Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

The Inquirer and Mirror
Vol. 50, No. 15 (October 9, 1869)
p. 1.

[From the Western World.]



      "Larboard watch aho-o-oy!" was roared down the scuttle, in the glad, impatient tones of men eager to be relieved – to exchange places with us who had slept away the last four hours with that blissful abandon that characterizes the seaman when off duty. "Let them look out that have the watch!" is his motto.

      A single tin hanging-lamp, on short allowance of oil, swayed and flickered, obedient to the violent motion of the ship. Just enough light was afforded by it to make "darkness visible" in the little, dingy, triangular den, called, by courtesy, the fore-castle.

      "How's the weather, boys?" was asked by two or three sleepy voices.

      "The gale's breaking up now," was answered, apparently from a huge, shapeless bundle of pea-jackets, surmounted by a dripping "sou'-wester." "It comes in squalls, with longer lulls. But it's been an ugly night."

      It had, indeed, and it was not over yet. For it was only four o'clock in the morning, of an Antarctic winter, and wanted three hours yet to daylight. The gale roared down the scuttle as the slide was pushed open, and the crest of a sea dashed its salt spray into the little opening, rattling down into our dormitory.

      All above was cold, wet, dark, and cheerless. But out we must come, in response to the call. In my own case, there was special need of dispatch, for it was my turn-out trick at the wheel. What seaman but can recall to mind a spacial dread of the "graveyard trick," as it is termed – the first two hours in the morning watch, when it seems impossible to keep one's eyelids propped up, and the senses are off wool-gathering at the first break in the perpetual motion of the body?

      I struggled aft, feeling my way along the slippery rail and deck, where the young ice was making. It was not blowing very hard at the moment, for the greatest force of the gale was spent. But there was a tremendous sea running, such as seems almost peculiar to the region of Cape Horn, and the pitching and straining of our stout ship, laden deeply with copper, were frightful. I was sensible of a sound of slatting canvas overhead, but did not look up to invcstigato the cause. It was no affair of mine.

      "Full and by" was the simple word of instruction which I received and repeated, as I took the spokes of the wheel. There was really nothing to do but to hold it firmly, for the ship was lying to under her storm-stay-sails, with the lee clew of the maintopsail "goose-winged." Settling my head into my jacket collar till it was almost merged in the line of my shoulders, with only my eyes and nose visible to any outsider, I prepared to_wear away two long, dismal hours of darkness on "Mount Misery," as we were accustomed to call the poop, or raised quarter-deck.

      I heard the mate mustering his watch, and collecting them aft about the mainmast, for their own safety from the combing seas, as well as to have them all under his eye in case of emergency. 1 heard him call the two youngsters, Charley and Dan by name, and give theta some order, but I know not what. All this time I could see no one, as they were all below my perch, and hidden by the break of the quarter deck. But a few minutes later I heard a voice high up aloft. I glanced upward, but could distinguish nothing in the intense darkness. I made out the words, "Go down and get a gasket!" and knew then that they must he securing some sail that had partially worked adrift. I did not envy them any pleasure which they might find in doing it, as I thought of the pitchy darkness, and the cold, biting blast, with the crust of ice making on the rigging and sails. But then, it was all in the regular course of a sailor's duty, and might have fallen to myself had I not been at the wheel. So I settled myself once more into my jacket, and relapsed into a half torpid state.

      A sound as of the fall of a heavy body on the water came up from close under the lee-quarter. "More black-fish breaching," said I to myself, for we had seen them several times during the previous day, very near the ship. I gave the subject no further thought – I did not even look about me, knowing that I could see nothing, dark as it then was. I had nearly forgotten the circumstance, when I heard the words. "He isn't there!" in a voice that seemed to quiver with astonishment and fear, rather than with cold. Then the mate calling "Charley!" and the name taken up and repeated by others, here and there, away forward on the bow, and again coming nearer to me. A heavy footstep approaching over the wet deck, and the blanched face of the officer appeared at my side in the glaring light of the binnacle-lamp.

      "M–––," said he, "have you seen anything of the boy Charley?"

      "No, sir," I answered. "I've seen no one since I relieved the wheel.

      "Then the poor boy is lost!" He spoke, as it were, with a choking lump in his throat. I made no reply, and, clearing the impediment, he went on. "I sent him and Dan aloft to secure the main-royal, as it had worked adrift, and was slatting out in the gale. Dan came down to get a gasket, and when he went up again he couldn't find Charley. And he isn't to be found about decks or below."

      "He's gone!" I gasped, pointing with my hand into the blackness astern. A sudden thought had flashed upon me, and a cold shudder went to my very heart as I recalled that spanking sound on the water, close under our lee. No one had heard it but myself. I possessed the one link missing in the chain of evidence to bar out the last hope that he might be still alive. The mate's step receded again into the darkness as soon as he heard my statement, and I was left to indulge my own sad reflections.

      Poor Charley! he had belonged to the ship only a few weeks, having joined us at Coquimbo, Chile, where he had been landed, sick, from another ship, some months before. He had fully recovered his vigor, and came on board in high spirits at the thought of returning to his homo and friends. A bright, intelligent youth, active and willing, he had rapidly won his way to our hearts, and stood high in the esteem of his shipmates.

      It was not difficult to conjecture how he had met his fate. Lumbered with heavy clothing and stiff boots, and his hands benumbed with cold, he had, by the violent motion of the ship, been thrown from his dangerous footing on the "eyes of the rigging," for the ship had no cross-trees. Neatness and snugness of rig, are, of course, considerations of much greater importance than the lives of a seaman or two in the course of a long voyage.

      He had passed out from among us in such a way that we had not even the melancholy satisfaction of making an effort, however vain, to save him. While we yet called his name, clinging to the hope of his safety, the cold angry sea had closed over his head, and was rolling on as before.

      With daylight the gale abated, and the sun, which had been obscured for several days, rose clear. Our tender-hearted old captain, with an unwonted tear sparkling on his bronzed cheek orders the boy's chest to be locked up and brought aft into the cabin, that it may be safely delivered to his parents. He questions us who know him best, and learns many things about Charley which he would never have known or thought of, had they finished the voyage together and parted company at the port of destination. And all this time he is gazing absently round upon the sea, as if he still thought he might possibly see some trace of the lost lad.

      The order to "make sail!" usually so inspiring, is given in a subdued tone, and with seeming reluctance to leave the spot. But with the excitement of active duty, our sad feelings are soon forgotten. Sheet after sheet of canvas is spread to the favoring breeze. "Homeward!" is the magic word that makes every heart glad; the storm-beaten rock of Diego Ramirez is sighted, passed, and fades into the horizon-lino more than a hundred miles distant from the place where our young shipmate went down.

W. H. M.     


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Lost Overboard: A Real Incident [1869]
Publication: The Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol 50, No. 15 (Oct 9, 1869)
Pages: 1.