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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter III — Uselessness of our Explorations - I am taken ill - We Leave Campbell Island

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Chapter III
Uselessness of our Explorations - I am taken ill - We Leave Campbell Island

The sails had scarcely been furled before Musgrave and I went We had not seen a solitary seal in the waters of the bay; but as it was then the very heart of the Australian summer, we thought that the phocæ had gone for refuge to the tall grasses of the shore, or the thick brushwood of the littoral, in order to enjoy a cool sleep during the heat of the day.

Strolling along the beach, scaling the rocks, or clambering up the cliffs, we sought for them everywhere, but could not discover a single animal. In all directions we found numerous traces, more or less apparent; but seals — none.

It was clear to us that all these traces were not recent: they belonged probably to the preceding season. They consisted of narrow paths, all directed towards the mountain. We found it impossible to follow them up, on account of the deep compact mass of vegetation under which they disappeared. Nor was this the only obstacle. We soon perceived that this entangled herbage covered and concealed from our eyes not a few pitfalls, such as crevasses and deep gullies, which the rains, so frequent in these regions, had excavated in a soil naturally soft and frequently marshy.

Wearied by the length, and especially by the uselessness of our explorations, we returned to the ship shortly after sunset. On our arrival, our men informed us that, during our absence, they had seen a couple of seals sailing round our schooner. From time to time they lifted their great heads out of the water to utter a kind of roar, which indicated a certain ferocity of disposition, as well as the astonishment caused by the appearance of so novel a monster as our ship.

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From the description which they gave us of these animals, we easily recognised the sea-lion; that is, the very species on which all our hopes were based, and which we had expected to encounter in great numbers in these parts.

The information had the good effect of reviving our spirits; for it might well be that these animals inhabited certain parts of the coast in preference to others: so it was agreed that, while exploring the island in search of the tin-mine, we should not neglect to look after the seals.

Leaving our men on board, Musgrave and I set out at an early hour on the following morning. It was not without effort and not without difficulty (more than once we were compelled to lie flat on the ground and crawl under the lianas) that we succeeded in traversing the thick girdle of vegetation, and were able to direct our steps towards the north-west.

Having arrived on the mountain-ridge, we clambered a conical, sharp-pointed peak, which we named the Dome. From this elevated position we could perceive, at the foot of the southern slope, a bay, known to the whalers as Monument Harbour. After descending thither, we found ourselves on the brink of a tolerably elevated cliff, nearly in the centre of a circular basin, open to the ocean, whose configuration resembled the vast ruins of some gigantic ancient Coliseum. The sea had in every direction excavated, rent, and sculptured the rock, respecting only its hardest portions: the latter stood out in bold relief on the face of the cliffs, like so many antique pillars which Time had not yet been able to overthrow.

To enter into this port is easy; yet it is not very secure, on account of the strong swell which it engulfs; and as there is a risk of being long detained in it by a succession of west winds, it is rarely frequented. Except under dangerous circumstances, the whalers themselves avoid it, and prefer, when they are in want of fresh water, to anchor in the port of Abraham's Bosom on the south-east coast.

The laborious journey we had made had singularly whetted our appetite. We set to work, accordingly, to kindle a fire, and to boil a pot of tea, after which we breakfasted; then we sauntered down to the shore. This time we caught sight of the sea-lions; but they were few in number. As for the tin-mine, we had not discovered any indication of its existence.

We resolved, therefore, to return on board ship, but to take a different route from that which we had already pursued. After having ascended and descended the Dome, we found at its base, on the other side, a large number of enormous nests. These nests were made of peat, which the albatross, by rubbing it between his feet, reduces into fragments. They were hollow in the centre, and lined with moss. Nearly all were occupied.

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In each a female bird was sitting on a single egg, large enough to furnish of itself a repast for a couple of men.

Having got amongst them, we were obliged to make use of our sticks to force the albatrosses to quit their nests, which the poor birds defended as well as they were able. In the end we succeeded in securing several eggs; but only one of them proved sufficiently fresh for eating. Curious to ascertain the taste, we cooked it. The yolk was excellent, but the white we thought rather strong. On the whole, it is not much unlike a duck's egg, or the egg of a goose.

After walking nearly all day over a damp soft soil, which at every step yielded under our feet like a sponge, and after climbing numerous rocks, we arrived on board in the evening, overcome with fatigue.

On the following day I resolved to let Musgrave, accompanied by Alick, set forth on a second exploration. I felt ill — in fact, was feverish. Soon I was obliged to retire to my cabin and throw myself on my bed, which I did not quit for upwards of a month. I was very ill. It is a marvel that I did not find a last resting-place on Campbell Island. Musgrave gave up all hope of my recovery, and went in search of a suitable spot for my grave. This he afterwards confessed to me, congratulating me that he had been spared so sad a duty.

Without drugs of any kind, and nothing to rely upon but the efforts of nature, nevertheless I recovered. The vitality of youth and the strength of my constitution carried me safely through the trial.

The fatigues of the expedition, when I had hardly recovered from the protracted illness induced by the falling in of the mine, and especially the abrupt change from a warm salubrious climate like that of New South Wales to the cold damp atmosphere of the Southern Seas, were undoubtedly the causes of this inopportune relapse.

During my compulsory inaction, Musgrave had continued, but all in vain, to search for the tin-mine. Did it escape his investigations, or does it not exist? I cannot say.

As for sea-lions, or other species of the phocids, they were exceedingly rare. During the whole month that the schooner lay at anchor in Abraham's Bosom, we caught but five, one of which was extraordinarily fat. It yielded five hundred litres of oil. This remarkable animal, therefore, which must have weighed at least five hundred kilograms, occupied a place of honour in our memories; and when we spoke of it, we always did so under the denomination of Old Christmas, in recollection of the day on which he was killed.

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"The Poor Birds Defended Their Nests as Well as They Were Able."

"The Poor Birds Defended Their Nests as Well as They Were Able."

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As a longer stay at Campbell Island seemed to us profitless, we resolved to weigh anchor, and to proceed no further south. It appeared to us that our wisest plan would be to return to Sydney, after visiting the archipelago of the Auckland Islands, which lay in our route.


"December 29. We weighed anchor, and bade farewell to Campbell Island.

"December 30, 6 p.m. Wind from the west; blowing strongly; sky dull and cloudy; the weather threatening.

"Musgrave tells me that he has just sighted the Auckland group to the N.W., about thirty miles distant. We are steering northward.

"December 31,2 a.m. We have put about, and are steering for the S.W

"1 p.m. Sudden squall from the west. The wind veers between N.W and S.W. I have never seen a sea so agitated: it looks as if it were boiling, and heaves around us in every direction.

"4 p.m. Sea still heavy, but more regular.

"8 p.m. The rain, which hitherto has been small, now falls more violently; the fog thickens, and the wind increases. We are lying-to.

"January 1,1864, 2 a.m. The weather is moderating. We have hoisted our mizzen fore-sail and main-top-sail.

"10 a.m. Wind moderate; sky clear; the barometer falling."

We are sailing close in shore. The beauty of the weather tempts me on deck, to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the pleasant prospect of Adam Island; but I am still so weak that I can scarcely stand upright, or totter forward a few steps. Musgrave calls George abaft, to tell him to bring up my mattress, and stretch it on the after-hatchway; then he assists me on deck, where, for a few moments, I stand upright, clinging to the rigging, while my dear comrade encourages me, and congratulates me on the effort I have made; but my strength fails and I am obliged to lie down on my mattress, where, with my head raised up by pillows, I enjoy the prospect without fatigue.

Ah, how sweet it is to feel the rays of the sun warming my aching limbs, after lying so long in the gloom of a cabin, on a hard, damp couch! How fresh and delicious is the breeze which plays upon my face! What happiness to recover one's strength, and to regain possession of life, when one has stood on the very brink of the grave! When I think that I might have died yonder, in that forgotten corner of the world, far from all whom I love, page 41
"With my Head Raised up by Pillows, i Enjoy the Prospect Without Fatigue."

"With my Head Raised up by Pillows, i Enjoy the Prospect Without Fatigue."

page 42without a word of farewell to my friends and kin, without a farewell clasp of the hand! How wretched, had I perished so! Long years afterwards, accident perhaps brings a strange explorer, who discovers the traces of men who have preceded him. "It seems," he says, "that others have been before me;" and this cold remark is the only funeral oration pronounced over their dust. With how full a heart do I thank Heaven for having rescued me from so miserable a doom!

We are scarcely two miles distant from Adam Island, and we can distinctly see the colossal, massive cliffs, against which the still vexed sea breaks its waters. Sometimes a billow is swallowed up in a cavern, with a roar like the report of artillery, which the wind brings to our ears. In the centre of the island, and side by side, arise a couple of rounded cones, like paps. Musgrave with his sextant measures their height: he calculates that of the loftier at 2500 feet, of the other at 2200. Numerous tiny streams sweep swiftly down their sides, forming a multitude of sparkling waterfalls; gaining the edge of the cliff, they take a final leap, and after a long descent, fall into the sea in a cloud of foam and vapour, where the sunlight is decomposed, and dazzles our eyes with all the hues of the rainbow.

I am enraptured with the loveliness of the landscape and the serenity of the atmosphere. My blood, so recently heated by fever, flows calmly in my veins, whose regular pulsation I can scarcely feel. I never thought it was possible to experience such a sensation of happiness. My comrades all seem glad to see me again upon deck, and each as he passes me has a pleasant word and a smile.

It is three o'clock in the afternoon. We have passed Adam Island, and Auckland Island lies before us. Towards the north its coast seems rugged, rough, and broken up by a succession of promontories, and on the horizon we can make out several lines of reef, level with the waves on which the swell, as it breaks, gathers into long ridges of foam; these ridges, in a north-easterly direction, stretch out to sea for a dozen miles or more. Opposite to us opens a magnificent bay. The entrance, between two lofty headlands, cannot be less than two miles wide. This bay is Port Carnley, and we resolve to beat up for it, instead of making for Port Ross, named also Sarah's Bosom, and situated quite to the north of the group.