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The Castaways of Disappointment Island

Chapter XV. — Our Life on Auckland Island

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Chapter XV.
Our Life on Auckland Island.

It would be almost impossible to describe the delight with which our companions greeted us when we once again landed at Disappointment Island, and it would have been equally impossible for us to have answered the numerous questions with which we were plied as we walked back with our comrades to the camp, with Joe Ellis, the Australian, dancing ahead of us, and giving utterance to Maori war whoops.

They had quite given us up for lost, and when they sighted our boat, they imagined that we were either a small sealer, or another party from some shipwreck.

Things had gone on as usual on Disappointment Island, but the day after we had sailed they had sighted a four-masted barque to northward, and they had made signals. I expect that was the smoke which we had seen rising.

We four had already planned how best to take all hands across. We quite, understood that now we had a proper boat, no one would be page 270willing to risk crossing in the canvas canoe, which they still had. We decided, therefore, that those who were the strongest should first cross in the boat to the spot where we had landed, there they should be put ashore, and the boat pulled back for the rest.

The first company were to tramp across the island, following the road we had taken, whilst the boat, with its second crew, was to pull right round, and to make the entire journey by water. We estimated that we should all arrive at the depot at about the same time. But I may mention that, although we gave those who were going to tramp it ample directions, we did not enter into too full a description of the difficulties of the way. Ignorance being bliss, we thought we would let them be happy as long as they could. We knew they would be miserable enough when they encountered them.

It wanted a lot of argument to discover who were the strongest and most fitted for the tramp; at any rate, we four fellows who had once undertaken it were unanimous in our declaration that we did not feel fit for it a second time.

We turned in early, but we were all of us too excited to sleep much, and soon after midnight Knudsen, Walters, Santiago, and half the others left for the big island. The above-named three were to bring back the boat for the rest of us.

Our comrades had a few birds, and these we page 271told them to take across with them, as there were only a couple of tins of meat left in the depôt.

Knudsen and his two companions got back to us soon after daylight. They had encountered a good many hail and snow storms, and they had a hard job to land on the other shore. All the fellows had been compelled to jump into the water, as it was too dangerous to try and beach the boat.

We did not wait long after they had got back; we all of us crowded into our craft, and Disappointment Island, upon which we had spent so many trying months, was once again uninhabited.

Our party consisted of Mr. Maclaghlan, Judge, A.B., Finlow, A.B., and Santiago Marino, A.B., and with them Knudsen, Walters, Mickey, and myself, making eight in all, which left seven to do the tramp.

It was no easy task getting back, for the boat was overloaded, and about half the journey through we lost the wind, which, as it had been pretty well ahead of us all the time, did not matter very much. We unshipped the mast and took to the oars, and after a long and hard pull we managed to reach the bar. At first sight we did not think we should be able to cross it, the water was absolutely boiling; but we put our backs to it and pulled like madmen. It was a hard task, but, anyway, we managed to get through all right, and about four o'clock we arrived safe and sound at the depot, only to discover that there was no sign page 272of any of the other fellows who were tramping across the island.

Now, as there was not enough blankets and clothes to go round, it was a case of first come first served; so the fellows who were with us immediately started to rig themselves out and fix up their bunks, and after they had been working about an hour, Michael Pul turned up alone, in no very good temper. He said things concerning us for not telling him the kind of tramp that lay before him. Shortly after him Jack Stewart came in, and it is absolutely impossible for me to put into writing what he said about things in general, and the tramp in particular. We who had experienced that journey could quite understand that their tempers must have been sorely tried.

Well, events proved that we were not far out in our estimate, as within about two hours everyone of the party turned up, with the exception of George Ivimey.

We had made preparations for our comrades, and had a good feast of tinned meat and biscuits ready, and very soon the depot shed rang with mirth. It was wonderful to see what a difference there was in everybody. Ten days before, everything had seemed lost, and death was staring us in the face; now we felt as jolly as though we were only at a picnic, and we knew that sooner or later a Government vessel was sure to call for us.

Well, we had our dinner—if you can call our evening meal dinner—and we put by a good feed for George, who had not turned up yet.

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Some of us, beginning to get very anxious, went-out to look for him, giving shrill whistles and coo-ees as we went along; but after a long search we had to go back and report to our comrades that we had seen no traces of the missing man.

But at last, just as it was getting dark, we saw a pitiful-looking object staggering towards the depôt; it was George, and he did look a sight! Almost every rag of his clothes had been torn off him, and his face was so cut, that one could hardly recognize his features, whilst one of his eyes was blackened and almost closed. He just managed to stagger into the depot, and then he sank down on a box as one dead—he was properly done up.

When he had had his food and had rested, he was somewhat recovered, and he was able to tell us his adventures. It appears that he got bushed, had fallen into several creeks, nearly been smothered in the morass, and had got generally cut up. He had heard the cries of the search party, and, nerving himself, he had staggered on, following the sound, but he had been too exhausted to make himself heard.

Well, we gathered round the fire and discussed our position. All our tinned meat was gone, but we found by calculation that there were enough biscuits to last us fifteen men for three months, allowing three biscuits per man each day. However, we were not content to live on biscuits alone, and so we four fellows, who had spotted the bull on the other island, told page 274the rest what we had seen, and we unanimously decided that if there was beef to be got, we were the fellows to get it.

The next morning we got out that old gun and overhauled it, and then we found it would not work. Judge had been a Royal Naval Reserve man, and Santiago had been a few years in the Chilian Navy, and these two, after examining the useless weapon, decided that between them they would be able to fix that gun up somehow. They said that they would not be able to get it done that day, so six of the fellows decided to go over to the other island to make sure that the cattle were really there.

Our men returned late in the evening, and to our surprise we found they had got a lot of gear in the boat. There were some old tins, a a couple of axes, two or three rusty tin plates, some old knives, and, best of all, they had got half a tin of tea and a bit of sugar, which they had discovered in the boat-house on the island.

They had also found a chart of the islands inside an old tin, and it was from this chart that we learnt that the island we had recently vacated was called Disappointment Island. I have that chart in my possession still. We could see from it where we were, and the shape of the island. We also saw that there were three depôts—namely, the one where we were, one midway in Norman's Inlet, and one right to the southward. We also saw marked on every island that there were boats; in fact, on Ewing page 275Island there were two boats, as we found out later.

That night we tasted tea for the first time for months, and as we drank it, Mr. Maclaghlan looked across at me. I think both of us were thinking the same thing. We thought of that tea which I had made on that stormy night during the dog-watch the March before— the evening before the poor Dundonald went down.

Well, the next day the gun was ready, and Judge tried it. It kicked like anything, but was not bad, considering; so Knudsen, the German, the Russian Finn, Chilian and myself, all started for Enderby Island, Michael Pul having the gun, and the rest of us being armed with axes; for our comrades had discovered more axes on Enderby Island.

There was only one landing-place on Enderby Island, and we had to be very careful in landing, for fear of getting the boat smashed. We had to jump out, three of us on either side, into the water and run the boat up. There were an awful lot of seals on the beach. I remember on that occasion I counted no less than fifty-three of all sorts and sizes, some as big as horses.

We found a complete set of sails in Enderby Island boat-house. We brought these back with us, and from them we made canvas trousers for hunting purposes, so that our other clothes might not be spoiled. We had these trousers lashed with rope-yarn, and used to wind them round from the ankle to the knee, like page 276gaiters, so as to prevent them catching in the bush. We used to wear sealskin shoes for hunting, as they were lighter than the leather boots we had found at the depot. We would leave our coats behind us, and clad in these shoes, canvas trousers and our shirts, we would proceed on our expedition.

Enderby Island is very flat. There are not a great number of hills on it, but there are a large number of creeks, and some very deep trenches. A thick forest grows near the. coast, and almost encircles the island; but when this is penetrated, there are two or three miles in the centre, forming a sort of clearing.

Now to go back to our first excursion. The seals on the beach did not at all like our intruding in their domain, and they behaved in a most inhospitable fashion to us, compelling us to bombard them with rocks and stones, until we eventually drove them, barking and growling, into the water.

Then we started out after big game, and we had a hard job getting through the outer line of forest; not so much on account of the thickness of the growth, but because of the state of the ground. It was so swampy, that in some cases it was impossible to cross it.

We soon picked up the trail of a few bulls, and we followed it carefully, taking great care to keep to leeward of the animals; because, had we got to windward of them they would have smelt us and gone off. An hour's tramp brought us to the inner edge of the forest, and there, far away out in the open plain, were four or five page 277bulls and cows. It would have hardly been possible to get near them from where we were; but they moved away down into a deep trench out of our sight, and we, being fortunately to their leeward, followed cautiously after them. Pul bent low down, and crept up to the top of the trench to get a good shot at them, we waiting below. We were ranged in the bush, to meet them with the axe if they got past Pul.

All of a sudden we heard a shot, and the next moment Pul started to his feet and fired again, and then Knudsen whistled a shrill warning to us to stand clear. Santiago yelled to me, "Look out, Charlie; look out, man !" And I passed the word to the Russian, who was close behind me, but I had not time to do anything more except get out of the way as quicky as possible, for there, close upon me, making for the bush, their heads down at the charge I saw three monstrous bulls.

They came on, crash right into the forest, and the trees went down before them like matchwood. John—the Russian—and myself just had time to fling ourselves to the ground as they passed, the hind legs of one creature catching John and giving him a pinch, which made him utter a yell of pain.

Well, they were gone, and it was no good going after them, as Michael Pul was on the track of another herd. We followed it up, and came across three grazing together. They were on the bank of a deep trench, we being on the opposite bank. As soon as the brutes saw us, they started running along, the bank" we on page 278the opposite bank doing the same, trying to keep up with them. Then the Finn took a shot, and hit one of them, but it did not fall. Instead of that, he seemed to get kind of mad at being stung in that way. Pul had a second shot, and hit another. You must understand that all this time we were running along at an awful pace, which it would have been impossible for us to have maintained for any length of time.

The three brutes now reached the bush, the one that had not been shot getting away quick; but both of the others turned round short and made for Santiago. He was a very little man, standing only about five feet high, but he stood his ground, and as they came John gave one of them a cut on the hind-quarters with his axe; and, really, although we were seeking that bull's life, I felt a thrill of pity for him, he looked so surprised and staggered.

But we gave him no time to think. Before he could lower his head to attack us, we were all round him raining blows with our axes, and at last the poor creature sank down on its knees and rolled over on its side. His companion had cleared the moment he had seen that first blow given.

Well, the next thing we had to do was to skin and cut up that bull; and let me tell you that a bull is not a light weight to handle. The Russian, who had been brought up on a farm, knew something about it, so we proceeded under his directions, and we got him cut up into six pieces, each man carrying a piece. We did not page 279look very pleasant objects by the time we had done, what with the grease and the blood.

When we got to the boat, we found that we could not put the meat in before we launched it, or else we should never have run her down to the water; for a whole bull, even if it is cut into six pieces, is a pretty heavy arrangement for a small boat.

Two of the fellows had to take her off to keep her from grounding, and the rest of us, with the meat on our backs, ran into the water up to our shoulders, dumped it into the boat and then ran back for another load; and we had to be very smart, for the rollers broke a good way out, and nearly swamped the boat. When the last load of bull was on board, all hands jumped in, and we pulled off. And we had to bale out as soon as we were clear of the surf, for by this time the boat was just on sinking, she had shipped so much water.

However, we managed it all right, and we shipped the mast, hoisted the sail, and away we went, getting back to the depot in the evening. One cow used to last us, on an average, for a week, and the description which I have given may be applied to every hunting expedition we had.

Now, about six miles from the depot there was a small island which is called Ocean Island, and one day a few of us determined to go and explore this. It was a little bit of a place, not more than a mile in circumference, and entirely covered with bush, and we found nothing to reward us for our trouble, except the discovery page 280of goats on the island. The Finn managed to catch a brown billy, and the rest of us captured a white one. We brought these back to the depot, although they decidedly disliked the passage, and we determined that we would keep them alive for the time, so we built a sort of fenced enclosure for them, and we used to feed them with grass and leaves, and they soon began to know us quite well.

We had many tramping expeditions in all directions. I remember on one occasion that Roberts, the cabin-boy, and myself went for a long tramp towards the north, keeping to the beach as much as possible, and in this tramp we came across a couple of brick monuments or pedestals. They were about four feet high, and appeared to be solid, and at the foot of one of them was a stone like a paving-stone, and on it there were these words, cut with a chisel:

"German Expedition, 1870."

But I think the most touching and solemn discovery which we made during our whole stay on the island was that of a little cemetery not far from the depôt, in which were sleeping the bodies of unfortunate mariners who, from time to time, had been cast ashore there.

It was a sad and solemn thing to stand there in that silent and deserted spot, and contemplate the last resting-place of those for whom friends and relatives had waited and mourned in far-off lands.

One stone I remember very particularly bore only a very few words; it was the grave of a little baby, only a few months old, who had been page 281buried there in the year 1850. But what problems, what untold tales of terror and agony did not the grave of that little child bring before us !

Above another grave, tied to the tree which was growing at the head of it, was a rough piece of slate, upon which was carved but one word:


Unknown! Just the body of some poor lonely mariner, found lying in that lonely land, by some expedition—no name—nothing to mark his nationality—nothing to tell from what ship he had come—nothing to tell of his sufferings, his hopes, his fears, and his prayers. They could only bury him, and put that simple word over his head; and there he shall sleep ' "unknown" until in that great day all shall know as they are known.

Over the next grave to this there was a tombstone constructed of rough pieces of wood nailed together, and on it there was painted in black letters, which was evidently the work of some sailor, the following inscription, which I reproduce almost exactly as it was on the board:

"Erected by the Crew of the

s.s. Southland over the remains of a man who had apparently died from starvation and was buried by the crew of the Flying Scud. 3rd Sept., 1865."

The last grave had an ordinary gravestone but I cannot remember the exact wording which it bore. It referred to one John Mahoney, page 282master mariner, second mate of the ship Invercauld, and he had died from starvation. I think the date of this one was 1857. I may say that afterwards I learnt that John Mahoney had been found dead in the forest, with only a few limpets' shells beside him, and also a small piece of slate, upon which he had scratched the name of the ship to which he had belonged. I think he was the only one who had got ashore when she was lost.

A man must be insensible to all better feelings if he can stand in a modern cemetery without feeling some emotion. You may judge, then, what feelings were likely to be called up in the breasts of us castways, as we stood there in the midst of a great rata forest, and gazed down on those last resting-places of those who had been there before us.

It is not to be wondered at that the sight made us mournful—that sad thoughts would come into our minds. Already in the solitude of Disappointment Island one of our number was sleeping his last eternal sleep, and who could say how many more of us might be called to pass over into the great unknown ere any ship should appear in the offing, and the glad cry of the survivors ring out— "A sail! A sail !"

But grave thoughts could not be ours for long. It would not have been well if they could; indeed, it would have been very bad. Melancholy would have been the very worst enemy that we could have had to face. Even with the best will in the world, it was impossible to prevent one's thoughts from getting into page 283dismal ruts. Memories of home would come— visions of dear ones who long ago must have mourned us as lost. And at times like that there would come a longing, almost too strong for endurance, as though body and soul, mind, heart and spirit went out in one great cry to see their dear faces again.

It did not do to think of that kind of thing too much, and so we decided that while we were waiting for a ship, we had to keep ourselves busy. There is an old saying that" Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do. "It seems to me that he, also, is quite ready to stuff all manner of miserable thoughts into unoccupied minds.

My argument was that you couldn't have two things in the same place at the same time. If you had busy thoughts, there would be no room for miserable ones, and so we set to work and invented tasks for ourselves. Some of them were very hard ones. There was no absolute need to do them—they were not much good to us when they were done—but they gave us something to do; they prevented us from getting into the dismals, and, more important still, they prevented us from quarrelling.

And when work was done, as soon as it became dark, we would all gather together in our hut, and after our meal we would have a drinking bout and a concert—a regular smoking concert, without the tobacco. None of my readers need be alarmed when I mention we had a drinking bout—our drink was certainly non-intoxicant. It was coffee.

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Coffee! Home-made coffee—not homegrown. It was made by taking a biscuit, breaking it into very small pieces, and burning it. We then ground it up, and that was the coffee we used. It was just about as much make believe as the wine which Charles Dickens' little Marchioness used to make out of orange-peel and water.

Still, there it was. It was our one and only luxury; indeed it was only now and again that we felt that we could be so extravagant as to use a biscuit in such a manner as that.

And there, with a blazing fire, we would gather together to drink our" coffee" and sing our songs. We did try smoking, but it was attended with difficulties. The pipes were easy enough to fashion—we cut the bowls from wood, and used birds' bones for stems; but the tobacco !

I should very much like to see any gentleman who enjoys his expensive mixtures try a pipeful of our special brand. I would give you a dozen guesses, and you would not be able to think what it was composed of.

Leaves, you say—or grass ? No; quite wrong. No, nor yet seaweed, nor anything which grows on a stalk out of the bosom of Mother Earth.

Our tobacco was rope-yarn !, We would get a piece of rope and tease it into oakum and smoke that; but as it was full of tar, a very few whiffs were enough to satisfy us, and convince us that it was not the sort of tobacco page 285suited to our constitutions, so we gave it up entirely.

Well, that is how we spent our time—hard, work all day, turn in for our meal in the evening and afterwards our coffee and songs. And so day by day dragged by, and the month of November was half way through, and still we saw no sign of that relief ship which ought to have visited the depôt.

It was hard waiting there, and the question would force itself upon us, spite of all our resolutions to preserve our good spirits: Is a ship ever going to come, or has this lonely island been forgotten, and is it to be our fate to linger here until all have perished, leaving no man to tell the tale of the ill-fated Dundonald's last voyage ?