The Castaways of Disappointment Island
Chapter XVII. — Home Again
"You must understand," said Mr. Laing, as we walked back together, "that, although I have said there are different versions of the story, one thing is very certain—that hut was occupied for many years by a poor lady, who was banished to this island to live here alone until her death.
"Sir James Ross, in his account of the Antarctic expedition of 1840, is the first to mention it. He says that she was accidentally drowned, and that her grave is situated in a cove to the north of where the Erebus was anchored. Carrick, the author of 'New Zealand Lone Lands,' refers to her; and in his account he tells us that though she was a Frenchwoman by birth, she was of Scotch extraction. According to him, she was the daughter of one, Meg Wilkinshaw, who was a great friend of Bonnie Prince Charlie, of '45 celebrity. It is known that Meg Wilkinshaw was in the court of that ill-fated prince during the memorable festivities which took place at Holyrood, both before and after Preston Pans; page 304and when the prince fled for refuge to France, Meg Wilkinshaw was among those who followed his fortunes.
"It appears that the remnant of the Jacobite party were jealous of this lady's influence over the prince, and declared that she was in communication with the English Government, and acting as a spy on their movements. The prince, however, would lend no ear to their reports, and Meg Wilkinshaw remained his firm friend until her death, after which her daughter, who was a very beautiful girl, succeeded to the place in the prince's friendship which her mother had previously occupied.
"The suspicions which attached to the mother now fell upon the daughter, and the Jacobites entered into a plot to carry her out of the country. In order to attain this they entered in a compact with a seaman named Stewart—he is best known as the discoverer of the fact that Stewart Island—named after him—was separate and distinct, and not an integral part of the South Island of New Zealand. Stewart used to boast that he had been on familiar terms with both the prince and his immediate followers. The story goes that she was carried on board Stewart's vessel, and he, sailing with her, marooned her upon Campbell Island, where she was left for years to drag out a miserable existence.
"There is also another version of the story," continued Mr. Laing, "but I do not think much credit can be attached to it. This version says that the unhappy lady was of Scotch page 305extraction, though born in France, and that she lived only about seventy years ago. She unwisely laid claim to the throne of England, her claims being so strong that it was considered best to get her out of the way. She was smuggled on board a Dundee whaler with an attendant, and banished to some unknown island, being heard of no more by the world.
"It is not certain which of these two yarns is true, but I hardly think it likely that such a barbarous act could have been committed by the English in such recent years. One fact is absolutely certain—she lived in this place for many years."
"I certainly hope," I replied," that the latter story is not true. It would be rather an uncomfortable thing for an Englishman to think that no matter how great the expediency was, his fellow-countrymen could possibly have been accomplices in the marooning of a lonely woman in such a spot as this."
That was the story which Mr. Laing told to me, and it seemed to invest that desolate ruin with a melancholy interest. As I have said, all that remained of it were the crumbling walls and the remains of what appeared to have been a fireplace. The walls appeared to have been made of sods, after the same style as our first buildings on Disappointment Island, and a sort of drain had been cut round them, whilst from the hut to the beach was the winding path which I have spoken of.
Mr. Laing told me it must have taken many years to collect so many pebbles and flint-page 306stones. He showed me the place where the pebbles were found. They were washed out of the limestone by the action of the waves; and work as hard as one might, it was impossible to gather more than a hatful in the course of a day; so you may judge how long this lonely woman had taken to complete the task which she had set for herself.
In wandering round I made another discovery. Near the remains of the hut, which were surrounded by thick, wiry scrub, was a partly open space, the nature of which admitted of no question; it was a grave. And on the top of that, growing in a dense mass, was any amount of Scotch heather.
I could scarcely believe my eyes as I looked at that. Rich, blooming heather, the bonnie flower of the Highlands, growing in that desolate region! I plucked a little piece of it and carried it away with me, and I still have it now, as a relic of my adventures in those lonely Southern islands.
Captain Bollons, of the Hinimoa, said he would probably be back for us on Friday, the 22nd inst., so none of us went for very long trips that day. It was very bad weather, howling gales and rain-storms all the time.
The Hinimoa did not turn up that day, and we occupied our time in packing up all our specimens and belongings. Saturday came and went, and still we had no sign of the vessel. Sunday passed with no better result. We now began to feel rather anxious. We fell sure she must have been having a rough time page 307of it during her run to the Bounties and the Antipodes.
On Monday, November 25th, a small party started away about four in the morning for a journey to the North-East harbour, but they returned in about an hour's time, and said that they had heard the vessel's syren from one of the hills; and not long after that we saw her threading her way up the long, narrow bay.
All the packing was done, and the captain came ashore and told us he would be leaving about four or five o'clock in the evening, so we struck our tents, and by mid-day everything had been carried down the hills to the beach, ready to put into the Hinimoa's surf-boat.
The boat came alongside, and by two o'clock we were all aboard, and soon afterwards the vessel weighed anchor and headed for the Auckland Isles, to pick up the rest of the party, and then to go on for the Dundonald crew.
We arrived at Carnley Harbour next morning, the weather being pretty thick, and as the party there had not finished packing, the captain arranged to pick them up later in the day, and steamed off to view the remains of a sailing vessel called the Grafton, which had been wrecked on January 3rd, 1864, while homeward-bound from Sydney.
Also, as it had been reported that there was a submerged reef in one of the small bays, Captain Bollons took careful soundings, so as to be able to mark it on the chart. After this page 308was done, we went on to a place called Norman's Inlet, where we stayed all night. First thing the next morning they painted the depôt—for one of the three depôts was here—and then, with all the expedition on board, we proceeded towards Port Ross to take my comrades off.
We did not run right up to the depôt, but we anchored off Enderby Island, where one or two of the party went ashore to capture some specimens of the various seals, others crossing to the other side to view the relics of the Derry Castle, which had been wrecked on May 12th, 1887, homeward bound from Geelong, Victoria.
It was late in the day when we all returned to the ship, and steamed to our old depôt, and the captain went ashore to see how the fellows were getting on. We stayed there all night, and at daybreak started for Disappointment Island, our object being to fetch the mate's body back to Port Ross, and give it decent burial.
When we arrived at the old landing place, the first thing to attract attention. was the frame of our old canvas boat, and the explorers gazed at the frail framework and said that it seemed impossible that such a craft could ever have reached the main island. They said it ought to be taken back and put in one of the museums, so we gave it to them right away, and in the Christchurch Museum, New Zealand, it is shown to this day.
We took them to view our old huts, of which they took a number of photographs, and we page 309gave them ail our old things as curios; and after a look round, we went back to the boats and got aboard ship, leaving the mate of the Hinimoa to wait for the men who had gone to fetch Mr. Peters' body, which was right on the other side of the island.
While they were gone we steamed to the south of Auckland Island, where we saw the cove where the General Grant, bound from Melbourne home, with a good bit of gold on board, was lost on May 10th, 1866. She had eighty-three all told on board, and sixty-eight were lost at the time of the wreck; one was starved to death, four were afterwards drowned, and the remaining ten were rescued on November 21st, 1867, so that these poor fellows had a longer time on that terrible island than we did.
By the time we returned, the other party were ready, and our poor chief's body was reverently taken aboard. It was a most remarkable thing, due, as the scientists said, to some peculiarity in the climate of the island, but no signs of decay were visible on the body; it looked almost the same as when it received its rough burial.
That same evening the Hinimoa was back at Port Ross; the grave was dug, and the body was encased in a chest made by the ship's carpenter. When all was prepared, all hands gathered on shore with the exception of the officers who were in charge of the ship. We were about sixty all told who stood round the grave, and everybody will remember that page 310solemn service conducted by Captain Bollons in the midst of the silent rata forest, with the mists driving overhead. George Ivemy had made a cross to be put over the grave, bearing a suitable inscription, and there to this day it stands, and there also sleeps Mr. Peters, the kindly-hearted first mate of the Dundonald.
The chest was lowered to its resting place by the second mate and Knudsen, and after the service we all returned to the ship feeling solemnized by that in which we had been engaged.
The next day, Friday, November 29th, we left the depôt for New Zealand, and after a fine passage we arrived at the Bluff about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon.
It would be impossible for me to tell you of the great kindness with which both I and my comrades were received by everyone who came into contact with us, both upon the ship and upon our arrival at the Bluff. While I was aboard, I had mentioned that I had a great desire to cable to my people as soon as possible, and the party for whom I had cooked on Campbell Island immediately found the money, and as soon as the Hinimoa was alongside the wharf, one of them went up with me to the post-office, and we sent this message:
"Eyre, Elsie Road, East Dulwich. Rescued —Charlie."
And Mr. Inman, who is writing these words, can remember the emotion with which that was received.page 311
The story of our rescue created an immense sensation, and ere long the quay was packed with people who came to stare at us, and at the framework of our canvas boat. Mr. Hutton, from the Sailors' Mission, also came aboard, and we were put under his care and by him taken to the best hotel at the Bluff.
That same day I was sent for by the members of the scientific party, and, to my great surprise, although I had received such favours at their hands, they actually insisted upon paying me for my services as cook.
The next morning the whole place was en fête for us, and they ran special trains from Invercargel, bringing a crowd of people to see us, as though we were some celebrities. They also had the town band playing for our benefit.
Nothing seemed too much for them to do for us, One gentleman, named Macky, gave me a perfect new suit of clothes and boots, and everything else that I needed to make me look respectable. Mr. Hutton took the whole of us to a clothier's, where he fitted us all out. It really seemed to us that if we had chosen to stay there, we could have had everything free gratis for the rest of our natural lives.
In a few days, however, the Board of Trade officials asked me whether I wished to go home passenger to London, and upon my replying in the affirmative, they told me to come up the next morning for my ticket. I was not, however, destined to go home in luxurious idleness, for on Saturday, December 7th, as I was going to page 312the Bluff station, the chief officer of a steamer named the Whakatane came up to me and asked me if I would like to sign on, as he wanted another hand. He had already asked me this before, and I had refused; but as I heard that some of my old comrades had joined her, I hesitated. George Ivemey, Mickey Gratton, and Herman Queerfelt had signed on.
I don't know what possessed me. Anyone might have said that I had surely had enough of seafaring for a time, but I told myself that as the vessel was going to London, I might as well work my passage home as go as passenger, and so I became one of her crew, and after spending some time calling at different ports round the coast, we left a place called Lyttleton on Sunday, December 29th, homeward bound for London.
Homeward bound for London! What a thrill that gave, when heard! What music that was in the ears ! Homeward bound, to see the dear old scenes, and to look into the loved faces after such a long absence, such arduous time, and such bitter privations.
We had a fair passage to Cape Horn, and we could see the cape all white with snow, and also Desolation Island—and I rather guess that Desolation is a very good name for it. We passed a few wind-jammers outward bound round the Horn, and in due course we arrived at Montevideo, where we took in coal, and left the New Zealand mail. From there we steamed to St. Vincent, where we took in page 313more coal, and from thence to Teneriffe, again to fill our bunkers, and take a deckload of fruit; then it was hey and away, a straight run to London !
A sailor may love to roam; he may find delight in the many strange and wondrous places that he visits; but there is something about that little island, so small and yet so powerful, whose flag is carried the world round, wherever the seas roll—there is something about it which acts like a magnet, ever drawing him home, so that when first through the dim haze its bluffs and cliffs rise misty and indistinct, a lump rises in his throat, and his heart swells with pride as the thinks to himself, "This is England, my native land, and the home of the free born."
It was like looking at the face of some dear old friend as we came into the Channel. One after the other we picked up the different lights —there were the Scilly Isles, there the Lizard, beyond that again Start Point, and then beyond that Portland Bill. Though we were too far out to see clearly, yet we knew every well-remembered spot. Yonder the Isle of Wight would be, and Portsmouth, with its dockyard from whence Nelson sailed, and then Selsey Bill, and Shoreham, and Eastbourne, and Beachy Head; Hastings, where Norman William landed, and then Dungeness, where on February 18th, about twelve-thirty in the morning, we picked up our pilot.
When the pilot was on the bridge, and his tug had disappeared, it was on to the straits of Dover, page 314past the Foreland, by Deal and Ramsgate, and jolly Margate, and then round into the noisy, blustering Nore, with Southend's long pier on the one hand and the River Medway on the other, where, massive and forbidding, yet safety-ensuring, the long grey battleships lay—-the watch-dogs of England's coasts.
Oh, the dear old Thames—the dirty, muddy, evil-smelling Thames ! There was the old Nore Lightship, why, it was like meeting some old comrade to see its red hulk once more. There was not a spot we did not seem to know.
Every blyth seemed like an acquaintance nodding recognition. We could see the Mucking Light, Canvey Island, and all the craft passing in and out—big ships and little hoppers and barges—how familiar each and every one seemed ! How different from the sights upon which our eyes had rested only eight or ten short weeks ago !
But as we got into the Thames itself our progress was impeded; it was getting late in the afternoon, and our pilot was anxious that we should get to the lock gates on that tide.
Why, the very whiff that came off from Barking Reach was like old memories. We knew those smells, we knew the breath that comes from Erith and Plumstead; and though we might have turned up our noses at it time and oft, we did not do so now; it had got something of the old country in it.
Home ! How I longed to be there. I felt as though I could have howled my wrath at page 315every lumbering craft that got in our way; and the signal "Go slow ! Stop her !" of the pilot, was about the most annoying command that I had ever heard given.
But all things come to an end at last, even the longest voyage and the longest story; and in due course we arrived at the Royal Albert entrance, and were towed into Victoria Dock. It took us a very long time to get into our berth.
I do not know why it is, but bargemen, although they have such little craft to navigate, always want to have all the river to themselves—they won't shift for anybody; the only thing to do is to give them a gentle bump, and help them out of the way. Of course, they remonstrate in language peculiarly their own, and not to be found in any dictionary; but that does not matter so long as the pathway is clear, for hard words never broke any bones.
When at last we were finally moored it was pretty late, so I decided it was not the slightest good trying to get home that night. When everything was finished, and all shipshape on deck, we went down into the fo'c's'le to have a smoke and a farewell yarn before we separated, each to go to his own way; and my comrades from the Dundonald and myself were once more the centre of attraction. Again and again we had to tell them of our doings and our sufferings away in the Auckland Isles.
Well, after we had been down there for some little while, and were all very comfortable, page 316the second officer looked down the companionway and called out:
"Eyre !, Eyre !"
"Ay, ay, sir !" I answered, looking up.
"Come up on deck," he said; "you are wanted."
I did not know what I was wanted for.
"Something got to be done," I muttered to myself. "Upon my word, it is always my luck."
However, it was no good growling because a bit of work came my way, so up I went just as I was. I was in my working gear, with my sea-boots on, and as it had been raining all day long—sort of welcome home to England, so that we should not find the contrast from Auckland Island too striking—I was pretty well soaked through. However, up on the deck I went, and the officer told me that my father had come on board, and was waiting to see me.
My father had come on board ! It staggered me a bit. I felt taken back, like a vessel when she misses stays. I did not expect him to come that night, you see, although I had previously sent him warning that I was coming in this vessel.
Well, I just Went aft double quick, and there he stood—my father; and with him my brother, and my two sisters, and my brother-in-law. And I am not going to say anything about that meeting which took place. I only say, if you can't imagine how a fellow would feel coming back to see his father, whom he page 317never expected to see again—well, it would be no good me trying to tell you, if I tried for a year. I know that after-the greetings were over, I dashed down to wash and dress myself, and to smarten up generally. It would not have done to have gone home in that condition; and before very long I was with them at Custom House Station. Good old Custom House Station !—how I remembered it; and then in a train bound for Fenchurch Street.
And there we got into cabs. We were not going to stop waiting about for other trains. I and my brother and sister in one, and the rest in another, and then it was hey and away.
I love horses—I do not think anyone can accuse me of being unkind to animals—but I just felt that I would have liked to have mounted that box and tickled that old horse up a bit. I reckon I would have made him move a bit quicker. But there, if he had possessed wings and flown, he would not have kept up with my impatience.
-Over London Bridge, with its rattle and roar —the Tower on the left of it—down into the dirty, muddy Borough—ah, how I remember it! Why, the mud, and the cabs, and the 'busses, and the crowd, and the gas glaring in the shops, it was all part of a beautiful picture, I felt it was sweeter and better scenery than anything I had ever seen in all my wanderings the world over.
And so on to the Elephant—good old Elephant !—with the people darting in and out page 318among the traffic, and the great electric cars, and the smelly motor 'busses—on along Walworth Road, with more than a suspicion of fried fish and 'taters coming from the side streets. Who minds that ? Who will turn up their noses at that ? Is it not a good old London smell—the smell of civilization? If you do not like it, you take a nine month's spell on a desert island, and then see if you won't run to greet it when you meet it once more.
And so on we go, with a rattle and a rumble, past Camberwell Gate into Camberwell. Past Camberwell Green, right up Denmark Hill, with hardly a thing altered, save for the fact that they are running the electric cars there now.
On we went; and it seemed to me that I must be dreaming, and that by-and-by I should wake up and find myself and my companions among the rata forests and the swamps. It seemed such a little while ago—and it was only a little while ago; for what, after all, are two months ? Two months ago, face to face with death—a lonely, terrible death. And now back here amidst the old scenes of boyhood. It seemed impossible that two such places as Dulwich and Disappointment Island could exist in the same world.
Now round by Denmark Hill Station, and then down the slope to East Dulwich. There, away on the right, is the dim outline of the Crystal Palace, and there in front of us the signal light over East Dulwich Station burns page 319red. "Now round to the right into the old road.
"Pull up cabby, this is the house !" And with a rush, and a heart too hot for words, back at the old home—earth's best haven— to be clasped to the breast of home's best glory —mother!page break