The author served as surgeon on the ship Stratford, Captain Abijah Lock. This page contains the Galápagos chapters only. The Preface is included, since it gives the dates of the voyage. With the exception of a Chapter I reference to departing England in October, 1832, no dates are given in subsequent chapters. Author's spelling of “Villamil” as “Vilamil” is retained.—J. W.
The Pacific Ocean has of late excited great interest in the minds, I may say of all Europe, in consequence of the political transactions occurring at the Polynesian Islands, particularly at “Tahiti.” The aggressions of the French have caused England to be on the watch, and Queen Pomare's remote but beautiful islands have and are likely to produce differences between those two great powers. The officers on so distant a station being too far off to receive their despatches quickly, might, on some sudden impluse, do a rash act, that would terminate all friendly diplomacy. However, it is to be hoped that those gentlemen now intrusted with command will possess a share of the wisdom that guides the councils of their respective governments, and do nothing but what may tend to the interest and welfare of all.
My last voyage extended to a period of four years, leaving London in [October] 1832, passing round Cape Horn, touching and lying at anchor at a number of ports on the west coasts of both South and North America, stretching off westerly among the various islands in the North and South Pacific, crossing the meridian of 180°, and then among those in east longitude; returning again by the South Pacific to the Polynesian group, and finally fitting out the ship at Tahiti, from whence we sailed over to Eimeo, took as passenger on board a missionary, who had been a great many years on these islands, Mr. Armitage and his family, and arrived in London in 1836.
During such a voyage, and at such distant places, a variety of incidents must necessarily occur—some comic, some deeply tragic. A few of those I now give to the reader, reserving others for future purposes. Being strictly authentic, the senior reader may feel an interest in them, and the junior be amused by the shooting, fishing, and sailing excursions, with the exploring rambles on uninhabited islands.
In order to save some readers the trouble of a reference to scientific books, I divest this altogether of the technicalities of botany and natural history; and wherever a native name occurs, I have written it down as correctly as I could from the sound of it conveyed to me.
Dublin, September, 1845.
SAILING ALONG THE COAST—GALLAPAGOS ISLANDS—ANCHOR AT LA FLORIANA OR CHARLES ISLAND—DESCRIPTION OF IT AND ITS ANCHORAGE—AN ACCOUNT OF PAT, AND HIS ADVENTURES WHILE LIVING ALONE ON THIS ISLAND FOR YEARS—BARBAROUS TREATMENT OF HIM BY AN AMERICAN CAPTAIN—HIS REVENGE—EXCURSION TO GUYAQUIL FOR A WIFE—HIS DEATH.
In ranging up along the coast, we put into almost all the ports of Peru and Colombia; but as to those I will not now speak, but shall bring the reader at once to the “Gallapagos Islands,” situated between 1° north latitude, and 2° south latitude, and between 89° and 92° west longitude. They consist of six large, and seven smaller islands. The most important ones, as to size, are named as follows: Albemarl [sic], the largest, Chatam [sic], Charles's, or, as it is now called, “La Floriana,” James's, Gardiner's, Abingdon, Wenman's, Culpeper's, &c. Part of Albemarl is very high, and I believe about four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and has every appearance of once having been a great volcano. It can be seen a long way off. The other islands are not so high.
We first came to an anchor at Charles Island, in an excellent inlet, or harbour, the usual, and only place for anchorage at the island. The land abreast of the ship where she now lay was high, and rugged, covered with rocks, and masses of old lava, with a great quantity of the prickly pear, mangrove, and other evergreens, in great variety; but this spot is so exceedingly rugged, that you could not penetrate far into the country without great inconvenience, and the liability of having your clothes torn off you.
To the eastward of the anchorage there is more level ground; which from the natural arrangement of the trees, looks like a well-laid-out park. There is also a fine beach for landing at, called and known well by the name of “Pat's Landing.” From this beach, away up into the mountains, the country is beautiful; and from the very irregular and fanciful appearance of the rocks, trees, &c. highly romantic. There are a great many ravines or gullies, which, in the rainy season, are full of water, tearing its way to the sea. There are also many caves of very peculiar formation. By going into any of those, and making a noise, or firing a shot, whole flocks of owls and bats will be disturbed.
This beach I have mentioned got its name from an Irishman § who many years ago resided on this island for a long time, the sole inhabitant, except when a runaway sailor or two would join him. His history, as far as is known, was that of a very daring, reckless, and strange being. He belonged to several ships on the coast, and was in many of the revolutionary rows, so common in Chili, Peru, Colombia, &c. At last he formed one of the crew of a whale ship which was cruising round those islands, the captain of her having a great deal of trouble with him, he having formed several plots to mutiny, and take the ship, there being no feeling of security as long as he was on board, he was landed on the southern extremity of Albemarl Island.
§ Patrick Watkins. See The Legend of Patrick Watkins for additional details.
Here water being extremely scarce, he was nearly famishing, and would have died from the want of it, but that he squeezed the juice out of the prickly pear and cabbage tree. This was a substitute, which saved his life. As to food, he had plenty of doves and terapin, or the land tortoise, which is excellent. After some months the captain of an American whale ship humanely took him off, and landed him, at his own request, on Charles's Island, with which he was familiar, and which he knew possessed plenty of fine water from springs.
He was landed on the beach in question, from which there is a complete and naturally beautiful avenue up to the mountains; and nearly at the summit of one of them there is a spot of excellent land, of four or five acres in extent, nearly surrounded with high hills; in fact, there is only one pass into it. On this level he erected his house or hut, and had a great deal of it under cultivation; so much so that he had a quantity of vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins, Indian corn, melons, with plenty of hogs and poultry; those he sold for years to the shipping. He also dug a well on his farm, and though in high land, at a moderate depth obtained a good supply of water.
I understood his chief dress consisted of a seal-skin cap over his red bushy hair, a red flannel shirt, and pair of flannel drawers, with seal-skin mocasins on his feet. He never went without his gun, particularly when he had those runaways with him; neither did he sleep two nights in the same place. He knew every cave and secret spot on the island, and occasionally used them for dormitories. Now, it is a strange circumstance, and yet a fact, that this man, whenever those runaway sailors resided on the island, would enforce subjection, and actually compelled them to work his farm for him. They were soon glad to separate from him by joining, on any terms, the first ship that came in.
He was often greatly blamed, (though I believe unjustly), for inducing sailors to leave their ships, and in one case he suffered for it. An American whale ship put in there, and two of the crew, who had been severely treated on board, took to the bush, and Pat was blamed for harbouring them. Captain Bunker, of Nantucket, who commanded the ship, invited him on board, and in ignorance of what had occurred, or the men leaving, he accepted the invitation.
As soon as he came on board, he was tied up and severely flogged, then handcuffed and landed on the beach to die or live as he might, with his hands fast, and no one to loose them. It was a murdering, brutual [sic] act of this ruffianly captain. The ship sailed the next day, and left him to his fate.
Pat, however, was not to die in this manner; for in his seal-skin cap, which was, fortunately for him, not removed from his head, he had two files, one of which, with both hands, he drove firmly into a tree; he then patiently and perseveringly commenced and continued the operation of filing through the handcuffs, until he freed himself. He then for ever vowed vengeance against the captain who treated him so, if ever he should be in his power.
He had an iron frame, a strong and well cultivated mind. He had received a good education in his youth; this, to a character like him, made him doubly mischievous. A few months afterwards, as he was round at the other side of the island, after seal, in his boat, which he called the Black Prince, he fell in with an English whale ship. From the crew he learned that he would soon have visitors, as two or three American ships were to call at the island. One of them was that on board of which he had been so barbarously treated. He had at this time four men with him.
On hearing this news, he pulled directly round to his landing-place. In a few days after, the expected ships arrived. He determined not to appear, but watch them well, and keep his men out of sight. The three captains, one of whom was Bunker, pulled on shore, and in a bottle, made fast to a pole on the beach, they found a note written by Pat, stating that, from the bad treatment he often received, he had left the island for ever, and that whoever would arrive first would find plenty of everything in his garden. I may here remark, that this method generally forms a South Sea post-office, where one ship leaves a memorandum for the next.
The skippers concluded that all was right, and that there was no one on the island; and after walking about a little, they agreed to come on shore the next day to have a pic-nic dinner, and to send their men up and plunder the garden. Pat was concealed so near that he heard all, and made his arrangements accordingly. Next day they came on shore, and brought their cold meat and wines away up the valley to a pleasant green plot, where they had a view of the ships, but not of the landing-place they came to. They had four boats on shore, hauled well up on the beach. They enjoyed themselves for hours, when one went up to an eminence near, to have a look round. He no sooner got a view of the beach then he came back like a madman, and told them their boats were knocked about, and to come down at once.
These tyrannical rascals were now complete cowards; they left all and ran as quick as they could down to the beach, where they found the four boats, oars, and all in pieces; also a large slip of paper, with “remember the handcuffs” on it; also, “Bunker, I'll have you yet.” There was an instant signal made to the ships to send a boat; fortunately for them, it was instantly answered. They were scarcely seated and shoved off, when a bullet from a gun on shore whistled among them and through the boat. In another instant three shots were fired after them; but they were safe, and out of reach of the guns. Pat then showed himself on the beach, gun in hand, and waved his cap over his head in triumph. No one came on shore to pick up the fragments. Those ships got under weigh in the evening, and disappeared. So much for barbarity on one side, and revenge on the other.
This wild and strange man lived, I believe, about eighteen or twenty years on this island, but did not die here. He went in his open boat, “the Black Prince,” more than once, in on the coast a distance of six hundred miles; but the water is always smooth here, so it is not to be wondered at.
The last time he went to Guyaquil [sic], and thinking he might as well have a queen for his beautiful island, of which he was the sole and daring monarch, after, I suppose, telling all manner of inducing stories, there was the wife of a Spaniard who agreed to accompany him. She was actually in the boat, and they about to shove off, when the Spaniard jumped in to bring back his wife. A struggle ensued; “Pat” was stabbed to the heart, and fell dead in the bottom of his “Black Prince.”
Such was the termination of the career of this extraordinary man. He is reported to have been always warm-hearted and kind to those who were at all friendly to him, but implacably revengeful to those who ill-used or insulted him.
GOVERNOR VILAMIL AND HIS NEW COLONY—THEIR HOSPITALITY—AMUSEMENTS—SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT—REPORT OF VILAMIL'S ASSASSINATION—JOHNSTON—HIS LIFE ON THE ISLAND—VILAMIL'S VILE TREATMENT—BANISHES HIM OFF—SEALING—FLAMINGOS, &c.—REMARKS OF MEN LIVING ALONE ON UNINHABITED ISLANDS.
About two miles to the westward of where the ship lay at anchor, is a beach of about a quarter of a mile in length, covered with small black stones and black sand. This is known well as the “Black Beach,” and is the landing-place which leads to the fertile part of the island, and to where there is a never-failing supply of the purest water. There is a gradual ascent up this valley for about a mile and a half, to where the first spring is met with. All the way it is like a park with trees; but the ground is very sandy and poor. After passing the first spring, you stand about six hundred feet above the level of the sea. Then commences the fine rich land, which continues for about three miles, right up to the head of the valley, and foot of high and rugged mountains, where the large spring is, at a height of about eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.
This head-spring throws up a large quantity of water, which courses through the rich land of the valley; is joined again by the water of the first spring, and forms a small but rapid stream, which courses its way down to the beach, and over it into the sea. Here, with a proper arrangement of a hose or tube, formed simply by joining large bamboos together, ships in any number might obtain as great a quantity of water as they pleased.
This fine valley is of surprising fertility, and produces in abundance sweet potatoes, Indian corn, pumpkins, melons, bananas, plaintain, with several other kinds of fruits, and some spices, and is perfectly capable of supporting a very extensive population. The temperature is agreeable, and not at all oppresive, being caused by the great height of the land above the level of the sea, and the fresh trade winds sweeping round the mountains.
On our arrival at the Black Beach, we soon found that there was a settlement, formed up in the valley, of a set of sanguinary black Spaniards, who had been transported to it, under the governorship of a Mr. Vilamil, who obtained a grant of the island from the government of Ecuador, in return for services he rendered to it, and for which they could not pay him in any other way.
Now, those islands were no man's land before; the governments on the coast had no right or control over them, and I am sure I had just as much right to give a grant of one of them to Vilamil as they had, and I had just as valid an authority as he had to be governor. However, he was a very gentlemanly, pompous man—imagined himself, and was in reality a kind of monarch; but, like many other kingdoms over which men reign, there were very uncertain and uneasy subjects. It was no bed of roses to this governor; he was obliged to be on watch, and did not know, if he lay down well in his hammock (he always slept in one) at night, but he might get a thrust of a long knife through it before morning, such was the love his sable subjects bore him.
Down the centre of the valley was a kind of a road, or rather a wide footpath; on either side, scattered along, were the dwellings, situated generally in the centre of the cultivated grounds; they had the appearance of log-houses. So that those exiled people should not be lonely, there were a good many women shipped off with them, who, with the children, gave the place the appearance of a new colony. The governor's house was at the head of the valley, close to the chief spring. It was backed by high rocks, consisted of three apartments, and a store containing a little of every thing requisite for the colony. At the back of the house, there was a natural cave of about twenty feet long, with an entrance of about eight feet high. To this entrance, a strong door, or, more properly speaking, gate, well secured, was fitted; this was the jail. In front of the house was a clear open space, from which there was a commanding view of this rich valley and the adjacent grand scenery.
Being under the impression that we would take a good supply of vegetables from the island, Vilamil invited us to spend a day or two with him. I did so, but the captain went on board. I found him a well-informed man, highly accomplished, and with his nephew, “Sanchaz,” we formed a very agreeable party. I could scarcely refrain from laughing heartily, as he detailed to me his plans of government and the laws of the colony, his formation of the magistracy, all of said magistrates being nearly as black as a coal, and without either shoe or stocking. It was highly amusing, particularly as I could at a glance see the kind of ruffians he had about him.
Each evening, after the discussion of the affairs of the nation, we generally got out the old big drum, a guitar, and two or three fifes, gathered together a few of the people, and set them to dancing the “fandango,” which lasted a couple of hours, all the time the governor sitting in an arm chair in the shade, that scamp “Sanchaz” on his right; I supported his left. I could not avoid calling to mind the words Defoe put into Robinson Crusoe's mouth, when he found himself surrounded by his pets—“how much like a king I looked.” Sunset ended these farsical scenes, and after having been piloted into every house in the valley, in the course of a three days' stay, by Sanchaz, I bid the governor farewell, and got on board. Now a few words about Vilamil, his people, and their property or farms.
Those people work hard, and plant their grounds, which produce abundantly. If they require an article of clothing, (which they did from their landing, for they were sent off nearly naked,) or an implement to repair their houses, or cultivate their plots of land, or any other necessary, they go to the governor's store, and get it in exchange, (where a small account is run up.) They give a mortgage on the crop nearly ripe. The produce of this, when ready, is taken away from them, and they are left bare enough, with little else than a bitter feeling of dark Spanish hatred to the governor for thus depriving them of their crops. This system was carried to such an extent, that scarcely a family owned what was growing on their own ground. It was all mortgaged long ago, root and branch, to Vilamil, against whom and his store there existed the most deadly hatred. After I became thoroughly informed of all, and the people's good wishes towards him, I was anxious to be off, not knowing the moment some insurrection might take place.
I was afterwards informed that my anticipations were realized. Shortly after we left, the people got out of all patience with him, made three attempts to assasinate him, and finally finished the affair in real creole Spanish style, by cutting him down with their machettas.* I was also told many of the people left the island; but some remained. To me they appeared, and were very kind; and I am disposed to think that he might have gone on safely enough, but for his oppresive conduct.
* Coulter is mistaken about the death of Villamil. In 1837 he was replaced as Governor by the infamous Colonel José Williams. He returned to the mainland, and died in Guayaquil in 1866. A General Pedro Mena had worked with Villamil on Isla Floreana, but moved to Isla San Cristóbal after Williams arrived. Mena was subseqently murdered there by the escaped convict Manuel Briones. Coulter may have heard about the incident, and assumed in error that it was Villamil who had been killed.—JW.
Previous to the arrival of Vilamil and his colony of revolutionary convicts, there lived on this island, for several years, a man well known to all the whale and other ships touching at the island. He was a Swede; his name was “Johan Johonson,” or, as it was generally simplified, “Johnston.” He spoke English fluently, and was quite a different person from “Pat.”
He had a neat weather boarded small house close by the first spring at the foot, or commencement of the fertile valley I have already spoken of as the site of the present colony. The inside of his house was neat and clean, and a pen, containing a number of the terrapin or elephant tortoise, close to it. He had also a good supply of poultry; and his garden was well stocked with vegetables. He was a man of naturally strong mind, amiable disposition, and persevering industry. His house, and all it contained, the cultivation of his garden, his pram, or small boat, his pen full of terrapin, was all the work of his own hands.
In addition to constant employment, which he thus kept himself in at home, he frequently went round among the rocks, and got, from time to time, a good many fur seal, the skins of which, together with his garden produce, he sold to shipping, getting some cash, and whatever clothing and other necessaries he stood in need of. He was a middle-sized man, of stout make, with a regular sea roll in walking. His dress generally consisted of light canvas jacket and trowsers, with seal-skin cap, and mocassins of his own manufacture. His dress and person were always particularly clean; and between fishing, sealing, shooting, and attending his garden, he fully occupied his time; and he assured me, though he lived the chief part of several years alone (except the occasional call of a ship) on this island, he passed his time happily—it was quite to his mind.
He had been on this island before he came to reside, and found out there was both plenty of good land and water; and he resolved to come back, and live on it, which he did. He kept a book, or registry, and when a ship called, the captain put the ship's name down, with the nature of the voyage, their success, &c. This gave information to those who followed. Captain Lock was kind to him, and always liked him. He brought off two asses from the coast, and gave them to him. This assisted Johnston greatly in his farming operations, and the bringing of the terrapin out of the bush to the “pen,” when he had them convenient to sell, or use himself.
Johnston was the sole inhabitant when Vilamil arrived. The latter told me he did every thing he could to make a friend of him, knowing he would be a most useful person to him, as he knew the island thoroughly. He volunteered to give him land free; but all would not do, as he considered he had as good a right to the island, on which he so long lived, as the lately-arrived governor. So when Greek meets Greek, & . . . This diplomatic transaction ended in Johnston's being arrested, handcuffed, and sent off the island.
Johnston's version of the matter is, he said—“Vilamil, who had no right to come there at all, did so accompanied by the very scum of Guyaquil, a whole gang of robbers, &c.,” and that the first thing he did was to turn him out of his house, for his own use, take his asses, eat up all his poultry and garden vegetables, and because he remonstrated, this arbitrary governor told him he was not safe from him, handcuffed him, and sent him away. He went in on the coast, but came off again; and we fell in with him on James's Island.
To the eastward of the beach I have mentioned as Pat's Landing, there are several ponds, or salt-water lagoons, surrounded by level land closely timbered, which has a very pleasing effect. On those patches of water there are many wild ducks, at any time easily shot; and around their little strands you will often see whole files of flamingos marching along. Their long legs, the peculiarity of their gait, with their bright scarlet plumage, give them a miniature martial appearance. Indeed the likeness is so striking, that I heard one of our boat's crew say to his ship-mate—“I'm blowed, Bill, if here aint the sodgers;” and immediately commenced an attack, by shying sticks after them; but as those apparent soldiers have a gift of running fast, they soon got out of the way of the cock sticks of our worthies. We afterwards pulled round the rocks after seal; but as they are easily alarmed on this island, and the boat's crew was too laughing and noisy, we could make nothing of them. Having spent a pleasant day, with a volunteer boat's crew round the easternmost part of the island, we returned on board our ship, with seven brace of wild ducks, and a number of fine rock cod-fish.
There is an isolated peculiarity of mind which induces men voluntarily to take up their abode on uninhabited islands; yet, those two instances of Charles's island, of first Pat, and after him Johnston, are not the only ones in the Pacific Ocean, or elsewhere. There is scarcely an uninhabited island in those seas, in the thoroughfare of shipping, on which there is a fertile spot of earth with a supply of fresh water, that has not its Robinson Crusoe on it.
In one respect there is an inducement to live on them; and that is by the sale of their produce to seamen, who are always very glad to get a supply of fresh vegetables occasionally, and even give cash for it. Then again, the great feeling of ease of mind, and independence—no one to control a man, no one to demand any thing of him. The only real annoyance those isolated men meet with is the occasional runaway sailor, who hides in the bush until the ship sails, and then asks shelter from the monarch of the island, and perhaps afterwards ill-treats or otherwise annoys him.
This was the case once with Johnston. He had a fine large boat, a launch which he purchased from a ship that lay at his anchorage. With this boat he made several sealing excursions of two or three weeks at a time, to various islands of this group. He had a few men to man her with him for months, and did every thing he could for them; yet those men got tired of the island. Taking advantage of his absence one day, they got the boat ready for sea, took a supply of provision from his house, with all the money he had been for years saving up, (five hundred dollars in cash,) and sailed away, leaving him as poor as the first day he commenced his solitary settlement.
The peculiar history and lives of some of those strange beings which I have seen elsewhere, deserve a particular and more lengthened account than I can give in this book. Indeed the detailed life and adventures of some of them would form a good-sized volume; so I will reserve them for another time.
DEPARTURE FROM CHARLES ISLAND—MINUTE DESCRIPTION OF THE FITTING UP OF A SHIP AND BOATS FOR SPERM WHALING—METHOD OF TAKING THE WHALE—DANGERS ATTENDING IT—CUTTING OFF THE BLUBBER—FINAL DISPOSAL OF IT—TAKE A LARGE WHALE—CRUISING IN THE BAY OF ALBEMARL ISLAND—MY FIRST AND SUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT IN KILLING A WHALE.
We remained at this anchorage for three or four days more to do some repairs to the ship and boats, and put every thing in perfect order for taking the sperm whale, as numbers are known to frequent those islands; and as we intended to cruise about the group for some time, to endeavour to take some of those valuable and majestic fish, an account of the preparations necessary for such an arduous undertaking may not be uninteresting to some readers.
Ships engaged in the sperm whale fishery are out seldom less then three years, some of them four, according to their success, and other adventures. They are well found in provisions; and having such a quantity of casks on board, are never without an abundant supply of fresh water, except they are extraordinarily situated. They are all well armed, and have plenty of all sorts of ammunition, as they have often to defend themselves from the hostilities of natives; and during such a long absence from home, their respective nations might go to war. Then they would have to take care of themselves.
Most of the English whale ships, during the last wars, were what are called letters of marque, or, in plainer terms, commissioned privateers; and they either caught whales, or the enemy's vessels, as circumstances threw either in their way. They always have a large complement of men, as each boat is obliged to have its own crew; and those ships have generally from four to six boats over the side, ready for lowering after whales.
Those boats are of the best description for such purposes, and will live in any sea that a boat can exist in. They are clinker built, that is, one plank slightly over-lapping the other, sharp in bow and stern, both ends being curved a little upwards. Those boats are always steered by an oar generally five or six and twenty feet long, which is kept in its place in the sternpost, by a strap passing round it. As the boat is sometimes to go astern as well as a-head, this long oar is not in the way, and enables whoever steers to sweep rapidly round the boat, or lay it off or on the whale, as may be required. There are also five oars pulling, a mast and a lug sail to assist them occasionally, which mast and sail are laying along the stern sheets, and never shipped until required, and always unshipped the moment the whale is struck, as the boat would then be unmanageable if it remained [th]us.
In the nose of the boat there is a deep chalk or groove, the lower part of it being leaded. Through this the line passes; and as it does so rapidly sometimes, the leading prevents the boat from taking fire. There is also a pin across over the line, which prevents the line slipping out, an axe and knife keenly sharp close to it, to cut the line instantly, if, in running out, it should get foul, as in that case the boat would be taken down with it. On the stern sheet there is also a similar provision against a like accident.
The line, which is made as strong as possible, and about the thickness of the middle finger, is coiled closely down in regular fakes in two tubs. It is generally one hundred and twenty fathoms to each boat. One end is bent on to the harpoon; the other (with an eye spliced in it) is left hanging out of the sternmost tub. This is done in order that, if the fish sounds too deep, another boat may pull up, and bend on its lines. In this way I have seen a fish take down three boats' lines, each boat having signals in it, to hurry up those nearest to them. If the boats should be too far off, the ship, which is at such a time under all sail, will run down close to, and drop another boat, to give the necessary lines or assistance.
There are also three or four spare irons, with as many lances, in the boat, in case they might be required. The harpoon is always fastened to the line, and is merely to hold on, (sometimes the fish is killed by it.) The lance is to dart frequently into the body of the fish to kill him, and is fast to its own small line of from fifteen to twenty fathoms long. In both sides of the bow of the boat there is a cleet nailed on the gunwale, and serves avery important purpose, in the act of hauling in the line, and up on the fish. When close to, the line is bowed, or shifted to this cleet, which, in place of running the boat right on the fish, it causes it to range up alongside of it, and enables the officer of the boat to lance boldly into the body of it, without being in danger of getting the boat and all hands struck by the tail, or, as whalers call it, the flukes.
Under the stern sheets there is stowed away a small bag of biscuit, a small cask full of water, a lantern and fireworks, in case of being benighted; and, though last not least, some pipes and tobacco, for a refreshing smoke, while they are laying beside their dead prize, and waiting for the ship to send out the thick fluke ropes, and take it alongside. Those boats are always ready fitted, every thing in them, and ready for instant lowering. They are slung to the davits by the tackle falls, and carefully resting on cranes, which easily swing to the side out of the way.
On deck there is, in the forward part of the ship, close to the fore hatch, a brick building, lined outside, and well secured with wood, and iron knees. In this work are two large boiling, or trying pots, to boil down the blubber. Underneath them are the fires, generally fed by the scraps, or portions of blubber which have been already deprived of their oil.
To the main mast head there is attached an immense block, well secured, through which a huge tackle fall is rove. This fall goes to the windlass; and when the hook of the other block is in the blubber on the fish, it is hoisted up in board pieces of about one and a-half yard wide, and from fifteen to eighteen feet long. Those are termed blanket pieces. On the outside of the ship, and over the dead whale alongside, are two stages, on which two of the mates stand, with a breast rope before each, to keep him from falling over board. They each have long spades, and cut the blubber the proper breadth spirally from the base of the head to the flukes. A hole is cut near the fin.
A man goes down on the fish to fasten the hook. This is often a dangerous duty for the man, as a dead whale always attracts plenty of sharks, which keep plunging about, and up on the fish. At such a time the long spades are ready, to chop at the sharks, and keep them off, till the man gets on board again. As soon as the hook is in, they ship the handspikes into the windlass, and hoist away to a lively chorus; and as the blubber is torn up, the spades clear it underneath. When it is high up, as I have mentioned, the hook is shifted in the blanket piece, and above this it is cut off with an immense two-handed knife, swung inboard, and lowered between decks.
As this spiral stripping of the blubber goes on, the body is kept turning; and when nearly to the flukes, the most valuable part of the sperm whale, the head, is secured, cut off, and the carcass let go to the bottom, with thousands of sharks of all sizes tearing at it.
The head is generally cut in three or four pieces, and entirely hoisted in on deck. As soon as this is juncked up into tubs, the decks are scrubbed, well washed, and are made as clean and white as before the operation commenced. It is a long day's work for all hands to cut in a large whale; but when it is accomplished, it is a clear five hundred pounds worth on-board, a share of which every man has, from the captain to the cook, according to their rank on board.
For my part, generally the way I occupied my time on such occasions of cutting in, was sitting in one of the quarter-boats, and murdering the sharks with a lance, which I had fitted, and expressly sharpened for those gentry.
It is a strange sight to watch the few beautiful little pilot fish which accompany the most ferocious descriptions of sharks, some darting a-head of him; some, swimming over his head; others, alongside his horrid jaws; but all guiding or piloting him to his prey; and as he tears and worries off large pieces, the small floating particles are picked up by them. They are a very delicate fish to eat; and we had many opportunities of getting them. It was thus: hook the shark, and haul him in-board. The pilot-fish will then get close under the ship's stern, where they can be caught with small trout hooks, carefully baited.
During the time of cutting in, the ship is under sail, with the main yards aback, or, in other words, laying to; as soon as the carcass is gone, and the head in-board, all sail is again made to get to windward. While cruising for whale, the look-outs are on the cross trees—one man at the fore, one at the mizen, and an officer and one man at the main. Those are regularly relieved every two hours.
Independent of the general equipment and full armament of those ships, the comforts and amusements of the crew are not forgotten. The cabins are very comfortable. There is one large mess-room, with the officers' state rooms off it; then the after cabin, with its state room for the captain. There is always a very respectable library on board; also drums, fifes, and other musical instruments, which are all brought into frequent requisition. Altogether, they are very agreeable ships; and any one feeling a wish for adventure and variety, can be fully gratified in those vessels, as there are none others afloat that have the same endless opportunity. In cruising after whale, they frequently circumnavigate the globe, and call at every island and port at all convenient.
On the third morning after leaving Charles's Island, while in sight of Albemarl, the look-out on the foretop gallant yard sung out—“There he blows—there again, and at regular intervals—there again.” “Where away?” “About four points on the lee bow, sir.” “Put the helm up.” “Ay, ay, sir,” responded the helmsman. “Steady, steady it is, sir.” We got the telescopes at work, (and first-rate ones they are always in whale ships.) After a steady look, our well-experienced skipper pronounced it to be a large sperm whale. “Boat's crews of the larboard side, stand by to lower three boats.” “Ay, ay, sir,” rang fore and aft the ship, when, about a mile from the whale, the helm was put down, lee main braces let go, and the ship became stationary, with the main yards aback. “Ready there?” “All ready, sir.” “Lower away.”
The board tackle falls, rattled through the block, and the boats were in the water. No huntsmen ever followed a pack of hounds with greater glee than the boat's crews of those ships pull after their game. We now filled away on the ship to have full command over her, and to keep to windward of the boats. They pulled silently and steadily on. The whale was going along easily. By-and-by the chief officer's boat got close up, and one iron darted into the body of the fish, then another, and the boat was fast.
They were by this time so close to the ship, you could hear him sing out, “stern all now,” and the boat was pulled quickly astern; the whale reared itself half out of the sea, then buried its head in it, raised his enormous flukes, gave a blow on the surface of the water, the sound of which you could hear far off; then he went down, or, as they call it, sounded; the boat was drawn right over him, and the line whirring through the chalks as he descended. When the second tub was all but out, it stopped; then they commenced hauling in the line, and coiling it loosely in the stern sheets as fast as they could. This hauling in of the line is always accompanied by the cheering “hurra, hurra, hurra, &c.”
They got in the line very fast, and when the whale came up to blow, the boat was not more than four hundred yards off, the oars all peaked, and out of the water; he then started to windward, towing the boat after him at about fifteen miles an hour, the water boiling and foaming high up on either side of it. All hands in the boat now laid hold of the line, and kept hauling up on him; and as they passed not far from the stern of the ship, they got alongside him by bowing the line. The officer lanced, and after each dart of the lance into the fish, the shank of it had to be straightened, which is easily managed in the bow of the boat. After running about two miles to windward of the ship, the fish blew up blood out of his spout hole. This is at once the indication of the death blow being given. He stopped suddenly; the boats slackened the line, and pulled astern out of the way, as he was going into his death flurry. They had scarcely got well clear of him, when he rolled heavily, reared his great head up, beat the water with his fins and flukes in great fury, made one tremendous plunge, and was no more.
This whale was on the whole easily taken, but the case and results are often very different, even with much smaller ones. The sperm whale is a very active fish, and it frequently tests its powers by destroying boats and their crews with both jaws and flukes; often I have seen our boats stove in pieces by the whale. As soon as the crew see the danger coming, they jump overboard, afterwards get up on the wreck, or take an oar under their arms until the other boats come to pick them up. Accidents happen with the line getting foul, or taking a man overboard and down with it. Altogether it is a most exiting, but frequently dangerous sport; yet it appeared so fascinating a one to those engaged, that I felt a great desire to go off in the boats, so that I could closely view the fish, and the killing of him.
Some time after we were cruising in the great bay at Albemarl, when early in the day we found the ship surrounded with cow whales, which are all of a moderate size; the boats down were all fast, and two spare ones on board completely fitted. I begged of the captain to let me take one, with a crew of volunteers, and try my hand. He at last consented, but told me to take care and not get stove, as the boats were all engaged, and could not go after us. As soon as I shouted out “volunteer boats crew to chase whales,” there was a rush at the gangway to get into her; however, the number being made up, I took off my jacket and shoes, and jumped in; it is better to keep on the socks or stockings, as you would not be so liable to slip in the boat than with bare feet; shoes a whaler never takes into a boat.
I believe no boat's crew every shoved off from a ship's side in so much haste and confusion: in the first place, she was nearly swamped under the quarter before we got the forward tackle unhooked; secondly, when she did drop astern, no man was in his place except myself, occupying my berth in the bow. At last all was in trim, and off we pulled to a few whales which were amusing themselves on the surface of the water. Now, my crew (whenever I was skipper) were rather noisy, having never controlled them; and on this occasion they exerted their liberty of speech so much, that I was obliged frequently to sit down and finish my laugh. We were all inexperienced, yet each man gave his advice as to going on the whale; at last, after a short pithy speech from me, they all agreed that get a fish we must, for the honour and glory of it, and that they would do as I should tell them.
On we went to the nearest whale, and pulled up to it boldly yet carefully, until the nose of the boat nearly touched it, when in I darted both irons with all my force—“stern all”—and stern they did quick enough; the fish breached high out of the water, causing such a tremendous splash, that the boat was nearly half filled, and required instant bailing out; this was quickly effected with the boat's bucket. The whale did not, as usual, sound, but after the breach, made off, so we peaked our oars. I took a turn of the line round the loggerhead, to hold on, and off we flew through the bay, towed away at a rapid rate. There were not more than thirty fathoms of the line out, at last, after coursing over a few miles, it eased its way; we hauled up alongside, and I lanced it boldly for a few minutes, then off again; sometimes, when hauling up, and close to the fish, it would raise its flukes, shake them threateningly at us; then we were obliged to pay out more line to get out of the way.
This game was playing upwards of four hours, and we were all greatly fatigued, having no interval of rest, and were beginning to think we would be compelled to cut the line and let all go, when the whale eased its way again. We hauled up with desperation on it, and I got two fortunate darts of the lance into it; it died, and turned over in a few minutes without a struggle, being tired out.
They were nearly all green hands in the boat, but acted very well. Discipline was now again relaxed, and all hands stood up and gave three hearty cheers. We took the double of the line and passed it round the flukes, and took the whale in tow. We were about three miles to windward of the ship when the whale died, so we “up stick,” that is, shipped out mast, made sail, and with the aid of a stiff breeze, brought our great trophy and first whale alongside the ship, when we received three tremendous cheers from the lads on board, which we of course politely answered. This made now the sixth whale alongside—a regular raft of them; and I have pleasure in recording that ours was pronounced the largest. In talking over the matter shortly after, the captain told me—“he kept his eye on us, and that he expected every moment to see the boat, crew, and all sent to Davy's locker, as we were often in range of its flukes, and went on too wildly.”
ANCHOR AT CHATAM ISLAND—FORM AN ENCAMPMENT ON SHORE FOR THE CREW—DESCRIPTION OF IT—NATURAL HISTORY OF THE ISLAND—MY RESOLVE TO EXPLORE IT—COMMENCE MY TOUR—FIRST NIGHT ALONE—HOW TO SEARCH FOR AND FIND FRESH WATER—DISCOVERY OF A LARGE VALLEY IN THE CENTRE OF THE ISLAND—ITS GREAT FERTILITY—FALL IN WITH A FINE STREAM OF FRESH WATER AND NUMBERS OF WILD GOATS—ANNOYANCE FROM HAWKS.
The whales that were killed being disposed of in the usual way, and the rest having disappeared out of the bay, we left it too, and made sail to the eastward to reach Chatam [sic, Chatham] Island, as it was intended to come to an anchor in smooth water, to break out the hold, and re-cooper our oil, bread, provisions, &c., which could not be done at sea.
In the course of four days more we made a stretch two or three leagues to the northward, and having captured another whale, ran in for Chatam Island, and brought up under the lee of the western end of it, in smooth and calm water, where the air was completely scented by the smell of mint and other herbs wafted to us by the breeze which swept over the thickly-wooded land. Abreast of the ship there was a fine smooth beach, and inside that a range of small salt water ponds covered with wild fowl, and filled with mullet and other fish; three hundred yards inside those, there was an open space of about two acres, covered only with grass, but surrounded by a dense wood. On this beautiful lawn we erected a large tent, with poles cut from the adjoining forest, and a few boat sails brought from the ship. This was a work of great delight to the ship's company, as it was intended to let half of them remain on shore from four o'clock in the afternoon until six the next morning, taking night about on shore; this was done in consequence of some indication of scurvy which showed itself amongst the crew, by being some months on salt provisions, and without being on land.
As the island was uninhabited, and no grog shops or other temptations for the men, they could really enjoy themselves, and otherwise recruit their strength. Only for a feeling of debility that was beginning to creep through the crew, they were otherwise well, and three of four weeks' stay here would do all. The only thing required to be brought from the ship was biscuit, as every thing else was in abundance on shore. Fine green turtle came in on the beach at night, and with a little row and run in watching for and turning them, were easily taken; then the wild ducks on the lagoons, and plenty of large doves on the land, were easily knocked down by a man throwing a stick among them; the terrapin, or elephant tortoise, of from two to four hundred pounds weight; plenty of fine fish close in to the rocks; whole beds of very high strong mint, with other herbs in great variety; all those, with many others, afforded the men a great treat, particularly when taken by themselves and used on shore.
There were plenty of large hair seal in all directions on the beaches and rocks, whose skins made mocasins for every one in the ship; and to complete the comforts of this encampment, fine fresh water was obtained by digging down about fourteen feet. All round this end of the island the woods extended to nearly the beach and rocks, and in some instances overhung the water: it was a rich sight. I had been at this island twice before, but had not an opportunity of seeing much of it; indeed, little more than the rocks, beach, and a mile or so inland. As we were to lay here some time now, and nothing for me to do professionally, either on board or on shore, I determined (having previously arranged with my friend, the captain) to shoulder my gun, and walk right around the island, on an exploring excursion.
I prepared for it accordingly; I put on light canvas trowsers, a leathern jacket, (which I had on board for the purpose of going through bushes, as it would not tear off me as cloth or duck would,) a pair of strong shoes on, a belt round me to hold my small axe, knife, and ammunition pouch, a leather cap on my head, and canteen for water. As the island was large, and I intended to go right into the interior, I took the precaution of bringing a pocket compass with me.
Being thus accoutred, with gun in hand, on the fourth morning after our arrival here, I left the encampment at sunrise, under a volley of three cheers from our men. As I had previously a very good knowledge of the shore around the island, its bays, beaches, rocks, and anchoring places, I now kept inland, and directed my course in a range with the centre of it, the island being very long from east to west, but in breadth, (some places,) from north to south, only a few miles. During the chief part of the first day I had to make my way through a thick wood, which, in some places, I had to proceed circuitously, to avoid the thick net-work formed by a wild vine growing so close, that I could not get through it. Towards sun down, after having accomplished about eight miles under great difficulties, I got into an opener country, with the timber farther apart, and a good deal of grass. A great many terrapin were feeding on it.
This was a pleasant relief from the dense wood and rugged ground I passed over already. I chose an elevated spot of land beside a large rock, to encamp for the night. I next cut down with my axe a few branches, and placed them up against it, which formed covering enough in so fine a climate. There was plenty of long grass about, which I pulled up, and shook out on the earth under this temporary hut. This served me well for a bed, and was my general plan of arranging for the night. The preparations were simple, and soon completed. I then killed a small terrapin, made a fire, cooked it on cross sticks, and, with some fresh water I found not far off, made a hearty supper. As the shade from the setting sun was making every object around me, and in the distance indistinct, I lay down in my primitive hut, and never enjoyed a more refreshing sleep than I did that night.
I did not awake until the sun was well up next day; and when I came out of my hut, the whole place all about seemed to be alive with birds of all sorts, doves, canarys, mocking birds, hawks, &c. All were bound to the eastward; and so unacquainted were they with man, that many of them perched for a moment on my shoulders and cap, to rest themselves. Now this passage of birds in the morning, in any particular direction, gives most important intelligence to the man who may be cast on an island like this, without any previous knowledge of it. It tells him at once that, if he only follows the birds, or keeps on after them, he is sure to fall in with that all-important thing—fresh water.
I have often known men lose themselves through the interior of islands, and be found all but exhausted for the want of water, though there was plenty not far from them. This arose from their ignorance of not knowing how to look for it. It would be long before you could find a native of any of the islands to the westward so much deficient. Land one of them on any uninhabited island, and he knows how to light his fire, where to find water, and, if there are any thing fit for food growing on it.
Another way to find water is to get up on a hill, or climb a tall tree, and look well round you in the valleys, or low grounds. If you see a patch of forest foliage of a livelier green than the rest, make straight for that, and you are almost sure to see the water. If the ground should be only moist, cut a branch, or pole, flatten the end of it with your axe, and after digging down a little, so as to make a small hole, the water will come up soon.
Then again, if there is (about two or three hundred yards inside the beach) any spot of ground lower than the beach, and nearly on a level with the sea, by digging deep enough, the water will be found very fresh; and if there cannot be obtained, by all these means, a supply, there are always, in tropical climates, trees of a soft description, such as the cabbage trees, &c. which, by tapping the stem, or pounding the branches between stones, a quantity of juice may be obtained sufficient to allay thirst for the time, until the water could be hunted for.
I have known some of our men, on others of these groups of islands, lose themselves, and be absent for five or six days in the bush, both too ignorant and too lazy to find water, support nature, and quench their thirst by killing both terrapin and birds, and drinking their blood fresh; but such are the bounties of Providence, that, in the most torrid climates, (except in actual sandy deserts,) there is water enough for every living thing on it, if they only knew where to find it.
Now, on those islands, and particularly the island I am now on, there is an immense number of birds—I mean land birds—(the sea fowl keep to the rocks, beaches, and mangrove bushes close to them.) Those birds cannot exist without water; and consequently there must be enough. Only go quietly along in search of it, and if you cannot fall in with it immediately, cool your mouth with some soft vegetable matter.
Many would think my solitary excursion in a hot climate, such distances, folly. Indeed so much was that the prevailing idea in our ship, that I could not get even a boy to accompany me. They said it was all a humbug to be tramping about on an uninhabited island from morning till night. As I differed with them in opinion, I started alone, and felt better pleased afterwards, that I was not encumbered by any one.
The question may be asked, did I not feel lonely? I say no; I had the fowls of the air, the lovely landscapes in all directions, the rich forest, the park like lands, with abundance of every thing on them, to gaze upon. No, there was nothing of loneliness here for me; all creation appeared in its primitive state; and I delighted in contemplating such a scene—one that had been, perhaps, ever undisturbed by man. I felt enchanted with it—it was nature's own.
After having enjoyed my first station here, I prepared my morning meal of terrapin, did it ample justice, and without being annoyed by exorbitant hotel charges, I again commenced my march. Along nearly the whole length of the island, from east to west, there are two ranges of hills, some of them of great altitude; between those in the depth of the gorge, there is one continued valley of about three miles wide, interrupted only by a few irregular hills or swells here and there, only partially timbered, but clothed with luxuriant grass. The sides of the high hills bounding it are covered up to their summits—indeed right across—with timber.
On the fourth day I got up on the hills forming the northern boundary, and had a look down into this splendid valley. The descent was easy enough, for in five or six hours, with an occasional rest, I managed to get into it and on level ground again. Not far from the place I immerged into the valley, there was a curious heap of large and small stones, which looked so artificial as to give the appearance of a quarry which had been worked; with some inconvenience, I examined it, and found at the upper part of it a large, dark, mysterious entrance to a huge cave, extending apparently away under the mountains. I could not get directly up to it, as the stones were loose, and slid off each other when I stood on them, so I merely contented myself with throwing a few stones far in, but could not hear them alight any where; the only things disturbed were a few large, splendid owls, which I presume were resting somewhere out of the light.
It appeared to be a solemn looking, unfathomable gulf, through which, no doubt, those immense heaps of stones were discharged at a very remote period, by some volcanic agency. In this valley it is much more sultry than on the outside of the hilly range, as they shaded it from the trade winds, which refreshed all other parts of the island, but the vegetation was most luxuriant; and what crowned all, there was a large stream of clear water running right through it in easterly direction.
I was now clear of the sea, inland from either side of the island, about seven or eight miles; there were great quantities of terrapin in this valley, and what I was very agreeably surprised to discover on the island, grazing about near the stream, several groups of reddish coloured goats; they appeared from some cause or other very wild, and dashed off into the bush on seeing me; however, the gun was too quick for them, and I shot one whenever I liked. They must have been left on the island a long time ago, and increased rapidly and unknown to all, for there is not any report of their existence on this island ever made; indeed, they were no fools; they chose the best, most fertile, and unfrequented part for their homes. I have not met with any of them along the coast.
There were a great many prickly pear trees growing in the elevated mounds in the valley; these fruit had externally the appearance of an immense brown plum, the inside the exact taste of a gooseberry; this was very refreshing to me. There were a great many splendid hawks hovering about; they were frequently some annoyance to me: when I killed either a goat or terrapin for food, they would hover round, screaming and making all sorts of noise, and sometimes seemed to think that I actually came there to butcher for them, for they would light on the ground and hop around me, sometimes would even jump on the carcass, have the impudence to look me straight in the face, and grapple the meat in their claws, and pull for the half with me; matters between us went so far that I was obliged to provide myself with a long stick, and knock them down as they came too close. They were immense powerful birds, more like eagles than hawks. I fired a few shots among them, but they paid no attention to it, did not seem to fear the gun or its effects, and tormented me as much as ever, so that at last I was obliged to compromise matters by killing something and leaving it with them; then when the chief body of them were engaged, I would start off and transact business for myself.
Ranging through the valley—Discover large quantities of coal—scenery at the extremity of the valley—Curious cascade and passage of the stream towards the sea—Arrive at the sea side—Encamp—Catch some fish—Method of cooking them—Providential escape from sharks—Kill a large seal—Make mocassins of his skin.
About the middle of the valley, my attention was attracted to the foot of one of the hills, where the earth had fallen down, and left exposed to view large black rocks; I went over and examined it, and found them to consist of coal in large quantities, and extending away in under the hills. As I was fatigued, I prepared my encampment for the night, and my meal, and which, to test my discovery, I cooked on a wooden spit before a fine fire of coal; it quickly ignited, flamed up, and burned after the cheerful manner of Kendal coal. I was greatly pleased with this useful discovery; there were great hills of it, and an immense supply could be here obtained, if there was a sufficient arrangement to convey it to the sea side.
I traversed this valley from side to side, and was greatly delighted with its natural richness and beauty; yet I did not like it so well, as the other sides of the mountain ranges—it was much more sultry; the landscape, too, confined by the hills, did not afford that great freedom of feeling (particularly to a lone man) that the land along the sea coast did; yet I felt fascination enough to wander through it for seven or eight days, and continue my route along the stream at its centre, occasionally fording it in shallow places.
At last I came to the easternmost end of it late one evening, and encamped as usual, intending next day to examine its exit from the valley. At sunrise I was up, and had a most magnificent view of irregular broken hilly and rocky ground. There was a wide chasm between two immense peaked rocks, through which the stream escaped: it passed over a bed of flat stones, so regularly placed as to appear the work of man, in a number of steps like steep stairs, which gave the water here a strange dripping appearance. It was not in sufficient body to make much noise in its descent. As those natural stairs were about three hundred yards wide, there were many places to descend with perfect ease, and without being more than ankle deep. I took advantage of this, and a final leave of this solitary region.
In a few hours I immerged from the curious rocky barrier which shut in the easternmost extremity of the valley and hills into fine open ground, in full view of the sea, not more than three miles off, and experienced at once the refreshing coolness of the breeze. I must here mention that the valley I had left was fully a thousand feet above the level of the sea, and the hills which bound it from two to four thousand. Consequently I was yet on high ground; but as the woods were open, the view along the coast was cheering. The stream above alluded to scatters itself much by the irregularity of the rocky surface over which it passes, and descends the sloping ground in a number of small streams towards the sea. I journeyed on now, and arrived before sunset at the nearest point of a small bay, and again listened to the wash of the briny element on the beach.
As the sun was now nearly dipping on the horizon to the westward, I hastened to make arrangements for the night, which I soon accomplished with grass and branches of trees, at the foot of some rocks a little way inland. I then lighted a good large fire, which I required during the night, as the fresh sea breeze made the temperature of the air much cooler than I felt it in the interior I had lately left.
I may here mention my usual method of lighting my fire. I collected a good-sized bundle of dry grass, and dry wood; into the grass I flashed some gunpowder, which instantly ignited. I then heaped on the wood, and in a few minutes had what, in some villages at home, might be called a moderate bonfire. During the day, when the sun was well out, I used a burning glass which I had about me, to ignite the powder with, when I did not wish to use my gun for that purpose.
Having my fire in good trim, I put to it some terrapin meat, which, having made my evening meal of, being well tired by my day's march, and excitement, I lay down beneath a bright moon, and slept soundly until daylight, when I was awoke by a screaming and fluttering noise hard by. What was this but about a dozen of my old friends, the large hawks, who had taken possession of my spare meat, and had a regular fight, in their own way, for it.
It was as ludicrous a sight as I ever saw. About five or six of them had hold of it with their claws, and were hitting each other with their wings and beaks, while the rest continued to hop round and round the combatants. At last, they jostled over where my canteen of water stood, and capsized it. Not expecting such visitors, I forgot to put on the stopper and cap. The consequence was, before I could reach it, it had nearly emptied itself. This entertainment lasted about a quarter of an hour, which highly amused me, though I was put to the inconvenience of going nearly two miles for more water, and something to eat. Having procured it, I returned again to the sea side.
I had two objects in doing so. I was tired, and wanted to rest my feet for two or three days. My shoes were now nearly in pieces, and only held together by passing straps of goat-skin under the soles, over the uppers, and round my ankles, after the manner of a sandal. This great deficiency could only be supplied by the moccasin; so I had to watch among the rocks, and along the beaches for seal—in doing so where there was water enough close in under the rocks.
I observed plenty of fish; and having in one of my pockets some twine, and a few hooks, I had now the extreme gratification of changing meat for the most delicious fish. The way I cooked them was thus: having made a fire, and plenty of hot ashes, I cut the fish into short junks, rolled them up in large leaves, and thrust them into it; in about half an hour they were well done, and I could easily take the body of it out of the skin and scales, as one would a nut from the shell. It afforded me a delightful repast. In one of those angling excursions, I slipped off the rock into deep water.
I could swim well, so there was no fear of drowning; but another danger, which I was well aware of, made me clamber up out of it as quick as possible; this was the vast number of ground sharks which inhabit the sea surrounding those islands, and come close in to the edge of the rocks and beach. As soon as I had taken off my clothes to dry them in the sun, I took a look into the spot where I had fallen in; then I perceived that I had a providential escape, as a whole shoal of them were moving about, I suppose attracted by my splashing in the water. If I had been five minutes longer in it, or encountered any difficulty in getting up on the rocks, I would have been devoured. I confess I felt so queer after this adventure, that I picked up my clothes and went a little inland; however, it did not deter me from again getting a fish, but it prompted me to use caution.
The morning of the third day of my stay in this neighborhood had arrived, and I had seen no seal but a small fur one, whose skin was too thin to be any protection to my feet; it was the hair seal I wanted, and there is a great difference between them; the fur one is seldom larger than a small or middling-sized dog, and skin thin—the hair seal on those islands, and particularly on this, is frequently as large as a moderate-sized bullock, with skin much thicker, and the hair quite as strong, head and teeth very formidable in both look and reality; but strange to say, a slight blow of a stick on the tip of the nose will prostrate the largest, but if you are unsteady, and miss that vulnerable part, he will always make for the water; if you intercept him, as all sealers do, and he gets hold of you with his teeth, you will get a cranch that will break your bones.
About noon, while wandering about where I had a view of the beach for some distance, I caught sight of a huge seal waddling up out of the water about a quarter of a mile off. I took my gun and a long pole inside the mangrove bushes which fringed the beach along, and when a-breast of the animal, I could plainly see that he was a gigantic hair seal, apparently sick, moving slowly and in pain, bellowing occasionally like a bull. He was rather too formidable to attack rashly, so I patiently watched him for nearly an hour.
I may here mention, that the seal cannot quickly turn, so you may keep close by his side, and finish him either with a long knife, sharp axe, or heavy pole; but be careful to watch his turning on you. He was evidently very ill, and greatly exhausted, and at last lay down high up on the beach, near the bushes. Now, a sick patient could not have fallen into better hands than a doctor's, so I went stealthily up close to him, and sent two leaden pills from both barrels right through his head; he roused up at this treatment, and, though unconscious of any thing, floundered about, and rolled down the beach so much, that I was afraid of losing him. I now hit him with my two-handed club several times about the head, which, with a plunge of my knife into his chest, finished the scuffle: he was not more than ten or twelve feet from the water edge when he died.
I had now time to examine my prize: he was an immense fellow, with an unusually thick hide, just what I wanted, and was so anxious about. My mind was now quite at ease; as to my worn-out shoes, I had now laying before me what would afford strong moccasins for a year, if I required them so long. I now saw the cause of his illness; he had a large old wound in the left side, and most probably came up on the beach to die, as seals frequently do; he appeared to be as much alone as I was, for there were none others any where in sight.
With great trouble, and continually sharpening my knife, I managed to cut through the thick hide, and get off as much as was requisite for three or four pair of mocassins. Underneath there was a thick covering of blubber, which would make a great deal of oil. I next laid the piece of skin over a smooth rock to dry, and rubbed it well with fine sand, which made it as smooth and soft as a glove. After a few hours' exposure to the sun and sand, all the moisture was removed, and it was prepared.
The manufacture of the mocassin was simple: all I had to do, was to spread out the skin, place my foot upon it, and cut it of an oval shape, about four inches all round from the foot, then place it on a log of wood, and with the point of the knife make a range of holes all round near the edge, then a thong off the hide to reeve through the holes would serve as a drawing-string, and it was complete.
In putting it on, put the foot on the hairy side, as it is always the inside; then draw the strings comfortably tight round the ankle, and make fast. This simple contrivance gives a perfect protection to the foot, and is much more to the purpose than the tight, high-heeled article that my bootmaker or shoemaker could give at home, for believe me, that ranging through woods, and over broken ground and rocks, is quite a different thing from walking on Macadamized roads and flagged highways.
Proceed round the island—Extinct volcanoes—Lightning, loud thunder, and heavy rain—A grand waterfall—Discover a hut—Remarks on two men who lived in it—Find more coal, beds of sulphur, iron ore, and mineral springs.
Having now not only been rested and refreshed, but having provided myself with one pair of stout moccasins on my feet, and as much of the hide as would serve for two or three pair more, I continued my tramp round the easternmost part of the island.
For nearly four or five miles I kept near the shore; there was no good earth here within two miles of the sea; all was broken rocks in every variety, old lava, occasionally a small old crater, and where a patch of earth existed, a great many prickly pear and cabbage trees; in fact, there was every indication of this part of the island giving vent to many volcanoes at a very remote period. There were also on the beaches, and among the rocks, great numbers of seal, and occasionally turtle; but as I did not require them for any purpose, I was loath to disturb their slumbers, and let them alone.
I now came (after going over about ten miles of rough ground) to a hill, which ranged from the interior down to the sea, and ended in a high bluff; this was covered with grass in some places, and richly timbered in others. My route now lay across this, and at sunset I arrived on the summit of it, which was level for some distance. I was surrounded here by vast numbers of birds, and found a good-sized terrapin. It was too late to venture down the other side, so I encamped for the night, under the lee of a grove of close trees, and I was particular in making my hut both warm and water-tight, with plenty of grass and branches over it, as it was very cold, and commenced raining.
All surrounding objects became indistinct, and only for the light of a huge fire, I would have been in perfect darkness. About midnight, there was vivid lightning, and the thunder was so loud that it appeared to break on this hill, and brattle close to the ground right over it. I never heard any thing like it before, nor since; the ground felt as if shook by it; the noise and shocks was terrific; my fire was soon put out by the torrents of rain which followed, but my precaution with the hut (which was against a tree) kept me quite dry. A little after daylight this all cleared away, but there was such a mist rising from the low grounds, to the westward, that during the chief part of the day every thing in the distance was obscured, and as the earth was very wet, I resolved to remain where I was until the moisture was all cleared off.
I had a long sea view, but did not observe any vessel any where. I had plenty to eat on the hill, and the rain filled several holes here, so there was water enough. There were strong trade winds, which I felt the cooling effect of, and which told me I now was fairly on the south-east, or weather side of this island. After spending, or rather being weather-bound on this hill for three days, the sun shone out in all its warmth and splendour. The birds all round sang gaily; every thing looked refreshed and cheerful.
I left my hut, and descended from the eminence I was on into a deep stony ravine, through which a vast body of water passed down over a precipice about one hundred feet high, and thundered into the sea. I had to cross this some where. Here I could not; so I walked, or rather clambered among stones for about two miles up, and came to a curious pass, where I could get over. The water here was intercepted by a breast work of rocks nearly fifty feet high, the top of which projected greatly. Over this the water curved, and descended in great force into a deep pit, and continued its course.
This projection of the upper part of the rocks gave the fall such a sweep, as to form a complete tunnel across, with rock on one side, and water on the other. Through this I passed over: it was a grand sight to see the effect of the bright sun on this cascade. The variety of shades caused by it was really strange; old timber, bushes, and fresh trees, torn up by the water, passed over; and as I looked on the water from the inside, it appeared to be a moving mass of all shades and colours, something like a kaleidoscope on a gigantic scale.
I have often looked on waterfalls of every kind with delight; but this one I examined, and gazed on in wonder and amazement. I was so fascinated with it and the surrounding scenery, that, after having passed over, or rather through it, I took a view of it from different positions, until I fairly tired of the deafening noise it made.
Amongst the rocks and hills skirting this ravine, there is iron ore of apparently excellent description; and here again I fell in with coal, which I pronounce to be excellent, having again practically tested it by using it for my fire. There was also beds of sulphur without much impurity among it. I found on the south-east part very pure lead ore in great abundance. Indeed the whole island, particulary about the hills, seemed to be rich with the ordinarily useful minerals; but as I had quite enough to do to carry my gun, &c., I did not encumber myself with those heavy specimens of mineralogy that fell in my way.
I was now again on a rich soil, and every thing like fertility around me. About two miles from this last stream I fell in with another, but smaller one, on the other side of which there was a hut. I got easily over, and found this solitary habitation to be one of recent erection. Round it were scattered a number of terrapin and turtle shells, with fish bones, &c. From the situation of this place, I knew it to be the habitation of three men, who had resided in it for nearly a year, and were taken off by Captain Stivers, of the ship Favourite of London, which we fell in with some months previous. I may as well mention here that I had the pleasure of enjoying Captain Stivers' hospitality on board the Favourite, off those islands, previous to my tour on this one. Another ship, which was short handed, took two of those men from him. The third served on board his ship in the capacity of cook.
I had a long conversation with him. He appeared to be a silent man, and when spoken to, had a listening frightened look, which I concluded he gained by his residence on the island. The other two, he told me, often rambled away from him for days, on the look out for a passing ship, and, he added, he often felt frightened and lonely, but, withal, was dissatisfied with being again on board, and under restraint. In fact, he said he regretted coming off, or leaving the island. However, it seemed to me that none of those three men had minds calculated for such a situation. Two of them were always on the look out to get off; the third, now cook of the Favourite, had a look of constant fear, and indeed told me that, for the first six months they were on it, he was startled by every noise or sound, and was afraid to go far from their hut; and now, from my examination of it and the adjoining grounds, I was convinced they merely eat, slept, and walked about.
However, it had an inhabitant in one of the dark corners. Two glaring eyeballs met my view. I was startled at first; but on hearing a peculiar hissing noise, and looking more closely, I saw at once it was nothing more formidable than an immense buzzard, perched on a block of wood, one of the chairs of this establishment. I drove the gentleman out to have a look at him. He was the largest I ever saw; both head and claws were very large, the plumage beautifully varied. As soon as he came out into the light, he screamed loudly, and flew away into the dark woods.*
* Coulter's description of a buzzard casts some doubt about the truth of the rest of his account. There are no buzzards in Galápagos, nor anything that might be confused for one.—JW.
There were a great many iguanas on this the south side about the rocks. They were all black, resembling a miniature alligator, but were very timid and nimble, hiding themselves among the rocks on the least noise of my approach. I saw none of them more than a foot long. They were perfectly harmless, and merely minded their own business, whatever it was. Here and there, a little inland, I discovered a number of spas, all strongly impregnated with iron and sulphur.
This being the weather side of the island, the surf beat heavily on the rocks, and scattered the water occasionally far in over them. Wherever there were basins, or hollow places on the rocks or beach, there were large quantities of salt, caused by the strong sun evaporating the sea water, periodically thrown up so far, and into them.
All along this route the level land extends from the sea away up to the foot of the high mountains, a distance of from three to six or seven miles. It was nearly all good, some places thickly timbered, in others, acres of grass without a tree. I wended my way along leisurely for some days, sometimes going inland, at others near the sea side.
FALL IN WITH AN OLD CLEARING—RUINS OF A HUT, AND SKELETON OF A MAN IN IT—MY METHOD OF BURYING IT—ARRIVE AT THE ENCAMPMENT—FIND ALL GONE AWAY—EXPLANATORY NOTE FROM THE CAPTAIN—ARRIVAL OF THE SHIP AGAIN—LEAVE THE ISLAND—JAMES'S ISLAND—MEET WITH JOHNSTON—DESCRIPTION OF THE ISLAND—GENERAL REMARKS ON THE POLITICAL POSITION OF GALLAPAGOS ISLANDS WITH RESPECT TO THE PASSAGE ACROSS THE ISTHMUS OF DARIEN.
When I was better than half way down the weather side, at about four miles inland, I came suddenly on a space of ground, which was partially clear, and where a few trees lay, that had evidently a few years ago been cut down by some one. On further entering this space, there were mustard pumpkins, melons, Indian corn, sweet potatoes, and tobacco, all growing indiscriminately, and in a very wild state—tall weeds, and suckers of young trees, starting up here and there from the roots of old ones.
In looking about, I saw what was once a spade, but the blade of which now was only rust, and fell in pieces when I touched it with my foot. Near this, in a hollow, was a well with water enough, but overgrown, and covered with weeds. It was regularly built round with stone. I continued my search over this once well-cared plantation, until I came to the highest, or upper part of the clearing, which was walled along for several hundred yards by solid rock. Up near this, almost concealed by a clump of trees, and nearly overgrown with wild vine, I discovered a house, or rather hut, on a comfortable scale. There was no sound of human voice here—all was still.
I knew, from the indications about, that it was long since the place had been attended to. The net-work of vines round it was so thick and close, that I had to make an opening through it with my axe. On entering this wild barrier, I came at once on the house, which was built against the rock with a shed roof thatched—the sides and front merely posts of weed, interlaced by vine branches, and covered over with mud. The whole was in a falling state; there was only a doorway into it, but no door.
I now with strange feelings entered the door; there was ample light through this ruin to see all. It was a melancholy sight, and discovery to me. In the centre of the floor, near a rude table, lay the skeleton of a man, only partially concealed by what had once been a covering of skins; on my touching it, it fell in powder; the bones though in apposition, were separated by the slightest touch. On one side were an old boiling pot and frying-pan, wood, axe, &c., all in rust, a tobacco-box, with a rudely manufactured pipe, an old worn-out and rust-eaten carabine and cutlass in the corner; there was a shelf which had once served for a bed, with seal skins on it. I searched minutely but could not find either paper or any other thing that could give the least information as to the name, or who this unfortunate recluse was.
It was dismal scene. I came out and gazed on this hut for some time; a thought struck me, and I proceeded to execute it. All was a ruin, and now falling; the only thing I could now do for this remnant of humanity was to bury it; and the only way I could even do that, was to cover it with the ruins; a few blows of a heavy stone against the posts laid all prostrate, and shut out the sight for ever.
Whilst in those seas I made many inquiries from captains and other frequenting those islands, about this solitary man, but no one knew or had heard any thing about him. He must have been dead for many years, from the state of the skeleton, the hut, and long-neglected plantations. I left the ground without touching any thing, with a heavy heart, and could not eat a bit until I was miles away from it. A few days more brought me to the spot at the west end of the island, where our crew had encamped.
Every remarkable circumstance occurring either on board those ships or on shore with the crew, is generally begun or ended with a cheer. This species of amusement and general uproar is seldom prevented, as it is one of the means of keeping up the spirits of the men on long voyages. I certainly expected on entering the encampment to be received as I departed on my tour of exploration, with three hearty cheers, but picture my feelings when there was neither man, or boy, or ship, to receive me—all gone; the tent was still standing. What can this all mean?
After the first burst of consternation was over, I went up to the tent and saw a pole stuck in the ground in its front, with a clear glass bottle attached to the end of it, and a slip of paper inside. Now for the explanation, said I, and instantly broke the bottle, picked up the paper, and read as follows:—
“There has been a flaw in the chain cable—it has parted; the ship's adrift, leaving her anchor and some of the chain behind; there is no wind, the current strong and setting her off to the N. W. At the back of the tent, under some brushwood, you'll find something I brought on shore for you. As soon as we get a breeze again, I will beat up for you and the anchor, &c.; stay where you are until we come up. All hands on board have been well since you left. The current has got a fast hold of the ship, and we have now to pull five or six miles after her. In haste.
This hurriedly-written paper at once eased my mind, and explained all. I felt no regret at resting myself some days longer on this delightful spot. I now went behind the tent, and lifted off the brushwood, and brought forth the following articles: a frying-pan, a small canister of gunpowder, a bag of duck shot, a bag of biscuit, and a bundle containing two shirts, a jacket, duck trowsers, and a pair of shoes. This was now to me as pleasing a discovery as any I had made on the island. I at once took off my now well-worn leather-jacket or rather frock and cap. As to the trowsers, they had no legs, and were otherwise gone several days ago.
This change of clothing was most refreshing; and after lighting a fire, cooking some fish which I caught off the rocks, and otherwise enjoying myself, I went into the tent, where a hammock was left slinging, and at sun down fell into a sound sleep, until the song of the birds around told me to turn out the next morning.
Every day now I amused myself shooting, fishing, and sealing, but did not go any great distance from the anchorage—in fact, seldom out of sight of it. There was plenty of salt among the rocks close to; and I used it to salt a number of rock cod-fish, which I had well cured, and dried on the rocks before the ship arrived. The frying-pan afforded me also an amusing pastime.
I also made a small raft, on which I went about the Lagoon, spearing mullet with a long stick, the end of which I hardened in the fire, and well pointed it with my knife. It was on the fourteenth day after my arrival on this spot, that the ship, with a strong breeze, hove in sight, and soon came to an anchor.
Two boats were instantly lowered, and I had the gratification of being heartily shaken by the hand of the captain and others of the crew who came on shore with him. Although it always afforded me great delight in seeing a change of scenery, and exploring unknown places, I now felt infinitely more in again hearing the voices of my ship-mates. My large pile of salted dried fish was valued highly, and sent on board.
There was much work in dragging after the lost chain, to bring the end to the surface; and when that was accomplished, we soon got the anchor up to the bows. In two days more we left this anchorage, and stood away towards the north-east in on [and then along?] the coast towards California.
I will not here state any particulars of our visits to many cities and towns on the coast of North and South America, but merely say that, after some months, we returned, and on our way to the westward, came to an anchor again on James's Island, on the north-western side of which there is a fine harbour, where a whole fleet might lay in perfect security. The beach can be easily landed on at all times by boats.
This island is very montainous and irregular, nearly covered with wood and grass. There are some curious stony ravines and caves all through it; yet there are amongst the high land some level places, where the earth is good, thinly timbered, and park-like, and forms a very pleasing landscape. Here, as at others of the Gallapagos group, there is plenty of terrapin, turtle, fish, and both land and sea fowl. The iguanas are here very large, and of a red colour. In particular spots they burrow unto the earth like rabbits, and live together in great numbers. They ascend and descend the trees very quickly; and a number of them among the bushes has a strange appearance at a distance. We cooked one of them to try what sort it was; but, from its extreme toughness, we could not eat it.
This island inland is by no means deficient in water, and on the larboard hand of the anchorage, at the foot of a deep stony ravine that is walled in on either sides by great rocks, is a fine spring of pure water. There is another to the right of where the ship lay, which deserves particular notice.
There is a point of land extending out, and forming one side of the bay or harbour. In search of the water, you must land on this; and by travelling about one mile inland up the gradual ascent leading from the point, over ground covered by flat freestone, indeed looking as if it was flagged purposely, you will find the small birds more numerous, and the earth more wet. By following up this, you will arrive at the spring, which is like a square tank, and has been originally chiselled out of the solid rock. It is said the Buccaniers of old much frequented these islands, and particularly this one, on which I found yet remaining remnants of their remote visit, such as pieces of broken pottery, Spanish stone jars, broken and rusted swords, handles, portions of daggers, knives, &c.
It is no wonder they so much frequented these islands, as they found a calm and safe retreat for them to divide their spoils, and refresh themselves at their ease. One day, as the captain and I were amusing ourselves on the beach, we were agreeably surprised to see our friend “Johnston,” whom I have before mentioned as being so long resident on Charles's Island, as clean in his person and healthy looking as ever. He had been in on the coast to try if he could get any satisfaction for Vilamil's treatment of him on Charles's Island; but the law on the coast not being very equitable, he made nothing of it, and returned to this island in a small schooner that was conveying a parcel of transports to Vilamil's island.
On arrival here he was landed, and five of the black transports with him, as the vessel was both leaky, crowded, and short of provisions. Johnston still vowed vengeance against his old oppresssor, if ever he should fall in with him. During our stay, he lived on board our ship, and every day was my guide through the island. It was he who showed me where the water was. I felt great pleasure in his society. He is a very interesting and amiable man. I asked him why he did not prefer Chatam Island, from its greater size and fertility. He told me that because this island was more frequented by ships, and he could more constantly obtain whatever he required from them in exchange for seal-skins, vegetables, &c.
He had not been long on the island now; he had not as yet erected even a hut, but slept in a cavity under a rock, at the foot of the stony ravine I have described, close to the spring. With our assistance he was now desirous of changing his quarters. He had a raft of wood laying in a small bay, a short distance from the one we were anchored in; we brought round the boats, and towed it off for him to the point of land I have mentioned as leading to the other spring, close to which he intended to put up his house. Our men cheerfully took the raft asunder, and brought it all on shore for him. He seemed very thankful for our help and good wishes, and we then took farewell of him. As we pulled towards the ship, I could see him standing on the rocks, watching our boats until we came alongside; this was the last time I saw this adventurous man.
One of the Spaniards shipped on board as an ordinary seaman, in order to get away from the island—one Johnston had with him; the rest were to remain at the cave and spring which he left. After having procured about one hundred and fifty terrapin of large size, a good deal of hard firewood, and having a good run on shore for about a fortnight, shooting goats, sealing, &c., we got under weigh and stood to the westward.
The Gallapagos Islands have been termed barren, and some even said thay were scarcely habitable, that there was no fresh water to be had on them, &c. Now the general visiters [sic] to those islands, it is quite evident, never went far into the interior; they were generally seafaring men, who do not themselves like walking about, particularly where there are no inhabitants, and consequently what they call no fun. Again, there exists generally here either very broken ground, or a thick wood, with a great deal of underbrush some distance in from the beach, which requires patience and perseverance to get through; indeed few sailors would take the trouble to penetrate it.
However, this obstacle once surmounted, the natural beauty and fertility of these islands is at once brought before the eyes; the mineralogist or botanist might feast himself here, and have no fear of the want of food either; indeed, the greatest surprise I experienced was, that they were not colonized and settled upon long before this. They all have fine harbours and smooth water, with very little rise or fall of tide; any sized vessel can go in and out at any time, day or night. As for water, there is plenty of it to be found on them.
There are very few that ever took the trouble, or enjoyed the pleasure of rambling over them, so much as I have done. During our repeated visits I made myself thoroughly acquainted with their capabilities; and the only wish I then had was, that they were regularly taken possession of by England. If ever there is effected a passage across the Ishtmus of Darien, this would make a fine station for steamers on their way westerly: they here could refresh, refit, repair, or get any quantity of coal they wanted, certainly at Chatam Island, and at others also.
I look upon these islands to be of great political importance, from their position; whoever ultimately lays hold of them will certainly obtain an important post. Both those islands, California and the passage across the isthmus ought to belong to England; she could make better use of them than any other nation, from her immense and enterprizing maritime power.
California I also know well; it is rich in the extreme, and if England had it, she could dispose of some of her superabundant population to great advantage, and have a splendid country beside; but the isthmus is the pass to all, and a passage could be effected across it that would well repay any purchase or outlay for the purpose. It is to be regretted that England did not take possession of Tahiti, and another fine steam station might have been secured on the way to our Australian and New Zealand settlements.
However there are many other fine islands westerly which I will speak of hereafter, that possess all the accommodation required, as to harbours and other capabilities; for instance, the Tonga Islands, New Caledonia, &c.