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

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LI, No. 1 (Jan 1880)
pp. 46-53.

46 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.



      "Uncle Paul, what does this all mean?" I asked, reading aloud from the newspaper. "It says: –

      "'The bark Gem, arrived yesterday from the Pacific Ocean, has had a very long passage, and seven of her crew are down with the scurvy.'"

      "'What does it mean?' you ask?" said the veteran whaler with a sad kind of energy in his tone. "Ah, boy! it's well I ought to know what it means. I have been through shipwreck, capture by an enemy's cruiser, storms, fights with savages, and even famine, in the course of my wanderings; but the saddest and darkest time that I ever saw on the ocean was when the scurvy had hold of us, in the voyage that I was on in the old Cyrus."

      "It's a disease, then, I suppose," said I inquiringly.

      "Ay, boy, and a fearful one it is. I was but a boy myself when in the Cyrus, but I shall never forget that fatal cruise on the Off-Shore Ground. And it was all the fault of the captain for not making port and taking in fresh vegetables, as he ought to, but feeding us on salt provisions too long, and, more than all, compelling us to drink bad water. The disease is not so common on board ship now-a-days, indeed, it is very rare that a ship arrives with her crew in that condition that you were reading about, down with the scurvy. But when I was making my earlier voyages, forty years ago, it was very common both in whalers and in merchant vessels making very long passages.

      "The early discovery ships, indeed nearly all of them before the days of Cook, were frightfully scourged with this disease, and lost a great many of their men."

      "But is there no cure for it, Uncle Paul?"

      "There's no cure for it but contact with the land. But there are some things that will relieve it, or stave it off, and the chief among them are fruit and vegetables. There's an old saying that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,' and it is especially true in respect to this dreadful disease. If a good stock of vegetables and fruits are laid in as sea stores, and properly used, there is no danger of scurvy on a cruise of ordinary length, – six or seven months.

      "There is some little virtue in other things, such as vegetable acids, and all English vessels on long voyages are required,by Act of Parliament, to carry lime-juice, and to serve it out to the men; but these things are looked upon as something to help in preventing or keeping away the scurvy, rather than to cure it after it appears. If it once gets a good hold on a ship's crew, there is no salvation but to make for the nearest land as fast as canvas will carry you there, and turn all hands ashore."

      "Tell us the story, uncle, about your cruise in the Cyrus?"

      The old man was nothing loth, indeed he was always ready with a yarn about his ocean adventures in early life, which I was at all times equally ready to hear. I did not, at that time, understand all the nautical phrases, but my own later experience at sea had enabled me to put his story into the same shape as it was when related by him.

      "It must have been, let me see, in the year 1830, that we sailed in the Cyrus for a sperm-whaling voyage on the Pacific. I had made one short cruise in a brig, whaling in this ocean, and I thought myself something of a salt, though I was not yet out of my teens. Daniel Brooker, who commanded the Cyrus, was rather a rough man, even for those rough times, and had the reputation of being mean, even in those days when sailors were not, as a rule, in danger of being over-fed. But he had always been pretty lucky and was a crack man in the estimation of his employers, the more so as he managed his voyages with the smallest possible expense. We touched at the island of Flores, one of the Azores, and then proceeded on our trip round Cape Horn, taking two or three whales on the passage out.

      "We made our voyage to the Pacific without accident, and ran down the coast, making our next land-fall at Payta Head on the coast of Peru. Here we only lay off and on, getting a few vegetables, but these amounted to nothing compared with the liberal scale of recruiting ships in these later days. We had no runs ashore, either, and instead of going to Tumbey for water, as we ought to have done, for no water is to be got at Payta, we ran for another place on the Peruvian coast, called Cape Pasados, where we dug holes in the ground but a short distance from the beach, and filled our casks with the water that flowed into these hasty wells. The water was quite brackish,

Scurvy. 47

      but Captain Brooker insisted that it was quite good enough for him, and I wouldn't dispute it, for I think it was even better than he deserved; but it certainly was not fit for any decent man to drink for a steady beverage on a long cruise at sea.

      "Well, we put away for the whaling ground among the Galapagos group, and there learned of the shipwreck of the English whaler, Lancashire, and that her crew were adrift on one of the islands.

      "A few days later, we fell in with the Jasper, having a part of the ship-wrecked crew, and as none of the whalers on the ground wished to leave their season's work to go back to the coast, the men were distributed round, a few in each vessel. Thus it came about that we took in three Englishmen, and, strangest of all, a young lady. For, in those days, the custom of whaling skippers taking their wives or daughters to sea with them had not been heard of, and an America or English woman was, indeed, a strange phenomenon in Pacific waters.

      "Maggie Harding was the daughter of the captain of the Lancashire, and, being motherless and the only child, was, as it might be, alone with her father in the world. As his business would not allow him to stay on shore with her, he had taken her to sea with him on two or three long voyages, and the girl had become quite a sailor, while she knew very little of those things which occupy most of the attention of young ladies in general.

      "She was, at the time I first knew her, about nineteen years old, and had come out as stewardess in the Lancashire. But Captain Harding had been killed by a whale, leaving Maggie an orphan under these strange circumstances, and his mate who succeeded to the command of the ship, had proved intemperate and reckless, and, a few days later, ran the ship upon a rock, where, as before said, she became a total loss.

      "As we expected to make our next port at Valparaiso, where there was an English consul, it was thought best that Maggie should take her chance in our ship, and she was accordingly transferred from the Jasper to the Cyrus, Captain Brooker fitting up a very small state-room for her use in the cabin, though our old craft had no very convenient accommodations for lady passengers.

      "But Maggie Harding had been used to roughing it, and could adapt herself to any circumstances, while at the same time she never lost her hold of a certain ladylike refinement which seemed natural to her. She was very intelligent, and had made the most of her opportunities, though her education, from the nature of her life, had been of a desultory kind. The loss of her father, the only near relative she had known from infancy, had been a severe shock to her, but, as might be expected, she had thoroughly learned the lesson of self-reliance, and felt a confidence that she could fight her own way in the world, if she could get back to England, where Captain Harding had left some little means invested.

      "We did not meet with much luck on the Galapagos cruising-ground, and the old man soon after determined to work to the westward and southward, and try our fortunes on the 'Off-Shore Ground,' as it was called, where great fares of sperm oil had been taken. Here we were quite successful, and as whale after whale was taken, he seemed to become more and more avaricious, and lingered for still another and another hundred barrels, despite the remonstrance of Mr. Worth, the chief mate, who warned him of the danger of scurvy, dwelling especially on the fact that we were drinking brackish water.

      "'Oh, don't borrow trouble,' said the old man. 'The water is good enough, and we can stand it well enough for a while yet. If we should see any signs of scurvy we'll just shove her out into the variables, and it don't take long to fetch Talcahuano, or perhaps Caster Islands.'

      "'But you must remember,' suggested Mr. Worth, 'that we are nearly nine months out from home now and the men have had no run ashore.'

      "'That's nothing,' returned the skipper. 'When I was in the old Improvement, we never anchored until we were out from home more than twelve-months, and had her voyage two-thirds made.'

      "'But you lost several of your crew on that same voyage, didn't you?' again inquired Mr. Worth.

      "'Well, yes, we did lose some; but I guess we shall be all right this time. I want to stay on the ground another week, anyhow, and you know we've got a sixty full of potatoes in molasses that we put up at Flores in view of this very purpose. When we need 'em we'll hoist out the cask and serve 'em out to all hands.'

      "'When we need 'em, you say, sir? If they were to do any good at all, we needed 'em long ago. I wouldn't give a button for all that they will do after the scurvy makes its appearance.'

      "Well, well, don't borrow trouble,' grumbled the old man, as he went below.

      "'But I'm much afraid the trouble I dread will come to us, whether it is borrowed or not,' muttered Mr. Worth, as he resumed his walk fore and aft the quarter deck.

      The next day we took a large whale, and while boiling the oil, the first unmistakable signs of disease made their appearance. One

48 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

of the two Tahite Kanackas exhibited his gums, showing an appearance which the mate declared to be scorbutic, spite of the pretended careless laugh of Captain Brooker, and before the week had passed, two or three others of the crew had strange swellings of the legs, which is a symptom in some cases, for there is considerable difference in the manner of first developing itself.

      "The old man affected to pooh-pooh the whole business; but, nevertheless, when sun-down came, he did not order sail shortened, as usual, but carried all three top-gallant sails on the southern tack.

      "I heard Mr. Worth say to the second mate at the hour of relieving the watch, that night: –

      "'We are bound for port now, sure; and I only hope and pray it may not be too late.'

      "The next morning the sixty of preserved potatoes was hoisted up from the after-hold, and the captain began to distribute them, a few to each man; but they were not allowed full swing at the liquor, as they would have desired. The tubers had been put in just as they came from the earth, and then the cask filled up with molasses. It was then kept on deck with the bung-hole open until the first fermentation was over before being bunged up and stowed away. When we came to open it, several months afterward, the liquid was more like dark wine or brandy than it was like the original molasses.

      "It was not unpleasant to drink, and possessed strong alcoholic properties, so that if Jack could get a strong dose of it he would be pretty sure to get drunk. A very small quantity was served out to each man, and we were cautioned to be very sparing in the use of salt meat. All was well enough, as far as it went, but Mr. Worth continued to shake his head dubiously, glancing to windward and then up at the sails, as the old Cyrus went struggling on, sharp-hauled upon the port tack, making what way she could; but she was rather a strong sailer than a fast one, – one of those old ships that will go a great distance in a long time.

      "But the disease did not develop very rapidly, and two weeks passed by, during which there seemed to be no great increase of danger.

      "There were a few more cases of swelling, and several men had discolored and bleeding gums; but these things, though they tended to produce a feeling of general uneasiness and anxiety, did not cause any immediate alarm.

      "We strove hard against anything like despondency, and managed to keep up our spirits tolerably well. The old man ordered the cook every night to bring up his fiddle, and encouraged all hands to join in the dance, saying that a jolly state of mind was worth more than the whole contents of the medicine chest to keep away the scurvy by keeping away the blues.

      "There is, no doubt, some virtue in cheerfulness, but it required more than the fiddle and the dance, with the potato grog thrown in, to save us from the dreadful consequences of Captain Brooker's penuriousness, and the reckless disregard of the obligation which belongs to every ship-master, to care for the lives and health of those under his charge.

      "We had arrived in the latitude of Easter Island, and, as the wind had favored us, we were going to pass it without altering our course to make the land. Mr. Worth, procuring from the day's observation that such was the fact, thought the old man must be mad to run so great a risk, and accordingly remonstrated. We were running a little free, with the fore-top-mast studding-sail set to help her, and by keeping away a little, might easily have got sight of the island that night. But Brooker had another of his odd fits on, and seemed determined on obstinacy, even at the risk of suicide.

      "'I can't bother about Easter Island now,' he added curtly. 'I shall be up to the coast of Chili in a few days, and can take my choice of Tacahuano or Valparaiso.'

      "'But we are in the variables now,' remonstrated the mate, 'and can't depend upon the weather from one hour to another. Suppose the wind heads us?'

      "'Then we'll put back to Easter Island,' returned the old man. 'It'll be time enough to think of going there when we can't do better.'

      "'And if we get becalmed, God help us!' said Mr. Worth fervently. 'Captain Brooker, I have always made a point of respecting my superior officer, but if you keep the ship on this course without stopping, when you know there is salvation for us all under our lee, I shall consider you no better than a murderer, if such circumstances follow as I fear. Why, Captain, are you mad? you may die of scurvy yourself! in which case it will be both murder and suicide.'

      "'I'll take my chance of that,' was the dogged reply. 'I'm not going to bother with these savages, when I've got a wind that I can go to the coast of Chili in a few days. Perhaps,' he continued with a sneer, 'you'd like to call all hands together and make an appeal against my authority, eh?'

      "'Indeed, I had no thought of doing anything of the kind,' the mate answered, 'though I don't know but that I should be justified in doing so. I only hope you may be right in your judgment, and that we may

Scurvy. 49

reach port in a few days, but I am inclined to fear the worst.'

      "I had listened anxiously to all the conversation, for I happened to be at the helm, and the little skylight being open, voices in the cabin were plainly audible. I saw the mate come out of the companionway, and hold a quiet conference with Mr. Coleman, the second mate, near the mainmast, and both appeared to be very earnest, though their faces and gestures expressed more of sorrow than of anger. I heard the tones of a gentle, pleading voice come up at the skylight, and I bent forward and listened intently to catch the words. It was the young English girl, doing her best to shake the captain's mad resolution. She told of what she had seen in her experience on a previous voyage; but the old man answered that this sort of thing was no news to him, for he had seen plenty of it himself.

      "The more reason, then, she thought, why he should heed the warnings of Mr. Worth, which she had overheard, though she did not, herself, profess any knowledge of the ship's position, or of the chances of the wind continuing fair to reach the coast. But the captain had his obstinate mood heavily upon him, and would take no warning or advice. To get rid of the subject, he rose to go on deck.

      "'After all, Miss Harding, what do you care? you needn't be afraid of the scurvy, for it isn't three months since you left Tumbez in the Lancashire.'

      "'I know it well,' said Maggie, 'and it is not for myself that I speak. I am thinking only of the lives of your own men. If I were quite selfish I should certainly say nothing, for, so far as I am interested personally, my anxiety is to reach Valparaiso as quickly as possible. Your men are in great danger, that I know; and you may be in great danger yourself.'

      "'I'll risk it,' he answered. 'I've got the wind now, and I'm bound for Valparaiso. I can't bother.'

      "He came on deck and ordered the yards squared in a little more by the weather braces, so that we could get the lower studding-sail upon her, for the wind was veering aft, and away sped the old Cyrus, making eight knots an hour, which was wonderful speed for her.

      "But a speed of eighteen knots would not have satisfied my impatience or quieted my fears, for I could not get rid of the feeling, in common with Mr. Worth and others, that a fatal mistake had been made, and that a dreadful disaster was impending over us.

      "I already had a touch of the dreadful malady myself, in the form of swollen and bleeding gums, and I thought I perceived a gradual change for the worse in the case of Kanacka Harry, the first man who was attacked.

      "All the night and through the next day, we kept her on the same course, and the breeze had gradually died away until at sundown it was nearly calm. We were now a long way to the southeast of Easter Island, and our hearts sank within us at the thought that we had thrown away our last chance of relief if calms or foul wind should prevent us from getting on toward the coast. The old man looked grave and evidently realized the fatal risk he had run, but he would not yet acknowledge it. But the catastrophe was to begin even sooner than any of us had anticipated.

      "That evening, during the first watch, Joe Randolph, the carpenter, was seized with a severe pain in the chest, and one of his watchmates came up and called Mr Worth, reporting the fact. The mate went down into the steerage, examined the man, and asked a quiet question or two. He went and brought something from the medicine chest in the cabin; I don't know what it was, nor did he seem to think it mattered much what he gave the patient whom he knew to be doomed. The poor carpenter continued to grow worse, the pain in his chest became more intense, and he was choking for breath. The captain was called, and came on deck, not in the best of humors at being disturbed just after he had turned in.

      "'What is the trouble, Mr. Worth?' he asked, rather gruffly.

      "'The carpenter is sick, sir. Taken suddenly, half an hour ago.'

      "'Well, what ails him?'

      "'Scurvy,' was the answer, not loudly given, but in a deep, impressive tone that made me shiver as I overheard it. 'He has the most fatal symptoms, sir, and he won't last many hours.'

      "The old man came down the steerage ladder, and we moved aside that he might approach the bunk and look upon the dying man.

      "The look was a brief one, but enough to satisfy him that his mate had spoken the truth. He appeared to take in the whole situation, but, controlling himself in the presence of his crew, he turned and slowly ascended the steps again to the deck. I followed near enough to hear him say: –

      "'The carpenters going, – God have mercy on his soul! That's the seventeenth man that I have seen dying with that accursed disease.'

      "'The more shame,' put in the mate, 'that with your experience you should have run the risk of killing, perhaps, seventeen more. Had we altered our course yesterday morning, one good man's life might have been saved, and God knows how many oth-

50 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

ers. A barrel of yams fresh from the soil would have done the business. But it's too late now, and I ask your pardon, sir; it is no time for reproaches. There's a little air stirring, but it's coming from the southeast and ahead.'

      "'Keep her before it, then, and get all the stern sails on her. We may be able to work back to the island.'

      "But the little breeze did not last an hour, before we were again becalmed.

      "We had, indeed, got into the variables, and those of the meanest kind, what sailors call the doldrums.

      "The carpenter expired in great agony at about daylight in the morning, and in the afternoon of the same day the Kanacka also passed away, though with different symptoms, seeming to sink gradually into a stupor.

      "The death of these two men had the most dreadful effect upon all the rest who had begun to be more or less affected with the malady; and, indeed, a panic had taken possession of every one, fore and aft the ship, though it was not shown in any noisy outbreak. The mate did his best, by a great display of courage and cheerfulness, to neutralize the reign of terror, but the calms, and shifting, uncertain winds, kept us boxing about without gaining much on our course toward either place of salvation that we desired to reach, and there was nothing in store for us but death and despair.

      "The next victim was Alf Raymond, a Nantucket boy, and a great favorite, he having been seized in the same manner as the carpenter, with that frightful pain in the chest, and seeming gradually to choke to death; and the fourth was the remaining Tahaitian, known on the books only as Isaac. Scarcely a man but was now suffering with scurvy in some form, though the cases differed much in manner of outward development.

      "The most valuable part of our crew now was composed of the English seamen from the wreck of the Lancashire, who were comparatively fresh from port, and did not fear the malady, and the young girl, Maggie Harding, who was everywhere among the sick, providing such little knick-knacks as the ship afforded, though we boasted not much in the way of delicacies, cheering the most despondent by her words of interest, and doing those little things that only woman knows how to do, until her sweet face seemed to us like that of some good angel sent for our especial deliverance. It was one gleam of sunshine through the gloom of our sad thoughts, that this lovely girl, at least, was safe from the terrible fate hanging over all of us who had been so long at sea.

      "Deeper and deeper settled down upon the stricken ship and crew the dreadful atmosphere of disease and mortal terror, which no words can describe. One day the fickle wind promised to waft us toward Valparaiso, but the next it shifted or fell away, and we were trying to make our way back to Easter Island, but only to be again disappointed, and thus plunged deeper into despair. We had given up all show of standing tricks at the masthead to look for whales, but much of the time a man was aloft on the lookout for a passing sail, and as we grew weaker, and mustered less and less in number, that duty fell chiefly upon the three English seamen.

      "As often as every third or fourth day, the angel of death stopped and took one from among us. And now those who died were dropped into the sea with hardly a semblance of the decent rites of burial, a point upon which sailors are usually quite as scrupulous as the best of people on shore. Francisco and Antone, two young Portuguese from Flores, Jack Wiley, the mate's boat-steerer, who was the giant of our ship's company, generally spoken of as Hercules, young Squirer from Connecticut, and the black cook, were each successively passed over the side, while we, their shipmates, had scarcely a tear to shed for them, so entirely were we absorbed with our own sufferings, and crazed with nervous fear. Now and then one would have the hardihood to ask the question, 'Whose turn will come next?' but the only answer to such a query were looks of reproach from his shuddering shipmates.

      "The potatoes from the small cask had all been devoured, without any perceptible good effect, but a part of the liquid drawn off from them had been taken into the cabin, and kept out of our reach; for now there was a ravenous desire in every man's mind to get enough of it to make himself drunk, and so forget his misery. The salt provisions went begging, for some could not eat them, and the rest with one solitary exception, dared not, fearing that they might thus hasten the progress of the disease.

      "The brackish water, filled at Cape Pasados, had become nauseating to me, but we had none better, and were forced to drink it, mixing it with molasses, or a dish of the potato grog when we could get it.

      "I have said there was one exception in the matter of eating salt meat, and this was a stout, jolly fellow from the State of Maine, named Tom Waldron. Tom was an eccentric, harum-scarum fellow, who did everything by contraries, and he seemed determined to be just as contrary in his treatment of scurvy as he had in all other matters. He had the meat-kid almost entirely to himself now, and stuffed himself to repletion with the choicest cuts from the bovine ma-

Scurvy. 51

hogany, which we called 'old horse,' and the fattest slices of salt pork he enjoyed with the keenest relish.

      "'I don't pretend that I am scurvy proof,' said Tom, 'by any means. I may die of scurvy, but I vow I won't die of starvation. One might as well die by the edge of the sword as by famine. We never got any too much to eat in the days when we were well, and now I am going to make up for lost time!'

      "Yet, strange to say, this man, living in sheer defiance of all rules, and against all remonstrances, showed no symptoms of scurvy, and he, Mr. Worth, and the three English sailors from the Lancashire, were the only effective men in the ship, who held out to the end.

      "And where do you think Captain Brooker was all this time? Although by his obstinacy and bravado he had brought us into this dreadful trouble, he was, after the danger became imminent, the most abject coward to be found on board the Cyrus. The disease appeared in his lower limbs, which were much swollen, and after this he ceased to care for anything but self-preservation. It was really laughable to think upon it afterward, though a serious matter enough at the time. We had a cask full of clay which had been brought out from home in the ship, as it might be wanted for repairing the tryworks or for some other odd purpose. He had that cask opened, and a lot of the clay shoveled out into a strap-tub, and there he would sit for hours at a time, with his legs buried up to his knees in that cold clay, drinking potato grog until he gozzled himself into a state of drunken insensibility. The mate carried on the duty of the ship, so far as it could be said to be carried on at all, but we were so short handed that he was obliged to get the ship under easy canvas, and keep her so.

      "Toward the last of it, the only men who could go aloft, or do any heavy duty, were the three Englishmen and 'down-east Tom,' so it would not do to risk having much sail out.

      "Luckily, we had no squally weather and, instead of having the wind too heavy, for the most part we had not enough to make much progress. Mr. Worth had, however, given up all idea of trying to work back to Easter Island, for the disease was now so advanced that it would be necessary to get us on shore as soon as the ship arrived, and this could not prudently be done among a people so savage and treacherous as those islanders were known to be.

      "And, in case of any collision, we were too weak to cope with an active enemy, even to defend our own ship. He, therefore, improved every slant of wind to work her along toward the Chilian coast, and we must have been, by our longitude, about half-way between the two places, for both of which we had been making false starts, while the old man was in a state of indecision and terror. When we had reached that half-way position, a breeze sprang up, favorable to our course, and it really seemed likely now to last. We had, the day before, dropped over the eleventh man of our crew, a Portuguese, called Joaquin, and several others were now in a very low condition.

      "Some of the cases had begun and ended like that of poor Randolph, the carpenter, while others only showed that phase after the sufferer had been afflicted many days with swelled limbs or gums, general debility and stupor. But as soon as the fatal symptom set in, the intense pain in the chest and choking sensation, we knew that the end was near at hand, and that a few hours, at most, would relieve the suffering victims.

      "Joaquin, though a strong man, had lasted only four hours after he felt the first twinge in his breast. We had managed to get the top-gallant sails set as soon as we felt sure that the fair wind had set in steady for all day. I may say we, for I was still able to crawl about and lend a helping hand above decks, though quite unable to climb above the rail.

      "There were still fifteen souls of us alive including our good angel, Maggie Harding, whose sweet face, the picture of perfect health, shone everywhere among the sick and dying men.

      "One of the English seamen went to the mast-head, as soon as we had got everything trimmed, and, after carefully scanning the horizon around, was in the act of coming down again, when he turned his glance astern, and electrified us all with the cry of: –

      "'Sail, ho!'

      '"Where away?' said the first mate, while every man of us who was still able to move hurried to the braces as the cry came down from aloft.

      "'Right astern, sir, headed right after us!'

      "The hope of relief had a magical effect upon some who, a minute before, had seen no prospect before them but a horrible death.

      "The old man, who was now really much reduced, and in a dangerous state, lifted his legs out of the cold clay poultice, and asked: –

      "'Can you lower a boat, Mr. Worth, and pull up to her?'

      "'No need of it, sir,' was the curt answer. 'We haven't got a full boat's crew that is fit to pull to wind'ard, and the ship's headed right at us on a bee line. Maggie!' he called down the skylight. 'Ah, you're a

52 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

jewel always!' for the bright, quick-witted girl had anticipated his wish, and was coming up the cabin stairs with the ensign in her arms.

      "In a moment more the bunting was flying, half-way up to the peak, union down.

      "'Because,' said the mate, 'half-mast and union down ought to mean both death and distress, and we can't make the call too urgent.'

      "With this dreadful signal flying, and the main-topsail thrown aback to the mast, there was no more to be done, but await the approach of the stranger. Two of our shipmates were at that moment struggling with the death symptoms, and it seemed that nothing short of a miracle could save either. One of these was Andrew Norton, a promising lad from Martha's Vineyard, who was apparently in the very agonies of death; and the other was Hiram Coleman, the second mate, as smart a young man as ever trod a plank, the very pride of the ship's company, and beloved by all on board, not excepting even Captain Brooker, so far as he was capable of any such feeling. He had been seized with the pain in the chest that morning, not half an hour before the thrilling cry from the mast-head.

      "I had hobbled through from the steerage into the state-room of the dying man, for I was much attached to him, and wished to say a cheering word, that might help to stir up the spark of hope in his heart. I stood not upon ceremony about entering the young officer's room. I found dear little Maggie Harding, with tear-dimmed eyes, standing at his bedside, and holding his feeble hand in hers. She seemed to me like some beautiful spirit sent down from aloft to brighten the darkness of the old whaler's close cabin. I heard her trying, even through her sobs of distress, to speak words of encouragement to him who had given himself up to die; he clung to the little brown hand of his nurse, as if he could not bear to let her go, but must retain it, even beyond the grave.

      "What a noble life was passing away! A quick, heavy tread came down the cabin stairs, and the bluff, hearty voice of the mate roared out: –

      "Courage, Mr. Coleman! Where there's life there's hope! This fellow to windward will be down alongside here within an hour, and I really believe he comes from Easter Island. Never say die, my fine fellow! A raw yam, fresh from the earth, would set you on your feet again before night.'

      "'That is true, sir,' responded the sailor girl

      "'I know it would, for I have seen just such a thing done, myself. Keep up your courage, Mr. Coleman! Remember those who are dear at home, and, for their sakes' –

      "'Ay, and for your sake I would, too, if for anything in this world. Can you stay with me a while, or must you go to some other poor fellow?'

      "There was a deepening tinge on Maggie's cheek, at the warmth of the dying man's words. But she answered him at once: –

      "'Yes, I can stay until the strange ship gets here, and God send she may bring relief. I can do no good to any one else. The poor boy, Andrew, is too far gone. The scent of soil, now, would kill him.'

      "'We will hope while life is left,' gasped the second mate. 'Paul,' said he to me,' if you are spared to get home, and I am not, you will see my mother and sister of course, and will tell them that Hiram did his duty always, and tried to be true to their teachings and his own manhood.'

      "This was said with great difficulty, and my only answer was conveyed by my looks, and by a grasp of his weak hand, for I could not trust myself in the attempt to speak.

      "Checking back my feelings again, I hobbled on deck, where every one of my stricken shipmates, excepting the two to whom death was so near, had assembled, gazing to windward at the approaching ship.

      "She was coming down before the glorious breeze under a cloud of canvas, and as her hull loomed up distinctly, many were the queries and conjectures as to her name and character. She was a whaler, that was very evident from her boats, which were painted with a bright waist and white mouldings, and was a long time out on her voyage, for she was deep in the water, and besides, as her bow rose on a swell, the copper showed dark patches, indicating breaks in the smooth surface, the result of, at least, three years' wear and tear. She must have been making at least seven or eight knots of speed, and yet how long it seemed to us miserable wretches in our impatience!

      "Captain Brooker had mustered up sufficient resolution now to take his trumpet and his station at the taffrail, as became the commander; and Mr. Worth, as became the subordinate, had fallen into his proper place under the captain's lee.

      "Nearer and nearer the stranger hauled in her studding-sails, still steering direct for our main-mast, as if he intended to run us down.

      "Groups of eager men were to be seen on her bow, and even up in her rigging, impatient to detect, by some sign, the cause of our distress; and the skipper was to be seen in the head of the quarter-boat, directing the helmsman by the waves of his trumpet in the air. Some one was seen to run

Scurvy. 53

forward with a spyglass, and bring it to bear upon us, then run back and report to the captain. They had found out who we were, for our ship's name was lettered on her quarter; but we had, as yet, no such advantage as respected the stranger. As she sheered from her course to pass clear of our stern, the hail came across the water loud and clear: –

      "'How are you, Brooker? what's the matter?'

      "'Scurvy,' answered the old man, but so faintly that the sound wouldn't go to windward at all.

      "'Here, Mr. Worth, take the trumpet.'

      "The mate seized the brass tube, jumped upon the taffrail, and sent forth the word in a tone that might have been heard above the howling of a hurricane.

      "'Scurvy! Half the crew dead, and the rest dying! Have you got anything that'll help us?'

      "'Yes, plenty of yams. Right from Easter Island.'

      "'Who is it?' the mate now asked.

      "'Bartlett! The Cicero of New Bedford. Bound to Valparaiso and home.'

      "'God bless you, Captain Bartlett!' was the reply.

      "But the mate's speech was half choked with emotion. Then, with an effort, he cleared it again.

      "'We can't man a boat! Come to us! Come quick, and you may save some lives! Every minute is an hour!'

      "'Ay, ay!' were the words borne back over the waters; and, as the Cicero rounded to close under our lee, her quarter-boat was dropping into the water ere her main-topsail had yet taken aback, while an eager crew of strong men, and a heavy shower of yams and sweet potatoes, were dropping into the boat as she went over the side. A few long and lusty strokes shot her alongside the Cyrus, and the strangers were welcomed with tears and blessings, as if they had indeed been angels from heaven.

      "The vegetables were tossed on our deck, and the boat sent back to bring more. A moment was sufficient to cut and scrape a yam, for our first care must be for the dying men.

      "'It is too late to save little Andrew,' said Maggie. 'He must die; but this may possibly save Mr. Coleman;' and she hurried down to attend to it herself.

      "The poor boy, Norton, was then in the very agonies of death, and the touch of the fresh earthy root to his lips only caused a convulsive shudder, and then all was over. He was, as we had supposed, too far gone to stand the re-action.

      "But Andrew Norton was the twelfth and last victim of that infernal malady, the scurvy. The greatest caution had to be used in the case of the young second mate, and the struggles between the disease and the remedy were fearful ones. He seemed for a short time to hang suspended between life and death, while the brave English girl, 'with her heart in her mouth,' as the saying is, watched over him and listened to every breath he drew.

      "But nature, aided by the powerful remedy and careful nursing, triumphed. He was saved, and within twenty-four hours he was upon his feet again, as Mr. Worth had predicted. The yams and sweet potatoes operated like magic upon the rest of us, and before we made the Chilian coast every man was either well or convalescent. Captain Bartlett kept in company with us, supplying us with an abundance of vegetables, and also sending on board a stock of water that was fit to drink, for he believed, as I do, that the brackish water from Cape Pasados was no better than poison to our systems.

      "On our arrival at Valparaiso, the British consul took charge of the orphan girl, and got her a passage in a ship of her own country, just about to sail. She left the Cyrus with the prayers and blessings of all, and followed by a round of cheers as the boat pulled away for the English merchantman, in which she was to make her voyage around Cape Horn.

      "Mr. Coleman, during the rest of the cruise, appeared to have something on his mind, but he was as smart, and as true to all his duties as ever, and, if there was a change in the man, it was, if possible, a change for the better. He went out mate of the Cyrus on her next voyage with Captain Worth.

      "Daniel Brooker took the Cato, and, notwithstanding the dreadful experience through which he had passed, he filled his casks with bad water again, rather than anchor his ship in Tumbez, and, a few days before the ship entered her next port, he himself died of the scurvy, being the first and only victim, as the arrival was just in time to save all the rest who were sick."

      "But, Uncle Paul, whatever became of Maggie Harding?" I asked.

      "Surely you know Aunt Margaret Coleman at the North Shore? The dear, motherly woman, who is still so handsome, despite her gray hairs which seem a crown of honor upon her head? Hiram never lost sight of her whom he loved so well; and, as soon as he was sure of commanding his own ship, he went out to England, and brought her home as his wife.

      "Their children are all grown up, and Hiram is at sea on his last voyage, for he has enough to retire upon. He is a whole-souled man to sail with, and I'll venture to say, will never let any of his men die with the scurvy."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Scurvy.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 51, No. 1 (Jan 1880)
Pages: 46-53