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

Flag of Our Union.
Vol. 25, No. 5, (Jan 29, 1870)
p. 78.

[Written ter The Flag of our Union.]



      "Where's Jack Sullivan?" suddenly demanded the mate of the Good Intent, as we were washing off decks, one fine morning, in the Pacific Ocean.

      "Where is Jack Sullivan?" was the inquiry passed from one to another of us, in lower tones.

      "He isn't at the mast-head," said one, glancing aloft.

      "Hunt him up, there!" said Mr. Manchester. "Hold on! I'll find him myself."

      But his calls at the fore-scuttle met with no response. All his search for Sullivan was vain; and in coming aft again, his attention was arrested by the absence of the large oval tub, which had been lashed up near the tryworks.

      "Halloo!" he roared, "where's the mincing-tub?"

      "The boy Bill is missing too, sir," said some one.

      "Anybody else?" inquired the officer, angrily. "Come, make a muster, and let's see how many hands short we are."

      Only two -- Jack Sullivan and Boy Bill. It seemed hardly credible that they had put to sea in the mincing-tub, like the wise men of Gotham in the nursery tale; but such was the fact, beyond doubt,

      Here's a pretty report: to make," grumbled the mate. "What sort of a lubberly watch must have been kept, to let them get away and no one know it?"

      "We had been near the land the evening before, a small coral island, peopled by howling savages, among whom no one but a reckless runaway sailor would have ventured to land. Yet they must, beyond all question, have gone ashore, or at least attempted to do so.

      "Who had the first watch?" was the stern inquiry of Captain Wilcox, as soon as the report was made to him.

      "I did, sir." answered the black boatsteerer, Sam.

      "And went to sleep I'll warrant. They might have carried off all the boats in the ship; and you'd have been none the wiser for it."

      I wasn't asleep, sir," remonstrated.Sam.

      "There, you'd better say nothing about it. So much the worse if you let'em launch the tub under your very nose, and you broad awake all the time. Of course, some one forward knows all about it, but I can't expect them to blow upon their shipmates. Put her round on the other tack, Mr. Manchester, and make all sail."

      "I wouldn't have troubled myself about Sullivan," he said, after this evolution had been performed, "for he is an old harum-scarum beach-comber, and nothing else was to be expected. But that he should lead the boy away on a desperate cruise like that, is quite another matter. I must do my best to get Bill back again. Of course they started for Taswell's Island, and it was so smooth last night, their chance was good to reach it. I only hope, for the boy's sake, that the old tub hasn't turned turtle. with 'em."

      Upon further investigation, it came to light that two paddles were missing from the waist boat, and a gun and ammunition out of the cabin. The steward solemnly protested innocence of any complicity in this theft; indeed, it might have been managed by the boy Bill, who was pretty well at home in the after part of; the ship, being a general favorite with the officers.

      But under the influence of the current which here prevails, we fell to leeward of Taswell's Island, and found it quite impossible even to make the land. Day after day passed without any slant of wind in our favor. We felt more and more assured that, even had our rash shipmates effected a landing, the savage natives must have killed them. It was true they had not much with them to excite savage cupidity, and what little they had might easily be taken from them. But they might have been put to death in sheer wantonness or caprice. So we conjectured and speculated upon their fate, until more than a month had gone by, before we were again near enough to the island to communicate with the shore.

      Lying off a short distance with our boats, we attempted to open a parley with an army of barbarians, who crowded down to the beach, armed with war-clubs and javelins. Their threatening gestures, as they brandished their weapons, admonished us of what we might expect should we attempt a lodgement in their territory; and a few stones, hurled at us from time to time, warned us to haul off to a safer distance.

      Nothing was to be gained by temporizing; still less by open violence, and it became but too apparent to Captain Wilcox that he must leave the men to their fate, and pursue his voyage. If they were on the island, and still alive, they must be concealed, either forcibly or by their own act.

      "I don't like to give it up without learning something about the fate of the boy," he said, as he took the little telescope from under the stern-sheets and brought it up to his eye. "As for old Jack, he might work out his own salvation, for aught I care. Ha!" he exclaimed, with a sudden lighting up of his face, "the tub's landed, whether the men are drowned or not. There's the head of it!"

      A building much larger than the ordinary huts of the village, which we supposed to be the king's palace, or perhaps the council-house of the tribe, stood a short distance inland, on a rise of ground, and, set up endwise against the wall, was something dark, of an oval form, like an immense shield or target. With the aid of the spy-glass, this was easily recognized as the bottom of our tub. The greasy appearance of the wood, and certain peculiar streaks in it, known to all of us. could not be mistaken. What appeared like a little pile of wood near it, might well have been composed of the staves; and we at once divined that it had been "shooked" for the sake of the iron hoops, the only part likely to be valued by these barbarians.

      The attention of the king was attracted to his carelessness in having left the head exposed to view, as he noticed the little excitement among us in the boats. At a signal from him, several men ran to remove it and carry it inside the building. But, as they opened the door for that purpose, a figure pushed by them, and darted out into the open space with a loud cry and frantic gestures.

      "Boy Bill!" said half a dozen voices.

      He was recognized at a glance, although naked from the waist upward, and bronzed almost to the color of the infuriated natives, who at once seized him, and dragged him, still shouting, back into his prison. We had no doubt that Sullivan was also inside, though he probably remained there at his own desire, while the boy plainly showed his eagerness to escape and join his shipmates.

      Our baffled captain was now at his wit's end. Though we had settled the question as to the safety and whereabouts of the boy, we were, apparently, no nearer to getting him on board. It would never do to sacrifice life in making an attack upon these, people at close quarters; and reluctantly the order was given to weigh the grapnels and pull away for our ship in the offing.

      "We had hardly made a half-dozen dips of the oars, when the crack of a musket was heard, and a ball struck in the water near us. Yells of derision rose on the air from the whole population; and the desperado Sullivan, swinging the musket aloft, joined in the insulting cry of defiance. Perched on the roof of the council-house, he had fired the shot at us as soon as he saw that we had abandoned our undertaking. The boy Bill was not to be seen.

      The, rage of Mr. Manchester and the captain was fearful to behold. It was bad enough to be insulted and defied by the savages; but the parting salute of the rascally beach-comber was the feather that broke the camel's back.

      "Let's stand in with the ship and give them a shot from the big gun," said the mate. "We can do it, safe enough, sir, I think."

      "I will do it," returned Captain Wilcox, "even if I lose the ship. Pull ahead, and let's get aboard before the breeze dies away! The scoundrel!"

      The "big gun" of which the mate spoke was merely an old six-pounder, which could only be effective at pretty short range. It was necessary to approach very near the land; but, favored with a fine working breeze, we ventured to run the risk. The natives took the alarm as they saw the ship steadily holding her way, almost to the outer limit of the reef; and when her broadside swung to, bear upon the beach and the word was given to fire, not a human being was to be seen.

      The gun was trained as accurately as we knew how upon the large building, and the mate applied the match, grinding his teeth with rage as he did so. As its sharp report died away a discordant chorus of yells succeeded and a number of men poured out of the building, clustering round one who seemed to have been wounded. Others were also seen rushing from various quarters, and several ran towards the shore with gesture of fear and supplication.

      "Load up again, quick!" said Mr. Manchester, now thoroughly excited. "We rattled the bamboo and thatch about their ears, that time, I know. I can see the hole in the broadside of the house."

      But there was no need to fire again. A group now appeared with the boy Bill in the centre, hurrying him down to the water side, and the most frantic signals were made, inviting communication. Another group bore the body of the wounded man; and the women and children formed in the background of the picture, among the cocoa-palms, with upraised hand and piercing cries.

      Heading off-shore under short sail, but with the gun still loaded and bearing upon the landing-place, we approached with the boat as near as was prudent, and our boy, plunging in, swam out to us, and was heartily greeted by his shipmates. On the coral slope, at the feet of the frightened natives, lay the body of Jack Sullivan, his face upturned to the blazing tropical sun.

      "Is he badly hurt?" demanded the mate.

      "Dead, sir," answered the boy. "The ball struck him full in the head."

      "Pull ahead, then!" was the order, as he laid the boat's head round off-shore. "We've no time to lose, with the ship so close into the rocks; and they are welcome to his body, if they want it."

      The captain shook Bill's hand with a tear in his eye, when he stood once more on the ship's deck. He said nothing of punishment for desertion; he did not even reproach him; but left him to his own thoughts.

      The lesson had not been lost upon him. "Boy Bill" is now a shipmaster himself, and this rash adventure of his boyhood seems almost like a dream to him.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Catching A Deserter.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 25, No. 5, (Jan 29, 1870)
Pages: 78