Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter IX

page 55

Chapter IX.

Back to Sydney—Death of my old friend Mr. Smith—I have a row with a Dutchman—A Whaling cruise—My success and its results—I command the "Flying Fish"—An Eventful Voyage—Whaling in Torres Strait—An Experience in the New Hebrides.

During the time I was staying in South Australia I had a fall from a horse, and was laid up in the Adelaide hospital for four months. I got a friend to write a letter to Mr. Boyd, asking him to send me £25, as my money was all gone, and I was in debt a few pounds and I wanted to return to Sydney. Mr. Boyd sent me £20, and wrote advising me to return to Sydney at once, as my old friend Mr. Smith was very ill. If I wanted to see him alive, I was to lose no time in getting back to Sydney. After leaving the hospital, I settled up my debts and got a passage in the "Dorset" brig to Sydney. On my arrival, I went on shore, and going down George Street I met Mr. Boyd, who was much astonished to see me alive. He gave me the sad news of my dear friend Mr. Smith's death, which was a great blow to me, he having, as it were, been a second father to me from ten years of age. Mr. Boyd took me up to the house of my departed friend, but I did not stay long, as the associations were too much for my feelings. I went home with Mr. Boyd, who kindly fitted me out with clothes and money, both of which I I began to stand very much in need of. I gave him a detailed account of all that had happened since my leaving Sydney. He listened kindly and patiently to the recital, and then said, "Well, you have gone through a great deal of rough experience this trip. Your old friend Smith is gone, and the page 56best thing you can do is to come into my employment, and I will forward your fortunes." I thanked him for his kindness, and gratefully accepted his offer.

At this time, 1845, New Zealand began to attract notice, and a number of people left Sydney to settle there. Among them was the well known "Johnny" Jones. He succeeded in obtaining a large area of land from the Maories of Otago, and eventually became one of the wealthiest men in the Middle Island. I went back to the old business of stock-driving, and was sent up country, by Mr. Boyd, to bring down a mob of cattle to be shipped to Auckland. I made this trip successfully and returned to Sydney with my full complement. I remained in Sydney for some time, and one night walking down Pitt Street I fell in with a Dutch captain who had treated me badly sometime previously when I was in Adelaide. There were a few words between us, and he knocked me down with his walking stick, and put a large cut in my head. The Dutchman had two friends with him, and I got the worst of the quarrel, but I promised to have revenge. The next night I came across the Dutchman and four of his men. I had four friends with me, and as I always like to pay off old debts I commenced a quarrel, and the captain and his men got very much hurt. For a time I had to keep out of the way for I had given the Dutch captain a good thrashing. Mr. Boyd at this time, had a whaler, the "Lady Emma," Captain Bulger, laying in port ready for sea, and he recommended me to go on board and take a trip until the matter blew over, for if I was caught I should assuredly get put into prison, as the Dutch captain had been badly injured, having some of his ribs broken. I took the proffered advice and shipped. Some of my readers may say I acted very revengfully in this case, but I only ask them to put themselves in my place. I always disliked debt, and if I have an old score to pay, I endeavour to pay it sooner or later. At this time I was young, hasty and hot tempered, so let this be my excuse.

I left Sydney in the "Lady Emma," and commenced my new career as a whaler. We had hardly cleared the Heads when whales were seen spouting; the boats were lowered, and we succeeded in securing one. I thought it about the most exciting work I had yet been engaged in. Our cruising ground was on the coast of New Zealand, to which we at once proceeded. I was placed in the chief mate's boat as bow oarsman, and, as page 57whales were plentiful, we had plenty of work, and I soon became accustomed to it. One day the captain's boat-steerer was ill and I took his place. We were out after a "school" of whales, and laid the boat on to a big fellow, I put two irons into him, the second one making him spout thick blood, showing that he was struck in a vital spot. The captain shouted, "Well done; not so bad for a first attempt," and I felt rather elated at my success. We towed our prize alongside, and on being "tried out" he yielded 124 barrels of oil. We had good luck so far. We were out about six months, when Captain Bulger put into the Bay of Islands to water and refit.

New Zealand at that time was very thinly settled by the whites; there were only a few here and there, principally sailors living among the Maoris, who at this date were excellent fellows. We got some tons of sweet potatoes and a lot of pigs from the whites and the Maoris. After putting them on board, we replenished our water casks, and stood out once more for the whaling ground. We cruised off Howe's Island, and captured whales as fast as we could cut them in. One day all the boats were out after a "pod" of forty barrel whales. I was steering the captain's boat, and asked him to allow me to try my hand at lancing; he did so, and I was luck enough to kill three good whales that day. When we got on board the captain said I was plucky enough to make a good whaler, and he would give me his boat from that time forward. The boat steerer continued sick, so I remained in charge of the boat all the voyage. I grew very fond of the pursuit, which so pleased the captain that he told me that he would take me as chief mate on the succeeding voyage. Another day a very large whale showed up close to the vessel; four boats were lowered. I was head man in my boat, and pulled right on the whale, which with one blow of his tail sent my boat flying in the air. The other two boats had got fast to the monster, and away they went in tow like steam, and we were left struggling for our lives in the water. We all managed to get hold of an oar or a piece of the broken boat, the ship being about four miles to leeward of us and the other boats away with the whale. We had to hang on until the captain lowered a boat from the brig. He rescued us in a very exhausted state, but two of the poor fellows were missing, having been unable, apparently, to keep afloat. The three boats by this time were out of sight of the ship, and a gale of wind coming up and night setting in page 58the captain beat the ship to windward all night, burning blue lights and sending up sky-rockets. At last he had to heave to and close-reef topsails, the sea running very high and no sign of the gale abating. It continued for three days, during which we saw nothing of the missing boats; and, to my knowledge, nothing has been heard of them to this day. Eighteen fine fellows must have found a watery grave during that gale. The captain thought the whale must have sounded, that is, gone to the bottom, and probably the boat's lines got foul, or they did not cut in time, and went to the bottom with him. We cruised about the spot for three weeks, but never found a vestige of the lost ones. We then fell in with another whaling vessel, the barque "Swallow," Captain Fowler, of Hobart. Our captain boarded her, and Fowler told him that he had seen, two days before, an immense flock of seabirds hovering over a particular spot, and this was probably caused by a dead whale, in all likelihood the one which had caused our disaster. Captain Bulger returned on board, and shaped his course for Sydney, where we arrived safely, and discharged 1100 barrels of oil.

I went to Twofold Bay, from whence Mr. Boyd was shipping cargoes of stock to the neighbouring colonies, and I found that my fracas with the Dutchman had blown over, and I was safe to roam about. Mr. Boyd asked me how I liked the whaling business. I answered, "Very much," and told him that Captain Bulger wanted me to go again with him as chief mate. He said, "You had better stop here for the present and superintend the shipping of the cattle and sheep," and he would see Captain Bulger, and if I was to be chief mate under him I was capable of taking charge as whaling captain. I informed him of all that had occurred on the voyage, including the loss of the men and boats and he went on board his yacht and ran up to Sydney, and I remained behind in charge. Mr. Boyd at once saw Captain Bulger at Sydney, and asked his opinion of my capabilities. He told him I was a smart man, and an expert, daring whaler, and requested that I might be sent again with him as chief mate. My employer said if I was as good as represented he would send me out as master, and he would put a sailingmaster in charge of the vessel, He despatched the yacht back to Twofold Bay, with a letter telling me to come up at once. I obeyed the summons, and went to Sydney and waited on him. He asked me if I would go on another whaling voyage. I re-page 59plied I did not care much for it unless I went with Captain Bulger. He then said, "Bulger gives such a good account of you that I will entrust you with the charge of a vessel, and will send a sailing-master with you to navigate the ship, who will take her to whatever whaling grounds you may decide on. Will you go?" I jumped at the chance, and thanked him warmly for this fresh proof of his kindness and confidence. He offered me a "tenth lay," i.e., a tenth of the entire profits, which, in the event of a successful voyage, would be handsome remuneration. I soon found myself on board of a six-boat ship. That means I could lower six boats and crews at once. I picked my own crew, and, with the [unclear: active] assistance of Mr. Boyd, we were soon fitted out and ready for sea. My vessel was called the "Flying Fish," and the sailing-master was Captain Blake. Captain Bulger was getting the "Woodlark," brig, ready for sea at the same time. Mr. Boyd and several other shipowners came on board, and a tug took us to the Heads, when Mr. Boyd shook hands, and, wishing us "Good Luck," left us with his friends. We gave them three rousing cheers at parting, and set sail on our voyage. I may remark that my crew generally were as fine a lot of fellows as ever had left Sydney—all picked men; and when the "Flying Fish" began to show her heels, she proved to our satisfaction that she could travel at great speed through the water. My chief mate was an experienced whaler, and knew all the whaling-grounds like a book. The first day out I called all the men aft, and formed them into boats' crews. I picked my crew first, the mate second, and so on. I had often mentioned to Captain Bulger that I had seen whales frequently about Torres Straits on my former trips through them, but could never induce him to go for them. I decided to give the place a trial, and shaped my course for that dangerous coast. On the second day out the "look-out" man in the "crow's nest" fell from it on the deck, and was instantly killed. This cast rather a gloom over the ship for a while, but it soon wore off. On the fourth day, about 400 miles from Sydney, and while in sight of land, two large whales rose to leeward of the ship. We immediately got our tubs and lines into the boats, and lowered away. It was blowing a stiff breeze at the time, and pretty heavy seas were running. We pulled for the whales, and they both rose together, and were struck at the same time, I securing one and the mate the other. It was about the best day's sport I ever page 60had, We had a long run before we killed them. Just as we had got them quietened, a steamer passed bound for Sydney. She hailed us, and I told them to report the "Flying Fish," Captain Barry, four days out, with two large whales. We got our prizes alongside, and, when "tried out," they yielded 220 barrels of oil, which was not a bad start. After the decks were cleared and the oil stowed, I gave the men a little extra grog, which with tobacco goes a long way to encourage men at such times.

We saw no more whales until we got to the entrance of Torres Straits, when for six weeks the fires were never out. The place was full of forty-barrel whales. We had excellent luck until a gale came on, and the whales took off to some other cruising ground.

Seeing that we were not likely to meet with any more whales, I gave the sailing master orders to take the ship to Howe's Island, to the north of New Zealand. On our way there we captured one whale, and on our arrival we fell in with the brig "Woodlark," Captain Bulger. He informed me that so far he had had no luck, and intended to go to the Line and cruise for a few weeks, in the hope of meeting better fortune. His vessel was hardly hull down on the horizon when a large whale rose in sight. I had the boats lowered, and two of them got fast. The prize came towards the ship, but at about half a mile it sounded, taken both boat lines with it. I had my boat lowered, and at a short distance from the vessel, we laid on our oars, and waited for the whale to rise, which it did shortly afterwards, about 200 yards off. We pulled out to it, and with the aid of the other boats killed and brought it alongside, cut it up and "tried" it out. We had excellent luck here for about two months, and secured a large quantity of oil.

As we were running rather short of fresh water, we steered for the island of Espiritu Santo, one of the New Hebrides group. We arrived safely, and I despatched four boats ashore with the water casks. Ordered all the men to arm themselves, being aware that the natives of these islands were mostly cannibals, and not altogether to be trusted. They are of a copper color, and both sexes generally very well made and good looking. When the men landed, the natives came around them in numbers, offering them fruit and vegetables, for which the islands are noted, and made signs for them to come up to their village and page 61eat. The mate who was in charge of the shore party felt rather dubious about accepting their invitations, having learned that there had lately been a war between these natives and those of a neighbouring island called Barrute, and they had taken some prisoners, who would doubtless, according to custom be cooked and eaten by the victors. However he and twenty-four men, comprising the boats crews, decided to test the hospitality of the cannibals. On arriving at the huts, one of the natives pulled out of the fire a human leg and arm, and offered these tempting-morsels to the guests, and close at hand three men's heads were seen hanging by the hair to a cocoanut tree, possibly for a second course. The mate, on the, exhibition of this ghastly fare, decided that it was time to be going, and ordered the men to retire quietly and cautiously to the boats, he bringing up the rear. Their hosts evidently did not relish this declining of their hospitality, and fired their arrows at the retreating men who faced about at this and fired a few shots at their tormentors, who made off into the bush at the first salute. The men then set about getting the water casks afloat, and while thus engaged, the natives made a rush upon them in a very strong body, and they had to fly to the boats.

Having heard the firing on board, I had the two other boats lowered with men well armed, and we pulled for the shore. We met the other boats, and they returned with us, our force being now thirty-six men. This evidently overawed the natives, and we succeeded in getting our water off all right. A party of us ventured a short distance from the beach towards the huts, when we were saluted with a shower of arrows from an adjoining thicket. Fortunately no harm was done. We then concluded it was time to leave, but before we could put off again two of us were wounded, one on the back and myself in the neck. With the exception of these casualties, we got safely on board with our supply of water. I may remark here that, after such a warm reception, I made up my mind not to patronise Espiritu Santo again in a hurry, and I never after revisited it.