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

A Clairvoyant Revelation.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XXXV, No. 5 (May 1872)
pp. 455-459.

A Clairvoyant Revelation. 455

. . . .



      Abel Rowland, my shipmate in the Occident, was a pale, nervous little fellow, who looked like anything else than a sailor; and, indeed, his qualifications in that direction did not much belie his looks. His physical strength was far below that of the average of young men, and the same was true of his powers of endurance. His vision, too, was somewhat impaired, so that he was quite useless for a trick at the mast-head. But, as everyone is good for something, it was found that Abel could steer a capital trick at the wheel; an accomplishment which every seaman can testify, is rather a natural gift than an art to be acquired by practice and experience. The best helmsman among a ship's company is usually some fellow who is good for little else.

      So, as steering was Abel's forte, he was made very useful by being kept at the wheel a large share of the time during his watches on deck. Being a quiet, willing lad, who appeared ever anxious to do his very best, and ever conscious that this wasn't much, he was petted and patronized in a pitying sort of way by his more robust, rough-and-ready shipmates, and rather favored by the officers in matters of duty.

      Mr. Gibbon, the mate, in whose watch Abel was stationed, soon made a discovery which much enhanced the boy's importance in his eyes. Previous to sailing on this voyage, the mate had given much attention to the subjects of animal magnetism and psychology, and had found that he possessed the magnetic power to a high degree. Bestriding his hobby, he had at various times on the outward passage tried experiments upon one and another, but with very indifferent success. I can never think without a hearty laugh of his attempt to mesmerize me; and how elated he was when I, after the most earnest solicitations on his part, consented to submit to his manipulations. I pretended to be yielding gradually to his influence, while he, bringing his face close to mine, put all his strongest spells and passes in requisition. His success, as he supposed it, made him breathless with excitement. He threw his whole soul into the work, and so well did I play my part, that the astute third mate, who was at the time the only spectator, was as completely humbugged as was Mr. Gibbon himself. I finally allowed my eyes slowly to close – as they thought, in unconscious ecstasy – but really because it would be easier for me to preserve my gravity.

      A number more rapid passes after my eyes were shut made assurance doubly sure, and

456 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

the mate, now speaking for the first time, said, triumphantly:

      "I have got him now, solid! He is in the highest mesmeric state, and you may be prepared to see strange results."

      "Do you think I can't wake him?" asked Mr. Brown, the third mate.

      "I don't believe any one can wake him until I am ready for him to come out of it."

      "A deck-bucketful of salt water would do it. I'll bet ye a pound of tobacco on it, sir."

      "I'm very sure it wouldn't; but I don't want you to try it now. It might spoil some experiments that I have in view; and now that I have found the right subject to operate upon, the chance is too precious to be lost."

      "I've heard tell that when a man was magnetized, you might prick him or cut him and he wouldn't feel it at all. Now I don't believe it. I think if I was to jab this roping needle into his leg it would bring him on his feet,"

      I had one corner of my eye open watching, for fear the matter-of-fact old sailor might suit the action to the word. But the threat of the needle was only a feint to divert my attention from his grand flank movement. There was a tin cup of water standing conveniently at hand on the booby-hatch; and just as the mate commenced his catechism by asking, in a solemn tone, "Do you see anything now?" a cold douche struck the back of my neck. It brought me erect with the suddenness of a jack-in-the-box.

      "Yes, I see and feel, too!" I gasped, as the chilling stream trickled down my spine; and as soon as I recovered my breath, joined in the hearty roar of laughter from Mr. Brown. The astonished mesmerist acknowledged himself sold, and reckoned another on his list of failures.

      But nothing daunted, he persevered in operating upon anyone who would humor him; and in Abel Rowland he did indeed find a susceptible "medium." The boy seemed rather to like it, too; and, after a little time, the mate's influence became so completely established over him that a single pass, in connection with an effort of the will, was enough to spellbind the delicate youth. The mate would halt him with a single word as he was passing along the deck, look at him, fix his attention, and – presto! he was off into what old Dan Dennis used to call the "cipher-logical" state, broad awake, but with his acts completely under the sway of Mr. Gibbon's will. I have no taste for metaphysics myself, and cannot go into the philosophy of the thing, or explain how this was brought about (for indeed, who can?); but I know the result as I have repeatedly witnessed it. After getting Abel into this state, he could then, by further operating upon him, put him into a trance, and transport him whither he pleased. By a series of questions he would there draw from him a description of the locality and the various objects passing before his mental vision; which were always true to life, though pertaining to places and things which the lad himself had never seen in his life.

      At that time the new whaling-grounds of the North Pacific were just opened by the daring enterprise of Roys, of Sagharbor, and a few other venturous spirits. The Icy Sea, or "Arctic," was the topic of discussion among all the whalemen we met; and the most fabulous tales were related by those who had made a season up north, of the abundance of monstrous polar whales, and the easy capture of them. "Hurrah for Behring's Strait!" was the universal cry, and our captain in the Occident did not escape the contagion.

      We refitted at Guam, in the Ladrone Group, and pointed her head north, laying a bee-line for the Polar Basin. But being early in the season, the icy barrier stopped our progress long before we gained the latitude of the straits. As no whales were to be met with, there was nothing for us to do but back and fill under easy canvas, waiting for the opening to push further north. Meanwhile, we were by no means alone in this disappointment, there being more or less vessels in sight at all times when the sky was clear enough to see them. Frequent visits were made between the different ships, and the night seldom arrived without bringing company for an evening "gam."

      Among the sources of amusement on such occasions were the mate's experiments upon Abel Rowland, which, being a great novelty to nearly all the seamen of the fleet, were a subject of much wonder and comment. Most of the beholders were inclined to make light of the thing; and, though they did not understand it, dismissed it with alight laugh as "humbug."

      But Captain Arthur of the Manchester became a full convert at the first exhibition, and afterwards lost no opportunity of visiting us, that he might see and hear more. He was led to experiment, with some little suc-

A Clairvoyant Revelation. 457

cess, on board his own ship; but there was no one among the Manchester's crew as susceptible to the mysterious influence as the boy Abel.

      Night after night Mr. Gibbon went through similar performances, the exhibition being more and more satisfactory, until it seemed the medium had been sent to all parts of the world with which either he himself or the operator was acquainted.

      "Try him up in the 'Arctic'" said Captain Arthur, one evening when the mate had announced that he was now in the most perfect clairvoyant state.

      "But neither of us has ever been there."

      "Never mind that. Try it; something new in the science may be discovered."

      Mr. Gibbon took the limp hands of the lad in his own, and seemed to be engaged in an effort to infuse his own soul or spirit into that of the other; while we spectators, from both ships, crowded round them with breathless interest. For at such times the etiquette of discipline was much relaxed, and we were allowed to group in the forward cabin where we could both see and hear, while we were held strictly on our good behavior. It was apparent, from the satisfaction depicted in the mate's face, that he felt the assurance of success, and that he and the boy were quite en rapport with each other.

      The excitement of suspense and of eager interest deepened, until it became an actual strain upon everyone present. Captain Arthur, in particular, seemed to look and listen with his whole body.

      "What do you see now?"

      "The shore, wild and barren – no trees – nothing green upon it."

      "Is it high land?"

      "Yes, quite high inland, but not near the water."

      "What else do you see?"

      "Great fields of white on the water that look like pieces of ice – all along the land – but there is clear water beyond it, between the white and the shore."

      "Now look sharp in the clear water and tell us if you can see anything."

      "Yes – I see – black bunches here and there, like arches, rising out of the water."

      "Do you see any white puffs rise from these black arches?"

      "Yes – I think I do – but I can hardly make them out; the glare of the ice seems to hide them from my eyes, but I can see something very faintly rising."

      "Look sharp now, and tell what more you see."

      "A boat – not like a whaleboat, either. There are men in her paddling. She is very near to one of the black bunches. There goes flukes!"

      "Hurrah!" shouted Captain Arthur, unable to restrain his excitement any longer.

      The silence up to this moment had been painful. The boy's answers had been given in very low tones, and between them one might have heard a pin drop anywhere in the after part of the ship. But when Abel saw the whale's flukes thrown up in air, he sang out lustily, as one might who had made any unexpected discovery.

      There could be no longer a disbeliever in the revelations of psychology. The boy was evidently, in spirit, among the wonderful scenes of the Polar Basin, with the whole grand panorama outspread before his mental vision.

      "Now tell us," said Mr. Gibbon," if there is anything else that strikes your eye. Any landmarks, or remarkable objects – so that you would know the place if you should see it again."

      "Here is a bluff off here," pointing with his left hand, "that comes nearly down to the water, and there is a strange streak slantwise upon it, as if it had been cracked. Right in front of me now – but away inland – is a peak, much higher than any other land, but the whole upper part of it is so covered with snow that I did not at first make it out from the open sky. But now I can get the whole outline of it. It looks awful!"

      The expression in the lad's face showed that he felt what he said. The sublimity of the sight impressed him powerfully. A pass or two of the mate's hand, and a strong effort of the will, took the spell off, and the medium was himself again, though at first tremulous and a little wild, like one recovering from the effects of chloroform, or some other anaesthetic.

      Though the boy had never been "up north," and could, of course, know nothing of the appearance of the locality, or of the peculiar habits of the bowheads, or "steepletop" whales, as they were called, his description tallied exactly with the accounts of those who had made a season to the Arctic. There were only two or three of these veterans present that evening, but they were, if anything, the firmest believers in the exhibition, and one of them even assured us he

458 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

could recognize the locality from Abel's description.

      He remembered nothing afterwards of what he had seen in this clairvoyant state; but, like a man who had been temporarily insane, all that had transpired in the interval was a blank to him. Nor was there anything especially valuable in the information thus obtained. But the whales he had seen had precisely the peculiar appearance of the bowheads, as we afterwards saw them ourselves, and the boat was beyond question an oomiak, such as is used by the Esquimaux of Behring's Strait. His landmarks and other points of description were found exactly correct.

      Whales were found plenty, too, at the described locality; and for a week we had all the work we could attend to, and no time for psychological experiments. But a long period of fog succeeded; and when the sky again cleared, the whales were missing. They had shifted their ground; but in what direction to steer, who could tell? Twenty or more ships were in sight from the masthead, but all, like ourselves, were idle.

      That night the Manchester again closed with us, and Captain Arthur's boat was seen coming, even before his ship had rounded to.

      "Come, Mr. Gibbon!" as soon as he jumped on our deck. "You must try your medium again and get a new departure."

      "But how do you know we can learn anything from him?"

      "Of course you can. You just will that he go where the whales are, and he can't do otherwise than find 'em. Then he can describe the landmarks again, and tell us just how the surroundings look."

      There were several other boats coming to us; for the story of the lad's wonderful power's had got abroad among the fleet, and even the most skeptical in such matters were not insensible to the effects or the natural curiosity which is common to humanity.

      Abel was ready, as indeed he always was, to be operated upon; and, seated in the centre of an eager crowd around the narrow cabin, was soon under the strange magnetic influence – a mere tool in the hands of his master. He described the look of the shore as being much the same as that where the ship was at that moment – but he could see an inlet or creek making up into the land, and by the side of it a native village, or rather encampment, of half a dozen huts; for these people drop their settlement temporarily wherever provisions are most conveniently obtained, and pull up stakes again at a few moments' notice, like the Bedouins of the desert. Here were whales in great numbers, close in shore, and the sea was nearly clear of ice – only a piece here and there. Away on his right, as he pointed his arm, was the snowy peak with the peculiar form; the same which was then in sight from the ships. The locality seen by him must be but a short distance from our position; evidently on the same coast – we being on the American side of the Polar Basin – and not many miles to the northward of our horizon limits.

      "All right," was the satisfied remark from several eager captains. "We can all be there to-morrow if we have any breeze."

      Abel now began to imitate the action of plying a paddle, as if in hot pursuit of a whale, growing more and more excited. Eager eyes watched his every movement, as he continued to work his arms with increased vigor, with his eyes, or rather eyelids, for they were closed, fixed steadily on some object directly ahead of him – rising partially from his chair to give greater swing to the stroke of his imaginary paddle.

      "Are you almost on?" inquired the mate, jokingly.

      "Yes – a few more strokes – now, if he spouts twice more – stand up" –

      He ceased his measured movement and stood, as in a tableau, holding the paddle in both hands. A strange paleness, as of fear, came over his countenance, the hands relaxed, as if dropping the paddle, and with a quick, sharp cry, he threw himself headlong forward to the floor.

      Two or three hands caught at him in time to partially break his fall, or he would have been seriously hurt by dashing his face against the cabin deck. The spell was broken, and he rose to his feet trembling like a leaf, and with a cold perspiration standing upon his forehead.

      After the first excitement of the moment was over, we all laughed at his strange conduct, which could only be attributed to fright; though but a moment before he had seemed eager enough to grapple with the whale, of which he imagined himself to be in pursuit. He had never in his life been "fast," not having been chosen in any boat's crew. There were enough stouter and better men for that service, and Abel had always been left as one of the "ship-keepers."

A Clairvoyant Revelation. 459

      As on the former occasion, he could recall nothing of what he had done or seen while in the clairvoyant state. All was vacancy, from the time he yielded to the spell of the operator until he found himself erect and trembling in the grasp of two or three strong men, without the remotest idea how he came there.

      The company soon after broke up, all the visitors seeking their respective ships, and the first slant of wind next morning was improved to the utmost in our eagerness to get to the northward. Our faith in the clairvoyant medium was not misplaced; for, after passing the next headland, we opened a view of the inlet of which Abel had told us, and the Esquimaux huts grouped near the bank. And before noon we were again among the polar whales, and our boats were down in chase.

      One of Mr. Gibbon’s crew being disabled by a lameness, he ordered his faithful medium into his boat, to pull his after-oar; and Abel seemed ready and eager to embrace this the first opportunity he had found of doing boat duty in chase of a whale. It was a beautiful day for our purpose; the sea nearly clear of ice, and the water almost as smooth and level as an inland pond. For, in the Polar Basin, where the average depth does not exceed twenty or thirty fathoms, there is no long ocean swell, and at times the surface is like a piece of glass; though when the wind blows hard, it raises a short chopping sea, which is especially unpleasant and dangerous.

      The chance fell in favor of the mate’s boat, and as it neared the whale – a vicious-looking bull, of medium size – and it became evident that it would soon be within dart, we, in the other boats suspended our labors, and lay, watching the onset, though ready to grasp our oars as soon as the word "Fast!" should be given. I looked at Abel Rowland, with his eyes fixed upon the monster, half risen from his thwart to ply his paddle, just as I had seen him the night before, and wondered at the lad’s courage, which I thought remarkable for a novice. I heard the order, "Stand up!" given in low but clear tones, and Joaquin, the Portuguese boatsteerer, reared his tall form in the head of the boat, spit in his hands, as he invariably did on such occasions, and took up his first iron with deliberate coolness.

      "He'll have a splendid chance!" said the second mate, with smothered excitement. "Be all ready, boys, to pull ahead!"

      Nearer and nearer – Joaquin drew back his long harpoon for a dart – I heard the word, "Give it to him!" saw the weapon flash to its mark – and all forward of the midship thwart was "white water." But Abel Rowland dropped the paddle – just as I had seen him do in the clairvoyant state – and flung himself, face downward, overboard. We, the boat's crew all saw it – the tragedy, of which his acts on the previous night appeared to be but a rehearsal. The next moment we bent lustily to our oars, not to attack the whale, but to save the struggling crew from the wreck of the boat.

      Her whole broadside had been crushed by a swing of the whale's flukes; but Mr. Gibbon had succeeded in cutting the line, and the whale had disappeared. Four shivering men were assisted into our boat; but neither the boy Abel nor the tail Portuguese Joaquin was ever seen again. The boy, we thought, was not injured, but was so paralyzed with fright, that he sunk just as he fell on the water. The exact manner of Joaquin's death could be only matter of conjecture; but as he was a man of cool courage and resources, and a good swimmer, it is probable that he was struck heavily and stunned. The three oarsmen who sat between the two lost men all escaped without injury.

      I have often heard and read of people having a premonition of death in dreams. I am no spiritualist, or believer in presentiments; but I shall always maintain that Abel Rowland saw a vision of the whole terrible tragedy that befell him and his shipmate, though he could remember nothing of it when in his normal state; and that he had, in fact, rehearsed the scene of his own death the night before it happened.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Clairvoyant Revelation.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 35, No. 5 (May 1872)
Pages: 455-459