A Boy's Voyage Round the World - Part 3

Part 3

At last we took our leave, laden with thanks, and returned on board our ship. It was now growing dusk. We had done all that we could for the help of the poor sufferers on board the 'Pyrmont,' and, a light breeze springing up, all sail was set, and we resumed our voyage south.

Two of the gold-diggers, who had been second-cla.s.s pa.s.sengers by the 'Blue Jacket,' came on board our ship with the object of returning with us to Melbourne, and it is from their recital that I have collated the above account of the disaster.




_11th April_.--We are now past the pleasantest part of our voyage, and expect to encounter much rougher seas. Everything is accordingly prepared for heavy weather. The best and newest sails are bent; the old and worn ones are sent below. We may have to encounter storms or even cyclones in the Southern Ocean, and our captain is now ready for any wind that may blow. For some days we have had a very heavy swell coming up from the south, as if there were strong winds blowing in that quarter. We have, indeed, already had a taste of dirty weather to-day--hard rain, with a stiffish breeze; but as the ship is still going with the wind and sea, we do not as yet feel much inconvenience.

A few days since, we spoke a vessel that we had been gradually coming up to for some time, and she proved to be the 'George Thompson,' a splendid Aberdeen-built clipper, one of the fastest ships out of London. No sooner was this known, than it became a matter of great interest as to whether we could overhaul the clipper. Our ship, because of the height and strength of her spars, enables us to carry much more sail, and we are probably equal to the other ship in lighter breezes; but she, being clipper-built and so much sharper, has the advantage of us in heavier winds. The captain was overjoyed at having gained upon the other vessel thus far, for she left London five days before we sailed from Plymouth. As we gradually drew nearer, the breeze freshened, and there became quite an exciting contest between the ships. We gained upon our rival, caught up to her, and gradually forged ahead, and at sundown the 'George Thompson' was about six miles astern. Before we caught up to her she signalled to us, by way of chaff, "Signal us at Lloyd's!" and when we had pa.s.sed her, we signalled back, "We wish you a good voyage!"

The wind having freshened during the night, the 'George Thompson' was seen gradually creeping up to us with all her sail set. The wind was on our beam, and the 'George Thompson's' dark green hull seemed to us sometimes almost buried in the sea, and we only saw her slanting deck as she heeled over from the freshening breeze. What a cloud of canvas she carried! The spray flew up and over her decks, as she plunged right through the water.

The day advanced; she continued to gain, and towards evening she pa.s.sed on our weather-side. The captain, of course, was savage; but the race was not lost yet. On the following day, with a lighter wind, we again overhauled our rival, and at night left her four or five miles behind. Next day she was not to be seen. We had thus far completely outstripped the noted clipper.[1]

We again begin to reconsider the question of giving a popular entertainment on board. The ordinary recreations of quoit-playing, and such like, have become unpopular, and a little variety is wanted. A reading from 'Pickwick' is suggested; but cannot we contrive to _act_ a few of the scenes! We determine to get up three of the most attractive:--1st. The surprise of Mrs. Bardell in Pickwick's arms; 2nd. The notice of action from Dodson and Fogg; and 3rd. The Trial scene. A great deal of time is, of course, occupied in getting up the scenes, and in the rehearsals, which occasion a good deal of amus.e.m.e.nt. A London gentleman promises to make a capital Sam Weller; our clergyman a very good Buzfuz; and our worthy young doctor the great Pickwick himself.

At length all is ready, and the affair comes off in the main-hatch, where there is plenty of room. The theatre is rigged out with flags, and looks quite gay. The pa.s.sengers of all cla.s.ses a.s.semble, and make a goodly company. The whole thing went off very well--indeed, much better than was expected--though I do not think the third-cla.s.s pa.s.sengers quite appreciated the wit of the piece. Strange to say, the greatest success of the evening was the one least expected--the character of Mrs. Cluppins. One of the middies who took the part, was splendid, and evoked roars of laughter.

Our success has made us ambitious, and we think of getting up another piece--a burlesque, ent.i.tled 'Sir Dagobert and the Dragon,' from one of my Beeton's 'Annuals.' There is not much in it; but, _faute de mieux_, it may do very well. But to revert to less "towny" and much more interesting matters pa.s.sing on board.

We were in about the lat.i.tude of the Cape of Good Hope when we saw our first albatross; but as we proceeded south, we were attended by increasing numbers of those birds as well as of Mother Carey's chickens, the storm-birds of the South Seas. The albatross is a splendid bird, white on the breast and the inside of the wings, the rest of the body being deep brown and black.

One of the most popular amus.e.m.e.nts is "fishing" for an albatross, which is done in the following manner. A long and stout line is let out, with a strong hook at the end baited with a piece of meat, buoyed up with corks. This is allowed to trail on the water at the stern of the ship. One or other of the sea-birds wheeling about, seeing the floating object in the water, comes up, eyes it askance, and perhaps at length clumsily flops down beside it. The line is at once let out, so that the bait may not drag after the ship. If this be done cleverly, and there be length enough of line to let out quickly, the bird probably makes a s.n.a.t.c.h at the meat, and the hook catches hold of his curved bill. Directly he grabs at the pork, and it is felt that the albatross is hooked, the letting out of the line is at once stopped, and it is hauled in with all speed. The great thing is to pull quickly, so as to prevent the bird getting the opportunity of spreading his wings, and making a heavy struggle as he comes along on the surface of the water. It is a good heavy pull for two men to get up an albatross if the ship is going at any speed. The poor fellow, when hauled on deck, is no longer the royal bird that he seemed when circling above our heads with his great wings spread out only a few minutes ago. Here he is quite helpless, and tries to waddle about like a great goose; the first thing he often does being to void all the contents of his stomach, as if he were seasick.

The first albatross we caught was not a very large one, being only about ten feet from tip to tip of the wings; whereas the larger birds measure from twelve to thirteen feet. The bird, when caught, was held firmly down, and despatched by the doctor with the aid of prussic acid. He was then cut up, and his skin, for the sake of the feathers and plumage, divided amongst us. The head and neck fell to my share, and, after cleaning and dressing it, I hung my treasure by a string out of my cabin-window; but, when I next went to look at it, lo! the string had been cut, and my albatross's head and neck were gone.

All day the saloon and various cabins smelt very fishy by reason of the operations connected with the dissecting and cleaning of the several parts of the albatross. One was making a pipe-stem out of one of the long wing-bones. Another was making a tobacco pouch out of the large feet of the bird. The doctor's cabin was like a butcher's shop in these bird-catching times. Part of his floor would be occupied by the b.l.o.o.d.y skin of the great bird, stretched out upon boards, with the doctor on his knees beside it working away with his dissecting scissors and pincers, getting the large pieces of fat off the skin.

Esculapius seemed quite to relish the operation; whilst, on the other hand the clergyman, who occupied the same cabin, held his handkerchief to his nose, and regarded the debris of flesh and feathers on the floor with horror and dismay.

Other birds, of a kind we had not before seen shortly made their appearance, flying round the ship. There is, for instance, the whale-bird, perfectly black on the top of the wings and body, and white underneath. It is, in size, between a Mother Carey and a Molly-hawk, which latter is very nearly as big as an albatross.

Ice-birds and Cape-pigeons also fly about us in numbers; the latter are about the size of ordinary pigeons, black, mottled with white on the back, and grey on the breast.

A still more interesting sight was that of a great grampus, which rose close to the ship, exposing his body as he leapt through a wave.

Shortly after, a few more were seen at a greater distance, as if playing about and gambolling for our amus.e.m.e.nt.

_17th April_.--The weather is growing sensibly colder. Instead of broiling under cover, in the thinnest of garments, we now revert to our winter clothing for comfort. Towards night the wind rose, and gradually increased until it blew a heavy gale, so strong that all the sails had to be taken in--all but the foresail and the main-topsail closely reefed. Luckily for us, the wind was nearly aft, so that we did not feel its effects nearly so much as if it had been on our beam.

Tonight we rounded the Cape, twenty-four days from the Line and forty-five from Plymouth.

On the following day the wind was still blowing hard. When I went on deck in the morning, I found that the mainsail had been split up the middle, and carried away with a loud bang to sea. The ship was now under mizen-topsail, close-reefed main-topsail, and fore-topsail and foresail, no new mainsail having been bent. The sea was a splendid sight. Waves, like low mountains, came rolling after us, breaking along each side of the ship. I was a personal sufferer by the gale. I had scarcely got on deck when the wind whisked off my Scotch cap with the silver thistle in it, and blew it away to sea. Then, in going down to my cabin, I found my books, boxes, and furniture lurching about; and, to wind up with, during the evening I was rolled over while sitting on one of the cuddy chairs, and broke it. Truly a day full of small misfortunes for me!

In the night I was awakened by the noise and the violent rolling of the ship. The mizen-mast strained and creaked; chairs had broken loose in the saloon; crockery was knocking about and smashing up in the steward's pantry. In the cabin adjoining, the water-can and bath were rambling up and down; and in the midst of all the hubbub the Major could be heard shouting, "Two to one on the water-can!" "They were just taking the fences," he said. There were few but had some mishap in their cabins. One had a hunt after a box that had broken loose; another was lamenting the necessity of getting up after his washhand-basin and placing his legs in peril outside his bunk. Before breakfast I went on deck to look at the scene. It was still blowing a gale. We were under topsails and mainsail, with a close-reefed top-sail on the mizen-mast. The sight from the p.o.o.p is splendid. At one moment we were high up on the top of a wave, looking into a deep valley behind us; at another we were down in the trough of the sea, with an enormous wall of water coming after us. The pure light-green waves were crested with foam, which curled over and over, and never stopped rolling. The deck lay over at a dreadful slant to a landsman's eye; indeed, notwithstanding holding on to everything I could catch, I fell four times during the morning.

With difficulty I reached the saloon, where the pa.s.sengers had a.s.sembled for breakfast. Scarcely had we taken out seats when an enormous sea struck the ship, landed on the p.o.o.p, dashed in the saloon skylight, and flooded the table with water. This was a bad event for those who had not had their breakfast. As I was mounting the cuddy stairs, I met the captain coming down thoroughly soaked. He had been knocked down, and had to hold on by a chain to prevent himself being washed about the deck. The officer of the watch afterwards told me that he had seen his head bobbing up and down amidst the water, of which there were tons on the p.o.o.p.

This was what they call "shipping a green sea,"--so called because so much water is thrown upon the deck that it ceases to have the frothy appearance of smaller seas when shipped, but looks a ma.s.s of solid green water. Our skipper afterwards told us at dinner that the captain of the 'Ess.e.x' had not long ago been thrown by such a sea on to one of the hen-coops that run round the p.o.o.p, breaking through the iron bars, and that he had been so bruised that he had not yet entirely recovered from his injuries. Such is the tremendous force of water in violent motion at sea.[2]

When I went on deck again, the wind had somewhat abated, but the sea was still very heavy. While on the p.o.o.p, one enormous wave came rolling on after us, seeming as if it must engulf the ship. But the stern rose gradually and gracefully as the huge wave came on, and it rolled along, bubbling over the sides of the main-deck, and leaving it about two feet deep in water. As the day wore on the wind gradually went down, and it seemed as if we were to have another spell of fine weather.

[Ill.u.s.tration: (Map of the Ship's Course, Plymouth to Melbourne)]

Next morning the sun shone clear; the wind had nearly died away, though a heavy swell still crossed our quarter. Thousands of sea-birds flew about us, and cl.u.s.ters were to be seen off our stern, as far as the eye could reach. They seemed, though on a much larger scale, to be hanging upon our track, just as a flock of crows hang over the track of a plough in the field, and doubtless for the same reason--to pick up the food thrown up by the mighty keel of our ship. Most of them were ice-birds, blue petrels, and whale-birds, with a large admixture of albatrosses and Mother Carey's chickens. One of the pa.s.sengers caught and killed one of the last-named birds, at which the captain was rather displeased, the sailors having a superst.i.tion about these birds, that it is unlucky to kill them. An ice-bird was caught, and a very pretty bird it is, almost pure white, with delicate blue feet and beak. Another caught a Cape pigeon, and I caught a stink-pot, a large bird measuring about eight feet from wing to wing. The bird was very plucky when got on deck, and tried to peck at us; but we soon had him down. As his plumage was of no use, we fastened a small tin-plate to his leg, with 'Yorkshire' scratched on it, and let him go. But it was some time before he rose from his waddling on the deck, spread his wings, and sailed into the air.

Some of the pa.s.sengers carry on shooting at the numerous birds from the stern of the ship; but it is cruel sport. It may be fun to us, but it is death to the birds. And not always death. Poor things! It is a pitiful sight to see one of them, p.r.i.c.ked or winged, floating away with its wounds upon it, until quite out of sight. Such sport seems cruel, if it be not cowardly.

_23rd April_.--We are now in lat.i.tude 45.16 south, and the captain tells us that during the night we may probably sight the Crozet Islands. It seems that these islands are inaccurately marked on the charts, some of even the best authorities putting them from one and a half to two degrees out both in lat.i.tude and longitude, as the captain showed us by a late edition of a standard work on navigation. Once he came pretty well south on purpose to sight them; but when he reached the precise lat.i.tude in which, according to his authority, they were situated, they were not to be seen.

At 8 P.M. the man on the look-out gave the cry of "Land ho!" "Where away?" "On the lee beam." I strained my eyes in the direction indicated, but could make out nothing like land. I could see absolutely nothing but water all round. Two hours pa.s.sed before I could discern anything which could give one the idea of land--three small, misty, cloud-looking objects, lying far off to the south, which were said to be the islands. In about an hour more we were within about five miles of Les Apotres, part of the group, having pa.s.sed Cochon in the distance. Cochon is so called because of the number of wild pigs on the island. The largest, Possession Island, gave refuge to the shipwrecked crew of a whaler for about two years, when they were at length picked off by a pa.s.sing ship. The Crozets are of volcanic origin, and some of them present a curious, conical, and sometimes fantastic appearance, more particularly Les Apotres. The greater number of them are quite barren, the only vegetation of the others consisting of a few low stunted bushes.


[Footnote 1: It may, however, be added, that though we did not again sight the 'George Thompson' during our voyage, she arrived at Melbourne about forty-eight hours before our ship.]

[Footnote 2: Mr. G. Stevenson registered a force of three tons per square foot at Skerryvore during a gale in the Atlantic, when the waves were supposed to be twenty feet high.]




More theatricals! 'Sir Dagobert and the Dragon' is played, and comes off very well. The extemporised dresses and "properties" are the most amusing of all. The company next proceed to get up 'Aladdin and the Wonderful Scamp' to pa.s.s the time, which hangs heavy on our hands. We now begin to long for the termination of our voyage. We have sailed about 10,000 miles, but have still about 3000 more before us.

_30th April_.--To-day we have made the longest run since we left Plymouth, not less than 290 miles in twenty-four hours. We have before made 270, but then the sea was smooth, and the wind fair. Now the wind is blowing hard on our beam, with a heavy sea running. About 3 P.M. we sighted a barque steering at right angles to our course. In a short time we came up with her, and found that she was the Dutch barque 'Vrede,' ninety-eight days from Amsterdam and bound for Batavia. She crossed so close to our stern that one might almost have pitched a biscuit on board.

During the night the sea rose, the wind blowing strong across our beam, and the ship pitched and rolled as she is said never to have done since she was built. There was not much sleep for us that night.

The wind increased to a strong gale, until at length it blew quite a hurricane. It was scarcely possible to stand on deck. The wind felt as if it blew solid. The ship was driving furiously along under close-reefed topsails. Looking over the side, one could only see the black waves, crested with foam, scudding past.

It appears that we are now in a cyclone--not in the worst part of it, but in the inner edge of the outside circle. Skilful navigators know by experience how to make their way out of these furious ocean winds, and our captain was equal to the emergency. In about seven hours we were quite clear of it, though the wind blew fresh, and the ship rolled heavily, the sea continuing for some time in a state of great agitation.

For some days the wind keeps favourable, and our ship springs forward as if she knew her port, and was eager to reach it. A few more days and we may be in sight of Australia. We begin almost to count the hours. In antic.i.p.ation of our arrival, the usual testimonial to the captain is set on foot, all being alike ready to bear testimony to his courtesy and seamanship. On deck, the men began to holystone the planks, polish up the bra.s.swork, and make everything shipshape for port. The middies are at work here on the p.o.o.p, each "with a sharp knife and a clear conscience," cutting away pieces of tarry rope. New ratlines are being fastened up across the shrouds. The standing rigging is re-tarred and shines black. The deck is fresh sc.r.a.ped as well as the mizen-mast, and the white paint-pot has been used freely.

_9th May._--We are now in Australian waters, sailing along under the lee of Cape Leeuwin, though the land is not yet in sight. Australian birds are flying about our ship, unlike any we have yet seen. We beat up against the wind which is blowing off the land, our yards slewed right round. It is provoking to be so near the end of our voyage, and blown back when almost in sight of port.

_14th May._--After four days of contrary wind, it changed again, and we are now right for Melbourne. Our last theatrical performance came off with great _eclat_. The captain gave his parting supper after the performance; and the _menu_ was remarkable, considering that we had been out eighty-one days from Gravesend. There were ducks, fowls, tongues, hams, with lobster-salads, oyster pattes, jellies, blanc-manges, and dessert. Surely the art of preserving fresh meat and comestibles must have nearly reached perfection. To wind up, songs were sung, toasts proposed, and the captain's testimonial was presented amidst great enthusiasm.

_18th May._--We sighted the Australian land to-day about thirteen miles off Cape Otway. The excitement on board was very great; and no wonder, after so long a voyage. Some were going home there, to rejoin their families, relatives, and friends. Others were going there for pleasure or for health. Perhaps the greater number regarded it as the land of their choice--a sort of promised land--where they were to make for themselves a home, and hoped to carve out for themselves a road to competency if not to fortune.

We gradually neared the land, until we were only about five miles distant from it. The clouds lay low on the sandy sh.o.r.e; the dark-green scrub here and there reaching down almost to the water's edge. The coast is finely undulating, hilly in some places, and well wooded.