettle; for was not the skipper's eye
upon us from his lofty eerie, as well as the crew of the other
ship, now not more than a mile away! We seemed a terrible time
getting the sails up, but the officers dared not risk our
willingness to pull while they could be independent of us.
By the time we were fairly off, the other ship's boats were
coming like the wind, so that eight boats were now converging
upon the unconscious monster, We fairly flew over the short,
choppy sea, getting drenched with the flying spray, but looking
out far more keenly at the other boats than at the whale. Up we
came to him, Mr. Count's boat to the left, the other mate's boat
to the right. Almost at the same moment the irons flew from the
hands of the rival harpooners; but while ours was buried to the
hitches in the whale's side, the other man's just ploughed up the
skin on the animal's back, as it passed over him and pierced our
boat close behind the harpooner's leg. Not seeing what had
happened to his iron, or knowing that we were fast, the other
harpooner promptly hurled his second iron, which struck solidly.
It was a very pretty tangle, but our position was rather bad.
The whale between us was tearing the bowels of the deep up in his
rage and fear; we were struggling frantically to get our sail
down; and at any moment that wretched iron through our upper
strake might tear a plank out of us. Our chief, foaming at the
mouth with rage and excitement, was screeching inarticulate
blasphemy at the other mate, who, not knowing what was the
matter, was yelling back all his copious vocabulary of abuse. I
felt very glad the whale was between us, or there would surely
have been murder done. At last, out drops the iron, leaving a
jagged hole you could put your arm through. Wasn't Mr. Count mad?
I really thought he would split with rage, for it was impossible
for us to go on with that hole in our bilge. The second mate
came alongside and took our line as the whale was just commencing
to sound, thus setting us free. We made at once for the other
ship's "fast" boat, and the compliments that had gone before were
just casual conversation to what filled the air with dislocated
language now. Presently both the champions cooled down a bit
from want of breath, and we got our case stated. It was received
with a yell of derision from the other side as a splendid effort
of lying on our part; because the first ship fast claims the
whale, and such a prize as this one we were quarrelling about was
not to be tamely yielded.
However, as reason asserted her sway over Mr. Count, he quieted
down, knowing full well that the state of the line belonging to
his rival would reveal the truth when the whale rose again.
Therefore we returned to the ship, leaving our three boats busy
waiting the whale's pleasure to rise again. When the skipper
heard what had happened, he had his own boat manned, proceeding
himself to the battle-field in expectation of complications
presently. By the time he arrived upon the scene there were two
more boats lying by, which had come up from the third ship,
mentioned as working up from to leeward. "Pretty fine ground
this's got ter be!" growled the old man. "Caint strike whale
'thout bein' crowded eout uv yer own propputty by a gang bunco
steerers like this. Shall hev ter quit it, en keep a pawnshop."
And still the whale kept going steadily down, down, down.
Already he was on the second boat's lines, and taking them out
faster than ever. Had we been alone, this persistence on his
part, though annoying, would not have mattered much; but, with so
many others in company, the possibilities of complication, should
we need to slip our end, were numerous. The ship kept near, and
Mr. Count, seeing how matters were going, had hastily patched his
boat, returning at once with another tub of line. He was but
just in time to bend on, when to our great delight we saw the end
slip from our rival's boat. This in no wise terminated his lien
on the whale, supposing he could prove that he struck first, but
it got him out of the way for the time.
Meanwhile we were running line faster than ever. There was an
enormous length attached to the animal now--some twelve thousand
feet--the weight of which was very great, to say nothing of the
many "drogues" or "stopwaters" attached to it at intervals.
Judge, then, of my surprise when a shout of "Blo-o-o-w!" called
my attention to the whale himself just breaking water about half
a mile away. It was an awkward predicament; for if we let go our
end, the others would be on the whale immediately; if we held on,
we should certainly be dragged below in a twinkling; and our
disengaged boats could do nothing, for they had no line. But the
difficulty soon settled itself. Out ran our end, leaving us bare
of line as pleasure skiffs. The newcomer, who had been prowling
near, keeping a close watch upon us, saw our boat jump up when
released from the weight. Off he flew like an arrow to the
labouring leviathan, now a "free fish," except for such claims as
the two first-comers had upon it, which claims are legally
assessed, where no dispute arises. In its disabled condition,
dragging so enormous a weight of line, it was but a few minutes
before the fresh boat was fast, while we looked on helplessly,
boiling with impotent rage. All that we could now hope for was
the salvage of some of our line, a mile and a half of which,
inextricably mixed up with about the same length of our rival's,
was towing astern of the fast-expiring cachalot.
So great had been the strain upon that hardly-used animal that he
did not go into his usual "flurry," but calmly expired without
the faintest struggle. In the mean time two of our boats had
been sent on board again to work the ship, while the skipper
proceeded to try his luck in the recovery of his gear. On
arriving at the dead whale, however, we found that he had rolled
over and over beneath the water so many times that the line was
fairly frapped round him, and the present possessors were in no
mood to allow us the privilege of unrolling it.
During the conversation we had drawn very near the carcass, so
near, in fact, that one hand was holding the boat alongside the
whale's "small" by a bight of the line. I suppose the skipper's
eagle eye must have caught sight of the trailing part of the line
streaming beneath,for suddenly he plunged overboard, reappearing
almost immediately with the line in his hand. He scrambled into
the boat with it, cutting it from the whale at once, and starting
his boat's crew hauling in.
Then there was a hubbub again. The captain of the NARRAGANSETT,
our first rival, protested vigorously against our monopoly of the
line; but in grim silence our skipper kept on, taking no notice of
him, while we steadily hauled. Unless he of the NARRAGANSETT
choose to fight for what he considered his rights, there was no
help for him. And there was something in our old man's
appearance eminently calculated to discourage aggression of any
At last, disgusted apparently with the hopeless turn affairs had
taken, the NARRAGANSETT's boats drew off, and returned on board
their ship. Two of our boats had by this time accumulated a
mountainous coil of line each, with which we returned to our own
vessel, leaving the skipper to visit the present holder of the
whale, the skipper of the JOHN HAMPDEN.
What arrangements they made, or how they settled the
NARRAGANSETT's claim between them, I never knew, but I dare say
there was a costly law-suit about it in New Bedford years after.
This was not very encouraging for a start, nor did the next meek
see us do any better. Several times we saw other ships with
whales alongside, but we got no show at all. Now, I had hoped a
great deal from our cruise on these grounds, because I had heard
whispers of a visit to the icy Sea of Okhotsk, and the prospect
was to me a horrible one. I never did take any stock in Arctic
work. But if we made a good season on the Japan grounds, we
should not go north, but gradually work down the Pacific again,
on the other side, cruising as we went.
Day after day went by without any fresh capture or even sight of
fish, until I began to believe that the stories I had heard of
the wonderful fecundity of the Coast of Japan waters were fables
without foundation, in fact. Had I known what sort of fishing
our next bout would be, I should not have been so eager to sight
whales again. If this be not a platitude of the worst kind, I
don't know the meaning of the word; but, after all, platitudes
have their uses, especially when you want to state a fact baldly.
All unversed as I am in the finer shades of literary
craftsmanship, there is great uncertainty in my mind whether it
is good or bad "art" to anticipate your next chapter by
foreshadowing its contents; but whether good or bad art, the
remembrance of my miseries on the eventful occasion I wish to
describe was so strong upon me as I wrote the last few lines of
the previous chapter that I just had to let those few words leak
Through all the vicissitudes of this strange voyage I had
hitherto felt pretty safe, and as the last thing a man
anticipates (if his digestion is all right) is the possibility of
coming to grief himself while fully prepared to see everybody
else go under, so I had got to think that whoever got killed I
was not to be--a very pleasing sentiment, and one that carries a
man far, enabling him to face dangers with a light heart which
otherwise would make a nerveless animal of him.
In this optimistic mood, then, I gaily flung myself into my place
in the mate's boat one morning, as we were departing in chase of
a magnificent cachalot that had been raised just after breakfast.
There were no other vessels in sight--much to our satisfaction
--the wind was light, with a cloudless sky, and the whale was
dead to leeward of us. We sped along at a good rate towards our
prospective victim, who was, in his leisurely enjoyment of life,
calmly lolling on the surface, occasionally lifting his enormous
tail out of water and letting it fall flat upon the surface with
a boom audible for miles.
We were as usual, first boat; but, much to the mate's annoyance,
when we were a short half-mile from the whale, our main-sheet
parted. It became immediately necessary to roll the sail up,
lest its flapping should alarm the watchful monster, and this
delayed us sufficiently to allow the other boats to shoot ahead
of us. Thus the second mate got fast some seconds before we
arrived on the scene, seeing which we furled sail unshipped the
mast, and went in on him with the oars only. At first the
proceedings were quite of the usual character, our chief wielding
his lance in most brilliant fashion, while not being fast to the
animal allowed us much greater freedom in our evolutions; but
that fatal habit of the mate's--of allowing his boat to take care
of herself so long as he was getting in some good home-thrusts
--once more asserted itself. Although the whale was exceedingly
vigorous, churning the sea into yeasty foam over an enormous
area, there we wallowed close to him, right in the middle of the
turmoil, actually courting disaster.
He had just settled down for a moment, when, glancing over the
gunwale, I saw his tail, like a vast shadow, sweeping away from
us towards the second mate, who was laying off the other side of
him. Before I had time to think, the mighty mass of gristle
leapt into the sunshine, curved back from us like a huge bow.
Then with a roar it came at us, released from its tension of
Heaven knows how many tons. Full on the broadside it struck us,
sending every soul but me flying out of the wreckage as if fired
from catapults. I did not go because my foot was jammed somehow
in the well of the boat, but the wrench nearly pulled my thighbone
out of its socket. I had hardly released my foot, when,
towering above me, came the colossal head of the great creature,
as he ploughed through the bundle of debris that had just been a
boat. There was an appalling roar of water in my ears, and
darkness that might be felt all around. Yet, in the midst of it
all, one thought predominated as clearly as if I had been turning
it over in my mind in the quiet of my bunk aboard--"What if he
should swallow me?" Nor to this day can I understand how I
escaped the portals of his gullet, which of course gaped wide as
a church door. But the agony of holding my breath soon
overpowered every other feeling and thought, till just as
something was going to snap inside my head I rose to the surface.
I was surrounded by a welter of bloody froth, which made it
impossible for me to see; but oh, the air was sweet!
I struck out blindly, instinctively, although I could feel so
strong an eddy that voluntary progress was out of the question.
My hand touched and clung to a rope, which immediately towed me
in some direction--I neither knew nor cared whither. Soon the
motion ceased, and, with a seaman's instinct, I began to haul
myself along by the rope I grasped, although no definite idea was
in my mind as to where it was attached. Presently I came butt up
against something solid, the feel of which gathered all my
scattered wits into a compact knub of dread. It was the whale!
"Any port in a storm," I murmured, beginning to haul away again
on my friendly line. By dint of hard work I pulled myself right
up the sloping, slippery bank of blubber, until I reached the
iron, which, as luck would have it, was planted in that side of
the carcass now uppermost. Carcass I said--well, certainly I had
no idea of there being any life remaining within the vast mass
beneath me, yet I had hardly time to take a couple of turns round
myself with the rope (or whale-line, as I had proved it to be),
when I felt the great animal quiver all over, and begin to forge
ahead. I was now composed enough to remember that help could not
be far away, and that my rescue, providing that I could keep
above water, was but a question of a few minutes. But I was
hardly prepared for the whale's next move. Being very near his
end, the boat, or boats, had drawn off a bit, I supposed, for I
could see nothing of them. Then I remembered the flurry. Almost
at the same moment it began; and there was I, who with fearful
admiration had so often watched the titanic convulsions of a
dying cachalot, actually involved in them. The turns were off my
body, but I was able to twist a couple of turns round my arms,
which, in case of his sounding, I could readily let go.
Then all was lost in roar and rush, as of the heart of some
mighty cataract, during which I was sometimes above, sometimes
beneath, the water, but always clinging with every ounce of
energy still left, to the line. Now, one thought was uppermost
--"What if he should breach?" I had seen them do so when in
flurry, leaping full twenty feet in the air. Then I prayed.
Quickly as all the preceding changes had passed came perfect
peace. There I lay, still alive, but so weak that, although I
could feel the turns slipping off my arms, and knew that I should
slide off the slope of the whale's side into the sea if they did,
I could make no effort to secure myself. Everything then passed
away from me, just as if I had gone to sleep.
I do not at all understand how I kept my position, nor how long,
but I awoke to the blessed sound of voices, and saw the second
mate's boat alongside, Very gently and tenderly they lifted me
into the boat, although I could hardly help screaming with agony
when they touched me, so bruised and broken up did I feel. My
arms must have been nearly torn from their sockets, for the
strands of the whale-line had cut deep into their flesh with the
strain upon it, while my thigh was swollen enormously from the
blow I received at the onset. Mr. Cruce was the most surprised
man I think I ever saw. For full ten minutes he stared at me
with wide-open eyes. When at last he spoke, it was with
difficulty, as if wanting words to express his astonishment. At
last he blurted out, "Whar you bin all de time, ennyhaow? 'Cawse
ef you bin hangin' on to dat ar wale ev'sence you boat smash, w'y
de debbil you hain't all ter bits, hey?" I smiled feebly, but
was too weak to talk, and presently went off again into a dead
When I recovered, I was snug in my bunk aboard, but aching in
every joint, and as sore as if I had been pounded with a club
until I was bruised all over. During the day Mr. Count was kind
enough to pay me a visit. With his usual luck, he had escaped
without the slightest injury; neither was any other member of the
boat's crew the worse for the ducking but myself. He told me
that the whale was one of the largest he had ever seen, and as
fat as butter. The boat was an entire loss, so completely
smashed to pieces that nothing Of her or her gear had been
recovered. After spending about a quarter of an hour with me,
he left me considerably cheered up, promising to look after me in
the way of food, and also to send me some books. He told
me that I need not worry myself about my inability to be at work,
because the old man was not unfavourably disposed towards me,
which piece of news gave me a great deal of comfort.
When my poor, weary shipmates came below from their heavy toil of
cutting in, they were almost inclined to be envious of my
comfort--small blame to them--though I would gladly have taken my
place among them again, could I have got rid of my hurts. But I
was condemned to lie there for nearly three weeks before I was
able to get about once more. In my sleep I would undergo the
horrible anticipation of sliding down that awful, cavernous mouth
over again, often waking with a shriek and drenched with sweat.
While I lay there, three whales were caught, all small cows, and
I was informed that the skipper was getting quite disgusted with
the luck. At last I managed to get on deck, quite a differentlooking
man to when I went below, and feeling about ten years
older. I found the same sullen quiet reigning that I had noticed
several times before when we were unfortunate. I fancied that
the skipper looked more morose and savage than ever, though of
me, to my great relief, he took not the slightest notice.
The third day after my return to duty we sighted whales again.
We lowered three boats as promptly as usual; but when within
about half a mile of the "pod" some slight noise in one of the
boats gallied them, and away they went in the wind's eye, it
blowing a stiffish breeze at the time, It was from the first
evidently a hopeless task to chase them, but we persevered until
recalled to the ship, dead beat with fatigue. I was not sorry,
for my recent adventure seemed to have made quite a coward of me,
so much so that an unpleasant gnawing at the pit of my stomach as
we neared them almost made me sick. I earnestly hoped that so
inconvenient a feeling would speedily leave me, or I should be
but a poor creature in a boat.
In passing, I would like to refer to the wonderful way in which
these whales realize at a great distance, if the slightest sound
be made, the presence of danger. I do not use the word "hear"
because so abnormally small are their organs of hearing, the
external opening being quite difficult to find, that I do not
believe they can hear at all well. But I firmly believe they
possess another sense by means of which they are able to detect
any unusual vibration of the waves of either air or sea at a far
greater distance than it would be possible for them to hear,
Whatever this power may be which they possess, all whalemen are
well acquainted with their exercise of it, and always take most
elaborate precautions to render their approach to a whale
Our extraordinary want of success at last so annoyed the skipper
that he determined to quit the ground and go north. The near
approach of the open season in those regions probably hastened
his decision, but I learned from Goliath that he had always been
known as a most fortunate man among the "bowheads," as the great
MYSTICETAE of that part of the Arctic seas are called by the
Americans. Not that there is any difference, as far as I have
been able to ascertain, between them and the "right " whale of
the Greenland seas, but from some caprice of nomenclature for
which there is no accounting.
So in leisurely fashion we worked north, keeping, of course, a
bright look-out all the way for straggling cachalots, but not
seeing any. From scraps of information that in some mysterious
fashion leaked out, we learned that we were bound to the Okhotsk
Sea, it being no part of the skipper's intentions to go prowling
around Behrings Sea, where he believed the whales to be few and
far between.
It may be imagined that we of the crew were not at all pleased
with this intelligence, our life being, we considered,
sufficiently miserable without the addition of extreme cold, for
we did not realize that in the Arctic regions during summer the
cold is by no means unbearable, and our imagination pictured a
horrible waste of perpetual ice and snow, in the midst of which
we should be compelled to freeze while dodging whales through the
crevices of the floes. But whether our pictures of the prospects
that awaited us were caricatures or no made not the slightest
difference. "Growl you may, but go you must" is an old seajingle
of the truest ring; but, while our going was inevitable,
growling was a luxury none of us dare indulge in.
We had by no means a bad passage to the Kuriles, which form a
natural barrier enclosing the immense area of the Okhotsk Sea
from the vast stretch of the Pacific. Around this great chain of
islands the navigation is exceedingly difficult, and dangerous as
well, from the ever-varying currents as from the frequent fogs
and sudden storms. But these impediments to swift and safe
navigation are made light of by the whalemen, who, as I feel
never weary of remarking, are the finest navigators in the world
where speed is not the first consideration.
The most peculiar features of these inhospitable shores to a
seaman are the vast fields of seaweed surrounding them all, which
certainly helps to keep the sea down during gales, but renders
navigation most difficult on account of its concealment of hidden
dangers. These islands are aptly named, the word "Kurile" being
Kamschatkan for smoke; and whether it be regarded as given in
consequence of the numerous volcanoes which pour their fumes into
the air, or the all-prevailing fog fostered by the Kuro Siwo, or
Japanese counterpart of the Gulf stream, the designation is
equally appropriate.
We entered the Okhotsk Sea by the Nadeshda Channel, so-named
after Admiral Krusenstern's ship, which was the first civilized
vessel that passed through its turbulent waters. It separates
the islands Rashau and Mantaua by about twenty miles, yet so
conflicting and violent are the currents which eddy and swirl in
all parts of it, that without a steady, strong, fair wind it is
most dangerous to a sailing vessel. Thenceforward the navigation
was free from difficulty, or at least none that we could
recognize as such, so we gave all our attention to the business
which brought us there.
Scarcely any change was needed in our equipment, except the
substitution of longer harpoons for those we had been using, and
the putting away of the bomb-guns. These changes were made
because the blubber of the bowhead is so thick that ordinary
harpoons will not penetrate beyond it to the muscle, which,
unless they do, renders them liable to draw, upon a heavy strain.
As for the bombs, Yankees hold the mysticetae in such supreme
contempt that none of them would dream of wasting so expensive a
weapon as a bomb upon them. I was given to understand by my
constant crony, Mistah Jones, that there was no more trouble in
killing a bowhead than in slaughtering a sheep; and that while it
was quite true that accidents DID occur, they were entirely due
to the carelessness or clumsiness of the whalemen, and not in any
way traceable to a desire on the victim's part to do any one
The sea was little encumbered with ice, it being now late in
June, so that our progress was not at all impeded by the few
soft, brashy floes that we encountered, none of them hard enough
to do a ship's hull any damage. In most places the sea was
sufficiently shallow to permit of our anchoring. For this
purpose we used a large kedge, with stout hawser for cable, never
furling all the sails in case of a strong breeze suddenly
springing up, which would cause us to drag. This anchoring was
very comfortable. Besides allowing us to get much more rest than
when on other cruising-grounds, we were able to catch enormous
quantities of fish, mostly salmon, of which there were no less
than fourteen varieties. So plentiful were these splendid fish
that we got quite critical in our appreciation of them, very soon
finding that one kind, known as the "nerker," was far better
flavoured than any of the others. But as the daintiest food
palls the quickest, it was not long before we got tired of
salmon, and wished most heartily for beef.
Much fun has been made of the discontent of sailors With food
which is considered a luxury ashore, and wonder expressed that
if, as we assert, the ordinary dietary of the seaman be so bad,
he should be so ready to rebel when fed with delicacies. But in
justice to the sailor, it ought to be remembered that the
daintiest food may he rendered disgusting by bad cookery, such as
is the rule on board merchant ships. "God sends meat, but the
devil sends cooks" is a proverb which originated on board ship,
and no one who has ever served any time in a ship's forecastle
would deny that it is abundantly justified. Besides which, even
good food well cooked of one kind only, served many times in
succession, becomes very trying, only the plainest foods, such as
bread, rice, potatoes, etc., retaining their command of the
appetite continually.
I remember once, when upon the Coromandel coast in a big Greenock
ship, we found fowls very cheap. At Bimliapatam the captain
bought two or three hundred, which, as we had no coops, were
turned loose on deck. We had also at the same time prowling about
the decks three goats, twenty pigs, and two big dogs.
Consequently the state of the ship was filthy, nor could all our
efforts keep her clean. This farmyard condition of things was
permitted to continue for about a week, when the officers got so
tired of it, and the captain so annoyed at the frequent loss of
fowls by their flying overboard, that the edict went forth to
feed the foremast hands on poultry till further orders. Great
was our delight at the news. Fowl for dinner represented to our
imagination almost the apex of high living, only indulged in by
such pampered children of fortune as the officers of ships or
well-to-do people ashore.
When dinner-time arrived, we boys made haste to the galley with
watering mouths, joyfully anticipating that rare delight of the
sailor--a good "feed." The cook uncovered his coppers, plunged
his tormentors therein, and produced such a succession of ugly
corpses of fowls as I had never seen before. To each man a whole
one was allotted, and we bore the steaming hecatomb into the
forecastle. The boisterous merriment became hushed at our
approach, and faces grew lengthy when the unwholesome aspect of
the "treat" was revealed. Each man secured his bird, and
commenced operations. But oh, the disappointment, and the bad
words! What little flesh there was upon the framework of those
unhappy fowls was like leather itself, and utterly flavourless.
It could not well have been otherwise. The feathers had been
simply scalded off, the heads chopped off, and bodies split open
to facilitate drawing (I am sure I wonder the cook took the
trouble to do that much), and thus prepared they were cast into a
cauldron of boiling salt water. There, with the water fiercely
bubbling, they were kept for an hour and a half, then pitchforked
out into the mess kid and set before us. We simply could not eat
them; no one but a Noumean Kanaka could, for his teeth are equal
to husking a cocoa-nut, or chopping off a piece of sugar-cane as
thick as your wrist.
After much heated discussion, it was unanimously resolved to
protest at once against the substitution of such a fraud as this
poultry for our legitimate rations of "salt horse." so, bearing
the DISJECTA MEMBRA of our meal, the whole crowd marched aft, and
requested an interview with the skipper. He came out of the
cabin at once, saying, "Well, boys, what's the matter?" The
spokesman, a bald-headed Yankee, who had been bo'sun's mate of an
American man-of-war, stepped forward and said, offering his kid,
"Jest have a look at that sir." The skipper looked, saying,
inquiringly, "Well?" "D'yew think, sir," said Nat, "THET'S
proper grub for men?" "Proper grub! Why, you old sinner, you
don't mean to say you're goin' to growl about havin' chicken for
dinner?" "Well, sir, it depends muchly upon the chicken. All I
know is, that I've et some dam queer tack in my time, but sence I
ben fishin' I never had no such bundles of sticks parcelled with
leather served out to me. I HEV et boot--leastways gnawed it;
when I was cast away in a open boat for three weeks--but it
wa'n't bad boot, as boots go. Now, if yew say that these things
is boots, en thet it's necessary we should eat'em, or starve,
w'y, we'll think about it. But if yew call'em chickens,'n say
you're doin' us a kindness by stoppin' our'lowance of meat wile
we're wrastlin' with 'em, then we say we don't feel obliged to
yew, 'n 'll thank yew kindly to keep such lugsuries for yerself,
'n give us wot we signed for." A murmur of assent confirmed this
burst of eloquence, which we all considered a very fine effort
indeed. A moment's silence ensued; then the skipper burst out,
"I've often heard of such things, but hang me if I ever believed
'em till now! You ungrateful beggars! I'll see you get your
whack, and no more, from this out. When you get any little
extras aboard this ship agen, you'll be thankful for 'em; now I
tell you." "All right, sir," said Nat; "so long as we don't hev
to chaw any more of yer biled Bimly crows, I dessay we shall
worry along as usual." And, as the Parliamentary reports say,
the proceedings then terminated.
Now, suppose the skipper had told the story to some of his shore
friends, how very funny the sailors' conduct would have been made
to appear.
On another occasion long after, when I was mate of a barque
loading mahogany in Tonala, Mexico, the skipper thought he would
practise economy by buying a turtle instead of beef. A large
turtle was obtained for twenty-five cents, and handed over to the
cook to be dealt with, particular instructions being given him as
to the apportionment of the meat.
At eight bells there was a gathering of the men in front of the
poop, and a summons for the captain. When he appeared, the usual
stereotyped invitation to "have a look at THAT, if you please,
sir," was uttered. The skipper was, I think, prepared for a
protest, for he began to bluster immediately. "Look here!" he
bawled, "I ain't goin' to 'ave any of your dam nonsense. You WANT
somethin' to growl about, you do." " Well, Cap'n George," said
one of the men, "you shorely don't think we k'n eat shells, do
yer?" Just then I caught sight of the kid's contents, and could
hardly restrain my indignation. For in a dirty heap, the sight
of which might have pleased an Esquimaux, but was certainly
enough to disgust any civilized man, lay the calipee, or undershell
of the turtle, hacked into irregular blocks. It had been
simply boiled, and flung into the kid, an unclean, disgusting
heap of shell, with pieces of dirty flesh attached in ragged
lumps. But the skipper, red-faced and angry, answered, "W'y, yer
so-and-so ijits, that's wot the Lord Mayor of London gives about
a guinea a hounce for w'en 'e feeds lords n' dooks. Only the
haristocracy at 'ome get a charnce to stick their teeth in such
grub as that. An' 'ere are you lot a-growlin' at 'avin' it for a
change!" "That's all right, cap'n," said the man; "bein' brort
up ter such lugsuries, of corse you kin appreshyate it. So if
yer keep it fer yer own eatin', an' giv us wot we signed for, we
shall be werry much obliged." "Now, I ain't a-goin" to 'ave none
o' YOUR cheek, so you'd better git forrard. You can betcher life
you won't get no more fresh messes this voy'ge." So, with
grumbling and ill-will on both sides, the conference came to an
end. But I thought, and still think, that the mess set before
those men, who had been working hard since six a.m., was unfit
for the food of a good dog.
Out of my own experience I might give many other instances of the
kind, but I hope these will suffice to show that Jack's growling
is often justified, when both sides of the story are heard.
Day and night being now only distinguishable by the aid of the
clock, a constant look-out aloft was kept all through the twentyfour
hours, watch and watch, but whales were apparently very
scarce. We did a good deal of "pelagic" sealing; that is,
catching seals swimming. But the total number obtained was not
great, for these creatures are only gregarious when at their
rocky haunts during the breeding season, or among the ice just
before that season begins. Our sealing, therefore, was only a
way of passing the time in the absence of nobler game, to be
abandoned at once with whales in sight.
It was on the ninth or tenth morning after our arrival on the
grounds that a bowhead was raised, And two boats sent after him.
It was my first sight of the great MYSTICETUS, and I must confess
to being much impressed by his gigantic bulk. From the
difference in shape, he looked much larger than the largest sperm
whale we had yet seen, although we had come across some of the
very biggest specimens of cachalot.
The contrast between the two animals is most marked, so much so,
in fact, that one would hardly credit them with belonging to the
same order. Popular ideas of the whale are almost invariably
taken from the MYSTICETUS, so that the average individual
generally defines a whale as a big fish which spouts water out of
the top of his head, and cannot swallow a herring. Indeed, so
lately as last year a popular M.P., writing to one of the
religious papers, allowed himself to say that "science will not
hear of a whale with a gullet capable of admitting anything
larger than a man's fist"--a piece of crass ignorance, which is
also perpetrated in the appendix to a very widely-distributed
edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible. This opinion,
strangely enough, is almost universally held, although I trust
that the admirable models now being shown in our splendid Natural
History Museum at South Kensington will do much to remove it.
Not so many people, perhaps, believe that a whale is a fish,
instead of a mammal, but few indeed are the individuals who do
not still think that a cetacean possesses a sort of natural
fountain on the top of its head, whence, for some recondite
reason, it ejects at regular intervals streams of water into the
But a whale can no more force water through its spiracle or blowhole
than you or I through our nostrils. It inhales, when at the
surface, atmospheric air, and exhales breath like ours, which,
coming warm into a cooler medium, becomes visible, as does our
breath on a frosty morning.
Now, the MYSTICETUS carries his nostrils on the summit of his
head, or crown, the orifice being closed by a beautifully
arranged valve when the animal is beneath the water.
Consequently, upon coming to the surface to breathe, he sends up
a jet of visible breath into the air some ten or twelve feet.
The cachalot, on the other hand, has the orifice at the point of
his square snout, the internal channel running in a slightly
diagonal direction downwards, and back through the skull to the
lungs. So when he spouts, the breath is projected forward
diagonally, and, from some peculiarity which I do not pretend to
explain, expends itself in a short, bushy tuft of vapour, very
distinct from the tall vertical spout of the bowhead or right
There was little or no wind when we sighted the individual I am
now speaking of, so we did not attempt to set sail, but pulled
straight for him "head and head." Strange as it may appear, the
MYSTICETUS' best point of view is right behind, or "in his wake,"
as we say; it is therefore part of the code to approach him from
right ahead, in which direction he cannot see at all. Some time
before we reached him he became aware of our presence, showing by
his uneasy actions that he had his doubts about his personal
security. But before he had made up his mind what to do we were
upon him, with our harpoons buried in his back. The difference
in his behaviour to what we had so long been accustomed to was
amazing. He did certainly give a lumbering splash or two with
his immense flukes, but no one could possibly have been
endangered by them. The water was so shallow that when he
sounded it was but for a very few minutes; there was no escape
for him that way. As soon as he returned to the surface he set
off at his best gait, but that was so slow that we easily hauled
up close alongside of him, holding the boats in that position
without the slightest attempt to guard ourselves from reprisals
on his part, while the officers searched his vitals with the
lances as if they were probing a haystack.
Really, the whole affair was so tame that it was impossible to
get up any fighting enthusiasm over it; the poor, unwieldy
creature died meekly and quietly as an overgrown seal. In less
than an hour from the time of leaving the ship we were ready to
bring our prize alongside.
Upon coming up to the whale, sail was shortened, and as soon as
the fluke-chain was passed we anchored. It was, I heard, our
skipper's boast that he could "skin a bowhead in forty minutes;"
and although we were certainly longer than that, the celerity
with which what seemed a gigantic task was accomplished was
marvellous. Of course, it was all plain-sailing, very unlike the
complicated and herculean task inevitable at the commencement of
cutting-in a sperm whale.
Except for the head work, removing the blubber was effected in
precisely the same way as in the case of the cachalot. There was
a marked difference between the quantity of lard enveloping this
whale and those we had hitherto dealt with. It was nearly double
the thickness, besides being much richer in oil, which fairly
dripped from it as we hoisted in the blanket-pieces. The upper
jaw was removed for its long plates of whalebone or baleen--that
valuable substance which alone makes it worth while nowadays to
go after the MYSTICETUS, the price obtained for the oil being so
low as to make it not worth while to fit out ships to go in
search of it alone. "Trying-out" the blubber, with its
accompaniments, is carried on precisely as with the sperm whale.
The resultant oil, when recent, is of a clear white, unlike the
golden-tinted fluid obtained from the cachalot. As it grows
stale it developes a nauseous smell, which sperm does not,
although the odour of the oil is otto of roses compared with the
horrible mass of putridity landed from the tanks of a Greenland
whaler at the termination of a cruise. For in those vessels, the
fishing-time at their disposal being so brief, they do not wait
to boil down the blubber, but, chopping it into small pieces,
pass it below as it is into tanks, to be rendered down by the
oil-mills ashore on the ship's return.
This first bowhead yielded us eighteen tuns of oil and a ton of
baleen, which made the catch about equal in value to that of a
seven-tun cachalot. But the amount of labour and care necessary
in order to thoroughly dry and cleanse the baleen was enormous;
in fact, for months after we began the bowhead fishery there was
almost always something being done with the wretched stuff--
drying, scraping, etc.--which, as it was kept below, also
necessitated hoisting it up on deck and getting it down again.
After this beginning, it was again a considerable time before we
sighted any more; but when we did, there were quite a number of
them--enough to employ all the boats with one each. I was out of
the fun this time, being almost incapable of moving by reason of
several boils on my legs--the result, I suppose, of a long
abstinence from fresh vegetables, or anything to supply their
As it happened, however, I lost no excitement by remaining on
board; for while all the boats were away a large bowhead rose
near the ship, evidently being harassed in some way by enemies,
which I could not at first see. He seemed quite unconscious of
his proximity to the ship, though, and at last came so near that
the whole performance was as visible as if it had been got up for
my benefit. Three "killers" were attacking him at once, like
wolves worrying a bull, except that his motions were far less
lively than those of any bull would have been.
The "killer," or ORCA GLADIATOR, is a true whale, but, like the
cachalot, has teeth. He differs from that great cetacean,
though, in a most important particular; i.e. by having a complete
set in both upper and lower jaws, like any other carnivore. For
a carnivore indeed is he, the very wolf of the ocean, and
enjoying, by reason of his extraordinary agility as well as
comparative worthlessness commercially, complete immunity from
attack by man. By some authorities he is thought to be identical
with the grampus, but whalers all consider the animals quite
distinct. Not having had very long acquaintance with them both,
I cannot speak emphatically upon this difference of opinion; so
far as personal observation goes, I agree with the whalers in
believing that there is much variation both of habits and shape
between them.
But to return to the fight. The first inkling I got of what was
really going on was the leaping of a killer high into the air by
the side of the whale, and descending upon the victim's broad,
smooth back with a resounding crash. I saw that the killer was
provided with a pair of huge fins--one on his back, the other on
his belly--which at first sight looked as if they were also
weapons of offence. A little observation convinced me that they
were fins only. Again and again the aggressor leaped into the
air, falling each time on the whale's back, as if to beat him
into submission.
The sea around foamed and boiled like a cauldron, so that it was
only occasional glimpses I was able to catch of the two killers,
until presently the worried whale lifted his head clear out of
the surrounding smother, revealing the two furies hanging--one on
either side-- to his lips, as if endeavouring to drag his mouth
open --which I afterwards saw was their principal object, as
whenever during the tumult I caught sight of them, they were
still in the same position. At last the tremendous and incessant
blows, dealt by the most active member of the trio, seemed
actually to have exhausted the immense vitality of the great
bowhead, for he lay supine upon the surface. Then the three
joined their forces, and succeeded in dragging open his cavernous
mouth, into which they freely entered, devouring his tongue.
This, then, had been their sole object, for as soon as they had
finished their barbarous feast they departed, leaving him
helpless and dying to fall an easy prey to our returning boats.
Thus, although the four whales captured by the boats had been but
small, the day's take, augmented by so great a find, was a large
one, and it was a long time before we got clear of the work it
From that time forward we saw no whales for six weeks, and, from
the reports we received from two whalers we "gammed," it appeared
that we might consider ourselves most fortunate in our catch,
since they, who had been longer on the ground than ourselves, had
only one whale apiece.
In consequence of this information, Captain Slocum decided to go
south again, and resume the sperm whaling in the North Pacific,
near the line--at least so the rumour ran; but as we never heard
anything definitely, we could not feel at all certain of our next
Ever since the fracas at the Bonins between Goliath and his
watch, the relations between Captain Slocum and the big negro had
been very strained. Even before the outbreak, as I have remarked
upon one occasion, it was noticeable that little love was lost
between them. Why this was so, without anything definite to guide
one's reasoning, was difficult to understand, for a better seaman
or a smarter whaleman than Mistah Jones did not live--of that
every one was quite sure. Still, there was no gainsaying the
fact that, churlish and morose as our skipper's normal temper
always was, he was never so much so as in his behaviour towards
his able fourth mate, who, being a man of fine, sensitive temper,
chafed under his unmerited treatment so much as to lose flesh,
becoming daily more silent, nervous, and depressed. Still, there
had never been an open rupture, nor did it appear as if there
would be, so great was the power Captain Slocum possessed over
the will of everybody on board.
One night, however, as we were nearing the Kuriles again, on our
way south, leaving the Sea of Okhotsk, I was sitting on the fore
side of the try-works alone, meditating upon what I would do when
once I got clear of this miserable business. Futile and foolish,
no doubt, my speculations were, but only in this way could I
forget for a while my surroundings, since the inestimable comfort
of reading was denied me. I had been sitting thus absorbed in
thought for nearly an hour, when Goliath came and seated himself
by my side. We had always been great friends, although, owing to
the strict discipline maintained on board, it was not often we
got a chance for a "wee bit crack," as the Scotch say. Besides,
I was not in his watch, and even now he should rightly have been
below. He sat for a minute or two silent; then, as if compelled
to speak, he began in low, fierce whispers to tell me of his
miserable state of mind. At last, after recapitulating many
slights and insults he had received silently from the captain, of
which I had previously known nothing, he became strangely calm.
In tones quite unlike his usual voice, he said that he was not an
American-born negro, but a pure African, who had been enslaved in
his infancy, with his mother, somewhere in the "Hinterland" of
Guinea. While still a child, his mother escaped with him into
Liberia, a where he had remained till her death, She was,
according to him, an Obeah woman of great power, venerated
exceedingly by her own people for her prophetic abilities.
Before her death, she had told him that he would die suddenly,
violently, in a struggle with a white man in a far-off country,
but that the white man would die too by his hand. She had also
told him that he would be a great traveller and hunter upon the
sea. As he went on, his speech became almost unintelligible,
being mingled with fragments of a language I had never heard
before; moreover, he spoke as a man who is only half awake. A
strange terror got hold of me, for I began to think he was going
mad, and perhaps about to run a-mok, as the Malays do when driven
frantic by the infliction of real or fancied wrongs.
But he gradually returned to his old self, to my great relief,
and I ventured somewhat timidly to remind him of the esteem in
which he was held by all hands; even the skipper, I ventured to
say, respected him, although, from some detestable form of illhumour,
he had chosen to be so sneering and insulting towards
him. He shook his head sadly, and said, "My dear boy, youse de
only man aboard dis ship--wite man, dat is--dat don't hate an'
despise me becawse ob my colour, wich I cain't he'p; an' de God
you beliebe in bless you fer dat. As fer me, w'at I done tole
you's true,'n befo' bery little w'ile you see it COME true. 'N
w'en DAT happens w'at's gwine ter happen, I'se real glad to tink
it gwine ter be better fer you--gwine ter be better fer eberybody
'bord de CACH'LOT; but I doan keer nuffin 'bout anybody else. So
long." He held out his great black hand, and shook mine
heartily, while a big tear rolled down his face and fell on the
deck. And with that he left me a prey to a very whirlpool of
conflicting thoughts and fears.
The night was a long and weary one--longer and drearier perhaps
because of the absence of the darkness, which always made it
harder to sleep. An incessant day soon becomes, to those
accustomed to the relief of the night, a burden grievous to be
borne; and although use can reconcile us to most things, and does
make even the persistent light bearable, in times of mental
distress or great physical weariness one feels irresistibly moved
to cry earnestly, "Come, gentle night."
When I came on deck at eight bells, it was a stark calm. The
watch, under Mistah Jones' direction, were busy scrubbing decks
with the usual thoroughness, while the captain, bare-footed, with
trouser-legs and shirt-sleeves rolled up, his hands on his hips
and a portentous frown on his brow, was closely looking on. As
it was my spell at the crow's-nest, I made at once for the mainrigging,
and had got halfway to the top, when some unusual sounds
below arrested me.
All hands were gathered in the waist, a not unusual thing at the
changing of the watch. In the midst of them, as I looked down,
two men came together in a fierce struggle. They were Goliath
and the skipper. Captain Slocum's right hand went naturally to
his hip pocket, where he always carried a revolver; but before he
could draw it, the long, black arms of his adversary wrapped
around him, making him helpless as a babe. Then, with a rush
that sent every one flying out of his way, Goliath hurled himself
at the bulwarks, which were low, the top of the rail about
thirty-three inches from the deck. The two bodies struck the
rail with a heavy thud, instantly toppling overboard. That broke
the spell that bound everybody, so that there was an
instantaneous rush to the side. Only a hardly noticeable ripple
remained on the surface of the placid sea.
But, from my lofty perch, the whole of the ghastly struggle had
been visible to the least detail. The two men had struck the
water locked in closest embrace, which relaxed not even when far
below the surface. When the sea is perfectly smooth, objects are
visible from aloft at several feet depth, though apparently
diminished in size. The last thing I saw was Captain Slocum's
white face, with its starting black eyes looking their last upon
the huge, indefinite hull of the ship whose occupants he had
ruled so long and rigidly.
The whole tragedy occupied such a brief moment of time that it
was almost impossible to realize that it was actual. Reason,
however, soon regained her position among the officers, who
ordered the closest watch to be kept from aloft, in case of the
rising of either or both of the men. A couple of boats were
swung, ready to drop on the instant. But, as if to crown the
tragedy with completeness, a heavy squall, which had risen
unnoticed, suddenly burst upon the ship with great fury, the
lashing hail and rain utterly obscuring vision even for a few
yards. So unexpected was the onset of this squall that, for the
only time that voyage, we lost some canvas through not being able
to get it in quick enough. The topgallant halyards were let go;
but while the sails were being clewed up, the fierce wind
following the rain caught them from their confining gear, rending
them into a thousand shreds. For an hour the squall raged--a
tempest in brief--then swept away to the south-east on its
furious journey, leaving peace again. Needless perhaps to say,
that after such a squall it was hopeless to look for our missing
ones. The sudden storm had certainly driven us several miles
away front the spot where they disappeared, and, although we
carefully made what haste was possible back along the line we
were supposed to have come, not a vestige of hope was in any
one's mind that we should ever see them again.
Nor did we. Whether that madness, which I had feared was coming
upon Goliath during our previous night's conversation, suddenly
overpowered him and impelled him to commit the horrible deed,
what more had passed between him and the skipper to even faintly
justify so awful a retaliation--these things were now matters of
purest speculation. As if they had never been, the two men were
blotted out--gone before God in full-blown heat of murder and
revengeful fury.
On the same evening Mr. Count mustered all hands on the quarterdeck,
and addressed us thus: "Men, Captain Slocum is dead, and,
as a consequence, I command the ship. Behave yourself like men,
not presuming upon kindness or imagining that I am a weak,
vacillating old man with whom you can do as you like, and you
will find in me a skipper who will do his duty by you as far as
lies in his power, nor expect more from you than you ought to
render. If, however, you DO try any tricks, remember that I am
an old hand, equal to most of the games that men get up to. I do
want--if you will help me--to make this a comfortable as well as
a successful ship. I hope with all my heart we shall succeed."
In answer to this manly and affecting little speech, which
confirmed my previous estimate of Captain Count's character, were
he but free to follow the bent of his natural, kindly
inclinations, and which I have endeavoured to translate out of
his usual dialect, a hearty cheer was raised by all hands, the
first ebullition of general good feeling manifested throughout
the voyage. Hearts rose joyfully at the prospect of comfort to
be gained by thoughtfulness on the part of the commander; nor
from that time forward did any sign of weariness of the ship or
voyage show itself among us, either on deck or below.
The news soon spread among us that, in consequence of the various
losses of boats and gear, the captain deemed it necessary to make
for Honolulu, where fresh supplies could readily be obtained. We
had heard many glowing accounts from visitors, when "gamming," of
the delights of this well-known port of call for whalers, and
under our new commander we had little doubt that we should be
allowed considerable liberty during our stay. So we were quite
impatient to get along fretting considerably at the persistent
fogs which prevented our making much progress while in the
vicinity of the Kuriles. But we saw no more bowheads, for which
none of us forward were at all sorry. We had got very tired of
the stink of their blubber, and the never-ending worry connected
with the preservation of the baleen; besides, we had not yet
accumulated any fund of enthusiasm about getting a full ship,
except as a reason for shortening the voyage, and we quite
understood that what black oil we had got would be landed at
Hawaii, so that our visit to the Okhotsk Sea, with its resultant
store of oil, had not really brought our return home any nearer,
as we at first hoped it would.
A great surprise was in store for me. I knew that Captain Count
was favourably inclined towards me, for he had himself told me
so, but nothing was further from my thoughts than promotion.
However, one Sunday afternoon, when we were all peacefully
enjoying the unusual rest (we had no Sundays in Captain Slocum's
time), the captain sent for me. He informed me that, after
mature consideration, he had chosen me to fill the vacancy made
by the death of Mistah Jones. Mr. Cruce was now mate; the
waspish little third had become second; Louis Silva, the
captain's favourite harpooner was third; and I was to be fourth.
Not feeling at all sure of how the other harpooners would take my
stepping over their heads, I respectfully demurred to the
compliment offered me, stating my reasons. But the captain said
he had fully made up his mind, after consultation with the other
officers, and that I need have no apprehension on the score of
the harpooners' jealousy; that they had been spoken to on the
subject, and they were all agreed that the captain's choice was
the best, especially as none of them knew anything of navigation,
or could write their own names.
In consequence of there being none of the crew fit to take a
harpooner's place, I was now really harpooner of the captain's
boat, which he would continue to work, when necessary, until we
were able to ship a harpooner, which he hoped to do at Hawaii.
The news of my promotion was received in grim silence by the
Portuguese forward, but the white men all seemed pleased. This
was highly gratifying to me, for I had tried my best to be
helpful to all, as far as my limited abilities would let me; nor
do I think I had an enemy in the ship. Behold me, then, a fullblown
"mister," with a definite substantial increase in my
prospects of pay of nearly one-third, in addition to many other
advantages, which, under the new captain, promised exceedingly
More than half the voyage lay behind us, looking like the fastsettling
bank of storm-clouds hovering above the tempest-tossed
sea so lately passed, while ahead the bright horizon was full of
promise of fine weather for the remainder of the journey.
Right glad were we all when, after much fumbling and box-hauling
about, we once more felt the long, familiar roll of the Pacific
swell, and saw the dim fastnesses of the smoky islands fading
into the lowering gloom astern. Most deep-water sailors are
familiar, by report if not by actual contact, with the beauties
of the Pacific islands, and I had often longed to visit them to
see for myself whether the half that had been told me was true.
Of course, to a great number of seafaring men, the loveliness of
those regions counts for nothing, their desirability being
founded upon the frequent opportunities of unlimited indulgence
in debauchery. To such men, a "missionary" island is a howling
wilderness, and the missionaries themselves the subjects of the
vilest abuse as well as the most boundless lying.
No one who has travelled with his eyes open would assert that all
missionaries were wise, prudent, or even godly men; while it is a
great deal to be regretted that so much is made of hardships
which in a large proportion of cases do not exist, the men who
are supposed to be enduring them being immensely better off and
more comfortable than they would ever have been at home.
Undoubtedly the pioneers of missionary enterprise had, almost
without exception, to face dangers and miseries past telling, but
that is the portion of pioneers in general. In these days,
however, the missionary's lot in Polynesia is not often a hard
one, and in many cases it is infinitely to be preferred to a life
among the very poor of our great cities.
But when all has been said that can be said against the
missionaries, the solid bastion of fact remains that, in
consequence of their labours, the whole vile character of the
populations of the Pacific has been changed, and where wickedness
runs riot to-day, it is due largely to the hindrances placed in
the way of the noble efforts of the missionaries by the
unmitigated scoundrels who vilify them. The task of spreading
Christianity would not, after all, be so difficult were it not
for the efforts of those apostles of the devil to keep the
islands as they would like them to be--places where lust runs
riot day and night, murder may be done with impunity, slavery
flourishes, and all evil may be indulged in free from law, order,
or restraint.
It speaks volumes for the inherent might of the Gospel that, in
spite of the object-lessons continually provided for the natives
by white men of the negation of all good, that it has stricken
its roots so deeply into the soil of the Pacific islands. Just
as the best proof of the reality of the Gospel here in England is
that it survives the incessant assaults upon it from within by
its professors, by those who are paid, and highly paid, to
propagate it, by the side of whose deadly doings the efforts of
so-called infidels are but as the battery of a summer breeze; so
in Polynesia, were not the principles of Christianity vital with
an immortal and divine life, missionary efforts might long ago
have ceased in utter despair at the fruitlessness of the field.
We were enjoying a most uneventful passage, free from any
serious changes either of wind or weather which quiet time was
utilised to the utmost in making many much-needed additions to
the running-gear, repairing rigging, etc. Any work involving the
use of new material had been put off from time to time during the
previous part of the voyage till the ship aloft was really in a
dangerous condition. This was due entirely to the peculiar
parsimony of our late skipper, who could scarcely bring himself
to broach a coil of rope, except for whaling purposes. The same
false economy had prevailed with regard to paint and varnish, so
that the vessel, while spotlessly clean, presented a worn-out
weather-beaten appearance. Now, while the condition of life on
board was totally different to what it had been, as regards
comfort and peace, discipline and order were maintained at the
same high level as always, though by a different method--in fact,
I believe that a great deal more work was actually done,
certainly much more that was useful and productive; for Captain
Count hated, as much as any foremast hand among us, the constant,
remorseless grind of iron-work polishing, paint-work scrubbing,
and holystoning, all of which, though necessary in a certain
degree, when kept up continually for the sole purpose of making
work--a sort of elaborated tread-mill, in fact--becomes the
refinement of cruelty to underfed, unpaid, and hopeless men.
So, while the CACHALOT could have fearlessly challenged
comparison with any ship afloat for cleanliness and neatness of
appearance, the hands no longer felt that they were continually
being "worked up" or "hazed" for the sole, diabolical
satisfaction of keeping them "at it." Of course, the incidence
of the work was divided, since so many of the crew were quite
unable to do any sailorizing, as we term work in sails and
rigging. Upon them, then, fell all the common labour, which can
be done by any unskilled man or woman afloat or ashore.
Of this work a sailor's duties are largely made up, but when good
people ashore wonder "whatever sailors do with their time," it
would be useful for them to remember that a ship is a huge and
complicated machine, needing constant repairs, which can only be
efficiently performed by skilled workmen. An "A.B." or able
seaman's duties are legally supposed to be defined by the three
expressions, "hand, reef, and steer." If he can do those three
things, which mean furling or making fast sails, reefing them,
and steering the ship, his wages cannot be reduced for
incompetency. Yet these things are the A B C of seamanship only.
A good SEAMAN is able to make all the various knots, splices, and
other arrangements in hempen or wire rope, without which a ship
cannot be rigged; he can make a sail, send up or down yards and
masts, and do many other things, the sum total of which need
several years of steady application to learn, although a good
seaman is ever learning.
Such seamen are fast becoming extinct. They are almost totally
unnecessary in steamships, except when the engines break down in
a gale of wind, and the crowd of navvies forming the crew stand
looking at one another when called upon to set sail or do any
other job aloft. THEN the want of seamen is rather severely felt.
But even in sailing ships--the great, overgrown tanks of two
thousand tons and upwards--mechanical genius has utilized iron to
such an extent in their rigging that sailor-work has become very
largely a matter of blacksmithing. I make no complaint of this,
not believing that the "old was better;" but, since the strongest
fabric of man's invention comes to grief sometimes in conflict
with the irresistible sea, some provision should be made for
having a sufficiency of seamen who could exercise their skill in
refitting a dismasted ship, or temporarily replacing broken
blacksmith work by old-fashioned rope and wood.
But, as the sailing ship is doomed inevitably to disappear before
steam, perhaps it does not matter much. The economic march of
the world's progress will never be stayed by sentimental
considerations, nor will all the romance and poetry in the world
save the seaman from extinction, if his place can be more
profitably filled by the engineer. From all appearances, it soon
will be, for even now marine superintendents of big lines are
sometimes engineers, and in their hands lie the duty of engaging
the officers. It would really seem as if the ship of the near
future would be governed by the chief engineer, under whose
direction a pilot or sailing-master would do the necessary
navigation, without power to interfere in any matter of the
ship's economy. Changes as great have taken place in other
professions; seafaring cannot hope to be the sole exception.
So, edging comfortably along, we gradually neared the Sandwich
Islands without having seen a single spout worth watching since
the tragedy. At last the lofty summits of the island mountains
hove in sight, and presently we came to an anchor in that
paradise of whalers, missionaries, and amateur statesmen--
Honolulu. As it is as well known to most reading people as our
own ports--better perhaps--I shall not attempt to describe it, or
pit myself against the able writers who have made it so familiar.
Yet to me it was a new world. All things were so strange, so
delightful, especially the lovable, lazy, fascinating Kanakas,
who could be so limply happy over a dish of poe, or a green
cocoa-nut, or even a lounge in the sun, that it seemed an outrage
to expect them to work. In their sports they could be energetic
enough. I do not know of any more delightful sight than to watch
them bathing in the tremendous surf, simply intoxicated with the
joy of living, as unconscious of danger as if swinging in a
hammock while riding triumphantly upon the foaming summit of an
incoming breaker twenty feet high, or plunging with a cataract
over the dizzy edge of its cliff, swallowed up in the hissing
vortex below, only to reappear with a scream of riotous laughter
in the quiet eddy beyond.
As far as I could judge, they were the happiest of people,
literally taking no thought for the morrow, and content with the
barest necessaries of life, so long as they were free and the sun
shone brightly. We had many opportunities of cultivating their
acquaintance, for the captain allowed us much liberty, quite onehalf
of the crew and officers being ashore most of the time. Of
course, the majority spent all their spare time in the purlieus
of the town, which, like all such places anywhere, were foul and
filthy enough; but that was their own faults. I have often
wondered much to see men, who on board ship were the pink of
cleanliness and neatness, fastidious to a fault in all they did,
come ashore and huddle in the most horrible of kennels, among the
very dregs and greaves of the 'long-shore district. It certainly
wants a great deal of explanation; but I suppose the most potent
reason is, that sailors, as a class, never learn to enjoy
themselves rationally. They are also morbidly suspicions of
being taken in hand by anybody who would show them anything worth
seeing, preferring to be led by the human sharks that infest all
seaports into ways of strange nastiness, and so expensive withal
that one night of such wallowing often costs them more than a
month's sane recreation and good food would. All honour to the
devoted men and women who labour in our seaports for the moral
and material benefit of the sailor, passing their lives amidst
sights and sounds shocking and sickening to the last degree,
reviled, unthanked, unpaid. Few are the missionaries abroad
whose lot is so hard as theirs.
We spent ten happy days in Honolulu, marred only by one or two
drunken rows among the chaps forward, which, however, resulted in
their getting a severe dressing down in the forecastle, where
good order was now kept. There had been no need for interference
on the part of the officers, which I was glad to see, remembering
what would have happened under such circumstances not long ago.
Being short-handed, the captain engaged a number of friendly
islanders for a limited period, on the understanding that they
were to be discharged at their native place, Vau Vau. There were
ten of them, fine stalwart fellows, able bodied and willing as
possible. They were cleanly in their habits, and devout members
of the Wesleyan body, so that their behaviour was quite a
reproach to some of our half-civilized crew. Berths were found
for them in the forecastle, and they took their places among us
quite naturally, being fairly well used to a whale-ship.
We weighed at last, one morning, with a beautiful breeze, and,
bidding a long farewell to the lovely isles and their amiable
inhabitants, stood at sea, bound for the "line" or equatorial
grounds on our legitimate business of sperm whaling. It was now
a long while since we had been in contact with a cachalot, the
last one having been killed by us on the Coast of Japan some six
months before. But we all looked forward to the coming campaign
with considerable joy, for we were now a happy family, interested
in the work, and, best of all, even if the time was still
distant, we were, in a sense, homeward bound. At any rate, we
all chose so to think, from the circumstance that we were now
working to the southward, towards Cape Horn, the rounding of
which dreaded point would mark the final stage of our globeencircling
We had, during our stay at Honolulu, obtained a couple of grand
boats in addition to our stock, and were now in a position to man
and lower five at once, if occasion should arise, still leaving
sufficient crew on board to work the vessel. The captain had
also engaged an elderly seaman of his acquaintance--out of pure
philanthropy, as we all thought, since he was in a state of semistarvation
ashore--to act as a kind of sailing-master, so as to
relieve the captain of ship duty at whaling time, allowing him
still to head his boat. This was not altogether welcome news to
me, for, much as I liked the old man and admired his pluck, I
could not help dreading his utter recklessness when on a whale,
which had so often led to a smash-up that might have been easily
avoided. Moreover, I reasoned that if he had been foolhardy
before, he was likely to be much more so now, having no superior
to look black or use language when a disaster occurred. For now
I was his harpooner, bound to take as many risks as be chose to
incur, and anxious also to earn a reputation among the more
seasoned whalemen for smartness sufficient to justify my
The Kanakas shipped at Honolulu were distributed among the boats,
two to each, being already trained whalemen, and a fine lot of
fellows they were. My two--Samuela and Polly--were not very big
men, but sturdy, nimble as cats, as much at home in the water as
on deck, and simply bubbling over with fun and good-humour, From
my earliest sea-going, I have always had a strong liking for
natives of tropical countries, finding them affectionate and
amenable to kindness. Why, I think, white men do not get on with
darkies well, as a rule, is, that they seldom make an appeal to
the MAN, in them. It is very degrading to find one's self looked
down upon as a sort of animal without reason or feelings; and if
you degrade a man, you deprive him of any incentive to make
himself useful, except the brute one you may feel bound to apply
yourself. My experience has been limited to Africans (of sorts),
Kanakas, natives of Hindostan, Malagasy, and Chinese; but with
all these I have found a little COMARADERIE answer excellently.
True, they are lazy; but what inducement have they to work? The
complicated needs of our civilized existence compel US to work,
or be run over by the unresting machine; but I take leave to
doubt whether any of us with a primitive environment would not be
as lazy as any Kanaka that ever dozed under a banana tree through
daylight hours. Why, then, make an exalted virtue of the
necessity which drives us, and objurgate the poor black man
because he prefers present ease to a doubtful prospective
retirement on a competency? Australian blackfellows and Malays
are said to be impervious to kind treatment by a great number of
witnesses, the former appearing incapable of gratitude, and the
latter unable to resist the frequent temptation to kill somebody.
Not knowing anything personally of either of these races, I can
say nothing for or against them.
All the coloured individuals that I have had to do with have
amply repaid any little kindness shown them with fidelity and
affection, but especially has this been the case with Kanakas,
The soft and melodious language spoken by them is easy to
acquire, and is so pleasant to speak that it is well worth
learning, to say nothing of the convenience to yourself, although
the Kanaka speedily picks up the mutilated jargon which does duty
for English on board ship.
What I specially longed for now was a harpooner, or even two, so
that I might have my boat to myself, the captain taking his own
boat with a settled harpooner. Samuela, the biggest of my two
Kanakas, very earnestly informed me that he was no end of a
"number one" whale slaughterer; but I judged it best to see how
things went before asking to have him promoted. My chance, and
his, came very promptly; so nicely arranged, too, that I could
not have wished for anything better. The skipper had got a fine,
healthy boil on one knee-cap, and another on his wrist, so that
he was, as you may say, HORS DE COMBAT. While he was impatiently
waiting to get about once more, sperm whales were raised.
Although nearly frantic with annoyance, he was compelled to leave
the direction of things to Mr. Cruce, who was quite puffed up
with the importance of his opportunity.
Such a nice little school of cow-whales, a lovely breeze, clear
sky, warm weather--I felt as gay as a lark at the prospect. As
we were reaching to windward, with all boats ready for lowering,
the skipper called me aft and said, "Naow, Mr. Bullen, I cain't
lower, because of this condemned leg'n arm of mine; but how'r yew
goin' ter manage 'thout a harpooneer?" I suggested that if he
would allow me to try Samuela, who was suffering for a chance to
distinguish himself, we would "come out on top." "All right," he
said; "but let the other boats get fast first, 'n doan be in too
much of a hurry to tie yerself up till ya see what's doin'. If
everythin's goin' bizness-fashion', 'n yew git a chance, sail
right in; yew got ter begin some time. But ef thet Kanaka looks
skeered goin' on, take the iron frum him ter onct." I promised,
and the interview ended.
When I told Samuela, of his chance, he was beside himself with
joy. As to his being scared, the idea was manifestly absurd. He
was as pleased with the prospect as it was possible for a man to
be, and hardly able to contain himself for impatience to be off.
I almost envied him his exuberant delight, for a sense of
responsibility began to weigh upon me with somewhat depressing
We gained a good weather-gage, rounded to, and lowered four
boats. Getting away in good style, we had barely got the sails
up, when something gallied the school. We saw or heard nothing
to account for it, but undoubtedly the "fish" were off at top
speed dead to windward, so that our sails were of no use. We had
them in with as little delay as possible, and lay to our oars for
all we were worth, being fresh and strong, as well as anxious to
get amongst them. But I fancy all our efforts would have availed
us little had it not been for the experience of Mr. Cruce, whose
eager eye detected the fact that the fish were running on a great
curve, and shaped our course to cut them off along a chord of the
Two and a half hours of energetic work was required of us before
we got on terms with the fleeing monsters; but at last, to our
great joy, they broke water from sounding right among us. It was
a considerable surprise, but we were all ready, and before they
had spouted twice, three boats were fast, only myself keeping
out, in accordance with my instructions. Samuela was almost
distraught with rage and grief at the condition of things. I
quite pitied him, although I was anything but pleased myself.
However, when I ranged up alongside the mate's fish, to render
what assistance was needed, he shouted to me, "We's all right;
go'n git fas', if yew kin." That was enough, and away we flew
after a retreating spout to leeward. Before we got there,
though, there was an upheaval in the water just ahead, and up
came a back like a keelless ship bottom up. Out came the head
belonging to it, and a spout like an explosion burst forth,
denoting the presence of an enormous bull-cachalot. Close by his
side was a cow of about one-third his size, the favoured sultana
of his harem, I suppose. Prudence whispered, "Go for the cow;"
ambition hissed, "All or none--the bull, the bull." Fortunately
emergencies of this kind leave one but a second or two to decide,
as a rule; in this case, as it happened, I was spared even that
mental conflict, for as we ran up between the two vast creatures,
Samuela, never even looking at the cow, hurled his harpoon, with
all the energy that he had been bursting with so long, at the
mighty bull. I watched its flight--saw it enter the black mass
and disappear to the shaft, and almost immediately came the
second iron, within a foot of the first, burying itself in the
same solid fashion.
"Starn--starn all!" I shouted; and we backed slowly away,
considerably hampered by the persistent attentions of the cow,
who hung round us closely. The temptation to lance her was
certainly great, but I remembered the fate that had overtaken the
skipper on the first occasion we struck whales, and did not
meddle with her ladyship. Our prey was not apparently disposed
to kick up much fuss at first, so, anxious to settle matters, I
changed ends with Samuela, and pulled in on the whale. A good,
steady lance-thrust--the first I had ever delivered--was
obtained, sending a thrill of triumph through my whole body. The
recipient, thoroughly roused by this, started off at a great
lick, accompanied, somewhat to my surprise, by the cow.
Thenceforward for another hour, in spite of all our efforts, we
could not get within striking distance, mainly because of the
close attention of the cow, which stuck to her lord like a calf
to its mother. I was getting so impatient of this hindrance,
that it was all I could do to restrain myself from lancing the
cow, though I felt convinced that, if I did, I should spoil a
good job. Suddenly I caught sight of the ship right ahead. We
were still flying along, so that in a short time we were
comparatively close to her. My heart beat high and I burned to
distinguish myself under the friendly and appreciative eye of the
None of the other boats were in sight, from our level at least,
so that I had a reasonable hope of being able to finish my game,
with all the glory thereunto attaching, unshared by any other of
my fellow-officers. As we ran quite closely past the ship,
calling on the crew to haul up for all they were worth, we
managed actually to squeeze past the cow, and I got in a really
deadly blow. The point of the lance entered just between the fin
and the eye, but higher up, missing the broad plate of the
shoulder-blade, and sinking its whole four feet over the hitches
right down into the animal's vitals. Then, for the first time,
he threw up his flukes, thrashing them from side to side almost
round to his head, and raising such a turmoil that we were half
full of water in a moment. But Samuela was so quick at the
steer-oar, so lithe and forceful, and withal appeared so to
anticipate every move of mine, that there seemed hardly any
After a few moments of this tremendous exertion, our victim
settled down, leaving the water deeply stained with his gushing
blood. With him disappeared his constant companion, the faithful
cow, who had never left his side a minute since we first got
fast. Down, down they went, until my line began to look very low,
and I was compelled to make signals to the ship for more. We had
hardly elevated the oars, when down dropped the last boat with
four men in her, arriving by my side in a few minutes with two
fresh tubs of tow-line. We took them on board, and the boat
returned again. By the time the slack came we had about four
hundred and fifty fathoms out--a goodly heap to pile up loose in
our stern-sheets. I felt sure, however, that we should have but
little more trouble with our fish; in fact, I was half afraid
that he would die before getting to the surface, in which case he
might sink and be lost. We hauled steadily away, the line not
coming in very easily, until I judged there was only about
another hundred fathoms out. Our amazement may be imagined, when
suddenly we were compelled to sleek away again, the sudden weight
on the line suggesting that the fish was again sounding. If ever
a young hand was perplexed, it was I. Never before had I heard
of such unseemly behaviour, nor was my anxiety lessened when I
saw, a short distance away, the huge body of my prize at the
surface spouting blood. At the same time, I was paying out line
at a good rate, as if I had a fast fish on which was sounding
The skipper had been watching me very closely from his seat on
the taffrail, and had kept the ship within easy distance. Now,
suspecting something out of the common, he sent the boat again to
my assistance, in charge of the cooper. When that worthy
arrived, he said, "Th' ol' man reckens yew've got snarled erp'ith
thet ar' loose keow, 'n y'r irons hev draw'd from th' other. I'm
gwine ter wait on him,'n get him 'longside 'soon's he's out'er
his flurry. Ole man sez yew'd best wait on what's fast t' yer
an' nev' mine th' other." Away he went, reaching my prize just
as the last feeble spout exhaled, leaving the dregs of that great
flood of life trickling lazily down from the widely expanded
spiracle. To drive a harpoon into the carcass, and run the line
on board, was the simplest of jobs, for, as the captain had
foreseen, my irons were drawn clean. I had no leisure to take
any notice of them now, though, for whatever was on my line was
coming up hand-over-fist.
With a bound it reached the surface--the identical cow so long
attendant upon the dead whale. Having been so long below for
such a small whale, she was quite exhausted, and before she had
recovered we had got alongside of her and lanced her, so
thoroughly that she died without a struggle. The ship was so
close that we had her alongside in a wonderfully short time, and
with scarcely any trouble.
When I reached the deck, the skipper called me, and said several
things that made me feel about six inches taller. He was, as may
be thought, exceedingly pleased, saying that only once in his
long career had he seen a similar case; for I forgot to mention
that the line was entangled around the cow's down-hanging jaw, as
if she had actually tried to bite in two the rope that held her
consort, and only succeeded in sharing his fate. I would not
like to say that whales do not try to thus sever a line, but,
their teeth being several inches apart, conical, and fitting into
sockets in the upper jaw instead of meeting the opposed surfaces
of other teeth, the accomplishment of such a feat must, I think,
be impossible.
The ship being now as good as anchored by the vast mass of flesh
hanging to her, there was a tremendous task awaiting us to get
the other fish alongside. Of course they were all to windward;
they nearly always are, unless the ship is persistently "turned
to windward" while the fishing is going on. Whalers believe that
they always work up into the wind while fast, and, when dead, it
is certain that they drift at a pretty good rate right in the
"wind's eye." This is accounted for by the play of the body,
which naturally lies head to wind; and the wash of the flukes,
which, acting somewhat like the "sculling" of an oar at the stern
of a boat, propel the carcass in the direction it is pointing,
Consequently we had a cruel amount of towing to do before we got
the three cows alongside. Many a time we blessed ourselves that
they were no bigger, for of all the clumsy things to tow with
boats, a sperm whale is about the worst. Offing to the great
square mass of the heed, they can hardly be towed head-on at all,
the practice being to cut off the tips of the flukes, and tow
them tail first. But even then it is slavery. To dip your oar
about three times in the same hole from whence you withdrew it,
to tug at it with all your might, apparently making as much
progress as though you were fast to a dock-wall, and to continue
this fun for four or five hours at a stretch, is to wonder indeed
whether you have not mistaken your vocation.
However, "it's dogged as does it," so by dint of sheer sticking
to the oar, we eventually succeeded in getting all our prizes
alongside before eight bells that evening, securing them around
us by hawsers to the cows, but giving the big bull the post of
honour alongside on the best fluke-chain.
We were a busy company for a fortnight thence, until the last of
the oil was run below--two hundred and fifty barrels, or twentyfive
tuns, of the valuable fluid having rewarded our exertions.
During these operations we had drifted night and day, apparently
without anybody taking the slightest account of the direction we
were taking; when, therefore, on the day after clearing up the
last traces of our fishing, the cry of "Land ho!" came ringing
down from the crow's-nest, no one was surprised, although the
part of the Pacific in which we were cruising has but few patches
of TERRA FIRMA scattered about over its immense area when
compared with the crowded archipelagoes lying farther south and
We could not see the reported land from the deck for two hours
after it was first seen from aloft, although the odd spectacle of
a scattered group of cocoa-nut trees apparently growing out of
the sea was for some time presented to us before the island
itself came into view. It was Christmas Island, where the
indefatigable Captain Cook landed on December 24, 1777, for the
purpose of making accurate observations of an eclipse of the sun.
He it was who gave to this lonely atoll the name it has ever
since borne, with characteristic modesty giving his own great
name to a tiny patch of coral which almost blocks the entrance to
the central lagoon. Here we lay "off and on" for a couple of
days, while foraging parties went ashore, returning at intervals
with abundance of turtle and sea-fowls' eggs. But any detailed
account of their proceedings must be ruthlessly curtailed, owing
to the scanty limits of space remaining.
The line whaling grounds embrace an exceedingly extensive area,
over the whole of which sperm whales may be found, generally of
medium size. No means of estimating the probable plenty or
scarcity of them in any given part of the grounds exist, so that
falling in with them is purely a matter of coincidence. To me it
seems a conclusive proof of the enormous numbers of sperm whales
frequenting certain large breadths of ocean, that they should be
so often fallen in with, remembering what a little spot is
represented by a day's cruise, and that the signs which denote
almost infallibly the vicinity of right whales are entirely
absent in the case of the cachalot. In the narrow waters of the
Greenland seas, with quite a small number of vessels seeking, it
is hardly possible for a whale of any size to escape being seen;
but in the open ocean a goodly fleet may cruise over a space of a
hundred thousand square miles without meeting any of the whales
that may yet be there in large numbers. So that when one hears
talk of the extinction of the cachalot, it is well to bear in
mind that such a thing would take a long series of years to
effect, even were the whaling business waxing instead of waning,
While, however, South Sea whaling is conducted on such old-world
methods as still obtain; while steam, with all the power it gives
of rapidly dealing with a catch, is not made use of, the art and
mystery of the whale-fisher must continually decrease. No such
valuable lubricant has ever been found as sperm oil; but the cost
of its production, added to the precarious nature of the supply,
so handicaps it in the competition with substitutes that it has
been practically eliminated from the English markets, except in
such greatly adulterated forms as to render it a lie to speak of
the mixture as sperm oil at all.
Except to a few whose minds to them are kingdoms, and others who
can hardly be said to have any minds at all, the long monotony of
unsuccessful seeking for whales is very wearying. The ceaseless
motion of the vessel rocking at the centre of a circular space of
blue, with a perfectly symmetrical dome of azure enclosing her
above, unflecked by a single cloud, becomes at last almost
unbearable from its changeless sameness of environment. Were it
not for the trivial round and common task of everyday ship duty,
some of the crew must become idiotic, or, in sheer rage at the
want of interest in their lives, commit mutiny.
Such a weary time was ours for full four weeks after sighting
Christmas Island. The fine haul we had obtained just previous to
that day seemed to have exhausted our luck for the time being,
for never a spout did we see. And it was with no ordinary delight
that we hailed the advent of an immense school of black-fish, the
first we had run across for a long time. Determined to have a
big catch, if possible, we lowered all five boats, as it was a
beautifully calm day, and the ship might almost safely have been
left to look after herself. After what we had recently been
accustomed to, the game seemed trifling to get up much excitement
over; but still, for a good day's sport, commend me to a few
lively black-fish.
In less than ten minutes we were in the thick of the crowd, with
harpoons flying right and left. Such a scene of wild confusion
and uproarious merriment ensued as I never saw before in my life.
The skipper, true to his traditions, got fast to four, all
running different ways at once, and making the calm sea boil
again with their frantic gyrations. Each of the other boats got
hold of three; but, the mate getting too near me, our fish got so
inextricably tangled up that it was hopeless to try and
distinguish between each other's prizes. However, when we got
the lances to work among them, the hubbub calmed down greatly,
and the big bodies one by one ceased their gambols, floating
So far, all had been gay; but the unlucky second mate must needs
go and do a thing that spoiled a day's fun entirely. The line
runs through a deep groove in the boat's stem, over a brass
roller so fitted that when the line is running out it remains
fixed, but when hauling in it revolves freely, assisting the work
a great deal. The second mate had three fish fast, like the rest
of us--the first one on the end of the main line, the other two
on "short warps," or pieces of whale-line some eight or ten
fathoms long fastened to harpoons, with the other ends running on
the main line by means of bowlines round it. By some mistake or
other he had allowed the two lines to be hauled together through
the groove in his boat's stem, and before the error was noticed
two fish spurted off in opposite directions, ripping the boat in
two halves lengthways, like a Dutchman splitting a salt herring.
Away went the fish with the whole of the line, nobody being able
to get at it to cut; and, but for the presence of mind shown by
the crew in striking out and away from the tangle, a most ghastly
misfortune, involving the loss of several lives, must have
occurred. As it was, the loss was considerable, almost
outweighing the gain on the day's fishing, besides the
inconvenience of having a boat useless on a whaling grounds.
The accident was the fruit of gross carelessness, and should
never have occurred; but then, strange to say, disasters to
whale-boats are nearly always due to want of care, the percentage
of unavoidable casualties being very small as compared with those
like the one just related. When the highly dangerous nature of
the work is remembered, this statement may seem somewhat
overdrawn; but it has been so frequently corroborated by others,
whose experience far outweighs my own, that I do not hesitate to
make it with the fullest confidence in its truth.
Happily no lives were lost on this occasion, for it would have
indeed been grievous to have seen our shipmates sacrificed to the
MANES of a mere black-fish, after successfully encountering so
many mighty whales. The episode gave us a great deal of
unnecessary work getting the two halves of the boat saved, in
addition to securing our fish, so that by the time we got the
twelve remaining carcasses hove on deck we were all quite fagged
out. But under the new regime we were sure of a good rest, so
that did not trouble us; it rather made the lounge on deck in the
balmy evening air and the well-filled pipe of peace doubly sweet.
Our next day's work completed the skinning of the haul we had
made, the last of the carcasses going overboard with a thunderous
splash at four in the afternoon. The assemblage of sharks round
the ship on this occasion was incredible for its number and the
great size of the creatures. Certainly no mariners see so many
or such huge sharks as whalemen; but, in spite of all our
previous experience, this day touched high-water mark. Many of
these fish were of a size undreamed of by the ordinary seafarer,
some of them full thirty feet in length, more like whales than
sharks. Most of them were striped diagonally with bands of
yellow, contrasting curiously with the dingy grey of their normal
colour. From this marking is derived their popular name--"tiger
sharks," not, as might be supposed, from their ferocity. That
attribute cannot properly be applied to the SQUALUS at all, which
is one of the most timid fish afloat, and whose ill name, as far
as regards blood-thirstiness, is quite undeserved. Rapacious the
shark certainly is; but what sea-fish is not? He is not at all
particular as to his diet; but what sea-fish is? With such a
great bulk of body, such enormous vitality and vigour to support,
he must needs be ever eating; and since he is not constructed on
swift enough lines to enable him to prey upon living fish, like
most of his neighbours, he is perforce compelled to play the
humble but useful part of a sea-scavenger.
He eats man, as he eats anything else eatable because in the
water man is easily caught, and not from natural depravity or an
acquired taste begetting a decided preference for human flesh.
All natives of shores infested by sharks despise him and his
alleged man-eating propensities, knowing that a very feeble
splashing will suffice to frighten him away even if ever so
hungry. Demerara River literally swarms with sharks, yet I have
often seen a negro, clad only in a beaming smile, slip into its
muddy waters, and, after a few sharp blows with his open hand
upon the surface, calmly swim down to the bottom, clear a ship's
anchor, or do whatever job was required, coming up again as
leisurely as if in a swimming-bath. A similar disregard of the
dangerous attributes awarded by popular consent to the shark may
be witnessed everywhere among the people who know him best. The
cruelties perpetrated upon sharks by seamen generally are the
result of ignorance and superstition combined, the most infernal
forces known to humanity. What would be said at home of such an
act, if it could be witnessed among us, as the disembowelling of
a tiger, say, and then letting him run in that horrible condition
somewhere remote from the possibility of retaliating upon his
torturers? Yet that is hardly comparable with a similar atrocity
performed upon a shark, because he will live hours to the tiger's
minutes in such a condition.
I once caught a shark nine feet long, which we hauled on board
and killed by cutting off its head and tail. It died very
speedily--for a shark--all muscular motion ceasing in less than
fifteen minutes. It was my intention to prepare that useless and
unornamental article so dear to sailors--a walking-stick made of
a shark's backbone. But when I came to cut out the vertebra, I
noticed a large scar, extending from one side to the other, right
across the centre of the back. Beneath it the backbone was
thickened to treble its normal size, and perfectly rigid; in
fact, it had become a mass of solid bone. At some time or other
this shark had been harpooned so severely that, in wrenching
himself free, he must have nearly torn his body in two halves,
severing the spinal column completely. Yet such a wound as that
had been healed by natural process, the bone knit together again
with many times the strength it had before--minus, of course, its
flexibility--and I can testify from the experience of securing
him that he could not possibly have been more vigorous than he
A favourite practice used to be--I trust it is so no longer--to
catch a shark, and, after driving a sharpened stake down through
his upper jaw and out underneath the lower one, so that its upper
portion pointed diagonally forward, to let him go again. The
consequence of this cruelty would be that the fish was unable to
open his mouth, or go in any direction without immediately coming
to the surface. How long he might linger in such torture, one
can only guess; but unless his fellows, finding him thus
helpless, came along and kindly devoured him, no doubt he would
exist in extreme agony for a very long time.
Two more small cows were all that rewarded our search during the
next fortnight, and we began to feel serious doubts as to the
success of our season upon the line grounds, after all. Still,
on the whole, our voyage up to the present had not been what
might fairly be called unsuccessful, for we were not yet two
years away from New Bedford, while we had considerably more than
two thousand barrels of oil on board--more, in fact, than twothirds
of a full cargo. But if a whale were caught every other
day for six months, and then a month elapsed without any being
seen, grumbling would be loud and frequent, all the previous
success being forgotten in the present stagnation. Perhaps it is
not so different in other professions nearer home?
Christmas Day drew near, beloved of Englishmen all the world
over, though thought little of by Americans. The two previous
ones spent on board the CACHALOT have been passed over without
mention, absolutely no notice being taken of the season by any
one on board, to all appearance. In English ships some attempt
is always made to give the day somewhat of a festive character,
and to maintain the national tradition of good-cheer and goodwill
in whatever part of the world you may happen to be. For some
reason or other, perhaps because of the great increase in
comfort; we had all experienced lately, I felt the approach of
the great Christian anniversary very strongly; although, had I
been in London, I should probably have spent it in lonely gloom,
having no relatives or friends whom I might visit. But what of
that? Christmas is Christmas; and, if we have no home, we think
of the place where our home should be; and whether, as cynics
sneer, Dickens invented the English Christmas or not, its
observance has taken deep root among us. May its shadow never be
On Christmas morning I mounted to the crow's-nest at daybreak,
and stood looking with never-failing awe at the daily marvel of
the sunrise. Often and often have I felt choking for words to
express the tumult of thoughts aroused by this sublime spectacle.
Hanging there in cloudland, the tiny microcosm at one's feet
forgotten, the grandeur of the celestial outlook is overwhelming.
Many and many a time I have bowed my head and wept in pure
reverence at the majesty manifested around me while the glory of
the dawn increased and brightened, till with one exultant bound
the sun appeared.
For some time I stood gazing straight ahead of me with eyes that
saw not, filled with wonder and admiration. I must have been
looking directly at the same spot for quite a quarter of an hour,
when suddenly, as if I had but just opened my eyes, I saw the
well-known bushy spout of a sperm whale. I raised the usual
yell, which rang through the stillness discordantly, startling
all hands out of their lethargy like bees out of a hive. After
the usual preliminaries, we were all afloat with sails set,
gliding slowly over the sleeping sea towards the unconscious
objects of our attention. The captain did not lower this time,
as there only appeared to be three fish, none of them seeming
large. Though at any distance it is extremely difficult to
assess the size of whales, the spout being very misleading.
Sometimes a full-sized whale will show a small spout, while a
twenty-barrel cow will exhale a volume of vapour extensive enough
for two or three at once.
Now although, according to etiquette, I kept my position in the
rear of my superior officers, I had fully determined in my own
mind, being puffed up with previous success, to play second
fiddle to no one, if I could help it, this time. Samuela was
decidedly of the same opinion; indeed, I believe he would have
been delighted to tackle a whole school single-handed, while my
crew were all willing and eager for the fight. We had a long,
tedious journey before we came up with them, the wind being so
light that even with the occasional assistance of the paddles our
progress was wretchedly slow. When at last we did get into their
water, and the mate's harpooner stood up to dart, his foot
slipped, and down he came with a clatter enough to scare a
cachalot twenty miles away. It gallied our friends effectually,
sending them flying in different directions at the top of their
speed. But being some distance astern of the other boats, one of
the fish, in his headlong retreat, rose for a final blow some six
or seven fathoms away, passing us in the opposite direction. His
appearance was only momentary, yet in that moment Samuela hurled
his harpoon into the air, where it described a beautiful
parabola, coming down upon the disappearing monster's back just
as the sea was closing over it. Oh, it was a splendid dart,
worthy of the finest harpooner that ever lived! There was no
time for congratulations, however, for we spun round as on a
pivot, and away we went in the wake of that fellow at a great
rate. I cast one look astern to see whether the others had
struck, but could see nothing of them; we seemed to have sprung
out of their ken in an instant.
The speed of our friend was marvellous, but I comforted myself
with the knowledge that these animals usually run in circles
--sometimes, it is true, of enormous diameter, but seldom getting
far away from their starting-point. But as the time went on, and
we seemed to fly over the waves at undiminished speed, I began to
think this whale might be the exception necessary to prove the
rule, so I got out the compass and watched his course. Due east,
not a degree to north or south of it, straight as a bee to its
hive. The ship was now far out of sight astern, but I knew that
keen eyes had been watching our movements from the masthead, and
that every effort possible would be made to keep the run of us.
The speed of our whale was not only great, but unflagging. He
was more like a machine than an animal capable of tiring; and
though we did our level best, at the faintest symptom of
slackening, to get up closer and lance him, it was for some time
impossible. After, at a rough estimate, running in a direct
easterly course for over two hours, he suddenly sounded, without
having given us the ghost of a chance to "land him one where he
lived." Judging from his previous exertions, though, it was
hardly possible he would be able to stay down long, or get very
deep, as the strain upon these vast creatures at any depth is
astonishingly exhausting. After a longer stay below than usual,
when they have gone extra deep, they often arrive at the surface
manifestly "done up" for a time. Then, if the whaleman be active
and daring, a few well-directed strokes may be got in which will
promptly settle the business out of hand.
Now, when my whale sounded he was to all appearance as frightened
a beast as one could wish--one who had run himself out
endeavouring to get away from his enemies, and as a last resource
had dived into the quietness below in the vain hope to get away.
So I regarded him, making up my mind to wait on him with
diligence upon his arrival, and not allow him to get breath
before I had settled him. But when he did return, there was a
mighty difference in him. He seemed as if he had been getting
some tips on the subject from some school below where whales are
trained to hunt men; for his first move was to come straight for
me with a furious rush, carrying the war into the enemy's country
with a vengeance. It must be remembered that I was but young,
and a comparatively new hand at this sort of thing; so when I
confess that I felt more than a little scared at this sudden
change in the tactics of my opponent, I hope I shall be excused.
Remembering, however, that all our lives depended on keeping
cool, I told myself that even if I was frightened I must not go
all to pieces, but compel myself to think and act calmly, since I
was responsible for others. If the animal had not been in so
blind a fury, I am afraid my task would have been much harder;
but he was mad, and his savage rushes were, though disquieting,
unsystematic and clumsy. It was essential, however, that he
should not be allowed to persist too long in his evil courses;
for a whale learns with amazing rapidity, developing such cunning
in an hour or two that all a man's smartness may be unable to
cope with his newly acquired experience. Happily, Samuela was
perfectly unmoved. Like a machine, he obeyed every gesture,
every look even, swinging the boat "off" or "on" the whale with
such sweeping strokes of his mighty oar that she revolved as if
on a pivot, and encouraging the other chaps with his cheerful
cries and odd grimaces, so that the danger was hardly felt.
During a momentary lull in the storm, I took the opportunity to
load my bomb-gun, much as I disliked handling the thing, keeping
my eye all the time on the water around where I expected to see
mine enemy popping up murderously at any minute. Just as I had
expected, when he rose, it was very close, and on his back, with
his jaw in the first biting position, looking ugly as a vision of
death. Finding us a little out of reach, he rolled right over
towards us, presenting as he did so the great rotundity of his
belly. We were not twenty feet away, and I snatched up the gun,
levelled it, and fired the bomb point-blank into his bowels.
Then all was blank. I do not even remember the next moment. A
rush of roaring waters, a fighting with fearful, desperate energy
for air and life, all in a hurried, flurried phantasmagoria about
which there was nothing clear except the primitive desire for
life, life, life! Nor do I know how long this struggle lasted,
except that, in the nature of things, it could not have been very
When I returned to a consciousness of external things, I was for
some time perfectly still, looking at the sky, totally unable to
realize what had happened or where I was. Presently the smiling,
pleasant face of Samuel bent over me. Meeting my gratified look
of recognition, he set up a perfect yell of delight. "So glad,
so glad you blonga life! No go Davy Jonesy dis time, hay?" I
put my hand out to help myself to a sitting posture, and touched
blubber. That startled me so that I sprung up as if shot. Then
I took in the situation at a glance. There were all my poor
fellows with me, stranded upon the top of our late antagonist,
but no sign of the boat to be seen. Bewildered at the state of
affairs, I looked appealingly from one to the other for an
explanation. I got it from Abner, who said, laconically, "When
yew fired thet ole gun, I guess it mus' have bin loaded fer bear,
fer ye jest tumbled clar head over heels backwards outen the
boat. Et that very same moment I suspicion the bomb busted in his
belly, fer he went clean rampageous loony. He rolled right over
an' over to'rds us, n' befo' we c'd rightly see wat wuz comin',
we cu'dnt see anythin' 'tall; we wuz all grabbin' at nothin',
some'rs underneath the whale. When I come to the top, I lit eout
fer the fust thing I c'd see to lay holt of, which wuz old
squarhead himself, deader 'n pork. I guess thet ar bomb o' yourn
kinder upset his commissary department. Anyway, I climed up onto
him, 'n bime-by the rest ov us histed themselves alongside ov me.
Sam Weller here; he cum last, towin' you 'long with him. I
don'no whar he foun' ye, but ye was very near a goner, 'n's full
o' pickle as ye c'd hold." I turned a grateful eye upon my dusky
harpooner, who had saved my life, but was now apparently
blissfully unconscious of having done anything meritorious.
Behold us, then, a half-drowned row of scarecrows perched, like
some new species of dilapidated birds, upon the side of our late
foe. The sun was not so furiously hot as usual, for masses of
rain-laden NIMBI were filling the sky, so that we were
comparatively free from the awful roasting we might have
expected: nor was our position as precarious for a while as
would be thought. True, we had only one harpoon, with its still
fast line, to hold on by; but the side of the whale was somehow
hollowed, so that, in spite of the incessant movement imparted to
the carcass by the swell, we sat fairly safe, with our feet in
the said hollow. We discussed the situation in all its bearings,
unable to extract more than the faintest gleam of hope from any
aspect of the case. The only reasonable chance we had was, that
the skipper had almost certainly taken our bearings, and would,
we were sure, be anxiously seeking us on the course thus
indicated. Meanwhile, we were ravenously hungry and thirsty.
Samuela and Polly set to work with their sheath-knives, and soon
excavated a space in the blubber to enable them to reach the
meat. Then they cut off some good-sized junks, and divided it
up. It was not half bad; and as we chewed on the tough black
fibre, I could hardly help smiling as I thought how queer a
Christmas dinner we were having. But eating soon heightened our
thirst, and our real sufferings then began. We could eat very
little once the want of drink made itself felt. Hardly two hours
had elapsed, though, before one of the big-bellied clouds which
bad been keeping the sun off us most considerately emptied out
upon us a perfect torrent of rain. It filled the cavity in the
whale's side in a twinkling; and though the water was greasy,
stained with blood, and vilely flavoured, it was as welcome a
drink as I have ever tasted. Thus fed, and with our thirst
slaked, we were able to take a more hopeful view of things while
the prospect of our being found seemed much more probable than it
had done before the rain fell.
Still, we had to endure our pillory for a long while yet. The
sharks and birds began to worry us, especially the former, who in
their eagerness to get a portion of the blubber, fought, writhed
and tore at the carcass with tireless energy. Once, one of the
smaller ones actually came sliding up right into our hollow; but
Samuela and Polly promptly dispatched him with a cut throat,
sending him back to encourage the others. The present relieved
us of most of their attentions for a short time at least, as they
eagerly divided the remains of their late comrade among them.
To while away the time we spun yarns--without much point, I am
afraid; and sung songs, albeit we did not feel much like singing
--till after a while our poor attempts at gaiety fizzled out like
a damp match, leaving us silent and depressed. The sun, which
had been hidden for some time, now came out again, his slanting
beams revealing to us ominously the flight of time and the near
approach of night. Should darkness overtake us in our present
position, we all felt that saving us would need the performance
of a miracle; for in addition to the chances of the accumulated
gases within the carcass bursting it asunder, the unceasing
assault of the sharks made it highly doubtful whether they would
not in a few hours more have devoured it piecemeal. Already they
had scooped out some deep furrows in the solid blubber, making it
easier to get hold and tear off more, and their numbers were
increasing so fast that the surrounding sea was fairly alive with
them. Lower and lower sank the sun, deeper and darker grew the
gloom upon our faces, till suddenly Samuela leaped to his feet in
our midst, and emitted a yell so ear-piercing as to nearly deafen
us. He saw the ship! Before two minutes had passed we all saw
her--God bless her!--coming down upon us like some angelic
messenger. There were no fears among us that we should be
overlooked. We knew full well how anxiously and keenly many
pairs of eyes had been peering over the sea in search of us, and
we felt perfectly sure they had sighted us long ago. On she
came, gilded by the evening glow, till she seemed glorified,
moving in a halo of celestial light, all her homeliness and
clumsy build forgotten in what she then represented to us.
Never before or since has a ship looked like that, to me, nor can
I ever forget the thankfulness, the delight, the reverence, with
which I once more saw her approaching. Straight down upon us she
bore, rounding to within a cable's length, and dropping a boat
simultaneously with her windward sweep. They had no whale--well
for us they had not. In five minutes we were on board, while our
late resting-place was being hauled alongside with great glee.
The captain shook hands with me cordially, pooh-poohing the loss
of the boat as an unavoidable incident of the trade, but
expressing his heart-felt delight at getting us all back safe.
The whale we had killed was ample compensation for the loss of
several boats, though such was the vigour with which the sharks
were going for him, that it was deemed advisable to cut in at
once, working all night. We who had been rescued, however, were
summarily ordered below by the skipper, and forbidden, on pain of
his severe displeasure, to reappear until the following morning.
This great privilege we gladly availed ourselves of, awaking at
daylight quite well and fit, not a bit the worse for our queer
experience of the previous day.
The whale proved a great acquisition, for although not nearly so
large as many we had caught, he was so amazingly rich in blubber
that he actually yielded twelve and a half tuns of oil, in spite
of the heavy toll taken of him by the hungry multitudes of
sharks. In addition to the oil, we were fortunate enough to
secure a lump of ambergris, dislodged perhaps by the explosion of
my bomb in the animal's bowels. It was nearly black, wax-like to
the touch, and weighed seven pounds and a half. At the current
price, it would be worth about L200, so that,
taken altogether, the whale very nearly approached in value the
largest one we had yet caught. I had almost omitted to state
that incorporated with the substance of the ambergris were
several of the horny cuttle-fish beaks, which, incapable of being
digested, had become in some manner part of this peculiar
Another three weeks' cruising brought us to the end of the season
on the line, which had certainly not answered all our
expectations, although we had perceptibly increased the old
barky's draught during our stay. Whether from love of change or
belief in the possibilities of a good haul, I can hardly say, but
Captain Count decided to make the best of his way south, to the
middle group of the "Friendly" Archipelago, known as Vau Vau, the
other portions being called Hapai and Tongataboo respectively,
for a season's "humpbacking." From all I could gather, we were
likely to have a good time there, so I looked forward to the
visit with a great deal of pleasurable anticipation.
We were bound to make a call at Vau Vau, in any case, to
discharge our Kanakas shipped at Honolulu, although I fervently
hoped to be able to keep my brave harpooner Samuela. So when I
heard of our destination, I sounded him cautiously as to his
wishes in the matter, finding that, while he was both pleased
with and proud of his position on board, he was longing greatly
for his own orange grove and the embraces of a certain tender
"fafine" that he averred was there awaiting him. With such
excellent reasons for his leaving us, I could but forbear to
persuade him, sympathizing with him too deeply to wish him away
from such joys as he described to me.
So we bade farewell to the line grounds, and commenced another
stretch to the south, another milestone, as it were, on the long
road home. Prosaic and uneventful to the last degree was our
passage, the only incident worth recording being our "gamming" of
the PASSAMAQUODDY, of Martha's Vineyard, South Sea whaler;
eighteen months out, with one thousand barrels of sperm oil on
board. We felt quite veterans alongside of her crew, and our
yarns laid over theirs to such an extent that they were quite
disgusted at their lack of experience. Some of them had known
our late skipper, but none of them had a good word for him, the
old maxim, "Speak nothing but good of the dead," being most
flagrantly set at nought. One of her crew was a Whitechapelian,
who had been roving about the world for a good many years.
Amongst other experiences, he had, after "jumping the bounty" two
or three times, found himself a sergeant in the Federal Army
before Gettysburg. During that most bloody battle, he informed
me that a "Reb" drew a bead on him at about a dozen yards'
distance, and fired, He said he felt just as if somebody had
punched him in the chest, and knocked him flat on his back on top
of a sharp stone--no pain at all, nor any further recollection of
what had happened, until he found himself at the base, in
hospital. When the surgeons came to examine him for the bullet,
they found that it had struck the broad brass plate of his crossbelt
fairly in the middle, penetrating it and shattering his
breast bone. But after torturing him vilely with the probe, they
were about to give up the search in despair, when he told them he
felt a pain in his back. Examining the spot indicated by him,
they found a bullet just beneath the skin, which a touch with the
knife allowed to tumble out. Further examination revealed the
strange fact that the bullet, after striking his breast-bone, had
glanced aside and travelled round his body just beneath the skin,
without doing him any further harm. In proof of his story, he
showed me the two scars and the perforated buckle-plate.
At another time, being in charge of a picket of Germans, he and
his command were captured by a party of Confederates, who haled
him before their colonel, a southern gentleman of the old school.
In the course of his interrogation by the southern officer, he
was asked where he bailed from. He replied, "London, England."
"Then," said the colonel, "how is it you find yourself fighting
for these accursed Yankees?" The cockney faltered out some
feeble excuse or another, which his captor cut short by saying,
"I've a great respect for the English, and consequently I'll let
you go this time. But if ever I catch you again, you're gone up.
As for those d-----d Dutchmen, they'll be strung up inside of
five minutes." And they were.
So with yarn, song, and dance, the evening passed pleasantly
away; while the two old hookers jogged amicably along side by
side, like two market-horses whose drivers are having a friendly
crack. Along about midnight we exchanged crews again, and parted
with many expressions of good-will--we to the southward, she to
the eastward, for some particular preserve believed in by her
In process of time we made the land of Vau Vau, a picturesque,
densely wooded, and in many places precipitous, group of islands,
the approach being singularly free from dangers in the shape of
partly hidden reefs. Long and intricate were the passages we
threaded, until we finally came to anchor in a lovely little bay
perfectly sheltered from all winds. We moored, within a mile of
a dazzling white beach, in twelve fathoms. A few native houses
embowered in orange and cocoa-nut trees showed here and there,
while the two horns of the bay were steep-to, and covered with
verdure almost down to the water's edge. The anchor was hardly
down before a perfect fleet of canoes flocked around us, all
carrying the familiar balancing outrigger, without which those
narrow dugouts cannot possibly keep upright. Their occupants
swarmed on board, laughing and playing like so many children, and
with all sorts of winning gestures and tones besought our
friendship. "You my flem?" was the one question which all asked;
but what its import might be we could not guess for some time.
By-and-by it appeared that when once you had agreed to accept a
native for your "flem," or friend, he from henceforward felt in
duty bound to attend to all your wants which it lay within his
power to supply. This important preliminary settled, fruit and
provisions of various kinds appeared as if by magic. Huge
baskets of luscious oranges, massive bunches of gold and green
bananas, clusters of green cocoa-nuts, conch-shells full of
chillies, fowls loudly protesting against their hard fate, gourds
full of eggs, and a few vociferous swine--all came tumbling on
board in richest profusion, and, strangest thing of all, not a
copper was asked in return. I might have as truly said nothing
was asked, since money must have been useless here. Many women
came alongside, but none climbed on board. Surprised at this, I
asked Samuela the reason, as soon as I could disengage him for a
few moments from the caresses of his friends. He informed me
that the ladies' reluctance to favour us with their society was
owing to their being in native dress, which it is punishable to
appear in among white men, the punishment consisting of a rather
heavy fine. Even the men and boys, I noticed, before they
ventured to climb on board, stayed a while to put on trousers, or
what did duty for those useful articles of dress. At any rate,
they were all clothed, not merely enwrapped with a fold or two of
"tapa," the native bark-cloth, but made awkward and ugly by
dilapidated shirts and pants.
She was a busy ship for the rest of that day. The anchor down,
sails furled and decks swept, the rest of the time was our own,
and high jinks were the result. The islanders were amiability
personified, merry as children, nor did I see or hear one
quarrelsome individual among them. While we were greedily
devouring the delicious fruit, which was piled on deck in
mountainous quantities, they encouraged us, telling us that the
trees ashore were breaking down under their loads, and what a
pity it was that there were so few to eat such bountiful
We were, it appeared, the first whale-ship that had anchored
there that year, and, in that particular bay where we lay, no
vessel had moored for over two years. An occasional schooner
from Sydney called at the "town" about ten miles away, where the
viceroy's house was, and at the present time of speaking one of
Godeffroi's Hamburg ships was at anchor there, taking in an
accumulation of copra from her agent's store. But the natives
all spoke of her with a shrug--"No like Tashman. Tashman no
good." Why, I could not ascertain.
Our Kanakas had promised to remain with us till our departure for
the south, so, hard as it seemed to them, they were not allowed
to go ashore, in case they might not come back, and leave us
short-handed. But as their relatives and friends could visit
them whenever they felt inclined, the restriction did not hurt
them much. The next day, being Sunday, all hands were allowed
liberty to go ashore by turns (except the Kanakas), with strict
injunctions to molest no one, but to behave as if in a big town
guarded by policemen. As no money could be spent, none was
given, and, best of all, it was impossible to procure any
intoxicating liquor.
Our party got ashore about 9.30, but not a soul was visible
either on the beach or in the sun-lit paths which led through the
forest inland. Here and there a house, with doors wide open,
stood in its little cleared space, silent and deserted. It was
like a country without inhabitants. Presently, however, a burst
of melody arrested us, and borne upon the scented breeze came oh,
so sweetly!--the well-remembered notes of "Hollingside."
Hurriedly getting behind a tree, I let myself go, and had a
perfectly lovely, soul-refreshing cry. Reads funny, doesn't it?
Sign of weakness perhaps. But when childish memories come back
upon one torrent-like in the swell of a hymn or the scent of the
hawthorn, it seems to me that the flood-gates open without you
having anything to do with it. When I was a little chap in the
Lock Chapel choir, before the evil days came, that tune was my
favourite; and when I heard it suddenly come welling up out of
the depths of the forest, my heart just stood still for a moment,
and then the tears came. Queer idea, perhaps, to some people;
but I do not know when I enjoyed myself so much as I did just
then, except when a boy of sixteen home from a voyage, and
strolling along the Knightsbridge Road, I "happened" into the
Albert Hall. I did not in the least know what was coming; the
notices on the bills did not mean anything to me; but I paid my
shilling, and went up into the gallery. I had hardly edged
myself into a corner by the refreshment-stall, when a great
breaker of sound caught me, hurled me out of time, thought, and
sense in one intolerable ecstasy--"For unto us a Child is born;
unto us a Son is given"--again and again--billows and billows of
glory. I gasped for breath, shook like one in an ague fit; the
tears ran down in a continuous stream; while people stared amazed
at me, thinking, I suppose, that I was another drunken sailor.
Well, I was drunk, helplessly intoxicated, but not with drink,
with something Divine, untellable, which, coming upon me
unprepared, simply swept me away with it into a heaven of
delight, to which only tears could testify.
But I am in the bush, whimpering over the tones of "Hollingside."
As soon as I had pulled myself together a bit, we went on again
in the direction of the sound, Presently we came to a large
clearing, in the middle of which stood a neat wooden, pandanusthatched
church. There were no doors or windows to it, just a
roof supported upon posts, but a wide verandah ran all round,
upon the edge of which we seated ourselves; for the place was
full--full to suffocation, every soul within miles, I should
think, being there. No white men was present, but the service,
which was a sort of prayer-meeting, went with a swing and go that
was wonderful to see. There was no perfunctory worship here; no
one languidly enduring it because it was "the right sort of thing
to show up at, you know;" but all were in earnest, terribly in
earnest. When they sang, it behoved us to get away to a little
distance, for the vigour of the voices, unless mellowed by
distance, made the music decidedly harsh. Every one was dressed
in European clothing--the women in neat calico gowns; but the
men, nearly all of them, in woollen shirts, pilot-coats, and
trousers to match, and sea-boots! Whew! it nearly stifled me to
look at them. The temperature was about ninety degrees in the
shade, with hardly a breath of air stirring, yet those poor
people, from some mistaken notion of propriety, were sweating in
torrents under that Arctic rig. However they could worship, I do
not know! At last the meeting broke up. The men rushed out,
tore off their coats, trousers, and shirts, and flung themselves
panting upon the grass, mother-naked, except for a chaplet of
cocoanut leaves, formed by threading them on a vine-tendril, and
hanging round the waist.
Squatting by the side of my "flem," whom I had recognized, I
asked him why ever he outraged all reason by putting on such
clothes in this boiling weather. He looked at me pityingly for a
moment before he replied, "You go chapella Belitani? No put bes'
close on top?" "Yes," I said; "but in hot weather put on thin
clothes; cold weather, put on thick ones." "S'pose no got more?"
he said, meaning, I presumed, more than the one suit. "Well," I
said, "more better stop 'way than look like big fool, boil all
away, same like duff in pot. You savvy duff?" He smiled a wide
comprehensive smile, but looked very solemn again, saying
directly, "You no go chapella; you no mishnally. No mishnally
[missionary=godly]; very bad. Me no close; no go chapella; vely
bad. Evelly tangata, evelly fafine, got close all same papalang
[every man and woman has clothes like a white man]; go chapella
all day Sunday." That this was no figure of speech I proved
fully that day, for I declare that the recess between any of the
services never lasted more than an hour. Meanwhile the
worshippers did not return to their homes, for in many cases they
had journeyed twenty or thirty miles, but lay about in the
verdure, refreshing themselves with fruit, principally the
delightful green cocoa-nuts, which furnish meat and drink both
--cool and refreshing in the extreme, as well as nourishing.
We were all heartily welcome to whatever was going, but there was
a general air of restraint, a fear of breaking the Sabbath, which
prevented us from trespassing too much upon the hospitality of
these devout children of the sun. So we contented ourselves with
strolling through the beautiful glades and woods, lying down,
whenever we felt weary, under the shade of some spreading orange
tree loaded with golden fruit, and eating our fill, or rather
eating until the smarting of our lips warned us to desist. Here
was a land where, apparently, all people were honest, for we saw
a great many houses whose owners were absent, not one of which
was closed, although many had a goodly store of such things as a
native might be supposed to covet. At last, not being able to rid
ourselves of the feeling that we were doing something wrong, the
solemn silence and Sundayfied air of the whole region seeming to
forbid any levity even in the most innocent manner, we returned
on board again, wonderfully impressed with what we had seen, but
wondering what would have happened if some of the ruffianly
crowds composing the crews of many ships had been let loose upon
this fair island.
In the evening we lowered a stage over the bows to the water's
edge, and had a swimming-match, the water being perfectly
delightful, after the great heat of the day, in its delicious
freshness; and so to bunk, well pleased indeed with our first
Sunday in Vau Vau.
I have no doubt whatever that some of the gentry who swear at
large about the evils of missionaries would have been loud in
their disgust at the entire absence of drink and debauchery, and
the prevalence of what they would doubtless characterize as
adjective hypocrisy on the part of the natives; but no decent man
could help rejoicing at the peace, the security, and friendliness
manifested on every hand, nor help awarding unstinted praise to
whoever had been the means of bringing about so desirable a state
of things. I felt that their Sabbatarianism was carried to
excess; that they would have been better, not worse, for a little
less church, and a little more innocent fun; but ten thousand
times better thus than such scenes of lust let loose and
abandoned animalism as we witnessed at Honolulu. What pleased me
mightily was the absence of the white man with his air of
superiority and sleek overlordship. All the worship, all the
management of affairs, was entirely in the hands of the natives
themselves, and excellently well did they manage everything.
I shall never forget once going ashore in a somewhat similar
place, but very far distant, one Sunday morning, to visit the
mission station. It was a Church mission, and a very handsome
building the church was. By the side of it stood the parsonage,
a beautiful bungalow, nestling in a perfect paradise of tropical
flowers. The somewhat intricate service was conducted, and the
sermon preached, entirely by natives--very creditably too. After
service I strolled into the parsonage to see the reverend
gentleman in charge, whom I found supporting his burden in a long
chair, with a tall glass of brandy and soda within easy reach, a
fine cigar between his lips, and a late volume of Ouida's in his
hand. All very pleasant and harmless, no doubt, but hardly
reconcilable with the ideal held up in missionary magazines. Yet
I have no doubt whatever that this gentleman would have been
heartily commended by the very men who can hardly find words
harsh enough to express their opinion of missionaries of the
stamp of Paton, Williams, Moffat, and Mackenzie.
Well, it is highly probable--nay, almost certain, that I shall be
accused of drawing an idyllic picture of native life from first
impressions, which, if I had only had sufficient subsequent
experience among the people, I should have entirely altered. All
I can say is, that although I did not live among them ashore, we
had a number of them on board; we lay in the island harbour five
months, during which I was ashore nearly every day, and from
habit I observed them very closely; yet I cannot conscientiously
alter one syllable of what I have written concerning them. Bad
men and women there were, of course, to be found--as where not?
--but the badness, in whatever form, was not allowed to flaunt
itself, and was so sternly discountenanced by public (entirely
native) opinion, that it required a good deal of interested
seeking to find.
But after all this chatter about my amiable friends, I find
myself in danger of forgetting the purpose of our visit. We lost
no time in preparation, since whaling of whatever sort is
conducted in these ships on precisely similar lines, but on
Monday morning, at daybreak, after a hurried breakfast, lowered
all boats and commenced the campaign. We were provided with
boxes-- one for each boat-containing a light luncheon, but no
ordered meal, because it was not considered advisable to in any
way hamper the boat's freedom to chase. Still, in consideration
of its being promptly dumped overboard on attacking a whale, a
goodly quantity of fruit was permitted in the boats.
In the calm beauty of the pearly dawn, with a gentle hush over
all nature, the lofty, tree-clad hills reflected with startling
fidelity in the glassy, many-coloured waters, the only sound
audible the occasional cra-a-ake of the advance-guard of a flight
of fruit-bats (PECA) homeward from their nocturnal depredations,
we shipped our oars and started, pulling to a certain position
whence we could see over an immense area. Immediately upon
rounding the horn of our sheltered bay, the fresh breeze of the
south-east trades met us right on end with a vigour that made a
ten-mile steady pull against it somewhat of a breather. Arriving
at the station indicated by the chief, we set sail, and,
separating as far as possible without losing sight of each other,
settled down for the day's steady cruise. Anything more
delightful than that excursion to those who love seashore scenery
combined with boat-sailing would be difficult to name. Every
variety of landscape, every shape of strait, bay, or estuary,
reefs awash, reefs over which we could sail, ablaze with
loveliness inexpressible; a steady, gentle, caressing breeze, and
overhead one unvarying canopy of deepest blue. Sometimes, when
skirting the base of some tremendous cliffs, great caution was
necessary, for at one moment there would obtain a calm, deathlike
in its stillness; the next, down through a canyon cleaving
the mountain to the water's edge would come rushing with a shrill
howl, a blast fierce enough to almost lift us out of the water.
Away we would scud with flying sheets dead before it, in a
smother of spray, but would hardly get full way on her before it
was gone, leaving us in the same hush as before, only a dark
patch on the water far to leeward marking its swift rush. These
little diversions gave us no uneasiness, for it was an unknown
thing to make a sheet fast in one of our boats, so that a puff of
wind never caught us unprepared.
On that first day we seemed to explore such a variety of
stretches of water that one would hardly have expected there
could be any more discoveries to make in that direction.
Nevertheless, each day's cruise subsequently revealed to us some
new nook or other, some quiet haven or pretty passage between
islands that, until closely approached, looked like one. When, at
sunset, we returned to the ship, not having seen anything like a
spout, I felt like one who had been in a dream, the day's cruise
having surpassed all my previous experience. Yet it was but the
precursor of many such. Oftentimes I think of those halcyon
days, with a sigh of regret that they can never more be renewed
to me; but I rejoice to think that nothing can rob me of the
memory of them.
Much to the discomfort of the skipper, it was four days before a
solitary spout was seen, and then it was so nearly dark that
before the fish could be reached it was impossible to distinguish
her whereabouts. A careful bearing was taken of the spot, in the
hope that she might be lingering in the vicinity next morning,
and we hastened on board.
Before it was fairly light we lowered, and paddled as swiftly as
possible to the bay where we had last seen the spout overnight.
When near the spot we rested on our paddles a while, all hands
looking out with intense eagerness for the first sign of the
whale's appearance. There was a strange feeling among us of
unlawfulness and stealth, as of ambushed pirates waiting to
attack some unwary merchantman, or highwaymen waylaying a fat
alderman on a country road. We spoke in whispers, for the
morning was so still that a voice raised but ordinarily would
have reverberated among the rocks which almost overhung us,
multiplied indefinitely. A turtle rose ghost-like to the surface
at my side, lifting his queer head, and, surveying us with stony
gaze, vanished as silently as he came.
What a sigh! One looked at the other inquiringly, but the
repetition of that long expiration satisfied us all that it was
the placid breathing of the whale we sought somewhere close at
hand, The light grew rapidly better, and we strained our eyes in
every direction to discover the whereabouts of our friend, but,
for some minutes without result. There was a ripple just
audible, and away glided the mate's boat right for the near
shore. Following him with our eyes, we almost immediately beheld
a pale, shadowy column of white, shimmering against the dark mass
of the cliff not a quarter of a mile away. Dipping our paddles
with the utmost care, we made after the chief, almost holding our
breath. His harpooner rose, darted once, twice, then gave a yell
of triumph that ran re-echoing all around in a thousand eerie
vibrations, startling the drowsy PECA in myriads from where they
hung in inverted clusters on the trees above. But, for all the
notice taken by the whale, she might never have been touched.
Close nestled to her side was a youngling of not more, certainly,
than five days old, which sent up its baby-spout every now and
then about two feet into the air. One long, wing-like fin
embraced its small body, holding it close to the massive breast
of the tender mother, whose only care seemed to be to protect her
young, utterly regardless of her own pain and danger. If
sentiment were ever permitted to interfere with such operations
as ours, it might well have done so now; for while the calf
continually sought to escape from the enfolding fin, making all
sorts of puny struggles in the attempt, the mother scarcely moved
from her position, although streaming with blood from a score of
wounds. Once, indeed, as a deep-searching thrust entered her
very vitals, she raised her massy flukes high in air with an
apparently involuntary movement of agony; but even in that dire
throe she remembered the possible danger to her young one, and
laid the tremendous weapon as softly down upon the water as if it
were a feather fan.
So in the most perfect quiet, with scarcely a writhe, nor any
sign of flurry, she died, holding the calf to her side until her
last vital spark had fled, and left it to a swift despatch with a
single lance-thrust. No slaughter of a lamb ever looked more
like murder. Nor, when the vast bulk and strength of the animal
was considered, could a mightier example have been given of the
force and quality of maternal love.
The whole business was completed in half an hour from the first
sight of her, and by the mate's hand alone, none of the other
boats needing to use their gear. As soon as she was dead, a hole
was bored through the lips, into which a tow-line was secured,
the two long fins were lashed close into the sides of the animal
by an encircling line, the tips of the flukes were cut off, and
away we started for the ship. We had an eight-mile tow in the
blazing sun, which we accomplished in a little over eight, hours,
arriving at the vessel just before two p.m. News of our coming
had preceded us, and the whole native population appeared to be
afloat to make us welcome. The air rang again with their shouts
of rejoicing, for our catch represented to them a gorgeous feast,
such as they had not indulged in for many a day. The flesh of
the humpbacked whale is not at all bad, being but little inferior
to that of the porpoise; so that, as these people do not despise
even the coarse rank flesh of the cachalot, their enthusiasm was
natural. Their offers of help were rather embarrassing to us, as
we could find little room for any of them in the boats, and the
canoes only got in our way. Unable to assist us, they vented
their superfluous energies on the whale in the most astounding
aquatic antics imaginable--diving under it; climbing on to it;
pushing and rolling each other headlong over its broad back;
shrieking all the while with the frantic, uncontrollable laughter
of happy children freed from all restraint. Men, women, and
children all mixed in this wild, watery spree; and as to any of
them getting drowned, the idea was utterly absurd.
When we got it alongside, and prepared to cut in, all the chaps
were able to have a rest, there were so many eager volunteers to
man the windlass, not only willing but, under the able direction
of their compatriots belonging to our crew, quite equal to the
work of heaving in blubber. All their habitual indolence was
cast aside. Toiling like Trojans, they made the old windlass
rattle again as they spun the brakes up and down, every blanketpiece
being hailed with a fresh volley of eldritch shrieks,
enough to alarm a deaf and dumb asylum.
With such ample aid, it was, as may be supposed a brief task to
skin our prize, although the strange arrangement of the belly
blubber caused us to lift some disappointing lengths. This whale
has the blubber underneath the body lying in longitudinal
corrugations, which, when hauled off the carcass at right angles
to their direction, stretch out flat to four or five times their
normal area. Thus, when the cutting-blocks had reached their
highest limit, and the piece was severed from the body, the folds
flew together again leaving dangling aloft but a miserable square
of some four or five feet, instead of a fine "blanket" of blubber
twenty by five. Along the edges of these RUGAE, as also upon the
rim of the lower jaw, abundance of limpets and barnacles had
attached themselves, some of the former large as a horse's hoof,
and causing prodigious annoyance to the toiling carpenter, whose
duty it was to keep the spades ground. It was no unusual thing
for a spade to be handed in with two or three gaps in its edge
half an inch deep, where they had accidentally come across one of
those big pieces of flinty shell, undistinguishable from the grey
substance of the belly blubber.
But, in spite of these drawbacks, in less than ninety minutes the
last cut was reached, the vertebra severed, and away went the
great mass of meat, in tow of countless canoes, to an adjacent
point, where, in eager anticipation, fires were already blazing
for the coming cookery. An enormous number of natives had
gathered from far end near, late arrivals continually dropping in
from all points of the compass with breathless haste. No danger
of going short need have troubled them, for, large as were their
numbers, the supply was evidently fully equal to all demands.
All night long the feast proceeded, and, even when morning
dawned, busy figures were still discernible coming and going
between the reduced carcass and the fires, as if determined to
make an end of it before their operations ceased.
It will probably be inferred from the foregoing paragraph that we
were little troubled with visits from the natives next day; but
it would be doing them an injustice if I omitted to state that
our various "flems" put in an appearance as usual with their
daily offerings of fruit, vegetables, etc. They all presented a
somewhat jaded and haggard look, as of men who had dined not
wisely but too well, nor did the odour of stale whale-meat that
clung to them add to their attractions. repentance for excesses
or gluttony did not seem to trouble them, for they evidently
considered it would have been a sin not to take with both hands
the gifts the gods had so bountifully provided. Still, they did
not stay long, feeling, no doubt, sore need of a prolonged rest
after their late arduous exertions; so, after affectionate
farewells, they left us again to our greasy task of trying-out.
The cow proved exceedingly fat, making us, though by no means a
large specimen, fully fifty barrels of oil. The whalebone
(baleen) was so short as to be not worth the trouble of curing,
so, with the exception of such pieces as were useful to the
"scrimshoners" for ornamenting their nicknacks, it was not
preserved. On the evening of the third day the work was so far
finished that we were able to go ashore for clothes-washing,
which necessary process was accompanied with a good deal of fun
and hilarity. In the morning cruising was resumed again.
For a couple of days we met with no success, although we had a
very aggravating chase after some smart bulls we fell in with, to
our mutual astonishment, just as we rounded a point of the
outermost island. They were lazily sunning themselves close under
the lee of the cliffs, which at that point were steep-to, having
a depth of about twenty fathoms close alongside. A fresh breeze
was blowing, so we came round the point at a great pace, being
almost among them before they had time to escape. They went away
gaily along the land, not attempting to get seaward, we straining
every nerve to get alongside of them. Whether they were
tantalizing us or not, I cannot say, but certainly it looked like
it. In spite of their well-known speed, we were several times so
close in their wake that the harpooners loosed the tacks of the
jibs to get a clear shot; but as they did so the nimble monsters
shot ahead a length or two, leaving us just out of reach. It was
a fine chase while it lasted, though annoying; yet one could
hardly help feeling amused at the way they wallowed along--just
like a school of exaggerated porpoises. At last, after nearly
two hours of the fun, they seemed to have had enough of it, and
with one accord headed seaward at a greatly accelerated pace, as
who should say, "Well, s' long, boys; company's very pleasant and
all that, but we've got important business over at Fiji, and
can't stay fooling around here any longer." In a quarter of an
hour they were out of sight, leaving us disgusted and outclassed
pursuers sneaking back again to shelter, feeling very small. Not
that we could have had much hope of success under the
circumstances, knowing the peculiar habits of the humpback and
the almost impossibility of competing with him in the open sea;
but they had lured us on to forget all these things in the ardour
of the chase, and then exposed our folly.
Then ensued a week or two of uneventful cruising, broken only by
the capture of a couple of cows--one just after the fruitless
chase mentioned above, and one several days later. These events,
though interesting enough to us, were marked by no such deviation
from the ordinary course as to make them worthy of special
attention; nor do I think that the cold-blooded killing of a cowwhale,
who dies patiently endeavouring to protect her young, is a
subject that lends itself to eulogium.
However, just when the delightful days were beginning to pall
upon us, a real adventure befell us, which, had we been attending
strictly to business, we should not have encountered. For a
week previous we had been cruising constantly without ever seeing
a spout, except those belonging to whales out at sea, whither we
knew it was folly to follow them. We tried all sorts of games to
while away the time, which certainly did hang heavy, the most
popular of which was for the whole crew of the boat to strip,
and, getting overboard, be towed along at the ends of short
warps, while I sailed her. It was quite mythological--a sort of
rude reproduction of Neptune and his attendant Tritons. At last,
one afternoon as we were listlessly lolling (half asleep, except
the look-out man) across the thwarts, we suddenly came upon a
gorge between two cliffs that we must have passed before several
times unnoticed. At a certain angle it opened, disclosing a wide
sheet of water, extending a long distance ahead. I put the helm
up, and we ran through the passage, finding it about a boat's
length in width and several fathoms deep, though overhead the
cliffs nearly came together in places. Within, the scene was
very beautiful, but not more so than many similar ones we had
previously witnessed. Still, as the place was new to us, our
languor was temporarily dispelled, and we paddled along, taking
in every feature of the shores with keen eyes that let nothing
escape. After we had gone on in this placid manner for maybe an
hour, we suddenly came to a stupendous cliff--that is, for those
parts--rising almost sheer from the water for about a thousand
feet. Of itself it would not have arrested our attention, but at
its base was a semicircular opening, like the mouth of a small
tunnel. This looked alluring, so I headed the boat for it,
passing through a deep channel between two reefs which led
straight to the opening. There was ample room for us to enter,
as we had lowered the mast; but just as we were passing through,
a heave of the unnoticed swell lifted us unpleasantly near the
crown of this natural arch. Beneath us, at a great depth, the
bottom could be dimly discerned, the water being of the richest
blue conceivable, which the sun, striking down through, resolved
into some most marvellous colour-schemes in the path of its rays.
A delicious sense of coolness, after the fierce heat outside,
saluted us as we entered a vast hall, whose roof rose to a
minimum height of forty feet, but in places could not be seen at
all. A sort of diffused light, weak, but sufficient to reveal
the general contour of the place, existed, let in, I supposed,
through some unseen crevices in the roof or walls. At first, of
course, to our eyes fresh from the fierce glare outside, the
place seemed wrapped in impenetrable gloom, and we dared not stir
lest we should run into some hidden danger. Before many minutes,
however, the gloom lightened as our pupils enlarged, so that,
although the light was faint, we could find our way about with
ease. We spoke in low tones, for the echoes were so numerous and
resonant that even a whisper gave back from those massy walls in
a series of recurring hisses, as if a colony of snakes had been
We paddled on into the interior of this vast cave, finding
everywhere the walls rising sheer from the silent, dark waters,
not a ledge or a crevice where one might gain foothold. Indeed,
in some places there was a considerable overhang from above, as
if a great dome whose top was invisible sprang from some level
below the water. We pushed ahead until the tiny semicircle of
light through which we had entered was only faintly visible; and
then, finding there was nothing to be seen except what we were
already witnessing, unless we cared to go on into the thick
darkness, which extended apparently into the bowels of the
mountain, we turned and started to go back. Do what we would, we
could not venture to break the solemn hush that surrounded us as
if we were shut within the dome of some vast cathedral in the
twilight, So we paddled noiselessly along for the exit, till
suddenly an awful, inexplicable roar set all our hearts thumping
fit to break our bosoms. Really, the sensation was most painful,
especially as we had not the faintest idea whence the noise came
or what had produced it. Again it filled that immense cave with
its thunderous reverberations; but this time all the sting was
taken out of it, as we caught sight of its author. A goodly
bull-humpback had found his way in after us, and the sound of his
spout, exaggerated a thousand times in the confinement of that
mighty cavern, had frightened us all so that we nearly lost our
breath. So far, so good; but, unlike the old nigger, though we
were "doin' blame well," we did not "let blame well alone." The
next spout that intruder gave, he was right alongside of us.
This was too much for the semi-savage instincts of my gallant
harpooner, and before I had time to shout a caution he had
plunged his weapon deep into old Blowhard's broad back.
I should like to describe what followed, but, in the first place,
I hardly know; and, in the next, even had I been cool and
collected, my recollections would sound like the ravings of a
fevered dream. For of all the hideous uproars conceivable, that
was, I should think, about the worst. The big mammal seemed to
have gone frantic with the pain of his wound, the surprise of the
attack, and the hampering confinement in which he found himself.
His tremendous struggles caused such a commotion that our
position could only be compared to that of men shooting Niagara
in a cylinder at night. How we kept afloat, I do not know. Some
one had the gumption to cut the line, so that by the radiation of
the disturbance we presently found ourselves close to the wall,
and trying to hold the boat in to it with our finger-tips. Would
he never be quiet? we thought, as the thrashing, banging, and
splashing still went on with unfailing vigour. At last, in, I
suppose, one supreme effort to escape, he leaped clear of the
water like a salmon. There was a perceptible hush, during which
we shrank together like unfledged chickens on a frosty night;
then, Then in a never-to-be-forgotten crash that ought to have
brought down the massy roof, that mountainous carcass fell. The
consequent violent upheaval of the water should have smashed the
boat against the rocky walls, but that final catastrophe was
mercifully spared us. I suppose the rebound was sufficient to
keep us a safe distance off.
A perfect silence succeeded, during which we sat speechless,
awaiting a resumption of the clamour. At last Abner broke the
heavy silence by saying, "I doan' see the do'way any mo' at all,
sir." He was right. The tide had risen, and that half-moon of
light had disappeared, so that we were now prisoners for many
hours, it not being at all probable that we should be able to
find our way out during the night ebb. Well, we were not exactly
children, to be afraid of the dark, although there is
considerable difference between the velvety darkness of a dungeon
and the clear, fresh night of the open air. Still, as long as
that beggar of a whale would only keep quiet or leave the
premises, we should be fairly comfortable. We waited and waited
until an hour had passed, and then came to the conclusion that
our friend was either dead or gone out, as be gave no sign of his
That being settled, we anchored the boat, and lit pipes,
preparatory to passing as comfortable a night as might be under
the circumstances, the only thing troubling me being the anxiety
of the skipper on our behalf. Presently the blackness beneath
was lit up by a wide band of phosphoric light, shed in the wake
of no ordinary-sized fish, probably an immense shark. Another
and another followed in rapid succession, until the depths
beneath were all ablaze with brilliant foot-wide ribands of green
glare, dazzling to the eye and bewildering to the brain.
Occasionally, a gentle splash or ripple alongside, or a smart tap
on the bottom of the boat, warned us how thick the concourse was
that had gathered below. Until that weariness which no terror is
proof against set in, sleep was impossible, nor could we keep our
anxious gaze from that glowing inferno beneath, where one would
have thought all the population of Tartarus were holding high
revel. Mercifully, at last we sank into a fitful slumber, though
fully aware of the great danger of our position. One upward rush
of any of those ravening monsters, happening to strike the frail
shell of our boat, and a few fleeting seconds would have sufficed
for our obliteration as if we had never been.
But the terrible night passed away, and once more we saw the
tender, irridescent light stream into that abode of dread. As
the day strengthened, we were able to see what was going on
below, and a grim vision it presented. The water was literally
alive with sharks of enormous size, tearing with never ceasing
energy at the huge carcass of the whale lying on the bottom, who
had met his fate in a singular but not unheard-of way. At that
last titanic effort of his he had rushed downward with such
terrific force that, striking his head on the bottom, he had
broken his neck. I felt very grieved that we had lost the chance
of securing him; but it was perfectly certain that before we
could get help to raise him, all that would be left of his
skeleton would be quite valueless to us. So with such patience
as we could command we waited near the entrance until the
receding ebb made it possible for us to emerge once more into the
blessed light of day. I was horrified at the haggard, careworn
appearance of my crew, who had all, excepting the two Kanakas,
aged perceptibly during that night of torment. But we lost no
time in getting back to the ship, where I fully expected a severe
wigging for the scrape my luckless curiosity had led me into.
The captain, however, was very kind, expressing his pleasure at
seeing us all safe back again, although he warned me solemnly
against similar investigations in future. A hearty meal and a
good rest did wonders in removing the severe effects of our
adventure, so that by next morning we were all fit and ready for
the days work again.
It certainly seemed as if I was in for a regular series of
troubles. After cruising till nearly two p.m., we fell in with
the mate's boat, and were sailing quietly along side by side,
when we suddenly rounded a point and ran almost on top of a bullhumpback
that was basking in the beautiful sunshine. The mate's
harpooner, a wonderfully smart fellow, was not so startled as to
lose his chance, getting an iron well home before the animal
realized what had befallen him. We had a lovely fight, lasting
over an hour, in which all the marvellous agility with which this
whale is gifted was exerted to the full in order to make his
escape. But with the bottom not twenty fathoms away, we were
sure of him. With all his supple smartness, he had none of the
dogged savagery of the cachalot about him, nor did we feel any
occasion to beware of his rushes, rather courting them, so as to
finish the game as quickly as possible.
He was no sooner dead than we hurried to secure him, and had
actually succeeded in passing the tow-line through his lips,
when, in the trifling interval that passed while we were taking
the line aft to begin towing, he started to sink. Of course it
was, "let go all!" If you can only get the slightest way on a
whale of this kind, you are almost certain to be able to keep him
afloat, but once he begins to sink you cannot stop him. Down he
went, till full twenty fathoms beneath us he lay comfortably on
the reef, while we looked ruefully at one another. We had no
gear with us fit to raise him, and we were ten miles from the
ship; evening was at hand, so our prospects of doing anything
that night were faint.
However, the mate decided to start off for home at once, leaving
us there, but promising to send back a boat as speedily as
possible with provisions and gear for the morning. There was a
stiff breeze blowing, and he was soon out of sight; but we were
very uncomfortable. The boat, of course, rode like a duck, but we
were fully exposed to the open sea; and the mighty swell of the
Pacific, rolling in over those comparatively shallow grounds,
sometimes looked dangerously like breaking. Still, it was better
than the cave, and there was a good prospect of supper. Long
before we expected her, back came the boat, bringing bountiful
provision of yams, cold pork and fruit--a regular banquet to men
who were fasting since daylight. A square meal, a comforting
pipe, and the night's vigil, which had looked so formidable, no
longer troubled us, although, to tell the truth, we were heartily
glad when the dawn began to tint the east with pale emerald and
gold. We set to work at once, getting the huge carcass to the
surface without as much labour as I had anticipated. Of course
all hands came to the rescue.
But, alas for the fruit of our labours! Those hungry monsters
had collected in thousands, and, to judge from what we were able
to see of the body, they had reduced its value alarmingly.
However, we commenced towing, and were getting along fairly well,
when a long spur of reef to leeward of us, over which the sea was
breaking frightfully, seemed to be stretching farther out to
intercept us before we could get into smooth water. The fact soon
faced us that we were in the remorseless grip of a current that
set right over that reef, and against its steady stream all our
efforts were the merest triviality. Still, we hung on, struggling
desperately to keep what we had earned, until so close to the
roaring, foaming line of broken water, that one wave breaking
farther out than the rest very nearly swamped us all. One blow
of an axe, one twirl of the steer-oars, and with all the force we
could muster we were pulling away from the very jaws of death,
leaving our whale to the hungry crowds, who would make short work
of him. Downcast indeed, at our bad luck, we returned on board,
disappointing the skipper very much with our report. Like the
true gentleman he was, though, recognizing that we had done our
best, he did not add to the trouble by cursing us all for a set
of useless trash, as his predecessor would have done; on the
contrary, a few minutes after the receipt of the bad news his
face was as bright as ever, his laugh as hearty as if there was
no such thing as a misfortune in the world.
And now I must come to what has been on my mind so long--a
tragedy that, in spite of all that had gone before, and of what
came after, is the most indelible of all the memories which cling
round me of that eventful time. Abner Cushing, the Vermonter had
declared at different times that he should never see his native
Green Mountain again. Since the change in our commander,
however, he had been another man--always silent and reserved, but
brighter, happier, and with a manner so improved as to make it
hard to recognize him for the same awkward, ungainly slab of a
fellow that had bungled everything he put his hand to. Taking
stock of him quietly during our day-long leisurely cruises in the
boat, I often wondered whether his mind still kept its gloomy
forebodings, and brooded over his tragical life-history. I never
dared to speak to him on the subject, for fear of arousing what I
hoped was growing too faint for remembrance. But at times I saw
him in the moonlit evenings sitting on the rail alone,
steadfastly gazing down into the star-besprent waters beneath
him, as if coveting their unruffled peace.
Two-thirds of our stay in the islands had passed away, when, for
a wonder, the captain took it into his head to go up to the chief
village one morning. So he retained me on board, while the other
three boats left for the day's cruise as usual. One of the
mate's crew was sick, and to replace him he took Abner out of my
boat. Away they went; and shortly after breakfast-time I
lowered, received the captain on board, and we started for the
capital. Upon our arrival there we interviewed the chief, a
stout, pleasant-looking man of about fifty, who was evidently
held in great respect by the natives, and had a chat with the
white Wesleyan missionary in charge of the station. About two
p.m., after the captain's business was over, we were returning
under sail, when we suddenly caught sight of two of our boats
heading in towards one of the islands. We helped her with the
paddles to get up to them, seeing as we neared them the two long
fins of a whale close ahead of one of them. As we gazed
breathlessly at the exciting scene, we saw the boat rush in
between the two flippers, the harpooner at the same time darting
an iron straight down. There was a whirl in the waters, and
quick as thought the vast flukes of the whale rose in the air,
recurving with a sidelong sweep as of some gigantic scythe. The
blow shore off the bow of the attacking boat as if it had been an
At the same moment the mate stooped, picked up the tow-line from
its turn round the logger-head, and threw it forward from him.
He must have unconsciously given a twist to his hand, for the
line fell in a kink round Abner's neck just as the whale went
down with a rush. Struggling, clutching at the fatal noose, the
hapless man went flying out through the incoming sea, and in one
second was lost to sight for ever. Too late, the harpooner cut
the line which attached the wreck to the retreating animal,
leaving the boat free, but gunwale under. We instantly hauled
alongside of the wreck and transferred her crew, all dazed and
horror-stricken at the awful death of their late comrade.
I saw the tears trickle down the rugged, mahogany-coloured face
of the captain, and honoured him for it, but there was little
time to waste in vain regrets. It was necessary to save the
boat, if possible, as we were getting short of boat-repairing
material; certainly we should not have been able to build a new
one. So, drawing the two sound boats together, one on either
side of the wreck, we placed the heavy steering oars across them
from side to side. We then lifted the battered fore part upon
the first oar, and with a big effort actually succeeded in
lifting the whole of the boat out of water upon this primitive
pontoon. Then, taking the jib, we "frapped" it round the opening
where the bows had been, lashing it securely in that position.
Several hands were told off to jump into her stern on the word,
and all being ready we launched her again. The weight of the
chaps in her stern-sheets cocked her bows right out of water, and
in that position we towed her back to the ship, arriving safely
before dusk.
That evening we held a burial service, at which hundreds of
natives attended with a solemnity of demeanour and expressions of
sorrow that would not have been out of place at the most
elaborate funeral in England or America. It was a memorable
scene. The big cressets were lighted, shedding their wild glare
over the dark sea, and outlining the spars against the moonless
sky with startling effect. When we had finished the beautiful
service, the natives, as if swayed by an irresistible impulse,
broke into the splendid tune St. Ann's; and I afterwards learned
that the words they sang were Dr. Watts' unsurpassable rendering
of Moses' pean of praise, "O God, our help in ages past." No
elaborate ceremonial in towering cathedral could begin to compare
with the massive simplicity of poor Abner's funeral honours, the
stately hills for many miles reiterating the sweet sounds, and
carrying them to the furthest confines of the group.
Next day was Sunday, and, in pursuance of a promise given some
time before, I went ashore to my "flem's" to dinner, he being
confined to the house with a hurt leg. It was not by any means a
festive gathering, for he was more than commonly taciturn; his
daughter Irene, a buxom lassie of fourteen, who waited on us,
appeared to be dumb; and his wife was "in the straw." These
trifling drawbacks, however, in nowise detracted from the
hospitality offered. The dining-room was a large apartment
furnished with leaves, the uprights of cocoa-nut tree, the walls
and roof of pandanus leaf. Beneath the heaps of leaves, fresh
and sweet-scented, was the earth. The inner apartment, or
chamber of state, had a flooring of highly-polished planks, and
contained, I presume, the household gods; but as it was in
possession of my host's secluded spouse, I did not enter.
A couch upon a pile of leaves was hastily arranged, upon which I
was hidden to seat myself, while a freshly cut cocoa-nut of
enormous size was handed to me, the soft top sliced off so that I
might drink its deliciously cool contents. These nuts must grow
elsewhere, but I have never before or since seen any so large.
When green--that is, before the meat has hardened into
indigestible matter--they contain from three pints to two quarts
of liquid, at once nourishing, refreshing, and palatable. The
natives appeared to drink nothing else, and I never saw a drop of
fresh water ashore during our stay.
Taking a huge knife from some hiding-place, Irene handed it to
her father, who at once commenced to dig in the ground by his
side, while I looked on wondering and amused. Presently he
fished up a bundle of leaves bound with a vine-tendril, which he
laid carefully aside. More digging brought to light a fine yam
about three pounds in weight, which, after carefully wiping the
knife on some leaves, he proceeded to peel. It was immediately
evident that the yam was perfectly cooked, for it steamed as he
removed the skin, revealing the inside as white as milk. Some
large, round leaves were laid in front of me, and the yam placed
upon them. Then mine host turned his attention to the bundle
first unearthed, which concealed a chicken, so perfectly done
that, although the bones drew out of the meat as if it had been
jelly, it was full of juice and flavour; and except for a slight
foreign twang, referrible, doubtless, to the leaves in which it
had been enwrapped, I do not think it could have been possible to
cook anything in a better way, or one more calculated to retain
all the natural juices of the meat. The fowl was laid beside the
yam, another nut broached; then, handing me the big knife, my
"flem" bade me welcome, informing me that I saw my dinner. As
nothing would induce him to join me, the idea being contrary to
his notions of respect due to a guest, I was fain to fall to, and
an excellent meal I made. For dessert, a basketful of such
oranges freshly plucked as cannot be tasted under any other
conditions, and crimson bananas, which upon being peeled, looked
like curved truncheons of golden jelly, after tasting which I
refused to touch anything else.
A corn-cob cigarette closed the banquet, After expressing my
thanks, I noticed that the pain of his leg was giving my friend
considerable uneasiness, which he was stolidly enduring upon my
account rather than appear discourteously anxious to get rid of
me. So, with the excuse that I must needs be going, having
another appointment, I left the good fellow and strolled around
to the chapel, where I sat enjoying the sight of those simpleminded
Kanakas at their devotions till it was time to return on
board. Before closing this chapter, I would like, for the
benefit of such of my readers who have not heard yet of Kanaka
cookery, to say that it is simplicity itself. A hole is scooped
in the earth, in which a fire is made (of wood), and kept burning
until a fair-sized heap of glowing charcoal remains. Pebbles are
then thrown in until the charcoal is covered. Whatever is to be
cooked is enveloped in leaves, placed upon the pebbles, and more
leaves heaped upon it. The earth is then thrown back into the
cavity, and well stamped down. A long time is, of course, needed
for the viands to get cooked through; but so subtle is the mode
that overdoing anything is almost an impossibility. A couple of
days may pass from the time of "putting down" the joint, yet when
it is dug up it will be smoking hot, retaining all its juices,
tender as jelly, but, withal, as full of flavour as it is
possible for cooked meat to be. No matter how large the joint
is, or how tough the meat, this gentle suasion will render it
succulent and tasty; and no form of civilized cookery can in the
least compare with it.
Taking it all round, our visit to the Friendly Islands had not
been particularly fortunate up till the time of which I spoke at
the conclusion of the last chapter. Two-thirds of the period
during which the season was supposed to last had expired, but our
catch had not amounted to more than two hundred and fifty barrels
of oil. Whales had been undoubtedly scarce, for our ill-success
on tackling bulls was not at all in consequence of our
clumsiness, these agile animals being always a handful, but due
to the lack of cows, which drove us to take whatever we could
get, which, as has been noted, was sometimes a severe drubbing.
Energy and watchfulness had been manifested in a marked degree by
everybody, and when the news circulated that our stay was drawing
to a close, there was, if anything, an increase of zeal in the
hope that we might yet make a favourable season.
But none of these valuable qualities exhibited by us could make
up for the lack of "fish" which was lamentably evident. It was
not easy to understand why, because these islands were noted as a
breeding-place for the humpbacked whale. Yet for years they had
not been fished, so that a plausible explanation of the paucity
of their numbers as a consequence of much harassing could not be
reasonably offered. Still, after centuries of whale-fishing,
little is known of the real habits of whales, Where there is
abundance of "feed," in the case of MYSTICETA it may be
reasonably inferred that whales may be found in proportionately
greater numbers. With regard to the wider-spread classes of the
great marine mammalia, beyond the fact, ascertained from
continued observation, that certain parts of the ocean are more
favoured by them than others, there is absolutely no data to go
upon as to why at times they seem to desert their usual haunts
and scatter themselves far and wide.
The case of the cachalot is still more difficult. All the
BALAENAE seem to be compelled, by laws which we can only guess
at, to frequent the vicinity of land possessing shallows at their
breeding times, so that they may with more or less certainty be
looked for in such places at the seasons which have been
accurately fixed. They may be driven to seek other haunts, as
was undoubtedly the case at Vau Vau in a great measure, by some
causes unknown, but to land they must come at those times. The
sperm whale, however, needs no shelter at such periods, or, at
any rate, does not avail herself of any. They may often be seen
in the vicinity of land where the water is deep close to, but
seldom with calves. Schools of cows with recently born young
gambolling about them are met with at immense distances from
land, showing no disposition to seek shelter either. For my
part, I firmly believe that the cachalot is so terrible a foe,
that the great sharks who hover round a gravid cow of the
BALAENAE, driving her in terror to some shallow spot where she
may hope to protect her young, never dare to approach a sperm cow
on kidnapping errands, or any other if they can help it, until
their unerring guides inform them that life is extinct. When a
sperm whale is in health, nothing that inhabits the sea has any
chance with him; neither does he scruple to carry the war into
the enemy's country, since all is fish that comes to his net, and
a shark fifteen feet in length has been found in the stomach of a
The only exception he seems to make is in the case of man.
Instances have several--nay, many times occurred where men have
been slain by the jaws of a cachalot crushing the boat in which
they were; but their death was of course incidental to the
destruction of the boat. Never, as far as I have been able to
ascertain, has a cachalot attacked a man swimming or clinging to
a piece of wreckage, although such opportunities occur
innumerably. I have in another place told the story of how I
once saw a combat between a bull-cachalot and so powerful a
combination of enemies that even one knowing the fighting
qualities of the sperm whale would have hesitated to back him to
win, but the yarn will bear repetition.
Two "killers" and a sword-fish, all of the largest size.
Description of these warriors is superfluous, since they are so
well known to museums and natural histories; but unless one has
witnessed the charge of a XIPHIAS, he cannot realize what a
fearful foe it is. Still, as a practice, these creatures leave
the cachalot respectfully alone, knowing instinctively that he is
not their game. Upon this memorable occasion, however I guess
the two ORCAS were starving, and they had organized a sort of
forlorn hope with the XIPHIAS as an auxiliary who might be relied
upon to ensure success if it could be done. Anyhow, the
syndicate led off with their main force first; for while the two
killers hung on the cachalot's flanks, diverting his attention,
the sword-fish, a giant some sixteen feet long, launched himself
at the most vulnerable part of the whale, for all the world like
a Whitehead torpedo. The wary eye of the whale saw the long,
dark mass coming, and, like a practised pugilist, coolly swerved,
taking for the nonce no notice of those worrying wolves astern.
The shock came; but instead of the sword penetrating three, or
maybe four feet just where the neck (if a whale has any neck)
encloses the huge heart, it met the mighty, impenetrable mass of
the head, solid as a block of thirty tons of india-rubber.
So the blow glanced, revealing a white streak running diagonally
across the eye, while the great XIPHIAS rolled helplessly over
the top of that black bastion. With a motion so rapid that the
eye could scarcely follow it, the whale turned, settling withal,
and, catching the momentarily motionless aggressor in the lethal
sweep of those awful shears, crunched him in two halves, which
writhing sections he swallowed SERIATIM. And the allied forces
aft--what of them? Well, they had been rash--they fully realized
that fact, and would have fled, but one certainly found that he
had lingered on the scene too long. The thoroughly-roused
leviathan, with a reversal of his huge bulk that made the sea
boil like a pot, brandished his tail aloft and brought it down
upon the doomed "killer," making him at once the "killed." He
was crushed like a shrimp under one's heel.
The survivor fled--never faster--for an avalanche of living,
furious flesh was behind him, and coming with enormous leaps half
out of the sea every time. Thus they disappeared, but I have no
doubts as to the issue. Of one thing I am certain--that, if any
of the trio survived, they never afterwards attempted to rush a
Strange to say, the sperm whale does not appear to be a fond
mother. At the advent of danger she often deserts her offspring
and in such cases it is hardly conceivable that she ever finds it
again. It is true that she is not gifted with such long "arms"
as the BALAENAE wherewith to cuddle her young one to her
capacions bosom while making tracks from her enemies; nor is she
much "on the fight," not being so liberally furnished with jaw as
the fierce and much larger bull--for this is the only species of
whale in which there exists a great disproportion between the
sexes in point of size. Such difference as may obtain between
the MYSTICETA is slightly in favour of the female. I never heard
of a cow-cachalot yielding more than fifty barrels of oil; but I
have both heard of, and seen, bulls carrying one hundred and
fifty. One individual taken by us down south was seventy feet
long, and furnished us with more than the latter amount; but I
shall come to him by-and-by. Just one more point before leaving
this (to me) fascinating subject for the present.
To any one studying the peculiar configuration of a cachalot's
mouth, it would appear a difficult problem how the calf could
suck. Certainly it puzzled me more than a little. But, when on
the "line" grounds we got among a number of cows one calm day, I
saw a little fellow about fifteen feet long, apparently only a
few days old, in the very act. The mother lay on one side, with
the breast nearly at the waters edge; while the calf, lying
parallel to its parent, with its head in the same direction, held
the teat sideways in the angle of its jaw, with its snout
protruding from the surface. Although we caught several cowhumpbacks
with newly born calves, I never had an opportunity of
seeing THEM suck.
Gradually our pleasant days at Vau Vau drew to a close. So quiet
and idyllic had the life been, so full of simple joys, that most
of us, if not all, felt a pang at the thought of our imminent
departure from the beautiful place. Profitable, in a pecuniary
sense, the season had certainly failed to be, but that was the
merest trifle compared with the real happiness and peace enjoyed
during our stay. Even the terrible tragedy which had taken one
of our fellows from us could not spoil the actual enjoyment of
our visit, sad and touching as the event undoubtedly was. There
was always, too, a sufficiently arduous routine of necessary
duties to perform, preventing us from degenerating into mere
lotus eaters in that delicious afternoon-land. Nor even to me,
friendless nomad as I was, did the thought ever occur, "I will
return no more."
But these lovely days spent in softly gliding over the calm,
azure depths, bathed in golden sunlight, gazing dreamily down at
the indescribable beauties of the living reefs, feasting daintily
on abundance of never-cloying fruit, amid scenes of delight
hardly to be imagined by the cramped mind of the town dweller;
islands, air, and sea all shimmering in an enchanted haze, and
silence scarcely broken by the tender ripple of the gently-parted
waters before the boat's steady keel--though these joys have all
been lost to me, and I in "populous city pent" endure the fading
years, I would not barter the memory of them for more than I can
say, so sweet it is to me. And, then, our relations with the
natives had been so perfectly amicable, so free from anything to
regret. Perhaps this simple statement will raise a cynical smile
upon the lips of those who know Tahati, the New Hebrides, and
kindred spots with all their savage, bestial orgies of alternate
unbridled lust and unnamable cruelty. Let it be so. For my
part, I rejoice that I have no tale of weeks of drunkenness, of
brutal rape, treacherous murder, and almost unthinkable torture
to tell.
For of such is the paradise of the beach-comber, and the hell of
the clean man. Not that I have been able to escape it
altogether. When I say that I once shipped, unwittingly, as
sailing-master of a little white schooner in Noumea, bound to
Apia, finding when too late that she was a "blackbirder"--"labour
vessel," the wise it call--nothing more will be needed to
convince the initiated that I have moved in the "nine circles" of
Some time before the day fixed for our departure, we were busy
storing the gifts so liberally showered upon us by our eager
friends. Hundreds of bunches of bananas, many thousands of
oranges, yams, taro, chillies, fowls, and pigs were accumulated,
until the ship looked like a huge market-boat. But we could not
persuade any of the natives to ship with us to replace those
whoso contract was now expiring. Samuela and Polly were, after
much difficulty, prevailed upon by me to go with us to New
Zealand, much to my gratification; but still we were woefully
short-banded, At last, seeing that there was no help for it, the
skipper decided to run over to Futuna, or Horn Island, where he
felt certain of obtaining recruits without any trouble. He did
so most unwillingly, as may well be believed, for the newcomers
would need much training, while our present Kanaka auxiliaries
were the smartest men in the ship.
The slop-chest was largely drawn upon, to the credit of the crew,
who wished in some tangible way to show their appreciation of the
unremitting kindness shown them by their dusky friends. Not a
whisper had been uttered by any native as to desire of
remuneration for what he had given. If they expected a return,
they certainly exercised great control over themselves in keeping
their wishes quiet. But when they received the clothing, all
utterly unsuited to their requirements as it was, their beaming
faces eloquently proclaimed the reality of their joy. Heavy
woollen shirts, thick cloth trousers and jackets, knitted socks;
but acceptable beyond all was a pilot-suit--warm enough for the
Channel in winter. Happy above all power of expression was he
who secured it. With an eared cloth cap and a pair of half
boots, to complete his preposterous rig, no Bond Street exquisite
could feel more calmly conscious of being a well-dressed man than
he. From henceforth he would be the observed of all observers at
chapel on Sunday, exciting worldly desires and aspirations among
his cooler but coveting fellow-worshippers.
The ladies fared very badly, until the skipper, with a twinkling
eye, announced that he had "dug up" some rolls of "cloth"
(calico), which he was prepared to supply us with at reasonable
rates. Being of rather pretty pattern, it went off like hot
pies, and as the "fathoms" of gaudy, flimsy material were
distributed to the delighted fafines, their shrill cries of
gratitude were almost deafening.
Inexorable time brought round the morning of our departure.
Willing hands lifted our anchor, and hoisted the sails, so that
we had nothing to do but look on. A scarcely perceptible breeze,
stealing softly over the tree-tops, filled our upper canvas,
sparing us the labour of towing her out of the little bay where
we had lain so long, and gradually wafted us away from its lovely
shores, amid the fast-flowing tears of the great crowd. With
multitudinous cries of "Ofa, al-ofa, papalang" ringing in our
ears ("Good-bye; good-bye, white man"), we rounded the point,
and, with increasing pace, bore away through the outlying islands
for the open sea. There was a strong trade blowing, making the
old barky caper like a dancing-master, which long unfamiliar
motion almost disagreed with some of us, after our long quiet.
Under its hastening influence we made such good time that before
dinner Vau Vau had faded into nothingness, mingling like the
clouds with the soft haze on the horizon, from henceforth only a
We were not a very cheerful crowd that night, most of us being
busy with his own reflections. I must confess that I felt far
greater sorrow at leaving Vau Vau than ever I did at leaving
England; because by the time I was able to secure a berth, I have
usually drank pretty deep of the bitter cup of the "outward
bounder," than whom there is no more forlorn, miserable creature
on earth. No one but the much abused boarding-master will have
anything to do with him, and that worthy is generally careful to
let him know that he is but a hanger-on, a dependant on
sufferance for a meal, and that his presence on shore is an
outrage. As for the sailors' homes, I have hardly patience to
speak of them. I know the sailor is usually a big baby that
wants protecting against himself, and that once within the four
walls of the institution he is safe; but right there commendation
must end. Why are good folks ashore systematically misled into
the belief that the sailor is an object of charity, and that it
is necessary to subscribe continually and liberally to provide
him with food and shelter when ashore? Most of the contributors
would be surprised to know that the cost of board and lodging at
the "home" is precisely the same as it is outside, and much
higher than a landsman of the same grade can live for in better
style. With the exception of the sleeping accommodation, most
men prefer the boarding-house, where, if they preserve the same
commercial status which is a SINE QUA NON at the "home," they are
treated like gentlemen; but in what follows lies the essential
difference, and the reason for this outburst of mine, smothered
in silence for years. An "outward bounder"--that is, a man whose
money is exhausted and who is living upon the credit; of his
prospective advance of pay--is unknown at the "home." No matter
what the condition of things is in the shipping world; though the
man may have fought with energy to get his discharge accepted
among the crowd at the "chain-locker;" though he be footsore and
weary with "looking for a ship," when his money is done, out into
the street he must go, if haply he may find a speculative
boarding-master to receive him. This act, although most unlikely
in appearance, is often performed; and though the boardingmaster,
of course, expects to recoup himself out of the man's
advance note, it is none the less as merciful as the action of
the "home" authorities is merciless. Of course a man may go to
the "straw house," or, as it is grandiloquently termed, the
"destitute seaman's asylum," where for a season he will be fed on
the refuse from the "home," and sheltered from the weather. But
the ungrateful rascals do not like the "straw house," and use
very bad language about it.
The galling thing about the whole affair is that the "sailors'
home" figures in certain official publications as a charity,
which must be partially supported by outside contributions. It
may be a charitable institution, but it certainly is not so to
the sailor, who pays fully for everything he receives. The
charity is bestowed upon a far different class of people to
merchant Jack. Let it be granted that a man is sober and
provident, always getting a ship before his money is all gone, he
will probably be well content at the home, although very few
seamen like to be reminded ashore of their sea routine, as the
manner of the home is. If the institution does not pay a
handsome dividend, with its clothing shops and refreshment bars,
as well as the boarding-house lousiness on such a large scale,
only one inference can be fairly drawn--there must be something
radically wrong with the management.
After this burst of temper, perhaps I had better get back to the
subject in hand. It was, I suppose, in the usual contrary nature
of things that, while we were all in this nearly helpless
condition, one evening just before sunset, along comes a sperm
whale. Now, the commonest prudence would have suggested letting
him severely alone, since we were not only short-handed, but
several of our crew were completely crippled by large boils; but
it would have been an unprecedented thing to do while there was
any room left in the hold. Consequently we mustered the halt and
the lame, and manned two boats--all we could do--leaving the
almost useless cripples to handle the ship. Not to displace the
rightful harpooner, I took an oar in one of them, headed by the
At first my hopes were high that we should not succeed in
reaching the victim before dark, but I was grievously
disappointed in this. Just as the whale was curving himself to
sound, we got fairly close, and the harpooner made a "pitch-pole"
dart; that is, he hurled his weapon into the air, where it
described a fine curve, and fell point downward on the animal's
back just as he was disappearing. He stopped his descent
immediately, and turned savagely to see what had struck him so
unexpectedly. At that moment the sun went down.
After the first few minutes' "kick-up," he settled down for a
steady run, but not before the mate got good and fast to him
likewise. Away we went at a rare rate into the gathering gloom
of the fast-coming night. Now, had it been about the time of
full moon or thereabouts, we should doubtless have been able, by
the flood of molten light she sends down in those latitudes, to
give a good account of our enemy; but alas for us, it was not.
The sky overhead was a deep blue-black, with steely sparkles of
starlight scattered all over it, only serving to accentuate the
darkness. After a short time our whale became totally invisible,
except for the phosphoric glare of the water all around him as he
steadily ploughed his way along. There was a good breeze
blowing, which soon caused us all to be drenched with the spray,
rendering the general effect of things cold as well as cheerless.
Needless to say, we strove with all our might to get alongside of
him, so that an end might be put to so unpleasant a state of
affairs; but in our crippled condition it was not at all easy to
do so.
We persevered, however, and at last managed to get near enough
for the skipper to hurl a lance into the brightness of which the
whale formed the centre. It must have touched him, for he gave a
bound forward and disappeared. We suddenly came to a standstill,
but in a moment were whirled round as if on a pivot, and away we
went in the opposite direction. He had turned a complete
somersault in the water beneath us, giving us a "grue" as we
reflected what would have happened had he then chosen to come
bounding to the surface. This manoeuvre seemed to please him
mightily, for he ran at top speed several minutes, and then
repeated it. This time he was nearly successful in doing us some
real harm, for it was now so dark that we could hardly see the
other boat's form as she towed along parallel to us about three
or four lengths away. The two boats swung round in a wide
circle, rushing back at each other out of the surrounding
darkness as if bent on mutual destruction. Only by the smartest
manipulation was a collision avoided, which, as each boat's bows
bristled with lances and harpoons, would have been a serious
matter for some of us. However, the whale did not have it all
his own way, for the skipper, having charged his bomb-gun,
patiently laid for him, and fired. It was rather a long shot,
but it reached him, as we afterwards ascertained, making an
ugly wound in the small near his tail.
Its effect upon him was startling and immediate. He rushed off at
so furious a rate dead to windward that for a great while we had
all our work cut out to keep her free by baling. The sea had
risen a little, and as we leapt from one wave to another the
spray flew over us in an almost continuous cloud. Clearly our
situation was a parlous one. We could not get near him; we were
becoming dangerously enfeebled, and he appeared to be gaining
strength instead of losing it. Besides all this, none of us
could have the least idea of how the ship now bore from us, our
only comfort being that, by observation of the Cross, we were
not making a direct course, but travelling on the circumference
of an immense circle. Whatever damage we had done to him so far
was evidently quite superficial, for, accustomed as we were to
tremendous displays of vigour on the part of these creatures,
this specimen fairly surprised us.
The time could only be guessed at; but, judging from our
feelings, it might have been two or three nights long. Still, to
all things an end, so in the midst of our dogged endurance of all
this misery we felt the pace give, and took heart of grace
immediately. Calling up all our reserves, we hauled up on to
him, regardless of pain or weariness. The skipper and mate lost
no opportunities of lancing, once they were alongside, but worked
like heroes, until a final plunging of the fast-dying leviathan
warned us to retreat. Up he went out of the glittering foam into
the upper darkness, while we held our breath at the unique sight
of a whale breaching at night. But when he fell again the effect
was marvellous. Green columns of water arose on either side of
the descending mass as if from the bowels of the deep, while
their ghostly glare lit up the encircling gloom with a strange,
weird radiance, which reflected in our anxious faces, made us
look like an expedition from the FLYING DUTCHMAN. A short spell
of gradually quieting struggle succeeded as the great beast
succumbed, until all was still again, except the strange, low
surge made by the waves as they broke over the bank of flesh
passively obstructing their free sweep.
While the final touch was being given to our task--i.e. the
hole-boring through the tail-fin--all hands lay around in various
picturesque attitudes, enjoying a refreshing smoke, care
forgetting. While thus pleasantly employed, sudden death, like a
bolt from the blue, leapt into our midst in a terrible form. The
skipper was labouring hard at his task of cutting the hole for
the tow-line, when without warning the great fin swung back as if
suddenly released from tremendous tension. Happily for us, the
force of the blow was broken by its direction, as it struck the
water before reaching the boat's side, but the upper lobe hurled
the boat-spade from the captain's hands back into our midst,
where it struck the tub oarsman, splitting his head in two
halves. The horror of the tragedy, the enveloping darkness, the
inexplicable revivifying of the monster, which we could not have
doubted to be dead, all combined to stupefy and paralyze us for
the time. Not a sound was heard in our boat, though the yells of
inquiry from our companion craft arose in increasing volume. It
was but a brief accession of energy, only lasting two or three
minutes, when the whale collapsed finally. Having recovered from
our surprise, we took no further chances with so dangerous an
opponent, but bored him as full of holes as a colander.
Mournful and miserable were the remaining hours of our vigil. We
sat around poor Miguel's corpse with unutterable feelings,
recalling all the tragical events of the voyage, until we reached
the nadir of despondency. With the rosy light of morning came
more cheerful feelings, heightened by the close proximity of the
ship, from which it is probable we had never been more than ten
miles distant during the whole night. She had sighted us with
the first light, and made all sail down to us, all hands much
relieved at our safety. We were so sorely exhausted that we
could hardly climb on board; and how we hoisted the boats I
hardly know. The whale was secured by the efforts of the
cripples we had left on board, while we wayfarers, after a good
meal, were allowed four hours' sound, sweet sleep.
When we returned to our duties, the first thing that awaited us
was the burial of the poor body. Very reverently were the last
sad offices performed, the flag hoisted half-mast, the bell
solemnly tolled. Then we gathered at the gangway while the
eternal words of hope and consolation were falteringly read, and
with a sudden plunge the long, straight parcel slid off the hatch
into the vast tomb ever ready for the dead sailor.
Our dead out of sight, work claimed all our attention and energy,
wiping with its benificent influence all gloomy musings over the
inevitable, and replacing them with the pressing needs of life.
The whale was not a large one, but peculiar to look at. Like the
specimen that fought so fiercely with us in the Indian Ocean, its
jaw was twisted round in a sort of hook, the part that curved
being so thickly covered with long barnacles as to give the
monster a most eerie look. One of the Portuguese expressed his
decided opinion that we had caught Davy Jones himself, and that,
in consequence, we should have no more accidents. It was
impossible not to sympathize with the conceit, for of all the
queer-looking monstrosities ever seen, this latest acquisition of
ours would have taken high honours. Such malformations of the
lower mandible of the cachalot have often been met with, and
variously explained; but the most plausible opinion seems to be
that they have been acquired when the animal is very young and
its bones not yet indurated, since it is impossible to believe
that an adult could suffer such an accident without the broken
jaw drooping instead of being turned on one side.
The yield of oil was distressingly scanty, the whale being what
is technically known as a "dry skin." The blubber was so hard
and tough that we could hardly cut it up for boiling, and
altogether it was one of the most disappointing affairs we had
yet dealt with. This poorness of blubber was, to my mind,
undoubtedly due to the difficulty the animal must have had in
obtaining food with his disabling defect of jaw. Whatever it
was, we were heartily glad to see the last of the beast,
fervently hoping we should never meet with another like him.
During the progress of these melancholy operations we had drifted
a considerable distance out of our course, no attention being
paid, as usual, to the direction of our drift until the greasy
work was done. Once the mess was cleared away, we hauled up
again for our objective--Futuna--which, as it was but a few
hours' sail distant, we hoped to make the next day.
Sure enough, in accordance with our expectations, break of day
revealed the twin masses of Futuna ahead, some ten or fifteen
miles away. With the fine, steady breeze blowing, by breakfasttime
we were off the entrance to a pretty bight, where sail was
shortened and the ship hove-to. Captain Count did not intend to
anchor, for reasons of his own, he being assured that there was
no need to do so. Nor was there. Although the distance from the
beach was considerable, we could see numbers of canoes putting
off, and soon they began to arrive. Now, some of the South Sea
Islands are famous for the elegance and seaworthiness of their
canoes; nearly all of them have a distinctly definite style of
canoe-building; but here at Futuna was a bewildering collection
of almost every type of canoe in the wide world. Dugouts, with
outriggers on one side, on both sides, with none at all; canoes
built like boats, like prams, like irregular egg-boxes, many
looking like the first boyish attempt to knock something together
that would float; and--not to unduly prolong the list by
attempted classification of these unclassed craft--CORACLES.
Yes; in that lonely Pacific island, among that motley crowd of
floating nondescripts, were specimens of the ancient coracle of
our own islands, constructed in exactly the same way; that is, of
wicker-work, covered with some waterproof substance, whether skin
or tarpaulin. But the ingenious Kanaka, not content with his
coracles, had gone one better, and copied them in dugouts of
solid timber. The resultant vessel was a sort of cross between a
butcher's tray and a wash-basin--
"A thing beyond
Conception: such a wretched wherry,
Perhaps ne'er ventured on a pond,
Or crossed a ferry."
The proud possessors of the coracles, both wicker and wood, must
have been poor indeed, for they did not even own a paddle,
propelling their basins through the water with their hands. It
may be imagined what a pace they put on! At a little distance
they were very puzzling, looking more like a water-beetle grown
fat and lazy than aught else.
And so, in everything floatable, the whole male population of
that part of the coast came to visit us. We were speedily the
centre of a great crowd of canoes, some of which were continually
capsizing and spilling their occupants, who took no more notice
of such incidents than one would of a sneeze. Underneath a
canoe, or on top, made but little difference to these amphibious
creatures. They brought nothing with them to trade; in fact, few
of their vessels were capable of carrying anything that could not
swim and take care of itself. As they came on board, each crossed
himself more or less devoutly, revealing the teaching of a Roman
Catholic mission; and as they called to one another, it was not
hard to recognize, even in their native garb, such names as
Erreneo (Irenaeus), Al'seo (Aloysius), and other favourite
cognomens of saints.
A laughing chattering good-tempered crowd they were--just like a
bevy of children breaking up, and apparently destitute of the
slightest sense of responsibility. They spoke a totally different
dialect, or maybe language, to that of Vau Vau, for it was only
an isolated word here and there that Samuela could make out. But
presently, going forward through the crowd that thronged every
part of the deck, I saw a man leaning nonchalantly against the
rail by the fore-rigging, who struck me at once as being an
American negro. The most casual observer would not have mistaken
him for a Kanaka of those latitudes, though he might have passed
as a Papuan. He was dressed in all the dignity of a woollen
shirt, with a piece of fine "tapa" for a waistcloth, feet and
legs bare. Around his neck was a necklace composed of a number
of strings of blue and white beads plaited up neatly, and
carrying as a pendant a George shilling. Going up to him, I
looked at the coin, and said, "Belitani money?" "Oh yes," he
said, "that's a shilling of old Georgey Fourf," in perfectly good
English, but with an accent which quite confirmed my first idea.
I at once invited him aft to see the skipper, who was very
anxious to find an interpreter among the noisy crowd, besides
being somewhat uneasy at having so large a number on board.
To the captain's interrogations he replied that he was "Tui
Tongoa"--that is, King of Tonga, an island a little distance
away--but that he was at present under a cloud, owing to the
success of a usurper, whom he would reckon with by-and-by.
In the mean time he would have no objection to engaging himself
with us as a harpooner, and would get us as many men as we
wanted, selecting from among the crowd on board, fellows that
would, he knew, be useful to us.
A bargain was soon struck, and Tui entered upon his self-imposed
task. It was immediately evident that he had a bigger contract
on hand than he had imagined. The natives, who had previously
held somewhat aloof from him in a kind of deferential respect, no
sooner got wind of the fact that we needed some of them than they
were seized with a perfect frenzy of excitement. There were, I
should think, at least a hundred and fifty of them on board at
the time. Of this crowd, every member wanted to he selected,
pushing his candidature with voice and gesture as vigorously as
he knew how. The din was frightful. Tui, centre of the frantic
mob, strove vainly to make himself beard, to reduce the chaos to
some sort of order, but for a great while it was a hopeless
attempt. At last, extricating himself from his importunate
friends, he gained the captain's side. Panting, almost
breathless, with sweat streaming off him, he gasped out, "Oh,
cap'n, dese yer darn niggers all gone mad! Dribe 'em oberbord;
clar 'em out, 'n I'll stan' by to grab some o' der likely ones as
de res' scatter." "But what about the wages?" said the skipper.
"I'm not goin' ter give 'em whatever they like to ask." " You
leab it ter me, cap'n. I bet you'll be satisfy. Anyhow,
dishyers no time fer tradin'; de blame niggers all off dere coconuts.
Anybody fink you'se payin' off 'stead o' shippin', an'
deyse all afraid dey won't get 'nough."
Unpleasant as the job was to all of us, it had to be done; so we
armed ourselves with ropes'-ends, which we flourished
threateningly, avoiding where possible any actual blows. Many
sprang overboard at once, finding their way ashore or to their
canoes as best they could. The majority, however, had to swim,
for we now noticed that, either in haste or from carelessness,
they had in most cases omitted to fasten their canoes securely
when coming alongside, so that many of them were now far out to
sea. The distance to shore being under three miles, that
mattered little, as far as their personal safety was concerned.
This summary treatment was eminently successful, quiet being
rapidly restored, so that Tui was able to select a dozen men, who
he declared were the best in the islands for our purpose.
Although it seems somewhat premature to say so, the general
conduct of the successful candidates was so good as to justify
Tui fully in his eulogium. Perhaps his presence had something to
do with it?
We now had all that we came for, so that we were anxious to be
off. But it was a job to get rid of the visitors still remaining
on board. They stowed themselves away in all manner of corners,
in some cases ludicrously inadequate as hiding-places, and it was
not until we were nearly five miles from the land that the last
of them plunged into the sea and struck out for home. It was
very queer. Ignorant of our destination, of what would be
required of them; leaving a land of ease and plenty for a
certainty of short commons and hard work, without preparation or
farewells, I do not think I ever heard of such a strange thing
before. Had their home been famine or plague-stricken, they
could not have evinced greater eagerness to leave it, or to face
the great unknown.
As we drew farther off the island the wind freshened, until we
had a good, whole-sail breeze blustering behind us, the old ship
making, with her usual generous fuss, a tremendous rate of seven
knots an hour. Our course was shaped for the southward, towards
the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. In that favourite haunt of the
South-seaman we were to wood and water, find letters from home
(those who had one), and prepare for the stormy south.
Obviously the first thing to be done for our new shipmates was to
clothe them. When they arrived on board, all, with the single
exception of Tui, were furnished only with a "maro" of "tapa,"
scanty in its proportions, but still enough to wrap round their
loins. But when they were accepted for the vacant positions on
board, they cast off even the slight apology for clothing which
they had worn, flinging the poor rags to their retreating and
rejected compatriots. Thus they were strutting about, in native
majesty unclad, which, of course, could not be endured among even
so unconventional a crowd as we were. So they were mustered aft,
and, to their extravagant delight, a complete rig-out was handed
to each of them, accompanied by graphic instructions how to dress
themselves. Very queer they looked when dressed, but queerer
still not long afterwards, when some of them, galled by the
unaccustomed restraint of the trousers, were seen prowling about
with shirts tied round their waists by the sleeves, and pants
twisted turban-wise about their heads. Tui was called, and
requested to inform them that they must dress properly, after the
fashion of the white man, for that any impromptu improvements
upon our method of clothes-wearing could not be permitted. As
they were gentle, tractable fellows, they readily obeyed, and,
though they must have suffered considerably, there were no
further grounds for complaint on the score of dress.
It has been already noticed that they were Roman Catholics--all
except Tui, who from his superior mental elevation looked down
upon their beliefs with calm contempt, although really a greater
heathen than any of them had ever been. It was quite pathetic to
see how earnestly they endeavoured to maintain the form of
worship to which they had been accustomed, though how they
managed without their priest, I could not find out. Every
evening they had prayers together, accompanied by many crossings
and genuflexions, and wound up by the singing of a hymn in such
queer Latin that it was almost unrecognizable. After much
wondering I did manage to make out "O Salutaris Hostia!" and
"Tantum Ergo," but not until their queer pronunciation of
consonants had become familiar. Some of the hymns were in their
own tongue, only one of which I call now remember. Phonetically,
it ran thus--
"Mah-lee-ah, Kollyeea leekee;
Obselloh mo mallamah.
Alofah, keea ma toh;
Fah na oh, Mah lah ee ah"--
which I understood to be a native rendering of "O Stella Maris!"
It was sung to the well-known "Processional" in good time, and on
that account, I suppose, fixed itself in my memory.
Whenever any of them were ordered aloft, they never failed to
cross themselves before taking to the rigging, as if impressed
with a sense of their chance of not returning again in safety.
To me was given the congenial task of teaching them the duties
required, and I am bound to admit that they were willing,
biddable, and cheerful learners. Another amiable trait in their
characters was especially noticeable: they always held
everything in common. No matter how small the portion received
by any one, it was scrupulously shared with the others who
lacked, and this subdivision was often carried to ludicrous
As there was so reason to hurry south, we, took a short cruise on
the Vasquez ground, more, I think, for the purpose of training
our recruits than anything else. As far as the results to our
profit were concerned, we might almost as well have gone straight
on, for we only took one small cow-cachalot. But the time spent
thus cruising was by no means wasted. Before we left finally for
New Zealand, every one of those Kanakas was as much at home in
the whale-boats as he would have been in a canoe. Of course they
were greatly helped by their entire familiarity with the water,
which took from them all that dread of being drowned which
hampers the white "greenie" so sorely, besides which, the
absolute confidence they had in our prowess amongst the whales
freed them from any fear on that head.
Tui proved himself to be a smart harpooner, and was chosen for
the captain's boat. During our conversations, I was secretly
amused to hear him allude to himself as Sam, thinking how little
it accorded with his SOI-DISANT Kanaka origin. He often regaled
me with accounts of his royal struggles to maintain his rule, all
of which narrations I received with a goodly amount of reserve,
though confirmed in some particulars by the Kanakas, when I
became able to converse with them. But I was hardly prepared to
find, as I did many years after, upon looking up some detail in
Findlay's "South Pacific Directory," this worthy alluded to as
"the celebrated Sam," in a brief account of Futuna. There he was
said to be king of the twin isles; so I suppose he found means to
oust his rival, and resume his sovereignty; though, how an
American negro, as Sam undoubtedly was, ever managed to gain such
a position, remains to me an unfathomable mystery. Certainly he
did not reveal any such masterful attributes as one would have
expected in him, while he served as harpooner on board the
Gradually we crept south, until one morning we sighted the
towering mass of Sunday Island, the principal member of the small
Kermadec group, which lies nearly on the prime meridian of one
hundred and eighty degrees, and but a short distance north of the
extremity of New Zealand. We had long ago finished the last of
our fresh provisions, fish had been very scarce, so the captain
seized the opportunity to give us a run ashore, and at the same
time instructed us to do such foraging as we could. It was
rumoured that there were many wild pigs to be found, and
certainly abundance of goats; but if both these sources of supply
failed, we could fall back on fish, of which we were almost sure
to get a good haul.
The island is a stupendous mass of rock, rising sheer from the
waves, in some places to a height of fifteen hundred feet. These
towering cliffs are clothed with verdure, large trees clinging to
their precipitous sides in a marvellous way. Except at one small
bight, known as Denham Bay, the place is inaccessible, not only
from the steepness of its cliffs, but because, owing to its
position, the gigantic swell of the South Pacific assails those
immense bastions with a force and volume that would destroy
instantly any vessel that unfortunately ventured too near.
Denham Bay, however, is in some measure protected by reefs of
scattered boulders, which break the greatest volume of the
oncoming rollers. Within those protecting barriers, with certain
winds, it is possible to effect a landing with caution; but even
then no tyro in boat-handling should venture to do so, as the
experiment would almost certainly be fatal to boat and crew.
We hove-to off the little bay, the waters of which looked placid
enough for a pleasure-party, lowered two boats well furnished
with fishing gear and such other equipment as we thought would be
needed, and pulled away for the landing-place. As we drew near
the beach, we found that, in spite of the hindrance to the ocean
swell afforded by the reefs, it broke upon the beach in rollers
of immense size. In order to avoid any mishap, then, we turned
the boats' heads to seaward, and gently backed towards the beach,
until a larger breaker than usual came thundering in. As it
rushed towards us, we pulled lustily to meet it, the lovely craft
rising to its foaming crest like sea-birds. Then, as soon as we
were on its outer slope, we reversed the stroke again, coming in
on its mighty shoulders at racing speed. The instant our keels
touched the beach we all leapt out, and exerting every ounce of
strength we possessed, ran the boats up high and dry before the
next roller had time to do more than hiss harmlessly around our
feet. It was a task of uncommon difficulty, for the shore was
wholly composed of loose lava and pumice-stone grit, into which
we sank ankle-deep at every step, besides being exceedingly
We managed, however, to escape without any mishap, for the
drenching was a boon to our burnt-up skins. Off we started along
the level land, which, as far as I could judge, extended inland
for perhaps a mile and a half by about two miles wide. From this
flat shelf the cliffs rose perpendicularly, as they did from the
sea. Up their sides were innumerable goat-tracks, upon some of
which we could descry a few of those agile creatures climbing
almost like flies. The plateau was thickly wooded, many of the
trees having been fruit-bearing once, but now, much to our
disappointment, barren from neglect.
A ruined house, surrounded by other vestiges of what had once
been a homestead, stood in the middle of this piece of land.
Feeling curious to know what the history of this isolated
settlement might be, I asked the mate if he knew anything of it.
He told me that an American named Halstead, with his family,
lived here for years, visited only by an occasional whaler, to
whom they sold such produce as they might have and be able to
spare at the time. What their previous history had been, or why
they thus chose to cut themselves off from the world, he did not
know; but they seemed contented enough with their tiny kingdom,
nor had any wish to leave it. But it came to pass that one night
they felt the sure and firm-set earth trembling convulsively
beneath their feet. Rushing out of their house, they saw the
heavens bespread with an awful pall of smoke, the under-side of
which was glowing with the reflected fires of some vast furnace.
Their terror was increased by a smart shower of falling ashes and
the reverberations of subterranean thunders. At first they
thought of flight in their boat, not reckoning the wide stretch
of sea which rolled between them and the nearest land, but the
height and frequency of the breakers then prevailing made that
Their situation was pitiable in the extreme. During the years of
peace and serenity they had spent here, no thought of the
insecurity of their tenure had troubled them. Though they had
but been dwellers on the threshold of the mountain, as it were,
and any extension of their territory impossible by reason of the
insurmountable barrier around them, they had led an untroubled
life, all unknowing of the fearful forces beneath their feet.
But now they found the foundations of the rocks beneath breaking
up; that withering, incessant shower of ashes and scoriae
destroyed all their crops; the mild and delicate air changed into
a heavy, sulphurous miasma; while overhead the beneficent face of
the bright-blue sky had become a horrible canopy of deadly black,
about which played lurid coruscations of infernal fires.
What they endured throughout those days and nights of woe, could
never be told. They fled from the home they had reared with such
abundance of loving labour, taking refuge in a cave; for not even
the knowledge that the mountain itself seemed to be in the throes
of dissolution could entirely destroy their trust in those
apparently eternal fastnesses. Here their eldest son died,
worried to death by incessant terror. At last a passing whaler,
remembering them and seeing the condition of things, had the
humanity and courage to stand in near enough to see their
agonized signals of distress. All of them, except the son buried
but a day or two before, were safely received and carried away,
leaving the terrible mountain to its solitude.
As I listened, I almost involuntarily cast my eyes upwards; nor
was I at all surprised to see far overhead a solitary patch of
smoky cloud, which I believe to have been a sure indication that
the volcano was still liable to commence operations at any time.
So far, we had not happened upon any pigs, or goats either,
although we saw many indications of the latter odoriferous
animal. There were few sea-birds to be seen, but in and out
among the dense undergrowth ran many short-legged brown birds,
something like a partridge--the same, I believe, as we afterwards
became familiar with in Stewart's Island by the name of "Maori
hens." They were so tame and inquisitive that we had no
difficulty in securing a few by the simple process of knocking
them over with sticks. From the main branch of a large tree hung
a big honey-comb, out of which the honey was draining upon the
earth. Around it buzzed a busy concourse of bees, who appeared
to us so formidable that we decided to leave them to the
enjoyment of their sweet store, in case we should invite an
So far, our rambling had revealed nothing of any service to us;
but just then, struck by the appearance of a plant which was
growing profusely in a glade we were passing over, I made bold to
taste one of the leaves. What the botanical name of the
vegetable is, I do not know; but, under the designation of "Maori
cabbage," it is well known in New Zealand. It looks like a
lettuce, running to seed; but it tastes exactly like young
turnip-tops, and is a splendid anti-scorbutic. What its discovery
meant to us, I can hardly convey to any one who does not know
what an insatiable craving for potatoes and green vegetables
possesses seamen when they have for long been deprived of these
humble but necessary articles of food. Under the circumstances,
no "find" could have given us greater pleasure--that is, in the
food line--than this did.
Taking it all round, however, the place as a foraging ground was
not a success. We chased a goat of very large size, and beard
voluminous as a Rabbi's, into a cave, which may have been the one
the Halsteads took shelter in, for we saw no other. One of the
Kanakas volunteered to go in after him with a line, and did so.
The resultant encounter was the best bit of fun we had had for
many a day. After a period of darksome scuffling within, the
entangled pair emerged, fiercely wrestling, Billy being to all
appearance much the fresher of the two. Fair play seemed to
demand that we should let them fight it out; but, sad to say, the
other Kanakas could not see things in that light, and Billy was
soon despatched. Rather needless killing, too; for no one,
except at starvation-point, could have eaten the poor remains of
leathery flesh that still decorated that weather-beaten frame.
But this sort of thing was tiring and unprofitable. The interest
of the place soon fizzled out, when it was found there was so
little worth taking away; so, as the day was getting on, it was
decided to launch off and start fishing. In a few minutes we
were afloat again, and anchored, in about four fathoms, in as
favourable a spot for our sport as ever I saw. Fish swarmed
about us of many sorts, but principally of the "kauwhai," a kind
of mullet very plentiful about Auckland, and averaging five or
six pounds. Much to my annoyance, we had not been able to get
any bait, except a bit of raw salt-pork, which hardly any fish
but the shark tribe will look at. Had I known or thought of it,
a bit of goat would have been far more attractive.
However, as there was no help for it, we baited up and started.
"Nary nibble ermong 'em!" growled Sam, as we sat impatiently
waiting for a bite. When we hauled up to see what was wrong,
fish followed the hook up in hundreds, letting us know plainly as
possible that they only wanted something tasty. It was
outrageous, exasperating beyond measure! At last Samuela grew so
tired of it that he seized his harpoon, and hurled it into the
middle of a company of kauwhai that were calmly nosing around the
bows. By the merest chance he managed to impale one of them upon
the broad point. It was hardly in the boat before I had seized
it, scaled it, and cut it into neat little blocks. All hands
rebaited with it, and flung out again. The change was
astounding. Up they came, two at a time, dozens and dozens of
them kauwhai, cavalle, yellow-tail, schnapper--lovely fish of
delicious flavour and goodly size. Then one of us got a fish
which made him yell, "Shark! shark!" with all his might. He had
a small line of American cotton, staunch as copper wire, but
dreadfully cutting to the hands. When he took a turn round the
logger-head, the friction of the running line cut right into the
white oak, but the wonderful cord and hook still held their own.
At last the monster yielded, coming in at first inch by inch,
then more rapidly, till raised in triumph above the gunwhale--a
yellow-tail six feet long. I have caught this splendid fish
(ELAGATIS BIPINNULATIS) many times before and since then, but
never did I see such a grand specimen as this one--no, not by
thirty or forty pounds. Then I got a giant cavalle. His broad,
shield-like body blazed hither and thither as I struggled to ship
him, but it was long ere he gave in to superior strength and
excellence of line and hook.
Meanwhile, the others had been steadily increasing our cargo,
until, feeling that we had quite as much fish as would suffice
us, besides being really a good load, I suggested a move towards
the ship. We were laying within about half a mile of the shore,
where the extremity of the level land reached the cliffs. Up one
of the well-worn tracks a fine, fat goat was slowly creeping,
stopping every now and then to browse upon the short herbage that
clung to the crevices of the rock. Without saying a word, Polly
the Kanaka slipped over the side, and struck out with swift
overhead strokes for the foot of the cliff. As soon as I saw
what, he was after, I shouted loudly for him to return, but he
either could not or would not hear me. The fellow's seal-like
ability as a swimmer was, of course, well known to me, but I must
confess I trembled for his life in such a weltering whirl of
rock-torn sea as boiled among the crags at the base of that
precipice. He, however, evidently knew what he was going to do,
and, though taking risks which would have certainly been fatal to
an ordinary swimmer, was quite unafraid of the result.
We all watched him breathlessly as he apparently headed straight
for the biggest outlying rock--a square, black boulder about the
size of an ordinary railway car. He came up to it on the summit
of a foaming wave; but just as I looked for him to be dashed to
pieces against its adamantine sides, he threw his legs into the
air and disappeared. A stealthy, satisfied smile glowed upon
Samuela's rugged visage, and, as he caught my eye, he said
jauntily, "Polly savee too much. Lookee him come on top one
time!" I looked, and sure enough there was the daring villain
crawling up among the kelp far out of reach of the hungry
rollers. It was a marvellous exhibition of coolness and skill.
Without waiting an instant, he began to stalk the goat, dodging
amongst the bushes with feet that clung to the steep sides of
the cliff as well as the animal's. Before he could reach her,
she had winded him, and was off up the track. He followed,
without further attempt to hide himself; but, despite his vigour
and ability, would, I fancy, have stood a microscopic chance of
catching her had she not been heavy with kid. As it was, he had
all his work cut out for him. When he did catch her, she made so
fierce it struggle for life and liberty that, in the endeavour to
hold her, he missed his insecure foothold, and the pair came
tumbling over and over down the cliff in a miniature avalanche of
stones and dust. At the bottom they both lay quiet for a time;
while I anxiously waited, fearing the rash fool was seriously
injured; but in a minute or two he was on his feet again.
Lashing the goat to his body, and ignoring her struggles, he
crawled out as far among the rocks as he could; then, at the
approach of a big breaker, he dived to meet it, coming up outside
its threatening top like a life-buoy. I pulled in, as near as I
could venture, to pick him up, and in a few minutes had him
safely on board again, but suffering fearfully. In his roll down
the cliff he had been without his trousers, which would have been
some protection to him. Consequently, his thighs were deeply cut
and torn in many places, while the brine entering so many wounds,
though a grand styptic, must have tortured him unspeakably. At
any rate, though he was a regular stoic to bear pain, he fainted
while I was "dressing him down" in the most vigorous language I
could command for his foolhardy trick. Then we all realized what
he must be going through, and felt that he was getting all the
punishment he deserved, and more. The goat, poor thing! seemed
none the worse for her rough handling.
The mate gave the signal to get back on board just as Polly
revived, so there were no inconvenient questions asked, and we
returned alongside in triumph, with such a cargo of fish as would
have given us a good month's pay all round could we have landed
them at Billingsgate. Although the mate had not succeeded as
well as we, the catch of the two boats aggregated half a ton, not
a fish among the lot less than five pounds weight, and one of a
hundred and twenty--the yellow-tail aforesaid. As soon as we
reached the ship, the boats were run up, sails filled, and away
we lumbered again towards New Zealand.
As the great mass of that solitary mountain faded away in the
gathering shades of evening, it was impossible to help
remembering the sufferings of that afflicted family, confined to
those trembling, sulphurous, ash-bestrewn rocks, amid gloom by
day, and unnatural glare by night, for all that weary while. And
while I admit that there is to some people a charm in being alone
with nature, it is altogether another thing when your solitude
becomes compulsory, your paradise a prison from which you cannot
break away. There are many such nooks scattered about the ocean,
where men have hidden themselves away from the busy world, and
been forgotten by it; but few of them, I fancy, offer such
potentialities of terror as Sunday Island.
We had hardly lost sight of the land, when Polly's capture gave
birth to a kid. This event was the most interesting thing that
had happened on board for a great while, and the funny little
visitor would have run great risk of being completely spoiled had
he lived. But, to our universal sorrow, the mother's milk failed
--from want of green food, I suppose--and we were obliged to kill
the poor little chap to save him from being starved to death. He
made a savoury mess for some whose appetite for flesh-meat was
stronger than any sentimental considerations.
To an ordinary trader, the distance between the Kermadecs and the
Bay of Islands, New Zealand, roughly represents a couple of days'
sail; but to us, who were apparently incapable of hurry under any
circumstances, it meant a good week's bludgeoning the protesting
waves before the grim outliers of the Three Kings came into view.
Even then, although the distance was a mere bagatelle, it was
another two days before we arrived off that magnificent harbour
where reposes the oldest township in New Zealand--Russell, where
rest the mortal remains of the first really Pakeha Maori, but
which, for some unaccountable reason, is still left undeveloped
and neglected, visited only by the wandering whalers (in everdecreasing
numbers) and an occasional trim, business-like, and
gentlemanly man-o'-war, that, like a Guardsman strolling the West
End in mufti, stalks the sea with never an item of her smart rig
deviating by a shade from its proper set or sheer.
In a comparative new colony like New Zealand, where the
marvellous growth of the young state can be traced within living
memory, from the privations of the pioneer to the fully developed
city with all the machinery of our latest luxurious civilization,
it is exceedingly interesting to note how the principal towns
have sprung up arbitrarily, and without any heed to the
intentions of the ruling powers. The old-fashioned township of
Kororarika, or Port Russell, is a case very much in point. As we
sailed in between the many islets from which the magnificent bay
takes its name, for all appearances to the contrary, we might
have been the first, discoverers. Not a house, not a sail, not a
boat, broke the loneliness and primeval look of the placid waters
and the adjacent shores. Not until we drew near the anchorage,
and saw upon opening up the little town the straight-standing
masts of three whale-ships, did anything appear to dispel the
intense air of solitude overhanging the whole. As we drew
nearer, and rounded-to for mooring, I looked expectantly for some
sign of enterprise on the part of the inhabitants--some
tradesman's boat soliciting orders; some of the population on the
beach (there was no sign of a pier), watching the visitor come to
an anchor. Not a bit of it. The whole place seemed a maritime
sleepy hollow, the dwellers in which had lost all interest in
life, and had become far less energetic than the much-maligned
Kanakas in their dreamy isles of summer.
Yet this was once intended for the capital of New Zealand. When
the large and splendidly-built city of Dunedin, Otago, was a
barren bush, haunted only by the "morepork" and the apteryx,
Russell was humming with vitality, her harbour busy with fleets
of ships, principally whalers, who found it the most convenient
calling-place in the southern temperate zone. Terrible scenes
were enacted about its "blackguard beach," orgies of wild
debauchery and bloodshed indulged in by the half-savage and
utterly lawless crews of the whaleships. But it never attained
to any real importance. As a port of call for whalers, it
enjoyed a certain kind of prosperity; but when the South Sea
fishery dwindled, Russell shrank in immediate sympathy. It never
had any vitality of its own, no manufactures or products, unless
the wretched coalmines adjacent, with their dirty output, which
is scoffed at by the grimiest tug afloat, could be dignified by
the name.
Remembering, as I did, the beauty, the energy, and prosperity of
the great New Zealand ports, some of them with not a tithe of the
natural advantages of Russell, I felt amazed, almost indignant,
at its dead-and-alive appearance.
Our anchor was no sooner down than the captains of the JAMES
ARNOLD, MATILDA SAYER, and CORAL lowered and came on board, eager
to hear or to tell such news as was going. As we had now grown
to expect, all work was over immediately the sails were fast and
decks cleared up, so that we were free to entertain our visitors.
And a high old time we had of it that afternoon! What with
songs, dances, and yarns, the hours flew by with lightning speed.
Our Kanakas, too, were overjoyed to find compatriots among the
visitors, and settled down to a steady stream of talk which
lasted, without intermission, the whole night through. It was a
wonderful exhibition of tongue-wagging, though what it was all
about puzzled me greatly.
Life on board those three ships, though described in glowing
terms by the visitors, was evidently not to be mentioned for
comfort in the same breath as ours. But we found that our late
captain's fame as a "hard citizen" was well known to all; so that
it is only ordinary justice to suppose that such a life as he led
us was exceptional for even a Yankee spouter. Our friends gave
us a blood-curdling account of the Solander whaling ground, which
we were about to visit, the JAMES ARNOLD and CORAL having spent a
season there that cruise. I did not, however, pay much attention
to their yarns, feeling sure that, even if they were fact, it
would not help to brood over coming hardships, and inclined to
give liberal discount to most of their statements. The incessant
chatter, got wearisome at last, and I, for one, was not sorry
when, at two in the morning, our visitors departed to their
several ships, and left us to get what sleep still remained left
to us.
A pleasant expedition was planned for the next day. Our visit
being principally for wooding and watering, both of which it was
necessary for us to do ourselves, Captain Count showed his usual
promptitude in commencing at once. Permission having been
obtained and, I suppose, paid for, we set out with two boats and
a plentiful supply of axes for a well-wooded promontory to
prepare a store of wood. Wood chopping is not usually looked
upon as a sailor's pastime; but we had had considerable
experience during the voyage, as a result of which most of us
could swing an axe in fine style. But the Kanakas beat us all
hollow. Delighted to get ashore again, pleased with the fine
axes as children with new toys, they laid about them in grand
style, the young trees falling right and left in scores. Anybody
would have judged that we were working piece-work, at so much a
cord, the pile grew so fast. There was such a quantity collected
that, instead of lightering it off in the boats, which is very
rough and dirty usage for them, I constructed a sort of raft
with four large spars arranged in the form of an oblong, placing
an immense quantity of the smaller stuff in between. Upright
sticks were rudely lashed here and there, to keep the pile from
bobbing out underneath, and thus loaded we proceeded slowly to
the ship with sufficient wood for our wants brought in one
journey. It was immediately hoisted on board, sawn into
convenient lengths, and stowed away, the whole operation being
completed, of getting between eight and ten tons of firewood cut,
ferried, and stowed, in less than eight hours.
Next day was devoted to watering; but as I have elsewhere
described that necessary if prosaic occupation, I will not repeat
the story. Sufficient to say that the job was successfully "did"
in the course of the day.
All the work being accomplished for which we had come, it only
remained to give the crew "liberty." So the port watch, in their
best (?) rig, were mustered aft; each man received ten shillings,
and away they went in glee for the first genuine day's liberty
since leaving Honolulu. For although they had been much ashore
in Vau Vau, that was not looked upon in the same light as a day's
freedom in a town where liquor might be procured, and the
questionable privilege of getting drunk taken advantage of.
Envious eyes watched their progress from the other ships, but,
much to my secret satisfaction, none of their crews were allowed
ashore at the same time. There were quite sufficient
possibilities of a row among our own crowd, without farther
complications such as would almost certainly have occurred had
the strangers been let loose at the same time. Unfortunately, to
the ordinary sailor-man, the place presented no other forms of
amusement besides drinking, and I was grieved to see almost the
whole crowd, including the Kanakas, emerge from the grog-shop
plentifully supplied with bottles, and, seating themselves on the
beach, commence their carouse. The natives evinced the greatest
eagerness to get drunk, swallowing down the horrible "square gin"
as if it were water. They passed with the utmost rapidity
through all the stages of drunkenness. Before they had been
ashore an hour, most of them were lying like logs, in the full
blaze of the sun, on the beach. Seeing this, the captain
suggested the advisability of bringing them on board at once, as
they were only exposed to robbery by the few prowling Maories
that loafed about the beach--a curious contrast to the stately
fellows met with in other parts of New Zealand.
So we set to work, and brought them on board again, handing them
over to their compatriots by way of warning against similar
excesses, although, it must be confessed, that they were hardly
to blame, with the example of their more civilized shipmates
before their eyes. Sam was energetic in his condemnation of both
the Kanakas for getting drunk, and the captain for giving them
any money wherewith to do so. The remainder of the watch
fortunately concluded their carouse without any serious disorder.
A few bruises bestowed upon one another, more in clumsy horseplay
than real fighting summed up the casualties among them. By ten
o'clock that evening we had them all safely on board again, ready
for sore heads and repentance in the morning.
During the day I had evolved a scheme, which I had great hopes of
carrying out when our watch should be let loose on the morrow.
When morning came, and the liberty men received their money, I
called them together and unfolded my plan. Briefly, I proposed a
sort of picnic at a beautiful spot discovered during our wooding
expedition. I was surprised and very pleased at the eager way in
which all, with the sole exceptions of Tui and his fellowharpooner,
a Portuguese, fell in with my suggestions. Without
any solicitation on my part, my Kanakas brought me their money,
begging me to expend it for them, as they did not know how, and
did not want to buy gin.
Under such favourable auspices as these, we landed shortly after
eight a.m., making a bee-line for the only provision shop the
place boasted. Here we laid in a stock of such savouries as we
had long been strangers to, both eatables and drinkables,
although I vetoed fire-water altogether. Beer in bottle was
substituted, at my suggestion, as being, if we must have drinks
of that nature, much the least harmful to men in a hot country,
besides, in the quantity that we were able to take, nonintoxicant.
We also took tea, sugar, milk, and a kettle, Thus
furnished, we struck for the country, merry as a group of
schoolboys, making the quiet air ring again with song, shout, and
laughter--all of which may seem puerile and trivial in the
extreme; but having seen liberty men ashore in nearly every big
port in the world, watched the helpless, dazed look with which
they wander about, swinging hands, bent shoulders, and
purposeless rolling gait, I have often fervently wished that some
one would take a party of them for a ramble with a definite
purpose, helping them to a little enjoyment, instead of them
falling, from sheer lack of knowing what else to do, into some
dirty, darksome gin-mill, to be besotted, befooled, and debased.
I do earnestly wish that some of the good folk in London and
Liverpool, who are wringing their hands for want of something to
do among their fellow-men, would pay a visit to sailor-town for
the purpose of getting up a personally-conducted party of sailors
to see the sights worth seeing. It is a cheap form of pleasure,
even if they paid all expenses, though that would not be likely.
They would have an uphill job at first, for the sailor has been
so long accustomed to being preyed upon by the class he knows,
and neglected by everybody else except the few good people who
want to preach to him, that he would probably, in a sheepish
shame-faced sort of way, refuse to have any "truck" with you, as
he calls it. If the "sailors' home" people were worth their
salt, they would organize expeditions by carriage to such
beautiful places as--in London, for instance--Hampton Court,
Zoological Gardens, Crystal Palace, Epping Forest, and the like,
with competent guides and good catering arrangements. But no;
the sailor is allowed to step outside the door of the "home" into
the grimy, dismal streets with nothing open to him but the dancehouse
and brothel on one side, and the mission hall or readingroom
on the other. God forbid that I should even appear to sneer
at missions to seamen; nothing is farther from my intention; but
I do feel that sailors need a little healthy human interest to be
taken in providing some pleasure for them, and that there are
unorthodox ways of "missioning" which are well worth a trial.
I once took a party (while I was an A.B.) from Wells-street Home
to the South Kensington Museum. There were six of them--a
Frenchman, a Dane, a Russian Finn, two Englishmen, and an
Irishman. Though continually sailing from London for years, this
was the first occasion they had ever been west of Aldgate. The
only mistake I made was in going too deep at one step. The
journey from Shadwell to South Kensington, under the guidance of
one familiar, through the hardest personal experiences, with
every corner of the vast network, was quite enough for one day.
So that by the time we entered the Museum they were surfeited
temporarily with sight-seeing, and not able to take in the
wonders of the mighty place. Seeing this, I did not persist,
but, after some rest and refreshment, led them across the road
among the naval models. Ah! it was a rare treat to see them
there. For if there is one thing more than another which
interests a sailor, it is a well-made model of a ship. Sailors
are model-makers almost by nature, turning out with the most
meagre outfit of tools some wonderfully-finished replicas of the
vessels is which they have sailed. And the collection of naval
models at South Kensington is, I suppose, unsurpassed in the
world for the number and finish of the miniature vessels there
Our day was a great success, never to be forgotten by those poor
fellows, whose only recreation previously had been to stroll
listlessly up and down the gloomy, stone-flagged hall of the
great barracks until sheer weariness drove them out into the
turbid current of the "Highway," there to seek speedily some of
the dirty haunts where the "runner" and the prostitute: awaited
But I have wandered far from the Bay of Islands while thus
chattering of the difficulties that beset the path of rational
enjoyment for the sailor ashore. Returning to that happy day, I
remember vividly how, just after we got clear of the town, we
were turning down a lane between hedgerows wonderfully like one
of our own country roads, when something--I could not tell what--
gripped my heart and sent a lump into my throat. Tears sprang
unbidden to my eyes, and I trembled from head to foot with
emotion. Whatever could it be? Bewildered for the moment, I
looked around, and saw a hedge laden with white hawthorn blossom,
the sweet English "may." Every Londoner knows how strongly that
beautiful scent appeals to him, even when wafted from draggled
branches borne slumwards by tramping urchins who have been far
afield despoiling the trees of their lovely blossoms, careless of
the damage they have been doing. But to me, who had not seen a
bit for years, the flood of feeling undammed by that odorous
breath, was overwhelming. I could hardly tear myself away from
the spot, and, when at last I did, found myself continually
turning to try and catch another whiff of one of the most
beautiful scents in the world.
Presently we came to a cottage flooded from ground to roof-ridge
with blossoms of scarlet geranium. There must have been
thousands of them, all borne by one huge stem which was rooted by
the door of the house. A little in front of it grew a fuchsia,
twelve or fourteen feet high, with wide-spreading branches,
likewise loaded with handsome blooms; while the ground beneath
was carpeted with the flowers shaken from their places by the
rude wind.
So, through scenes of loveliness that appealed even to the dusky
Kanakas, we trudged gaily along, arriving pretty well fagged at
our destination--a great glade of tenderest green, surrounded by
magnificent trees on three sides; the fourth opening on to a
dazzling white beach sloping gently down to the sea. Looking
seaward, amidst the dancing, sparkling wavelets, rose numerous
tree-clothed islets, making a perfectly beautiful seascape. On
either side of the stretch of beach fantastic masses of rock lay
about, as if scattered by some tremendous explosion. Where the
sea reached them, they were covered with untold myriads of
oysters, ready to be eaten and of delicious flavour.
What need to say more? With oyster-feeding, fishing, bathing,
tree-climbing, tea-making, song-singing the hours fled with
pitiless haste, so that, before we had half emptied the brimming
cup of joys proffered us, the slanting rays of the setting sun
warned us to return lest we should get "hushed" in the dark. We
came on board rejoicing, laden with spoils of flowers and fish,
with two-thirds of our money still in our pockets, and full of
happy memories of one of the most delightful days in our whole
A long night's sound sleep was rudely broken into in the morning
by the cry of "Man the windlass." Having got all we wanted, we
were bound away to finish, if luck were with us, the lading of
our good ship from the teeming waters of the Solander grounds. I
know the skipper's hopes were high, for he never tired of telling
how, when in command of a new ship, he once fished the whole of
his cargo--six thousand barrels of sperm oil--from the
neighbourhood to which we were now bound. He always admitted,
though, that the weather he experienced was unprecedented.
Still, nothing could shake his belief in the wonderful numbers of
sperm whales to be found on the south coasts of New Zealand,
which faith was well warranted, since he had there won from the
waves, not only the value of his new ship, but a handsome profit
in addition, all in one season.
Hearing this kind of thing every day made me feel quite hungry to
reach the battle-field; but, for reasons which doubtless were
excellent, although I cannot pretend to explain them, we started
north about, which not only added nearly one hundred miles to the
distance we had to go, but involved us in a gale which
effectually stopped our progress for a week. It was our first
taste of the gentle zephyrs which waft their sweetness over New
Zealand, after sweeping over the vast, bleak, iceberg-studded
expanse of the Antarctic Ocean. Our poor Kanakas were terribly
frightened, for the weather of their experience, except on the
rare occasions when they are visited by the devastating
hurricane, is always fine, steady, and warm. For the first time
in their lives they saw hail, and their wonder was too great for
words. But the cold was very trying, not only to them, but to
us, who had been so long in the tropics that our blood was almost
turned to water. The change was nearly as abrupt as that so
often experienced by our seamen, who at the rate of sixteen knots
an hour plunge from a temperature of eighty degrees to one of
thirty degrees in about three days.
We, with the ready adaptability of seamen, soon got accustomed to
the bleak, bitter weather, but the Kanakas wilted like hothouse
plants under its influence. They were well fed and well clothed,
yet they seemed to shrivel up, looking thinner every day, several
of them getting deep coughs strongly suggestive of a cemetery.
It was no easy task to get them to work, or even move, never a
one of them lumbering aloft but I expected him to come down by
the run. This was by no means cheering, when it was remembered
what kind of a campaign lay before us. Captain Count seemed to
be quite easy in his mind, However, and as we had implicit
confidence in his wisdom and judgment, we were somewhat
The gale at last blew itself out, the wind veering to the
northward again, with beautiful, spring-like weather, just cool
enough to be pleasant, and, withal, favourable for getting to our
destination. We soon made the land again about New Plymouth,
jogging along near enough to the coast to admire the splendid
rugged scenery of the Britain of the south. All hands were kept
busily employed preparing for stormy weather--reeving new
running-gear, bending the strongest suit of sails, and looking
well to all the whaling gear.
In this active exercise of real sailor-work, the time, though
long for an ordinary passage, passed quickly and pleasantly away,
so that when we hauled round the massive promontory guarding the
western entrance to Foveaux Straits, we were almost surprised to
find ourselves there so soon.
This, then, was the famous and dreaded Solander whaling ground.
Almost in the centre of the wide stretch of sea between
Preservation Inlet, on the Middle Island, and the western end of
the South, or Stewart's Island, rose a majestic mass of wavebeaten
rock some two thousand feet high, like a grim sentinel
guarding the Straits. The extent of the fishing grounds was not
more than a hundred and fifty square miles, and it was rarely
that the vessels cruised over the whole of it. The most likely
area for finding whales was said to be well within sight of the
Solander Rock itself, but keeping on the western side of it.
It was a lovely day when we first entered upon our cruising
ground, a gentle north-east wind blowing, the sky a deep,
cloudless blue, so that the rugged outline of Stewart's Island
was distinctly seen at its extreme distance from us. To the
eastward the Straits narrowed rapidly, the passage at the other
end being scarcely five miles wide between the well-known harbour
of the Bluff, the port of Invercargill, and a long rocky island
which almost blocked the strait. This passage, though cutting
off a big corner, not only shortening the distance from the
westward considerably, but oftentimes saving outward bounders a
great deal of heavy weather off the Snares to the south of
Stewart's Island, is rarely used by sailing-ships, except
coasters; but steamers regularly avail themselves of it, being
independent of its conflicting currents and baffling winds.
Our opening day was an auspicious one. We had not been within
the cruising radius more than four hours before the long-silent;
cry of "Blo-o-o-w!" resounded from the mainmast head. It was a
lone whale, apparently of large size, though spouting almost as
feebly as a calf. But that, I was told by the skipper, was
nothing to go by down here. He believed right firmly that there
were no small whales to be found in these waters at all. He
averred that in all his experience he had never seen a cowcachalot
anywhere around Stewart's Island, although, as usual, he
did no theorizing as to the reason why.
Eagerly we took to the boats and made for our first fish, Setting
alongside of him in less than half an hour from our first glimpse
of his bushy breath. As the irons sank into his blubber, he
raised himself a little, and exposed a back like a big ship
bottom up. Verily, the skipper's words were justified, for we
had seen nothing bigger of the whale-kind that voyage. His
manner puzzled us not a little. He had not a kick in him.
Complacently, as though only anxious to oblige, he laid quietly
while we cleared for action, nor did he show any signs of
resentment or pain while he was being lanced with all the vigour
we possessed. He just took all our assaults with perfect
quietude and exemplary patience, so that we could hardly help
regarding him with great suspicion, suspecting some deep scheme
of deviltry hidden by this abnormally sheep-like demeanour. But
nothing happened. In the same peaceful way he died, without the
slightest struggle sufficient to raise even an eddy on the almost
smooth sea.
Leaving the mate by the carcass, we returned on board, the
skipper hailing us immediately on our arrival to know what was
the matter with him. We, of course, did not know, neither did
the question trouble us. All we were concerned about was the
magnanimous way in which he, so to speak, made us a present of
himself, giving us no more trouble to secure his treasure than as
if he had been a lifeless thing. We soon had him alongside,
finding, upon ranging him by the ship, that he was over seventy
feet long, with a breadth of bulk quite in proportion to such
a vast length.
Cutting-in commenced at once, for fine weather there was by no
means to be wasted, being of rare occurrence and liable at the
shortest notice to be succeeded by a howling gale. Our latest
acquisition, however, was of such gigantic proportions that the
decapitation alone bade fair to take us all night. A nasty cross
swell began to get up, too--a combination of north-westerly and
south-westerly which, meeting at an angle where the Straits
began, raised a curious "jobble," making the vessel behave in a
drunken, uncertain manner. Sailors do not mind a ship rolling or
pitching, any more than a rider minds the motion of his horse;
but when she does both at once, with no approach to regularity in
her movements, it makes them feel angry with her. What, then,
must our feelings have been under such trying conditions, with
that mountain of matter alongside to which so much sheer hard
labour had to be done, while the sky was getting greasy and the
wind beginning to whine in that doleful key which is the certain
prelude to a gale?
Everybody worked like Chinamen on a contract, as if there was no
such feeling as fatigue. Little was said, but we all realized
that unless this job was got over before what was brooding burst
upon us, we should certainly lose some portion of our hard-won
whale. Still, our utmost possible was all we could do; and when
at daylight the head was hauled alongside for cutting up, the
imminent possibility of losing it, though grievous to think of,
worried nobody, for all had done their best. The gale had
commenced in business-like fashion, but the sea was horrible. It
was almost impossible to keep one's footing on the stage. At
times the whole mass of the head would be sucked down by the lee
roll of the ship, and go right under her keel, the fluke-chain
which held it grinding and straining as if it would tear the bows
out of her. Then when she rolled back again the head would
rebound to the surface right away from the ship, where we could
not reach it to cut. Once or twice it bounced up beneath our
feet, striking the stage and lifting it with its living load
several inches, letting it fall again with a jerk that made us
all cling for dear life to our precarious perch.
In spite of these capers, we managed to get the junk off the
head. It was a tremendous lift for us; I hardly think we had
ever raised such a weight before. The skipper himself estimated
it at fifteen tons, which was no small load for the tackles in
fine weather, but with the ship tumbling about in her present
fashion, it threatened to rip the mainmast out by the roots--not,
of course, the dead-weight strain; but when it was nearly aboard,
her sudden lee wallow sometimes floated the whole mass, which the
next instant, on the return roll, would be torn out of water,
with all the force of the ship suddenly rolling the other way.
Every splinter, every rope-yarn of her groaned again under this
savage treatment; but so splendid was her construction that she
never made a drop of water more than just sufficient to sweeten
the limbers.
It was with great and genuine satisfaction that we saw it at last
safely lowered on deck and secured. But when we turned our
attention to the case, which, still attached to the skull,
battered alongside, any chance of saving it was at once seen to
be hopeless. Indeed, as the old man said, it was time for us to
"up stick" and run for shelter. We had been too fully occupied
to notice the gradual increase of the wind; but when we did,
there was no gainsaying the fact that it was blowing a very stiff
breeze (ANGLICE, a violent gale). Fortunately for us, it was
from the westward, fair for the harbour of Port William, on the
Stewart's Island side of the Straits, so that we were free from
the apprehension of being blown out to sea or on a jagged lee
While we were thus thinking during a brief pause to take breath,
the old packet herself solved our last difficulty in emphatic
fashion. She gave a tremendous lee lurch, which would inevitably
have destroyed the cutting stage if we had not hoisted it,
driving right over the head, which actually rose to the surface
to windward, having passed under her bottom. The weather roll
immediately following was swift and sudden. From the nature of
things, it was evident that something must give way this time.
It did. For the first and only time in my experience, the flukechain
was actually torn through the piece to which it was fast
--two feet of solid gristle ripped asunder. Away went the head
with its L150 to L200 worth of pure spermaceti, disappearing from
view almost immediately.
It had no sooner gone than more sail was set, the yards were
squared, and the vessel kept away up the Straits for shelter. It
was a big improvement, for she certainly had begun to make dirty
weather of it, and no wonder. Now, however, running almost dead
before the gale, getting into smoother water at every fathom, she
was steady as a rock, allowing us to pursue our greasy avocation
in comparative comfort. The gale was still increasing, although
now blowing with great fury; but, to our satisfaction, it was dry
and not too cold. Running before it, too, lessened our
appreciation of its force; besides which, we were exceedingly
busy clearing away the enormous mass of the junk, which, draining
continually, kept the decks running with oil.
We started to run up the Straits at about ten a.m. At two p.m. we
suddenly looked up from our toil, our attention called by a
sudden lull in the wind. We had rounded Saddle Point, a
prominent headland, which shut off from us temporarily the
violence of the gale. Two hours later we found ourselves hauling
up into the pretty little harbour of Port William, where, without
taking more than a couple of hands off the work, the vessel was
rounded-to and anchored with quite as little fuss as bringing a
boat alongside a ship. It was the perfection of seamanship.
Once inside the bay, a vessel was sheltered from all winds, the
land being high and the entrance intricate. The water was smooth
as a mill-pond, though the leaden masses of cloud flying overhead
and the muffled roar of the gale told eloquently of the
unpleasant state affairs prevailing outside. Two whale-ships lay
here--the TAMERANE, of New Bedford, and the CHANCE, of Bluff
Harbour. I am bound to confess that there was a great difference
is appearance between the Yankee and the colonial--very much in
favour of the former. She was neat, smart, and seaworthy,
looking as if just launched; but the CHANCE looked like some poor
old relic of a bygone day, whose owners, unable to sell her, and
too poor to keep her in repair, were just letting her go while
keeping up the insurance, praying fervently each day that she
might come to grief, and bring them a little profit at last.
But although it is much safer to trust appearances in ships than
in men, any one who summed up the CHANCE from her generally
outworn and poverty-stricken looks would have been, as I was,
"way off." Old she was, with an indefinite antiquity, carelessly
rigged, and vilely unkempt as to her gear, while outside she did
not seem to have had a coat of paint for a generation. She
looked what she really was--the sole survivor of the once great
whaling industry of New Zealand. For although struggling bay
whaling stations did exist in a few sheltered places far away
from the general run of traffic, the trade itself might
truthfully be said to be practically extinct. The old CHANCE
alone, like some shadow of the past, haunted Foveaux Straits,
and made a better income for her fortunate owners than any of the
showy, swift coasting steamers that rushed contemptuously past
her on their eager way.
In many of the preceding pages I have, though possessing all an
Englishman's pride in the prowess of mine own people, been
compelled to bear witness to the wonderful smartness and courage
shown by the American whalemen, to whom their perilous calling
seems to have become a second nature. And on other occasions I
have lamented that our own whalers, either at home or in the
colonies, never seemed to take so kindly to the sperm whale
fishery as the hardy "down Easters," who first taught them the
business; carried it on with increasing success, in spite of
their competition and the depredations of the ALABAMA; flourished
long after the English fishery was dead; and even now muster a
fleet of ships engaged in the same bold and hazardous calling.
Therefore, it is the more pleasant to me to be able to chronicle
some of the doings of Captain Gilroy, familiarly known as
"Paddy," the master of the CHANCE, who was unsurpassed as a
whale-fisher or a seaman by any Yankee that ever sailed from
Martha's Vineyard.
He was a queer little figure of a man--short, tubby, with scanty
red hair, and a brogue thick as pea-soup. Eccentric in most
things, he was especially so in his dress, which he seemed to
select on the principle of finding the most unfitting things to
wear. Rumour credited him with a numerous half-breed progeny--
certainly be was greatly mixed up with the Maories, half his crew
being made up of his dusky friends and relations by MARRIAGE.
Overflowing with kindliness and good temper, his ship was a
veritable ark of refuge for any unfortunate who needed help,
which accounted for the numerous deserters from Yankee whalers
who were to be found among his crew. Such whaling skippers as
our late commander hated him with ferocious intensity; and but
for his Maori and half-breed bodyguard, I have little doubt he
would have long before been killed. Living as he had for many
years on that storm-beaten coast, he had become, like his
Maories, familiar with every rock and tree in fog or clear, by
night or day; he knew them, one might almost say, as the seal
knows them, and feared them as little. His men adored him. They
believed him capable of anything in the way of whaling, and would
as soon have thought of questioning the reality of daylight as
the wisdom of his decisions.
I went on board the evening of, our arrival, hearing some rumours
of the doings of the old CHANCE and her crew, also with the idea
that perhaps I might find some countrymen among his very mixed
crowd. The first man I spoke to was Whitechapel to the backbone,
plainly to be spotted as such as if it had been tattooed on his
forehead. Making myself at home with him, I desired to know what
brought him so far from the "big smoke," and on board a whaler of
all places in the world. He told me he had been a Pickford's
van-driver, but had emigrated to New Zealand, finding that he did
not at all like himself in the new country. Trying to pick and
choose instead of manfully choosing a pick and shovel for a
beginning, he got hard up. During one of Captain Gilroy's visits
to the Bluff, he came across my ex-drayman, looking hungry and
woebegone. Invited on board to have a feed, he begged to be
allowed to remain; nor, although his assistance was not needed,
was he refused. "An nar," he said, his face glowing with
conscious pride, "y'ort ter see me in a bloomin' bowt. I ain't
a-goain' ter say as I kin fling wun o' them 'ere bloomin'
'arpoones like ar bowt-steerers kin; but I kin do my bit o'
grawft wiv enny on 'em--don'tchu make no bloomin' herror." The
glorious incongruity of the thing tickled me immensely; but I
laughed more heartily still when on going below I was hailed as
"Wot cher, chummy; 'ow yer hoppin' up?" by another barbarian
from the wilds of Spitalfields, who, from the secure shelter of
his cats'-meat round in 'Oxton, had got adrift, and, after being
severely buffeted by tempestuous ill-fortune, had finally found
himself in the comfortable old CHANCE, a haven of rest in the
midst of storms. There were sixteen white men on board the
CHANCE, including the skipper, drawn as usual from various
European and American sources, the rest of her large crew of over
forty all told being made up of Maories and half-breeds. One
common interest united them, making them the jolliest crowd I
ever saw--their devotion to their commander. There was here to
be found no jealousy of the Maories being officers and
harpooners, no black looks or discontented murmuring; all hands
seemed particularly well satisfied with their lot in all its
bearings; so that, although the old tub was malodorous enough to
turn even a pretty strong stomach, it was a pleasure to visit her
cheerful crowd for the sake of their enlivening society.
Of course, under our present circumstances, with the debris of
our late enormous catch filling every available space and loudly
demanding attention, we had little time to spare for ship
visiting. Some boat or other from the two ships was continually
alongside of us, though, for until the gale abated they could not
get out to the grounds again, and time hung heavy on their hands.
The TAMERLANE's captain avoided Paddy as if he were a leper--
hated the sight of him, in fact, as did most of his CONFRERES;
but our genial skipper, whose crew were every whit as well
treated and contented as the CHANCE's, and who therefore needed
not to dread losing them, met the little philanthropist on the
most friendly terms.
The first fine weather, which came four days after our arrival,
both our harbour mates cleared out. Characteristically, the
CHANCE was away first, before daylight had quite asserted itself,
and while the bases of the cliffs and tops of the rocks were as
yet hidden in dense wreaths of white haze. Paddy lolled on the
taff-rail near the wheel, which was held by an immense halfbreed,
who leant back and carried on a desultory, familiar
conversation with his skipper; the rest of the crew were
scattered about the decks, apparently doing what they liked in
any manner they chose. The anchor was being catted, sails going
up, and yards being trimmed; but, to observers like us, no
guiding spirit was noticeable. It seemed to work all right, and
the old ark herself looked as if she was as intelligent as any of
them; but the sight was not an agreeable one to men accustomed to
discipline. The contrast when the TAMERLANE came along an hour
or so after was emphatic. Every man at his post; every order
carried out with the precision of clockwork; the captain pacing
the quarter-deck as if she were a line-of-battle ship--here the
airs put on were almost ludicrous in the other direction.
Although she was only "a good jump" long, as we say, whenever an
order was given, it was thundered out as if the men were a mile
away each officer appearing to vie with the others as to who
could bellow the loudest. That was carrying things to the
opposite extreme, and almost equally objectionable to merchant
We were thus left alone to finish our trying-out except for such
company as was afforded by the only resident's little schooner,
in which he went oyster-dredging. It was exceedingly comfortable
in the small harbour, and the fishing something to remember all
one's life. That part of New Zealand is famous for a fish
something like a bream, but with a longer snout, and striped
longitudinally with black and yellow. I am ignorant of any
polysyllabic prefix for it, only knowing it by its trivial and
local appellation of the "trumpeter," from the peculiar sound it
makes when out of water. But no other fish out of the
innumerable varieties which I have sampled in all parts of the
world could compare with the trumpeter for flavour and delicacy.
These qualities are well known to the inhabitants of the large
towns, who willingly pay high prices for the scanty supply of
these delicious fish which they are able to obtain. Of other
succulent fish there was a great variety, from the majestic
"grouper," running up to over a hundredweight, down to the
familiar flounder. Very little fishing could be done at night.
Just as day was dawning was the ideal time for this enticing
sport. As soon as the first few streaks of delicate light
enlivened the dull horizon, a stray nibble or two gladdened the
patient fishermen; then as the light strengthened the fun became
general, and in about an hour enough fish would be caught to
provide all hands with for the day.
One morning, when a stark calm left, the surface of the bay as
smooth as a mirror, I was watching a few stealthily-gliding
barracouta sneaking about over the plainly visible bottom, though
at a depth of seven or eight fathoms. Ordinarily, these fish
must be taken with a live bait; but, remembering my experience
with the dolphin, I determined to try a carefully arranged strip
of fish from one recently caught. In precisely the same way as
the dolphin, these long, snaky rascals carefully tested the bait,
lying still for sometimes as long as two minutes with the bait in
their mouths, ready to drop it out on the first intimation that
it was not a detached morsel. After these periods of waiting the
artful creature would turn to go, and a sudden jerk of the line
then reminded him that he was no longer a free agent, but
mounting at headlong speed to a strange bourne whence he never
returned to tell the tale. My catch that lovely morning scaled
over a hundredweight in less than an hour, none of the fish being
less than ten pounds in weight.
The Maories have quite an original way of catching barracouta.
They prepare a piece of "rimu" (red pine) about three inches
long, by an inch broad, and a quarter of an inch thick. Through
one end of this they drive an inch nail bent upwards, and filed
to a sharp point. The other end is fastened to about a fathom of
stout fishing-line, which is in turn secured to the end of a
five-foot pole. Seated in a boat with sail set, they slip along
until a school of barracouta is happened upon. Then the peak of
the sail is dropped, so as to deaden the boat's way, while the
fishermen ply their poles with a sidelong sweep that threshes the
bit of shining red through the water, making it irresistibly
attractive to a struggling horde of ravenous fish. One by one,
as swiftly as the rod can be wielded, the lithe forms drop off
the barbless hook into the boat, till the vigorous arm can no
longer respond to the will of the fisherman, or the vessel will
hold no more.
Such were the goodly proportions of this first Solander whale of
ours that, in spite of the serious loss of the case, we made
thirteen and a half tuns of oil. When the fifteen huge casks
containing it were stowed in their final positions, they made an
imposing show, inspiring all of us with visions of soon being
homeward bound. For the present we were, perforce, idle; for the
wind had set in to blow steadily and strongly right up the
Straits, preventing any attempts to get out while it lasted. The
time did not hang heavy on our hands, for the surrounding country
offered many attractions, which we were allowed to take full
advantage of. Spearing eels and flounders at night by means of a
cresset hung out over the boat's bow, as she was slowly sculled
up the long, shallow creeks, was a favourite form of amusement.
Mr. Cross, the resident, kindly allowed us to raid his garden,
where the ripe fruit was rotting by the bushel for want of
consumers. We needed no pressing; for fruit, since we left Vau
Vau, of any kind had not come in our way; besides, these were
"homey"--currants, gooseberries, strawberries--delightful to see,
smell, and taste. So it came to pass that we had a high old time,
unmarred by a single regrettable incident, until, after an
enforced detention of twenty days, we were able to get to sea
Halfway down the Straits we sighted the CHANCE, all hands ripping
the blubber off a sizeable whale in the same "anyhow" fashion as
they handled their ship. They were in high glee, giving us a
rousing cheer as we passed them on our westward course. Arriving
on the ground, we found a goodly company of fine ships, which I
could not help thinking too many for so small an area. During
our absence, the TAMERLANE had been joined by the ELIZA ADAMS,
the MATILDA SAYER, the CORAL, and the RAINBOW; and it was evident
that no whale venturing within the radius of the Solander in the
daytime would stand much chance of escaping such a battery of
eager eyes. Only three days elapsed after our arrival when
whales were seen. For the first time, I realized how numerous
those gigantic denizens of the sea really are. As far as the eye
could reach, extending all round one-half of the horizon, the sea
appeared to be alive with spouts--all sperm whales, all bulls of
great size. The value of this incredible school must have been
incalculable. Subsequent experience satisfied me that such a
sight was by no means uncommon here; in fact, "lone whales" or
small "pods" were quite the exception.
Well, we all "waded in," getting, some two, some one whale
apiece, according to the ability of the crews or the fortune of
war. Only one fell to our lot in the CACHALOT, but it was just
as well. We had hardly, got him fast by the fluke alongside when
it began to pipe up from the north-east. In less than one watch
the sea was fairly smoking with the fierceness of the wind. We
were unable to get in anywhere, being, with a whale alongside,
about as handy as a barge loaded with a haystack; while those
unfortunate beggars that had two whales fast to them were utterly
helpless as far as independent locomotion went, unless they could
run dead before the wind. Every ship made all snug aloft, and
hoisted the boats to the top notch of the cranes, fully
anticipating a long, hard struggle with the elements before they
got back to the cruising ground again. Cutting-in was out of the
question in such weather; the only thing possible was to hope for
a shift of wind before she got too far out, or a break in the
weather. Neither of these events was probable, as all
frequenters of South New Zealand know, bad weather having there
an unhappy knack of being as persistent as fine weather is brief.
Night drew on as our forlorn and heavily handicapped little fleet
bore steadily seaward with their burdens, the angry, everincreasing
sea, battering at us vengefully, while the huge
carcasses alongside tore and strained at their fastenings as if
they would rend the ships asunder. Slowly our companions faded
from sight as the murky sky shut down on us, until in lonely
helplessness we drifted on our weary way out into the vast,
inhospitable Southern Ocean. Throughout the dark and stormy
night our brave old ship held on her unwilling way right
gallantly, making no water, in spite of the fearful strain to
which she was subjected, nor taking any heavy sea over all.
Morning broke cheerlessly enough. No abatement in the gale or
change in its direction; indeed, it looked like lasting a month.
Only one ship was visible far to leeward of us, and she was hull
down. Our whale was beginning to swell rapidly, already floating
at least three feet above the surface instead of just awash, as
when newly killed. The skipper eyed it gloomily, seeing the near
prospect of its entire loss, but he said nothing. In fact, very
little was said; but the stories we had heard in the Bay of
Islands came back to us with significant force now that their
justification was so apparent.
Hour after hour went by without any change whatever, except in
the whale, which, like some gradually filling balloon, rose
higher and higher, till at nightfall its bulk was appalling.
All through the night those on deck did little else but stare at
its increasing size, which when morning dawned again, was so
great that the animal's bilge rode level with the ship's rail,
while in her lee rolls it towered above the deck like a mountain.
The final scene with it was now a question of minutes only, so
most of us, fascinated by the strange spectacle, watched and
waited. Suddenly, with a roar like the bursting of a darn, the
pent-up gases tore their furious way out of the distended
carcass, hurling the entrails in one horrible entanglement
widespread over the sea. It was well for us that it was to
leeward and a strong gale howling; for even then the unutterable
foetor wrought its poisonous way back through that fierce, pure
blast, permeating every nook of the ship with its filthy vapour
till the stoutest stomach there protested in unmistakable terms
against such vile treatment. Knowing too well that the blubber
was now worthless, the skipper gave orders to cut the corrupt
mass adrift. This was speedily effected by a few strokes of a
spade through the small. Away went eight hundred pounds' worth
of oil--another sacrifice to the exigencies of the Solander, such
as had gained for it so evil a reputation.
Doubtless a similar experience had befallen all the other ships,
so that the aggregate loss must have run into thousands of
pounds, every penny of which might have been saved had steam been
That gale lasted, with a few short lulls, for five days longer.
When at last it took off, and was succeeded by fine weather, we
were so far to the southward that we might have fetched the
Aucklands in another twenty-four hours. But, to our great
relief, a strong southerly breeze set in, before which, under
every rag of canvas, we sped north again.
Steady and reliable as ever, that good south wind carried us back
to our old cruising ground ere it blew itself out, and we resumed
our usual tactics as if nothing had happened, being none the
worse as regards equipment for our adventures. Not so fortunate
our companions, who at the same time as ourselves were thrust out
into the vast Southern Ocean, helplessly burdened and exposed
defenceless to all the ferocity of that devouring gale, Two of
them were here prowling about, showing evident signs of their
conflict in the battered state of their hulls. The glaring
whiteness of new planking in many places along the bulwarks told
an eloquent story of seas bursting on board carrying all before
them, while empty cranes testified to the loss of a boat in both
of them. As soon as we came near enough, "gamming" commenced,
for all of us were anxious to know how each other had fared.
As we anticipated, every whale was lost that had been caught that
day. The disappointment was in nowise lessened by the knowledge
that, with his usual good fortune Captain Gilroy had not only
escaped all the bad weather, but while we were being threshed
within an inch of our lives down in the bitter south, he was
calmly trying-out his whale (which we had seen him with on our
outward journey) in the sheltered haven of Port William. Many
and deep were the curses bestowed upon him by the infuriated
crews of those two ships, although he had certainly done them no
harm. But the sight of other people's good fortune is gall and
wormwood to a vast number of people, who seem to take it as a
personal injury done to themselves.
Only two days elapsed, however, before we again saw an immense
school of sperm whales, and each ship succeeded in securing one.
We made no attempt to get more this time, nor do I think either
of the others did; at any rate, one each was the result of the
day's work. They were, as usual, of huge size and apparently
very fat. At the time we secured our fish alongside, a fresh
north-westerly wind was blowing, the weather being clear and
beautiful as heart could wish. But instead of commencing at once
to cut-in, Captain Count gave orders to pile on all sail and keep
her away up the Straits. He was evidently determined to take no
more chances, but, whenever opportunity offered, to follow the
example set by the wily old skipper of the CHANCE. The other
ships both started to cut-in at once, tempted, doubtless, by the
settled appearance of the weather, and also perhaps from their
hardly concealed dislike of going into port. We bowled along at
a fine rate, towing our prize, that plunged and rolled by our
side in eccentric style, almost as if still alive. Along about
midnight we reached Saddle Point, where there was some shelter
from the sea which rolled up the wide open strait, and there we
Leaving me and a couple of Kanakas on watch, the captain, and all
hands besides, went below for a little sleep. My instructions
were to call the captain if the weather got at all ugly-looking,
so that we might run in to Port William at once, but he did not
wish to do so if our present position proved sufficiently
sheltered. He had not been below an hour before there was a
change for the worse. That greasy, filmy haze was again drawn
over the clear blue of the sky, and the light scud began to fly
overhead at an alarmingly rapid rate. So at four bells I called
him again. He came on deck at once, and after one look round
ordered the hands up to man the windlass. By eight bells (four
a.m.) we were rounding the frowning rocks at the entrance of Port
William, and threading our way between the closely-set, kelphidden
dangers as if it were broadest, dearest daylight. At 4.30
we let go the anchor again, and all hands, except the regular
"anchor-watch," bolted below to their bunks again like so many
It was very comfortable, cutting-in a sperm whale in harbour,
after the dire difficulty of performing the same operation in a
seaway. And, although it may seem strange, this was the first
occasion that voyage that I had had a really good opportunity of
closely studying the whale's anatomy. Consequently the work was
exceedingly interesting, and, in spite of the labour involved, I
was almost sorry when the job was done. Under the present
favourable circumstances we were ready to cut the carcass adrift
shortly after midday, the head, of course, having been taken off
first. Just after we started to cut-in a boat appeared alongside
with six Maories and half-breeds on board. Their leader came up
and civilly asked the skipper whether he intended doing anything
with the carcass. Upon being promptly answered in the negative,
he said that he and his companions proposed hooking on to the
great mass when we cut it adrift, towing it ashore, and getting
out of it what oil we had been unable to extract, which at sea is
always lost to the ship. He also suggested that he would be
prepared to take reasonable terms for such oil, which we should
be able to mingle with ours to our advantage. An arrangement was
speedily arrived at to give him L20 per tun for whatever oil he
made. They parted on the best of terms with each other, and as
soon as we cut the carcass loose the Maories made fast, to it,
speedily beaching it in a convenient spot near where they had
previously erected a most primitive try-works.
That afternoon, after the head was inboard, the skipper thought
he would go ashore and see how they were getting on. I was so
fortunate as to be able to accompany him. When we arrived at the
spot, we found them working as I have never seen men work, except
perhaps the small riggers that at home take a job--three or four
of them--to bend or unbend a big ship's sails for a lump sum to
be paid when the work is done. They attacked the carcass
furiously, as if they had a personal enmity against it, chopping
through the massive bones and rending off huge lumps of the flesh
with marvellous speed. They had already laid open the enormous
cavity of the abdomen, and were stripping the interminable
intestines of their rich coating of fat. In the maw there were,
besides a large quantity of dismembered squid of great size, a
number of fish, such as rock-cod, barracouta, schnapper, and the
like, whose presence there was a revelation to me. How in the
name of wonder so huge and unwieldy a creature as the cachalot
could manage to catch those nimble members of the finny tribe, I
could not for the life of me divine! Unless--and after much
cogitation it was the only feasible explanation that I could see
--as the cachalot swims about with his lower jaw hanging down in
its normal position, and his huge gullet gaping like some
submarine cavern, the fish unwittingly glide down it, to find
egress impossible. This may or may not be the case; but I, at
any rate, can find no more reasonable theory, for it is
manifestly absurd to suppose the whale capable of CATCHING fish
in the ordinary sense, indicating pursuit.
Every part of the animal yielded oil. Even the bones, broken up
into pieces capable of entering the pot, were boiled; and by the
time we had finished our trying-out, the result of the Maories'
labour was ready for us. Less than a week had sufficed to yield
them a net sum of six guineas each, even at the very low rate for
which they sold us the oil. Except that it was a little darker
in colour, a defect that would disappear when mixed with our
store, there was no difference between the products that could be
readily detected. And at the price we paid for it, there was a
clear profit of cent. per cent., even had we kept it separate and
sold it for what it was. But I suppose it was worth the Maories'
while thus to dispose of it and quickly realize their hard
So far, our last excursion had been entirely satisfactory. We
had not suffered any loss or endured any hardship; and if only
such comfortable proceedings were more frequent, the Solander
ground would not have any terrors for us at least. But one
afternoon there crept in around the eastern horn of the harbour
three forlorn and half-dismantled vessels, whose weather-worn
crews looked wistfully at us engaged in clearing up decks and
putting away gear upon the finishing of our trying-out. Poor
fellows! they had seen rough times since that unforgettable
evening when we parted from them at the other end of the island,
and watched them slowly fade into the night. Two of them were so
badly damaged that no further fishing was possible for them until
they had undergone a thorough refit, such as they could not
manage there. One was leaking badly, the tremendous strain put
upon her hull in the vain attempt to hold on to the two whales
she had during the gale having racked her almost all to pieces.
The third one was still capable of taking the ground again, with
sundry repairs such as could be effected by her crew. But the
general feeling among all three crews was that there was more
loss than gain to be expected here, in spite of the multitude of
whales visiting the place.
As if to fill up their cup, in came the old CHANCE again, this
time with a whale on each side. Captain Gilroy was on the house
aft, his chubby red face in a ruddy glow of delight, and his crew
exuberant. When he passed the American ships, as he was bound to
do very closely, the sight of their scowling faces seemed to
afford him the most exquisite amusement, and he laughed loud and
long. His crew, on the impulse of the moment, sprang to the rail
and cheered with might and main. No one could gainsay that they
had good reason, but I really feared for a time that we should
have "ructions," As Paddy said, it was not wise or dignified for
those officers to be so angry with him on account of his success,
which he frankly owned was due almost entirely to the local
knowledge he possessed, gained in many years' study of the
immediate neighbourhood. He declared that, as far as the
technical duties of whale-fishing went, all the Americans could
beat him hollow; but they ought to realize that something else
was needed here which no man could hope to have unless he were
content to remain on the coast altogether. With which words of
wisdom our skipper cordially agreed, bearing in mind his own
exploits in the bygone time around those rugged shores.
The strong breeze which brought Paddy and his whales home died
down that night, enabling us to start for the grounds again--a
concession gratefully received, for not the least of the
hindrances felt there was the liability to be "wind-bound" for a
long time, while fine weather was prevailing at the fishing
We made a fine passage down the Straits with a leading wind,
finding our two late companions still cruising, having managed to
get their whales aboard without mishap, and being somewhat
inclined to chaff our old man for running in. He gave a wink
full of wisdom, as he replied, "I'm pretty ole whale myself
naouw; but I guess I ain't too old to learn; 'n wut I learn I'm
goin' ter use. See?" Of course the fine weather did not last
long--it never does; and seeing the gloomy masses of violet-edged
cumuli piling up on the southern horizon, we hugged the Solander
Rock itself pretty close, nor ventured far to seaward. Our two
consorts, on the contrary, kept well out and on the northern
verge, as if they intended the next gale that blew to get north,
IF they could. The old man's object in thus keeping in was
solely in order that he might be able to run for shelter; but,
much to his delight and certainly surprise, as we passed about a
mile to the southward of the lonely, towering crags of the great
rock, there came from aloft the welcome cry of "Sperm whale!"
There was only one, and he was uncomfortably near the rock; but
such a splendid chance was not to be missed, if our previous
training was of any avail. There was some speculation as to what
he could be doing so close inshore, contrary to the habit of this
animal, who seems to be only comfortable when in deep waters; but
except a suggestion that perhaps he had come in to scrape off an
extra accumulation of barnacles, nobody could arrive at any
definite conclusion. When we reached him, we found a frightful
blind swell rolling, and it needed all our seamanship to handle
the boats so that they should not be capsized. Fortunately, the
huge rollers did not break, or we should hardly have got back
safely, whale or no whale.
Two irons were planted in him, of which he took not the slightest
notice. We had taken in sail before closing in to him on account
of the swell, so that we had only to go in and finish him at
once, if he would let us. Accordingly, we went in with a will,
but for all sign of life he showed he might as well have been
stuffed. There be lay, lazily spouting, the blood pouring, or
rather spirting, from his numerous wounds, allowing us to add to
their number at our pleasure, and never moving his vast body,
which was gently swayed by the rolling sea. Seeing him thus
quiescent, the mate sent the other two boats back to the ship
with the good news, which the captain received with a grave smile
of content, proceeding at once to bring the ship as near as might
be consistent with her safety. We were now thoroughly sheltered
from sight of the other ships by the enormous mass of the island,
so that they had no idea of our proceedings.
Finding that it was not wise to take the ship in any closer,
while we were yet some distance from our prize, a boat was sent
to Mr. Cruce with the instructions that he was to run his line
from the whale back to the ship, if the creature was dead. He
(the mate) replied that the whale died as quietly as he had taken
his wounds, and immediately started for the ship. When he had
paid out all his line, another boat bent on, until we got the end
on board. Then we merrily walked him up alongside, while
sufficient sail was kept drawing to prevent her being set in any
nearer. When he was fast, we crowded on all canvas to get away;
for although the sea was deep close up to the cliff, that swell
was a very ugly feature, and one which has been responsible for
the loss of a great number of ships in such places all over the
world. Notwithstanding all our efforts, we did get so near that
every detail of the rock was clearly visible to the naked eye,
and we had some anxious minutes while the old ship, rolling
tremendously, crawled inch after inch along the awful side of
that sea-encircled pyramid.
At one point there was quite a cave, the floor of which would be
some twenty feet above high-water mark, and its roof about the
same distance higher. It appeared to penetrate some distance
into the bowels of the mountain, and was wide and roomy. Seabirds
in great numbers hovered around its entrance, finding it,
no doubt, an ideal nesting-place. It appeared quite
inaccessible, for even with a perfect calm the swell dashed
against the perpendicular face of the cliff beneath with a force
that would have instantly destroyed any vessel unfortunate enough
to get within its influence.
Slowly, slowly we forged past the danger; but the moment we
opened out the extremity of the island, a fresh breeze, like a
saving hand, swept across the bows, filling the head-sails and
swinging the old vessel away from the island in grand style.
Another minute, and the other sails filled also. We were safe,
all hands breathing freely once more.
Now the wind hung far round to the eastward--far enough to
frustrate any design we might have had of going up the Straits
again. The old man, however, was too deeply impressed with the
paramount necessity of shelter to lightly give up the idea of
getting in somewhere; so he pointed her for Preservation Inlet,
which was only some thirty miles under her lee. We crowded all
sail upon her in the endeavour to get in before nightfall, this
unusual proceeding bringing our two friends up from to leeward
with a run to see what we were after. Burdened as we were, they
sailed nearly two knots to our one, and consequently intercepted
us some while before we neared our port. Great was their
surprise to find we had a whale, and very anxious their queries
as to where the rest of the school had gone. Reassured that they
had lost nothing by not being nearer, it being a "lone" whale,
off they went again.
With all our efforts, evening was fast closing in when we entered
the majestic portals of Preservation Inlet, and gazed with
deepest interest upon its heavily wooded shores.
New Zealand is pre-eminently a country of grand harbours; but I
think those that are least used easily hear the palm for grandeur
of scenery and facility of access. The wonderful harbour, or
rather series of harbours, into which we were now entering for
the first time, greatly resembled in appearance a Norwegian
fjord, not only in the character of its scenery, but from the
interesting, if disconcerting, fact that the cliffs were so
steep-to that in some places no anchorage is found alongside the
very land itself. There are, however, many places where the best
possible anchorage can be obtained, so securely sheltered that a
howling south-wester may be tearing the sea up by the roots
outside, and you will know nothing of it within, except what may
be surmised from the motion of the clouds overhead. It was an
ideal place for a whaling station, being right on the Solander.
We found it exceedingly convenient, and much nearer than Port
William, but, from the prevailing winds, difficult of access in
nine cases out of ten, especially when hampered with a whale.
Upon cutting-in our latest catch, an easy explanation of his
passive attitude was at once forthcoming. He had been attacked
by some whale-ship, whose irons had drawn, leaving deep traces of
their presence; but during the battle he had received SEVEN
bombs, all of which had entered around his small, but had not
exploded. Their general effect had been, I should think, to
paralyze the great muscles of his flukes, rendering him unable to
travel; yet this could not have taken place until some time after
he had made good his escape from those aggressors. It was
instructive, as demonstrating what amount of injury these colossi
really can survive, and I have no doubt that, if he had been left
alone, he would have recovered his normal energy, and been as
well as ever. From our point of view, of course, what had
happened was the best possible thing, for he came almost as a
gift--the second capture we had made on these grounds of a like
At the close of our operations the welcome news was made public
that four more fish like the present one would fill us bung-up,
and that we should then, after a brief visit to the Bluff, start
direct for home. This announcement, though expected for some
time past, gave an amazing fillip to everybody's interest in the
work. The strange spectacle was witnessed of all hands being
anxious to quit a snug harbour for the sea, where stern, hard
wrestling with the elements was the rule. The captain, well
pleased with the eagerness manifested, had his boat manned for a
trip to the entrance of the harbour, to see what the weather was
like outside, since it was not possible to judge from where the
ship lay. On his return, he reported the weather rough, but
moderating, and announced his intention of weighing at daylight
next morning. Satisfied that our days in the southern hemisphere
were numbered, and all anxiety to point her head for home, this
news was most pleasing, putting all of us in the best of humours,
and provoking quite an entertainment of song and dance until
nearly four bells.
During the grey of dawn the anchor was weighed. There was no
breath of wind from any quarter, so that it was necessary to
lower boats and tow the old girl out to her field of duty.
Before she was fairly clear of the harbour, though, there came a
"snifter" from the hills that caught her unprepared, making her
reel again, and giving us a desperate few minutes to scramble on
board and hoist our boats up. As we drew out from the land, we
found that a moderate gale was blowing, but the sky was clear,
fathomless blue, the sun rose kindly, a heavenly dream of soft
delicate colour preceding him; so that, in spite of the strong
breeze, all looked promising for a good campaign. At first no
sign could be seen of any of the other ships, though we looked
long and eagerly for them. At last we saw them, four in all,
nearly hull down to seaward, but evidently coming in under press
of sail. So slow, however, was their approach that we had made
one "leg" across the ground and halfway back before they were
near enough for us to descry the reason of their want of speed.
They had each got a whale alongside, and were carrying every rag
of canvas they could spread, in order to get in with their
Our old acquaintance, the CHANCE, was there, the three others
being her former competitors, except those who were disabled,
still lying in Port William. Slowly, painfully they laboured
along, until well within the mouth of the Straits, when, without
any warning, the wind which had been bringing them in suddenly
flew round into the northward, putting them at once in a most
perilous position. Too far within the Straits to "up helm" and
run for it out to sea; not far enough to get anywhere that an
anchor might hold; and there to leeward, within less than a dozen
miles, loomed grim and gloomy one of the most terrific rock-bound
coasts in the world. The shift of wind had placed the CHANCE
farther to leeward than all the rest, a good mile and a half
nearer the shore; and we could well imagine how anxiously her
movements were being watched by the others, who, in spite of
their jealousy of his good luck, knew well and appreciated fully
Paddy's marvellous seamanship, as well as his unparalleled
knowledge of the coast.
Having no whale to hamper our movements, besides being well to
windward of them all, we were perfectly comfortable as long as we
kept to seaward of a certain line and the gale was not too
fierce, so for the present all our attention was concentrated
upon the labouring ships to leeward. The intervention of the
land to windward kept the sea from rising to the awful height it
attains under the pressure of a westerly, or a south-westerly
gale, when, gathering momentum over an area extending right round
the globe, it hurls itself upon those rugged shores. Still, it
was bad enough. The fact of the gale striking across the regular
set of the swell and current had the effect of making the sea
irregular, short, and broken, which state of things is considered
worse, as far as handling the ship goes, than a much heavier,
longer, but more regular succession of waves.
As the devoted craft drifted helplessly down upon that frowning
barrier, our excitement grew intense. Their inability to do
anything but drift was only too well known by experience to every
one of us, nor would it be possible for them to escape at all if
they persisted in holding on much longer. And it was easy to see
why they did so. While Paddy held on so far to leeward of them,
and consequently in so much more imminent danger than they were,
it would be derogatory in the highest degree to their reputation
for seamanship and courage were they to slip and run before he
did. He, however, showed no sign of doing so, although they all
neared, with an accelerated drift, that point from whence no
seamanship could deliver them, and where death inevitable, cruel,
awaited them without hope of escape. The part of the coast upon
which they were apparently driving was about as dangerous and
impracticable as any in the world. A gigantic barrier of black,
naked rock, extending for several hundred yards, rose sheer from
the sea beneath, like the side of an ironclad, up to a height of
seven or eight hundred feet. No outlying spurs of submerged
fragments broke the immeasurable landward rush of the majestic
waves towards the frowning face of this world-fragment. Fresh
from their source, with all the impetus accumulated in their
thousand-mile journey, they came apparently irresistible.
Against this perpendicular barrier they hurled themselves with a
shock that vibrated far inland, and a roar that rose in a
dominating diapason over the continuous thunder of the tempestriven
sea. High as was the summit of the cliff, the spray,
hurled upwards by the tremendous impact, rose higher, so that the
whole front of the great rock was veiled in filmy wreaths of
foam, hiding its solidity from the seaward view. At either end
of this vast, rampart nothing could be seen but a waste of
breakers seething, hissing, like the foot of Niagara, and
effectually concealing the CHEVAUX DE FRISE of rocks which
produced such a vortex of tormented waters.
Towards this dreadful spot, then, the four vessels were being
resistlessly driven, every moment seeing their chances of escape
lessening to vanishing-point. Suddenly, as if panic-stricken,
the ship nearest to the CHANCE gave a great sweep round on to the
other tack, a few fluttering gleams aloft showing that even in
that storm they were daring to set some sail. What the manoeuvre
meant we knew very well--they had cut adrift from their whale,
terrified at last beyond endurance into the belief that Paddy was
going to sacrifice himself and his crew in the attempt to lure
them with him to inevitable destruction. The other two did not
hesitate longer. The example once set, they immediately
followed; but it was for some time doubtful in the extreme
whether their resolve was not taken too late to save them from
destruction. We watched them with breathless interest, unable
for a long time to satisfy ourselves that they were out of
danger. But at last we saw them shortening sail again--a sure
sign that they considered themselves, while the wind held in the
same quarter, safe from going ashore at any rate, although there
was still before them the prospect of a long struggle with the
unrelenting ferocity of the weather down south.
Meanwhile, what of the daring Irishman and his old barrel of a
ship? The fugitives once safe off the land, all our interest
centred in the CHANCE. We watched her until she drew in so
closely to the seething cauldron of breakers that it was only
occasionally we could distinguish her outline; and the weather
was becoming so thick and dirty, the light so bad, that we were
reluctantly compelled to lose sight of her, although the skipper
believed that he saw her in the midst of the turmoil of broken
water at the western end of the mighty mass of perpendicular
cliff before described. Happily for us, the wind veered to the
westward, releasing us from the prospect of another enforced
visit to the wild regions south of the island. It blew harder
than ever; but being now a fair wind up the Straits, we fled
before it, anchoring again in Port William before midnight. Here
we were compelled to remain for a week; for after the gale blew
itself out, the wind still hung in the same quarter, refusing to
allow us to get back again to our cruising station.
But on the second day of our enforced detention a ship poked her
jibboom round the west end of the little bay. No words could
describe our condition of spellbound astonishment when she
rounded-to, cumbrously as befitting a ship towing a whale, and
revealed to us the well-remembered outlines of the old CHANCE.
It was like welcoming the first-fruits of the resurrection; for
who among sailor men, having seen a vessel disappear from their
sight, as we had, under such terrible conditions, would ever have
expected to see her again? She was hardly anchored before our
skipper was alongside, thirsting to satisfy his unbounded
curiosity as to the unheard-of means whereby she had escaped such
apparently inevitable destruction. I was fortunate enough to
accompany him, and hear the story at first-hand.
It appeared that none of the white men on board, except the
redoubtable Paddy himself, had ever been placed in so seemingly
hopeless and desperate a position before. Yet when they saw how
calm and free from anxiety their commander was, how cool and
business-like the attitude of all their dusky shipmates, their
confidence in his ability and resourcefulness kept its usual high
level. It must be admitted that the test such feelings were then
subjected to was of the severest, for to their eyes no possible
avenue of escape was open. Along that glaring line of raging,
foaming water not a break occurred, not the faintest indication
of an opening anywhere wherein even so experienced a pilot as
Paddy might thrust a ship. The great black wall of rock loomed
up by their side, grim and pitiless as doom--a very door of
adamant closed against all hope. Nearer and nearer they drew,
until the roar of the baffled Pacific was deafening, maddening,
in its overwhelming volume of chaotic sound. All hands stood
motionless, with eyes fixed in horrible fascination upon the
indescribable vortex to which they were being irresistibly
At last, just as the fringes of the back-beaten billows hissed up
to greet them, they felt her motion ease. Instinctively looking
aft, they saw the skipper coolly wave his hand, signing to them
to trim the yards. As they hauled on the weather braces, she
plunged through the maelstrom of breakers, and before they had
got the yards right round they were on the other side of that
enormous barrier, the anchor was dropped, and all was still. The
vessel rested, like a bird on her nest, in a deep, still tarn,
shut in, to all appearance, on every side by huge rock barriers.
Of the furious storm but a moment before howling and raging all
around them, nothing remained but an all-pervading, thunderous
hum, causing the deck to vibrate beneath them, and high overhead
the jagged, leaden remnants of twisted, tortured cloud whirling
past their tiny oblong of sky. Just a minute's suspension of all
faculties but wonder, then, in one spontaneous, heartfelt note of
genuine admiration, all hands burst into a cheer that even
overtopped the mighty rumble of the baffled sea.
Here they lay, perfectly secure, and cut in their whale as if in
dock; then at the first opportunity they ran out, with fearful
difficulty, a kedge with a whale-line attached, by which means
they warped the vessel out of her hiding-place--a far more
arduous operation than getting in had been. But even this did
not exhaust the wonders of that occasion. They had hardly got
way upon her, beginning to draw out from the land, when the
eagle-eye of one of the Maories detected the carcass of a whale
rolling among the breakers about half a mile to the westward.
Immediately a boat was lowered, a double allowance of line put
into her, and off they went to the valuable flotsam. Dangerous
in the highest degree was the task of getting near enough to
drive harpoons into the body; but it was successfully
accomplished, the line run on board, and the prize hauled
triumphantly alongside. This was the whale they had now brought
in. We shrewdly suspected that it must have been one of those
abandoned by the unfortunate vessels who had fled, but etiquette
forbade us saying anything about it. Even had it been, another
day would have seen it valueless to any one, for it was by no
means otto of roses to sniff at now, while they had certainly
salved it at the peril of their lives.
When we returned on board and repeated the story, great was the
amazement. Such a feat of seamanship was almost beyond belief;
but we were shut up to believing, since in no other way could the
vessel's miraculous escape be accounted for. The little, dumpy,
red-faced figure, rigged like any scarecrow, that now stood on
his cutting-stage, punching away vigorously at the fetid mass of
blubber beneath him, bore no outward visible sign of a hero about
him; but in our eyes he was transfigured--a being to be thought
of reverently, as one who in all those dualities that go to the
making of a man had proved himself of the seed royal, a king of
men, all the more kingly because unconscious that his deeds were
of so exalted an order.
I am afraid that, to a landsman, my panegyric may smack strongly
of gush, for no one but a seaman can rightly appraise such doings
as these; but I may be permitted to say that, when I think of men
whom I feel glad to have lived to know, foremost among them rises
the queer little figure of Paddy Gilroy.
The wind still holding steadily in the old quarter, our skipper
got very restless. He recalled his former exploits, and, firing
at the thought, decided then and there to have a trip round to
Port Pegasus, in the hope that he might meet with some of his
former good luck in the vicinity of that magnificent bay. With
the greatest alacrity we obeyed his summons, handling the old
barky as if she were a small boat, and the same morning, for the
first time, ran out of the Straits to the eastward past Ruapuke
Island. Beautiful weather prevailed, making our trip a
delightful one, the wonderful scenery of that coast appealing to
even the most callous or indifferent among us. We hugged the
land closely, the skipper being familiar with all of it in a
general way, so that none of its beauties were lost to us. The
breeze holding good, by nightfall we had reached our destination,
anchoring in the north arm near a tumbling cascade of glittering
water that looked like a long feather laid on the dark-green
slope of the steep hill from which it gushed.
We had not been long at anchor before we had visitors--half-breed
Maories, who, like the Finns and Canadians, are farmers,
fishermen, sailors, and shipwrights, as necessity arises. They
brought us potatoes--most welcome of all fruit to the sailor--
cabbages, onions, and "mutton birds." This latter delicacy is a
great staple of their flesh food, but is one of the strangest
dishes imaginable. When it is being cooked in the usual way,
i.e. by grilling, it smells exactly like a piece of roasting
mutton; but it tastes, to my mind, like nothing else in the world
so much as a kippered herring. There is a gastronomical paradox,
if you like. Only the young birds are taken for eating. They
are found, when unfledged, in holes of the rocks, and weigh
sometimes treble as much as their parents. They are exceedingly
fat; but this substance is nearly all removed from their bodies
before they are hung up in the smoke-houses. They are split open
like a haddock, and carefully smoked, after being steeped in
brine. Baskets, something like exaggerated strawberry pottles of
the old conical shape, are prepared, to hold each about a dozen
birds. They are lined with leaves, then packed with the birds,
the melted fat being run into all the interstices until the
basket is full. The top is then neatly tied up with more leaves,
and, thus preserved, the contents will keep in cool weather an
indefinite length of time.
Captain Count was soon recognized by some of his old friends, who
were delighted to welcome him again. Their faces fell, however,
when he told them that his stay was to be very brief, and that he
only required four good-sized fish to fill up. Inquiry as to the
prevalence of sperm whales in the vicinity elicited the news that
they were as plentiful as they had ever been--if anything, more
so, since the visits of the whalers had become fewer. There were
a couple of "bay" whaling stations existing; but, of course,
their success could not be expected to be great among the
cachalots, who usually keep a respectful distance from harbours,
while they had driven the right whales away almost entirely.
No one could help being struck by the manly hearing, splendid
physique, and simple manners of the inhabitants. If ever it
falls to the lot of any one, as I hope it will, to establish a
sperm whale fishery in these regions, there need be no lack of
workers while such grand specimens of manhood abound there as we
saw--all, moreover, fishermen and whalers from their earliest
We did not go far afield, but hovered within ten or fifteen miles
of the various entrances, so as not to be blown off the land in
case of sudden bad weather. Even with that timid offing, we were
only there two days, when an enormous school of sperm whales hove
in sight. I dare not say how many I believe there were, and my
estimate really might be biassed; but this I know, that in no
given direction could one look to seaward and not see many
We got among them and had a good time, being more hampered by the
curiosity of the unattached fish than by the pugnacity of those
under our immediate attention. So we killed three, and by
preconcerted signal warned the watchers on the lofty points
ashore of our success. As speedily as possible off came four
boats from the shore stations, and hooked on to two of our fish,
while we were busy with the third. The wind being off shore,
what there was of it, no time was to be lost, in view of the
well-known untrustworthiness of the weather; so we started to
cut-in at once, while the shore people worked like giants to tow
the other two in. Considering the weakness of their forces, they
made marvellous progress; but seeing how terribly exhausting the
toil was, one could not help wishing them one of the small London
tugs, familiarly known as "jackals," which would have snaked
those monsters along at three or four knots an hour.
However, all went well; the usual gale did blow but not till we
had got the last piece aboard and a good "slant" to run in,
arriving at our previous moorings at midnight. In the morning
the skipper went down in his boat to visit the stations, and see
how they had fared. Old hand as he was, I think he was
astonished to see what progress those fellows had made with the
fish. They did not reach the stations till after midnight, but
already they had the whales half flenched, and, by the way they
were working, it looked as if they would be through with their
task as soon as we were with ours. Their agreement with the
skipper was to yield us half the oil they made, and, if agreeable
to them, we would take their moiety at L40 per tun. Consequently
they had something to work for, even though there were twenty of
them to share the spoil. They were a merry party, eminently good
tempered, and working as though one spirit animated them all. If
there was a leader of the band, he did his office with great
subtilty, for all seemed equal, nor did any appear to need
directing what to do. Fired by their example, we all worked our
hardest; but they beat us by half a day, mainly, I think, by dint
of working nearly all the time with scarce any interval for
sleep. True, they were bound to take advantage of low water when
their huge prize was high and dry--to get at him easily all
round. Their method was of the simplest. With gaff-hooks to
haul back the pieces, and short-handled spades for cutting, they
worked in pairs, taking off square slabs of blubber about a
hundredweight each. As soon as a piece was cut off, the pair
tackled on to it, dragging it up to the pots, where the cooks
hastily sliced it for boiling, interspersing their labours with
attention to the simmering cauldrons.
Their efforts realized twenty-four tuns of clear oil and
spermaceti, of which, according to bargain, we took twelve, the
captain buying the other twelve for L480, as previously arranged.
This latter portion, however, was his private venture, and not on
ship's account, as he proposed selling it at the Bluff, when we
should call there on our way home. So that we were still two
whales short of our quantity. What a little space it did seem to
fill up! Our patience was sorely tested, when, during a whole
week following our last haul, we were unable to put to sea. In
vain we tried all the old amusements of fishing, rambling,
bathing, etc.; they had lost their "bite;" we wanted to get home.
At last the longed-for shift of wind came and set us free. We
had hardly got well clear of the heads before we saw a school of
cachalots away on the horizon, some twelve miles off the land to
the southward. We made all possible sail in chase, but found, to
our dismay, that they were "making a passage," going at such a
rate that unless the wind freshened we could hardly hope to come
up with them. Fortunately, we had all day before us, having
quitted our moorings soon after daylight; and unless some
unforeseen occurrence prevented us from keeping up our rate of
speed, the chances were that some time before dark they would
ease up and allow us to approach them. They were heading to the
westward, perhaps somewhat to the northward withal, to all
appearance making for the Solander. Hour after hour crawled by,
while we still seemed to preserve our relative distance, until we
had skirted the southern shore of the island and entered the
area, of our old fishing ground. Two vessels were cruising
thereon, well to the northward, and we thought with glee of the
excitement that would seize them did they but gain an inkling of
our chase.
To our great delight, what we had hoped, but hardly dared expect,
came to pass. The school, as if with one impulse, hauled up on
their course four points, which made them head direct for the
western verge of the Solander ground, and--what was more
important to us--made our coming up with them a matter of a short
time. We made the customary signals with the upper sails to our
friends to the northward, who recognized them immediately, and
bore down towards us. Not only had the school shifted their
course, but they had slackened speed; so that by four o'clock we
were able to lower for them at less than a mile distance.
It was an ideal whaling day--smooth water, a brisk breeze, a
brilliant sun, and plenty of whales. I was, as became my
position, in the rear when we went into action, and hardly hoped
for an opportunity of doing much but dance attendance upon my
seniors. But fortune favoured me. Before I had any idea whether
the chief was fast or not, all other considerations were driven
clean out of my head by the unexpected apparition of a colossal
head, not a ship's length away, coming straight for us, throwing
up a swell in front of him like an ironclad. There was barely
time to sheer to one side, when the giant surged past us in a
roar of foaming sea, the flying flakes of which went right over
us. Samuela was "all there," though, and as the great beast
passed he plunged a harpoon into him with such force and vigour
that the very socket entered the blubber it needed all the
strength I could muster, even with such an aid as the nineteenfeet
steer-oar, to swing the boat right round in his wake, and
prevent her being capsized by his headlong rush.
For, contrary to the usual practice, he paused not an instant,
but rather quickened his pace, as if spurred. Heavens, how he
went! The mast and sail had to come down--and they did, but I
hardly know how. The spray was blinding, coming in sheets over
the bows, so that I could hardly see how to steer in the
monster's wake. He headed straight for the ship, which lay-to
almost motionless, filling me with apprehension lest he should in
his blind flight dash that immense mass of solid matter into her
broadside, and so put an inglorious end to all our hopes. What
their feelings on board must have been, I can only imagine, when
they saw the undeviating rush of the gigantic creature straight
for them. On he went, until I held my breath for the crash, when
at the last moment, and within a few feet of the ship's side, he
dived, passing beneath the vessel. We let go line immediately,
as may be supposed; but although we had been towing with quite
fifty fathoms drift, our speed had been so great that we came up
against the old ship with a crash that very nearly finished us.
He did not run any further just then, but sounded for about two
hundred and fifty fathoms, rising to the surface in quite another
mood. No more running away from him. I cannot say I felt any of
the fierce joy of battle at the prospect before me. I had a
profound respect for the fighting qualities of the sperm whale,
and, to tell the truth, would much rather have run twenty miles
behind him than have him turn to bay in his present parlous
humour. It was, perhaps, fortunate for me that there was a crowd
of witnesses, the other ships being now quite near enough to see
all that was going on, since the feeling that my doings were full
in view of many experts and veterans gave me a determination that
I would not disgrace either myself or my ship; besides, I felt
that this would probably be our last whale this voyage, if I did
not fail, and that was no small thing to look forward to.
All these things, so tedious in the telling, flashed through my
mind, while, with my eyes glued to the huge bulk of my antagonist
or the hissing vortices above him when he settled, I manoeuvred
my pretty craft with all the skill I could summon. For what
seemed a period of about twenty minutes we dodged him as he made
the ugliest rushes at us. I had not yet changed ends with
Samuela, as customary, for I felt it imperative to keep the helm
while this game was being played. My trusty Kanaka, however, had
a lance ready, and I knew, if he only got the ghost of a chance,
no man living would or could make better use of it.
The whole affair was growing monotonous as well as extremely
wearying. Perhaps I was a little off my guard; at any rate, my
heart almost leaped into my mouth when just after an ugly rush
past us, which I thought had carried him to a safe distance, he
stopped dead, lifted his flukes, and brought them down edgeways
with a vicious sweep that only just missed the boat's gunwale and
shore off the two oars on that side as if they had been carrots.
This serious disablement would certainly have led to disaster
but for Samuela. Prompt and vigorous, he seized the opportune
moment when the whale's side was presented just after the blow,
sending his lance quivering home all its length into the most
vital part of the leviathan's anatomy. Turning his happy face to
me, he shouted exultingly, "How's dat fer high?"--a bit of slang
he had picked up, and his use of which never failed to make me
smile. "High" it was indeed--a master-stroke. It must have
pierced the creature's heart, for he immediately began to spout
blood in masses, and without another wound went into his flurry
and died.
Then came the reaction. I must have exerted myself beyond what I
had any idea of, for to Samuela I was obliged to delegate the,
task of fluke-boring, while I rested a little. The ship was soon
alongside, though, and the whale secured. There was more yet to
be done before we could rest, in spite of our fatigue. The other
boats had been so successful that they had got two big fish, and
what we were to do with them was a problem not easily solvable.
By dint of great exertion, we managed to get another whale
alongside, but were fain to come to some arrangement with the
ELIZA ADAMS, one of the ships that had been unsuccessful, to take
over our other whale on an agreement to render us one-third of
the product either in Port William or at home, if she should not
find us is the former place.
Behold us, then, in the gathering dusk with a whale an either
side, every stitch of canvas we could show set and drawing,
straining every nerve to get into the little port again, with the
pleasant thought that we were bringing with us all that was
needed to complete our well-earned cargo. Nobody wanted to go
below; all hands felt that it was rest enough to hang over the
rail on either side and watch the black masses as they surged
through the gleaming sea. They represented so much to us. Very
little was said, but all hearts were filled with a deep content,
a sense of a long season of toil fitly crowned with complete
success; nor was any depression felt at the long, long stretch of
stormy ocean between us and our home port far away in the United
States. That would doubtless come by-and-by, when within less
than a thousand miles of New Bedford; but at present all sense of
distance from home was lost in the overmastering thought that
soon it would be our only business to get there as quickly as
possible, without any avoidable loitering on the road.
We made an amazing disturbance in the darkness of the sea with
our double burthen, so much so that one of the coasting steamers
changed her course a bit to range up by our side in curiosity.
We were scarcely going two and a half knots, in spite of the row
we made, and there was hardly room for wonder at the steamboat
captain's hail, "Want any assistance?" "No, thank you," was
promptly returned, although there was little doubt that all hands
would have subscribed towards a tow into port, in case the
treacherous weather should, after all, play us a dirty trick.
But it looked as if our troubles were over. No hitch occurred in
our steady progress, slow though it necessarily was, and as
morning lifted the heavy veil from the face of the land, we
arrived at our pretty little haven, and quietly came to an
anchor. The CHANCE was in port wind-bound, looking, like
ourselves, pretty low in the water. No sooner did Paddy hear the
news of our arrival in such fine trim than he lowered his boat
and hurried on board of us, his face beaming with delight. Long
and loud were his congratulations, especially when be heard that
we should now be full. Moreover, he offered--nor would he take
any denial--to come with the whole of his crew and help us
For the next four days and nights, during which the wind
prevented the CHANCE from leaving us, our old ship was a scene of
wild revelry, that ceased not through the twenty-four hours--
revelry entirely unassisted by strong waters, too, the natural
ebullient gaiety of men who were free from anxiety on any account
whatever, rejoicing over the glad consummation of more than two
years toil, on the one hand; on the other, a splendid sympathy in
joy manifested by the satisfied crew under the genial command of
Captain Gilroy. With their cheerful help we made wonderful
progress; and when at last the wind hauled into a favourable
quarter, and they were compelled to leave us, the back of our
work was broken, only the tedious task of boiling being left to
Never, I am sure, did two ships' companies part with more hearty
good-will than ours. As the ungainly old tub surged slowly out
of the little harbour, her worn-out and generally used-up
appearance would have given a Board of Trade Inspector the
nightmare; the piratical looks of her crowd were enough to
frighten a shipload of passengers into fits; but to us who had
seen their performances in all weathers, and under all
circumstances, accidental externals had no weight in biassing our
high opinion of them all. Good-bye, old ship; farewell, jolly
captain and sturdy crew; you will never be forgotten any more by
us while life lasts, and in far other and more conventional
scenes we shall regretfully remember the free-and-easy time we
shared with you. So she slipped away round the point and out of
our lives for ever.
By dint of steady hard work we managed to get the last of our
greasy work done in four days more, then faced with a will the
job of stowing afresh the upper tiers of casks, in view of our
long journey home. The oil bought by the skipper on private
venture was left on deck, secured to the lash-rail, for
discharging at the Bluff, while our stock of water-casks were
carefully overhauled and recoopered prior to being stowed in
their places below. Of course, we had plenty of room in the
hold, since no ship would carry herself full of casks of oil; but
I doubt whether, if we had borne a "Plimsoll's mark," it would
not have been totally submerged, so deep did we lie. Wooding and
watering came next--a different affair to our casual exercises in
those directions before. Provision had to be made now for a
possible four or five months' passage, during which we hoped to
avoid any further calls, so that the accumulation of firewood
alone was no small matter. We cleared the surrounding
neighbourhood of potatoes at a good price, those useful tubers
being all they could supply us with for sea-stock, much to their
Then came the most unpleasant part of the whole business--for me.
It had been a part of the agreement made with the Kanakas that
they were not to be taken home with us, but returned to their
island upon the termination of the whaling. Now, the time had
arrived when we were to part, and I must confess that I felt very
sorry to leave them. They had proved docile, useful, and
cheerful; while as for my harpooner and his mate Polly, no man
could have wished for smarter, better, or more faithful helpers
than they were. Strong as their desire was to return to their
homes, they too felt keenly the parting with us; for although
they had unavoidably suffered much from the inclemency of the
weather--so different from anything they had ever previously
experienced--they had been kindly treated, and had moved on
precisely the same footing as the rest of the crew. They wept
like little children when the time arrived for them to leave us,
declaring that if ever we came to their island again they would
use all their endeavours to compel us to remain, assuring us that
we should want for nothing during the rest of our lives, if we
would but take up our abode with them. The one exception to all
this cordiality was Sam. His ideas were running in quite other
channels. To regain his lost status as ruler of the island, with
all the opportunities for indulging his animal propensities which
such a position gave him, was the problem he had set himself, and
to the realization of these wishes he had determinedly bent all
his efforts.
Thus he firmly declined the offer of a passage back in the ELIZA
ADAMS, which our captain secured for all the Kanakas; preferring
to be landed at the Bluff, with the goodly sum of money to which
he was entitled, saying that he had important business to
transact in Sydney before he returned. This business, he
privately informed me, was the procuring of arms and ammunition
wherewith to make war upon his rival. Of course we could not
prevent him, although it did seem an abominable thing to let
loose the spirit of slaughter among those light-hearted natives
just to satisfy the ambition of an unscrupulous negro. But, as I
have before noticed, from information received many years after I
learned that he had been successful in his efforts, though at
what cost to life I do not know.
So our dusky friends left us, with a good word from every one,
and went on board the ELIZA ADAMS, whose captain promised to land
them at Futuna, within six months. How he carried out his
promise, I do not know; but, for the poor fellows' sakes, I trust
he kept his word.
And now the cruise of the good old whaling barque CACHALOT, as
far as whaling is concerned, comes to an end. For all practical
purposes she becomes a humdrum merchantman in haste to reach her
final port of discharge, and get rid of her cargo. No more will
she loiter and pry around anything and everything, from an island
to a balk of drift-wood, that comes in her way, knowing not the
meaning of "waste of time." The "crow's-nests" are dismantled,
taut topgallant-masts sent up, and royal yards crossed. As soon
as we get to sea we shall turn-to and heave that ancient fabric
of bricks and mortar--always a queer-looking erection to be
cumbering a ship's deck--piecemeal over the side. It has long
been shaky and weather-beaten; it will soon obstruct our
movements no more. Our rigging has all been set up and tarred
down; we have painted hull and spars, and scraped wherever the
wood-work is kept bright. All gear belonging to whaling has been
taken out of the boats, carefully cleaned, oiled, and stowed away
for a "full due." Two of the boats have been taken inboard, and
stowed bottom-up upon the gallows aft, as any other merchantman
carries them. At last, our multifarious preparations completed,
we ride ready for sea.
It was quite in accordance with the fitness of things that, when
all things were now ready for our departure, there should come a
change of wind that threatened to hold us prisoners for some days
longer. But our "old man" was hard to beat, and he reckoned
that, if we could only get out of the "pond," he would work her
across to the Bluff somehow or other. So we ran out a kedge with
a couple of lines to it, and warped her out of the weather side
of the harbour, finding, when at last we got her clear, that she
would lay her course across the Straits to clear Ruapuke--nearly;
but the current had to be reckoned with. Before we reached that
obstructing island we were down at the eastern end of it, and
obliged to anchor promptly to save ourselves from being swept
down the coast many miles to leeward of our port.
But the skipper was quite equal to the occasion. Ordering his
boat, he sped away into Bluff harbour, only a matter of six or
seven miles, returning soon with a tug, who for a pound or two
placed us, without further trouble, alongside the wharf, amongst
some magnificent clipper ships of Messrs. Henderson's and the New
Zealand Shipping Co.'s, who seemed to turn up their splendid
noses at the squat, dumpy, antiquated old serving-mallet that
dared to mingle with so august a crowd. There had been a time,
not so very far back, when I should have shared their apparent
contempt for our homely old tub; but my voyage had taught me,
among other things, that, as far as true comfort went at sea, not
a "three-skysail-yarder" among them could compare with the
CACHALOT. And I was extremely glad that my passage round the
Horn was to be in my own ship, and not in a long, snaky tank
that, in the language of the sailor, takes a header when she gets
outside the harbour, and only comes up two or three times to blow
before she gets home.
Our only reason for visiting this place being to discharge
Captain Count's oil, and procure a sea-stock of salt provisions
and hard bread, these duties were taken in hand at once. The
skipper sold his venture of oil to good advantage, being so
pleased with his success that he gave us all a good feed on the
strength of it.
As soon as the stores were embarked and everything ready for sea,
leave was given to all hands for twenty-four hours, upon the
distinct understanding that the privilege was not to be abused,
to the detriment of everybody, who, as might be supposed, were
anxious to start for home. In order that there might be less
temptation to go on the spree generally, a grand picnic was
organized to a beautiful valley some distance from the town.
Carriages were chartered, an enormous quantity of eatables and
drinkables provided, and away we went, a regular wayzgoose or
bean-feast party. It was such a huge success, that I have ever
since wondered why such outings cannot become usual among sailors
on liberty abroad, instead of the senseless, vicious waste of
health, time, and hard-earned wages which is general. But I must
not let myself loose upon this theme again, or we shall never get
to sea.
Liberty over without any trouble arising, and all hands
comfortably on board again, the news ran round that we were to
sail in the morning. So, after a good night's rest, we cast
loose from the wharf, and, with a little assistance from the same
useful tug that brought us in, got fairly out to sea. All sail
was set to a strong, steady north-wester, and with yards canted
the least bit in the world on the port tack, so that every stitch
was drawing, we began our long easterly stretch to the Horn,
homeward bound at last.
Favoured by wind and weather, we made an average run of one
hundred and eighty miles per day for many days, paying no
attention to "great circle sailing," since in such a slow ship
the net gain to be secured by going to a high latitude was very
small, but dodging comfortably along on about the parallel of
48deg. S., until it became necessary to draw down towards "Cape
Stiff," as that dreaded extremity of South America, Cape Horn, is
familiarly called by seamen. As we did so, icebergs became
numerous, at one time over seventy being in sight at once. Some
of them were of immense size--one, indeed, that could hardly be
fitly described as an iceberg, but more properly an ice-field,
with many bergs rising out of it, being over sixty miles long,
while some of its towering peaks were estimated at from five
hundred to one thousand feet high. Happily, the weather kept
clear; for icebergs and fog make a combination truly appalling to
the sailor, especially if there be much wind blowing.
Needless, perhaps, to say, our look-out was of the best, for all
hands had a double interest in the safety of the ship. Perhaps
it may be thought that any man would have so much regard for the
safety of his life that he would not think of sleeping on his
look-out; but I can assure my readers that, strange as it may
seem, such is not the case, I have known men who could never be
trusted not to go to sleep, no matter how great the danger. This
is so well recognized in merchant ships that nearly every officer
acts as if there was no look-out at all forward, in case his
supposed watchman should be having a surreptitious doze.
Stronger and stronger blew the brave west wind; dirtier,
gloomier, and colder grew the weather, until, reduced to two
topsails and a reefed foresail, we were scudding dead before the
gale for all we were worth. This was a novel experience for us in
the CACHALOT, and I was curious to see how she would behave. To
my mind, the supreme test of a ship's sea-kindliness is the
length of time she will scud before a gale without "pooping" a
sea, or taking such heavy water on board over her sides as to do
serious damage. Some ships are very dangerous to run at all.
Endeavouring to make the best use of the gale which is blowing in
the right direction, the captain "hangs on" to all the sail he
can carry, until she ships a mighty mass of water over all, so
that the decks are filled with wreckage, or, worse still, "poops"
a sea. The latter experience is a terrible one, even to a
trained seaman. You are running before the wind and waves,
sometimes deep in the valley between two liquid mountains,
sometimes high on the rolling ridge of one. You watch anxiously
the speed of the sea, trying to decide whether it or you are
going the faster, when suddenly there seems to be a hush, almost
a lull, in the uproar. You look astern, and see a wall of water
rising majestically higher and higher, at the same time drawing
nearer and nearer. Instinctively you clutch at something firm,
and hold your breath. Then that mighty green barrier leans
forward, the ship's stern seems to settle at the same time, and,
with a thundering noise as of an avalanche descending, it
overwhelms you. Of course the ship's way is deadened; she seems
like a living thing overburdened, yet struggling to be free; and
well it is for all hands if the helmsman be able to keep his
post and his wits about him. For if he be hurt, or have fled
from the terrible wave, it is an even chance that she "broaches
to;" that is to say, swings round broadside on to the next great
wave that follows relentlessly its predecessor. Then, helpless
and vulnerable, she will most probably be smashed up and founder.
Many a good ship has gone with all hands to the bottom just as
simply as that.
In order to avoid such a catastrophe, the proper procedure is to
"heave-to" before the sea has attained so dangerous a height; but
even a landsman can understand bow reluctant a shipmaster may be
to lie like a log just drifting, while a more seaworthy ship is
flying along at the rate of, perhaps, three hundred miles a day
in the desired direction. Ships of the CACHALOT's bluff build
are peculiarly liable to delays of this kind from their slowness,
which, if allied to want of buoyancy, makes it necessary to
heave-to in good time, if safety is at all cared for.
To my great astonishment and delight, however, our grand old
vessel nobly sustained her character, running on without shipping
any heavy water, although sometimes hedged in on either side by
gigantic waves that seemed to tower as high as her lowermast
heads. Again and again we were caught up and passed by the
splendid homeward-bound colonial packets, some of them carrying
an appalling press of canvas, under which the long, snaky hulls,
often overwhelmed by the foaming seas, were hardly visible, so
insignificant did they appear by comparison with the snowy
mountain of swelling sail above.
So we fared eastward and ever southward, until in due time up
rose the gloomy, storm-scarred crags of the Diego Ramirez rocks,
grim outposts of the New World. To us, though, they bore no
terrific aspect; for were they not the turning-point from which
we could steer north, our head pointed for home? Immediately
upon rounding them we hauled up four points, and, with daily
improving weather climbed the southern slopes towards the line.
Very humdrum and quiet the life appeared to all of us, and had it
not been for the saving routine of work by day, and watch by
night, kept up with all our old discipline, the tedium would have
been insupportable after the incessant excitement of expectation
to which we had so long been accustomed. Still, our passage was
by no means a bad one for a slow ship, being favoured by more
than ordinarily steadfast winds until we reached the zone of the
south-east trades again, where the usual mild, settled wind and
lovely weather awaited us. On and on, unhasting but unresting,
we stolidly jogged, by great good fortune slipping across the
"doldrums"--that hateful belt of calms about the line so much
detested by all sailor-men--without losing the south-east wind.
Not one day of calm delayed us, the north-east trades meeting us
like a friend sent to extend a welcoming hand and lend us his
assistance on our homeward way. They hung so far to the
eastward, too--sometimes actually at east-by-north-that we were
able to steer north on the starboard tack--a slice of luck not
usually met with. This "slant" put all hands in the best of
humours, and already the date of our arrival was settled by the
more sanguine ones, as well as excellent plans made for spending
the long voyage's earnings.
For my part, having been, in spite of my youth, accustomed to so
many cruel disappointments and slips between the cup and lip, I
was afraid to dwell too hopefully upon the pleasures (?) of
getting ashore. And after the incident which I have now to
record occurred, I felt more nervous distrust than I had ever
felt before at sea since first I began to experience the many
vicissitudes of a sailor's life.
We had reached the northern verge of the tropics in a very short
time, owing to the favourable cant in the usual direction of the
north-east trades before noted, and had been met with northwesterly
winds and thick, dirty weather, which was somewhat
unusual in so low a latitude. Our look-outs redoubled their
vigilance, one being posted on each bow always at night, and
relieved every hour, as we were so well manned. We were now on
the port tack, of course, heading about north-east-by-north, and
right in the track of outward-hound vessels from both the United
Kingdom and the States. One morning, about three a.m.--that
fateful time in the middle watch when more collisions occur than
at any other--suddenly out of the darkness a huge ship seemed to
leap right at us. She must have come up in a squall, of which
there were many about, at the rate of some twelve knots an hour,
having a fair wind, and every rag of sail set. Not a gleam of
light was visible anywhere on board of her, and, to judge from
all appearances, the only man awake on board was the helmsman.
We, being "on the wind, close-hauled," were bound by the "rule of
the road at sea" to keep our course when meeting a ship running
free. The penalty for doing ANYTHING under such circumstances is
a severe one. First of all, you do not KNOW that the other
ship's crew are asleep or negligent, even though they carry no
lights; for, by a truly infernal parsimony, many vessels actually
do not carry oil enough to keep their lamps burning all the
voyage, and must therefore economize in this unspeakably
dangerous fashion. And it may be that just as you alter your
course, daring no longer to hold on, and, as you have every
reason to believe, be run down, the other man alters his. Then a
few breathless moments ensue, an awful crash, and the two vessels
tear each other to pieces, spilling the life that they contain
over the hungry sea. Even if you escape, YOU are to blame for
not keeping your course, unless it can be proved that you were
not seen by the running ship.
Well, we kept our course until, I verily believe, another plunge
would have cut us sheer in two halves. At the last moment our
helm was put hard down, bringing our vessel right up into the
wind at the same moment as the helmsman on board the other vessel
caught sight of us, and instinctively put his helm down too. The
two vessels swung side by side amidst a thunderous roar of
flapping canvas, crackling of fallen spars, and rending of wood
as the shrouds tore away the bulwarks. All our davits were
ripped from the starboard side, and most of our bulwarks too;
but, strangely enough, we lost no spars nor any important gear.
There seemed to be a good deal of damage done on board the
stranger, where, in addition, all hands were at their wits' end.
Well they might be, aroused from so criminal a sleep as theirs.
Fortunately, the third mate had powerful bull's-eye lantern,
which in his watch on deck he always kept lighted. Turning it on
the stern of the delinquent vessel as she slowly forged clear of
us, we easily read her name, which, for shame's sake as well as
for prudential reasons, I withhold. She was a London ship, and a
pretty fine time of it I had for the next day or two, listening
to the jeers and sarcasms on the quality of British seamanship.
Repairing damages kept us busy for a few days; but whatever of
thankfulness we were capable of feeling was aroused by this
hairbreadth escape from death through the wicked neglect of the
most elementary duty of any man calling himself a seaman.
Then a period of regular Western-ocean weather set in. It was
early spring in the third year since our departure from this part
of the world, and the north-easter blew with bitter severity,
making even the seasoned old captain wince again; but, as he
jovially said, "it smelt homey, n' HE warn't a-goin' ter growl at
thet." Neither were any of us, although we could have done with
less of a sharp edge to it all the same.
Steadily we battled northward, until at last, with full hearts,
me made Cape Navesink ("Ole Neversunk"), and on the next day took
a tug and towed into New Bedford with every flag we could scare
up flying, the centre of admiration--a full whale-ship safe back
from her long, long fishing round the world.
My pleasant talk is done. I wish from my heart it were better
performed; but, having done my best, I must perforce be content.
If in some small measure I have been able to make you, my
friendly reader, acquainted with a little-known or appreciated
side of life, and in any wise made that life a real matter to
you, giving you a fresh interest in the toilers of the sea, my
work has not been wholly in vain. And with that fond hope I give
you the sailor's valedictory--

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