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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

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Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Flag of our Union
Vol. 24, No. 29 (Jul 17, 1869)
pp. 462-463

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      Have you ever been down among this group before, Shorty?" I asked.

      "Been here before? Yes, boy, before you were born."

      The group referred to was that known as the Marshall Islands. We had been trading with the natives of Namarik, who came off to us in canoes, and the land was still in sight. Shorty and I had the first watch together, and were sitting on the barrel of the windlass, husking cocoanuts upon a pointed stick inserted in one of the handspike-holes.

      "Old Shorty" was a character. What other name ho may have borne at any period of his life I cannot say. I never knew him by any other. I don't think he was down on the ship's articles at all, for we had picked him up at Rotumah, where he had been living, or rather, vegetating, for some months.

      His name had reference to his diminutive stature, being, as he expressed it, "five feet and a chaw o' tobacker." It is to be presumed that he was called something else when a chid – if, indeed, he ever was a child – for it seemed to me he must have been born an able seaman, and reared on tar and sea-water. I could fancy I saw the salt crop out all over him, just as I have seen it on a piece of "bovine mahogany," that has been four years in the pickle before it went into the cook's coppers.

      Short as he was, he was as broad as Milo of old, and deep, too – so deep that I never could fathom him with my deep-sea-lead of boyish curiosity. He had been everywhere and seen everything. A cosmopolite in the fullest sense of the word, his residence was – creation; his birthplace – known only to himself. He had picked up a fair share or knowledge in his wanderings, and might be called intelligent.

      "What did you come here for, so long ago as that?" I asked.

      "For gold," said he, "and we got so much of it, that we were near getting our throats cut for its sake."

      "Tell us all about it, Shorty."

      I shipped at Sydney, he began, in a little brig called the Sea-shell. She was bound on a kind of pick-up voyage, after sandal-wood, shells and "beechlymar " (beche de mer). We came down here among this Ralick Chain, and anchored in the coral lagoon et Ebon, which is not far from us now. It is commonly known as Covell's Island. The natives came off to us with lots of English sovereigns, which they were ready to barter for bits of tobacco. In answer to questions as to where they got the gold, we could extort nothing but evasive grunts from them. But of course we bought all we could get.

      We didn't dare to go ashore among them, but carried on all our trade on board the brig. We had but sixteen men all told, which was not a very large force. But we had plenty of fire-arms for what men we had, and while trading, we always kept a guard on the alert. Now and then we fired off the two nine-pounders with blank cartridge, just to show them our power; for they were terribly frightened of guns, then. At such times they would all push for the shore, jumping overboard without waiting for canoes, and hide themselves for awhile. Then some of the boldest would venture out to look at us, and the rest would gradually get over their terror.

      We had no doubt that they had pound the gold on board some vessel which they had cut off. Most likely they had murdered all hands; not for the sake of the gold, which was of no value in their eyes, but for the cloth, tobacco and trinkets. They would not be slow to serve us out in the same manner, if we gave them the opportunity; so we were obliged to be continually on our guard. The guns were always loaded at night, and we stood regular half watches, starboard and larboard, the same as we would have done at sea.

      You may well suppose that after we found they had gold to sell, it was of more consequence to us than the "beechlymar" or shells. We lay at anchor as long as any sovereigns were brought on board by the savages,and used every persuasion to make them part with the last one they had. The old man naturally got the lion's share of them; for as soon as the savages found that he was able to bid the highest price for them, the rest of us were all in the background.

      I suppose that the old man must have had in hand more than three thousand pounds in gold, when they stopped bringing it off to us. There couldn't have been more than four hundred among all the rest of us. I had about forty myself, and the old man gave me ten more; indeed he gave the same sum to every man. Fifty pounds was a large sum for a foremast man to have all at one time.

      But we had some hard cases among our crew – some who would knife a man for a single sovereign, or throw him overboard for his tobacco or clothes. I didn't feel safe a minute among these fellows, so I tied up my fifty sovereigns in a bag, and took them aft, and asked the old man to keep them for me. He readily agreed to do so, and gave me a receipt.

      But this act of mine was seen by Bill Boltwood, the master spirit of those fellows – Bloody Bill as he delighted to be called – and he was down on me from that hour. This Bill had been a convict, in the colony, and had served out his time. I don't know what his crime was, but he was capable of anything. I can't think of any villany that would be too bad for him to turn his hand to, and he took as much delight in the sight of blood as a tiger is said to. I've seen him and an Irishman who was called ugly Barney go into the backyard of a "public" in Sydney, and batter each other's faces all to pieces for a pot of beer. They seemed to do it in sheer enjoyment of the thing itself.

      Well, Bloody Bill says to me, with a look that was meant to bully me!

      "So you thought you couldn't trust your shipmates, eh, Shorty? or did you think you'd curry favor with the old man, by trusting him with your gold?"

      "It's true," said I, looking him square in the eye, "there's some of my shipmates that I don't like to trust."

      "Do you mean that for me?" said he, blustering.

      "Never mind, I didn't mention any names; but, if the jacket fits, you can put it on."

      "I'd smash your mug for five bob," said he, blustering again.

      "I don't think you would, if you dared," I answered him, very coolly, for I didn't fear him single-handed. "I don't doubt you'd do worse by me, for fifty sovereigns, and I don't want to throw temptation in your way."

      He glared at me and ground his teeth, but he didn't offer to "smash my mug." Perhaps 'twas because nobody offered him five bob to do it; but 'twould bave been a dear job to him at twice the money.

      That night I saw him and Ugly Barney go out on the bowsprit with their pipes, and sit down on the staysail that was stowed in the netting. They smoked away and talked together very earnestly, and I thought all the time some mischief was brewing. I said as much to my chum, Dave Kent, but Dave thought I was over nervous and suspicious. Perhaps I was; but I couldn't help thinking all the time about our having so much money in the brig, and these fellows knowing it. We were in an out-of-the-way part of the world, too, where they might cut up any villany and escape justice, for years, if not forever.

      I wanted all the while to tell the old men of my suspicions and put him on his guard; but, somehow, I was ashamed to do that, for, after all, I had nothing particular to tell him. So I said nothing about it to anybody but Dave Kent. He promised to keep his weather eye lifting, and his ears open.

      After the precious pair came in from the staysail net, I noticed they did not keep together, but each of them was buttonholing some one else all the watch, and it was always some one of their own ruffian gang; for there was four or five other fellows among us who were nearly as bad as Bloody Bill himself, only they were more ignorant, and not so fit to lead in a matter of this kind.

      I really believe they meant to rise upon us that same night, and take the brig there in the lagoon, only they didn't see their opportunity clear. The next morning we got under way from Ebon, and started on a cruise among the other islands of the chain. We didn't find any gold at any other place, and the trade in shells was nothing alarming. I heard the old man say he should shove her off soon, and run down among the Caroline Islands, where he could make up a good voyage with "beechlymar" and carry it to China.

      Bloody Bill overheard him too, and that night there were more secret confabs and councils than ever among his gang. But this all seemed to blow over, and the duty went on quietly for two or three days. Bill seemed to want to cozen in with me and be good friends. I always answered him civily, but I was not to be blinded or put off my guard by all this.

      We were drawing near to Strong's Island, and expected to make the land next morning. The old man had worked up his reckoning and given the course for the night, while Bloody Bill was at the wheel in the first part of the watch. Soon after he was relieved and came forward, I saw him at the lee rail by the fore swifter, watching the mate who was walking the quarter-deck. Seizing the moment when the mate's back was turned towards him, he darted into the lee fore-rigging. I stood staring open-mouthed at him, and wondering what he was after. As the main and middle staysails were both set, he was hidden from the mate while going aloft, and reached the foretop without being seen, except by me, and those who were with him in the plot.

      As soon as I perceived that he stopped in the foretop, it occurred to me that the arm-chests had been left there. There were two of them, one in each top, which had been placed there while we lay at Ebon, and as we expected to go from there in a few days to some other savage island, they had not been sent down. They contained both fire-arms and cutlasses.

      Pretty soon I saw something swing ont by the foremast which gleamed in the moonlight, and I know that Bill was lowering the cutlasses down by a piece of spunyarn, to his mate Barney, who stood carelessly leaning against the foot of the mast. I no longer hesitated to make known my suspicions to the captain and officers. But as I made up any mind to do this, I became conscious that I was watched.

      I started aft, but had not made two steps when I was seized by the throat, borne to the deck, and gagged before I had a chance to cry out. Indeed, it occurred to me that any noise would cost me my life, and I was selfish enough to wish to save it, even if the captain lost his for want of warning. So I submitted quietly, after making a little show of struggling.

      Abe Hicks and Paine, with the help of the black (a Parsee he was, from Bombay), held me down, secured the gag into my month, and lashed me hand and foot, then they pushed me close under the lee of the long boat where I would not be seen. They flashed their knives before my eyes as a warning to be quiet, and left me there. They would have killed me, no doubt, only for the fear of raising an alarm before they were ready to strike the blow at the mate and captain.

      But the fools had forgotten that I had my sheath-knife in a belt round my waist. Luckily for me, too, it was a little loose in its sheath. But it was necessary to work very carefully, or they would notice my movements. I lay still till I saw Bill slide down the topsail sheets forward of the mast. His shirt was heavily filled out all round, and he took out several pistols as soon as he reached the deck, with cartridges to match. He and Barney went to work to load and prepare them, while the others covered their movements by walking before them, carelessly singing snatches of "Abraham Brown the sailor."

      I thought now it was time for me to begin my operations. By carefully lifting and writhing my body a few times, I contrived to drop my knife gently ont of its sheath to the deck. Then working myself feet foremost, little by little, till my head was near it, I managed, after some difficulty, to cut the lashing of the gag. The knife was very sharp, but this was the worst operation of all, and I did not succeed until I had cut my check quite severely. But it was no time to think of that, then.

      Cleared of the gag, I got the knife in my teeth and soon severed the seizing that bound my wrists. The rest was easy. I still lay quiet after my limbs were free. I even put the gag in again, so that when the Parsee ran round to leeward and peered in at me, he thought I was all secure as I had been left.

      Two more men of the other watch came up out of the forecastle to join the mutineers; and then they closed the side of the scuttle and fastened it securely, leaving four men imprisoned below. The whole party, seven in number, began to move aft. They collected their force in range of the long-boat, ready for a rush. Bill turned to the others.

      "Where's Shorty?" he demanded.

      "All safe," whispered Paine, pointing towards me.

      The leader leaned over and glanced at me, as I lay motionless, with the gag still in my mouth.

      "All right." said he: "we'll fix him afterwards. Softly as cats, now, boys. Come on!"

      They passed round the head of the boat, but they were not quicker than I was. I rose to my feet and darted aft on the lee side. One of the after-hatches was left off, as I well knew. I dropped lightly down upon the water-casks and crept in out of sight.

      I had no definite object in doing this, beyond prolonging my life a little. I was sure that I would be the first object of Bill's vengeance, as soon as he had disposed of the officers. But I determined not to die gagged and bound. I would at least get a place where I could fight for my life, and sell it dearly.

      The tiers of water-casks were stowed nearly up to the after bulkhead, which separated the hold from the cabin. A little space had been left, just large enough for a man to crouch down in and in and be concealed.

      I might have crept forward to the forecastle bulkhead, and communicated with the four men imprisoned there, but as I could do that at any time afterwards, I determined to await the result of the attack upon the officers.

      It seemed to me at that moment, that the power of all my senses was centred in my ears. But, instead of a struggle, or a fall, as I had expected, I heard only a loud slam of the doors leading into the cabin; and then an angry dispute between Bill and one of his own gang, Abe Hicks. Cautiously I leaned forward into the hatchway, and heard enough to satisfy me as to the cause of the quarrel.

      It would seem that, just as the mutineers reached the break of the quarter-deck, where it was necessary to ascend two steps, the mate, unconscious of danger, stepped into the cabin-door, which opened aft, near the helmsman. But, instead of falling back, and waiting quietly till he should come out again, Hicks, who was in advance, dashed on, despite the whispered remonstrance of Bill and Barney, and slammed the doors. Then seizing a marlinspike he drove it securely in the staple, thus imprisoning all the officers below. The alarm was thus given, and nothing accomplished.

      The rage of Bill was fearful at having his plan bungled in this manner. He had intended to kill the mate, if possible, without noise, and after that, it would be easy to manage the second mate and captain, taken by surprise in their berths. The quarrel grew fiercer and louder – I heard a blow – another – then a pistol-shot, and a heavy fall.

      No one seemed to take any trouble about the fallen man. He must have been shot dead, I thought, for I heard no groan or movement, such as a wounded man would make. Bill ordered the Parsee to go forward and stand guard over the fore-scuttle, and the steward to remain at the cabin-doors.

      "Here, Paine," said he, "come with me. Bring the lantern from the round-house."

      They were coming into the after-hold! I had only time to crawl up to the "wing," and crouch down into the narrow space behind the water-casks, when the two jumped down with a light and a bucket. They did not come towards me, but went in on the opposite side where there was a barrel of liquor standing on its head.

      "Give me that top-maul," said Bill; "there on the coils of rigging."

      A few blows forced in the head, and the bucket was filled by dipping it into the barrel.

      "We are in a bad scrape, now," he muttered, "thanks to that sneaking blockhead, Hicks. But he'll never bungle another job of this kind."

      "How are we going to manage it, now?" asked Paine. "If we open the doors and let 'em up, we shall have some hard fighting to do."

      "Yes. We could overpower them, I suppose, but some of us would get killed in doing it. We must smoke 'em. Get that iron pot and bring it on deck with us. There's a lot of brimstone in the roundhouse."

      The pot was within three feet of my hiding-place. But luckily Paine did not bring the lantern with him. He set it down in the hatchway, secured the pot, and the two went on deck again to prime themselves with liquor, and prepare their infernal smoke-pot.

      I darted forward over the top of the casks to the forecastle bulkhead, for there was not much cargo in the hold, and it was easy to pass fore and aft. They were all up and dressed, but had no light burning, preparing to wait in the dark for the expected attack of the mutineers. They had been roused by the pistol shot to find themselves imprisoned,

      A part of the partition between them and me was in the form of a light wooden grating or lattice, to admit a free circulation of air. This had already been silently removed, and at a whisper from me, we all went aft together. No fire-arms could be got until we could open a communication with the officers. This we dared not yet attempt, as the partition was solid, and some noise must be made in wrenching a plank off.

      The brig had been whaling on a previous voyage, and, a bunch of lances; tied together, were still on board. It was thought they might be traded away at some of the islands. These we found in a rack under the deck-carllnes. Though a little rusty, they were still sharp enough to be terrible weapons in the hands of desperate men, if brought to bay.

      We had hardly secured these, when there was a rally at the hatchway, and the pot of fire and sulphur was lowered down. The hatch was instantly clapped on, and the tarpaulin drawn over all. Had we been taken unawares, a minute or two would have been sufficient to smother us to death. But we were prepared to meet it, several tin cups having been brought from the forecastle and filled with water from the cask. Before the tarpaulin covering was fully secured over the hatches. the fire was all out, and I had given the word to those in the cabin to open communication by forcing off a plank.

      The planks ran up and down, and a few blows of an axe at the foot, given from the after side, would start the spikes. At the first blow, we heard the sound of dancing feet overhead, and then the drunken shout of Bloody Bill:

      "Ay! knock away, my hearties! I thought the brimstone would start ye! Keep a good watch on the fore-scuttle, you darkey! Go there with him, Paine! We shall have a breakout soon, either forward or aft, but they'll be blinded with smoke, and we'll have the advantage of 'em.

      A few more blows of the axe – the plank is starting! but how those three spikes seemed to cling to the tough wood. The enemy became suspicious and lifted off the hatch.

      "Halloo' the fire's out!" The voice was that of Ugly Barney. "Here, Bill! Paine! rally here at the after-hatch! Quick, before they break through the bulkhead!"

      He jumped down to seize the pot. An opening was already made, and we were crowding through it, one at a time. He caught sight of us, but before he could retreat, Joe Bonner let drive his rusty lance, which passed through the ruffian's body, pinning him to the stanchion. His cry of mortal agony brought his comrades to aid him. We were beyond their reach. Our whole force was collected in the cabin.

      But we had a friend in the enemy's camp. My chum, Dave Kent, was at the wheel, and Bill, at the pistol's mouth, had kept him there; for he could not spare one of his trusty men to relieve him. He intended, no doubt, to kill him, as well as myself, after he got full possession of the brig. I had heard them hunting for me, and Bill decided that I must be either under deck or aloft.

      "If he is aloft," said he, "we'll attend to his case when we get daylight. If he's crawled below,let him smell brimstone with the rest."

      I knew all along that Dave Kent wouldn't lose a chance of helping us, if he saw one. But he was powerless until the moment when the mutineers rallied to the hatchway at the piercing cry from Barney, leaving only the little steward at the cabin-door. Quick as thought, Dave seized him from behind with his powerful grip. The pistol and cutlass were both useless to him, for the movement had been so sudden and well-timed, that, before he could raise an alarm, he was jerked over the low taffrail into the sea, the cabin-doors were open, and up we poured with every advantage of position, holding the quarter-deck in possession.

      It was give and take for a minute. But there were only four of the mutineers left, and we were the stronger party. The second mate got his arm broken by a shot from Bill, and I got this cut on the shoulder (here Shorty pushed back his shirt), from a cutlass thrown at my head by the Parsee. But he and Paine were both shot dead, and the chief desperado, crazy with rum and rage, bleeding from two or three wounds, knocked my chum senseless with his last empty pistol, and jumped overboard, with a defiant oath on his lips. You may well suppose we did not stop to pick him up. The last man fell on his knees, and his life was spared till we arrived at Sydney, where he was tried and hung.

      Our voyage was broken up by this scrape, for we were too short-handed to venture among the savages. But we made a good cruise for the short time we were absent, for we brought our gold home safe, and spent it without troubling ourselves much about where it came from."

      Haven't you embellished that yarn a little, Shorty?"

      "Embellished it? No, boy. Don't you see the scar on my shoulder? That ought to satisfy you."

      It didn't, entirely. But, as I before said, Shorty was too deep for me.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: "Shorty's" Story of the Mutiny.
Publication: Flag of our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 29 (Jul 17, 1869)
Pages: 462-463