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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter II


ON the 6th of September 1810, all hands—twenty-two belonging to the ship, and thirty-three passengers—being on board, the Tonquin set sail, and a fresh breeze springing up, soon wafted her to a distance from the busy shores of New York. We had not proceeded far when we were joined by the American frigate Constitution, which was to escort us clear of the coast. On the 7th, in the afternoon, we passed Sandy Hook lighthouse, and the next day the Constitution returned, we dismissed our pilot, and were soon out of sight of land, steering a S.E. course. So far all was bustle and confusion upon deck, and every place in the ship was in such a topsy-turvy state, with what sailors call live and dead lumber, that scarcely any one knew how or where he was to be stowed; and it was in settling this knotty point that the crusty supremacy of the high-minded captain was first touched. Captain Jonathan Thorn had been brought up in the American navy, had signalized himself, and upon the present occasion he stood upon his own quarter-deck. Matters went on well enough till we came to the mechanics: these young men had been selected from the most respectable of their class, had been promised by their employers situations as clerks in the trade whenever vacancies should occur, and in consequence, serving in the twofold capacity of clerks and tradesmen, they were entitled, by their engagements, whilst on board ship to the same treatment as the other clerks; but behold when the captain came to assign them their place, it was not in either the second or the third cabin, no, nor in the steerage, but before the mast among the common sailors. In vain did they remonstrate, and equally vain was it for them to produce copies of their engagements; right or wrong, forward they must go; but that was not all; to the grievance of bad accommodations was added that of an insult to their feelings, by being compelled, as a further punishment for their obstinacy, to perform the duties of common seamen both by day and night After this bit of a row with the captain, they applied for redress to the partners on board, the very persons with whom they had executed their agreements. The partners interposed, and in their turn remonstrated with the captain, but without effect; he remained inexorable. Both parties then getting into a violent passion, Mr. M'Kay said, "That his people would defend themselves rather than suffer such treatment." On hearing this, the captain, suddenly turning round on his heel, defied Mr. M'Kay and his people, adding, "that he would blow out the brains of the first man who dared to disobey his orders on board his own ship." In the midst of this scene, Mr. David Stuart, a good old soul, stept up, and by his gentle and timely interference put an end to the threatening altercation.

This was the first specimen we had of the captain's disposition, and it laid the foundation of a rankling hatred between the partners and himself; which ended only with the voyage, and not only that, but it soon spread like a contagion amongst all classes, so that party spirit ran high: the captain and his people viewing the passengers as the passengers did them, with no very cordial feelings. Whilst these feuds agitated the great folks at the head of affairs, we amused ourselves with conjectures as to the issue of the contest. A new leaf was to be turned over, the captain forbade the partners the starboard side of the quarter-deck; the clerks, the quarter-deck altogether; and as for the poor mechanics and Canadians, they were ruled ever after with a rod of iron. All this time the Ton quin was speeding her way proudly over the wide bosom of the Atlantic, until the 18th, in the morning, when she was struck with a sudden squall, which backed all the sails and placed her in a critical position for about two minutes; her stern going down foremost was almost under water, when all at once she recovered and relieved our anxiety. The next day two sail were descried a heed, all hands were mustered on deck, and each had his station assigned to him in case of coming to close quarters. For some days past the flying fish appeared in immense numbers, passing frequently through the ship's rigging, and now and then falling on the deck. We measured one of them and found its length to be 5 inches, circumference of the body 2 inches; the wings, situate near the gills, resemble in texture the wings of the bat, and measure, when stretched, 5 inches between the tips. In their flight they generally rise to 15 or 20 feet above the surface of the water, and fly about 150 yards at a time. As soon as their wings get dry they fall again into the water, and only fly to avoid their pursuers. They are the prey of the dolphin and other large fishes.

On the 6th of October we made one of the Cape de Verd Islands, on the coast of Africa. It proved to be Bonavista, in lat. 160 N. and long. 22° 47' W. The land, covered with a blue haze, appeared broken, barren, and rocky. The weather was overcast, and we had heavy rain and thunder at the time. Near this place immense shoals of porpoises kept skipping on the surface of the water going southwards. They were said to prognosticate the near approach of bad weather. We found the changes of the weather here very remarkable, from calm to rough, from foul to fair; clear, cloudy, wet, dry, hazy, and squally alternately, with the usual finale of mist and rain, and not unfrequently all these changes within the twenty-four hours.

After leaving the land, some of the gentlemen iunused themselves one fine evening with shooting at a mark suspended from the ship's stern, under which a boat lay secured; soon afterwards, in the dusk of the evening, smoke was seen to issue from that quarter; the alarm of fire was given, and in an instant all the people assembled on deck in a state of wild confusion, some calling out to broach the water-casks, others running to and fro in search of water, some with mugs, others with decanters, while the maitre de cuisine was robbed of his broth and dish water—no one, in the hurry and bustle of the moment, ever thought of dipping the buckets alongside. At length, to the inexpressible joy of all, it was discovered that the smoke was occasioned only by the wadding of the guns setting fire to some old junk which was lying in the boat astern. This gentle warning, however, put an end to such sport in future. Some angry words took place between the captain and Mr. Fox, the first mate, on which the latter was suspended from duty, and ordered below: no other reason could be assigned for this act but the friendly and sociable terms existing between the mate and the partners; for by this time such was the ill-feeling between the captain and the passengers generally, that scarcely a word passed between them. After three days' confinement Mr. Fox was reinstated.

Just as we entered the trade winds, a sail appeared about two leagues to leeward; she gained fast upon us, and dogged us all day, and the next morning was close under our stern. She appeared to be an armed brig, and pierced for twenty guns, and looked very suspicious; very few hands, however, were to be seen on her deck, which might have been a manuvre to decoy us alongside. We were prepared for combat, at least as far as a good display of numbers on deck: for to our numbers, and not to either our skill or discipline, did we chiefly trust, and it is probable this show had the desired effect, for she soon bore away and we saw her no more.

On the 25th, in long. 26° 24' W. we crossed the equinoctial line, and here the usual ceremony of ducking was performed on such of the sailors as had never before entered the southern hemisphere. The heat was intense, the weather a dead calm, and the ocean smooth as a sheet of glass. The thermometer stood at 92° in the shade.

In lat. 3° 17' S. and long. 260 40' W. we spoke a brig from Liverpool bound to Pernambuco. On nearing this old and ghastly-looking hulk, which apparently had but few hands on board, we thought ourselves exceedingly strong compared to her,, and I suppose from the bold front we presented, put. her in as much bodily fear as the armed brig some days before did us.

On the 10th of November a violent gale came on, which lasted for fifty hours without intermission, and did us considerable damage, our jib and jib- boom being both carried off, and a leak of considerable extent sprung; but as it was easy of access, we soon got it stopped again. In the night of the 14th, an alarm of fire was again given; but after much confusion it ended without serious consequences. Of all calamities that of fire on board ship seems to be the most terrific, and every precaution was taken to prevent any accident of the kind, for at nine o'clock every night all the lights were, by the captain's orders, put out, and this rule was strictly observed during the voyage. In these latitudes we saw many turtle, and caught some of them sleeping on the water, one of which weighed forty-five pounds; we also frequently met with what the sailors call a Portuguese man-of-war, or sea-bladder, floating on the surface of the waters.

In lat. 35° S. and 42° 17' W. we experienced another tempestuous gale, which lasted upwards of forty hours. During this violent storm the ship laboured hard, and sustained damage. Two new leaks were observed, and many of the sails blown to rags. Although the top, and top-gallant masts had been lowered, six of the guns got dismounted, and kept for some time rolling like thunder on the deck, and the ship in a constant heavy sea. For seventeen hours she scudded before the wind, and went in that time two hundred and twenty miles; nothing alarming, however, took place until eight o'clock in the morning of the second day, when a very heavy sea broke over the stern, and filled us all with consternation. This wave, like a rolling mountain, passed over her deck ten feet high, and broke with a tremendous crash about the mainmast; yet, fortunately, no lives were lost, for on its near approach we all clung to the rigging and by that means saved ourselves. On the weather moderating the carpenter was soon at work, and succeeded effectually in stopping the leaks. On the 20th our allowance of water, already short by one-half, was lessened to a pint and a half per man, and on the 2nd of December to a pint each man per day—then a gallon of brandy was offered for a pint of fresh water! but on the 5th, when the joyful sight of land was announced, a hogshead of water was offered in return for a pint of brandy. In the afternoon of this day, we made the N. W. point of one of the Falkland Islands, the rugged and solitary features of which presented a truly romantic appearance. Near this spot are three remarkable peaked rocks, or insular Muffs, of considerable height, and nearly equal distance from each other. We soon afterwards came close in with the shore, and beheld a rocky surface with an aspect of hopeless sterility. Here we came to an anchor; but the captain not liking the place changed his resolution of taking In water there.

During the few hours, however, which we spent on shore, while the ship lay at anchor, one of the sailors, named Johnston, strolled out of. the way. The captain, nevertheless, gave orders to weigh anchor, declaring that he would leave the fellow to his fate; but after much entreaty he consented to wait an hour, adding, that if the man did not return in that time he should never more set foot on board his ship. A party immediately volunteered to go in search of the lost tar. This party after beating about in vain for some time, at last thought of setting fire to the few tufts of grass which here and there alone decked the surface. This expedient succeeded, and the man was found, having fallen asleep near the water's edge. But the hour had unfortunately elapsed, and the loss ot a few minutes more so enraged the captain, that he not only threatened the man's life, but maltreated all those who had been instrumental in finding him. We then set sail, and had much difficulty in effecting a passage through a narrow strait which lay before us, interrupted in many places by ledges of rocks, which were literally, covered with seals, penguins, white and grey geese, ducks, shags, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, and vultures. After making our way through this intricate pass, we again came to anchor.

On the 7th of December we anchored in Port Egmont Bay, for the purpose of taking in a supply of water. The bay or inlet of Port Egmont is about a mile long, and half a mile broad, and sheltered from almost every wind that blows. All hands now were set to work; two of the mates and two-thirds of the crew, together with the mechanics and Canadians, commenced replenishing the water- casks, whilst the other two mates with the remainder of the people were employed on board repairing the rigging, and putting everything in a fit condition for a new start. During these operations the partners and clerks, and frequently the captain also, went sporting on shore, where wild fowl of all kinds stunned our ears with their noises, and darkened the air with their numbers, and were generally so very, tame, or rather stupid, that we often killed them with sticks and stones, and the sailors in their boats often knocked down the ducks and penguins with their oars in passing the rocks. The only quadruped we saw on land was a wolverine of ordinary size, which one of our party shot.

Our tent was pitched on shore, not above four hundred yards from the ship; this was our sporting rendezvous. On the 10th all the water-casks were' ready, and the captain on going on board that evening said to Mr. M'Dougall, that the ship would probably sail the next day. Soon after, however, Messrs. M'Kay and M'Dougall also went on board, where they passed the night; but coming ashore the next morning, they told us that the ship would not sail till the 12th, and that all hands were ordered on board on that night.

In the mean time Mr. Farnham, one of the clerks bad caught a grey goose, which he tied to a stone between our hut and the lauding-place, in order to have some sport with it. Soon afterwards the captain, happening to come on shore, and seeing the goose, he up with his gun to shoot at it. Thinking, however, that he had missed it, he instantly reloaded and fired again, and seeing the goose flutter he ran up to catch it, when he discovered his mistake, on which we all burst out a laughing. Nettled at this, he immediately turned round and went on board again. Meantime, Messrs. M'Dougall and Stuart started across the point after game; whilst Mr. M'Kay, myself, and some others, went up the bay a little to repair two old graves which we had discovered in a dilapidated state the day before. On one of these graves was the following rudely-cut inscription on a board:-" William Stevens, aged twenty-two years, killed by a fall from a rock, on the 21st of September 1794 ;" on the other, "Benjamin Peak died of the smallpox on the 5th of January 1803, ship Eleonora, Captain Edmund Cole, Providence, Rhode Island."

While we were thus eagerly employed, little did we suspect what was going on in another quarter; for, about two o'clock in the afternoon, one of our party called out, "The ship's off! "—when all of us, running to the top of a little eminence, beheld, to our infinite surprise and dismay, the Ton quin, under full sail, steering out of the bay. We knew too well the callous and headstrong passions of the wayward captain to hesitate a moment in determining what to do; with hearts, therefore, beating between anxious hope and despair, some made for the boat, whilst others kept running and firing over hill and dale to warn Messrs. M'Dougal and Stuart, who had not yet returned. In half an hour we were all at the water's edge; the ship by this time was three miles out at sea. We were now nine persons on shore, and we had to stow, squat, and squeeze ourselves into a trumpery little boat, scarcely capable of holding half our number. In this dreadful dilemma, we launched on a rough and tempestuous sea, and, against wind and tide, followed the ship. The wind blowing still fresher and fresher, every succeeding wave threatened our immediate destruction. Our boat already half full of water, and ourselves, as may be supposed, drenched with the surges passing over her, we gave up all hope of succeeding in the unequal struggle, and a momentary pause ensued, when we deliberated whether we should proceed in the perilous attempt or return to land. The ship was now at least two leagues ahead of us, and just at this time the man who was bailing out the water in the boat unfortunately let go and lost the pail, and one of our oars being broken in the struggle to recover it, our destiny seemed sealed beyond a doubt. A second deliberation ended in the resolve to reach the ship or perish in the attempt. The weather now grew more violent; the wind increased; and, what was worst of all, the sun had just sunk under the horizon, and the fearful night began to spread its darkness over the turbulent deep. Every ray of hope now vanished: but so short-sighted is man, that the moment when he least expects it, relief often comes from an unseen hand; and such was our case; for in an instant our hopeless anxiety was turned into joy by the ship suddenly making down to our assistance: but here again we had a new danger to contend with; for, on coming alongside, we were several times like to be engulfed or dashed to pieces by the heavy seas and rolling of the ship. The night was dark; the weather stormy; and death in a thousand forms stared us in the face. At length, after many ineffectual attempts and much manoeuvring, we succeeded in getting on board; having been in the boat upwards of six hours. That the captain's determination was to leave us all to our fate, there is not the least doubt; for he declared so afterwards, in a letter written to Mr. Astor from the Sandwich Islands, and he was only prevented from carrying his purposes into effect by the determined conduct of Mr. Robert Stuart, who, seizing a brace of pistols, peremptorily told the captain to order about ship and save the boat; or, he added, "You are a dead man this instant."

During the night the gale increased almost to a hurricane, so that two of our sails were torn to pieces, and the side-rails broke by the labouring of the ship; so we had to lie-to under a storm-staysail for six hours. The reader is here left to picture to himself how matters went on after the scene just described. All the former feuds and squabbles between the captain and passengers sink into insignificance compared to the recent one. Sullen and silent, both parties passed and repassed each other in their promenades on deck without uttering a word; but their looks bespoke the hatred that burnt within. The partners on the quarter-deck made it now a point to speak nothing but the Scotch dialect; while the Canadians on the forecastle spoke French—neither of which did the captain understand; and as both groups frequently passed hours together, cracking their jokes and chanting their outlandish songs, the commander seemed much annoyed on these occasions, pacing the deck in great agitation. Yet all this time the good ship was hastening on her way.

On the 15th we saw Staten Land, whose forked peaks and rugged surface exhibited much snow. Soon afterwards, Terra del Fuego came in sight; and on the 19th, at 9 o'clock in the morning, we had a full view of Cape Horn. But adverse winds meeting us here, we were unable to double it before Christmas morning, and were carried, in the mean time, as far south as hit. 580 16'. While in these latitudes, notwithstanding the foggy state of the weather, we could read common print at all hours of the night on deck without the aid of artificial light. The sky was generally overcast, and the weather raw and cold, with frequent showers of hail and snow, but we saw no ice. Here the snow birds and Cape pigeon frequently flew in great numbers about the ship. After doubling the Cape, a speckled red and white fish, about the size of a salmon, was observed before the ship's bow, as if leading the way. The sailors gave it the name of the pilot-fish.

With gladdened hearts, we now bent our course northward on the wide Pacific. On the 19th of January 1811, all hands passed the ordeal of inspection, or as the sailors more appropriately called it, the "general turn-out;" and as none could guess what this new manoeuvre portended, we all judged it to be a relic of man-of-war discipline, which the captain introduced merely to refresh his memory; but the proceeding must be described :—After breakfast, all hands were summoned on deck, and there ordered to remain, while the officers of the ship got up the trunks, chests, hammocks, dirty shirts, and old shoes belonging to each individual, on deck. They were then ordered to empty out the contents of the boxes, examine, and expose the whole to view, each man's paraphernalia separately. While this was going on, the bystanders were ordered to claim any article belonging to them in the possession of another. This declaration cleared up the matter, and set our judgment right as to the captain's motives; but, to the credit of all, very little stolen property was found— being only three articles, namely, a pamphlet, a clasp-knife, and a spoon, and even as to them the theft was not very well proved; but the three individuals implicated were nevertheless condemned, and placed on what is called the "rogue's mess" for a month.

On the 24th we again crossed the Equator, and entered the northern hemisphere, and here the pilot- fish that joined us at Cape Horn disappeared. Dining a run of upwards of 5,000 miles, our little piscatory pilot was never once known, by day or night, to intermit preceding the ship's bow. On the 10th of February, the cloud-capped summit of the towering Mouna Roa—a pyramidal mountain in Owhyhee, and the loftiest in the Sandwich Islands— was visible at the distance of 50 miles.

As we drew near to the land, going at the rate of eight knots an hour, a Canadian lad named Joseph LaPierre fell overboard. This was an awkward accident, as all eyes were at the time gazing with admiration on the scenery of the land. In an instant, however, the sails were backed, boats lowered, and everything at hand thrown overboard to save the drowning man; but before he could be picked up the ship had distanced him more than a mile, and when the boatswain reached the ship with the body, the captain, in his usual sympathizing mood, peremptorily ordered him about to pick up all the trumpery which had been thrown into the water. This took a considerable time. The apparently lifeless body was then hoisted on board, and every means tried to restore animation, and at last, by rolling the body in warm blankets, and rubbing it with salt, the lad recovered, after being thirty-eight minutes in the water, and though unable to swim.

Mr. Fox, who had again fallen under the captain's displeasure, and who had been, in consequence, off duty for a week past, was reinstated this morning. This was no sooner done, however, than the fourth mate, the captain's own brother, was put into irons. The young Thorn was as factious and morose a subject as his brother; with this only difference, that he had less power to do mischief. He had maltreated one of the passengers; and the captain, in order to show impartiality, awarded him the above punishment.


 


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