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The Plough Boy Journals

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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

Flag of Our Union
Vol. 24, No. 46 (Nov 13, 1869)
p. 734

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      A "good ship" was the Atlanta in the full sense of the phrase, which, as employed by seamen, is by no means restricted in signification to the mere fabric of wood and iron. She was well officered and manned, and the treatment, discipline and morale of the whole ship's company were such as to make the voyage a pleasant one.

      I joined her at Coquimbo,on the coast of Chili, shipping simply for the run to Baltimore. At Tongoy, where we received the last installment of cargo, a man was shipped who signed his name Edward Barry. But Jack never goes so far as the ship's articles to seek a name for a new shipmate. From his grave, serious expression of face, and certain little peculiarities of manner, Barry received the title of "the parson;" and as "Parson" was he known and addressed thenceforth.

      Parson was a tall, muscular follow, and a good seaman withal, as we shortly had occasion to observe. But he was moody and reserved, acting very strangely at times, so that the boys stood in fear of him, and the men shook their heads sagely, declaring that Parson's ballast wasn't properly stowed, and that there was something "cranky" about him. He would go aside from his watchmates, and walk the deck by himself for hours together, sometimes flapping his arms about and gesticulating furiously, and again folding his hands behind his back, and marching with his face upturned to the sky. He was also given to a sort of waking somnambulism during his watches below, and was liable to be found in the most unlikely and out-of-the-way places, when called at eight bells. Thus it was no uncommon thing to find that he had slept under his bunk instead of in it; while on several occasions he had been discovered astride the flying jib boom end, and once on the lee fore-yardarm. But when spoken to, he always seemed to come to himself again, and to be surprised at his late freak; though he never made any remarks thereupon, or attempted any explanation. While acting under any direct order, he was intelligent and willing, and always respectful to the officer.

      We had a quick passage round the Horn, and had run down into the low latitudes on the Atlantic side, when one night it was Parson's turn-out wheel in the middle watch, and he was not to be found where every well-conducted seaman is supposed to be at such times, snoring lustily in his bunk. Search was made for him, at first without success, until the boy "Tonawanda " (so called from the name of a Philadelphia ship in which he had sailed), looking over the bows, discovered him riding the chain bobstays, with his back against the curve of the ship's head, and his long legs dangling almost in the water.

      "Halloo, Parson!" I hailed, looking over the head-sai1.

      "Halloo back again! Is the watch called?" he inquired, in an absent way, as if just waking.

      "Yes. It's your turn-out wheel, you know."

      "Ay, ay, so 'tis," said he. "All right."

      And climbing in between the knight-heads, he went striding aft, with his head thrown back and the point of his nose erect in air, answering not a word to the questions and remarks of his shipmates. But we had become accustomed to his eccentricities, and had nearly ceased to regard them with fear or anxiety. They furnished rather a source of amusement to us.

      Loco," said the little Chileno, Agustin, touching his own forehead with a comical leer.

      "Ay, you may well say it," said old Bolt, the man-o'wars-man. "He's the loco-est chap that ever I was shipmates with. That is to say, he shifts his ballast the offenest; but he always rights again."

      Presently the ship came flying up into the wind, the head-sails slatting.

      "All aback, forward!" sang out Bolt. "Parson's star-gazing," he added, in a lower tone.

      "Mind your helm, there, Parson! What are you doing?" shouted the mate. "Hard up, quick, or you'll have her – "

      The sentence was cut short by the sound of a heavy fall, and the next moment, the Parson, hatless, with his long hair flying in the breeze, and his shirt hanging, like a frock, outside of his trousers, dashed among us, with a gleaming sheath-knife clutched in his hand. We needed to ask no questions. A single look was sufficient; we all felt that we were in the presence of a madman. We involuntarily shrank back to give him room, as he rushed through the group. Old Bolt received a back-handed cut in the face from the sheath-knife; Agustin measured his length on deck under a blow from the swinging left arm; the maniac cleared the windlass at a bound, and leaped down the open scuttle into the forecastle.

      There was no light burning below, for we were on allowance of oil. As the contents of a junk bottle must be made to last a week, the hanging lamp was only lighted for a few minutes at the time of relieving watches, and then blown out again. The Parson had, as yet, uttered no sound, but had flashed among us like a meteor, and then vanished into the blackness of darkness, where no one dared to follow him. We shuddered as we thought of our comrades of the other watch, sleeping below.

      Meanwhile, the ship, left to her own guidance, had "taken aback," and was now hanging, "in irons." But the mate, not seriously hurt, soon recovered from the shock which he had received when the Parson had so suddenly interrupted his warning by dashing him bodily against the mizzen-mast. He ordered another man to the wheel at once, and the ship was soon brought back to her course, with no damage done, as the wind was not strong enough to endanger the spars.

      The captain, as well as every one else in the cabin, had been roused by the unwonted sounds overhead, and had found their way on deck to learn the cause. Armed with all sorts of weapons, we mustered forward in a sort of irregular phalanx, "to beat the jungle for the tiger," as the second mate, an old East India cruiser, quaintly expressed it.

      "Tonawanda," who had been slyly listening near the scuttle, reported having heard the sound of some one moving the fore-peak-hatch; but after this ceased, all was still as the grave.

      "Steward, bring a light here from the cabin!" said the captain. "It wont do to go down there in the dark,"

      But at this moment, one of the men below, disturbed by the bustle, roused up, and crying, "What's all this row about?" struck a match and lighted the lamp.

      "Look out, Jones!" said half a dozen voices, from the deck. "Look out for Parson; he's crazy!"

      "Parson be –––, ' muttered Jones, with his eyes half open, and out of temper at having his slumbers interrupted. "I don't see no Parson. Why, Parson relieved me at the wheel – Halloo! what's the fore-peak scuttle off for?"

      By this time, the two mates, backed up by others, all with weapons of some sort, had effected a lodgement in the forecastle. The little trap-door was clapped on, and the lunatic was thus caged in the lower hold, One after another of the watch below woke and rolled out of their bunks, with all sorts of incoherent questions, as they wondered at this armed invasion.

      "Silence!" said the captain, at last. "Listen, now, it you can hear any sound below. Take off the hatch again!"

      He called the Parson by name several times, but got no answer. He peered cautiously down the little square hole, but nothing was to be seen. Reclosing it and securing it by the weight of a couple of sea-chests, we drew off our forces, to consult upon some new plan of attack.

      "He must be routed out of that, somehow," said the mate. "The poor devil may kill himself, if he isn't taken care of. And, for that matter, there's no knowing what damage a crazy man may do to the ship. He may build a fire down there, if he can find enough to make one of."

      "That's true," said the captain. "We'll take off the main hatches now, and go down in force."

      "Ay air, there's no help for it," assented the second mate. "Gi' me my choice of capstan-bars, and I'll lead the way, if you say the word. Here's a fix for a decent ship's company of twenty men, eh?, with a luny-tic under em. It's wuss'n any powder magazine."

      Our cargo, which consisted chiefly of copper and hides, was necessarily stowed, as it was received on board, at various times and at different ports on the Chilian coast. After the whole had been covered with a flooring of several tiers of hides, more pigs of copper had been taken on board and piled upon this floor, distributing the weight equally all over the ship. Between decks, copper in the ore was packed about two foot deep on a level. Thus while the ship was heavily laden, from the nature of her cargo there was plenty of open space in bulk, and it was easy to pass anywhere, fore and aft.

      Taking off the lower hatches, we pushed a short ladder down to facilitate our exit, if needed, and, with arms and lanterns, jumped into the hold. Then dividing our forces, we pressed forward, peering about us on every side. Nothing was to be seen, nor could any answer be elicited to our calls. Still we continued our search until we had passed the foremast, and could see, by the glare of our lanterns, almost to the extreme angle of the bow. Suddenly the lantern, which I was carrying, was dashed from my hand into fragments, by what seemed to be a piece of board darted endwise; a yell, unlike anything human, rang in our ears, and something brushed roughly by me in the darkness, moving towards the outlet at the hatchway.

      We turned about and gave chase, calling upon our comrades on the other side of the central partition, or "shifting-board," to hasten with the other lantern. Again we reached the open hatchway where we had jumped down. We caught a glimpse of the Parson on the ladder, just as he was poising another piece of wood in his hand for a throw.

      "Look out for your lantern!" was cried, in warning tones; and two capstan-bars were hurled at the dimly-seen figure. I thought I saw one of them strike him; but as his attack was directed, with the cunning of madness, at the lights only, he had the advantage of us. His missile sped with unerring aim; there was a crash and jingling of broken glass, and we were wrapped in total darkness.

      We shouted to those on deck, but they were sure he had not come so high, as every pass was guarded. We had him between docks, then; and up we swarmed, clamoring for more lights, for the thing had now become exciting. The lower hatches were pushed into place as soon as the last man was up; and the short ladder now connected us with the upper deck.

      There was only one more available lantern in the ship; but an unlooked-for reinforcement now joined us, in the person of Agustin, the Chileno, bearing in his hand a few fathoms of slender line, and a short torch which he had prepared from a bit of old junk, wet with oil. Handing the torch to the second mate, he retained the cord himself, and they two led the advance, the rest following.

      The torch, burning fiercely, threw a wide glare ahead of us, lighting up the whole width of the between-decks. The madman, crouched against the forward bulkhead, but unable to make his way into the forecastle, was brought to bay in a cul de sac, and must of necessity repeat his old tactics of dousing the light and breaking through the line. This, however, was not so easily done, now that we bore the torch instead of a lantern.

      I shall never forgot the first horrible glimpse I got of his eyes, fixed upon the hated torchlight, as he gathered himself for a tiger spring. But he was not quick enough for the wary little Agustin. With a movement which seemed a mere slight twirl of the wrist, the lasso passed over his head and dropped exactly where it was wanted. A single jerk brought the victim helpless to the ground, grovelling in the copper ore. He was easily overpowered, and scoured, hand and foot. He had no knife about him when captured; but it was afterwards found in the lower hold, sticking firmly in a stanchion, where he had left it.

      Poor Parson never fully recovered his reason, though he had some partially lucid intervals. He had the best treatment and care that we could give him, consistent with his safety and our own; but he died, a raving maniac, the very day that we made the Capes of Virginia.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Lassoing a Madman.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 46 (Nov 13, 1869)
Pages: 734