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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
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Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Flag of Our Union.
Vol. 25, No. 11 (Mar 12, 1870)
p. 174

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      "Halloo! Who've we got here? A strange sail, I reckon!" said Mr. Rossiter, our first officer, as he came on deck one morning, when we were lying in the Bay of Islands.

      "Don't know, sir, who or what he it," answered Hinds, his boatsteerer: "He's either deaf-and-dumb, or else he is mighty good at shamming it. I've tried him on every tack."

      The "strange sail" referred to was a slender, well-built young man, with a pleasant expression in an unmistakably Irish face, and light brown hair, shingled closely behind. His chin was also destitute of beard, and he was dressed in a well-worn suit of ordinary citizen's garments. He sat, perched up, feet and all, on the windlass-end, with his back against the bitts, staring at vacancy. There was nothing seaman-like about his appearance; it was rather that of is wanderer who had lost his reckoning, and had sat down to speculate how he got there.

      "A runaway soger," muttered the mate, dogmatically. "Can't fool me, you know. Here, my man! this way!" he called out, like one who is in the habit of being obeyed.

      He was to meet an exception to the rule in this case, for the person addressed gave no sign that he even heard the other.

      "D'ye hear, there?" demanded Mr. Rossiter, advancing towards him. "Come aft!"

      But he was obliged to walk up to the stranger, and put his hand on his shoulder, before he could extort from him anything like consciousness. Then a pair of honest blue eyes were turned so as to look appealingly in the mate's face.

      Look here, my friend," said Mr. Rossiter, firmly, and yet not unkindly, "don't try to humbug old birds with chaff. I've seen just such chaps as you before. Between you and me, now, what regiment do you belong to?"

      "The sixty-fifth infantry, sir," answered the young man, seeming to have suddenly changed his tactics, to throw himself, Napoleon-like, upon the generosity of those in whose power he was.

      "Of course," returned the mate. "Why, there's the corner of your boiled-lobster jacket peeping out of your little bundle there, under the windlass. But I didn't need so much as that. Did you think I couldn't spot a man that has just run from the British army, where every drum-boy is obliged to scrape his face once in twenty-four hours, whether he has any beard or not? I can tell him by the very polish of his jowls and chin."

      "But yon wouldn't give me up, sir, I hope! It you would, I have much mistaken the character of American seamen. Or, I should rather say, I have been much misinformed about them

      "Well – you see – there's two sides to that matter. Now, if you hadn't been green to our ways – if you had been a sailor yourself, instead of a soger, you wouldn't have shown yourself to me at all. You'd have gone straight into the forecastle, and the first man you spoke to would have clapped yon under the fore-peak-scuttle, or in some other snug berth."

      "But I thought it better to state my case to the officer in charge. It's the more honest way."

      "Ay, but not the safest for you. In spite of the copies in our school writing-books, honesty isn't always the best policy in any particular case, though I don't know but the saying may be true in the long run. You see it would never do for an officer, especially in the sight and hearing of all his crew, to help a stowaway, or to let on that he knew anything about the business. It might get the ship into trouble with the authorities."

      "And what do you mean to do with me, sir?" asked the young man, anxiously, picking up his bundle. "I would as soon die as be sent back into the service. I shall be flogged without mercy, as I have already been, and for a very trifling offence, I assure you."

      "I shall nor trouble myself to hunt up your regiment, to deliver you up. But I must set you ashore at once, before the captain comes, or it will be my duty to report the case to him. I'm not supposed to know that you're a deserter, you know. You are simply a strange man found on board, that doesn't belong here, and isn't on the articles. By the way, I haven't asked yet, how did you get here?"

      "I came under the bows in a small canoe, with a single Maori, sir. I hired him to bring me."

      "At what time was this'?"

      "Just before daylight, sir,"

      "You knew enough, then, to choose the sleepy hour, it seems. Who had the morning watch?" he demanded, aloud.

      "I did, sir," answered Abel Morse, a Connecticut youth, rather sheepishly.

      "What kind of a lubberly anchor watch do you keep? To let boats come in the night and board us over the knight-heads? Here, Hinds, take a crew in the boat, and set this youngster ashore. Right in here, on this point abeam of us."

      "And, hark'ee, friend," said he, in an aside to the stranger, "when you board another ship in the dark – or this one, either – don't sham dummy, nor don't report yourself to the mate. I don't care if the whole British army is barracked in the fore-peak, but I mustn't know it before the ship is in blue water."

      "What sort of a man is that officer of yours?" asked the deserter of me, after we had pulled out of hearing.

      "Are you puzzled what to make of him?" said I, laughing.

      "Yes. His duty seemed to lie one way, and his inclination another."

      "Just so," said I. "He's a whole-souled man, is Mr. Rossiter, as sailors estimate one. If he had known you were coming aboard, he would have shut his eyes."

      "He almost as good as told me so, if I can understand his hints. Where are you going to land me?" he asked, raising his head from where he had been crouched down out of view in the bow of the boat.

      "I'm going up a short piece from the end of the point. so you can slip ashore and right into the bush," said Hinds. "Be ready now for a dart."

      "And if you come aboard again in my anchor-watch," added Abel Morse, "and find me napping, wake me up. If you had done so, you'd have been all right, and I too. 'Cause I'd have stowed you away; and Mr. Rossiter wouldn't have known that I had been warming my eye."

      "Thank you. Thank you, boys. all!" he answered, as he took his leave. "I'11 be wiser next time: if I get another chance like that. And I will, sooner or later," he added, with tears of bitter disappointment. "I'll be rid of this cursed service, one way or the other – I'll either escape or be flogged to death."

      "Can you get your canoe and Maori again?" whispered Abel.

      "Yes. He's my true friend, and will help me at any time when I want him."

      "You know a signal-lantern when you see it? Come down on this point to-night, between ten and twelve, and keep your eye peeled. If you see a light, just for a minute, the coast is clear."

      He wrung all our hands affectionately, and darted away ont of view.

      We had been four days at sea, and had reeled off several hundred miles on our course towards the equator. While Mr. Rossiter was overseeing the duty of washing off decks in the morning, a cry was heard from aloft, not according to the orthodox formula, "There she blows!" but, "Here's a whale, off here!"

      "Whereaway?" roared the mate, eagerly.

      "Right off here, sir!" He looked upward and saw a man sitting on the foretop-gallant yard, pointing with his arm outstretched to leeward.

      The cry was taken up now by the other mast-headmen, and in the stir and excitement consequent upon the discovery that it was a large spermaceti, the mate had no time to comment upon the awkward manner in which he had been "raised." But when the monster lay secured in the fluke-chain along-side, the richest prize we had taken for months, he found leisure to make the enquiry, addressed generally to all hands:

      "Who raised this whale?"

      "Lawrence. sir," I answered, happening to be near at the moment.

      "Lawrence? Who's he?"

      "Lawrence Doyle, sir, the new man who joined us at the Bay of Islands."

      "I don't know any such man. Where is he?"

      I went forward and called him. "Go aft, Lawrence," said I, "and don't fear any of them now. The old man wont put back to port to give you up, never fear,"

      "Ah. my lad! it's you, is it?" said Mr. Rossiter, recognizing him at once. "So you can take a hint, I see: and you've made a sure thing of it this time, by keeping snug till you got a broad offing. Well, you've begun well with your mast-head duty. and you shall lose nothing by that. Turn to, now, with the rest, and I'll make it all right with the old man."

      He was as good as his word, for I overheard him saying to Captain Barnes:

      "He's a green hand, to be sure; but there's the makings of a smart fellow in him, or I'm no judge. He's too good stuff for a soger, anyhow. Anything's good enough to fill up the army, and he's raised a big whale a'ready; that's something for a raw hand to do."

      A sharp-sighted, or more properly quick-eyed man is always a jewel in the estimation of the genuine old whaleman. His success in seeing the first "spout" of the season, entitled him to the contents of the "bounty-bag," which continued quite a treasure in the way of slops and tobacco, as also a few dollars in money. He had taken his first lessons in climbing the rigging during the night-watches, unknown to the officers. And thus Lawrence Doyle became my shipmate; and the captain and mate taking a liking to him, he was regularly shipped, so far as it could be done at sea, with a "lay" against his name.

      His name and his features bespoke him an Irishman, but there was little or no brogue to his speech, and he had been well educated. Brutal treatment, the evidence of which was written in indelible characters upon his back, had driven him to desert. He had found himself on board our ship without any defined plan of proceeding, and a wayward impulse had induced him to pass himself, at first, as a deaf mute. A most difficult part to play; and one which, if successful, might indeed excite pity, but would have caused us to get rid of him as soon as possible.

      The prediction of Mr. Rossiter proved true, that Lawrence had the material in him of which to make a sailor. His progress was very rapid, and at the end of the cruise, no one would have ventured to class him as a green-hand. We, his shipmates, had learned to esteem him for his many good qualities, and he stood high in the opinion of all on board, both forward and aft.

      Captain Barnes found it necessary, in consequence of business engagements, to make our port again at the Bay of Islands the next year. Lawrence was in great fear lest he might be recognized, though his appearance was much altered by the growth of his hair and incipient beard. He was very careful how he showed himself on shore, at first; but we soon learned that the regiment to which he bad belonged had been relieved by another during our absence. This fact much diminished the chances of detection. Still, there were many civilians in the port who might be able to recognize him, and it behooved our deserter to be on his guard.

      A customhouse official had been quartered upon us, according to the custom of the British colonial ports, to see that we did not smuggle a pound of tobacco ashore now and then, or sell any gunpowder or worthless flint-lock muskets to the Maories. Our soldier-shipmate knew this Grayson well enough; but, perceiving that he was not recognized by him, became quite confident while on board, the only precaution taken being to address him as Tom, which all hands were careful to remember.

      But one day, Abel Morse, in the hurry of the moment, forgot his lesson. Turning suddenly to call some one to help him, he sung out, "Here Lawrence! – Tom, I mean – give us a lift here!" He blushed at his slip of the tongue; but, looking about him, saw no reason to believe that any harm had been done.

      But I happened, at the moment, to be looking directly at the revenue officer, who stood within easy hearing, though hidden from Morse's view behind the mainmast. I saw his face light up suddenly, and noted his earnest glance at Lawrence. The mistake would have perhaps compromised no one, but for the fact of its having been so hurriedly rectified, and the confused look of the speaker, as well as of Lawrence himself.

      But if Grayson had any suspicions, he kept his own counsel, and soon after walked away aft, whistling, and went slowly down into the cabin. I hastened to put my shipmates on their guard by telling them what I had observed. Abel was ready to bite his own tongue off for vexation.

      I'm afraid, Lawrence," said be, "that I've got you in a worse scrape than you did me when you first came aboard in my anchor-watch. I forgot myself for an instant: but I am ready to do anything – lie for you, or fight for you, if necessary, to get you out of it."

      "It was another green thing that you did, Lawrence," said I, "giving us your true name when you should have kept it secret, and sailed under false colors."

      "Another illustration of Mr. Rossiter's doctrine," he answered, "that honesty isn't always the best policy."

      "Just so. I'm afraid Grayson has, got a clue. For as Lawrence was your name here in the barracks, it is, of course, the name by which the hue-and-cry was raised when they were hunting for you, and is known to all in the port. And besides, it will occur at once to his recollection that this ship was here at that time, and that the authorities searched her though without success."

      "Was Grayson stationed on board then?" be asked.

      "No; old bandy-legs – as we called him – Scott, had our ship;, but Grayson had another, moored close by us, and, of cours, will remember all the circumstances."

      I thought we could not do better than to relate the facts and our own fears to Mr. Rossiter; which was accordingly done. The mate entered into our feelings, heart and soul, and promised to have a sharp eye on the revenue officer.

      Lawrence did not go where with us at sundown, when the boat was sent for the liberty-men. As we were pushing off, Grayson brought a sealed note to Hinds, with a request that he would deliver it to the keeper of the "Prince Albert," a public house near the landing. The mate, at the same moment, looked over his shoulder and gave us the wink. intimating that he was acquainted with its contents, and that it was not to reach its destination.

      As soon as we passed out of sight of the ship the letter was opened. It was directed to the chief of police at Korarika, and read:

      "I have reason to believe that Lawrence Doyle, who deserted from the sixty-fifth a year ago, is among this ships crew. I am almost sure of it; but you know him better than I, and also what steps to take. He is called Tom by his shipmates.

"Yours,                  R. Grayson."     

      We did not hesitate to destroy the note: though this war but postponing the matter, and gaining a little time. The revenue officer appeared to be looking impatiently all the next day for something which did not come; probably the police-boat from Korarika. He could not go on shore himself, for, as custodian of her majesty's revenue, he was forbidden to leave his post tor a single hour. Captain Barnes came on board with his papers at night, the ship being ready to go to sea next morning; and now, if ever, he was expected to do his duty, and be on the alert until the ship should be fairly under sail and heading down the bay.

      The search-boat came alongside while we were heaving short on our chain, but the chief of police was not present in person. His subordinates did their duty, or went through the forms, the search being never very rigid except in cases where some soldier was missing. But Grayson now found his opportunity to confer with the policemen, and to ask why the contents of his despatch to their chief had not been attended to.

      They, of course; knew nothing of what he meant. But while the mutual explanations were going on, a cry was raised "Where's Tom?," It passed from month to mouth; there was a bustle and hurried conference among us at the windlass, and soon Mr. Rossiter hurried aft with a report that we had lost a man by desertion. One was missing at the eleventh hour.

      "Who is it?" demanded the captain, angrily.

      "Tom, sir."

      "Why, that's the man that I suspect," whispered Grayson to the police.

      "One of my crew is missing," said Captain Barnes, "and by the strict rules of the port, I suppose I am bound to make an effort to get him again, and to offer a reward; but I hope it wont ho necessary to detain me, for I am very anxious to get to sea to-day."

      "By the way, it's the man who joined us here a year ago," put in Mr. Rossiter, as if to remind the captain of the fact.

      "Yes, we found him on board after we were at sea, and it was too late to turn back. I have always suspected that he might be an army-deserter."

      Grayson and the police were swallowing all this with greedy ears. Visions of the reward for the apprehension of Lawrence swam before their eyes.

      "There'll be no need to detain your ship in this case, captain," said one of the police officers. "I'll tell you what I think would be well for you to do. Suppose you go to sea, and then stand in off the month of the harbor, say three or four days hence; that is the surest way to get your man, as he will show himself as soon as he feels certain the ship is gone"

      "A very good idea," answered the captain, rubbing his hands in keen enjoyment. "I'll do it! Heave away, Mr. Rossiter, and take your anchor."

      All parties appeared well content with this manner of proceeding. The police had no doubt of their ability to capture Lawrence Doyle if he were left on shore, and thus secure the queen's bounty-money. And they reserved the chance of a reward from Captain Barnes, in case the man proved not to be Doyle, for he would have been sent on board at the reappearance of the ships off the harbor.

      On the other hand, we had thrown dust in their eyes and got rid of them neatly. As soon as all the "landsharks" had left, and we were running seaward, the piles of old rigging and lumber were tumbled off the top of the tryworks, the caboose-cover lifted, and Lawrence released from his voluntary prison in one of the try-pots. We had stowed him away there, moving and replacing all the coils of rope and old junk during the previous night, while Grayson lay quietly sleeping in the cabin. And that officious worthy never knew, until we were well at sea, that the chief of police had not received his letter. And while he was storming in impotent rage at the trick, Lawrence had quietly resumed his old place among us, and Mr. Rossiter was waking the echoes along the shore with his stentorian laughter.

      The runaway is now Captain Rossiter's first officer, and as good a Yankee as any manufactured one; a better one, even, than many "to the manner born." And who that knows Lawrence Doyle now, for be still bears his true name, would believe that be ever wore a red jacket and a "choker" in the queen's army?


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: My Soldier-Shipmate, Lawrence.
Publication: Flag of Our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 25, No. 11 (Mar 12, 1870)
Pages: 174