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

No. 10.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXIV, No. 4 (Oct 1886)
pp. 308-312.


. . . .



No. 10.

Rash Mission of the French Mate. – We are Attacked by the Natives, who get the Worst of it. – At Sea Again.

      No doubt could be entertained after this discovery, as to the direction in which the contents of the cask had been carried. The Esquimaux had smelt out the liquor, and thinking the loss would be sooner noticed if they broke in the tier by rolling the cask away, had adopted the better plan of starting the bung, and carrying it off in their own vessels. Under cover of the fog this was easily effected without discovery. They had kept, for the most part, aloof from us, since we commenced operations on the casks of oil, remaining snug in their huts, with the exception of a few who were employed in building a covering over their magazine of blubber.

      The matter was a serious one, for it was not alone the loss of the liquor which troubled us. This, in itself, was a trifle; but the fact that the savages had possession of it was much more important. The capacity of the cask was about forty gallons, a quantity greater, probably, than these people had ever before seen, or scarcely had an idea of; and sufficient to convert them all into raving demons, if allowed to indulge themselves unrestrained. We should be almost sure to have trouble with them, if, to confidence in their numbers were added the frenzy and recklessness of intoxication. More liquor was found to supply the crews, and the work was pushed forward with all possible expedition.

      A consultation of the principal officers was held, of which we subordinates, of course, could hear nothing. But I observed,


as I watched its progress, that our captain was very grave, and appeared to treat the matter seriously; that little Bugard was facetious, and inclined to look upon it as a good joke, while his mate was angry and excited, and, I thought, had imbibed more liquor himself than was conducive to a dispassionate view of a matter of this importance.

      When the conference ended, he went on board his ship, remained in the cabin a few minutes, and then started off in the direction of the native village, alone, bound, as I supposed, on a tour of reconnoissance and discovery. I wondered, as I saw him, that he did not call upon some of his crew to accompany him, but, sailor-like, dismissed the subject as being none of my business, and he was soon lost sight of in the fog that huDg low and thick on the banks of the creek.

      The feeling of insecurity among us was further strengthened by a report brought ashore from the "Gorgon," that a short time previous several boats had been heard, one after another, paddling up, passing outside the ship, and there was little doubt that these were reinforcements who had made a circuitous approach and landed unseen, and that their arrival was connected with the mission of the single oomiak which had been seen to go down before the gale came on. I noticed that several muskets were brought ashore, which the captain quietly took charge of, but nothing was said to us, except words of encouragement to push the woik forward.

      Letellier, the first officer, an impetuous, hasty man, with little control either of his temper or his appetite, was, it seemed to me, the most unfit person who could have been selected as an envoy to the camp of those who might justly be considered as doubtful friends, while he, as well as his infatuated little captain, appeared to hold them in utter contempt as enemies. Anxious glances were cast up stream, as time passed on and he did not return. Burgess proposed to go with three or four armed volunteers in search of him, but, strange to say, the French captain seemed to feel no uneasiness. The mate was all right, he said; he would search all the huts for the liquor, and would be sure to find out where it was before he made his report. Besides, he had his revolver about him, and, if anything was going wrong, he would fire a signal to us. We could not fail to hear a pistol-shot at that distance.

      Hour after hour went by and all was quiet. No natives were to be seen, the workmen having long since finished their job of covering the pit. We had rafted fifty casks, containing fully half the oil, and it was necessary to send part of the force on board to hoist it in, and stow part of it under deck to make room for the rest. But four hundred fathoms of whale line connected the ship with the beach, rendering communication easy and speedy, though of course we could not see each other.

      Noon had come, and no signs of Letellier. Even Captain Bugard began to think it time to search for him, and prepared to start himself, taking two of his boatsteerers with him.

      "You keep right on with your work," he said to our captain through the interpreter. "Get the oil rafted, and I will take care of the Indians. Give me these two men, and if we want more help, we will fire and fall back on the beach. I can't think anything is wrong, or we should have heard the mate's revolver."

      "But, to speak plainly," I heard the old man reply to Burgess, "I have not much confidence in Letellier's discre'ion. Excited as he was when he left us, if he found any liquor, he would be as likely to knock the thief down as to speak to him fairly, and, if so, he may have been overpowered or even murdered without time to fire his pistol."

      The Cape Cod man was evidently of the same opinion, though more reserved in the expression of it. But the brave little Frenchman calling upon his two men, who seemed equally ready with himself for the adventure, they took up their march in search of the lost mate, all three armed with muskets and bayonets. We saw them vanish in the direction of the huts, and again hurried up our work, keeping our ears open, and I saw that the captain did not fail to have weapons prepared sufficient to arm all hands if necessary to repel an attack. These were placed in and about the wreck, as she might now be called, and the word was quietly passed among us that she was to be the rallying point in case of a general alarm.

      The party had not been absent more than twenty minutes when the report of a musket was hoard, f .illowed immediately by a second, then the shouts of the Frenchmen approaching us, and a single pistol-shot.


Our work was dropped at once, and a rush was made for the " Normandie," to secure the arms. A moment afterwards the three men emerged from the fog, falling back with some appearance of haste, but it was evident that they were not pursued, nor were the voices of the savages heard at all. As they drew near we could see that the captain was wounded in the arm, though it did not appear to be disabled at all. One of his men was more severely hurt in the thigh, as appeared by a profuse flow of blood, and the very evident painful effort he made in walking.

      The surgeon was on hand at once with styptics and plasters, for every French whaler has a doctor as a part of her equipage, and little Bugard, directing him to the more serious wound of the boatsieerer, made light of his own, and flung both arms equally in the air as he told his story.

      Before he lost sight of us, he saw two scouts of the enemy hovering in the fog, who immediately fell back and disappeared among the huts, He pushed on and found the nearest house deserted. Several others were visited with like result. But the two largest, being the mansion of Agkaloot and one of those erected by the new-comers, had been connected in one by a sort of covered way in skins, and in this long, barrack-like affair, the whole tribe were assembled.

      The Frenchmen inarched, or rather crept in without ceremony, and found themselves in the presence of not less than a hundred men, packed closely on both sides of the hut. They were unarmed, unless with the short knife before spoken of, which every Esquimau is known to carry in his sleeve. Three or four full seal-skins lay in the centre, and from the number of whalebone vessels and kettles distributed about, with dishes of blubber and walrus meat, they judged that a great feast and drinking-bout was to come off. The captain addressed himself to Agkaloot, and, by all the pantomime that he knew so well how to employ, inquired where Letellier was; but the old man's countenance indicated nothing but sulkiness and impenetrable stupidity, which were reflected in the faces of his hundred companions.

      At this moment, Andre, the wounded boatsteerer, wishing to assure himself of the contents of the scal-skin bags, rashly drove his bayonet into one of them without orders. There was no mistaking the odor of the liquor as it gushed out, but the act nearly cost all their lives. A rush was made with the short knives by those nearest, and the intruders at the banquet backed hastily out at the door, firing in self-defence as they did so.

      They were not pursued after escaping outside, but a pistol-shot was fired after them by old Agkaloot himself, showing that he knew enough of fire-arms to discharge one, at least. Two Indians, by the captain's account, had been shot dead during their retreat. Nothing had been learned of the mate, but there was no doubt that he had been killed, and that the pistol was his. A significant circumstance, as we all admitted, was, that no women or children were to be seen.

      "Did he examine all the houses?" our captain asked.'

      Yes, they had looked into all the others before they approached the big one.

      "They have all been sent away, then," said the old man. "That means hostility. Ask Captain Bugard what he thinks we had better do next."

      "Tout le monde take guns—go! Allons.'" cried the fiery little Gaul, mixing his French and English, as was his wont when excited, and unable to wait for an interpreter.

      "Two more take guns and go! alone!'' repeated the old man, in astonishment. "Nonsense! we've had enough of that sort of work!"

      "No," said Burgess, "' tout h mondt' means all hands. He thinks we had better make a general attack upon them."

      "I don't, then," answered the more calculating Stetson, who had no idea of carrying the war into Africa on a small scale, merely for revenge. "There has been blood enough already unless we are attacked. Poor Letellier has rushed blindly upon his fate, and two others have been wounded, but two Indians have been killed in retaliation. At any rate, let us go on with our work, and save the property if we can. Send three or four men forward, armed, as scouts, or pickets, or whatever the ui:me may he, just to keep watch and cover the working parties."

      To this arrangement the French captain, now growing somewhat cooler, assented. We had hardly resumed our labors, when shouts and yells were heard rising from the village, and, increasing in volume and violence, mingled with a sort of wild chant by


numerous voices in concert, which might be either a war-song or a dirge over their dead comrades. The bacchanalian revel had evidently begun, and we were not likely to be disturbed immediately.

      "Now, boys, work like beavers!" said the captain, "and we'll have the oil afloat this afternoon. After that we can either fight or retreat, as suits us best. If the natives drink themselves stupid, we shall have nothing to fear from them tonight; or, if they get drunk enough to make a foolish attack upon us, we shall be ready to meet them."

      Their yelling and chanting continued, but we paid little heed to it, trusting to our pickets to give us timely notice of any movement. The last of the oil was rolled to the water's edge, and we were reefing the raftrope to haul it off, when the drunken yells and shrieks rose higher and fiercer than before, and our pickets reported that the enemy were breaking cover.

      The two captains immediately went forward to reconnoitre, Bugard with his arm in a sling, his fiery ardor somewhat co"led, but still as full of pluck as ever. The orders were passed for us to rally at the wreck, and be prepared for a fight.

      The yells had ceased, and all was dead silence among the Esquimaux, while preparing for the advance; for it was evident that, maddened by the fire-water, and infuriated beyond all bounds at the death of two of their number, these usually so peaceable, and, indeed, timid people, had nerved themselves up to make an attack upon us. They had issued from the banqueting-house, and were forming on the marsh, armed with heavy bows and arrows, a novel spectacle to us, as we had not seen one among them till this moment. They had probably kept them concealed at the back part of the huts, under the skins on which they slept. Drunk as they were, they had suppressed all noise and confusion for the moment. They advanced a short distance in silence, our pickets falling back without firing.

      "Keep cool, boys," said Mr. Pomroy. "They can't hurt us much. It's a pity they should be so insane as to make this attack, for there can be only one end to it."

      We mustered about forty men in and about the wreck, the rest being on board the "Gorgon," hauling off the lastraft of casks. There were about twenty muskets among us, while the"Normandie's" six-pounder was mounted on a platform of planks thrown down in the mud, and heavily charged with rivets and scrap iron. Whaling weapons, of course, were at hand, in case they came near enough for us to be compelled to use them. Captain Stetson hoped that by picking off two or three of them at long musket-shot, the rest would see the folly of attempting to maintain a fight with us, and retire without forcing us to shed more blood. As they came out of the fog so as to see us clearly, they raised their infernal yells louder than before, and rushed furiously to the onset, presenting the most repulsive sight in the way of an army of warriors that was ever seen before or since. Their short, squat figures, clumsy garments of dirty skins, wide mouths, puffed cheeks and bleared eyes, with reeling gait and faces further distorted with drunken frenzy, together formed a picture in which the ludicrous blended with the horrible. The few distant shots fired at them as they advanced wounded two or three, which only had the .effect of increasing the blind rage with which they rushed upon our strong position. At a signal from old Agkaloot, a Volley of arrows came flashing among us, hut so badly aimed that most of them flew over us, only three men being wounded. As the yelling harlequins crossed fresh arrows, anhV^tiU insanely hurled themselves upon us, a general volley was fired on our part, while at the same moment the Frenchman's cannon poured its deadly contents full in their faces.

      The effect was instantaneous. Their master spirit, Agkaloot, was shot down, with six or eight others, and a large number wounded, probably twenty to thirty. Their darts were not brought into action, nor had we any occasion to use our lances. With yells loud as before, but in a different key, expressive of mortal terror and despair, the whole tribe fled backward through the mud, in utter rout and confusion. Not a shot was fired after them in their retreat. We had simply stood on the defensive, and our greatest regret was that we had been compelled to kill and maim so many of them in order to teach them that they were no match for half their number of white men, with fire-arms in their hands.

      We reloaded and pushed forward as they retreated, determined, if possible, to ascertain the fate of Letellier. The panic-stricken natives made no stop at their village, but fled through it, up the marsh beyond. The


disgusting remains of the feast were found just as they had left them. The small remnant of liquor in the skin bags was emptied into the ground. Search was made in every possible and impossible corner for the French mate, but without avail. The revolver was found where Agkaloot had left it, still with all the barrels loaded but one, and brought off; but no trace could be found, either of his body, or of those of the two Indians said to have been killed by Captain Bugard and his two companions. Sadly we retraced our steps to the beach, leaving everything as we found it. The fog had cleared, and a light breeze was blowing down the gulf; but we had hardly noticed the change of weather. The casks of oil were all afloat, and to hoist in the raft and clear the decks enough to work the ship occupied but a short time, and we had no room for any of the provisions and stores, having more than enough of our own. The matter of staving the casks and destroying their contents was discussed, as well as of setting the "Normandie" on fire.

      "But why should we do that ?" said Captain Stetson. "If there is anything there that will be of any service to these poor people, for Heaven's sake, let them have it. We have been forced to punish them severely, but very much against my will, I am sure. Besides, it's not unlikely that some' other ship's crew may be benefited by our leaving everything as it is."

      Captain Bugard and his crew, with all their little valuables, were received on board the "Gorgon," and the clear sunlight of the finest

      Arctic evening we had yet seen shone upon her dirty canvas, as she stood out of the Gulf of Anadir, and was reflected from the bright copper of the "Normandie's" bottom, upturned to us as she lay with her broadside on the rocks, and her lower yard-arms in the mud, just as she drifted on.

      "It's a sad sight," the mate said, as he took the last look at her, "though it has been a profitable job to us. But I can't help thinking of that unfortunate difficulty with the Indians.'

      "You see," said Mr. Bishop, "that their friendship is not to be depended upon when they feel confident in their strength. By the way, I think it's the first instance to record in history of these blubber-eaters having made a charge upon artillery!"

      "They can hardly be said to have made this, for they were maniacs at the moment. Rum made the charge."

      "But they meant some sort of mischief, or they wouldn't have been so secret about their increase of numbers; and again, why should they send away their wives and children?"

      "Oh, certainly, they intended to get some advantage of us. My opinion of them has been modified very much within twenty-four hours past. I only mean to say that without the liquor they never would have attacked us openly."

      The Anadir Sea had a deserted appearance where of late the ground had been so lively. Neither whales nor ships were to be seen; and crowding on sail, we shaped our course eastward for St. Lawrence's Island.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Up North in the "Gorgon" - No. 10.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 64, No. 4 (Oct 1886)
Pages: 308-312