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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
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W. H. Macy

Flag of Our Union
(Feb 26, 1870)
p. 142.

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      "Man the mast-heads there!" was the order from the mate of the Statesman, on a clear, bright morning in the tropical latitudes of the Pacific.

      The order was obeyed by those whose turn it was to take the first lookouts of the morning. But the youngster whose station was in the fore to'gallant crosstrees paused a moment in the foretop, and threw a rapid glance round the horizon.

      "Sail on the weather bow!" he reported. "A boat with sail set, coming right at us!"

      The announcement caused a stir at once on deck, and brought not only the captain, but all the watch below, up. The all-important morning duty of washing off decks was suspended for the time being, to gaze upon the unwonted spectacle of a whaleboat alone upon the ocean, coming to board us in the morning, like the veritable barber – Neptune of equatorial notoriety.

      The boat was not more than a couple of miles from us when first discovered, approaching swiftly under the combined power of sail and oars. The captain's telescope was brought to bear, and it was soon ascertained that she had at least a full crew. We backed the maintopsail and hove to, waiting impatiently to know more, and making various shrewd guesses and speculations as to her history and character.

      "A gang of runaways," said one, dogmatically.

      "Don't believe it," returned his neighbor. "Too far from any land."

      "O, that's nothing. Why, when I's in the old Speedy – "

      "They've lowered for whales, and got lost from their ship," suggested another speaker.

      "Ay, that's more likely."

      "The old man makes out eight men in her," said one of the boatsteerers, coming from aft.

      Here was a new phase of the matter, and our theories were blown to the four wind's. Nobody would lower in pursuit of whales with any more than six in a boat: and even deserters, reckless as they are sometimes known to be, would hardly overload for a long sea-voyage.

      "Castaways, of course," was now the unanimous opinion. "Ship foundered or burnt at sea, and some of her boats lost with her."

      But we were not kept long in suspense, for the strangers brought their frail craft alongside as rapidly as oars and canvas could do it, and leaped in on deck. In a few minutes we were in possession of the whole story, a parody on the old one of Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

      The boat contained Captain Watson, his mate and six others, from the bark Newcastle, of Sydney, who had been set adrift the day before, by mutineers. The second mate was at the head of the conspiracy, which had been most artfully planned, and carried into execution while he had charge of the deck. His two superiors had not even the slightest suspicion of anything wrong until they found themselves prisoners in their staterooms.

      It was supposed that McGregor, the new commander, intended to carry the bark down among the Marshall Islands, and there destroy her, taking up his residence among the savages. There were still twenty men on board; but how many or them were actively engaged in the plot, and how many were merely cowed into submission to the new authority, was more than the captain could tell.

      "And how far do you suppose your ship to be from us now?" asked Captain Bent.

      "I have steered west-northwest by compass, as near as I could," said Captain Watson, "and have run, I should judge, about eighty miles. The Newcastle, when I lost sight of her, was by the wind on the northern tack, under easy sail. She ought to bear nearly due east from us."

      "Come below, and let's lay off your course on the chart. I don't know as I can do anything for you, even if should fall in with your ship, but it might be some satisfaction to see her."

      The two captains went into the cabin, and soon the order was passed along to make all sail on a wind. Nothing was seen during the day, and at night we tacked back again. And the first gray light of morning showed us the bark – recognized at once by Captain Watson and his mate as their own vessel – running down across our course.

      "Of course he wont pass near us if he can help it," said Watson.

      "No, I suppose he will avoid us; but I am going to signalize, at any rate. Haul the mainsail up," said Captain Bent, to the officer of the deck, "and set the ensign at the gaff."

      The orders were obeyed, and much to our surprise, the mutineers altered their course a little, with the evident intention of speaking us.

      "What can it mean, that he is so ready to speak a stranger?" was the question that passed from one to another of the group.

      "Now I think of it," said the mate of the Newcastle, "I think I know his object. If he really means to wind up his cruise at one of the Marshall Islands, he will want to make a trade for tobacco and firearms."

      "You've hit it," returned his captain. "That must be McGregor's object. There isn't much tobacco on board, and but little powder. He wants to buy more. Captain Bent, let's you and I have another talk by ourselves," he added, seeming to have conceived some new idea.

      Their conference was short, but, judging from the expression on their faces when they came on deck and took the mates into their conference, it seemed to have been productive of something of importance. The bark's boat, in which the wanderers had been picked up; was placed overhead on the skids, as if she had been one of our own, and a sail thrown over her, that she might not be recognized. The crew were instructed to keep themselves out of sight while the two vessels were communicating.

      "What bark is that?" asked Captain Bent, innocently, after he had given his own name.

      "The Newcastle, of Sydney."

      "Who commands her?"

      "Watson," was the reply.

      "Not just at present," muttered Watson himself, who was crouching in the companionway, so as to hear and see without being seen. "But I hope he may, before night."

      "One of my men had his leg broken yesterday," hailed our captain, "and I would like to get the services of your surgeon."

      "Certainly. I'll come aboard and bring the doctor with me. I wish to see you, to make some trade with you." And with a farewell wave of his trumpet, as the vessel passed out of hearing, he luffed to under our lee and lowered his boat.

      Now the doctor of the Newcastle was at that moment in our own cabin, he having been set adrift in the boat with the captain; but McGregor would of course bring some one to personate the character. This would take seven men from her crew; and it was also certain that he would man his boat with his choice spirits, for if he brought any doubtful or lukewarm ones, they might prattle. We had our instructions, and within five minutes after the seven men stepped on our deck, they had all been decoyed below and quietly secured.

      The boat was veered astern by the warp, and the maintopsail filled on a wind, just as if we had made arrangements for a day's "gam," according to the frequent usage of whaleships on cruising-ground. Of course our partner followed our lead, keeping company with us all day, without the least suspicion. The remainder of our plan to regain possession of the ship could only be carried out under cover of darkness.

      McGregor and his associates in crime were ironed, and placed in the run for safe keeping, where they chafed under confinement, totally unable to help themselves, or to make their situation known to their friends. After dark, we hove to and set a light in the rigging, which was at once answered by another from the Newcastle, as she closed with us and lay under our lee.

      Away went a boat from us in charge of our mate, with a picked crew, while a short distance astern of her followed another, with Captain Watson and his whole party. The ruffian who was in charge of the bark, calling himself mate of her, was amused by the first comers with a story that his captain had made a bargain for a quantity of gunpowder and tobacco, and that our mate had been sent for the money in payment. Suspecting nothing, he invited his visitor below, to drink and enjoy himself a while. Our men managed adroitly to engage the attention of those on deck, and the second boat was almost alongside in the darkness, before her approach had been observed by them.

      The alarm was given by the cry, "Boat ahoy!" but too late. As the touched the side, her crew sprang up to assist ours, forming a superior force with all the advantages of surprise. McGregor's lieutenant was knocked down by our mate in the cabin; the few men who really had any heart in the mutiny were quickly disposed of; and in less than two minutes from the time the boat was hailed, the quarterdeck of the Newcastle was in possession of her former officers.

      McGregor and the other principals in the revolt, still ironed, were carried to Sydney for trial. As our season was up, we kept company with Captain Watson, and made our port there, where we were liberally rewarded by the owners of the recaptured vessel for our share in the business.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: How we Recaptured the Newcastle.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: (Feb 26, 1870)
Pages: 142