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The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms

No. 9.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXIV, No. 3 (Sep 1886)
pp. 229-233.



No. 9.

The Gulf of Anadir. -- Visit from the Natives. -- The Wreck Of "La Normandie."

      The icy barrier is swept away, the Anadir Sea is open to navigation, and the smoke palls hang black and heavy over the smooth water, for the great bowheads are found, and every one is chasing, cutting, or boiling. The long days of the Arctic June are upon us, and the sun may be seen above the horizon nearly all the twenty-four hours, when it is clear enough to see it at all. Xight is only a sort of subdued twilight, and the watch may lower two boats at any time, calling all hands out if they get "fast." Huge carcases, stripped of their unctuous covering, drift slowly past, bloated, shapeless masses, diffusing a perfume not of Arabia Felix; or, when at a greater distance, gently lifting and settling, giving rise to false alarms from their resemblance to the arched protuberance distinctive of the living bowhead.

      "It is a bowhead!" says the officer of the deck, with his eye at the telescope; but adds, in softer cadence, " His jacket is off," which puts a new face on the matter.

      We made good use of our time, and took seven hundred barrels during the short spell of clear weather. But the fog-bank again shut down, enwrapping us in its folds, and now for five days we have hardly got a fair view of our own flying jib-boom. For the last two days no whales have serenaded us with their loud breathings; no horns have been heard responsive to ours, periodically blown; nor has the music of a cooper's hammer-and-driver quickstep been wafted to our ears as heretofore. The soundings indicate that we have drifted in shore, and cannot be many miles from land, but there is not wind enough to work off again, and the anchor is made ready to let go in case of shoaling our water still more. Our"wision," like the junior Weller's, is limited; for not even " a flight of stairs and a deal door" are more pervious than this Arctic mist.

      "I wish it would light up for an hour, so that we might get an idea where we are, and take a fresh departure," said Captain Stetson, with some appearance of anxiety. "I am getting tired of this groping in the dark, with nothing to go by but the soundings."

      "So am I," replied Mr. Pomroy, " especially in a part of the world so little known as this. Our charts are none too accurate for clear weather, and we have no chart of the bottom at all."

      "What's that?" said the third mate, suddenly. "I heard something like a human voice, then, up hereaway."

      "Guess not," the captain answered. "If there was any one here, ship or boat, they would have answered our horn."

      "Here's your blubber-eaters!" roared the Bishop, as a small skin-boat, or oomiak, shot out of the fog, propelled by paddles in the hands of four dwarfish specimens of humanity, dressed in skin jackets, with hoods enveloping their heads, which gave them much the appearance of old women. "Hallo, old Googaluk!" he continued, recognizing the venerable, grinning savage, who appeared to be the corporal of the squad. "Captain Stetson, allow me to make you acquainted with Skipper Googaluk. The old gentleman knew me as quickly as I did him. He boarded us several times last season."

      "Where ought we to be, then?" asked the captain.

      "He came off then from a place only a few miles this side of Cape Thaddeus; but you can tell nothing by that. These people move about in small parties all summer, and put down and take up their stakes anywhere, as may be most convenient for getting provisions."

      Googaluk gave us to understand that the land was quite near us to the eastward, and that another boat, larger than his, was coming from the shore. To make good his


      statement, he picked up a billet of wood, and made a fierce attack upon the head of an empty cask by way of signal. The sound of a voice came back, as if from behind an intervening wall, and from the frequent repetition of the word "Agkaloot," among our dirty visitors, we judged it to be the name of the owner of the voice, and a personage of note among them. But a few moments elapsed, when we were startled by a hail in broad Cape Cod English.

      "If you don't drop anchor soon, you'll drift ashore!"

      The voice was one which enforced attention and respect, and the order was given by the captain as if he were merely the mouthpiece of one higher in authority. Down went the mud-hook; the sails were clewed up, and the ship swung until she tallied northward, heading to a tideway, rather than to the light air.

      The larger oomiak had, meanwhile, paddled alongside, manned by ten skin-clad Indians, and a stalwart, sandy-whiskered young man, who jumped on deck, and saluted the captain with a hearty shake of the hand, which was as heartily returned. The new-comer was a cosmopolite in his attire, having pulled on a pair of Esquimaux loggins, made of whale's entrails, over a pair of woolen trousers, the cut and make of which, as well as his large, red cap, were as unmistakably French as his reefing-jacket was American. He announced his name as Burgess, second officer of the French whaler "Normandie," of Havre, hard and fast ashore, some three miles from us. She lay in a soft place, but was bedded so solid, he said, that she would never come off again, with any means at our command. We ourselves were only about half a mile from the mouth of a creek into which the tide was flowing.

      "How did you know we were here ?" was asked.

      "From the natives. They heard your horns, and reported a ship here. Captain Bugard thought the chances were nineteen in twenty that she was an American, so he sent me to speak to you, as I am the only Yankee among his crew."

      "Come down and take dinner with us, Mr. Burgess, for we must lie here until a breeze springs up and the fog lifts. Let me find out where I am myself," said the captain, " and I will get under way and try to be of some assistance to Captain Bugard."

      Our "blubber-eaters," as Mr. Bishop termed them, did not belie the name, for they were already devouring " scraps " with the keenest gusto, the oil running in little rivulets from the corners of their mouths. These singular beings have been so well described by Northern explorers, that little can be added to the picture.

      So little variety of physiognomy is to be met with among them, that what has been said of the Chinese applies quite as forcibly here—that if you have seen one you have seen the whole nation. Wide faces, noses so small and flat, that, seen in profile, d'sappeared to have none at all, high cheekbones with a glazed look at the ends, and a general stunted and huddled appearance, as of people who had been born in a refrigerator, and been trying ever since to get warmed up, were common to nearly all of them; but ophthalmia and dirt were the great characteristics. In color they were white— or would have been so, after immersion in a strong alkali, and finishing off with soap and water.

      Agkaloot, or "old Cheek-bones," as he was immediately christened after stepping on deck, appeared to be a leader, if, indeed, any leaders there be among these people. He was, at least, what would be called, among us republicans, one of the "prominent men." His claims to prominence in the particular feature from which we had named him were undeniable. They were, perhaps, equally valid in some other respects, for his eyes were certainly more rheumy than even those of old Googaluk, and he was not quite as clean—or rather, was a shade dirtier.

      He offered, in consideration of a certain quantity of tawak, as he pronounced it, to dispose of his jacket and skins; but Mr. Bishop coming on deck at a critical moment, exhorted me to buy nothing which had been worn by these people. Never having possessed any taste for researches in entomology, I took the hint, and suspended operations at once; and though Agkaloot immediately "marked down his stock of ready-made clothing to panic prices," I was not to be tempted.

      A light breeze, off the land, rolled away the bank of mist, and the outer world was once more revealed to our eager gaze. Within even a shorter distance than Burgess had estimated, a small estuary led up into the land, and a raised phantom of drift-


wood stood near the bank, showing that a party had occupied the place, but deserted it, having probably gone to the northward and encamped near the French ship; for these people will bundle all their property into the oomiaks at a minute's warning, and change their domicil with even greater facility than the Bedouin Arabs. Certainly, nothing more cheerless and forbidding could be imagined for the home of man than the shore before us.

      With the coming of the easterly breeze, the ship tugged at her chain as if impatient to be moving away from her anchorage; the Esquimaux pushed off their boats and started ahead, leading the way up the gulf, while the Cape Cod Frenchman, as he was designated—for Jack has a name ready for each new-comer—remained on board.

      "Just round that bend, a-beam, the' Normandie' is beached," he said. "If you stand along shore one mile, you will have her in sight."

      We felt our way carefully with the handlead, as we rounded the bend and anchored within half a mile of the Frenchman, whose boat was alongside of us before we reached our station, and Captain Bugard, a little, dark, wiry man of fifty or more years, jumped in on deck, and saluted Captain Stetson, and then all the officers in turn, with ceremonious politeness. As he raised his cap in doing so, he impressed one with the idea that his head was upside down, he had so little hair above, and so much under it. He spoke very little English, and so much French that a great part of what he said was wasted, from the fact that Burgess was a slow translator, and, indeed, could not follow him fast enough to comprehend the whole of it himself.

      "La Normandie" had brought up on a mud-bank, in the eddy at the mouth of a narrow creek, while half her length ahead would have been sufficient to have broken her back at once on a bed of rocks. The face of the mud was liable to changes where she lay, new flats forming, and shifting their positions, from the action of the currents; and already a bank was growing outside the ship, occasioned by the obstruction which her own bulk presented to the regular course of the tides.

      We thought, with Burgess, that she would never be floated by any means at our command, but Monsieur le Capitaine Bugard was, or pretended to be, sanguine of success, and had already commenced discharging stores. She had five hundred barrels of oil stowed down, and was boiling when she drifted ashore.

      While the officers held a council and survey, we found leisure to look about us, and to visit the huts of the Esquimaux, planted near the bank of the creek, on the most eligible site that could be selected, where the whole face of the earth was little better than a quagmire. The population of this migratory establishment amounted to some fifty souls, which might be considered a large village, as they seldom form communities larger than this.

      The women whom I saw, were, if possible, inferior in personal beauty to the men; for, in the softening down of features, the nose became, as it were, a mere pimple, deep down in a valley between the mountainous cheeks. The little ones, unctuous and rosy, capered about in their clumsy bundles of skins, not unlike young bears, or little dancing dogs.

      It was decided in council to make an attempt to float the "Normandie," after discharging everything out of her. She lay nearly upright, so that we could work very well, and our united force amounted to sixty men, with the advantage of what might be called uninterrupted daylight, so that the work could be kept constantly going forward, dividing the men into gangs, or watches. If we did not succeed, the ship and cargo would, of course, be abandoned by the captain, and the oil might be transferred to the "Gorgon." So up went the purchases at all three hatchways, and the casks of oil, stores and provisions were hoisted over into the mud, and rolled up beyond the flow of the tide.

      Eau-de-vie was served out every four hours, and the French crew, as well as ourselves, were as gay and happy as larks »t their work, while the mercurial little Bugard, in a pair of boots reaching to the hips, pervaded both the deck and the mud-flats, overseeing everything and everybody, and rattling away like a magpie, upon a dozen different subjects at once.

      I could see that neither our captain nor Mr. Pomroy had any faith in our success, nor, indeed, I think, had Bugard himself, if the truth were known; but he was naturally unwilling to abandon his ship and cargo without an effort.

      During the night, the number of natives


was doubled by the arrival of five large oomiats from up the gulf, bringing their village with them. Contrary to our expectations, they fraternized at once with the original party. Down went their stakes in the morass by the side of the others, and in half an hour they were as firmly domiciled as if they had dwelt there for generations.

      At early morn all the oomiaks were out to attack a herd of walruses which had come up the gulf. They killed several, and towed them ashore, amid great rejoicing. Agkaloot's craft had the honor of landing the first prize, which was immediately dragged up through the mud with trinmphant shouts, in which operations, both the dragging and the shouting, the women and children played an important part.

      Old Cheek-bones could hardly wait to cut out his harpoon ere he pushed his lips to the hole and sucked a long draught of blood with the keenest relish. He was followed by another in the same manner, and as more game was soon landed, the whole party were gorged with blood before the meat was disposed of. The children were not backward in plunging their little, full-moon faces into the gaping wounds, and sating their bloodthirsty appetites.

      "Chacon a son

      The work of breaking out at "La Normandie's " hatchways was carried on all day and a part of the night, when the last cask of her ground tier went over the side, and she was ready for an attempt to float her. Anchors were carried out, and hawsers led in such directions as were thought most likely to start her out of her muddy cradle. But before the tide served again, a breeze sprung up from the southward, directly on shore, and increased so that we had enough to do to attend to the safety of our own ship, with both anchors down, and a long scope of chain out.

      Of course no attempt could be made to haul the " Normandic " off with the wind in this quarter, and everything was allowed to hang as it was, we being kept on board our own vessel. The mist shut down so that we could no longer see the beach distinctly. The moon being at the full, and the wind on shore, the tide rose much higher than we had yet known it.

      "The Frenchman ought to fioat now," said the male, "light as she is.''

      "I think so, too," the captain answered; "but it is to be hoped she may not, with the wind in this quarter. She can't be hauled off; and, if a hawser parts, she may heave further up, or drive a little ahead upon that ugly patch of rocks."

      "It's lucky for us whalers coming up here that the natives are so friendly and harmless."

      "Yes, so it seems. But I question whether they would be so, if they felt strong enough to be otherwise. They are seldom found together in sufficient numbers to be a match for a whaler's crew. Did you ever hear of any trouble with them last season?" asked the captain, turning to Mr. Bishop.

      "No sir; but I am much of your opinion, that they would be hostile if they dared. There's a larger number on the beach here now than I like to have so near us, though they are no match for two ships' crews yet. I hope no more will join them, before we get through with our business."

      "Which will be, I think, to add the Frenchman's oil to our cargo, and take his crew off; for I don't believe we shall save the ship."

      The wind abated in the morning, leaving us nearly becalmed in a fog; and, anxious to know how it fared with our friends, we went ashore as soon as the weather would permit. On landing, we saw at once that the ship had changed her position, and the first man we encountered was the Yankee, Burgess.

      "It's all up with the "Normandie," he said. "She isn't worth twenty-five cents where she lies now."

      As we had expected, she had floated at high water, and to prevent her driving higher up in the mud, they had hove a strain on the hawsers. One of them parted, and before anything could be done to save her, she had forged ahead, snapped the other, and dashed upon the rocks, now lying well down on her broadside.

      "And did she lift again at the midnight tide!" asked Mr. Pomroy.

      "Lift! No," said Burgess. "She bilged as soon as she struck. The next tide ebbed and flowed in her."

      "Good-morning, zare!" cried Captain Bugard, rushing down through the quagmire, appearing but a trinity of boots, beard, and bald pate. "Voila tout!'' he added, with a majestic wave of his arms. "Speak le Capitaine Stetson; he can take tout!"


      "Two what, sir?" asked the mate, innocently.

      "Tout—everytings! Toute V oil—toutes les choses—tout h monde—enf n, tout la boutique!"

      "He means," explained Burgess, " that you can take all—every thing and everybody; in short, the whole establishment, as we might say. He abandons all.

      We learned from Burgess that the number of the natives had largely increased within the last twenty-four hours. No more huts had been built, nor had any boats arrived, that he could discover, but the reinforcements seemed to have come by land. They were all men, too, no increase being observable in the number of females or children. A single oomiak had been seen to go down the gulf, fully manned, before the blow commenced, and had not yet returned. He thought it a significant circumstance, as they must have known that bad weather was coming on, and, of course, did not go out hunting. He thought the sooner we finished our work and departed, the better, and we returned on board to report.

      After heaving up one anchor, and shortening in on the other chain, so as to be ready for a start at short notice, the main body of our force were mustered on shore, the coopers were set to work "becketing" the casks of oil, which required to be strongly done, owing to the force of the tide at times, and the rest rolling them down for rafting. This was a tedious and laborious process, as the mud was so soft that boards and lumber thrown under foot were immediately buried under the weight of the first cask that passed over them.

      Cold and wet as we all were at this duty, it was thought advisable to serve out an extra allowance of liquor, and the cask from which we had drawn being empty, it became necessary to tap another. The French mate ordered two of his men to roll down a small cask which he pointed out, nearly at the upper end of the tiers, at a considerable distance from the ship. They hailed him with the report that the cask was empty! He knew that it had been placed there full, and storming and swearing at what he supposed to be the work either of some of his own crew or of ours, Monsieur Letellier hastened to satisfy himself of the fact, and a little investigation soon changed his opinion as to the character of the thieves. The bung had been dug out in small pieces, and in one of the splintered fragments on the ground was the broken point of one of the peculiar, short knives such as every Esquimau was known to carry concealed in his sleeve.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Up North in the "Gorgon" - No. 9.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 64, No. 3 (Sep 1886)
Pages: 229-233