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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol. XXXI, No. 2 (Feb 1870)
pp. 158-163.

158 The Fate of the Redgauntlet.

. . . .



      In the month of July, 185–, we anchored, in the barque Zodiac, within about four miles of the sterile coast of Siberia on the northern shore of the Ochotsk Sea. It had been calm since morning, and no whales had been seen. A boat expedition was at once despatched to explore further inshore, as the polar whale is often met with close in to the rocks in very shallow water. My place was with the second mate, as midship-oarsman, and we soon separated from the other boats; for we pulled on diverging lines, so as to approach the shore at different points, and thus "spread the chances " of meeting with our giant prey.

      After two or three hours spent in fruitless search, we beached the boat in a snug little cove, and took a run on shore. The boatsteerer and I left the rest of the party, and climbed a high hill whence we could look seaward and command a more extensive prospect. But we saw nothing but the broad expanse of smooth water, and the Zodiac riding at her anchor in the far distance. Unwilling to return, we pressed onward, ascending and descending, sometimes jumping from rock to rock, until we mounted a still higher eminence which formed the headland of a small bay, until then unseen.

      We had lost our own ship from view before we gained the western brow of this bluff, where we could look down into the bay. The scene before us was such as to transfix us with astonishment, expecting, as we did, to behold nothing but Nature's work, bearing the stamp of perpetual solitude.

      The beach, as well as the tussock-land of the little valley beneath, was alive with strange-looking human beings in uncouth dresses, running to and fro, as if all in search of the same thing. There must have been more than a hundred in sight, though we did not make any actual count. Two small boats and a ship's long-boat lay at the water-side, and within less than a mile of the shore, a large ship had dropped her anchor. The sails were hanging in all sorts of festoons, no two alike, as if they had made a clumsy attempt to clew them up, and abandoned the job when half finished.

      On the deck of the ship were another hundred, more or less, of the same description of beings, duplicates of those on shore. The vessel herself, though apparently of a superior class, showed evident signs of a want of seamanlike care about her sails and rigging. Her hull looked worn and rusty, and marine

The Fate of the Redgauntlet. 159

grass was clinging thickly along the bends.

      "Who and what are they?" said my companion, Peterson. "The ship is no whaler, anybody can tell. And what would anybody else but whalemen want here in this sea?"

      "The ship has run away with them," said I. "or they with, her; it's hard to say which. Can they be Russians?"

      "No, there's no look of the Russian about them. There's too many of them to be the regular crew of a craft like that; for there are no man-of-war marks about her. She's either an emigrant ship or a transport with troops."

      At this moment some one of those below caught sight of us standing on the brow of the hill. The word was quickly passed among the crowd, and their faces were all upturned at once, with wild clamor and gesticulation.

      "Chinamen!" said I, at once. "No other people ever had their eyes set into their heads at such an angle as that."

      "They've coiled up their tails and stowed them away under their hats," added my comrade. "That's why we didn't make them out sooner. But they've got terribly out of their reckoning, to bring up here in Siberia, What do you suppose they are hunting for?"

      "Grub, to be sure; but mighty little of it they'll find here. They have run short of provisions. See! they are trying to climb up here to speak to us."

      "We can do nothing for them; and I don't care to trust myself among two hundred hungry Chinese. They might eat us without salt."

      "We had better hurry back and report what we have seen. I don't understand how such a ship as that (for she appears to be English) should be in possession of this mob. There must have been some kind of foul play about it."

      We hastened back towards where we had left the rest of the boat's crew, leaving the Chinese to follow, which some of them appeared to be determined on doing, as fast as they were able. We arrived none too soon. The officer already had the boat afloat, and was waiting impatiently for us; indeed he would soon have pushed off with the men he had, and left us behind. Dark clouds in the south-eastern board betokened a wild night . The Zodiac was already under way and crowding sail hard to claw off from the land, while the most urgent signals were flying for our return. The other boats had been seen to start out long ago. We began to relate what we had seen, but were summarily cut short by the officer.

      "Can't help it, now, if the whole Chinese race are starving over there! Pull ahead! Let's get aboard before it blows on a gale. It will be too thick in an hour from now, to find the ship, and we shall be half way between somewhere and nowhere."

      We understood well enough that such a situation, wherever it might be, was an undesirable one. We plied our oars with a will, and luckily got safely on board before our ship was hidden in the mist. We saw three of the Chinese, who had climbed over the hills, run down the beach and extend their arms in air above their heads. But we could do nothing for them.

      It blew a severe gale all that night, and we carried what sail our spars would bear to keep her off the lee shore. There was but little darkness in so high a latitude at that season of the year. But the mist was so thick that nothing could be seen. We talked over the situation of the poor Chinese among ourselves, and saw nothing but starvation before them in that barren spot; while all agreed that there was no possible chance of escape for the strange ship, lying, as she did, with her canvas loosed, and everything in confusion, when the gale came on.

      When at length the south-easter had blown itself out, the weather cleared with light winds off the land, and it was not until the third day that we again approached the headland which Peterson and I recognized and pointed out. We passed it with the ship and opened to view the little bight beyond, where we had seen the strange vessel at anchor.

      Our minds were, to some extent, prepared for the spectacle of utter destruction that met our view. The whole extent of beach between the two headlands was strewn with a chaos of wreck. Spars, cordage, sails, timber, casks, iron-work and all the thousand and one things comprising the material and fittings of the once proud ship, were heaped in wildest confusion. Not enough of her remained in the original form to point out the particular spot where she had struck.

      The Chinese greeted us with yells, not strong but shrill, such as starving men might well utter. Our boats, loaded with provisions, were soon speeding away towards the beach on an errand of mercy. I could not fail to observe, as we neared them, that their num-

160 The Fate of the Redgauntlet.

bers had been greatly reduced within three days. The whole force could hardly have been a hundred, in sight; while we had estimated it at more than double that number on the former occasion, including, of course, those afloat.

      The poor ravenous wretches had to be kept back by force, that the distribution of food might take place in such a manner that all would receive a fair share. There was no lack of fresh water, and they had already managed to make several fires, which were burning fiercely. But of food there was literally nothing to be found here, save a few muscles at low water.

      With some of the ship's sails, they had built a rude shelter, away up high and dry. Under this canopy, we found several poor fellows, who, weak from want of food, or disabled by injuries received at the time of the shipwreck, were unable to crawl out and join the rest, who appeared to care very little whether they lived or died. And, searching still further, we found, stretched out to die in an obscure corner of the tent, a boy, with fair hair and Anglo-Saxon features, emaciated to a skeleton by hunger and brutal treatment.

      Tenderly we lifted the lad and carried him to one of the boats, which was at once sent to convey him on board the barque. We directed the Chinese, all who were strong enough, to follow the shore of the sea towards Ochotsk city, where they would find succor at the hands of the Russians. We saw no way to dispose of the remnant but to take them on board for the present. We might divide them among the various whaleships when we should again meet the fleet. Just now, we had the burden all on our own shoulders; for the American ships had all gone, either up into the northeast gulf, or over to the Shantar side.

      Hardly a man was found among the Celestials who could talk more than a few words of " pigeon-English," nor was it likely that what they would tell us was to be depended upon as truth. We supplied them with provisions to last them, with care, for a few days, and saw them started on their overland journey. Some ten or twelve of the wounded and infirm were taken on board, and we made sail to the southwest

      With tender care and judicious treatment, the boy was so far restored in a few days, as to be able to throw light upon the strange affair, and clear up the mystery that hung over it.

      The ship to which he had belonged was the Redgauntlet, owned in London, and chartered at Macao, to carry a cargo of Chinese laborers to the Chincha Islands, to work among the guano deposits. She had sailed from Macao with nearly four hundred on board, all young and able-bodied men, but drawn from the most depraved and reckless class of the Chinese population.

      It did not appear, from the boy's story, that the possibility of any trouble or outbreak among the coolies had ever entered the mind of Captain Duganne. For no extraordinary precautions had been taken, such as are always considered a matter of course in vessels employed in similar service, as Guinea slavers, and convict-ships bound to the penal settlements. The vessel sailed with only her regular complement of twelve men before the mast; and a watch which was barely sufficient to work the vessel, could hardly be expected to exercise much vigilance over an army of barbarians.

      Nor did the commander show much discretion in his conduct towards his passengers. He was a hard, overbearing man, as well in his dealings with them as with his own crew. The coolies were kept on a very meagre allowance of provisions and water, even from the outset of the voyage. And at the first symptoms of discontent among them he had them all confined between-decks under gratings, and only allowed to take the air at stated periods, a few at a time. In vain the officers remonstrated, and enlarged upon the difficulty of enforcing such orders with the small force at their command. The captain became more and more tyrannical, and the coolies, who had embarked well-satisfied and in good spirits, were, day by day, inspired with deeper hatred towards him.

      They met with much bad weather in the China Sea, but worked their way through it, and were, at last, as they thought, in a fair way for a pleasant run across the Pacific. But that very night, after the gratings had been fastened down as usual, an unwonted noise and stir was observable among the Chinese; and on investigation, it was found that they had forced their way through the bulkhead into the run under the cabin-floor, and had secured possession of two barrels of rum which had been stowed there.

      Captain Duganne was now thoroughly alarmed, as well he might be. It was madness to attempt to recover the liquor from them; nothing could be done but to keep

The Fate of the Redgauntlet. 161

them confined below until they had swallowed it all. and got over their revel. The noise subsided about midnight, and the watch grew careless again, supposing the coolies were sleeping off the effect of their potations. But with characteristic cunning, they had thus thrown the crew and officers off their guard at the very time they had planned for their uprising. At six bells in the middle watch, when all was still both on deck and below, the gratings were suddenly burst upward, and the Chinamen, mad with rum and rage, pounced up at the hatchways like a volcanic eruption, making night hideous with their peculiar savage war-cry.

      The few men in charge of the deck made a desperate resistance; but the struggle was short. The human wave rolled on and overwhelmed them, the coolies displaying the most utter recklessness of life, closing upon the seamen and bearing them down by sheer weight of numbers. In a few minutes, the Englishmen were thrown into the sea, some of them yet alive, and the deck of the Redgauntlet swarmed with mutineers in full possession.

      Some of the watch below, who rushed out on hearing the alarm, shared the fate of the rest; but the mate and two seamen made their way into the lower hold. The captain, coming out of the cabin, was met and felled by the blow of a handspike. Andrew, the boy, who was directly behind him, was seized by one of the coolies, who seemed to be a leader among them, and pushed into the round-house. The door was closed upon him, and he was left undisturbed for a time, as most of the crowd supposed he had been thrown overboard.

      He heard them beat the captain to death with all sorts of weapons, and saw them, through a chink, wreaking their vengeance upon the inanimate body before it was thrown overboard like the others. Then there was a rush of the Chinese to the main-hatchway, apparently attracted by some special alarm in that direction. Andrew pushed open the door and stepped out from his prison-house to see what was going on.

      The crowd in and about the main-hatchway was very dense, and a confused jabbering, as of drunken men divided in their counsels, was going on, when suddenly an explosion was heard that appeared to shake the ship to her keel. The crowd surged back amid a sulphurous smoke, and shrieks of agony rent the air.

      The boy, appalled at the sight, stood still as the coolies rushed aft. He was seized by two stout fellows, who lifted him on the rail, and were in the act of throwing him to the sharks, when the man who had already once saved his life again interfered. This man, who seemed to have some sway over his comrades, now took Andrew by the collar, and enjoining silence, made a loud speech, to which all the rest appeared to assent. He was then given to understand that he could go about unmolested.

      At daybreak, the Chinese began to throw overboard such of their comrades as had been killed by the explosion. Had they been so many dogs or pigs, the survivors could not have disposed of them more coolly. They crowded into the hold, reckless of danger, where they found the mate and the two sailors, also killed by their own mine. Andrew heard the splashes as they were tossed into the sea, one after another; but the sight was too dreadful for the boy to look upon.

      He supposed that the mate had arranged a keg of powder with a train, near the main-hatch, and had called the Chinese round it, with a view of destroying the greater part of them by this means. But he must either have miscalculated his fuse, or else have fired the train by accident sooner than he had intended; so that he and his men had no opportunity to escape.

      The coolies now having full and undisputed possession of the vessel, gave themselves up for the whole of that day to feasting and revelry. With her helm lashed amidships, the ship went wherever wind and weather might carry her. But it held fine and moderate for twenty-four hours, by which time the liquor had been all drank or wasted, and more sober counsels prevailed.

      The numbers of the Chinese were greatly reduced, fully a hundred of them having been killed or mortally wounded, in the first attack, and by the after explosion at the hatchway. But they seemed to care nothing about this; human life was of so little account, as to be hardly worth bestowing a thought upon.

      Andrew's preserver, Kung-Chow, as he was called, now took the command, so far as any one could be said to do so. A man was put at the helm and an attempt made to keep the ship headed to the northward. They dared not return to a Chinese port where the ship would be known; but their idea was, to make land somewhere in one of the Japan

162 The Fate of the Redgauntlet.

islands, of which they possessed a kind of vague knowledge. But they only knew that they lay somewhere to the north of them, and had no skill in working or estimating longitude; while the boy himself knew little more about those matters than they did. The chronometer, not having been wound, had run down and stopped; so that he could make no use even of his limited knowledge.

      The boy's account of the proceedings on board the Redgauntlet after this date was gathered at various times in disconnected fragments; and is necessarily rambling, like the cruise itself. The scenes among three hundred reckless semi-savages, adrift in the Pacific, with little or no knowledge of navigating, guiding or handling a ship, may be imagined. The Chinese took advantage of fair weather to take in the light sails and furl them, after a fashion, under the boy's direction. With the heavier ones they could do no more than Spanish-reef them; letting them run down when it blew fresh, and hoisting them up again when it moderated.

      Almost every day, they had terrible fights among themselves in which all sorts of weapons were freely used; and at such times, the authority of Kung-Chow was completely set at naught. Many were killed in these brawls, and, as before observed, were forgotten as soon as they were put out of sight. The boy was frequently beaten and maltreated, living in constant fear; but his life was always spared, at the intercession of Kung-Chow.

      Owing to the filthy condition of the ship, disease of an infectious character broke out among them, and the mortality, for a time, was frightful. But this abated as they drew into colder latitudes, and the between-decks became less crowded, in consequence of the great falling off in their numbers.

      At length, after several weeks tumbling about, having kept a general northerly direction, land was discovered, to the great delight of the Chinese. They felt sure that this was one of the Japan islands, and that their wanderings would soon be at an end. The boy was now ordered to the wheel, to keep her headed in for a passage which lay open before them.

      But the wind increased to a gale, and he was obliged to change the course for the safety of their lives. For two days they beat about on soundings, as they knew by the color of the water. They might literally be said to be groping in the dark; and when the sky again cleared, no land was to be seen. They did not know, of course, what was plain enough to us, afterwards; that they had overshot their mark, had got a glimpse of one of the Kurile chain, and had drifted through into the Ochotsk Sea!

      From this time, they would seem to have abandoned anything like a definite object, and to have suffered the ship to take the bit in her teeth. It was strange enough that they should have drifted away up to the northern shore, across the sea, without having been seen by any whaler.

      From waste and improvidence, their provisions now ran short,and they were reduced to very short commons; for they had actually been at sea more time than would have been necessary for the ship, under proper guidance, to have made the run across the Pacific, and landed them in Peru. Day by day they reduced the allowance of food; quarrelled and fought each other to the death for a bit of bread or meat; no land met their view, and still the Redgauntlet drifted on, none knew where.

      Andrew was in actual danger of starvation when the food began to run low, for the stronger of the coolies did not hesitate to rob the weaker, and the poor boy was considered fair game for all. Many a time his morsel was snatched away from him and paid for with a knock-down blow. Maddened with hunger, he one day watched an opportunity to appropriate a whole biscuit from the limited stock in the cask, but was detected in the act. Two Chinese seized him to execute summary vengeance; Kung-Chow interfered to save him; and a desperate fight ensued. Four men were killed in the melee; the boy was hardened to such sights; but his last hope seemed to have deserted him when he saw his fast friend stabbed to the heart.

      He expected, as a matter of course, to be killed and thrown overboard himself. But a greater refinement of cruelty was to be displayed in their disposal of this poor lad. He was shut up in one of the hen-coops, to be starved to death!

      As may be supposed, after the master-spirit Kung-Chow was gone, there was no longer even a semblance of system or subordination among the famishing wretches. That day and the next sufficed to clean out the bread-cask to the last crumb, while several deaths diminished their numbers, as they fought for the last mouthfuls. Cannibalism must be their next resource, and woe to the weaker!

      But the following morning found the ship

To E. E. C. 163

becalmed with the land but a short distance off. They managed to clear away and drop anchor to hold her, and crowding into the boats, pushed ashore in search of anything that might sustain life. This was the day on which Peterson and I had made the discovery, and the boy was, at that time, confined in his narrow prison on deck, waiting for death.

      But that night when the gale came on, sensible that the ship must be lost, and gifted with the strength of desperation, he had forced his way out. Those on shore, holding the boats in their possession, refused to make any effort to save their comrades in the ship, and the distance was too great to attempt to pass by swimming in that temperature.

      She dragged her anchor and drove, broadside on, against the rocks, with more than a hundred souls ou board. Many of them, in their feeble state were washed away and drowned, but the boy escaped, almost by a miracle, reaching the shore more dead than alive. Nothing was found but a small bed of muscles, a mere mockery to a hundred or more starving men. Small parties of the strongest had started both east and west along the coast, the day before our timely arrival. But Andrew had been brought so low that he no longer made a struggle for life. He had crawled under the canvas where we found him, and another day of starvation would have placed him beyond the reach of help.

      He remained with us and finished the voyage in the Zodiac. The others whom we had taken on board were distributed in various ships.

      We afterwards learned that but a small fraction of the overland parties ever reached Ochotsk city, though doubtless the poor Russian settlers thought them quite numerous enough. Many gave out exhausted on the road, and some were found dead, who bore unmistakable marks of violence.

      But few relics remained of the Redgauntlet when I again visited the place, on a subsequent voyage, three years afterwards. The fierce storms of Arctic winters had swept nearly all away, and, in some places had changed even the face of the beach. A few pieces of rusty ironwork wore still to be found; and, at some distance inland, a piece of a ship's headboard on which the letters "gaunt" were legible. And near by, more suggestive than aught else, a human skull, with a part of the hair attached, – plaited in a queue, as it is worn by all, high and low, in the Celestial Empire.

. . . .


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: The Fate of the Redgauntlet.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 31, No. 2 (Feb 1870)
Pages: 158-163